Environmental Policy Lab Occupy Desolation Wilderness
Question: What has 16 legs, can hike 14 miles, and likes to throw snowballs? Answer: The Fall 2012 lab hiking trip at the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior! For this trip we went to the Ralston Peak trail in the Desolation Wilderness, which is jointly managed by the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. The picture was taken at the beautiful Lake of the Woods, after a well-earned lakeside nap on an outcropping of Sierra granite. On the pass over into the lake basin, we hiked over the remnants of an early snowstorm and had a very nice view of Lake Tahoe. Our group likes to get outside to renew one of our inspirations for studying environmental policy.
The Desolation Wilderness was Congressionally designated 1969 as a federal wilderness under the authority of the 1964 Wilderness Act; it had been managed since 1931 as an administrative primitive area (most likely linked to Bob Marshall's "U" regulations but I'm not sure). Because of its proximity to the Bay Area (it took us only 1.5 hours to drive to the trailhead from Davis) and popular Lake Tahoe, the Desolation is one of the most visited wilderness areas in the country. As a result, they have taken a number of steps to manage visitor levels in including permits for overnight visitors allocated to different zones, with a maximum capacity in each zone. Without such regulations, the common pool resource of the wilderness recreation values would quickly erode. Even with these regulations, we could see evidence of poor backcountry camping at Lake of the Woods, in particular a lot of food scraps and other waste in the shallow water near the shore. This highlights the importance of cooperation from individual users in managing recreation resources; visitor use regulations alone cannot solve the problem.
Another interesting aspect of the Desolation is that it part of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, which focuses on the special management imperatives created by Lake Tahoe. The LTBMU spans three different national forests, which means that effective Lake Tahoe management requires cooperation among the forests. I believe that each forest has amended its own resource management plan to reflect the Tahoe basin goals.
Of course the reader might be wondering if we ever stop thinking about environmental policy and just have some fun. Of course we do, and we had plenty of it on this trip. The Desolation is a very beautiful place with many lakes and challenging hikes. We will surely be returning again.