Independence Lake surrounded by trees.
Independence Lake Preserve in Nevada. © Simon Williams/The Nature Conservancy

Nevada Stories from the Field

Building a Legacy at Independence Lake

Protecting this jewel for future generations means trout research and recovery, a boating program designed to prevent aquatic invasives and more.

One hundred and twenty-six.

Sean couldn’t believe it.

Every spring and summer for the last seventeen years, Sean, a fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, had camped out at the far end of Independence Lake, counting the dwindling numbers of Lahontan cutthroat trout that were returning to the inlet creek to spawn.

Each year Sean returned to count, the numbers he logged were increasingly disappointing. And as the population of Lahontan cutthroat trout plummeted, its survival as a species was looking grim. Very grim. Especially because Independence Lake is one of only two places in the world where a wild lake population of this fish exists.

But this year, something was different—the numbers had gone…up.

Researcher holding a Lahontan cutthroat trout.
Lahontan cutthroat trout Lahontan cutthroat trout at Independence Lake Preserve in the Northern Sierra Nevada. © Simon Williams/TNC

“Is that an eagle?”

At the other end of Independence Lake, fifteen-year old Angela was kayaking on the lake’s still, mirror-like waters with her family. A large bird—a bald eagle in fact—was soaring overhead patrolling for lunch.

Angela and her family were utilizing the life-vests and kayaks provided free of charge by The Nature Conservancy and its partner, Truckee Donner Land Trust. It was the family’s first visit to this part of the Sierra Nevada. And they were impressed. As the family paddled further onto the lake, they looked back to shore and observed the other visitors who were picnicking and enjoying the beach—some even testing their skills as anglers...

Why had Sean’s numbers gone up?

For the past few years, Sean and his colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey—in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy—had been removing fish that are not native to Independence Lake.

It turns out that these non-native fish had been happily eating most of the baby Lahontans.

Now it appeared—based on Sean’s latest count—that keeping these predators away from the young fish was working!

Back on the lake...

Angela’s kayak was also part of the strategy to up the numbers of Lahontan cutthroat trout. The kayak she was cheerfully paddling—like the other boats available free of charge—never leaves Independence Lake Preserve. Since boats are one of the main ways that aquatic invasive species are able to move between bodies of water, keeping the kayaks and boats at Independence Lake means that no free ride is available for the aquatic hitchhikers that would damage its water quality and native fish populations.

The Independence Lake Legacy Fund

We’ve come to understand that our own well-being is tied to the well-being of our natural world.

Nature makes our lives better in many ways. Which is why the mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Independence Lake Preserve is one of the special places where we are conserving lands and waters for nature and for people...for providing vital drinking water to communities in Reno and Sparks, for offering a beautiful place to recreate, for giving us the knowledge that wild places still exist and for sheltering one of the last two watery homes for a fish that once used to be more widespread in the West.

The Independence Lake Legacy Fund will secure the future conservation of Independence Lake Preserve, ensuring it is passed on for the benefit of future generations—generations of people and Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Specifically, the Independence Lake Legacy Fund will support the following conservation actions:

  • In-basin boat program to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species and offer recreational options for visitors;
  • Native fish restoration to grow and sustain a population of native Lahontan cutthroat trout;
  • Forest restoration program to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve overall forest health; and
  • Public access and education to invite everyone to enjoy Independence Lake Preserve and learn about The Nature Conservancy’s work.

Conserving a Jewel in the Sierra

Independence Lake is at the center of the Northern Sierra Nevada – a critical, yet fragmented region that supplies the majority of California and northwestern Nevada’s water, vital habitat for plants and wildlife, important sites for outdoor recreation and a source of livelihood for rural communities with historic ties to this landscape.

The Nature Conservancy protected the land around Independence Lake to protect habitat for one of the last wild, self-sustaining lake populations of Lahontan cutthroat trout, to stop threats of inappropriate development, to provide public access for recreation and to restore healthy forests for a healthy watershed.

With your support, The Nature Conservancy will achieve success at Independence Lake Preserve creating long-term conservation impacts throughout the region and for all life downstream.

Please join us in supporting the Independence Lake Legacy Fund by making a gift to ensure the future conservation of Independence Lake Preserve. In doing so, you will be raising your hand to show that you believe people and nature have a future, together.

You Can Help!

For more information, or to make a gift please contact:

Erica Baker, The Nature Conservancy in Nevada
775-322-4990 |

Lindsay Hower, The Nature Conservancy in California
703-862-2819 |