Wild & Scenic Mokelumne Update

Foothill Focus Newsletter
photo of Mokelumne River
North Fork Mokelumne River below Salt Springs Dam
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BLM draft plan proposes Mokelumne River protection
The Mokelumne River's Electra run, above Highway 49, is popular for kayaking.
Recommendations in the Bureau of Land Management’s draft resource management plan for our area could lead to National Wild and Scenic River protection for miles of the Mokelumne River and portions of the Cosumnes River. BLM’s Folsom Field Office released its Sierra Draft Resource Management Plan and related draft environmental impact statement last fall. The final, adopted plan will set management direction for 230,000 acres of BLM-managed public lands, including a number of parcels in Amador and Calaveras Counties.

Mokelumne and Cosumnes River protection

Two of the four alternatives in the draft plan propose National Wild and Scenic River designation for 20.2 miles of the North Fork and main stem Mokelumne River from just west of Tiger Creek Dam to 100 feet below the Highway 49 bridge, with gaps around the West Point and Electra Powerhouses. Sixty percent of the land in these reaches is managed by the BLM now. The designation would have no legal effect on the private lands in the river corridor.

The BLM found the Mokelumne eligible for federal designation due to its outstanding water quality, scenic beauty, and cultural and historical resources.

The sections proposed for protection begin just downstream of the 17-mile, U.S. Forest Service-managed segment of the North Fork that is eligible for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system. The land between the Forest Service and BLM sections is mostly owned by PG&E and associated with Tiger Creek Powerhouse.

Providing Wild and Scenic River protection for these combined reaches, added to the protections already provided the North Fork section that flows through the Mokelumne Wilderness, would prevent construction of new dams and diversions on more than 60 miles of our local river. Existing water and hydroelectric projects would continue to operate as they do today.

One alternative in the BLM draft plan also proposed adding more than 55 miles of the North Fork, Middle Fork, and main stem Cosumnes River to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. The Cosumnes is the only Sierra river that flows from its headwaters to the valley floor without major dams or diversions. Consequently, it has great value as a scientific reference for how Sierra river ecosystems function.

Other rivers studied and found eligible for federal protection in the draft plan include the North Forks of the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers and the South Fork of the American River.

National Wild and Scenic River designation usually takes an act of Congress, so even if the final BLM plan includes the Wild and Scenic recommendations, they are only that —recommendations—until federal legislation is passed. Still, these eligibility findings will help greatly in our efforts to protect our local rivers.

Plan expands local rare plant protection

The draft BLM plan also proposes to expand the Ione Manzanita Area of Critical Environmental Concern to further protect rare Ione plant species included on the federal Endangered Species List: Ione manzanita, Ione buckwheat, and Irish Hill buckwheat. These plants are unique to the special soils around Ione and found nowhere else on Earth. We strongly support their protection.

In our comments on the draft plan, we recommended to BLM that it also consider establishing a critical concern area on a parcel of land it owns near Volcano. That parcel is home to California nutmeg (Torreya californica) which are rare for their size and elevation, as well as large old-growth madrone, Douglas-fir, and dogwood.

Following a site visit we arranged to the area in 2002, Dr. Michael Barbour, plant ecologist from U.C. Davis, noted, “I consider the site very important as a location for a vegetation type normally restricted to a higher elevation and also for the inclusion of large Torreyas.” On that visit, Barbour measured the circumference of typical Torreya at chest height as 71 cm (28 inches) and madrone as 132 cm (52 inches), both unusually large.

Future of scattered BLM parcels

For years, the Folsom Area BLM office has focused on selling or trading scattered parcels of land and acquiring and managing critical habitat and lands along the Sierra rivers where it already manages public lands. If adopted, the draft plan would continue that trend.

In our comments, we urged BLM to focus on acquisition of lands that may be made available through the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council and along potential Wild and Scenic Rivers as well as river reaches already in the National Wild and Scenic River System.

We also urged BLM to institute a community-based planning process before selling or trading scattered parcels in our counties. This could help ensure a voice for local residents in deciding on the future disposition of any lands, result in better coordination with the updates of the Amador and Calaveras County general plans, and lead to coordination with local recreation agencies, conservation organizations, and land trusts.

Other comments on the plan

In our other comments on the plan, we

• Urged BLM to continue supporting the Mokelumne Coast-to-Crest Trail activities while ensuring routes and plans do not harm cultural or environmental resources or the “outstandingly remarkable values” of the Mokelumne’s main stem and North Fork.

• Suggested prioritizing fuel reduction projects around homes and communities, where ignition risks and fire danger are highest.

• Asked BLM to protect the visual quality of BLM- managed lands in all Mokelumne River corridors, in part because of their value for tourism.

• Asked for more study related to water quality, including a discussion of the full extent of roads on all Folsom Field Office lands as well as a list of priorities for erosion control.

• Suggested that BLM consider the higher level of management for the Mokelumne Electra run that its “Special Resource Management Area” designation appears to provide. We pointed out the need for better riparian vegetation management and restoration on the Electra run as well as better protection of other resources, control of illegal dumping, and a more active and visible BLM management presence.

• Asked BLM to prohibit motorized vehicle use in certain areas and limit OHVs to designated routes to protect natural and cultural resources, as is now being done on our national forest lands.

• Supported the plan’s conservation strategies.

Final plan expected in August

The BLM accepted comments on the draft plan until mid-December. After reviewing the comments, it will prepare a final environmental impact statement and plan for release. The agency expects to have that done by August 2007.

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