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U.S. Forest Service celebrates Earth Day in the Tahoe National Forest

Submitted to The Union

Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Earth Day originated during a period of environmental awareness and grassroots activism in this country that resulted in sweeping, bipartisan legislation and the passage of many historic environmental Acts. From the Wilderness Act (1964) and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968) to the Environmental Policy Act (1969), Endangered Species Conservation Act (1973), and the Federal Land Policy and Act (1976), the many laws and regulations of this era continue to guide modern land management within the Tahoe National Forest.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the U.S. Forest Service created a list of its favorite unique habitats, species, and areas that exemplify the beautiful diversity of this treasured landscape called the Tahoe National Forest. In no particular order:

1. Lahontan Cutthroat Trout: Native to the Truckee watershed, the federally threatened Lahontan Cutthroat Trout is the largest subspecies of cutthroat trout.

2. Whitebark Pine: A high elevation conifer that is familiar to climbers, backpackers, and other high-elevation aficionados, this pine is currently at risk to white pine blister rust.

3. North Fork of the American Wild and Scenic River: The North Fork of the American River originates in eastern Placer County within the Tahoe National Forest. It flows west and then southwest, and meets the Middle Fork of the American near the town of Auburn. While the awe-inspiring river canyon is best known for its thrilling whitewater, it also contains challenging hiking trails, excellent fishing, abundant wildlife, and dramatic scenery that contributes to its popularity and significance in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Tahoe National Forest manages the upper 26 miles of this wild reach and the Bureau of Land Management manages the lower third.

4. Pacific Marten: An opportunistic carnivore in the weasel family, marten prey on rodents, amphibians, lagomorphs, and other species in alpine, red-fir, and mixed-conifer forests.

5. Fresh Water: The Tahoe National Forest supplies, filters, and regulates water from upper watersheds and meadows, providing clean water throughout the year to communities, homes, and wildland habitats. About 2.5 million acre feet of water per year come from the Tahoe National Forest — enough drinking water for California’s population for more than 72 years,

6. Layne’s Butterweed (Packera laynae): The only federally threatened forb on the Tahoe National Forest, this small flowering plant thrives in serpentine soils -also the state rock of California (serpentine)!

7. Granite Chief Wilderness: The Granite Chief Wilderness is an approximately 30,000-acre federally designated wilderness area created by the California Wilderness Act of 1984. This region is extensively glaciated and features hanging valleys, cirques, and U-shaped valleys, but few lakes. The principal drainages are the Middle Fork of the American River and Five Lakes Creek.

8. Fen: A special type of wet meadow that has accumulated a natural source of peat. Peat is non-decomposed organic material. Many of the Tahoe National Forest’s fens have been forming for thousands of years and originated in the Holocene Period. Fens harbor a diversity of species including many carnivorous plants including the California Cobra Plant and other pitcher plants that capture insects and utilize their nutrients.

9. American Black bear: The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is a symbol of remaining wild country in the Sierra Nevada. They are one of only a few large carnivores which continue to inhabit the lower 48 states and they are a surprisingly common sight in the Tahoe National Forest.

10. Western Juniper: The western juniper’s berry-like cone turns blue as it ages.

11. Clustered Lady Slippers (Cypripedium fasciculatum): The Tahoe National Forest contains the southernmost range of this native orchid. You can find them near the rock creek nature trail.

12. Aspen: Many animal species need three essentials: food, water, and cover/concealment. Aspen stands offer all three which increases the biological diversity of the landscape in which Aspen stands are found. Aspen stands have the highest bird species richness of any habitat type in the Sierra. They also provide important fawning, wildflower, and pollinator habitat.

13. Carbon Sequestration: The Tahoe National Forest plays an important role in parts of the climate cycle; our forest acts as carbon storage and sequestration units. Resilient forests retain carbon from being emitted to, and absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from, the atmosphere, which helps reduce the impacts of a warming climate to human, plant and animal habitats. The Tahoe National Forest stores about 57.8 Million Metric Tons carbon.

