Species restoration appears promising
With the planting of dozens of diminutive perennials at four South Shore beaches this week, the experimental phase of a program to restore an endangered Lake Tahoe local nears an end.
Botanists from BMP Ecosciences planted 50 nursery-grown Tahoe yellow cress plants in protective enclosures on Baldwin Beach, Pope Beach, the mouth of the Upper Truckee River and Zephyr Cove on Thursday.
The low-growing, yellow-flowered beach-dweller grows only in the Lake Tahoe Basin and faced extinction as recently as 1996, its numbers diminished by beach recreation and years when the lake-level was especially high.
“When the lake is lower there is more habitat available, and there’s more Tahoe yellow cress,” said Alison Stanton, a researcher botanist from consultants BMP Ecosciences.
Researchers expect the Tahoe yellow cress planted Thursday to help answer one of the few remaining questions about how nursery-grown Tahoe yellow cress should be planted to give restoration efforts the best chance at success.
“The piece of the puzzle that’s missing is when,” Stanton said.
This week’s planting marked the fourth – and last – planting this summer. Researchers will compare the success of plantings done at different times during the summer to determine when the best time is to plant the species, which is listed as “endangered” in California and “critically endangered” in Nevada, Stanton said.
The information gathered could be key to future regulations and management decisions involving protection of the species, which researchers hope will keep the Tahoe yellow cress off the federal endangered species list.
Individual yellow cress are difficult to count because what appears to be several plants on the surface might be connected underneath, Stanton said. So researchers estimate stems to get a grasp on the numbers of Tahoe yellow cress in the basin.
During a good year, there are about 10,000 Tahoe yellow cress stems at the mouth of the Upper Truckee river and 5,000 to 7,000 stems around the rest of the lake, Stanton said.
Although a comprehensive survey for the species hasn’t been conducted since 1993, anecdotal evidence indicates the Tahoe yellow cress is headed in the right direction, Stanton said.
“I would say the trend appears positive since the implementation of the conservation strategy in 2003,” Stanton said.
This week, researchers conducted an annual survey of yellow cress. Although results have not been finalized, 40 to 45 sites around the lake are likely to contain the species, Stanton said.
In 2006, when lake level was especially high, just 22 sites were found with the plant, Stanton said.
Although Stanton says she’s encountered at least one man who disparaged restoration of the species by saying he dug up and ate the Tahoe yellow cress, most people have been respectful of efforts to bring restore the species, Stanton said.
Asked why people should care about the success of a seemingly insignificant plant, Stanton said that, in addition to the clarity of the water, the Tahoe yellow cress is just one facet of what makes Lake Tahoe unique.
For more information visit: http://www.tahoeyellowcress.org.
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