Sunday, May 2, 2004

Lost Camp THP approved

At long last, CDF (CA Department of Forestry) has concluded its evaluation of the Siller Bros. lumber company Timber Harvest Plan (THP) at Lost Camp.

Near Blue Canyon, and south of the railroad, is the historic townsite of Lost Camp. An Eocene-age (ca. 55 million years old) river channel is preserved here, with a body of gold-bearing gravels, similar in age and nature to those at Dutch Flat and Gold Run. In the late 1850s, miners swarmed to the place, a town was built, and Allen Towle of Dutch Flat built a sawmill, anticipating brisk demand. However, the boom swiftly subsided, and but a few miners remained. One of these was Gold Run's Osmyn Harkness, who patented a claim on hydraulic mining ground there in 1872. Later, a hard-rock claim was patented on a quartz vein in adjacent Fulda Canyon, and was worked as the Red Rock Mine. Also, a "tailings claim" was located in Blue Canyon itself, below the Harkness mine.

Trails led away from Lost Camp west into Blue Canyon, east to Monumental Creek, southwest down the Lost Camp Divide (between Blue canyon and the North Fork of the North Fork American River (NFNFAR)) and south, across the NFNFAR, to Sawtooth Ridge and Texas Hill. This last became known as the China Trail.

These several patented claims eventually came under the ownership of Auburn's Wendell Robie, who wished to preserve the historic trails of Placer County. Later, Robie, or his estate, sold to Siller Bros. lumber company. This company is headquartered in the Marysville-Yuba City area, and owns lands scattered across this part of the Sierra, including one or two parcels in Green Valley, on the main North Fork.

In 2003 Siller Bros. filed a THP on its 590 acres at Lost Camp. Since Lost Camp lies within odd-numbered Section 23, I had mistakenly thought it belonged to Sierra Pacific Industries, another lumber company, and had written letters over recent years to Tahoe National Forest (TNF), asking them to try to purchase Section 23, to protect the townsite and the China Trail.

The Lost Camp THP took me by surprise. I went to CDF offices in Auburn and obtained a copy of the lengthy document. The public comment period had already obstensibly passed, but CDF itself had raised some objections to the THP, and while these were being addressed, public comment was still allowed.

Several of us on this email list wrote letters to CDF about the Lost Camp THP. Ron Gould and I explored the more easterly parts of the 590 acres, in Fulda Canyon. Some letters were also sent to Siller Bros., asking them to defer timber harvests there while attempts were made to get the lands there into the TNF "queue" of land acquisition targets. Siller Bros. did not reply.

The Lost Camp THP calls for a rather severe timber harvest. Three canyons cross the 590 acres: Blue Canyon, Texas Canyon, and Fulda Canyon. Within these canyons, broadly speaking, timber has never been harvested, and some truly gigantic Douglas Fir grow in Fulda Canyon, for instance. The THP called for helicopter logging of these three canyons, while ordinary tractor (bulldozer) logging would take place on the intervening uplands, as, for instance, the site of Lost Camp itself.

The severity of the THP is such that, in the upland areas, it amounts to a virtual clearcut, with two to three "overstory" trees per acre left uncut.

It should be noted that within the canyons, where helicopter logging will occur, there will be relatively little disruption of soils. These areas of old-growth timber are too steep for bulldozer logging and are essentially pristine. The steep slopes make for thin soils and the occasional pockets of deeper soils support pockets of heavy timber. Since, individually, these stands of old-growth Douglas Fir etc. are less than 20 acres in extent, they do not fall under CDF's definition of old-growth timber. Hence the extra protections afforded old-growth timber cannot apply here.

Our comments about the THP were rendered less effective, because we had no access to the confidential archeological assessment of the area. However, the concerns we raised, about the townsite, the mining ditches, and the China Trail, caused CDF to make its own on-site evaluation of the archeological resources there.

CDF's Official Response to our concerns is a 24-page document. It also comprises official approval of the (slightly modified) THP.

The main change to the THP is that plans for a major road and stream crossing in Texas Canyon have been dropped. Also, to preserve esthetics, care will be taken to lop logging slash down to within 18 inches of the ground in a zone extending 100 feet to either side of the Lost Camp Road. And finally, care will be taken to remove slash from the course of the China Trail.

The bottom line is that the Lost Camp THP has been approved, and that Siller Bros., by not replying to our letters asking whether they would be willing sellers of the 590 acres, seem, at this point, to *not* be willing sellers.

The Official Response and the THP itself make for somewhat difficult reading, difficult, and frustrating. I raised the issue of the destruction of historic trails by logging, for instance, and in response, CDF provided the pertintent portion of the Forest Practice Rules, which essentially ignore historic trails. However, it looks as though the China Trail itself will be protected from undue damage in this timber harvest.

Siller Bros. owns various lands which are important to the future of our trails and our wildlands. They were on the verge of helicopter logging their Green Valley lands in 1976. They also have minor holdings in the Bear River canyon along the line of an old narrow-gauge railroad which makes a fine trail. I wonder whether we might not make a better effort to engage Siller Bros. in a dialogue about these lands. Perhaps they might become willing sellers, in some cases.

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