Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Photos of the North Fork; News



is a website with some nice photos of the North Fork, by Ron Gould of the North Fork American River Alliance. Take a look at the gallery!

I've been meaning to write up some North Fork news but it's so depressing I can't even think about it. Back in the 1990s I started to feel a real sense of urgency about Sawtooth Ridge (the divide between the main NF and the North Fork of the North Fork American River or NFNFAR).

Sawtooth Ridge was a fairly wild and secluded place, despite having been hammered by logging in many areas. But on the NF side of Sawtooth, it was pretty much untouched; and on the NFNFAR side, well, a bit wrecked, but still pretty, and fun to explore.

An old trail from Lost Camp to Sawtooth Ridge, via the NFNFAR, came to my attention. I used to call ti the Lost Camp Trail but it has its own name, the China Trail, or sometimes you'll hear it called the China Bar Trail. At any rate, Forest Service maps showed Lost Camp and the trailhead, near Blue Canyon, to be on private land, in an odd-numbered section. I assumed that it was "railroad" land now belonging to Sierra Pacific Industries, who had done some clear-cutting on Sawtooth Ridge.

So I wrote a series of somewhat misguided letters to Tahoe National Forest (TNF), and to my elected representatives, and the Trust for Public Land, and so on. In all these letters I asked for funds for TNF to purchase the section at Lost Camp. For there were TNF lands almost surrounding Lost Camp.

Despite my sense of urgency, nothing was accomplished at all. The years went by.

Finally I learned that Lost Camp belonged to Siller Brothers Lumber, out of Yuba City.

The letters changed accordingly. Also, a number of us wrote to CDF about the major 560-acre timber harvest planned there, and we did succeed in getting the trailbed itself protected, in theory.

Last summer all hell broke loose. "No Trespassing" signs sprouted on Sawtooth Ridge, and the ideas I had proposed for years, of TNF land acquisition at Sawtooth, and management of the three canyons and two divides as a primitive area, now seem hopeless. The cap was the discovery, a couple months ago, that 320 acres containing a stretch of the NFNFAR is now for sale. This piece is way out near Helester Point.

So many old trails wind around Sawtooth Ridge. Some abandoned, some destroyed by logging. Let me see. Is even one intact? The Government Springs Trail/ Oh yes, intact, but the trailhead has been gated for ten years now, for it turns out the "Government" springs are on private property.

So. Civilization arrives on Sawtooth Ridge.

At some point--maybe in the 1960s or 1970s--Tahoe National Forest made a crucial and far-reaching decision. Instead of considering that TNF was a unit, with a definite boundary and some private inholdings, TNF decided, apparently, that it really consisted of a set of parcels, many disjunct.

Suddenly, with this or that or practically any old trail, TNF would not lift a finger to prevent damage, on the private inholdings. What bureaucratic good sense it must have made, to decide that TNF is nothing but parcels; that it has no soul of its own, no unique history, no wild and scenic and recreational fabric which deserves any care; no, that was in the good old days. In Modern Times, TNF works diligently to protect Spotted Owl habitat.

And well they might! I have no problem with protecting Spotted Owls, They are wonderful and strange birds, with a hoot which often sounds like the bark of a dog gone far away crazy and alone. When I first heard it I thought the forest was worse than haunted. It was scary.

So yes, protect the owls by all means.

Incidentally, the latest scheme to protect these old-forest-loving birds, in TNF, is to purposely log an area up in the Middle Fork American where Spotted Owls are known to nest, and see if they are really scared away, or not.

If not, well, then it's gonna be time to cut some more old-growth timber on National Forest lands.

Well, the World is Going to Hell in a Handbasket, as they say. And as I wrote to Tom McGuire recently,

Hey Tom,

Why are we not looking at the NYC 500-foot waterfall today?

What is wrong with us? With the world? With our society? Our health? Our families?

But mainly, why are we not looking at the NYC waterfall when it is bigger than we ever even imagined?

To which he made some limp-wristed reply or another; Tom's from the Bay Area, you know; there's no accounting for these would-be explorers and their many vagaries; why, if Johnny Muir had lived around here, he would have visited that New York Canyon waterfall a million times, and not just in June, not just in April, but in the middle of severe snowstorms, again and again and again, just to make sure he fully appreciated all its varied moods.

After all, he like Yosemite Falls enough to live up on Sunnyside, the rock ledge 400 feet above the Valley floor, between Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls. Nowadays it's considered Class 4 rock-climbing or something. Muir lived there. It was a lot warmer than the valley floor.

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