As restrictions ease, nonprofits get to work
By the numbers
As of May 21
Number of COVID-19 cases: 41
Number tested: 2,189
Number in western county: 12
Number in eastern county: 29
Number of active cases: zero
Number of recoveries: 40
Number of deaths: 1
Number of COVID-19 cases: 176
Number of negative results: 8,566
Number in South Placer: 143
Number in mid-Placer: 22
Number in east Placer: 11
Number of deaths: 8
As local environmental nonprofit groups and volunteers prepare for field season to begin work on restoration projects, the hope is that critical conservation work can be implemented amid the outbreak of COVID-19.
The National Forest Foundation said it’s currently working on contingency plans with its partners and U.S. Forest Service staff in case programs and projects have to be postponed until 2021.
The foundation leads forest conservation efforts across the nation, and has been involved in several projects around the Truckee-Tahoe area, including the Big Jack East Project and Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership.
The Big Jack East Project, in Placer County and just south of Truckee, resumed operations for the 2020 season on May 6. On May 15, Forest Supervisor Eli Ilano signed a forest order to close a section of the project called the Big Jack East Closure Area in order to facilitate safe and efficient operations at the location.
Work on the project is being done in collaboration with the forest service and National Forest Foundation to treat approximately 2,000 acres of land by reducing fuel loadings and creating conditions that would improve forest resiliency to fire, insects, disease, drought and climate change.
Another project moving forward is the proposed Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership. The collaborative effort is intended to restore the resilience of forests, watersheds, and communities on 59,013 acres of the West Shore. On May 8, the forest service, California Tahoe Conservancy and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency extended the scoping period for the proposed project until May 26. Comments for the project can be submitted on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit web page.
For three decades the Truckee Donner Land Trust has worked to preserve nearly 40,000 acres of open space, build trails, manage campgrounds, and more.
When the outbreak of COVID-19 began, the land trust was tentative about fundraising, according to Communications and Marketing Director Greyson Howard.
“But what we started to actually hear, was that we really need open space right now,” said Howard. “Everyone was calling us and emailing us saying, ‘Hey where can I go for a bike ride or a hike right now.’”
Howard said the interest in open spaces during stay-at-home orders has translated into a 7% increase in fundraising from March 1 to May 21 compared to the same time last year. Much of the money received, according to Howard, has come in the form of small donations.
“People really care about trails and open space right now,” said Howard. “It seems like it may have been reprioritized to some extent.”
Fundraising to purchase 26-acre Truckee Springs is the main focus of the land trust at this time. The goal is to raise $10 million with the hope that $2.5 million will come from private donors in the community. So far roughly $850,000 has been raised.
“It’s been tough to fundraise for that,” said Howard. “We were planning events and we wanted to have a big party for our 30th anniversary. We’ve been having to adjust. It’s been challenging.”
The land trust has also been requesting Donor Advised Funds, which give the donor flexibility in when and which charities receive funds.
Money in the fund, according to the land trust, acts as a “kind of philanthropic first responder, quickly getting vital resources where they are needed most while also thoughtfully targeting funds to help support the general operating needs of nonprofits.” Donor Advised Funds would help offset regular fundraising operations that may have been disrupted or challenged during the coronavirus crisis.
“We can all see, perhaps now more than ever in these challenging times, that the preservation of open space is critically important,” said Mike Sabarese, Truckee Donner Land Trust Board member, who gives through a Donor Advised Fund held by the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation. “Giving through a Donor Advised Fund allows us to target our philanthropy and quickly support our community in times of greatest need while also avoiding capital gains taxes and netting a deduction. It’s a win-win.”
As soon as snow melts in the Truckee-Tahoe area, mountain bikers and hikers hit the backcountry to enjoy the hundreds of miles of trails the region offers.
The Truckee Trails Foundation began trail work on May 13, clearing trees and brushing back shrubbery on sections that are snow free. During the course of the year the foundation will cover roughly 100 miles of trail.
“We have been given the green light to start trail work,” the foundation posted to its social media pages. “With health and safety as our #1 goal, we will be spread out along the trails … ring your bike bells or give us a shout when you see us on the trail, we will move over to give you all space to pass by.”
Plans for work this summer include using $202,000 in awarded transient occupancy tax funds from Placer County to improve and add pit toilets to trailheads at Sawtooth, lower Big Chief, on Forest Service Road 01, and on the A1 trail. The foundation also plans on improving select trailhead parking areas, adding new signage to trailheads, and installing 45 wayfinding signs along many of the non-motorized, multi-use trails on forest service land in Placer County.
The A1 Trail project is also scheduled to be completed this summer. One of the more popular trails, according to the foundation, A1 is being worked on to meet current sustainability standards along with avoiding sensitive areas.
The project involves the adoption of 1.71 miles of existing user-created trail, construction of an additional two miles of single-track trail in order to create a loop system, construction of a trailhead parking area, and finalizing the approach to the West River Street and Highway 89 intersection.
“This project will provide a sustainable and long-lasting recreation opportunity for the public, while discouraging use of adjacent private land and avoiding sensitive cultural and natural resources,” according to the foundation.
Work is expected to be completed this summer.
