Wild & Scenic Mokelumne Update

Foothill Conservancy News Article
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Mokelumne Wild and Scenic designation featured in local newspapers
Upcountry News-West Point News
The September issue of Upcountry News/West Point News featured an opinion piece on Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumnne River.

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Wild and Scenic -- What's in the name?

What is a Wild and Scenic River designation and is it right for the Mokelumne River?

That will be for Congress to decide. Efforts by the Foothill Conservancy to gain Wild and Scenic designation for the river have been under way since the organization successfully defeated the Devil�s Nose dam project in 1989.

The conservancy is seeking the designation for the north fork section of the river, from Salt Springs Reservoir to Tiger Creek, and for the main stem between Tiger Creek and Highway 49.

A recently-published Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Sierra Resource Management Plan states the main stem of the river is both eligible and suitable for Wild and Scenic designation because of �outstandingly remarkable� cultural, historical and high-water-quality values.

The benefits of Wild and Scenic designation for Amador and Calaveras Counties would be preservation of the river as it exists today and protection from the construction of new dams and diversions.

�It�s the only way to make sure our grandchildren and their grandchildren can use and enjoy the Mokelumne in the future,� said Chris Wright, Foothill Conservancy Executive Director. �It�s also the only way to make sure thirsty urban water users can�t take away our river and condemn private land to build a new dam and reservoir on the sections of river we use and enjoy today.�

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law Oct. 2, 1968, by President Johnson as recommended by a Presidential commission.

A river or river section may be designated wild and scenic by the U.S. Congress or the Secretary of the Interior. As of 2004, 164 river segments have been granted wild and scenic status in this country. California has 13 rivers or river sections designated as Wild and Scenic, including portions of the American and Tuolumne rivers.

Wild and Scenic is not as stringent a designation as a national park or wilderness area, according to Wright. �It doesn�t halt the development and use of a river,� said Wright. �Instead, the goal is to preserve the basic character of a river for the future.�

During an August interview aired by Jackson public access station TSPN, Amador County District 5 Supervisor Brian Oneto inaccurately stated, �A designation of wild and scenic would put restrictions on the river. It would take away basically the right of determination of what they do with the river and how it�s done and goes under the Congressional wild and scenic act and then what is done on that river is mandated by that act and our input would basically be meaningless at that point and I have a problem with that.�

Contrary to Oneto�s statements, landowners would see no change in land use with Wild and Scenic. Within three years of the designation, a comprehensive river management plan must be developed and must include public input.

�Here�s what to expect,� said Wright. �The Forest Service and BLM will develop a management plan with public input to protect the river�s cultural and historical resources, water quality, and scenic beauty. People who own land along the river will keep using their land the way they do today. PG&E will keep generating power. Amador County and downstream users will keep using water and those who use the river to camp, fish, swim, kayak or hunt nearby will keep doing all of those things. That�s what�s reasonable to expect.�

Calaveras County District 2 Supervisor Steve Wilensky, a proponent of the Wild and Scenic designation, sees benefits in that the public can shape the nature and activities for the future of the river. �With the timber industry suffering, river recreation is a source of income,� said Wilensky. �If there is something that we can bequeath to our children, any natural asset we could leave for them or future generations, this would be it. This is the legacy.�

Oneto also inaccurately stated Wild and Scenic designation would hamper the thinning of underbrush to lighten fuel loads in the river canyon.

According to Wright, Wild and Scenic designation assures best practices for forest and fire management will always be upheld. For information on Wild and Scenic designation, visit www.americanrivers.org and www.foothillconservancy.org.

Copyright 2007 West Point Publishing Reprinted with permission

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