Restoring Tahoe Headwaters
The NFF’s largest Treasured Landscapes site, the Tahoe Headwaters, covers 614,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Rising from low-elevation foothills to nearly 11,000 feet around Lake Tahoe, its forests include blue oak, ponderosa and sugar pine, red fir, lodgepole pine and western white pine.
With the Truckee River draining Lake Tahoe and running east and the American and Yuba Rivers running west, the Tahoe Headwaters provide drinking water to nearly 12 million people and support thousands of acres of farmland in Nevada and California. Myriad lakes, canyons, and peaks – including the Granite Chief Wilderness, Tahoe Rim Trail, and a section of the Pacific Crest Trail – attract over 24 million annual visitors, including hikers, hunters, anglers, bikers, off-highway-vehicle enthusiasts, skiers and climbers.
The Need for Landscape Restoration.
Several forces stress the landscape. A century of fire suppression has led to uncharacteristically dense forests whose composition has shifted from fire-evolved conifers to shade-tolerant fir and cedar. Grazing and mining have degraded stream channels, riparian habitat and meadows. Invasive plant and animal species have disrupted food webs and outcompeted native species like the endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout.
Increased human use has generated unauthorized trail networks, illegal parking hazards and traffic delays comparable to major cities, which are impacting water quality and quality of life for residents and visitors. Compounded by a multi-year drought and increasing average temperatures, these forces increase the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire and widespread tree mortality caused by bark beetles.
Increasing the Pace and Scale of Restoration
The National Forest Foundation is working with the U.S. Forest Service and partners to thin vegetation with a combination of mechanical treatment and prescribed fire, eradicate invasive species, restore meadows to improve water flows, and repair trails and trail-related damage.
What makes the Tahoe Headwaters site stand out, however, is our commitment to piloting ways to increase the pace and scale of this much needed restoration.
Our strategies include:
- Investing in quantifiable benefits for water supply and carbon sequestration;
- Integrating sustainable recreation throughout planning;
- Using science to help managers overcome persistent barriers;
- Finding economically viable ways to process biomass and small-diameter wood products;
- Working across jurisdictions to implement large-scale prescribed burns; and
- Demonstrating how to expand restoration activities by assessing entire landscapes, identifying the most strategic large-scale treatments, and implementing multiple projects accordingly.
A cornerstone of the Tahoe Headwaters work is ongoing engagement with local communities and a wide range of interests. Both the Tahoe National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit have established stakeholder groups that help conceptualize, plan, implement and monitor restoration initiatives, while sharing information and obtaining diverse public input through proactive communication.
The NFF and its partners are committed to providing multiple ways to steward these lands. These include regular volunteer and field visit opportunities and potential citizen science programs focused on water quality and wildlife monitoring.