INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev, — Now that Incline Village and Crystal Bay real estate prices have stabilized and property values around Lake Tahoe are starting to trend positive for the first time in a few years, the biggest threat on the horizon is not the collapse of the European Union or a monumental earthquake. Rather it comes in the form of tiny mussels, clams, non-native plants and particularly in the summer of 2012, the potential for a catastrophic wildfire.
Weather conditions in late summer and autumn almost always create a recipe where fire danger is extreme due to low fuel moisture levels, low humidity, high air temperatures and the ever unpredictable wind conditions. What is different this year is the historically low snowfall during the previous winter that has created extreme fire conditions two months earlier than normal. With residential homes interfacing with the natural forest environment the tinderbox conditions this summer demand vigilance by residents and visitors alike in the Lake Tahoe basin.
Approximately 90 percent of wildfires are caused by humans with lightning strikes accounting for the majority of the fires created by Mother Nature. It's important now more than ever for property owners to limb up trees, remove dead branches, and thin out the forest within prescribed guidelines to create defensible space around your structure. And everyone needs to be extremely careful with any type of fire or flame as it only takes a couple of pine needles to ignite and start an out-of-control wildfire.
A major cause of concern to property owners is the number of homeless people camping out in the woods and national forest land in the basin. While most civic leaders don't want to admit it, on the edges of many communities there are encampments in the woods where people cook over open fires every night. The devastating Angora fire near South Lake Tahoe originated at the site of a campfire. Even if someone is attending to a campfire in the woods this summer, there is so much combustible material nearby that a couple of sparks or flying embers can easily ignite the extremely dry fuel that's in the forest.
But an equally large and potentially more devastating long-term threat to property values at Lake Tahoe is the introduction of invasive species. The recent alarming discovery that out of area boat owners had carelessly failed to clean and decontaminate their boats before trailering them up to Lake Tahoe presents an enormous risk almost beyond comprehension. We already have Asian clams infesting parts of the Lake. As their shells breakdown and wash up onto the beaches, the razor-sharp edges over time will make some beaches completely unusable. This infestation is presently confined to a couple of relatively small areas closer to South Lake Tahoe. But these tiny clams are extraordinarily difficult to remove and efforts to kill them are extremely costly and labor-intensive.
An even bigger threat are the quagga and zebra mussels which multiply incredibly rapidly and affix themselves to hard surfaces, clogging water intake pipes and taking over the structures to which they cling. These creatures have been wreaking havoc in lakes all over America and can be found in bodies of water within a relatively short drive of Lake Tahoe. Allowing just one small bunch of these highly reproductive mollusks into the Lake could result in utter devastation in a few short years. The greatest threat to property values at Lake Tahoe is the destruction of the pristine waters, beautiful beaches and the devastating impact this will have on all aspects of recreation and the local economy.
While the TRPA instituted mandatory boat checks a few years ago, the system is not completely foolproof and a significant risk still exists. The mere fact that a good percentage of boats from outside the Lake Tahoe basin need to go through the decontamination process and that invasive species are being found now on a somewhat regular basis should give everyone pause for thought. Our property values are derived from the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe and all the various forms of recreation and business that thrive in this alpine environment. With a Lake this large it is almost impossible to fix an environmental disaster especially after an invasive species takes hold and multiplies.
As real estate agents we are often talking about how when one analyzes a property a good portion of the value is in the land. That value will decline precipitously in the event of catastrophic wildfire or devastation wrought by some type of invasive species. It is the responsibility of every property owner, resident and visitor to keep the Lake Tahoe basin free of invasive species and to guard against all man-made causes of wildfire so that future generations can enjoy what we have all come to appreciate.
— Don Kanare is a Realtor at RE/MAX Premier Properties. Read his blog and weekly stats on his website at www.InsideIncline.com.