Summer comes and goes in Lake Tahoe, California, attracting visitors from all across the state to relax in the warm mountain air and cool off in the fresh lake water. However, with all of these visitors can come a tremendous amount of disturbance to the native wildlife and well-being of the surrounding environments.
Lake Tahoe attracts about 3 times as many visitors as the world-renowned Yosemite National Park, with about 15 million people traveling to the lake each year. With this enormous influx of visitors naturally comes disturbances to the natural environment.
To present one example, let’s look at this past July 4. On this year’s Independence Day, as with every year, tons of people from across California come to the greater Lake Tahoe area to celebrate with family and friends. Unfortunately, this year, there were large quantities of trash, waste and other items left behind by those who were lakeside.
CBS News reported that more than 8,500 pounds of trash were left behind on the shores of Lake Tahoe as people frolicked to the beaches to be with friends and family alike. To put this amount in perspective, one household trash bag can typically hold up to 10 pounds of trash. As such, imagine 850 of these household trash bags littering the circumference of the lake (which is about 72 miles all the way around).
It is hard to think, first, of the morals and ethics of those who willingly choose to leave their trash behind with no second thought. Who is going to pick this up? Unfortunately, local volunteer groups will most likely have to, which is not only unjust, but irresponsible of visitors. It is extremely labor intensive to clean trash from sandy shores, and in the meantime of volunteer cleaning, wildlife who call these areas home may accidentally ingest the trash, causing harm to their well-being.
Visitors are most likely not going to be returning to the lakeside the following day to pick up their trash. This burdens the locals — who are having to clean up after visitors in order to restore their home to its natural beauty. Unfortunately, locals rely so heavily on the tourism business in the summers that these small burdens are worth holding up their economy. SFGate.com, the online news publication of the San Francisco Chronicle, reports that the tourism industry creates a $5.1 billion economy in the Lake Tahoe region. This can be seen as positive or negative depending on whom you ask, but the tourism industry is the stabilizing force that keeps residents’ livelihoods in place.
In a positive sense, it allows locals to continue thriving in the economically-booming region. Negatively, it can cause harmful effects to wildlife, over-run the natural environment, lead to more traffic congestion and upset locals who want their home at peace, for example.
There are organizations that are dedicated to conserving Lake Tahoe as much as possible. The largest and most well known is the Keep Tahoe Blue non-profit organization. They pride themselves in increasing restoration efforts, limiting pollution and removing invasive species.
Keep Tahoe Blue was founded in 1957, when visitors to the lake began to increase and locals wanted to protect the region as much as possible. In the early ’70s, the organization started producing Keep Tahoe Blue stickers, which you can often see on the backs of cars belonging to many Northern California residents. The message of the simple slogan on the sticker was to encourage those to help protect, restore and support natural wildlife.
Fast forward to now, and this notable sticker is almost like a trademark for the typical Northern California resident. But if the message is so important and so widely known, why do we continue to see harm done to the lake? Amid the slogan from this July 4, “Keep Tahoe Red, White, and Blue,” it seems no visitors were phased, especially in the South Lake region of Zephyr Cove, Nevada, where trash left behind was the worst. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done as public beaches cannot be blocked off to visitors, so it is solely up to visitors’ moral responsibilities to clean up after themselves.
As this summer comes to a close, the influx of tourists will die down, but that doesn’t mean next summer we won’t see the same trends. For now, we can hope that organizations like Keep Tahoe Blue will continue to create campaigns encouraging the public to clean up after themselves. Although a simple task, many visitors seem to lack the awareness to do so.
Not only is this message crucial to visitors of alpine environments like the Sierras, but it should be taken to heart by visitors to any natural park or wildlife space. Next time you, your friends or family go to the beach or on a hike, make sure to clean up any mess you may have left behind. And, if you happen to pass by a piece of trash, pick it up on the way.
Lake Tahoe is a world-renowned alpine lake that many of us in the Bay Area have easy access to year-round. Therefore, it is our duty to protect its beauty and uphold the rules and regulations of the public space as well as any other natural sites we decide to visit.