14. Pacific Chorus Frog: Aptly named for the loud crescendo of sounds this species generates in the evening, the Pacific tree or chorus frog (Pseudacris regilla) is one of the more ubiquitous amphibian species found in the Tahoe National Forest. Their small and delicate features are beautiful to witness in the wild.

15. Osprey: The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), also known as a fish hawk or river hawk, is one of the most common raptor species in the world and can be found in both temperate and tropical climates. Wildlife enthusiasts can enjoy seeing one pluck a fish effortlessly from a lake or stream across the Tahoe National Forest.

16. Bald Eagle: One of America’s largest and most recognizable bird species, the American bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) can be seen soaring above large bodies of water and along fish-filled rivers in the Tahoe National Forest. Their huge nests, built near the tops of large trees, can weigh more than a metric ton.

17. Lyon Peak/Needle Lake Research Natural Area: The Research Natural Area (RNA) program is a nationwide system created to protect a network of federally administered public lands for the primary purposes of maintaining biological diversity, providing baseline ecological information, and encouraging research and university natural history education. The Lyon Peak/Needle Lake RNA is an excellent source to view mountain hemlock. The elevation varies from approximately 7,200 feet to 8,900 feet.

18. Bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax): Bear grass is not an actual grass and more closely related to aloe. It is used by native basket weavers. Bear grass is very fire adapted and needs low intensity fire to develop.

19. Red-Fir Forest: Found at high elevations, red fir tends to grow in pure stands of red fir only. These stands exhibit an extremely low fire return interval.

20. Rivers, Streams, and Lakes: The Tahoe National Forest contains 1,354 lakes and ponds and over 3,101 miles of rivers and streams.

21. Flycatcher, Willow and Olive-Sided: The olive-sided flycatcher’s call from the top of a tree is even recognized by the amateur ornithologist: “quick-three-beers.” The faint “fitz-bew” of the Willow Flycatcher is just as recognizable to the more seasoned ornithologists searching for sign of this declining species in wet, willow meadows of the Sierra Nevada.

22. Mountain Dogwood: The shade-tolerant mountain dogwood’s showy, large white bracts around its flowers are just beginning to emerge at lower elevations around the forest.

23. Babbit Peak Research Natural Area: Within the Babbitt Peak RNA are approximately 445 acres of white fir mixed with Jeffrey, western white, and Washoe pines. This area affords excellent opportunities to study the mixture’s successional relationships and Washoe pine in particular. Also located here are about 225 acres of mountain mahogany. This stand is unusual because of the large size of the individual plants (15 to 25 feet tall).

24. Mountain Maple: Like other broad leaf hardwood trees, mountain maple are very effective at collecting sunlight for photosynthesis.

25. Knobcone Pine: The Knobcone pine’s cones only open with fire. They are found in the lower elevations of the Tahoe National Forest in the bottom of rugged canyons adjacent to oak woodland.

26. Mixed Conifer Forest: The Tahoe National Forest contains more than a dozen conifer species.

27. Meadows: Almost 600 meadows are found across the Tahoe National Forest which add important biodiversity to foothill and mountain ecosystems.

28. Western Bumble Bee: Historically, the western bumble bee was broadly distributed across western North America along the Pacific Coast and from Alaska to the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Bombus occidentalis currently occurs in many states adjacent to California but is experiencing severe declines in distribution and abundance due to a variety of factors including diseases and loss of genetic diversity. Six occurrences of this species are known from the Tahoe NF prior to 2000.

29. Peregrine Falcon: The Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is known as the world’s fastest bird species and is in fact is the fastest animal on earth. Peregrines have been clocked at close to 242 miles an hour in one of its typical hunting dives.

30. Sugar Pine Point Research Natural Area: Sugar Pine Point RNA represents a zone of overlapping ponderosa pine and Jeffrey pine and offers a location to study the dynamics of this successional pattern and the role of fire ecology in mixed conifer forest.

31. Trelsease’s Draba: A pincushion forb found only at high elevations. This hearty plant grows small and flat in open, rocky areas due to harsh conditions and a short growing season.

