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ALERT: Protect Southern California’s Piru Creek

ACTION ALERT TITLE: Piru Creek Wild & Scenic River Management Plan Released for Public Comment

 

TARGET NAME, TITLE, AGENCY: Ramon Torres, Forest Supervisor, Angeles National Forest

 

TARGET EMAIL: https://cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public//CommentInput?Project=58710.

 

SUMMARY DESCRIPTION:

 

The Forest Service has released its draft Piru Creek Wild and Scenic River Comprehensive River Management Plan (Plan) and is inviting public comments by March 31, 2024. The creek is a rare free-flowing waterway draining the relatively dry mountains of southern California. Located in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, Piru Creek originates in the Sespe Wilderness on the Los Padres National Forest. The creek provides unique recreation opportunities and supports several threatened and endangered wildlife species. It has taken the Forest Service 15 years to develop the Plan, which the law requires to be finished within three years of designation. The law requires the Plan to ensure protection of the creek’s free-flowing character and outstandingly remarkable values.

 

In 2009, Congress and President Obama added a 7.25-mile segment of Piru Creek between Pyramid Dam and the Los Angeles/Ventura County line to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.  The upper three miles of the designated segment parallels the former Golden State Highway (Hwy 99) and is classified as Recreational. The lower 4.25 miles of the designated creek flows into the Sespe Wilderness and is classified as Wild. Below the designated segment, Piru Creek continues flowing more than 18 miles through the Sespe Wilderness and into Piru Reservoir.

 

LONG DESCRIPTION:

 

For years, CalWild and many other local, regional, and national conservation organizations and activists lobbied the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to expand protection of Piru Creek by recognizing its many natural and cultural values as outstandingly remarkable. Under the law, the agency is required to protect the creek’s free-flowing character and outstandingly remarkable values.

 

Unfortunately, the USFS has demonstrated a long history of antipathy towards protecting the creek downstream of Pyramid Dam. In the 1988 Los Padres Forest Plan, the agency determined that Piru Creek possessed no outstanding values and therefore was not eligible for Wild and Scenic River protection. In response to litigation, the USFS reluctantly identified an outstanding geology value for the creek in its 2005 Forest Plan Revision.

 

In response to continued advocacy by CalWild and others, the USFS has now determined in the draft Plan and its accompanying resources report that the creek possesses the following outstandingly remarkable values:  scenery (high scenic attractiveness well documented in blogs, guidebooks, and social media), fish (resident rainbow trout are 99.9% genetic steelhead that may contribute to the recovery of the endangered southern California populations), and geology (tilted rock formations that may be crucial to understanding of the geological formation of the west coast).

 

Still, the USFS refuses to identify an outstandingly remarkable recreation value for Piru Creek, even though the stream offers a rare opportunity in southern California for class III-V whitewater kayaking and catch and release trout fishing. In addition, Frenchman’s Flat on the Recreation segment of the creek is a popular low-cost swimming destination for local communities, many of which are communities of color. 

 

Typically, Piru Creek below Frenchman’s Flat is only runnable during wet years by expert class IV-V kayakers. But American Whitewater has recently negotiated to have the Pyramid Dam license holder to time the release and amount of downstream water deliveries to provide up to six weekend days of winter water releases for whitewater recreation. Outdoor photographer and kayaker Gary Valle considers Piru Creek downstream of Pyramid Dam as “one of the most unique, isolated, and scenic one-day, road accessible, whitewater runs in the western U.S.”

 

Piru Creek also offers unique opportunities to explore the wild trackless canyon downstream of Frenchman’s Flat. Outdoors author Jerry Schad said that “Piru Creek offers a rugged wilderness experience less than one hour’s drive away from L.A.’s northern suburbs.” Further, Piru Creek’s Recreational segment is one of only two streams in southern California reserved for catch and release fishing (the other being nearby Sespe Creek Wild and Scenic River). Frenchman’s Flat on the Recreational segment is a popular destination for family recreation during the summer.

 

To be outstandingly remarkable, a recreation value must be rare, unique, or exemplary, and capable of attracting visitors from outside the local region. The USFS discounts Piru Creek’s recreation value because it is like other streams in the region and the agency claims that most recreational visitors are from the region.

 

Other than the controversy over recreation, the Plan provides a reasonable framework for the management and protection of the Piru Creek Wild and Scenic River, including proposed and future management actions, and a monitoring component. What the draft Plan doesn’t currently include is a visitor use capacity analysis, which is still underway by the agency. This analysis could address potential overuse issues at Frenchman’s Flat.

 

What You Can Do:

 

Feel free to use the form letter below to comment on the draft Plan and Resources Report by the March 31 deadline. Be sure to include any personal experience you may have enjoyed recreating in Piru Creek. To submit an electronic comment by the March 31 deadline, go to: https://cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public//CommentInput?Project=58710. Fill in the required contact information and cut and paste your comments in the Letter Text box provided. You can also mail a hard copy of your comments by March 31.

 

TARGET LETTER:

 

Supervisor Roman Torres

Angeles National Forest

701 North Santa Anita Avenue

Arcadia, CA 91006

Attn: Piru Creek CRMP

 

Dear Supervisor Torres:

 

Thank you for determining in the Piru Creek Comprehensive River Management Plan that the designated segment of Piru Creek possesses outstanding scenery, fish, and geology values. However, I urge you to include the creek’s rare and unique recreational opportunities as a specific outstandingly remarkable value protected in the Plan.

 

Piru Creek between Pyramid Dam and Piru Reservoir provides a rare opportunity for class III-IV whitewater kayaking in a truly wild setting, all just an hour drive from Los Angeles. Although boatable flows are only available during wet years, the new federal power license for Pyramid Dam will ensure that State Water Project water deliveries downstream will provide up to six weekend days of boatable flows in the winter.

 

In addition, the trackless Wild segment of Piru Creek offers a rare but easily accessible canyoneering experience, while Frenchman’s Flat upstream is a popular family recreation destination for local communities of color to seek  respite from the summer heat. A short segment of the creek is also one of only two catch and release trout streams in southern California and is popular with anglers.

 

I urge you to recognize Piru Creek’s outstanding recreational value. I support the proposed and potential future management actions in the draft CRMP and urge the U.S. Forest Service to complete its visitor use capacity analysis as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

 

(Name, Address, Email)

 

To review the draft Plan and Resources Report, go to: https://usfs-public.app.box.com/v/PinyonPublic/folder/158228262975.

 

If you have any questions about this alert, feel free to contact Steve Evans, CalWild Rivers Director, email: sevans@calwild.org, phone: (916) 708-3155.