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Sierra Plan- Zero Wilderness and 94% Fewer Wild Rivers

The draft plan for the Sierra National Forest will determine the future of our wild lands and rivers in the central Sierra Nevada for the next generation. Unfortunately, the plan fails to adequately protect wild lands and rivers for present and future generations. Not one acre of new wilderness is recommended in the plan out of an inventory of 312,840 acres of potential wilderness. Worse yet, the plan reduces an extensive inventory of 633 miles of eligible Wild & Scenic Rivers to just 35.5 miles. The agency’s twisted reasoning is that most rivers and streams flowing through the Forest share magnificent scenery, diverse recreation opportunities, and rich cultural values, but few are exemplary enough for wild and scenic protection.

Hikers along the Kings River. Photo by Steve Evans

The plan fails to recommend wilderness protection for the 42,000-acre Kings River addition to the Monarch Wilderness, which provides a migration corridor ranging from the Sierra foothills to its 14,000 foot-high crest for species in response to climate change. Another wild place left unprotected is the 45,000-acre Devil Gulch-Ferguson Ridge roadless area, which protects the water quality and biological/ecological integrity of the South Fork Merced Wild & Scenic River.

The draft plan gives short shrift to wild and scenic eligibility of magnificent Dinkey Creek, which flows 30 miles from the alpine landscape of the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness through two rugged roadless areas to its confluence with the North Fork Kings in the Sierra foothills. The creek attracts whitewater kayakers from all over the world, as well as generations of families from throughout Central California who camp at Dinkey Creek to escape the summer heat. Another stream discounted as a potentially eligible river is the South Fork San Joaquin, which flows past Mono Hot Springs (a sacred site for local Native American Tribes) and then tumbles down a deep, rugged, and trail-less canyon to its confluence with the main stem San Joaquin.

The draft plan is a mixed bag for other conservation issues as well. On the plus side, the plan encourages prescribed and managed naturally ignited fires to restore forest ecosystems, adds the northern goshawk to the list of wildlife species of conservation concern, establishes five large conservation watersheds to protect aquatic species, and recognizes the importance of providing a wide variety of high quality recreation opportunities. On the negative side, the plan provides inadequate protection for high quality old growth forest habitat for species like the Pacific fisher and spotted owl. It also needs to triple the amount of ecologically beneficial fire over the next 15 years in order to make a dent in the tree mortality problem and restore healthy forest ecosystems. It should also eliminate grazing from degraded meadows. More importantly, the draft plan utterly fails to address the Forest Service’s budget, which is shrinking and will eventually result in the closure of public campgrounds, trailhead access roads, and other recreational amenities.

The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the plan considers five different alternatives. The inadequate draft plan is the Forest Service’s preferred alternative B. Alternative C recommends the most wilderness – 217,715 acres out of 312,840 acres of potential wilderness. Alternative E recommends less wilderness (164,074 acres) but uses wilderness boundaries proposed by conservationists to reduce conflicts with mountain bike and motorized trails for key areas. All alternatives include the unacceptable 35.5 miles of eligible wild and scenic rivers.

In addition to the Sierra Forest draft plan, the Forest Service also released for public the Sequoia Forest draft plan. Stay tuned for an alert on the Sequoia plan soon.

What You Can Do: The deadline for public comments is 11:59 PM on Thursday, Sep. 26, 2019. CalWild has provided an action alert through the link below. Comments from people who live outside the region are important, particularly if you visit the Sierra Forest to enjoy is wild lands and rivers.

To submit your public comment before the Sep. 26 deadline, visit: https://www.calwild.org/action-alert-sierra-nf-comments-sept2019

To review the Sierra Forest draft plan and EIS, visit:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/landmanagement/planning/?cid=STELPRD3802842

For more information about this issue, contact Steve Evans, CalWild Rivers Director, email: sevans@calwild.org; phone: (916) 708-3155.