Rare yellowcress plant at Lake Tahoe to be studied by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rare yellowcress plant at Lake Tahoe to be studied by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team

Emily Aughinbaugh, Tribune staff writer

Several portions of South Lake Tahoe’s beaches will be closely inspected for the next six months in order to save the Tahoe yellowcress plant that inhabits them.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assembled an advisory committee to study the tiny plant that grows along 14 places on the West and South shorelines and no place else in the world.

Once growing in 47 different locations around the lake, experts say the Tahoe yellowcress is slowing dwindling. In order to save the plant without having to put it on the endangered species list, several lake land-use agencies, biologist Dennis Murphy of the University of Nevada, Reno and botanist Bruce Pavlik of Mills College in Oakland will research the plant’s habitat and compile data.

Pavlik and Murphy will prepare a conservation plan to save the yellowcress, with Pavlik compiling specific biological data and Murphy deciding on plans to implement the conservation effort.

“The plant is sort of between a rock and a hard place,” Pavlik said. “It’s suffering from people traffic from above and rising water levels from below.”

Pavlik said serious conservation efforts need to be put into place because of the grave outlook for the yellowcress’ survival and because listing the plant as endangered might significantly affect public access to beaches.

Although agencies working on the project don’t yet know how greatly people will be affected by conservation efforts, Pavlik said the yellowcress does inhabit many popular South Shore spots.

Scientists have found significant plant growth at Nevada and Baldwin beaches, Tallac and Taylor creeks, and Tahoe Meadows near Stateline.

Pavlik said saving the yellowcress is important to the basin’s ecosystem because it’s the last breeding ground for the plant.

“The conservation measures to date have been necessary but they’re not adequate,” Pavlik said. “You’re really losing a part of unspoiled, ancient Lake Tahoe (with the decline of yellowcress colonies).”

Molly Hurt, senior biologist for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said agencies have worked in the past on conservation efforts by surveying suitable habitats, monitoring known populations, reintroducing plants into previously occupied habitat and constructing fence enclosures to protect the plant from disturbance.

Hurt said the yellowcress is one of two species that is endemic, or only found in the Tahoe Basin. The other species is the Lake Tahoe benthic stonefly.

“Endemic species are important to conservation planning because they contribute significantly to species richness in a given area,” she said. “They also can be particularly vulnerable to extinction because of their limited population size and range.”

Because Tahoe’s beaches are becoming home to more recreation, Hurt said it is important to plan for the yellowcress’ future.

“Suitable habitat for Tahoe yellowcress (Rorippa subumbellata) occurs within areas of intense recreation use,” she said. “Therefore, there is an inherent challenge to managing for the future existence of Tahoe yellowcress and recreation.”

– There are about eight known occurrences of Tahoe yellowcress between Emerald Bay and Nevada Beach. There are about 18 historic occurrences between those locations. The occurrences have been found on private land, National Forest land, and state lands.

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