Historic Tahoe Conservancy Acquisition Will Protect Upper Truckee River, Marsh, and Lake Tahoe

State and Tahoe Partners Celebrate Opportunity to Acquire Environmentally Sensitive Land to Protect Habitat and Water Quality and Restore the River and Floodplain

South Lake Tahoe, Calif.The California Tahoe Conservancy joins with its funding partners—the California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Tahoe Fund, and League to Save Lake Tahoe—to announce the Conservancy is acquiring 31 acres of environmentally sensitive land along the Upper Truckee River in South Lake Tahoe.

“This environmental acquisition may be the most important in a generation to protect Lake Tahoe,” said California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “By reconnecting the most important wetland that filters water flowing into the Lake, this investment protects the Lake’s precious water quality and also provides an important corridor for local wildlife. This project demonstrates the great value of the California Tahoe Conservancy, to work diligently over years—sometimes decades—to see important environmental improvements to fruition.”

“We are grateful to our funding partners for making this possible,” said Conservancy Board Chair Adam Acosta. “This historic acquisition of the Knox Johnson and Motel 6 property achieves a decades-old goal and brings one of the last privately held sections of the river corridor under public ownership.”

About the land acquisition

  • 25 acres of mountain meadow and wetlands.
  • 4 acres of former floodplain.
  • One-third of the Lake Tahoe Basin drains into the Upper Truckee River.
  • 96 percent of the lower section of the Upper Truckee River is in public ownership after this purchase.
  • 6 funding sources including nonprofit donations and permit mitigation fees.
  • Connects hundreds of acres of public marsh and meadow lands.

This Conservancy acquisition includes 25 acres of mountain meadow and wetlands, a two-acre single-family homesite, and four acres of former floodplain. Lake Tahoe lost nearly 30 feet of its famed water clarity following the development boom of the 1950s and 60s and damage to the Lake’s natural water filters. The four acres of floodplain is now occupied by Motel 6, a vacant restaurant building, and a paved parking area. The property also abuts the Conservancy’s 560-acre Upper Truckee Marsh property to the north. Tahoe Resource Conservation District’s (Tahoe RCD) 206-acre Johnson Meadow property lies across U.S. Highway 50 to the south.

The Conservancy will remove the 1970s-era motel and vacant restaurant and retire or transfer the property’s development rights and coverage for future use on town center redevelopment. The Conservancy will preserve the surrounding mountain meadow and wetlands. The acquisition presents opportunities to restore wetland habitat on the newly acquired property itself as well as future restoration at the Upper Truckee Marsh.

The land protected by this acquisition is part of the homeland of the waší∙šiw (Washoe people—the people from here). The waší∙šiw are the aboriginal stewards of the land in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin. As a sovereign nation, the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, as it is known today, continues to advocate for the protection and preservation of waší∙šiw ɁítdeɁ (the Washoe people’s homelands).

“The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California is supportive of the incredible work being done by the Conservancy,” said Washoe Tribe Chairman Serrell Smokey. “The Conservancy has been a great partner and their work to protect, preserve, and re-establish healthy ecosystems within the Tahoe Basin should be celebrated. Addressing decades of overdevelopment in very delicate and fragile ecosystems, such the Upper Truckee, is not something that happens overnight. While we celebrate this as a huge victory for the Tahoe Basin, it is also important to acknowledge that this will have profound and far-reaching impacts as we continue to imagine a healthy future for the Tahoe Basin with Washoe Culture and Peoples at the center.”

Acquiring the property protects its critical wetland and meadow habitat, while presenting future opportunities to improve climate resilience and public access and to restore the river corridor for Lake Tahoe’s largest tributary.

For decades, this land has been a top acquisition priority for state and regional partners. Acquiring the 31-acre property places over 96 percent of the lower nine miles of the Upper Truckee River in public ownership. The river drains a third of the Lake Tahoe Basin’s land area, making its restoration a key to protecting the Lake.

The purchase shows tangible, on-the-ground progress of removing development out of sensitive lands, which is a central goal of the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program (EIP) and Lake Tahoe Regional Plan.

The property’s 25 acres of wetlands and mountain meadows add to the hundreds of protected acres just upstream and downstream. Relatively scarce in the Sierra Nevada, such wetlands and meadows have outsized value for wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and climate resilience. Many wildlife species in the Basin rely upon marshes and meadows for part of their lifecycle. The adjacent Upper Truckee Marsh, for example, provides habitat to the endangered willow flycatcher, and plays a critical stop along international flyways for migratory birds. This acquisition also helps advance California’s goal to conserve 30 percent of its natural lands by 2030.

