Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tahoe National Forest; For Sale?

It seems that Tahoe National Forest is up for sale ... see

for a list of parcels (warning: web page takes a while to load).

I've been writing another letter, about our old trails, to Governor Schwarzenegger, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, Congressman Doolittle, and the Supervisors of Placer and El Dorado counties. It is one of those too-long letters I mistakenly imagine will help inform my representatives.

So many subjects arise: the history of the trails; the history of Tahoe National Forest (TNF); "Gion vs. the City of Santa Cruz," and the whole body of case law and common law which tells us that, yes, these same old trails are in fact "public" trails, whether crossing public, or private, lands; and more.

The capstone to this legal issue is that TNF took the time and trouble (1946-50) to secure deeded easements on the very historic trails they would abandon to the logging bulldozers a few years later.

But how can I properly tell the Governor and others, that current TNF employees have not only never set foot on these trails, they likely have not even heard of them?

Hence when Placer County decided to allow residential uses on a 40-acre parcel directly above Iron Point and the Euchre Bar Trail, which parcel had enjoyed a special non-residential "Forest Production" zoning, and thus lower taxes, for decades, and which parcel is surrounded on three sides by TNF lands, I thought to myself, "Tahoe National Forest should take a stand on this; TNF should object, in writing, to the Placer County Supervisors."

A noble thought. The truth, tho, is that just then a new District Ranger had been put in charge of the Nevada City Ranger District. Her name was Vivian Kee. I called her up and tried to describe the situation to her; but I failed. Vivian Kee had never set foot on the Euchre Bar Trail, never heard of it, in fact, and she had never seen the North Fork American River, for District Ranger Kee came to TNF from outside the area.

This is quite common. The people in charge of our pubic lands often have no personal knowledge of those lands. They execute their "Forest Plan" according to a certain body of environmental law. Their job requires much tedious sitting-in-front-of-computers. This shows they are professionals; this, and their cozy, benefit-laden salaries.

When you call a TNF employee on the telephone, and speak with them at length, as I have many many times, you will likely think, "Here is a hard-working and intelligent person."

You will think kindly of the TNF employee. You may even imagine that your unique knowledge, acquired through four decades of Sierran exploration and study, can be of use to TNF.

For instance, when TNF changed its Ranger Districts recently, and the Foresthill District took over some of the old Nevada City District, to the north, I was pleased. My experience was that the TNF people over in Foresthill knew the local area better than most TNF employees. I think kindly of TNF folk at Foresthill.

A year ago, while trying to talk with a TNF employee at Foresthill about some issue, but finding as so often happens, that she was out of the office, I asked what had taken her out in "the field" that day, and learned she was over here in my area, visiting TNF lands near Dutch Flat and Alta.

Now, I have been trying to talk to TNF about their lands and trails near Dutch Flat and Alta, since about 1978.

In 1984 I met with TNF employees concerning the freshly-closed Smarts Crossing Road, a historic road leading down to and once, across, Bear River, where an exceptional cliff-bound pool has offered swimming and diving to generations of locals. There are parcels of TNF land scattered here and there in that area, and I wanted TNF to take a stand, and declare that the road was a public road leading to public lands, and could not be closed.

Well. I found that TNF had decided not to ever protect the public's right to any road or trail. There was one exception; they helped Bohemia Lumber Company keep an old road open, back behind Anderson Peak.

The exception which proves the rule?

At any rate, last year, when I found that a TNF employee was actually visiting these lands-near-Dutch-Flat, I was pleased and intrigued

I called back, and offered to guide her around that area. How many times I have offered to show TNF employees this or that trail, or beautiful place, or archeological site! But they usually refuse, and she refused me this time, too.

Parenthetically, I had also called up and talked with TNF employees about the nearby Mule Springs area, over on Lowell Hill Ridge, in Nevada County, back in the 1980s and 1990s. I had expressed my concern for the area, and its unusual historical and archeological resources, being on the line of that prehistoric trans-Sierran trail we now know as the Donner Trail. The wet meadow, with its archeological importance, was being rutted and ruined by OHVs.

I found that TNF "cared about" historic Mule Springs, but "didn't have enough money" to protect the site.

Now, it looks as though Tahoe National Forest has decided to sell off these very same lands, to help fund the so-called Secure Rural Schools program, intended to disburse revenues to those counties which once enjoyed revenue streams from Forest timber harvests.

These lands include a parcel directly on the old road to Lost Camp and the China Trail, where I have urged TNF for many years to purchase the private lands at the trailhead.

I wrote them and called them and as usual, asked them to come take a look at the China Trail, at Lost Camp, and so on.

They never did. It's been about ten years, now. I guess I shouldn't hold my breath?

Last year, I spoke with new American River District Ranger Jan Cutts about the China Trail and Lost Camp and the Rawhide Mine and Sawtooth Ridge and so on, and she assured me that she wished to get out and hike around and get to know her new District; for like Ranger Kee, Ranger Cutts had no personal knowledge of this area, the area she is entrusted with.

Well, it's only been a year with Cutts, maybe I really *should* hold my breath.

I like Jan Cutts.

I remember when I met her out at Iron Point last year; I had complained that the complete lack of TNF maintenance on the Euchre Bar Trail had led to much erosion, as the "water bars" which divert runoff from the trail, were all broken.

I brought my gloves, my mattock, my shovel, and loppers, for I wish to popularize a new notion: just get the job done, baby.

I showed my tools to Ranger Cutts, thanked her for her interest in the Euchre Bar Trail, and suggested we walk on down the trail and fix it, right then and there.

Of course, she refused. One does not go to college and prepare oneself to sit in front of a computer and be "professional," just to dirty one's hands.

Supposedly, in a week or so, there will be maps on the main Forest Service website, showing these TNF parcels proposed for sale. However, I was able to identify them all easily enough using their already-published legal descriptions, of the sort, "T16N R10E Section 26," etc. etc.

The couple-dozen parcels in question are disjunct from the main mass of TNF lands, interfingering with private lands and sometimes, BLM lands. They are up to about 320 acres in size, but most are much smaller.

In a way, these parcels are on the cutting edge; they are in those western Forest boundary areas, just exactly where we've been discovering, to our horror, that what we had always thought was The Commons, is often actually private property. This is exactly where we ought to hold the line and fight the good fight against further suburbanization; this is where TNF should be trying to purchase the private lands to protect the Commons, not auctioning public lands so as to further hurt and reduce the Commons.

It seems that some kind of public comment period on the TNF land sale will open, soon.

I will keep you informed.

No comments: