By Elise Modrovich
Special to the Sun
The Sequoia National Forest (SQF) “Leadership” Meeting was held on Thursday, March 16, at the USFS Kernville District Administrative Offices to discuss the National Forest Report and trail status, forest plan revisions, as well as allow a public review of SQF, BLM and OHV Grant Applications. Ed Waldheim (Friends of Jawbone Canyon, CORVA) led the meeting. Also present were Al Watson (District Ranger, USFS Kern River Ranger District), Philip DeSenze (Deputy District Ranger, USFS Kern Ranger District), Tricia Maki (Head Recreation Officer, SQF Kern River Ranger District), Bob Frenes (Assistant Recreation Officer, SQF Kern River Ranger District) and Chris Horgan (Stewards of the Sequoia). Also present by phone were Martin Soto and Kyle Lane (USFS Hume Lake) and Dion Salfen (USFS Monache).
Al Watson gave an update on the forest plan revisions, noting that in future meetings, Philip DeSenze would be the lead for everything pertaining to the OHV programs. The Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) is still in progress, but they are hoping to get a draft done “sometime in 2018.” Watson admitted the process has been “long and cumbersome. Believe me, we’d much rather be on the ground, moving things forward.” “We’re not the ones dragging our feet,” he added. But he noted that once the USFS finally has a plan revision in hand, it will free up the specialists, and they’ll be able to look at the travel management plan (TMP), which is “the” guide for designated trail locations and use for the region. At that point, Watson stated that the public will have 90 days for comments and input on the TMP, which will include designating additional ATV routes, single track OHV routes, and trails for hikers and cyclists. “It will provide a full range of opportunities for all groups,” he concluded.
Tricia Maki gave updates on the OHV Grant application process. The Grants Program supports the planning, acquisition, development, maintenance, administration, operation, enforcement, restoration, and conservation of trails, trailheads, areas, and other facilities associated with the use of OHVs and programs involving OHV safety and education. Therefore, these grants are used to maintain, improve or restore the hundreds of trails available to not only OHVs, but the multitude of trails shared with cyclists and hikers across the vast expanse of Kern County and are considered vital to funding ongoing trail access and availability for public use and recreation. This means the results of this funding directly affect the current status and future of all the beautiful trails and miles upon miles of natural wilderness on Forest Service and BLM land that surround our valley and that we enjoy and utilize every day. This year, our local SQF Kern River District has requested $131,000 for Law Enforcement and $567,000 for ground operations and are hoping to share some of the requested funding with Western Divide, since they currently have no OHV patrol coverage. The grants application submission period has officially closed, and now the public can go to the SQF or the State of California website to review the applications and make comments until April 3, 2017. “So get ‘em in if you got ‘em,” Ed Waldheim said. Grant Applications and Information are available on the OHV Grant Page at www.ohv.parks.ca.gov.
Next, Waldheim spoke about the recent addition of signing in the Temblors region, stressing the ongoing need for trail signage in all areas. “Otherwise, it’s chaos.” He stated. “People go out there, doing whatever they want. Right now, we’ve got World War Three going on at Red Rock for that exact reason.” At Red Rock Canyon OHV Recreation Area, inadequate signing led to improper trail usage. “And the State’s answer was just to shut it down,” Waldheim said.
On a more positive note, Waldheim gave kudos to the Sheriff’s Department, who had just caught several people who had been trespassing off-season on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). The Sheriffs received the report and managed to identify and track the trespassers all the way back to their homes in Santa Clarita, where they were each issued a $490 citation for the offense. “Up there on the PCT, some portions of the trails are so bad, it doesn’t look like they’re maintained at all,” Waldheim stated. “It can be really treacherous.”
Chris Horgan of Stewards of the Sequoia was happy to report about the recent successful partnership with Friends of Remington Hot Springs (RHS) in implementing a maintenance and improvements project at the RHS Lower Canyon Trail. “We had good volunteer turnout,” Horgan said. “We put in 124 feet of peeler fences, planted live oaks, raked it…hopefully we’ve blocked views and access to the shortcuts and we’ll get grass growing back.” He pointed out that over the winter, there have been several rock slides in the area, the county road is in dire need of repair, but Caltrans hasn’t been able to catch up, so they’ve put up a “Road Closed” sign, barring access for volunteers to continue trail maintenance in the area. Maki said she’d work with Caltrans to get an “administrative use” pass for the group to continue their work.
Finally, Bob Frenes gave an update on Greenhorn and the Alta Sierra/Cedar Fire trail areas. On Greenhorn, there has been a lot of road and trail damage from winter storms, so SQF has been locking trail access gates, but every time they patrol, they find the locks have disappeared. “People are cutting them off, bypassing the closures,” Frenes said. “It’s dangerous up there. We need to let the trails dry out. We’re going to keep locking them up and hope for the best.” The bigger issue looming is the Cedar Fire burn area up on Alta Sierra. There are a huge number of OHV Trails in the area butting right up against a mass of dead trees from last summer’s Cedar Fire. “Closing trails is not our first choice, but we may have to due to the safety hazards. These trees are massive, they’re all dead, and they’ll start falling when the wind blows. When the snow recedes, we’ll get a better look,” Frenes said. Watson added, “We’re not talking about one dead tree every mile. We’re talking five hundred trees every half-mile. We’ve been more concerned about maintaining the major roads like Alta Sierra and the 155, but we can’t get access to all the OHV Trails. We’re trying to do the best we can, but the problem is funds and manpower.” Horgan said he would do his best to rally his volunteers, as well as apply for grants for the trail maintenance through the Stewards. Waldheim added, “This is super important. If funding is an issue, you should include money for that in your Ground Ops Grants for next year.”
Watson closed the meeting by thanking all the attendees, adding, “People get busy, but this is the only way we get things to work.” Attendees discussed and Waldheim set the next Sequoia leadership meeting for September 14, noting that since the rest of the Spring and Summer would be when the State reviews and awards grants, it would not be necessary to reconvene until after that time.