Update on Mixed Sierra and Sequoia Plans

Update on Mixed Sierra and Sequoia Plans 1024 748 California Wilderness Coalition

Revised Forest Plans To Determine The Future Of Sequoia And Sierra National Forests

The U.S. Forest Service has released for public comment the draft supplemental management plans for the Sequoia and Sierra National Forests in the southern Sierra Nevada. With the release of these draft plans, the public has been granted 90 days to comment on the future of 2.1 million acres of National Forest lands in a region known for its iconic landscapes. This is the public’s opportunity to help determine the future management of the public lands that provide clean water for cities and farms, outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation, and a refuge for many sensitive, threatened, and endangered plants and animals.

This is the Forest Service’s second try at releasing draft management plans for the Sequoia and Sierra National Forests. The first draft plans released in 2016 failed to address massive tree mortality on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada caused by the seven year drought and decades of commercial logging and fire prevention. So the agency went back to the drawing board for three years and came back with these supplemental draft plans.

The plan’s comment period ends September 26, 2019. Two information workshops will be held in Bakersfield on August 20 and in Clovis on August 21, providing the public the opportunity to review maps and quiz resource specialists.

In the meantime, CalWild and its conservation allies are currently reviewing each draft plan and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Appendices, which total nearly 2,200 pages. In the next few weeks, CalWild will prepare and distribute action alerts for each draft forest plan, so that our active members and supporters may submit written or emailed comments by the September 26 deadline.

Key issues in the draft plans requiring strong public response include:

Wilderness – Because they are undeveloped, wilderness areas are an important source of clean water for downstream communities and farms, a critical refuge for sensitive wildlife and plant species, and an outstanding destination for visitors seeking opportunities for primitive recreation or solitude. Under the agency’s forest planning rule, the Forest Service is required to inventory roadless areas and make recommendations as to which roadless areas should be protected in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Unfortunately, the Sierra Forest draft plan does not recommend one acre of wilderness out of an inventory of 312,840 acres of roadless lands that meet wilderness criteria. The Sequoia Forest draft plan recommends a paltry 4,900 acre addition to the Monarch Wilderness out of an inventory of 535,046 acres of roadless lands meeting wilderness criteria.

Most of the existing wilderness on the Sierra Forest and a good percentage of wilderness on the Sequoia Forest are classic “rock and ice” areas above 8,000 feet in elevation. Recommendations from CalWild and other conservation organizations to expand the representation in the National Wilderness System of lower elevation mixed conifer, oak woodland, and chaparral ecosystems apparently have been rejected by the Forest Service.

A key Sierra Forest area worthy of wilderness protection but ignored by the Forest Service is the 66,322-acre Kings River Monarch Wilderness addition, which would provide a protected corridor for wildlife and plant species to migrate in response to climate change ranging from 1,000 feet elevation (near the confluence of the Kings and North Fork Kings Rivers) to the 14,000 foot crest of the Sierra Nevada. Another high priority area is the 46,298-acre Devil Gulch-Ferguson Ridge roadless area encompassing the South Fork Merced Wild & Scenic River. Other areas with under-represented ecosystems worthy of protection include Oat Mountain (10,981 acres), Sycamore Springs (17,907 acres), Bear Mountain (9,245 acres), and the San Joaquin River canyon downstream from Mammoth Pool dam, which would extend the existing an largely alpine Ansel Adams Wilderness to an elevation of about 2,200 feet in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Although the Sequoia draft plan recommendation to add 4,900 acres to the southern boundary of the Monarch Wilderness east of Hume Lake is appreciated, the Forest Service has ignored similarly compelling arguments to increase the ecological diversity of the National Wilderness System by failing to recommend some key lower elevation areas. These include a proposed 41,282 acre addition to the Golden Trout Wilderness encompassing much of the North Fork Kern Wild & Scenic River canyon, and two roadless areas that provide a scenic backdrop to the North Fork Kern recreation area upstream of Kernville – the 32,000 acre Stormy Canyon and 30,910 acre Cannell Peak proposed wilderness areas. In addition, the draft plan fails to recommend adding a 26,697 acre western addition to the existing Domeland Wilderness.

