Op-ed: Ecotourism is the way to keep Tahoe blue

Aug 17, 2010:
By Carl Young, League Program Director
Reno Gazette-Journal
Aug 17, 2010

League Program Director Carl Young

Tahoe's best asset is its natural beauty.

The region holds great potential as an ecotourism destination for low-impact recreation. Paddle boarding is the latest craze, but high-quality recreation opportunities, such as kayaking, hiking, cycling, back country skiing and beach-going continue to draw visitors to the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Now, as part of the 20-year planning process, there is an effort under way to build nine urban cores at Tahoe, introducing more congestion, traffic and a degradation of the natural environment that would detract from any visitor's experience.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe's vision for the region's future is simple: a lake that is beautiful and clear, a region that offers abundant low-impact recreation opportunities, a community that is engaged and residents and visitors who are stewards of the lake so that future generations can enjoy its beauty.

The key to a healthy economy and ecosystem is through policies that protect and restore the natural environment, enhance low-impact recreation and ecotourism opportunities and responsibly fix development mistakes of the past.

What kind of economic policies would align with the environmental policies the league promotes? Rather than constructing new apartment buildings, we would renovate homes in existing neighborhoods. Rather than trying to lure people with indoor activities -- gambling, strip clubs, conventions -- we would take advantage of our outdoor opportunities. Rather than sacrificing our serenity to loud aircraft and boats, we would protect our quiet and invest in trails, sidewalks, bike paths and low-impact watercraft.

Tahoe is still blue today because of many successful big ideas. The creation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was the first such idea. Then came the requirement to export all sewage out of the Basin, the 1980s bond issues that passed in both Nevada and California to compensate investors in sensitive land who could not develop their parcels, and the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. The Environmental Improvement Program followed. That initiative leveraged $1 billion in state, federal and private funds for restoration.

These big ideas took a lot of determination to push through. But now, there is an effort under way to deregulate Tahoe at the risk of its environment. The facts show regulations work: Tahoe's two-stroke jet-ski ban produced substantial reductions in boat pollution. Erosion-control requirements could bring similar benefits to lake clarity if they are ever properly enforced.

We should build on the proven ideas of our past, enforce existing regulations and continue to work on big ideas that do not require environmental tradeoffs. Restoring and protecting Tahoe's environment could sustain a low-impact ecotourism destination for generations to come.

-- Carl Young is program director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known as Keep Tahoe Blue.

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