Submitted by Darla DeRuiter
Executive Director, Friends of Plumas Wilderness
What do you value about local public lands?
Sixty percent is a number that has two meanings for the Feather River Watershed: 60 percent is public land managed by the US Forest Service and 60 percent burned in the last five years.
Whether burned or unburned, Friends of Plumas Wilderness wants to know how you feel about our public lands. Given recent large-scale, rapid changes, have your values and concerns changed?
“For nearly 50 years, Friends of Plumas Wilderness has brought people together to protect what we all love: wildlife and special places where we can find solace and solitude,” said Darla DeRuiter, Executive Director at FoPW. “Right now, only about 7 percent of the watershed is permanently protected, including both public and private lands.”
Public Input Sought
There are many ways to experience our public lands and a range of values associated with them. FoPW seeks to learn what the public values. They have released a public opinion survey seeking input on how to achieve permanent protection across more of the watershed. All are invited to complete the survey here.
Since about 60 percent of the watershed has burned in the last 5 years, and there are several landscape-scale projects being planned, the organization’s leadership feels now is a good time to initiate discussion about future protections.
“1984 was the last time anything was protected here,” said Darrel Jury, Board President. “That’s the year I graduated high school – when Bucks Lake Wilderness was designated.”
Gap in Protections
Compared to the rest of the state and nation, the Upper Feather River watershed lacks permanent protections. California has protected about 24 percent of lands, and nationwide, about 12 percent is protected, mostly in the West.
But there is an opportunity to increase protections in our region from the current 7 percent by focusing on the rugged and remote wildlands: areas that are not productive timber lands but are valuable for wildlife, recreation, and the services that nature provides like clean air and water.
Friends of Plumas Wilderness board member Dr. Jeff Kepple said, “The health of public lands and our personal health are interconnected. Having places where we can nurture and refresh our body, mind and spirit is essential to a healthy life. Nature provides the gift of these places.”
What does ‘protect’ mean?
Public land protections do not inhibit the use of fire suppression, as was seen last summer during the Dixie Fire when bulldozers, chainsaws, and other mechanized vehicles were used in the Bucks Lake Wilderness.
Wilderness designation is the highest level of protection in the U.S. and the most restrictive. Wilderness might be appropriate in some areas, but elsewhere FoPW might advocate for other, less restrictive designations, like Wild & Scenic Rivers.
A legacy of the timber boom means public lands in the Upper Feather River watershed are among the most densely roaded in the US, with over 2.5 linear miles of road per square mile. Due to the high density of roads, access to our local public lands is typically not an issue.
Vehicles are currently allowed on 97% of the Plumas National Forest, year-round. Protection may mean restricting vehicular access in some places. This could enhance the quality of experiences for many users, bringing a more balanced spectrum of recreation opportunities and attracting a broader range of visitors to strengthen our local recreation and tourism economies.
Provide your input
The group is reaching out to organizations, elected officials, and boards throughout the region to present their vision and gather feedback. If your group is interested in such a presentation, email DeRuiter at [email protected].
Since 1974, the mission of Friends of Plumas Wilderness is to study, explore, and maintain the integrity of natural ecosystems where the Sierra and Cascades meet. Protect Plumas is the group’s current campaign. Find out more at plumaswilderness.org and share your feedback through the survey.