The Bureau of Land Management-Bakersfield Field Office is seeking public input on the development of a vegetation and forest health plan for the Bureau’s giant sequoia groves on Case Mountain, southeast of Three Rivers. A public comment period on the proposed plan will continue through FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2018.
Comments helpful to the BLM include supporting scientific information, documentation, and data relevant to the uses of the land.
ONLINE COMMENTS AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Comments may be submitted via the ePlanning website at https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=renderDefaultPlanOrProjectSite&projectId=94161&dctmId=0b0003e88102604b. To view the planning documents and maps, visit the ePlanning website.
To deliver in person or via mail, the address is: Bakersfield Field Office, Attn: Case Mountain Vegetation and Forest Health Plan, 3801 Pegasus Drive, Bakersfield, CA 93308.
Before including addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, or other personal identifying information in a comment, be aware that the entire comment — including personal identifying information — may be made publicly available at any time. While the public may ask the BLM to withhold personal identifying information from public review, the BLM cannot guarantee that it will be able to do so.
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On Thursday, Dec. 15, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) brought 20 staffers to the first public scoping meeting on the proposed Case Mountain Vegetation and Forest Health Plan, they were well aware this was going to be a complex project. But among the certainties is that there will be changes and impacts to one of the gems among 247.3 million acres of land administered by the BLM.
These lands account for one-eighth the landmass of the U.S. Most BLM lands are located in 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. But only the 18,600 acres of the Kaweah Area of Critical Environmental Concern contain giant sequoias.
Case Mountain’s peak is 6,818 feet in elevation. It was named after Bill Case, who had a cabin at the head of Salt Creek. Case was renowned for driving a wagon with a mixed team: a horse, a mule, a burro, and a steer.
A survey conducted in 2003 — shortly after the Case Mountain tract containing giant sequoias was gifted to the BLM by longtime Three Rivers resident Ollie Craig — identified 216 giant sequoias and a number of cut stumps. Most of the cut specimens are in close proximity to an old four-wheel drive road that links the Mineral King Road at Oak Grove with the Salt Creek truck trails. After improvements were made to the Oak Grove portion during and after the 1987 Case Mountain Fire, a 20-mile loop connecting the Case Mountain tract from the Salt Creek Road (Craig Ranch entrance to Oak Grove) is now accessible to authorized vehicles.
The 216 mature giant sequoias that exist within the 400-acre giant sequoia complex on BLM land are all historically a part of the Case Mountain Grove. Other specimens still exist on private land east of the BLM tract and north of the Salt Creek Ridge.
The BLM has since divided the giant sequoias into six distinct groves. The area also contains sensitive plants and animals, riverbank ecosystems and cultural sites.
An inspection of the access road area in the BLM tract on Saturday, Dec. 30, confirmed the existence of dozens of large giant sequoias, cut stumps that are evidence of historic logging, and a forest with large amounts of undergrowth that obviously is competing for limited resources.
Adding fuel to the potential risk of catastrophic wildfire is that downslope areas below 5,000 and 6,000 feet where the giant sequoias appear are choked with numerous trees and bushes that are already downed or dying, especially after the recent five-year drought.
Gabe Garcia, BLM project manager said the agency is well aware of the fire risk on Case Mountain and managing that risk is the key reason they were able to secure the funding to develop and implement the plan.
In information presented by Tiera Arbogast, BLM natural resource specialist, the goals of the Case Mountain project were stated: to protect the legacy sequoias from high intensity wildfire, and restore a more diverse and resilient forest. The proposed treatments to do this will include a combination of hand crews, tractors, cable yarding, chippers, masticators, prescribed fire and some logging to remove larger trees.
A suite of treatments is being proposed that will begin with removing dead roadside trees and create a fuel break along the major access road. Within the groves, mechanical thinning activities will remove smaller diameter trees in direct competition with large legacy sequoias. No sequoia trees greater than eight inches in diameter would be cut; these smaller sequoias will be the preferred “leave trees” when thinning smaller trees.
No tractors or masticators would work on slopes greater than 40 percent to prevent soil erosion. Once tree and brush densities are reduced, burning of hand piles and a series of controlled burns will restore the role of fire to the area.
Some or all of these treatments will cause impacts. That’s why the BLM is currently scoping the Environmental Assessment to identify potential impacts to determine the preferred treatments. They hope to finalize the EA by the summer of 2018.