Time to make bold moves to preserve Tahoe for generations to come (Opinion)

Alex Padilla

For those who’ve stood on the shores of Lake Tahoe, it’s no surprise that this region has inspired one of the nation’s oldest and most successful conservation coalitions.

Alex Padilla

As one of the deepest, clearest lakes in the world, Lake Tahoe is truly a unique ecosystem. The Tahoe Basin draws millions of visitors every year to swim, camp, boat, and share in its incredible scenery.

This year, I am proud to be hosting a group of advocates who have gathered around Tahoe every summer since 1997. The Tahoe Summit brings together officials from California and Nevada, leaders of the Washoe Tribe, and dozens of local, state, and federal agencies and partners from the business, nonprofit, and university communities. Together, we share and collaborate on projects to protect the Tahoe Basin.

This gathering will mark the 25th anniversary of the Tahoe Summit and the launch of Lake Tahoe’s Environmental Improvement Program — one of the nation’s leading conservation partnerships. We have much to celebrate: Tahoe’s Environmental Improvement Program has completed more than 700 critical conservation projects to date. That includes inspecting 94,000 boats to stop the spread of invasive species and treating more than 87,000 acres of forest in an effort to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

This year, the Tahoe Summit will also feature a keynote address from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, in a testament to our project’s continued national significance and the Biden Administration’s strong partnership.

Despite these achievements, threats to Tahoe remain. Recent summers show why it is impossible to protect Tahoe in isolation. Temperatures are rising around the lake because temperatures are rising across the region and around the world. Fires, like the recent Tamarack Fire, threaten Lake Tahoe because the West has experienced year after year of historic drought.

Climate change is an existential threat — for Tahoe and all of our communities. In order to protect Lake Tahoe, we must meet the threat of the climate crisis at a global scale. That’s why I’m supporting bold action at the federal level to curb our dependence on fossil fuels and invest in sustainable infrastructure, from our electrical grid to our public transportation systems.

As we look ahead to the next 25 years of the Tahoe Summit, we need continued, coordinated investment to address the intensifying threat of climate change. We need to build on successful programs addressing invasive species, forest die-off, and water clarity.

Once again, Lake Tahoe’s community will have the opportunity to lead the nation — both in redoubling our conservation efforts, and in emphasizing equity at the same time. Our public lands and natural treasures belong to everyone. But too many children, especially in communities of color, grow up without access to green spaces and natural wonders like Tahoe. Conservation efforts should help all families experience the beauty of our public lands.

Now is the time to make bold conservation commitments — to preserve the beloved places and critical habitats of Lake Tahoe for generations to come.

Alex Padilla is a junior U.S. Senator in California and is hosting the 2021 Lake Tahoe Summit.

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