March 15, 2019

The Forest Service at Upper Echo Lake: A Cautionary Tale in California’s Era of Wildfire

Paul S. Weiland and Matthew D. Murphy

Nestled in a glaciated valley high above Lake Tahoe, the Echo Lakes are just a thousand feet below tree line and are centered in a chain of nine National Forests that extend the length of California’s Sierra Nevada. Stately old-growth red firs are scattered across north-facing slopes and Jeffery pines across south-facing slopes. Ice-polished granite slabs are interspersed with small patches of lodgepole pine, western white pine, white fir, and mountain hemlock. Stream-courses are lined with willow, alder, mountain ash, and a profusion of wildflowers and meadow grasses. The road ends at one end of the lakes, which serve as the portal to Desolation Wilderness, one of the nation’s most frequently visited wilderness areas. Around the Echo Lakes on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service sit more than one hundred cabins, recreational residences on leased lots, most built in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Absent roads and electricity, the cabins are accessed by boat or on foot during a short period between snowmelt in the early summer and snowfall in the autumn.

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