Two Wild, Scenic Rivers |Will Be Protected

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The U.S. Forest Service promised to create new boundaries and protections for two federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in Northern California.
The settlement ends a lawsuit from the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and North Coast Rivers Alliance.
They claimed in November 2015 that the Mendocino National Forest was six years overdue to create boundaries and a resource management plan for the Black Butte River and its tributary, Cold Creek.
Their attorney Stephan Volker called the settlement a major victory for environmentalists, fishermen and the threatened species that live in and around the watershed.
“These streams are extraordinarily important for the survival of Chinook salmon and river steelhead,” Volker said. “Their designation by Congress confirmed the importance of protecting their watershed.”
Congress designated 16 miles of Black Butte as a wild river and 3.5 miles as a scenic river in 2006, triggering a three-year deadline for the Forest Service to establish boundaries and a management plan.
Under the Aug. 26 agreement, the Forest Service must implement the new boundaries and resource management plan within two years.
The government pledged to start a public process this month. The Forest Service vowed to conduct a comprehensive environmental review, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act by September 2017 and to issue the final plan and boundaries by August 2018.
“The Mendocino National Forest has developed a two-year NEPA planning timeline to meet the requirements of the settlement,” said Mendocino National Forest spokeswoman Punky Moore. “The first step in the NEPA process will be scoping, which is on schedule to begin in September.”
The government also agreed to pay the plaintiffs $50,350 in attorneys’ fees.
The Forest Service promised not to implement its plans to burn or remove trees and vegetation in two vast sections near the watershed.
The Clifton Ridge Burn project was set to wipe out 3,000 acres of grass, brush and woodlands to improve forage for deer and reduce fuel for forest fires.
Another project, the Twin Rocks Fuel Break, would have removed trees from an area of 4.5 miles by 300 feet along Twin Rocks Ridge to “protect resources and infrastructure.”
Volker said both projects could have caused “catastrophic hazards to the watershed.”
“We feel it’s important to have a resource management plan in place to make sure water quality is protected, no trees within the riparian area are removed or burned, and no sediment is coming down the stream,” Volker said. “Those are all factors that should be part of the plan.”
Black Butte provides spawning habitat for Chinook salmon and winter steelhead. A segment of the Northern California steelhead population is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Riparian forests around the watershed also host a number special-status species, including the Northern spotted owl, West Coast fisher, California wolverine and Northern goshawk.
The agreement does not forbid the Forest Service from conducting “routine and preventative maintenance” around the watershed over the next two years, but it must provide plaintiffs 60 days notice before conducting any nonroutine project in the area.
Either party may petition the court to handle any dispute over the interpretation of the settlement that cannot be resolved within 28 days.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Maxine Chesney issued a stipulated dismissal on Aug. 31.

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