Environmental Issues of the North Fork American

Wilderness Designation.

LWCF funding for Tahoe National Forest.

LWCF funding for the Gold Run Addition, Bureau of Land Management.

Other land acquisition objectives.

Addresses of elected officials.

Wilderness Designation.

The North Fork American Roadless Area, although impacted by tractor logging and helicopter logging, remains one of the largest roadless wild areas in the northern Sierra. It comprises around 40,000 acres, and eminently deserves formal Wilderness designation. I am a member of a group named American River Wildlands, working to secure Wilderness designation for the North Fork American, the North Fork of the Middle Fork American, and Duncan Canyon, being the largest remaining roadless areas in Placer County. We also seek additions to the existing Granite Chief Wilderness Area.

Please support Wilderness designation for the North Fork American by writing to Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Diane Feinstein, and Representative John Doolittle (addresses below).

Update, January 2003: Senator Boxer has submitted a California Wilderness Bill which includes a North Fork American Wilderness. Unfortunately, the proposed Wilderness area is only a fraction of the total Roadless Area: Placer County District Five Supervisor Rex Bloomfield was entrusted with determining boundaries, and he decided that mountain bikes should be able to use all the historic foot trails entering this wild, deep canyon. Hence the North Fork American Wilderness, as it appears in Senator Boxer's bill, involves only that part of the Roadless Area east of the Big Granite and Sailor Flat trails.

LWCF funding for Tahoe National Forest.

Tahoe National Forest has been working to acquire private inholdings along the Wild & Scenic River "corridor" of the North Fork American for years, with some success. Much of the private land is old "railroad land" which has since passed into the ownership of lumber companies, especially, Sierra Pacific Industries. A number of very important acquisition objectives remain, and Land & Water Conservation Act (LWCF) funding is being sought for fiscal year 2002 to make these purchases.

Please support LWCF funding for Tahoe National Forest's efforts on the the North Fork American by writing to Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Diane Feinstein, and Representative John Doolittle (addresses below).

Update, January 2003: The 2002 LWCF funds were approved by Congress, but were then diverted to pay for the costs of fighting wildfires. We need to keep our Senators and Representatives informed of the importance of these land acquisitions!!! The 2002 funds must be restored, and the 2003 funding must be approved. Beyond that, much more land should be acquired in and around the North Fork American; the process must continue. Go to Iron Point and look at the industrial, herbicide-enhanced clearcuts on Sawtooth Ridge, made recently by Sierra Pacific Industries, if you want to see a preview of what will take place far and wide, unless we can secure continued funding for land acquisitions.

For a map of the proposed acquisitions, and a photo of Palisade Falls, go here.

The text of the Forest Service proposal is as follows:


State: California
Size: 3,177 acres
Region/Forest: Pacific Southwest Region/Tahoe National Forest

Congressional District: 04

Representative: Honorable John Doolittle

Appropriation/Acquisition History of all private lands in North Fork American River:

FY 1996: L&WCF Purchase $1,496,000 1,680 acres acquired (2 cases)
FY 1997: L&WCF Purchase $167,000 60 acres acquired (1 case)
FY 1997: Land Exchange $2,205,000 1,880 acres acquired (1 case)
FY 1998: L&WCF Purchase $154,000 202 acres acquired (4 cases)

FY 2002 Request: $1,700,000 2,865 acres
Future Needs: $ 200,000 312 acres (9 parcels, 8 individual landowners)



The North Fork American River is designated as part of the both the State of California and the National Wild and Scenic River systems. It follows a deep, rugged, remote, beautiful, road less canyon -- one of the most exceptional canyons in California. The Wild River is 38.3 miles in length. 26.3 miles lie within the boundary of the Tahoe National Forest; the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers the remainder. BLM acquired the majority of the private holdings along the portion of the Wild River within their jurisdiction. There are approximately 3,177 acres of private land remaining within and immediately adjacent to the Wild River boundary within the Tahoe National Forest.

Any future logging or mining in the immediate vicinity of the river could significantly degrade the pristine character of the canyon as well as the exceptionally pure waters of the North Fork American. In addition, if the larger ownerships owned by Sierra Pacific Industries are subdivided and sold, cabin construction, parcel splitting or other river impacting activities could ensue, further degrading the canyon's natural character. And public recreation access would be further limited. Future purchase of the fragmented ownerships needed to mitigate negative impacts on the Wild River would be more difficult and expensive.

The canyon is very steep and rugged; rocky outcrops and vertical slopes are common. The waters of the North Fork are exceedingly pure. The North Fork has an excellent trout fishery; it is managed as a Wild Trout Stream maintained by natural reproduction. Because the canyon is so rugged and remote, its ecosystems and vegetation are in almost unspoiled condition. In the past logging has been considered uneconomical due to expensive road access. However, this has changed with increased use of helicopter yarding.

The canyon is home to numerous large mammals, including black bear and mountain lion, and also home to 150 species of birds, including spotted owls, peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and goshawks.

