A couple dozen Tahoe Keys homeowners gathered last weekend to learn the ins and outs of identifying Lake Tahoe’s native and aquatic plant species.
Their botany lesson was provided by a League to Save Lake Tahoe program that’s training people to spot and report invasive aquatic plants such as Eurasian watermilfoil and curly leaf pondweed.
The Eyes on the Lake initiative is like a neighborhood watch for invasive plants and part of the Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Program.
“The idea is that there are thousands of people on the water recreating every day and if they knew what to look for we could survey the lake all the time and really help agencies out,” said Jesse Patterson, deputy director of League to Save Lake Tahoe.
Once trained, people can keep an eye out for the troublesome plants while they swim, snorkel, boat, paddleboard or even just stroll the beach, and report sightings through the League to Save Lake Tahoe to agencies that hopefully can remove infestations before they spread or get too big to easily treat.
“People are out on the water anyway, and most people are curious and want to know what things are and how they can help, so this melds those things together so they have the knowledge to know what a plant is, a place to report it and a system to do something,” Patterson said.
Government agencies face financial challenges to pay for aggressive watercraft inspections to keep invasive plants and animals out of Lake Tahoe, as well as for biological surveys and eradication efforts to remove or control populations already in the lake.
The main goals behind Eyes on the Lake are community engagement and early detection, which makes invasive plant infestations easier for agencies to track, manage and eradicate, Patterson said.
Curly leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil are two invasive plants already in Lake Tahoe. There are known sites of both plants on the South Shore, including at the Tahoe Keys, Lakeside Beach and Marina, Ski Run Channel, Timber Cove, Regan Beach and Taylor Creek.
The plants can form extensive mats, killing native vegetation and damaging habitat and recreation opportunities.
Tahoe Keys homeowners learned to identify both plants and easily found specimens during a field training on their neighborhood beach. They also learned to identify other invasive aquatic plants that have not been found in Lake Tahoe but have been found in other California waters where they cause major problems. Those species include hydrilla, Brazilian waterweed and parrot milfoil.
People trained by the Eyes on the Lake program are asked to report invasive aquatic plants they see not only in Lake Tahoe, but in other area lakes and rivers as well.
Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association scheduled the training. The association is a separate entity from Tahoe Keys Marina.
“We wanted to host a meeting here and bring in some interested members to get involved and get plugged into it. We’ve got a lot of folks who are just out on the lake anyway, so it’s a natural fit,” said Dan Moore, the association’s general manager.
Tom Spencer, a Tahoe Keys homeowner on two of the association’s committees, said the groups are trying to get people to help improve the neighborhood’s environment by preventing lawn fertilizer runoff, conserving water and fighting its invasive species. “It’s unfortunate we have the home for the weeds. We don’t want them. We’d love to get rid of them and that’s our focus,” he said.
Eyes on the Lake is in its second year. It trained about 30 people last year after getting off to a late start. The goal is to train 150 more this year.
“The more people looking around and involved the better,” Patterson said. “We’re looking for user groups that have the most access to the water, for people who are on the water all the time. We’ll hopefully line up all the marinas so their staff can further engage people. Marinas are a key component.”
Fragments of the aquatic plants can easily break off and spread in a lake or be carried from one water body to another on things such as boats or fishing gear, potentially forming new colonies. “Every little piece has the potential to be the next infestation,” Patterson said.