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Scientists answer to public

B.H. Bose

A Lake Tahoe Watershed Assessment Workshop was held Wednesday to bring scientists and the general public together to discuss environmental issues affecting the Lake Tahoe Basin.

While the focus was to give the public an opportunity to share ideas on how to preserve the ecosystem, only about 20 individuals attended.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, in association with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, organized the South Shore workshop.

Jonathan Kusel, executive director of the Forest Community Research and coordinator of the event, said, “the scientists have a unique knowledge, but they don’t know it all.”

The Watershed Assessment was an outgrowth of the Presidential Forum last summer. It is a $1 million project that was promised by the Clinton Administration.

Scientists from the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of California at Davis, and the U.S. Forest Service briefed the sparse audience on the five focus areas of the Assessment Team. These are: forest ecosystem; water quality; socioeconomic (economic impacts of natural resource management practices); air quality; and project leadership and administration.

After the scientists shared their current knowledge of the Tahoe Basin ecosystem, a series of “roundtable” sessions followed so the public could offer suggestions.

There were five sessions, each focusing on one of the five different subject areas. While the idea was to have the public share its ideas with the scientists, most of the members attended simply to hear about what the researchers had to say in regard to the overall health of the Tahoe Basin.

“What’s being done in terms of the change in the trees and the type of trees in the forest?” asked Austin Turner of Fallen Leaf Lake, while he attended the forest ecosystem discussion session.

“First of all, we have to go through a lot of anecdotal information,” responded JoAnn Fites, an ecologist with the forest service. “We need to look at specific areas, but we are getting a handle on it. The composition is different around the lake because of the different atmosphere conditions, it is drier on the East Side.”

Zephyr Cove resident Jan Murray asked: “What percentage of trees on the East Shore are dead?”

“From visits to old-growth forests, and not looking at saplings, it ranges from 5 to 30 percent,” said Michael Barbour, plant ecologist at UCD. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more like 15 percent for the entire Tahoe Basin.”

During the air quality session, Robert Erlich, a South Lake Tahoe resident, inquired about ozone at Lake Tahoe.

“In terms of air quality, we are winning,” said Tom Cahill, a professor at UCD. “In ozone, we’re losing and nothing at Lake Tahoe will affect that, it is all coming from the Sacramento area. People are pushing up into the foothills, and it only takes about one hour for ozone materials to get to the lake.”

When asked about two-stroke engines and their contributions to air quality compared to automobiles, Cahill responded by saying: “The best two-stroke engine is worse than the worst four-stroke engine. About a fourth of the gas goes straight into the water. You don’t see anymore two-stroke cars anymore, and you used to see them. Their technology is a thing of the past.”

While the number of scientists and forest service employees outnumbered the general public, this is only the first set of watershed workshops (there was an identical workshop on the North Shore Tuesday).

“This is the initiation of the process, not just a single exchange that will be bottled up and put on the shelf,” he said. “It is an experiment of sorts. It is a unique opportunity to put the process on the ground with a real likelihood that something will be implemented in the long run.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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