There are a lot of amenities that make Three Rivers unique, and among its most treasured are the nearby giant sequoia groves. The only area on the planet where these magnificent trees still grow are in a narrow swath along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada from Springville on the south to Yosemite.
A half-dozen of these groves are owned and managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the 18,500-acre Kaweah Area of Critical Environmental Concern. In addition to the six distinct giant sequoia groves, the area contains other sensitive plants and animals, riparian ecosystems, and culturally significant sites.
Portions of the area have been designated the Case Mountain Extensive Recreation Area, and for the community of Three Rivers, the area’s trails are the go-to place for mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, and easy access to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Few who use these trails venture the 10 miles to the forests of Case Mountain but those who do find themselves in a network of rarely visited giant sequoia groves.
These groves contain 261 large (three to 16 feet diameter) specimens dispersed among other competing species like sugar pine, white fir, and other trees typically found in the giant sequoia belt at 6,000 to 7,000 feet elevation. The majority of these large sequoias are 1,000 to 2,000 years old.
In the Case Mountain area, there are also stumps of one giant sequoia measuring 17 feet across. These cut trees are remnants of commercial logging that took place on Case Mountain in the 1950s and the 1980s.
The fact that the area has experienced logging in the past makes logging a key but problematic project alternative.
The last fire to enter the groves was in 1987 and it was suppressed. Currently, the recent cycles of drought and bark beetle infestation have caused huge tree mortality.
Dennis Kearns, BLM botanist, has compiled the bulk of the research on the Case Mountain groves for the past two decades. He was in attendance at a scoping meeting on Thursday, Dec. 14, at St. Anthony Retreat.
“Without fire up there and no clearing underneath the giant sequoias, what we are left with is a lot of biomass,” Kearns reported.
The Case Mountain project presents an opportunity to learn the optimal techniques for forest restoration in an area that has in the past been managed for grazing, logging, and recreation.
According to the Coreen Francis, BLM forester, clearing the excessive downed and dead trees is the project’s biggest challenge.
“How do we get the wood off the mountain?” Francis asked. “It comes down to removing the little things and leaving the big things.”
Francis said the tools they are considering include logging, prescribed burning, and mechanical clearing.
“Although two other alternatives are being considered, the only practical way to bring those logs out is down the Salt Creek road and out through Highway 198 in Three Rivers,” Francis said.
How to provide input
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, JANUARY 26, 2018. Update: Public comment period ends 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. 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.