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More questions arise in Portola regarding proposed national monument

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

The second of four public meetings held by the Friends of Plumas Wilderness, drew about half as many participants as the first, but just as many concerns.

Roughly two dozen people attended the March 23 event in Portola, three days after the event held in Quincy. As with the first meeting, staff presented an overview of the group itself and then shared maps showing the status of federal lands within the watershed, which includes Plumas County and parts of Lassen, Sierra and Butte counties. Read more about the March 20 meeting here.

The second half of both meetings was devoted to talking about plans to designate a portion of the watershed a national monument — the Feather River Canyons National Monument. Originally, the effort seemed to be directed toward the Middle Fork of the Feather River, but during the Quincy meeting, attendees learned it could apply to any area of the watershed if that’s what the community wanted.

During both meetings, Friends of Plumas Wilderness stressed that the movement would need the outstanding support of the community to proceed. However, there is no mechanism delineated to determine what constitutes outstanding community support.

Attendees at the Portola meeting included Plumas County Supervisors Jeff Engel and Dwight Ceresola, as well as Sharon Dryden, the chairman of the Sierra County Board of Supervisors. Engel, who attended both meetings, said that thus far, the effort hasn’t received support from the local boards of supervisors. “They came to the board last year and didn’t get outstanding support,” he said, adding that Butte County wrote a letter in opposition to the effort.

One of the main concerns voiced at both public meetings was adding another layer of bureaucracy to the management of federal lands. As it is now, the lands are under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service. While this agency will still have responsibility, it would need to work in conjunction with other partners depending on the areas designated in the planning process. For example, the Department of the Interior oversees National Monuments, so those two departments would need to collaborate, as well as potentially US Fish and Wildlife, tribal entities, and others. According to Charles Schramel, the executive director of Friends of Plumas Wilderness, the management would remain with the Forest Service.

Dan and Samantha Gallagher attended the meeting and both complimented the thorough presentation made by Friends of Plumas Wilderness as well as the cordial nature of the interchange between the presenters and the attendees. “I was honestly very impressed with our audience,” he said. But they both had concerns.

Gallagher, who is vice president of development for Nakoma, and who has a background with the Forest Service, is concerned about protecting the county from wildfire and what implications a monument status would have on those efforts. Gallagher, who works closely with Firewise, said there is a lot of progress being made and he wouldn’t want anything to detract from that work.

That was a sentiment voiced during the Quincy meeting as well — a concern that the monument status would hinder those efforts. It’s unknown what the national monument status would mean locally because a plan to manage the lands isn’t developed until after a monument has been declared. The planning process is supposed to be completed within three years, but often takes longer.

Several people asked the presenters why there was a need for a monument status: What is the risk to the land currently that would be alleviated? Ron Logan, who is the chairman of the board for Friends of Plumas Wilderness, said that a large-scale mining operation or a dam could be a threat to the area. Supervisors Ceresola and Engel said neither would be possible — as restrictions exist now.

Samantha Gallagher asked about accessibility. Using the term Trojan Horse, she asked about the possibility of unintended consequences. “Can this board guarantee that locals won’t lose access to the land?” she asked. She didn’t receive a response.

Another question that didn’t receive a direct answer was posed by Sierra County Supervisor Sharon Dryden. She noted that the nonprofit now has four paid staff members and asked if there was a new funding source. Attendees were told to look on the IRS website … but those that looked, couldn’t find an answer. When Plumas News asked a board member about the funding source, they were told that it was a two-year grant, but not who granted the funding.

A third public meeting had been scheduled this week in Chester, but will be rescheduled.

The next scheduled Friends of Plumas Wilderness public meeting is Monday, April 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Indian Valley Academy located at 4338 Main St. in Taylorsville.

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