Welcome back to Owl Post, where I show you an easy way to become a bona fide Truckee/Tahoe citizen by being in the loop and taking action, big or small. This time, I’ll be talking about one of my favorite topics — science.

Science isn’t what brought me to Tahoe, but it’s what has kept me here. After a winter spent ski bumming, I was considering moving onto the next town, state, or country in pursuit of anything new and exciting. But then I found “exciting” right here. I dusted off my master’s degree in environmental engineering and started an entry-level job doing fieldwork on soil restoration sites throughout the Basin and Truckee. That quickly led to me running field crews and a laboratory for five more summers.

During those long summer days digging soil pits, surveying plants, and doing experiments to learn how water runs off disturbed and restored soil, I found out so much about the place that I had just moved to. I learned what the soil is like in different parts of the lake and why; what the Latin names are for hundreds of plants, something nearly everyone is impressed by, but almost no one has an interest in learning; what happens during a rainstorm, because I had to be out there in the downpours collecting samples of water running off ski slopes; and, maybe most practically, where and when traffic happens. I routinely had days that took me from Truckee to the lake, all the way around it, and back.


Those drives, the 12-plus hour days, and all of those field sites that I returned to year after year to monitor the changes are what kept me here. The more I learned about the environment around me, the more I loved it here. I became more connected. And now, 18 years later, after I came to ski bum for a winter, I’m still here. The fieldwork is only a memory, but my passion for the lake lives on.

Here are my wise owl tips for better understanding and getting to know our natural environment. Whether you want to read a few fast and fun facts or get all the details, there’s something for everyone.

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RAINBOWS AND PLASTICS: TERC researcher Katie Senft examines a manta trawl net used to collect microplastic samples from the surface of Lake Tahoe. Photo by UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center

If you want some fast facts …

The Tahoe Fund sends out a fun facts edition of its newsletter and sometimes asks you to participate. At the start of summer, they asked people to guess whether Lake Tahoe would reach its legal limit as a reservoir this summer and then told us when it peaked below it. And while I mostly like swimming in frigid water, I knew that at least I’d have company in the lake for a bit once they reported the fun fact that the surface of Tahoe reached 70 degrees. That fact came with a link to one of my favorite Tahoe websites with real-time lake conditions,  like temperature, from UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC): tahoe.ucdavis.edu/real-time-conditions.

If you want more than just fast facts, read TERC’s full newsletter about things like a new audio tour available at Taylor Creek or the dangers of cold water shock (just because I read it doesn’t mean I listened!). Sign up for the Tahoe Fund newsletter here: tahoefund.org.

If you like flowers, birds, creepy crawlies, and the night sky …

The Tahoe Institute for Natural Science (TINS) newsletter is for you. This summer I learned that high-elevation bird species are nesting lower than normal because of all the snow. What a great opportunity to spot birds that generally require a lot more hiking. TINS also updated readers on the peak wildflower spotting locations and timing. As expected after our winter, everything happened later than usual. TINS provided options all around the lake for spotting birds, from Castle Peak to Carson Pass, and gave details on what to prioritize for weekday visits to avoid the crowds. And while I didn’t need reminders about our summer meteor showers since they are already high on my list, I was happy to learn that we’d have a nearly new moon for the Perseids this summer, unlike the year before.

Sign up for Tahoe Institute for Natural Science newsletter here: tinsweb.org.

If you like trees …

Subscribe to the Sugar Pine Foundation newsletter. In a recent edition, I was reminded about how white pines (pine trees with five needles like ponderosa, Jeffrey, and sugar pines) are dying from the white pine blister rust fungus.

I immediately downloaded the foundation’s free e-book on how to identify white pines and be a part of its citizen science project to document five-needle pines along the Pacific Crest Trail (there is a video, too). Your observations from the citizen science project will contribute to land managers better understanding how healthy or sick the trees are and deciding on the best ways to help. You can join the citizen science project at inaturalist.org/projects/5-needle-pines-along-the-pacific-crest-trail.

Sign up for the Sugar Pine Foundation newsletter here: sugarpinefoundation.org.

If you’re interested in going to lectures and reading the research …

The Desert Research Institute’s newsletter had a shocking headline this summer: “California Snowlines On Track To Be 1,600 Feet Higher by Century’s End.” This is based on a study co-authored by two DRI researchers. I think it’s easy for all of us to imagine how this will impact skiing and snowboarding. There will be less terrain down low, shorter ski seasons, and not as many powder opportunities. And we all know about wildfires, evacuations, smoke, and community destruction. Those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our ecosystem. Our landscapes may be forever changed, and water availability and public health are big concerns.

In case you think the newsletter is all doom and gloom from that headline, it’s not. I enjoy reading the segments about its researchers, how they got into their work, and what they are learning. It’s no surprise that this summer they featured a grad student doing research on microplastics moving between surface and groundwater.

Sign up for the DRI newsletter here: signup.e2ma.net/signup/1802006/1763250


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