After storms, habitat less for endangered Tahoe plant |

After storms, habitat less for endangered Tahoe plant

Amanda Fehd
Nevada Appeal News Service

About 100 feet of habitat for a tiny rare plant unique to Lake Tahoe are gone after areas of a beach east of the Tahoe Keys washed away during the New Year’s storm.

The Tahoe yellow cress only grows on the shores of Tahoe. A relative of the mustard plant, with small yellow flowers, it was identified for the first time in 1941.

Eleven experimental plots with 300 plants were inundated by the rising lake level and a collapsed sand dune, which allowed water to flow into Barton Meadow after a series of snow- and rainstorms.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Rick Robinson, conservation program manager for the California Tahoe Conservancy.

The yellow cress thrives off of natural beach disturbances, he said. Floods, wind and changing lake levels help spread its seeds, which can survive, floating, for five years.

“The dynamic of beach change has always been there, and Tahoe yellow cress is adapted to it,” Robinson said. He is in charge of the Conservancy’s efforts to protect the species.

“The plant is pretty hardy. Look at the environment it lives in: high elevation and beaches that are actively changing all the time, both through wind and wave action. And sand is a harsh environment to grow in because it’s relatively dry.”

What’s not good for the yellow cress is pedestrians who trample it or beach-cleaning machines that uproot it, he said.

Tahoe yellow cress was listed as endangered by California in 1982, and is a candidate for federal listing as endangered. It is listed as critically endangered in Nevada. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has also identified it as a significant plant that needs protection.

The yellow cress listings require land managers who govern any Tahoe beach to help protect it. Those agencies include the U.S. Forest Service, California and Nevada state parks, California State Lands Commission and the Conservancy.

In 2000, a study showed yellow cress occupied only 27 percent of its historical habitat.

Extensive rehabilitation efforts got under way about 1991, said Robinson, with state lands taking the lead.