“All of us at WCB are thrilled to help fund this high-priority acquisition that links continuous public ownership along the Upper Truckee River floodplain,” said Jennifer Norris, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Board. “This purchase will safeguard the region’s biodiversity, including its wetlands and meadows which provide habitat for songbirds, waterfowl, amphibians, fish, and bears and contribute to California’s 30×30 conservation goal.”

“This landmark acquisition shows the incredible progress coming from collaborative partnerships we have been building for more than 50 years,” said Julie Regan, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “Today, the Lake Tahoe Region is taking a giant step forward in improving lake clarity and increasing public access for all.”

Healthy functioning wetlands act as a natural pollution filter for Lake Tahoe, preserving its famed clarity. In the Upper Truckee watershed, EIP partners have completed many projects over decades to restore streams, rivers, wetlands, floodplains, and wildlife habitat. This acquisition amplifies the value of past restoration projects, while allowing the Conservancy and the adjacent public landowner partners, such as Tahoe RCD and the USDA Forest Service, to closely coordinate future ecosystem restoration and management efforts.

“From bobcats and bears to rainbow trout and the Lahontan redside, it’s hard to overstate the magnitude of this acquisition in terms of the benefits for so many of the Lake Tahoe Basin’s fish and wildlife species,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “These species have been plagued by a variety of fish passage and wildlife connectivity challenges at this property for decades. We now collectively have the opportunity to address these issues and restore connectivity and access to the quality habitat they need throughout their various life stages.”

Healthy marshes and meadows also combat climate change by capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in plants, roots, and soils. An acre of healthy mountain meadows can store as much carbon as an acre of tropical rainforest.

Public protection of these environmentally sensitive lands is the result of extensive collaboration among the funding partners. Acquisition funds included critical lead acquisition and project support of $100,000 each from the Tahoe Fund and the League to Save Lake Tahoe, $6 million from the WCB, $4.4 million from the Conservancy, $3.5 million from the TRPA, and $1.5 million from the CDFW. Tahoe RCD provided additional project support.

“Restoration of the entire Upper Truckee River is one of our highest priorities,” said Cory Ritchie, Tahoe Fund Board Chair. “From our initial involvement in the acquisition of Johnson Meadow, to this momentous acquisition of Motel 6 and the surrounding acres, we are honored to work with these partners to help make this happen for the Lake and our community.”

“The things we all love about Tahoe depend on maintaining a healthy ecosystem and clean, clear water,” said Dr. Darcie Goodman Collins, CEO of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, or Keep Tahoe Blue. “Since 2010, we’ve helped restore the Upper Truckee Marsh and river corridor with volunteering, science, and now funding. Revitalizing this key natural pollution filter has been our priority for over a decade because it keeps Tahoe blue, swimmable, and enjoyable for all.”

TRPA provided nearly $3.5 million in water quality and land coverage mitigation fees for the acquisition. These development mitigation fees collected through the TRPA permit process represent thousands of private property owners who are aiding the initiative to restore sensitive land and limit development under the Regional Plan.

The Conservancy anticipates closing escrow and completing the acquisition in the coming weeks.

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The California Tahoe Conservancy is a state agency, under the California Natural Resources Agency and established in 1985, with a mission to lead California’s efforts to restore and enhance the extraordinary natural and recreational resources of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Learn more at tahoe.ca.gov.

The Wildlife Conservation Board protects, restores and enhances California’s spectacular natural resources for wildlife and for the public’s use and enjoyment in partnership with conservation groups, government agencies and the people of California. Learn more at wcb.ca.gov.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s mission is to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and their use and enjoyment by the public. Learn more at wildlife.ca.gov

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency leads the cooperative effort to preserve, restore, and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe Region, while improving local communities, and people’s interactions with our irreplaceable environment. Learn more at trpa.gov.

The Tahoe Fund is a nonprofit founded in 2010 to support environmental improvement projects that restore lake clarity, enhance sustainable recreation, promote healthier forests, improve transportation, and inspire greater stewardship of the region. Learn more at www.tahoefund.org.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by its iconic slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue,” protects and restores the Tahoe Basin’s unique natural beauty and environmental health—today and for future generations. Learn more about the 66-year-old 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization at keeptahoeblue.org.

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