Scientists to monitor plants and animals in urban settings |

Scientists to monitor plants and animals in urban settings

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A $750,000 study to begin this summer will track wildlife in urban lots — land purchased so it can be protected from development.

The study was set in motion by grants from the U.S. Forest Service, which is compiling a report on urban lot management for Congress. Preliminary data is expected by the fall.

“This really represents the maturing of the scientific approach at Lake Tahoe,” said Dennis Murphy, who is leading the study and works as a professor of ecology at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Murphy said it indicates that scientists are starting to focus on the watershed, the land that drains to the basin, as being key to figuring out how to protect its clarity.

Murphy is one of 30 researchers from a variety of organizations who have signed on for three years to study the diversity of wildlife within urban lots.

“We bought a lot of land without a lot of information … now that we’ve got the properties how do we manage them?” Murphy said. “We really don’t know. The real question is whether some of the rarest species end up being found in the more urbanized landscape.”

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The study is also expected to determine how far non-native weeds have penetrated into the basin. Many of the public works projects, such as installation of erosion controls, have introduced invasive, often more erosive weeds to the region, Murphy said.

The Forest Service report is due before House and Senate Committees on Appropriations by Oct. 1. It is the second report delivered to Congress by the U.S. Forest Service regarding the urban lot program.

The first focused on the use of federal money to acquire the lots. This report is supposed to focus on the management of the lots and possible alternatives to the program.

Funding for the three-year urban lot study has not been secured. The Forest Service, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Nevada have contributed money, but, Murphy said, the researchers are in need of more.

“If the funding is sustained, maybe (the study) can last five years or more,” Murphy said.

The Forest Service along with Nevada and California have purchased more than 19,000 acres at the basin to protect it from development. That includes urban lots as small as one-third of an acre to much larger chunks of land. About 2,600 urban lots deemed too sensitive to develop remain on the market.

The Forest Service spends about $7 million a year to buy land deemed sensitive. The agency spends about $700,000 a year to manage its urban lots, which includes hazard fuel management and monitoring. But a backlog of work exists due to lack of funding, Forest Service officials say.

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