Editor’s note: Friends of Plumas Wilderness is in the process of conducting public meetings on a proposal to designate portions of federal lands in Plumas County as a National Monument. The non-profit group has been conducting smaller meetings with stakeholders, but now is reaching out to the general public. Overwhelming community support is needed to request a National Monument designation. The first public meeting was held in Quincy on March 20 with the next scheduled for Portola on March 23, with more to follow. (See details in the flyer below.)
By Debra Moore
A standing-room-only crowd gathered for a meeting about designating the Middle Fork of the Feather River a National Monument and attendees seemed to focus on two revelations: the monument designation could include areas throughout Plumas County, not just the Middle Fork; and a management plan for the land isn’t developed until after a national monument designation is proclaimed.
The Friends of Plumas Wilderness held an informational meeting in the Quincy Library meeting room March 21. After introductions of some of the group’s leadership and their mission, there was a comprehensive overview of what comprises the watershed in Plumas County, its federal lands and the designations that are already listed on those lands. The group’s vision of Protect Plumas is “to protect 400,000 acres of wildlands and 100 miles of wild rivers in the Feather River watershed by 2030.”
The evening’s presenters included Executive Director Charles Schrammel, Conservation and Planning Director Elizabeth Ramsey, and board members Will Lombardi, Darla DeRuiter, Ron Logan and Jeff Kepple.
Ramsey said that 97,000 acres of the watershed’s roughly 2,000,000 acres are permanently protected, which she said represents about 5 percent of the land base. Current designations in the watershed include: the wild and scenic Middle Fork of the Feather River, Bucks Lake Wilderness, Caribou Wilderness, and Research Natural areas. (See map at the end of the article)
Ramsey provided a series of maps that layered in various aspects of the watershed and their protections. She also discussed what she described as a “misconception” about the word “protection.” She said, “It can be seen as a restrictive term, and we want to redefine what that means.”
The audience applauded Ramsey’s thorough presentation, and then the focus turned to the National Monument designation as the second hour of the meeting got underway. That’s also when the public had the opportunity to ask questions about what a monument status would mean.
The Antiquities Act of 1906, which was established to safeguard and preserve federal lands and cultural and historical sites, authorized presidents to designate National Monuments to achieve those goals. Since its inception, 18 presidents have designated 159 sites. Friends of Plumas Wilderness would like to add the Feather River Canyons National Monument to that list.
Currently the Forest Service manages the 1 million-plus acres of federal land in Plumas County. A National Monument designation would require a collaborative effort with different agencies and interests depending on the location. Such partners could include Fish and Wildlife and tribal leaders. During his introductory remarks, Schrammel stressed the tribal component. “We are on the ancestral lands of the Maidu community,” he said. “As guests on this land we have an obligation to return to it as much as we take from it.”
During community remarks, some audience members expressed concern about the layers of administration a National Monument would entail. “My concern is that a new plan in the changing climate isn’t going to provide the nimble, flexible response that we need,” said registered forester Ryan Tompkins, who is the UC Cooperative Extension Forester and Natural Resources Advisor for Plumas, Sierra, and Lassen counties.
In describing the uses for lands protected by a National Monument status, Ramsey said that existing uses are maintained such as recreation and grazing, but it limits industrial production. She added that it doesn’t change water or mining rights.
Ramsey explained that a National Monument can be proposed for an area only if it has “outstanding local support.” “It’s a non-starter without local support,” she said. Ramsey said the goals of establishing a National Monument would be to gain more funding for forest health, maintain access and uses, increase non-profit participation and include Maidu stewardship in perpetuity.
The audience applauded Ramsey’s presentation and then the meeting turned to a question-and-answer session.
Supervisor Greg Hagwood asked about the scope of the project. “Up to this evening, it was my belief that this was specific to the Middle Fork,” he said. “I saw a number of locations (on the map) that were far beyond the Middle Fork.”
Schrammel said that the full scope of the designation could be determined during the process.
“So this could potentially include locations near Almanor and a variety of other spots,” Hagwood asked.
“It could be if the community and the tribal groups want that,” Schrammel responded.
Hagwood persisted, “I’m kind of wondering … we’ve got Fish and Wildlife; and Forest Service, what are we going to be accomplishing above and beyond, and if existing uses aren’t going to be affected?”
Darla DeRuiter responded to his question and mentioned salmon, steelhead, forests that could withstand the wildfires, wildlife species, owls that depend on old forests, grizzlies, porcupines as examples of what has been lost. We used to have waters that were clean and free flowing. As we’ve fragmented the watershed with roads, and added toxins. Things have been changing.” She went onto describe what she called “the sliding baseline.” “Our mindset is ‘this is the way things are’ but things have changed … I think about the way it used to be.” She said the only way she knows moving forward is to “draw a line around it and protect it more.”
