The Sierra and Sequoia National Forests, located along the western slope of California’s Southern Sierra Nevada, are true gems in our national public lands system, offering vast and unbroken wilderness areas (including parts of one of the largest contiguous blocks of wilderness in the continental United States), towering granite monoliths, wild and scenic rivers, high alpine peaks, oak foothills and grasslands, lakes, ancient sequoia groves, and world-class opportunities for hiking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater paddling and backcountry skiing.
Together, these forests provide well over a trillion gallons of clean water annually, many thousands of board feet of timber, carbon storage for climate change mitigation, and habitat for over 300 wildlife species. They are the primary gateways to Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks. They provide the backdrop to the most popular and spectacular sections along the entire length of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Combined with their proximity to California’s highly diverse urban populations, these forests accommodate millions of visitors every year from all over the world, making outdoor recreation the primary economic engine for dozens of local communities.
Unfortunately, these forests face significant challenges. On a recent visit to the Bass Lake Ranger District on the Sierra National Forest as part of our Outdoor Alliance California Roadshow, we found nearly half of the campgrounds on the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway closed by forest order due to the danger of falling snags (dead trees) that the Forest Service and its contractors have not yet been able to remove.
At the same time, Forest Service funding is at an all-time low. By most accounts, the agency is operating on about one-third of the budget it actually needs to accomplish its mission to manage these landscapes for the benefit of current and future generations. This includes fighting increasingly catastrophic wildfires, and at the same time trying to restore forest health and manage recreation. As recreation becomes more popular, infrastructure—including roads, bridges, trails, signs, campgrounds, parking and staging areas, bathrooms—is falling further into disrepair, especially in popular destination areas such as along the lower Kern River, at Shaver Lake and Bass Lake, and in the many dispersed camping zones adjacent to our crowded National Parks.
All of which brings us to the importance of once-in-a-generation forest planning, now in its final stages on both the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests. These plans will provide the guiding vision for how each forest will be managed for the next 20-30 years. The underlying question is how to do more with less. The solution—at least until we can convince Congress to adequately fund our public lands agencies—is to greatly improve partnership and collaboration between the Forest Service and the local communities, recreation users, and other groups who have an interest in restoring landscapes and at the same time improving recreation infrastructure.
The Forest Service has done a fairly good job in these draft plans of articulating the importance of such partnerships moving forward. But they still need to hear from us about the specific issues and problems we see on the landscapes—deteriorating infrastructure, lack of mountain bike trails, lack of accessible cross-country ski and snowshoe opportunities, the need to be able to maintain climbing anchors in wilderness, etc.—and how they can better integrate specific recreation priorities with other forest-wide restoration and fuels management projects.
You can make a difference and we’ve made it easy. Click below to use our handy comment form to personalize and submit your own comments and suggestions to forest planners. Deadline is September 26.