Landscaping changes the forest: Professor to speak about keeping Tahoe native |

Landscaping changes the forest: Professor to speak about keeping Tahoe native

Gregory Crofton


Believe it or not: Jacksonville, Fla., has something in common with South Lake Tahoe.

Believe it.

Jacksonville is a much older city, but the landscaping in its neighborhoods over the last 200 years has eliminated its native longleaf pines and replaced them with more decorative hardwoods like maple.

“The area started with longleaf pines around the end of the 18th century,” said Professor Joe McBride, of UC Berkeley. “But as a result of a long history of urban occupation, older neighborhoods are now totally without any pine trees. It’s a beautiful town, but it has very different urban landscape compared to the forest.”

Point being, McBride contends, is that the landscaping being done by residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin will have an impact on its forest – converting it from conifers to hardwoods – and impact the creatures that inhabit it.

McBride, a forest ecology and landscape architecture professor, will present his research on the subject as part of his talk today at noon at Lake Tahoe Community College.

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McBride conducted field studies on “urban forest development” in summers of 2000 and 2001 at Kings Beach, Tahoma, Homewood and South Lake Tahoe. His work included investigation of four nurseries in the basin, which, he said, sold more than 100 species of trees.

As landscaping becomes more popular at South Shore, people are buying mostly non-native trees that add color and style to their yards, such as European white birch, silver maple, red leaf maple, purple plum leaf and crab apple.

A few people, the minority, are planting native pines such as the Jeffrey.

“Once in a while and only because of the TRPA (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency),” said Ron Zehren, owner of Zehren’s Landscape Nursery. “People don’t want the natives cause they’re green. They have that. What they want is a variance in color.”

Native trees like Jeffrey and sugar pines are recommended by the TRPA – an agency established in 1969 to protect Tahoe’s environment – because they hold their soil better and don’t require fertilizer or other chemicals to grow. Both attributes, experts say, are good for the health of Lake Tahoe, which has lost 30 feet of clarity over the last three decades.

“A lot of people live here because they love the wilderness of the area and (McBride) will talk about how we are actually changing the nature of the wildland by choices we’re making in landscaping,” said Sue Kloss, a biology instructor at the community college and McBride’s former student. “We need to be willing to make compromises in the things we do and the choices we make so we can maintain the environment so many people moved here to enjoy and live in.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at