32. Deer Fawning Habitat: Highly productive, dense, riparian habitat such as aspen groves and willow- lined wet meadow edges provide crucial locations to raise and bed fawns.

33. Wildlife and Nature Viewing: Over 147,000 people visit the Tahoe National Forest annually to view wildlife and natural features as their main activity. This represents an economic value over $9.4 million attributed to those visitors.

34: Placer Big Trees Grove: This popular and well- known grove of giant sequoias is located on the American River Ranger District. The significance of the grove lies in its location, the northernmost grove of giant sequoia in California.

35. Mountain Lion: The Cougar (Puma concolor) can inspire awe in the hearts of mountain travelers. Consider yourself lucky if you happen to catch a glimpse of one of these majestic creatures as they are a sly, secretive, and rarely seen.

36. Yellow Warbler: Not often seen unless you know what to look for, the Yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) is a lovely, bright yellow songbird that inhabits meadows on Tahoe National Forest. Listen for the high pitched song “Sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet.”

37. Grouse Falls Scenic Area: Grouse Falls is one of the highest cascading falls in California. It is located in rugged country on the American River Ranger District which enhances its scenic quality.

38. Deer Winter Range: Deer and other ungulates depend on areas with non-persistent snow coverage and protein rich-feed such as bitterbrush to survive the Sierra’s harsh winter. The Tahoe National Forest manages crucial deer winter range near the Sierra Valley.

39. California Snow: Not only does the Tahoe National Forest snowpack provide a steady stream of fresh water for downstream habitat and human-use during the late spring and summer, but it’s fun to play in as well! Over 486,000 people visit the Tahoe National Forest annually to engage in snow sports as their main activity, which represents an economic value of over $37 million to those visitors.

40. Beaver: As habitat engineers, beavers can transform a swift moving stream into deeper pools creating habitat for fish, birds, and other species which increases biological diversity in mountain riparian zones.

41. Spotted Skunk: This curious looking creature resides in covered thickets, mixed-conifer forest, riparian hardwood, shrubbery, and other areas located near streams and water sources.

42. Devil’s Post Pile Geological Area: This type of prominent geologic feature — the post pile — occurs in a number of locations in California. Found on the Yuba River Ranger District, this geologic area’s prominence in the landscape is accentuated by its location on the edge of a rugged canyon.

43. Yuba River: The Yuba watershed connects a large network of old growth habitat currently unaffected by catastrophic fire or other disturbances.

44. Greater Sandhill Crane: One of the largest North American bird species, the greater sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis) is a wonder to behold in the early morning mist of a wet alpine meadow or while listening to its loud and unmistakable trill echoing across a glaciated valley.

45. Northern Goshawk: One of the more secretive raptors, the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) spends most of its time deep in old growth forest habitats where it lives and hunts, flying with strength and precision, in its search for prey like Stellar’s jays, Northern flickers, and small mammals.

46. Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog: Listed as endangered in 2014, the Sierra Nevada Yellow- Legged Frog inhabitants high alpine lakes, seasonal ponds, and streams.

47. Western Tanager: These dazzling songbirds are a very common migratory species found in the conifer forests of the Tahoe National Forest. They are often high in the canopy, but with luck or good binoculars, they reward you with bright red and yellow feathering. They give a regular call that sounds like “puh-da-Dink!” and a longer, burry call like that of a robin’s.

48. Snowplant: Parasites on soil fungi, red or pinkish snowplants lack chlorophyll and are found along the forest floor.

49. Long-Toed Salamander: This amphibian lives in a variety of habitats, coniferous forests, mountain riparian zones, red fir forests, and alpine meadows along the rocky shores of mountain lakes. It depends on slow-moving streams, ponds, and lakes during its aquatic breeding phase. The long- toed salamander hibernates during the cold winter months, surviving on energy reserves stored in the skin and tail.

50. We left the last one empty because we want to hear from you! What’s your favorite habitat, species, or special place within the Tahoe National Forest?

Source: U.S. Forest Service


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