Huffman town hall discusses wilderness proposal
In the second of four meetings in the 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman offered information about a yet-to-be introduced bill and asked for public input Tuesday in Crescent City.
A printed summary of the draft bill, along with a map of the affected areas, was provided to the audience.
“First of all, it would dedicate a 70,000 acre, South Fork Trinity, Mad River special restoration area,” he said. “This will be in the South Fork Trinity River watershed. It’s an area where we think we have terrific opportunities to restore Coho Salmon and steelhead.”
Huffman said the bill would improve previously logged areas and fire danger will be reduced through careful logging practices.
“The proceeds from these projects can be returned to fund additional restoration work,” he said. “The bill would also establish a federal, state and local partnership that can help clean and restore federal public lands in Northern California that have been impacted by illegal trespass marijuana grows.”
Huffman said it would make the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service coordinate how wilderness fires are managed.
“More than 326,000 acres of federal public lands, under this bill, would be designated as wilderness. It will expand nine existing wilderness areas and establish 10 new ones,” he said, noting the sensitivity around the issue. “These are not new public lands. All of the land that we are talking about in this bill is already in federal, public ownership so we’re not buying any new land, we’re not bringing any new land into the federal land inventory. We’re talking about how we manage existing public lands.”
Huffman said firefighting with heavy equipment and aircraft will continue in the areas, if necessary to protect people and property. Some 485 miles of stream would be designated wild and scenic, requiring protection of the lands one-half mile on either side, but would not affect existing property owner’s rights, he said.
“The bill would also launch a study of the possibility of establishing what we’re calling ‘the Bigfoot National Recreational Trail’ that would run from southern Trinity County all the way up to Oregon and then back down through Del Norte County and down to Crescent City.” Huffman asked for input on the name, saying the first meeting’s crowd in Eureka were favorable. He said the concept would be to have a world-class hiking trail locally. Mountain biking trails and a Weaverville based north coast visitors center would be established.
Sarah Christie was first to suggest the name Bigfoot National Recreational Trail seemed a bit “cheesy.”
“It doesn’t really honor the land it’ll be trekking through,” she said, to applause in the room. A show of hands poll in the room showed about half in favor of the name.
Smith River Alliance Director Grant Wershkull said insufficient funding for public lands improvement such as trails, campgrounds and land management are an overlying problem.
“For this legislation to have any real meaning, we are going to have to come up with some funding solutions,” he said. Huffman replied that he is currently fighting to keep budgets from being cut further.
Wershkull commended Huffman for his part in recent legislation to protect the North Fork of the Smith River from mining but noted it’s a 20-year ban and not permanent protection. He added the alliance is willing to work with Huffman in discussing other wilderness area protections.
Adam Spencer suggested other methods of generating funding, such as exempting certain areas from what he called a “fire sweep,” where long-term funding for recreational improvements gets re-allocated to wildland firefighting efforts at the year’s end.
“We’ve had wildfire costs go from $620 million in the 1990s to over $1 billion now with the same acreage burned,” Spencer said. “It’s ballooning in costs and our departments that aren’t involved in firefighting are having to play catch-up year after year.”
Spencer said during a recent Resource Advisory Commission meeting he attended, the Forest Service had to compete with private and nonprofit partners for things like campground restroom improvements and sign replacement. He said while it’s widely believed state and federal forestry agencies work well together, it’s not always the case.
“Redwood National Park has an $8 million budget while the three state parks within it have to share less than $1 million,” Spencer said. “Very frequently, I don’t think the funds from the national park get distributed across the state parks portion of the national parks in the way that we would hope and people don’t get the kind of national park experience that one would expect here at Redwood National Park.”
Huffman said the method described is a form of fee retention, wherein local agencies are allowed to keep locally generated grant money. Huffman agreed, saying while the Federal Emergency Management Agency handles other emergencies, wildfires leave the Forest Service to find funding.
“The good news is that we have had bipartisan support to fix it,” Huffman said.
John Mertes suggested creating a visitors center in Crescent City, to the support of the attending crowd.
A young girl, whose name was not discernible, asked for Huffman’s support in creating more bicycle trails in public parks. Huffman said the draft bill does just that.
Don Gillespie also suggested making Del Norte County a bicycling destination. He said local officials should support the bill, as it does not remove land from local tax rolls.
Huffman took a moment to note county supervisors in the room, adding, “by the way, we are talking about Last Chance Grade all the time.”
Later, Supervisor Roger Gitlin noted to get to the areas in the bill, many will have to cross Last Chance Grade. He noted the board’s recent letter asking if the bypass process could be streamlined and asked Huffman how he could help. Huffman said he plans to push the appropriations process, state funding and existing congressional authorized programs.
Harbor Commissioner Pat Bailey noted the few BLM lands on the map, saying they could potentially be used for food production, grazing and forestry. He suggested helicopters could be used to transport logs from the forest, rather than carving logging roads. He said while it’s more expensive, it may be worth examining if the market increases. Huffman expanded, saying the absence of BLM land should be comforting to those wanting to keep public land productive.
“The fact that we haven’t included them means that they continue in BLM management under current practices,” Huffman said. “We’re not turning them into wilderness or restricted recreational interests. I think we might agree on what to do with BLM lands.”
Sarah Christie put in a plug for equestrians, noting trail planning can be done in a way that’s welcoming to horses and riders.
Del Norte Local Transportation Commission Director Tamara Leighton suggested that perhaps increased transportation funding could result in more money for trails. She suggested anyone working to develop trails should contact the commission.
Kevin Hendrick said the trail system on the map seemed to incorporate several existing trails and it would be premature to rename the historical trails as one.
Chelsea Baier said the proposed Bigfoot trail would bring a lot of attention to the area and said many other state trails have incorporated smaller ones. She said in the case of the Pacific Crest Trail being located inside the John Muir trail, it meant thousands more people hiked it than would have otherwise.
Following comments and discussion about tribal collaboration, wildlife corridors and fire management, Huffman closed by saying that when he returns to Crescent City with the next version of the draft bill, people will be able to see where their input influenced its language.
The next meeting took place in Weaverville Wednesday and another is scheduled for Aug. 29 at a location not yet determined.