The canyon is also very popular with backpackers and fishermen. The area is served by an extensive trail system that is being improved by the Forest. The length of the steep, rugged canyon allows users to spread out and experience a true wilderness environment. The canyon provides hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, swimming, rock climbing, kayaking, and observing wildlife. Many historic sites and valuable petroglyphs are found within the area.

The entire river corridor is characterized by a checker-board ownership pattern resulting from railroad land grants. The majority of the private lands within the North Fork American Wild River area were owned by Southern Pacific Land Company. These lands were sold to High Sierra Properties and resold to Sierra Pacific Industries. High Sierra properties logged certain parcels prior to resale. The Forest's management objectives are to maintain the area in an unlogged state and manage for dispersed non-motorized recreation as well as protect the canyons unique water quality and biological values. Conflicting private landowner objectives complicate National Forest management within the Wild River corridor and on adjacent National Forest System lands. The Forest must react to requests for road and/or helicopter access.

The following individuals/organizations supported the Forest's recently completed purchases and exchange: Western States Endurance Run Foundation, Western States Trail Foundation, Protect American River Canyons, North Fork American River Council (which includes Friends of the River, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Central Sierra Resource Center, Mother Lode Chapter Sierra Club, Sierra Club Regional Office, California Wilderness Coalition, Friends Aware Wildlife Needs, Yosemite Area Audubon and Forest Alert), Friends of Sierra Rock Art, Placer Conservation Force, Placer County Conservation Task Force, Sierra Club, Placer County Board of Supervisors, Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce, Foresthill Divide Chamber of Commerce, Honorable Robert T. Matsui, House of Representatives, 5th District, Honorable Vic Fazio (retired), House of Representatives, 3rd District and Honorable John Doolittle, House of Representatives, 4th District. These same organizations/individuals continue to support further acquisitions.

The Tahoe National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan specifies management practice J1, Land Adjustments-Retain and Acquire. This directs the Forest to retain ownership of all National Forest System lands within the management area and acquire any private lands that will improve National Forest System management.

The Forest has no guarantee that the subject parcels will not be logged prior to acquisition by the United States. The remaining parcels planned for acquisition from Sierra Pacific Industries have been difficult to acquire by exchange due to a very limited exchange base. Purchase funding is needed to complete the acquisition plan within the river corridor.

The North Fork American is a nationally recognized resource by virtue of its status as a Congressionally designated Wild River. It provides a unique and valuable biological reserve as well as providing important recreation experiences for a large, close population. It is within one-hour travel time from Sacramento and Reno and within three hours travel time from the San Francisco Bay Area.



As stated above, the checkerboard ownership pattern complicates land management when adjacent owners do not have the same management objectives as the Forest Service. Acquisition by the Forest will insure that management activities on the now private parcels will not detract from the unique water quality and biological resources as well as the recreation experience being provided on the National Forest System lands. Acquisition will prevent logging, preserve the pristine condition of the lands, and maintain trail access in critical public use areas adjacent to the river. Acquisition will also prevent subdivision and subsequent sale in smaller parcels.


The Forest can be assisted in its acquisition efforts by a 3rd party non-profit organization if needed. Acquisition is strongly supported by those organizations listed above as well as numerous individuals.

LWCF funding for the Gold Run Addition, Bureau of Land Management.

West of the Tahoe National Forest boundary (in Green Valley), the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River is administered by the Bureau of Land Managment (BLM). When Congress added the North Fork American to the W&S River program in 1978, it specified an unusual "addition" to the W&S River "corridor," called the Gold Run Addition. Congress exempted Federal agencies from any spending limitations, in acquiring private lands within the Addition. However, no lands have yet been acquired.

Two historic trails descend to the North Fork American from within the Addition: the Canyon Creek Trail, and the Pickering Bar Trail. Also within the Addition are large portions of the historic hydraulic mines of Gold Run, where tons of gold were removed in the 19th century. There are numerous hiking trails and winding through these old mine "diggings." The Gold Run Addition is within a mile of I-80. Most of the lands within the Addition already belong to the BLM.

Currently, private lands within the Addition are for sale. The BLM (Folsom Resource Area; Deane Swickard, Area Manager) wants to acquire these lands, but needs money to do so. Perhaps the most direct and timely manner in which to effect purchase of these lands is for Senator Barbara Boxer to sponsor a bill giving LWCF funding to the BLM. A group named North Fork Trails has proposed that 357 acres be acquired at a minimum, to secure lands within and adjacent to the Gold Run Addition, said lands comprising all those private lands belonging to Gold Run Properties within Sections 9, 10, and 15 of T15N, R10E.

Please support LWCF funding for Bureau of Land Management acquisition of lands in and near the Gold Run Addition to the North Fork American Wild River, by writing to Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Diane Feinstein, and Representative John Doolittle (addresses below). There is an unusual and precious opportunity to protect some of the more remarkable scenic, historic, recreational and wild lands in Placer County.

Update, January 2003: No progress to date. The lands remain for sale.


