Untamed river may get wilder
Dana M. Nichols – Stockton Record Staff Writer
May 29, 2007
SONORA - One of the Sierra Nevada's wildest rivers should get even wilder but remain accessible to visitors, according to a group that has been studying the Clavey River for the past seven years.
The long-awaited list of suggestions from the Clavey River Ecosystem Project includes everything from removing several small dams and expanding habitat on the 47-mile river for native yellow-legged frogs to preventing damage to the river from activities such as camping and motorized off-highway vehicle recreation. The project represents a diverse group of interests, including environmentalists, scientists and dirt bikers.
Conspicuously absent from the report are detailed suggestions on how to manage grazing, one of the most controversial activities in the area because of its potential to damage upland meadows.
The plan will be refined over the next nine months before the project submits its final plan to Stanislaus National Forest policymakers and others involved in caring for the river.
State and federal dollars, including a $775,000 grant from the CALFED Bay-Delta Program, funded much of the work. The final list of proposed projects - and estimates of how much they will cost - will be done in February.
A Stanislaus National Forest spokesman said his agency has made no commitments to fund or complete any of the proposed projects.
"A lot of that information we would never have been able to gather ourselves," said Jerry Snyder, spokesman for the Stanislaus National Forest. "We are in support of their effort, and we can use this information for future budget requests should we decide there are projects we want to undertake."
Clavey River Ecosystem Project steering committee members also hope their work becomes a model for how diverse interests can cooperate to solve conflicts over the use of public lands, rivers and forests.
"It is one of the few times that I have seen a study like this that I can say, 'Yeah, all the values were considered,' " said Bill Rugg, a steering committee member who is also an off-highway motorcycle rider and a member of the Blue Ribbon Coalition that advocates on behalf of off-highway motorized recreation such as dirt bikes and ATVs.
Rugg said the proposals for the Clavey watershed balance the desire of motor sports enthusiasts to use the forest around the river with protection for the river in a variety of ways. For example, the report calls for careful monitoring of old logging roads used by motorcycles and other vehicles to make sure they aren't sources of erosion and water pollution for the rivers. The plan calls for repair and changes to roads in cases where they are found to be sources of pollution.
"There's a lot of roads there that are very good roads for motorcycles and ATVs. We don't need any more. But we want to protect the ones that are there."
Some proposed actions are massive, such as repairing erosion-damaged stream beds in Bell Meadows, at the river's headwaters, by importing up to 150,000 cubic yards of gravel and earth. Also potentially expensive is the report's call for the Stanislaus National Forest to add enough staffing to enforce rules and regulations in the area.
Other suggestions are simple and would save money, such as the recommended end to the stocking of nonnative fish species in the river. The report also urges research into new, sustainable ways for people to earn their living from the forests along the Clavey, whether through recreation or the gathering of nontraditional forest products such as wood chips sold to biomass plants.
Warren Alford is community forestry manager for Sierra Forest Legacy, a group that advocates for sustainable management of the Sierra Nevada's forests. He praised the Clavey River Ecosystem Project as a step forward.
"There is a future for our whole region in investing in restoration that will create good jobs for people that work in the woods and build long-term sustainability for the resource and the people who depend on it," Alford said.
That doesn't mean there won't still be conflict at times. Ranchers, for example, did not participate in drafting the list of recommendations even though ranch representatives sat on the Clavey River group's steering committee early in its history, said Melinda Fleming, executive director of Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and Environment, a group that represents grazing, mining, logging and ski resort interests.
Fleming said the alliance stopped participating in the process in part because it appeared that the report would call for restrictions on roads or other land uses, such as camping locations. "To (alliance members) that is not making it wilderness, that is making it like a campground," she said.
Cynthia King, a staff member for the Tuolumne River Trust and a member of the Clavey River Ecosystem Project steering committee, agreed the report does not address grazing issues.
"I think that part could be improved. But it is also one of the more contentious issues in the watershed. And we are interested in looking at projects that everyone can support," she said.
The report does call for trying to cooperate with ranchers who have grazing permits there to fence off some of the more erosion-damaged areas of lower Bell Meadow.
But without any ranchers at the table and with limited National Forest funding for such work, there are no immediate prospects for getting that work done.
"Our center for years has expressed concern about the degraded stream banks in the Bell Meadows area," said John Buckley, executive director for the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, a group that was not on the project steering committee. "Those stream banks that are damaged are clearly in need of restoration."
Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 754-9534 or email@example.com.
Clavey River Public Meeting
What: The Clavey River Ecosystem Project will present a report on the state of the Clavey River and surrounding forests as well as a list of proposals for restoring the watershed's health.
Whem: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Sonora Opera Hall, 250 S. Washington St., Sonora