DeRuiter said the watershed has one wild and scenic river, one wilderness area and a couple of special designations. “The rest is vulnerable,” she said. “There will be an interest in more water, more power,” and she mentioned a multi-national mining company with interest in the area. She said she wanted to be proactive and think of the next generations.
“I appreciate your enthusiasm and passion, but I didn’t hear an answer to my question,” Hawood said. He asked again, “Is this exclusive to the Middle Fork or is it encompassing to more areas?”
“No, it is not specific to the Middle Fork,” she responded.
Licensed Forester Danielle Bradfield said she had seen some inconsistencies in the documents provided by Friends of Plumas Wilderness. “I don’t know what’s going to be in the management plan,” she said. “Can you clarify that?”
“A lot of it is unknowns,” Executive Director Schrammel said. “Through a monument campaign, you have a proclamation, then a management plan. We can say that we would like to advocate for specific things, but we cannot promise anything for sure. That’s the purpose of these community meetings to get feedback.” As an example he said that there are some aspects of a timber harvest that are damaging; some that are beneficial. “We are interested in having the conversation,” he said.
Forester Jake Blaufass said this effort could obstruct Forest Service plans as there are a number of projects underway. “They are currently vastly understaffed,” he said, and added that getting a “presidential proclamation makes them accountable to update the management plan just for those acres, but it will get in the way of current plans.” Blaufass said he is a “huge proponent of wilderness” and its recreation opportunities, but is “not a fan of the antiquities act being used in this manner. Once it’s signed it causes a management issue for the Forest Service.”
Board member Ron Logan said that it could bring additional help to the area.
“We have $260 million coming in, but we don’t have staffing,” Blaufass responded. “Throwing more money at something doesn’t necessarily make it happen.”
Another audience member asked how this would impact forest health projects that use mastication, mechanical and hand thinning, and tree planting.
Board member DeRuiter responded, “We know that prescribed burning is the least expensive and most effective. All these tools need to be used all over the forest. We know it’s really hard to get things done. Can a National Monument help us get more work done? It’s possible.”
Dana Flett, a former Friends of Plumas Wilderness board member, asked “Do you have an example of a designation that has not negatively impacted forest restoration?” She added that the Sequoia National Monument has hindered forest restoration.
DeRuiter said that they would research that issue.
Board member Will Lombardi said, “My father-in-law wrote the last forest plan. But we’re due for a new forest plan. As foresters, this is a real opportunity to dig deep and create what you want.” He said he saw this as an opportunity to promote the Lost Sierra with a grassroots effort.
Forester Blaufass didn’t like the idea of “taking it out of the hands of the scientists and biologists and putting it in the hands of a nonprofit group.” He said that changes should be made by updating the forest management plan.
Dana Flett said the “grass is taxed,” in response to Lombardi’s grassroots comment and agreed with Blaufass that a forest plan revision should be prioritized, not another layer of administration.
In response to a question about the process to achieve a National Monument designation, Schrammel said that a piece of legislation must be put forward by a representative in the House of Representatives or the Senate (though it doesn’t have to pass) and then presented to the president for his signature. The Department of Justice has to investigate the request also.
“I’m thrilled at the questions, and that the community is so engaged in this,” Schrammel said. “This is a long process. This is our first public community meeting. It’s not like this is going to happen in June.”
He added, “None of us is proposing a national monument (without community support). Through the conversation, we may learn it’s something different … I’m hearing we need to be better about our messaging.”
“I don’t think it’s a messaging problem; I think it’s a coming out party,” an audience member said, drawing some laughter from the crowd.
Local business owner Bobby Gott said, “Part of the problem is some of us are hearing the word protection as a closure. As someone in recreation it’s a concern.” He described the amount of money that OHV revenue brings in and said, “Zero of what was on your slides is motorized. What is your guys’ plan and what is the impact on shops and businesses like mine?”
“The intent is not to close any legal roads on the monument,” Board member Ron Logan replied.
Another audience member asked, “If the feedback is negative, when do you decide to shift gears?”
“We go forward into each community with these public meetings,” said Ron Logan. “And then follow up with individuals.”
DeRuiter said that once the proclamation is made, a management plan is supposed to be written within three years, but it usually takes longer.
Quincy resident Faith Strailey made some impassioned remarks about protecting the environment. “We are a cancer growing on this earth,” she said. “We have left little for other living things.”
Ryan Tompkins said, “We all share a passion for this place,” but advocated for a flexible and nimble approach to management, not adding another layer of administration with a monument.
As the meeting had already surpassed the two-hour timeframe, Schrammel thanked everyone for attending.
The next public meeting is this Thursday, March 23, in Portola. See details on this meeting and others to follow in the flyer below.