“Covid is definitely affecting operations, though,” said Executive Director Allison Pedley in an email to the Sun. “We have only one vehicle for the crew — a van, which could easily haul everyone. But, new COVID restrictions mean only two crew can ride in one vehicle at a time, so we are scrambling to get creative with vehicles. The crew has been amazing with these adjustments, though, and just really happy to be back out working.”
Another project the Truckee Trails Foundation is involved in is the Lower Carpenter Valley Trail, which broke ground in August.
Work at Lower Carpenter Valley, which was purchased by the Truckee Donner Land Trust, is expected to continue during the summer.
The land trust announced it won’t begin voluntary trail days until August. It won’t be leading hikes on the trail until July.
One of the area’s most iconic trails, the Tahoe Rim Trail, won’t have volunteer work on the more than 165 miles of trail until at least mid-June, according to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.
Last year the Tahoe East Shore Trail, running from Incline Village to Sand Harbor, opened to the public.
Recently, NV Energy Foundation partnered with nonprofit Tahoe Fund to install 23 new educational signs, offering users information on the area’s history, environment, and wildlife. The signs were funded by NV Energy Foundation.
“The Tahoe East Shore Trail has been a collaborative effort since its inception. We’re thrilled that NV Energy recognized the value in adding these interpretive signs to enhance the visitor experience and we are so grateful for their contribution,” said Amy Berry, CEO of the Tahoe Fund. “The team at Fallon Multimedia did a tremendous job creating them, and we hope they will inspire trail users to become stewards of Lake Tahoe.”
Trail users can expect to see signage along the trail that tells the stories of Incline Village and Sand Harbor, Tahoe’s history and ecology, information on the region’s black bear population, the lake’s clarity, and more.
Tahoe Fund is also funding work by the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association to start trail work on the Upper Tyrolean Trail restoration. The organization is also funding an environmental assessment of an extension of the Incline Flume Trail.
While COVID-19 has taken most headlines, Berry said the organization is aware that fire season will be here soon.
”We are focused on finding solutions that will help our public agency partners increase the pace and scale of forest restoration,” said Berry in an email to the Sun.
Tahoe Fund’s major project this summer involves work to update facilities at Spooner Laker, which would include a new amphitheater.
Tahoe Fund, according to Berry, has also continued to receive regular donations since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“If anything, we are seeing how important being in Tahoe’s beautiful environment is to people,” added Berry.
There is concern going forward, however, as Tahoe Fund’s annual fundraiser may not be possible, “which would have a major impact on our annual fundraising,” said Berry. “But we aren’t ready to cancel it yet!”
The Truckee River Watershed Council has had staff in the field this month conducting water quality monitoring across 24 sites, maintaining an 18-year record of data for local watercourses.
The watershed council’s habitat restoration projects met the same criteria as construction work, allowing staff and a few volunteers to begin work as weather permitted. Typically during this time of year, according to Executive Director Lisa Wallace, the watershed council relies mostly on volunteers to conduct water quality testing, but due to the outbreak of coronavirus, only staff and a few experienced volunteers have been in the field.
Watershed council staff was also at Dry Creek earlier in the month, and worked through social distancing protocols to complete work on adding reinforcement to restored stream channels along Dog Valley Road.
Heading into the season, the Truckee River Watershed Council will be starting a trio of major projects in the area. Work is set to begin on state park land in Coldstream Canyon on restoring 11 acres of wetlands. In Alpine Meadows, the watershed council will begin work to restore a 35-acre meadow along Bear Creek, and just north of Stampede Reservoir, there is a 350-acre meadow restoration project, called Sardine Meadow, which will also begin this summer.
“This year, we are really committed to those three projects because it puts about $2 million into the local economy,” said Wallace. “Projects that can help support people locally.”
Wallace added that fundraising has been a little behind than in years past, but that she’s confident it will catch up throughout the summer months.
“People around here have always appreciated being outdoors. They want the streams to be healthy. They want the meadows and forest to be healthy, but it’s been even more so the last three months,” she said.
“For 2020 we’re feeling confident that the projects are going to move ahead because donors are staying with us and state grant funding is staying with us,” added Wallace. “Where I’m nervous is if the economy stays weak. I’m nervous about 2021 and being able to continue our work … If people can support (restoration) work in 2020, it will make it easier for all of us to hold our programs and our restoration projects through 2021.”
Going into the work season, the watershed council announced that Team Leader Training will not be conducted in 2020 for the council’s Adopt-A-Stream program. The Chemical and Habitat Monitoring program had its May sessions canceled, but will likely resume in June with small group gatherings. Biological Monitoring is expected take place July through September with macro-invertebrate sampling days.
“We’re optimistic that the other volunteer programs that we have — that run from July through October — that we will be able to do all of those,” said Wallace.
AQUATIC INVASIVE SPECIES
Among the chief concerns for many nonprofit and environmental groups that work around Lake Tahoe relate to aquatic invasive species.
In order to help protect the lake during this time, only vessels with an intact Lake Tahoe inspection seal can launch at select ramps and facilities.
Other vessels will have to wait until inspection stations open later in the season, once health orders and travel restrictions are relaxed.
The most serious aquatic invasive species threats, according to the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, are Zebra and Quagga mussels, New Zealand mudsnails, spiny water fleas, and rock snot.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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