Other land acquisition objectives.

The railroad land grants to the Central Pacific Railroad of the 1860s, in which odd-numbered sections of land were given to the railroad, for ten or twenty miles to either side of the tracks, has left the usual "checkerboard" land ownership pattern in Tahoe National Forest. There were also many mining claims patented in this area, further fragmenting public ownership. The North Fork of the American and its tributaries are severely affected by this ownership pattern. The efforts of Tahoe National Forest and the Bureau of Land Managment to acquire some of the more critical private inholdings have been described above. Many other important objectives exist.

Here I will mention only a couple:

1. Lost Camp: the China Trail. In Section 23, T16N, R11E is the historic town site of Lost Camp, dating from the late 1850s. Several historic trails left Lost Camp for mining regions farther afield, such as the China Trail, which descends to the North Fork of the North Fork American, and used to continue up onto Sawtooth Ridge, thence across Burnett Canyon to Texas Hill. However, tractor logging has obliterated large reaches of this historic trail on the Sawtooth Ridge side of the river. On the Lost Camp side, the trail is intact and in remarkably good condition. It provides the most reasonable access to an extrordinary gorge, incised into the steeply-pitching slates and meta-sandstones of the Shoo Fly Complex, where numerous waterfalls exist.

Access is from I-80 at the Blue Canyon exit, following the road down to Blue Canyon, to where the first houses appear on the left, there following a gravel road to the left past the houses, and forking right to go down across the railroad tracks. There are various house sites visible at Lost Camp, along with several hydraulic mine pits. By staying on the main road, passing the town site and pits, and looking for still another fork to the left, one may, with some luck, find the trailhead.

I have been urging Tahoe National Forest for years to try to acquire all of Section 23. Being odd-numbered, it may belong to Sierra Pacific Industries; but it seems to be divided into three smaller parcels, and I am unsure of the ownership.


2. Iron Point. Recently, an application for a special use permit was made to Placer County, for a 2000-square-feet residence on 48 acres of private land immediately adjacent to Iron Point, and the head of the Euchre Bar Trail. The 48 acres is surrounded on three sides by Tahoe National Forest, and is zoned "TPZ," or Timber Production Zone. A special use permit is required for residential development.

This is a good example of one of the smaller inholdings in the North Fork American canyon which ought to be acquired by Tahoe National Forest. Iron Point is an incredible scenic overlook, offering fine views of Giant Gap, the confluence of the North Fork with the North Fork of the North Fork, Sawtooth Ridge, and a seasonal waterfall across the canyon. It is this view of the North Fork which became famous in the 19th century, and was the subject of an etching by Thomas Moran.

Currently, the matter is under review by the Planning Department.

Update, June 26, 2001: Zoning Administrator Bill Combs approved the Minor Use Permit in late April, and in early May I filed an appeal. The appeal was heard by the Planning Commission in June, and was upheld, that is, the Minor Use Permit for the supposed "caretaker's residence" was denied. To this date, it is not known whether the applicant will appeal this decision. Tahoe National Forest, somewhat unaccountably, refused to become involved in this issue.

Update, January 2003: The above decision by the Planning Commission was appealed to the Board of Supervisors, who overturned the Commission's decision and approved a residence on the site.

Further news, January 2003: Placer County District Five Supervisor Rex Bloomfield has put forward a plan to build a "Capitol-to-Capitol Trail" from Sacramento to Carson City. He wants it to be a multiple-use trail suitable for horses and mountain bikes, and to have a gentle grade. He imagines the trail running right up the North Fork American river, near river level, a five-foot-wide bench cut literally blasted from the cliffs wherever necessary. Placer County has obtained $1.6 million in State grant money, and thrown in $400,000 from its own Placer Legacy program, to fund this project.

This is one of the most misguided ideas I have ever encountered. It is a travesty of environmental stewardship.

The project is envisioned to have three phases. Phase 1, the Confluence below Auburn, up to the Ponderosa Bridge. Phase 2, Ponderosa Bridge to Colfax/Iowa Hill Bridge. Phase 3, Colfax/Iowa Hill Bridge to Squaw Valley. Phase 3, then, includes all of the North Frk American Wild & Scenic River. Placer County staff have been informed by Tahoe National Forest and by the BLM that a river-level Blasted Trail is not in accord with current Wild & Scenic River management plans. However, Supervisor Bloomfield seems quite devoted to opening one of the wildest and most beautiful canyons in the Sierra to as many people and horses and mountain bikes as can possibly be managed through the use of explosives, bulldozers, and giant trail-building machines.

Currently, possible trail locations for Phase 1 are under consideration.

Addresses of elected officials.

Senator Barbara Boxer
U.S. Senate
112 Hart Building
Washington, D.C. 20510


Senator Diane Feinstein
U.S. Senate
331 Hart Building
Washington, D.C. 20510


Representative John Doolittle
U.S. House of Representatives
1526 Longworth Building
Washington, D.C. 20515


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