Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake Research Experience

Summer research experience in the arid West

For the last three summers, students came from across the country to spend an intense 10 weeks immersed in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) where they learned about the Tahoe-Truckee-Pyramid watershed while working on individual projects with faculty mentors.

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the program is organized by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Office of Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Research and the Great Basin Institute.

The students took field trips to sites at  Tahoe, the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake, the three main bodies of water on which their projects were focused. This gave them a broad overview of the research, policy and management issues throughout the watershed.

They also attended weekly seminars presented by invited speakers and University faculty and staff. The opportunity to meet leaders from a variety of fields and learn about many different issues and viewpoints were key elements of this portion of the program.

Their faculty mentors helped the students develop research skills and complete research projects within their discipline of interest. In addition to the interaction with faculty, most students worked with the mentor’s research lab or group. They presented their own research findings at the University’s campus-wide Undergraduate Summer Research Poster Conference.

A highly successful program, the REU experience was wide-ranging and comprehensive, and it increased the interest in a number of students to attend graduate school.

Maureen McCarthy: Demonstrating a return on investment from Tahoe science

For Maureen McCarthy, her dream continues to make the wealth of information from 50 years of research in the Lake Tahoe Basin available to those facing the challenges of helping society and the environment coexist in sensitive mountain ecosystems throughout the country and the world. Her goal: create opportunities for the Tahoe Science Consortium (TSC) to make science a cornerstone of restoration and redevelopment in the Tahoe Basin and share this knowledge broadly so others can learn from what’s been accomplished there.

“We see the work at Tahoe in a broader perspective.” said McCarthy, TSC’s executive director. It’s bigger than just preserving the lake or understanding human development in a special environment. We can export our knowledge on changes we see in population, climate and economic realities. We can no longer base environmental protection on emotions. We have to present an economically-based argument as to why it’s the right thing to do for both government and private industry.”

Science-based decision-making is now becoming common practice in some agencies in the basin, according to McCarthy, but more work is needed to help organizations understand the linkages between the natural world and human society.

People from around the country attended the 2012 Tahoe Science Conference that included contributions from the social sciences and resource economics, as well as a public policy forum; all part of the TSC’s move to help science demonstrate a return on investment for protecting and restoring the environment.

Established in 2005, the TSC partners include the University of Nevada, Reno; the Desert Research Institute; the University of California, Davis; the U.S. Geological Survey; and the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. The final round of Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLA) research grants were awarded this year. Work on these projects will continue through 2015.