30,000 Acres in Sierra Nevada to be Protected

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—More than 30,000 acres along some of the Sierra Nevada’s most pristine and scenic rivers will be protected under an agreement announced today by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) and the Trust for Public Land (TPL).

“The river corridors and open spaces of the Sierra are a vital, irreplaceable resource for Californians. Having worked to protect the ecology and the economy of this unique area, I appreciate the commitment that has produced this important partnership between SPI and TPL,” says U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“When completed, this will be one of the largest acquisitions of Sierra Nevada land in California history, assuring that some of the crown jewels of the Sierra will be protected from development and preserved in their natural state,” says Reed Holderman, executive director of the Trust for Public Land-California.

TPL and SPI have agreed to a multi-year series of land purchases from Sierra Pacific Industries—the largest private landowner in California. The initial sale, involving 6,100 acres along the North Fork of the American River, has an estimated value of $6 million. It is anticipated that the purchase will be funded in part through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Tahoe National Forest surrounds these lands and the Forest Service considers them suitable for transfer to public ownership.

“This is a state and federally designated Wild and Scenic River, so it is particularly satisfying to ensure that the forests surrounding this treasure will be protected and that wildlife, water quality, and scenic values will be preserved,” says David Sutton, TPL’s Sierra Nevada program director.

Because the sale involves both economic reinvestment and environmental protection, it has been applauded by both business and environmental organizations. Sierra Pacific Industries and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service have been collaborating since 1977 to exchange or transfer land owned by the forest products company to public ownership. TPL has participated in the effort since 1989. Over the next few years, they expect to expand the purchases to include more than 30,000 acres—roughly the size of San Francisco—and perhaps as much as 50,000 acres. TPL and SPI currently are negotiating public acquisitions along the American, Yuba, Rubicon, Clavey, and Mokelumne rivers, and alongside the Granite Chief Wildnerness west of Lake Tahoe.

“This is a win-win situation for each of us,” says A.A.”Red” Emmerson, president of SPI. “The recreational and environmental benefits for the public will be assured in some of the most unspoiled areas of the Sierra Nevada, and the region will enjoy continued economic benefits through a shift of our forestry operations to more appropriate areas.”

For SPI, the pact is the latest in a series of steps the company has taken to modernize its operations and make them fit more comfortably and efficiently within California’s toughest-in-the-nation controls on timber harvesting.

The land acquisitions are square-mile parcels that checkerboard the Sierra Nevada river canyons—a legacy of 19th century railroad land grants. The first parcels to be purchased follow 20 miles of the North Fork American River’s deep, roadless canyon, one of the most exceptional stretches of wild river in the western United States.

“We are very pleased with the progress that TPL and SPI have made, and we look forward to working closely with TPL to protect these important river lands, espcially those with such high recreational, wildlife habitat and watershed values,” said Brad Powell, U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s Pacific Southewest Regional Forester. “Since the Forest Service already manages the surrounding public lands, our management of these parcels would most effectively achieve protection of their resource values.”

“This stretch of the North Fork of the American River offers a rare and highly unique opportunity for people to connect with a historic California setting that looks much like the area did when the ’49ers first arrived,” adds Powell. “Because the canyon is so rugged and remote, its ecosystems and vegetation are in almost untouched condition. These acquisitions are a tremendous benefit to the public and the environment.”

“The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation group, and SPI, the biggest timber operation in California, have teamed up to protect thousands of acres in the Sierra Nevada,” says Mary D. Nichols, Secretary for Resoucres. “This deal shows that private landowners can be active partners in saving California’s magnificent landscapes. The American River—and the rafters and hikers who use it—will benefit.”

Jim Sayer, president of the Sierra Business Council, also applauds today’s announcement, saying, “The Sierra Business Council is very supportive of cooperative efforts like this to safeguard the Sierra’s natural capital.”

The American River canyon is home to many large mammals, including black bears and mountain lions, and to 150 species of birds, including peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and goshawks. The pure waters of the North Fork of the American River are valuable for many downstream uses such as fishing, swimming, white water rafting, boating in downstream lakes, and agricultural and domestic water supplies.

Founded in 1972, The Trust for Public Land is a nonprofit land conservation organization, specializing in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and real estate law to protect land for public use and enjoyment. Dedicated to conserving land for people as parks, greenways, wilderness areas and natural, historic, and cultural resources for future generations, TPL has protected more than 1.2 million acres nationwide and more than 230,000 acres in California, including nearly 45,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada mountains.