Caples Creek Ecological Restoration Project

May 1, 2015

Caples Creek

The Placerville Ranger District (Eldorado National Forest) is implementing an ecological restoration project in the Caples Creek Watershed and Wilderness Study Area using prescribed fire on roughly 8,800 acres. It is anticipated that work will begin in the project area in the late summer and fall of 2015.

Caples Creek Proposed Wilderness is approximately 75 miles east of Sacramento off of Highway 50. Traveling south on China Flat Road at Kyburz for ten miles and you reach the Caples Creek Trailhead area near the Fritz Ranch Bridge on the Silver Fork of the American River. The Proposed Caples Creek Wilderness has many outstanding wilderness and wild and scenic river values and provides easy access for day hikes, fishing and backpackers alike. The remarkable scenery and excellent fishery make the area extremely attractive to recreational visitors from around the state.     

Key Attributes (courtesy Steve Evans): 

Scenery--The scenery is magnificent with much ecological variety to the landscape. There are large areas of glaciated granite interspersed with stringer meadows, springs, aspen groves and black cottonwoods following the two major stream systems. 

Major Streams--Caples Creek, Silver Fork American and North Tragedy Creek provide an active trout fishery with good summertime flows supporting rainbow and brown trout. They have very high recreational use reported at 30,000 recreational visitor days/season.

Approximately 10 miles on Caples Creek from the wilderness boundary downstream to the confluence with the Silver Fork of the American river has been determined to be eligible for Wild & Scenic River status due to the outstandingly remarkable fisheries and recreational values that exist. This stretch qualifies for wild river status--the most pristine classification. 

The Silver Fork of the American from where it enters the South Fork American upstream to where it joins Caples Creek in the proposed wilderness is also eligible for a "recreational" classification under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. These pristine streams have sections of fairly low gradient reaches moving to dramatic plunge pools and cascading waterfalls. The spring flows at snowmelt are truly spectacular with thundering whitewater crashing through granite boulders along the heavily forested stream banks. During the summertime flows the streams remain fishable and have abundant deep, cool swimming pools to escape the summertime heat.

Geology--glaciated granite outcrops abound throughout the proposed wilderness. There is also a unique volcanic formation between Caples and Silver Creek, south of Convict Meadow, with stunning spires and small caves imbedded in a pre-historic volcanic flow.

Cultural Resources--The Caples Creek Proposed Wilderness will protect important cultural sites of Native Americans including springs and major bedrock motor sites. There is also a historic Forest Service Ranger's outpost log cabin situated in the forest near Government Meadow.

Highlights of the Project

The area has not experienced active fire (the natural disturbance process that maintains resilience) since 1916. This extremely heavy fuel build-up (called fuel loading) is the result of a century of fire suppression. In this landscape, the historic fire-return interval for the mixed conifer forest was 11 years, and for red fir, 40 years. The lack of fire places many of the above resources at risk from uncharacteristic fire. Hence the need for a multi-year 8,800 acre burn project to restore fire back into the landscape. Fire exclusion and permitted activities such as grazing and unauthorized trails have placed meadows, aspen stands, and riparian vegetation at ecological risk. Conifer encroachment from fire exclusion has had severe impacts on 25 acres of remaining aspen stands.

The project will include rerouting approximately a half-mile of existing hiking trail that crosses through Jake Schneider Meadow to tree line

Hand cutting small trees and girdling larger trees encroaching into meadows (25 acres). Some of this activity over-laps the aspen restoration work.

It is interesting to recall that this area (the confluence of Caples Creek and the Silver Fork of the American River) was the site of a historic environmental struggle back in the early 1990's. A hydro-electric project, called the Foottrail Hydro, was proposed for this pristine roadless area that would have dammed the confluence of these beautiful streams (see photo above on the left). Fortunately, we were successful in halting the proposal, thanks to a huge public outcry protesting the proposal in a proposed wilderness and eligible wild & scenic river.

Further reading:

Caples Proposed Action

Caples Ecological Project Scoping Letter 5-1-15