Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Damage to Big Granite Trail

On October 3, 2004, Tom Martin and others observed recent logging damage to the historic Big Granite Trail above Four Horse Flat. I was unable to get in and see for myself soon enough; the snow flew early and blocked up the roads.

I made calls and wrote letters and eventually found that in that area two timber harvest plans (THPs) were afoot: a "10% Exemption" harvest by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), and a full THP by CHY (another lumber company). The CHY plan was still under consideration by the California Dept. of Forestry (CDF), while SPI's 10% Exemption had been approved without public comment or a formal THP.

The lands of the two companies intermix amid Tahoe National Forest (TNF) lands. I could not tell for sure whether the damage had been done by CHY or by SPI or by both.

Yesterday Catherine O'Riley and I took a quick drive up there for a look. I was worried that snow might still block the roads, but as it happened, we had no trouble. From Yuba Gap to Lake Valley Reservoir, Forest Road 19 and then FR 38 led us past Huysink Lake, past the Salmon Lake Trail, and on to the unmarked ad hoc trailhead on the crest of the divide separating Big Valley on the west from Little Granite Creek on the east.

The popular Loch Leven Lakes area is about a mile north. Salmon Lake, less.

Here we found things just as reported by Tom Martin: the road which constituted that uppermost part of the trail had been cut wider by bulldozers, and then, when the harvest was completed, it had been closed by numerous water bars, two feet high. These had been placed at 50- to 100-foot intervals along the road. At the fork, a couple hundred yards in, the right fork--which is the Big Granite Trail--was untouched, but the left fork continued raw and torn up.

I suspect the right fork, which leads to a hunter's camp and the first appearance of a regular foot trail, has been a road for a long time, possibly for nearly if not all of a hundred years; the first roads had penetrated to Huysink Lake before 1900, and there had been plans in the early 1890s to widen the Big Granite Trail into a road, for better access to the La Trinidad Mine, across the North Fork American in Sailor Canyon.

We were in Section 9, T16N, R13E.

I could go into great detail about the damage we then saw, but to keep it simple, where the trail descends through an ancient forest of huge Incense Cedar etc., a bulldozer skid trail completely obliterated it. We eventually blundered onto a certain log deck which currently forms part of the trail.

Here we were warned away by a pair of Goshawks, guarding a nest in a tall thin Incense Cedar with much mistletoe. Fortunately they did not attack.

The logging road ending in the log deck was also freshly widened and graded. We left it in an attempt to recover the original line of the trail, and had success, following it down through heavy timber into the northernmost margins of the Four Horse Flat meadow-complex.

I had followed this same trail line to this same meadow margin from the other direction, a couple of years ago. It seems to me very worth while to re-open the historic trail and avoid the logging roads.

This area stood untouched by logging until around 1990 or thereabouts. Any who were familiar with this wonderland of meadows and tall aspens and huge cedars can only bitterly regret the 1990s logging. This logging was the consequence of the sudden sale of the old railroad lands in the 1980s.

If We The People had been smart, We would have bought those railroad lands a long time ago. They would have been cheap. But no.

We continued down the Big Granite Trail through Four Horse Flat, passing the Cherry Point Trail, itself, since the ca. 1990 SPI harvest, a logging road, and showing fresh use; and after a time in which we saw no logging damage, new skid trails appeared, and the old BGT disappeared beneath debris.

It seemed to me that all the damage to the trail itself could be at least roughly repaired by a crew of five or ten people with shovels, rakes, and a chainsaw or two, in a day.

We were unable to get south into Section 17, near Sugar Pine Point, because fallen trees blocked Road 38 near the Big Granite Trail. I fear that more damage may have been inflicted upon the old Sugar Pine Point Trail, as well. The trail drops to the east side of the divide and descends slowly to Sugar Pine Flat, an amazing stand of giant pines on TNF lands in Section 20. Part of this historic trail escaped destruction in the ca. 1990 SPI logging, and friends of mine and I have worked to maintain the almost-intact section, cutting back the Huckleberry Oak.

Just because nine-tenths of an old trail has been ruined by logging, does not mean that the surviving one-tenth should be abandoned.

I have been advocating TNF acquisition of these privately-held lands for a number of years now. Some sections have been purchased: Section 19, west of Sugar Pine Flat; and sections 11, 15, and 21, running down Big Granite Canyon to the North Fork. The good work of land acquisition should continue with all speed.

The "10% Exemption" harvest scenario allows timberland owners to harvest up to 10% of the standing timber without having to file a full Timber Harvest Plan. As I understand it, no new roads are constructed, but new skid trails are allowed as necessary. There is no public comment.

More to follow, as developments warrant.

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