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I have seen firsthand, for sure, transformative experiences of people interacting with wildlife,” said T. Will Richardson, co-founder and executive director for the Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences. “The tricky part about this is, because of social media, are we going to love it to death? Do these chickadees become some sacrificial group of birds? I don’t know how I feel about that.”
There’s a longstanding belief that firsthand experiences in nature will encourage greater environmental stewardship. If we go on a hike or recreate outside, we’ll develop a lasting relationship with nature and perhaps we will be more inclined to vote for environmental protections, to support environmental advocacy, to fight for climate action. Maybe go easy on the plastic. I go back and forth on this. On a personal level, I definitely link my experiences skiing or hiking in Lake Tahoe with my fervent desire to fight for its protection. But I’ve also overheard skiers at the bar talk about criss-crossing the globe to ski powder on their international ski pass and I can’t help but wonder if we’ve given enough thought to how our carbon footprints are intertwined with our ability to ski powder. I digress, but it applies to Chickadee Ridge, too. Have we appropriately weighed the impacts of so many people visiting this place and feeding the birds with the lasting impact of their encounters?
Across Lake Tahoe, officials, residents and tourists alike are grappling with escalating conflicts that have stemmed from a pretty basic problem: There are a lot of people in Lake Tahoe, and that influx of people triggers negative impacts on the environment and wildlife. From bears to trash on the beach to roadside pollution that washes into the lake, officials have been making a huge push in recent years to build better infrastructure that will support the millions of visitors who come to Tahoe (and they still have a long ways to go on that). Lake Tahoe authorities are also amping up their messaging. In the past year, Take Care Tahoe has addressed everything from dog poop to cigarette butts on billboards and across the internet, trying to talk to people about environmental stewardship and how to be better citizens in Lake Tahoe. We shouldn’t feed bears. But mountain chickadees? There isn’t any messaging specific to Chickadee Ridge, at least not yet. When I walked up to the ridge, I saw a signpost with a QR code that linked to information about some Nordic ski trails I passed, but I never saw any signage or information to do with the chickadees. So I called up some officials, people who know a whole lot more than I do about protecting ecosystems and wildlife, especially at Chickadee Ridge.
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