Tuesday, November 17, 2020

New tourists, prompted by the pandemic, caused increases in trash and bear activity at Lake Tahoe

A bear roots through trash at a Lake Tahoe vacation property in October.
(Photo by Cimmaron Correy of the Clean Tahoe Program)

"Most summers, visitors to Lake Tahoe respect its beauty and its bears. This summer, however was different, resulting in an increase in trash and bear activity, and protests from some of the locals," Erika Mailman reports for The Washington Post. "Many tourism officials and business owners had feared Tahoe would take a major hit because of the coronavirus pandemic, not to mention the poor air quality from the California wildfires. Instead, the famously blue lake that straddles the state line between California and Nevada saw a boost in visitors."

The increase in visitors came after stay-at-home mandates were eased, according to Carol Chaplin, president and CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. "But the vacationers who arrived in droves were not Tahoe’s typical tourists, observers say. Some seemed unfamiliar with wilderness protocols, which include packing out trash, protecting pristine natural elements such as trees and boulders, and not feeding the bears," Mailman reports.

Part of the problem is that many of the new visitors were day-trippers or people who were stopping briefly on their way to other destinations. When visitors stay longer, there's time to warn them about the bears and give them tips on how to stay safe and keep the area less attractive to bears, Mailman reports. Ann Bryant, head of the BEAR League, a 24-hour call center for bear issues, said calls skyrocketed this summer. She said that some tourists didn't know there are bears. Others deliberately left out food to attract bears so they could take pictures, but that makes trouble for the next visitor when the bear comes back for more food, she told Mailman.

Bears weren't the only problem the new tourists brought, Bryant said. She said many visitors lacked "proper forest etiquette" and were responsible for a surge in vandalism and littering. "Trees and ancient boulders were spray-painted, sometimes with obscenities," Mailman reports. "Locals protested with several rallies in August, holding signs that read 'tourists go away' and 'don’t trash Tahoe.'"

Chaplin said the animosity was unfortunate, since tourism is the area's main source of income.

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