Groups renew agreement to protect Tahoe Yellow Cress

Eric Heinz
A Tahoe yellow cress flower sits near the shoreline of Lake Tahoe.
Courtesy Dana Olson |

Although the winter snow has begun to cover ground vegetation, Tahoe Yellow Cress advocates will continue their preservation efforts.

The Tahoe Yellow Cress is on the endangered species lists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Nevada Department of Wildlife. It only grows on the shores of Lake Tahoe, according to Meyers independent research botanist Allison Stanton, who has been studying the species since 2002.

Recently, the Adaptive Management Working Group partners, an organization that oversees the protection of the species, renewed its 10-year memorandum of understanding with 13 environmental organizations in the Lake Tahoe Basin, including the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, League to Save Lake Tahoe and federal agencies.

Officials said the flower may be placed on the U.S. endangered species list in a few years.

“In the last few years, we’ve switched our focus, and we’re encouraging homeowners and people to practice conservation of the Tahoe Yellow Cress,” Nevada Tahoe Conservation District environmental scientist Dana Olson said. “We’re trying to find environments for the plant to thrive. The two major factors are the lake level and also recreation. Because the species only grows on the beaches, it has a small area that it is able to survive in; that’s a determinant of how it survives.”

Olson said there are about 60 basin sites were the flower is most prevalent. She said in the 1990s there were only a “handful” of sites.

Lake water levels and water table levels can have drastic effects on the flower, depending on all environmental factors, Olson said.

Stanton stated in an email that high lake levels between 1996 and 2000 pushed the flower to the brink of extinction. Maintaining biodiversity by saving the flower within the basin is critical to the ecosystem’s health, Olson said.

“Biodiversity is the No. 1 goal, that and not losing a unique plant to Tahoe,” Olson said. “We can’t cause the extinction because we’re haphazard and allow it to die.”

Even so, Olson said there are not many outlets for financial assistance in the pursuit to protect the flower.

“Right now, there’s not a lot of funding to work with this plant,” Olson said. “We’re working with a conservation strategy in order to make people aware of Tahoe Yellow Cress and find potential habitats.”

Olson said there are seed banks that help preserve the species in case its numbers fall drastically. Also, she said organizations are trying to make more “enclosures,” or restricted areas, in order for the plant to flourish undisturbed.

“California Tahoe Conservancy is redoing the enclosures so (TYC) can have a large population in the lake,” Olson said.

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