Lake Tahoe Asian clam-killing project a complete disaster | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe Asian clam-killing project a complete disaster

Steve Urie

Worldwide there is no comparably sized region where more resources have been expended on environmental projects than the Tahoe Basin.

And since 1998, almost $2 billion has been spent on improvements to preserve the natural habitat and to repair infrastructure and ecological damage inflicted by the Basin's residents and 3 million annual visitors.

Residents and visitors are united in their desire to safeguard Tahoe's splendor. But how to best preserve and protect the Basin is contentiously divisive. The opposing attitudes are generalized by three positions:

"If nothing is done to halt the destruction of historical habitats, we will lose them."

"Meddling with nature always leads to unintended consequences."

"Left alone nature will heal itself."

Recommended Stories For You

All are reasonable, and depending on circumstances are correct, but which is the best approach? Simply, we should do all three. We should conserve and restore habitats, and we should observe what works and what doesn't.

To effectively use the generous resources and funding that flows to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for environmental programs, we must first understand the Basin's diverse habitats and then develop ecologically-sound, science-based projects.

And only when we know an environmental project is practical and prudent should we meddle with Tahoe.

Since President Clinton started a steady flow of $100 million annually into TRPA's Environmental Improvement Program, unnecessary and wasteful programs have become common.

Two years ago, amid much media hype, 35 tons of rubber mats were rolled out over 5 acres of Emerald Bay. The plan to eradicate Asian clams may be the most ecologically destructive invasive species control plan ever employed — and it not only apparently didn't work, but destroyed many times the number of Tahoe's native aquatic animals as it did non-native clams.

Currently, the mats are being rolled up and quietly stored away, and there are no plans for their reuse. But even though Tahoe Environmental Research Center Director Geoffrey Schladow and three other researchers concluded in an obscure $264,000 Forest Service study that "it is difficult to understand the efficacy of a large scale (clam) treatment program," Schladow recently said in a thinly veiled appeal for more funding that whether Asian clams should be suffocated under rubber mats in the future is now "a community decision of do we want to try to control these (clams) at a cost, or throw up our hands and say, 'that's it.'"

By all observations and measurements, the $900,000 Emerald Bay project to "control" the benign crustaceans was a complete disaster. And it's not only gratuitous but irresponsible for the Basin's leading environmental researchers to toss their failures back to the community and imply that because they didn't receive enough money to continue their program, it's not their fault if a project fails, but the community's.

The TRPA is charged with oversight of the Basin's invasive species programs, and the report to the Forest Service says that all data was given to the Lake Tahoe Asian Clam Working Group.

When TRPA was asked who the working group members were and what was reported in their minutes. The public information officer wrote: "No minutes are kept as this is an informal working group. We generally keep minutes for meetings where policy decisions are made. The meetings are open to all stakeholders. Each interested organization is represented by appropriate staff members, and there is no selection process for which organizations attend."

If carpeting five acres of one of the world's scenic wonders with rubber matting is not a policy decision, the public is not considered a Tahoe stakeholder, and environmental programs are determined by an informal group of various agencies' staff at unpublished meetings, it's concerning what other informal decisions TRPA is making.

TRPA's official viewpoint towards aquatic invasive species control and prevention by boat inspections is that Lake Tahoe is too important of a community resource to risk the introduction of new invasive species like quagga mussels — a species that has been conclusively shown to be unable to survive in the lake.

If TRPA is going to blame environmental failures on a lack of funding and invoke the community's best interests when launching new programs, it only seems equitable that the community be allowed to participate in the environmental decisions of how their money is spent.

Steve Urie, a Truckee resident, is the author of "Tessie, Quagga Mussels, and Other Lake Tahoe Myths." To learn more about Tahoe's AIS programs and to sign a petition asking TRPA to perform an independent aquatic invasive species risk assessment, visit SaveTessie.org.