It’s time for a quick trip down memory lane during which we look at the most important outdoors stories of the past year.
Admittedly, “important” is a subjective measure.
In this case it means the story generally has implications for Reno, Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Nevada, the Great Basin and beyond. And others are just here because they were fun.
The stories are presented in no particular order. In other words, this is a list not a ranking.
Without further ado:
The biggest alpine lake in North America is warming faster than ever thanks in large part to a changing global climate.
That’s according to scientists who study Lake Tahoe to produce reports on everything from water temperature to clarity to invasive species.
The latest data in the State of the Lake report shows average water temperature in the lake increased nearly half a degree in one year, that’s 15 times the long term rate of warming. The average surface temperature reached 53.3 degrees. The overall average water temperature is a little over 43 degrees.
Geoffrey Schladow of the University of California-Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center said the changes at Lake Tahoe highlight the magnitude of human-caused global climate change.
“That is a huge amount of water,” Schladlow said of Lake Tahoe, which reaches more than 1,600 feet in depth. If the water were spread out over an area the size of California it would still be 15 inches deep, he said.
“It takes a lot of energy to raise that a half degree,” Schladow said.
Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. It was part of the broader Water Resources Development Act and it directs $415 million in spending toward Lake Tahoe in myriad categories such as: $150 million for fire risk reduction and forest management, $113 million for stormwater runoff pollution reduction, $80 million for environmental improvement projects that can range from bike trails to creek restoration, $45 million for invasive species management, $20 million for Lahontan cutthroat trout recovery, $5 million for accountability and oversight of programs, $2 million for costs associated with land exchanges on the California and Nevada side that will improve management efficiency.
The longtime owners of Reno’s nearest local ski area put the property up for sale. Fritz Buser, 95 at the time of the announcement, has been majority owner since 1971 and is looking to retire.
Mt. Rose includes about 1,200 "skiable acres," with a mix of private property and land leased from the U.S. Forest Service. Also, some of the private property along Highway 431 is zoned for commercial use which could make it more valuable on the market.
Neither rider nor bear was injured so we can look back without regret on this clash between man and beast. Basically what happened was a guy was hauling down the Mills Peak Trail near Graeagle when a bear wandered out of the woods and directly into his path. Collision ensued.
“I’m pretty freaked out to go fast right now,” rider Davis Souza said. “Everyone tells me I can’t do it twice, I hope that is the case.”
With fire racing toward the edge of Midas in early July firefighters used everything from bulldozers to 20 aircraft, including 15 air tankers, to stop the flames.
“I’ve watched wildfires my whole life in Nevada and the speed this thing was moving it was astonishing,” said Shannon Jackson, a part time Midas resident.
Jackson said he caught his first glimpse of the fire on Saturday during a UTV ride in the Snowstorm Mountains, more than 20 miles from the fire’s starting point near Battle Mountain, the result of a lightning strike.
Within 24 hours Jackson and other Midas homeowners were being told to evacuate.
“It is like a fire starting in Carson City and all of a sudden it is on your doorstep the next morning and you are in Reno,” Jackson said. “If it would have gotten to the bottom of the canyon it could have taken Midas out.”
A drug bust in the Lassen National Forest highlighted the overlooked danger of illegal marijuana cultivation on public land.
Rat poison is often spread around the sites in copious amounts to kill everything from rodents to deer that might damage the plants.
The poison is particularly destructive because it often has a pleasant taste to attract animals, which encourages them to eat it.
When other animals, such as owls, mountain lions or bears, scavenge the contaminated carcasses, they can become sick as well.
“A deer is not going to eat a mouse, but if you have 90 pounds of peanut-butter-flavored rodenticide out there, (the deer) just walks in and starts eating the pellets,” said Mourad Gabriel, executive director and senior ecologist at Integral Ecology Research Center and one of the few researchers dedicated to studying ecological impact of illicit grow sites. “It is mimicking the potential legacy effects that other chemicals like DDT have done with wildlife.”
Backers of a plan to force the federal government to cede control of millions of acres of land in Nevada are refreshing their proposal.
And they’re starting with an effort to convince a skeptical public it’s possible to take nearly 7.3 million acres from the Bureau of Land Management without disrupting hunting, off-highway riding or sticking Nevada taxpayers with bigger bills for fighting massive rangeland wildfires.
The plan has a better shot at survival if it manages to make it to the desk of incoming Republican President Donald Trump than it would have under a Democratic president.
But first it has to make it through Congress where members, including many Republicans, are aware of polling that shows most western voters oppose shifting control of federal land to state governments.
“If they put this on the ballot today it would fail,” Nevada state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said during a recent discussion of the proposal.
We offered a beginners’ guide to a sport for masochists.
Yet you still want advice about backpacking even though I just told you it’s dirty, exhausting, can cost a fortune and even be dangerous.
In fact, the very essence of backpacking is getting into an unsustainable living situation on the hope you will eventually extricate yourself.
Does that sound fun to you?
Sure, you’re probably seduced by the romance. Some of America’s most stunning landscapes are only accessible by hiking for days.
And by putting in the effort to get there you can join the tiny slice of the population who has actually laid eyes on some of these sights.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
This was one of our most hotly debated stories of the year. In short, some non-white hikers said the trail community isn’t always as welcoming as it could be for them.
Some members of the trail community reacted by (virtually) shouting at them in comments sections.
“When I read those comments they were hurtful,” hiker Jenna Yokoyama said. “They were also not surprising.”
The reaction reminded Yokoyama, and anyone following the posts, of uncomfortable moments non-white people sometimes endure on and off the trail. Although demographic data shows non-white people are a growing segment of the population, particularly within the Millennial generation, they’re still greatly outnumbered by white people in the outdoors community.
And while it’s easy to find friendly people of all races on the trail, the hiking and outdoors community as a whole still struggles to integrate non-white people into the lifestyle and culture.
“The hiking community is not just about the idealized Thoreau idea of what it is to be in the wilderness,” Yokoyama said. “The negative things of real life still happen and I think we need to acknowledge that. And the negative thing for people of color is that racism still follows them.”
The Sierra Nevada saw it’s snowiest winter in several years thanks to a strong El Nino.
Alexander Gershunov, a climate and meteorology researcher at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, presented two models that showed the 2015-16 version of El Niño shaping up to be similar to conditions in 1982-83 and 1997-98, and maybe a little stronger.
"According to this, this particular El Niño is unprecedented on that record," he said of the stronger of the two models. "These three are in the same ballpark."
The snow helped replenish reservoirs and delivered a much-needed surge to the Truckee River. But the long-term problem of climate change diminishing Sierra snowpacks remains.