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A pristine secret for West Sac nature lovers | Environment

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A pristine secret for West Sac nature lovers
A pristine secret for West Sac nature lovers

Do you like to explore nature’s off-the-beaten-path hidden hideaways? Independence Lake (12 miles north of Truckee off  I-80 east toward Reno) is a magnet for West Sac's savvy anglers, hikers, birders and more. Experts in the High Sierra say many of the lake's most frequent visitors travel from northern California communities like West Sac.

A unique twist to this summer recreation destination is that anglers and nature lovers can volunteer to help the lake’s inhabitants. The Nature Conservancy partners with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to offer assorted opportunities. Recently, for example, a group of local anglers got the chance to help boost the lake’s rare Lahontan cutthroat trout while they fished, said Nature Conservancy volunteer coordinator Martin Swinehart in a press release . 

“Eight  volunteers spent the day at Independence Lake in the Northern Sierra fishing – for a good cause,” Swinehart said. “(The) anglers joined staff from The Nature Conservancy and the USGS on Conservancy boats to fish for Lahontan cutthroat trout that live in the lake.

“Once a trout was caught, USGS scientists tagged the fish and released it as part of ongoing research about the cutthroat trout population in Independence Lake.” 

Swinehart said it’s great to be able to have people do something they love and simultaneously help with research.

Independence Lake is home to one of only two self-sustaining lake populations of Lahontan cutthroat trout in the world, Swinehart explained. “Since The Nature Conservancy acquired the Independence Lake Preserve three years ago,” he said, “we have been assisting the USGS and other partners such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with the science necessary to make conservation decisions regarding the native fish.”

Nature Conservancy Eastern Sierra Nevada Program Director Chris Fichtel said, in addition to the research, “We have been taking steps to reduce the biggest threat to the Lahontan cutthroat trout: non-native fish.

“Last year, we installed a fish barrier below Independence Lake to prevent any more non-native fish from migrating into the lake.”

The Nature Conservancy also restored an eroded bank along the trout’s spawning stream to improve habitat, said Fichtel. Since 2005, the USGS has been removing non-native brook trout from the spawning stream as part of a study that’s testing how the removal may increase the numbers of spawning cutthroat trout.

“In recent sampling years, the number of juvenile Lahontan trout residing in Independence Creek has surpassed the number of Brook trout,” said USGS Fishery Biologist Mark Fabes.” This is directly related to our research on non-native species removal.”

After the 2012 spawning season, Fabes said, 18,000 Lahontan cutthroat trout fry were seen entering the lake. Since the USGS began tracking fish populations at the lake 15 years ago, the count was as low as just 5,000 fry in 2002. “The high number of resident juvenile Lahontan cutthroat trout in Independence Creek observed this past year is another good indicator that the work is having a positive impact,” Fabes said. “A win-win” said Swinehart for the anglers who set aside time to volunteer.

Want to help The Nature Conservancy in Nevada? For ongoing volunteer opportunities, go to www.nature.org/volunteernv.

About the Nature Conservancy:  

From Red Rock Canyon to the Truckee River, the Nevada Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and its partners has been protecting Nevada’s Last Great Places since 1967, Swinehart said. “Among the Conservancy’s smaller chapters, the Nevada Chapter was its first to conserve one million acres.” The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends, said Swinehart who describes The Nature Conservancy as a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.

To sign up for USGS news:

Contact the U.S. Geological Survey at oc_web@usgs.gov.

E-mail West Sacramento-region news tips and story ideas to 3bogart@gmail.com.

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