A Fringe Editorial
The Friends of Independence Lake, (FOIL), were before the Sierra County Board of Supervisors again with stronger evidence that, at one time, the county acknowledged a road that ran right to the lake, right to the campground.
The problem, as most local folks know by now, is the Nature Conservancy, which used public and non-profit dollars to purchase the land around the lake and “save” it. TNC has “non-profit” status even though it is a multi-billion dollar international corporation. The term “non-profit” means the organization claims to operate for the “good” of someone. Some non-profits benefit members; TNC claims to serve a larger “good”.
Much of the cash used to purchase the land around Independence Lake was public money, meaning TNC ownership of the land is intended to benefit society. Instead, the Nature Conservancy is benefiting its wealthy urban supporters at the cost of local traditional users, offering free “kayaks” and attempting to keep historic uses like trolling from the lake.
TNC doesn’t own the lake; it doesn’t own the water, which belongs to Truckee Meadows users; it doesn’t own the fish or the land beneath the lake, which belong to the People of California. It owns the land around the lake. Traditional users contribute to the management of the fish through licenses and boat registration and have a right to fish the lake. Yet, TNC is using the rationalization that it, and not the State of California and the department of wildlife, is somehow responsible for the lake, and can keep traditional users off.
The Nature Conservancy claims the lake is “pristine”. Ironically, it is the traditional users who have kept the lake “pristine”, but TNC tries the claim that the handful of traditional users now somehow endanger the lake, while the thousands of new urban “paddle sports” enthusiasts it has encouraged to the lake are imagined not to.
The danger to the lake, is, of course, introduction of aquatic invasive species, a host of damaging organisms which threaten the lake, and which are likely inevitable. In the name of preventing this problem TNC proposes to prohibit motorboats, though any surface which stays moist will transport the AIS, surfaces such as the interior of molded boats and hollow paddles. TNC claims they are “saving” the lake, which they do not own, from the traditional users who kept it “pristine”. In short, some feel TNC is simply trying to keep traditional and historic users from the lake so their urban supporters get the “pristine” effect they have paid for.
The Friends of Independence Lake have exhausted every appeal to authority on the issue. They have tried unsuccessfully to lobby TNC decision makers, have appealed to state entities who technically support public access to the lake but won’t intercede, and finally to the Sierra County Board of Supervisors.
The primary issue is of access. TNC can’t actually prevent motorboat users from using the lake, which they don’t own and which state law allows. Instead the corporation is simply preventing traditional users from accessing the lake. In the past, the relationship between the owners of Independence Lake and the public, represented by the County, was good. The county built and maintained roads so the public could enjoy the lake, and the various private owners of the land around the lake worked with the public to preserve access.
Now, the Nature Corporation has closed those roads to the public. It has closed an access campground to users, reserving it for TNC staff and privileged friends. FOIL maintains that the county owned road goes to the lake, and TNC must allow access.
The group has taken heat from some for asking tiny Sierra County to take on the blind gargantuan TNC. The county is poor, some claim, and we have no hope against TNC. Some have complained that the group is asking the county to waste money it badly needs elsewhere. Further, if forced to acknowledge traditional public use of the roads in question, some county officials have threatened to simply abandon the roads, essentially giving them to the corporation.
But, who else should the group appeal to if not the Board of Supervisors? If one of us were to try to curtail the use of a lake, would the county step in? Indeed, if one of us wanted to add a deck to a house we own, on land we own not in the public good but for private use, wouldn’t the county show its muscle? The county sends cops to arrest us, social workers to take our children, makes rules about all facets of our lives. Now, we need help against a powerful entity, should the Board of Supervisors claim to be powerless or disinterested? TNC doesn’t want hillbillies on the lake, should the county step forward in defense of those over whom it exercises power, whom it claims to represent? Or, should it suddenly claim no interest over the land of the county, or her people?
We in Sierra County are few and generally poor. If we represented a hundred thousand more people, and millions more in wealth, we would be eligible for cooperation from the Nature Conservancy. We suffer laws made by and for people in the over-populated south which fit us poorly and burden our people; they grab our water, force mandates on our tiny county, try to keep us from living on our land in the traditional ways. They dictate our land use, determine when and where and how we can build a shelter. Even the water in the lake is owned by the wealthy in the populated portion of Washoe County, Nevada. We are few and generally poor; they are multitudes and have the money to wag the dog.
Even so, at some point, shouldn’t we try to make a stand for our traditional ways, at least make a statement for our people and our vanishing way of life? FOIL has demonstrated beyond a preponderance of evidence that the county does own and control those access roads. The records indicate it; the county has the roads on its tally; the GIS data is conclusive. In response, the County has Tim Beals review old records and check his hoary memory to decide that the ownership of the roads can’t be decided. Markers have been moved; nothing can be determined, and even though the county has been paid to maintain those road miles, it can’t be said for certain if the roads are the same roads that it owns.
The Board of Supervisors need to step forward as more than just the local representatives of the state to tax, regulate, and punish us. The Board needs to make a statement first to TNC and then publically, that, whether or not the markers have been moved and Tim Beals’ memory degraded, it has always been understood that the County and the land owner cooperate to give the public access to the lake. They must open the campground to real families in station wagons, the way it used to be. They must give watercraft access to the lake. Certainly, inspect and sanitize all watercraft against aquatic invasive species; some FOIL members are qualified to inspect water craft, perhaps they would volunteer. Institute an in-basin boat policy to protect the lake. But, access to traditional users must be restored.
As for TNC, one has to wonder if a similar treatment is given to the indigenous and traditional people where ever they “save” land. Somewhere, someone in a position of power at TNC decided to “pristinize” Independence Lake. “Pristine” means no traditional users, in favor of some idealized, urbanized view of what is appropriate for a rural alpine lake. I’d encourage TNC to return Independence Lake to the stewards who cared for it so well for so long, and find a lake down south, closer to the people who pay the corporations wages, to “pristinize”. There are many lakes there that actually need the help a billion dollar organization could provide. It would be more convenient to the urban population, and would be very green indeed, since it would discourage the long drive northward, and the pollution that traffic causes in our delicate mountain ecologies. Simply not advertising the lake to urban users would go a long way to reducing the opportunity for AIS introduction.
Good luck, fishers of trout!