This North Fork Kern tributary flows out of the CalWild’s proposed Stormy Canyon Wilderness and was determined eligible by the Forest Service as eligible for wild and scenic river protection. Photo: Steve Evans

Wild & Scenic Rivers – Wild & Scenic Rivers are managed to protect their free flowing character, water quality, and outstanding scenery, recreation, fish, wildlife, geology, ecology, history, and cultural values. The forest planning rule requires the Forest Service to conduct a comprehensive eligibility assessment of rivers and streams for wild and scenic protection.

One of the few bright spots in the draft forest plans is that the wild and scenic inventory in the draft Sequoia Plan greatly expands the 75 miles of eligible streams identified in the 1990s to 341 miles. Several important tributaries to the North Fork Kern Wild & Scenic River have been newly determined by the Forest Service to be eligible for protection, including Salmon Creek, Brush Creek, Bull Run Creek (including its tributary Deep Creek), Dry Meadow Creek (including its tributaries Nobe Young and Bone Creeks), Freeman Creek, and several tributaries of the Little Kern River (a major North Fork tributary). In addition, the Sequoia draft plan identifies three tributaries of the South Fork Kern River as eligible for protection, including Trout Creek, Fish Creek, and Bitter Creek. Protecting these tributaries will preserve the outstanding water quality, native fish species, and above average biotic integrity of the North and South Forks.

In addition, the Sequoia draft plan finds eligible the South Fork Middle Fork Tule River and its tributary Belknap Creek. These newly eligible segments join existing segments of the North Fork Tule River and North Fork Middle Fork Tule River, which were determined eligible in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the Forest Service appears to have ignored CalWild’s argument that the entire North Fork Middle Fork Tule should be eligible because it shares the same outstanding values of the existing eligible segment. That would ensure protection of the primary streams in the Tule River watershed.

On the other hand, the Sierra draft plan has gone backwards in regard to its wild and scenic river inventory. The original 2016 draft plan identified a staggering 640 miles of eligible river and stream segments on the Sierra Forest. This has shrunk to 35.5 miles. Entire rivers and streams seem to be suddenly ineligible in the agency’s judgement. In other cases, eligible segments have been shortened.

For example, CalWild believes that the entire 30+ miles of Dinkey Creek from its source in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness to its confluence with the North Fork Kings River is eligible due to its outstanding scenic, recreation, wildlife, historical/cultural, and ecological values. The 2016 draft found about 15 miles of upper Dinkey Creek to be eligible but claimed that the lower creek possessed no outstanding values, even though it is internationally renowned for its whitewater kayaking. Things get worse in the 2019 draft plan, as the upper segment of Dinkey Creek previously found eligible in 2016 shrinks to just 4.7 miles.

This highly scenic segment of Dinkey Creek in CalWild’s proposed Bear Mountain Wilderness was not found eligible for wild and scenic protection by the Forest Service. In fact, the agency determined less than 5 miles of this 30+ mile creek to be eligible for wild and scenic. Photo: Steve Evans

Recreation – Most people interact with the Sequoia and Sierra National Forests through use of recreation facilities, including campgrounds, picnic areas, roads to trailheads, and trails. For example, nearly 1.5 million people visit the Sierra Forest every year for outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation contributes $1.57 billion to the economy of the southern Sierra and southern Central Valley. The most popular outdoor activities in this region are camping, trail sports, and water sports – all of which support 14 outdoor recreation-oriented companies. The Forest Service suffers from chronic budget cuts, reducing services at public campgrounds and other recreation sites, leaving roads and trails unmaintained, and funding fewer rangers to protect public safety and natural resources. The Sierra and Sequoia draft plans fail to address the important issue of funding for sustainable recreation. At the minimum, the final plans should include a proposed budget to sustain recreations facilities and opportunities.

Learn More About The Draft Forest Plans

Wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, and sustainable recreation are just a few of the issues in the draft Sequoia and Sierra plans. After completing its initial review of the draft plans, CalWild will produce alerts in the coming weeks for each plan to encourage conservationists to submit comments. The public comment deadline is September 26, 2019.

In the meantime, you can take your own deep dive into the draft plans by reviewing them on line at:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/landmanagement/planning/?cid=STELPRD3802842

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