Opinion: The TRPA, UNR are misleading you | SierraSun.com

Opinion: The TRPA, UNR are misleading you

Steve Urie
Special to the Sun-Bonanza

The Sierra Sun article “Scientists, locals partner to combat invasive species” (Aug. 26) gives a one-sided view of the recently released Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Implementation Plan.

After the five acres of rubber mats that carpeted Emerald Bay in a failed effort to control Asian clams were rolled up and permanently stowed away, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was left without any large-scale control projects to help justify their pending $45 million funding request for AIS management.

So, earlier this year the federal agency commissioned the AIS Implementation Plan.

UNR biologists Sudeep Chandra and Marion Wittmann wrote the plan. Of the seven major nonnative species established in Lake Tahoe, the plan states that Asian clams and mysid shrimp have no viable control options and bullfrogs and crayfish may potentially be controlled, but the plan recommends no immediate action against them.

Eurasian watermilfoil, curlyleaf pondweed, and warm-water fish are the only aquatic nonnatives the plan targets for control. And in keeping with the plan, control efforts are being stepped-up for the sparse patches of weeds and the few bass and bluegill that wander from the Tahoe Keys into the lake each summer.

More than 90 percent of Tahoe’s non-native plants and warm-water fish are in the Tahoe Keys. The South Shore marina community has 11 miles of lagoons and canals that were dredged in the Upper Truckee River wetlands to allow lake access for boats from 1,500 home sites that sit behind the lake’s shoreline.

The Tahoe Keys has a major aquatic weed problem, and they aren’t all non-native plants. Coontail and common bladderwort are two of several native plant species harvested to clear the Keys canals for navigation.

Mechanically harvesting the weeds annually costs $400,000, and the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association says that the harvesters are now unable to keep up with the weeds. Earlier this month, TKPOA announced the results of a $250,000 study that the association commissioned. The two-year study advocates the use of chemical herbicides ‹ a control method that is currently prohibited in Lake Tahoe.

Although he hedged his recommendation by saying, “Use of herbicides is not an easy decision, particularly since this is Lake Tahoe,” Chandra was one of five aquatic weed experts who unanimously agreed that using toxic chemicals to kill aquatic weeds in the Tahoe Basin is not only effective but also less expensive — and safe.

Since the Lake Tahoe Region AIS Management Plan was created in 2009, no AIS eradication program has succeeded nor has any aquatic weed control program eliminated non-native plants for more than a year. And every attempt to control Asian clams, crayfish, bullfrogs, aquatic weeds, and warm-water fish has failed.

But instead of admitting that it’s a fool’s errand to try to control Mother Nature, TRPA and its corroborative agencies continue to pour more than $3 million a year into managing harmless non-native plants and animals, and they are still looking for their first success.

Apparently, the string of failures is due to a lack of funding. TRPA is now seeking $4.5 million a year to step up their war on non-native plants and fish, but first they have to amend their ban on using toxic chemicals in Lake Tahoe and reconcile Chandra’s recommendations.

The same week Chandra recommended using herbicides in Lake Tahoe, his AIS Implementation Plan was released. It states: “Disadvantages of chemical control methods include restrictions to swimming, drinking water, and fishing, and potential impacts to non-target (native) plants. Additionally, the use of chemical controls may require extensive water quality monitoring.”

In the Sierra Sun article, Chandra is quoted as saying, “With a serious and sustained effort, we can protect Lake Tahoe’s native species and the health of Tahoe shorezones from unwanted invasive (plants and warm-water fish.)”

Intuitively, it seems that protecting Lake Tahoe’s nearshore starts with not polluting the lake with toxic chemicals.

Backed by TRPA and Tahoe RCD, Chandra and Wittmann seek to forge public-private partnerships to justify controlling the patchy aquatic weeds that grow in Lake Tahoe’s marinas and where lake bottom has been disturbed by dredging.

Toxic chemicals and huge dredges, such as the one shown in Wittmann’s photo that accompanied the article, do magnitudes more damage to Lake Tahoe than non-native aquatic plants and bass and bluegill.

Steve Urie is a Truckee resident and the author of “Tessie, Quagga Mussels, and Other Lake Tahoe Myths.” He may be reached for comment at stevenurie@gmail.com.