California Trout pushes for ‘wild and scenic’ designation on Upper Truckee
Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life. That is, unless, the fish populations have been depleted due to a constantly growing list of threats.
In addition to their efforts statewide, California Trout has been working to protect the Lake Tahoe area’s native fisheries and their habitats for the last three years. Their latest effort is a “wild and scenic” designation for the uppermost section of the Upper Truckee River.
A “wild and scenic” designation, administered through the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, is meant to protect rivers from dams and other large-scale construction. Though it does not block development along rivers, it does prohibit the federal government from supporting such actions. Recreation, agriculture, residential development and other uses may continue on designated rivers.
What’s unusual about fighting for this designation now is that there’s nothing in particular threatening the stretch of the Upper Truckee, running from Meiss Meadows to South Upper Truckee Road. Typically when groups fight for the designation it is to protect rivers from impending threats. With the Upper Truckee, the threat is simply the test of time.
“For the Upper Truckee, there’s no looming threats,” said Jenny Hatch, the Northern California program manager for California Trout. “We just want to protect it.”
The proposal for the designation has met some resistance in Alpine County. Some residents who own property near the river were not convinced that the designation was in their best interests, said Alpine County Supervisor Skip Henry Veatch.
“We haven’t taken a position yet,” Veatch said. “Some of our residents had some questions that weren’t answered adequately.”
The primary concern is the ability of residents to do what they want with their property near the river, Veatch said.
California Trout hopes to ease those concerns and provide more information on the designation at a pair of upcoming meetings in Markleeville and South Lake Tahoe, Hatch said.
Alpine County will likely take a position on the designation after that meeting, Veatch said.
So far a number of fishermen have stepped forward in support of the designation.
“If you left it alone for 10, 20, 30 years it would probably be all right, but who knows what will happen in 40, 50, 60 years,” said Victor Babbit, owner of Tahoe Flyfishing Outfitters. “I say do it now before it’s too late.”
The stretch of river is one of the only places in the world where Lahontan Cutthroat Trout have been successfully introduced into one of their native stream environments. The river is popular with fly fishermen chasing the species.
“It’s a success story for the Lahontan Cutthroat,” said Mikey Wier, a South Lake Tahoe fly fisherman. “They’re our native trout. They’re a piece of our California heritage.”
California Trout has also been involved in the controversial plan to restore Paiute Cutthroat to Silver King Creek that’s now tied up in court. The organization coordinates “snapshot day” where volunteers measure the water quality and other aspects of the Upper Truckee. They founded a fisheries coalition that meets quarterly to discuss issues facing the region’s fishes. And California Trout is active in the annual Native Species Day.