Exploring Scattered Public Lands

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Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Remnant old growth Douglas fir on BLM land near Harris in Southern Humboldt. “Wolf trees” like this were left standing when the area was logged because their many branches would make low-grade lumber. Now they provide habitat complexity in the recovering forest. Photo by Susan Nolan.

Susan Nolan, longtime EPIC Supporter and 2010 EPIC Volunteer of the Year has visited some of the scattered tracts of land that the BLM manages throughout the region. The article below describes what she has found on her excursions and their ecological and community value.

The United States began with a great wealth of fertile farmable land, timberland, and minerals. The young nation devised a number of programs, including the Homestead Act, to settle and develop this huge potential. Over time, most useable land was claimed, and the Bureau of Land Management was formed in 1946 to oversee the remaining land.

The BLM manages a number of properties on the North Coast: the King Range, Headwaters and much of the oceanfront of Humboldt Bay. Besides these headliners, the BLM still holds dozens of scraps of leftover land in public ownership all across Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

They may be as small as 40 acres or range up to several thousand acres. Some are brushy rocky outcrops, but most are forested and some still have old-growth. Many are on high ground, but some are right on rivers, especially along the Eel. Some, surrounded by private land, don’t even have access for BLM personnel, while others are well known and visited by many.

One spot familiar to travelers on Highway 36 is Goat Rock, where a striking steep cliff soars above the Van Duzen River west of Bridgeville. It’s a popular access point for swimmers, sunbathers, fishers and boaters to enjoy the river.

Sometimes the Bureau of Land Management adds to its holdings. Up until 1970, the King Range had only ten miles of extremely remote coastline in eight disconnected segments, used by a few off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, and 35,000 acres of poor timberland. Today, the King Range has grown to 68,000 acres and 35 miles of oceanfront, with tens of thousands of visitors annually.

BLM land along the historic Littlefield Trail in Mendocino County, included in the Yolla Bolly Wilderness. Photo by Susan Nolan.

Gilham Butte is a high point in southern Humboldt adjacent to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Once slated for logging, it’s now (thanks to a long campaign led by its neighbors) an old-growth reserve, protecting ancient Douglas firs. In 1999 its size more than doubled when 3,800 acres were added from a timber company which had planned to log. It is now managed as a reserve by the BLM.

Lacks Creek is another, more recent, success story. The BLM held a long narrow spine of steep forested land north of Highway 299 and west of the Hoopa Reservation. The most accessible parts were logged, but some old-growth remained in the remotest corner. It received very little use, primarily from handful of deer hunters in fall.

With support from nearby Redwood National and State Parks, BLM acquired logged-over timberland in the lower watershed of Lacks Creek about ten years ago. Public interest in developing mountain bike trails was strong, so BLM decided to meet the need on its newly acquired land. Now miles of bike trails have been developed, with more still planned. Besides being a recreation destination, Lacks Creek retains its old-growth reserve (no trails will be built there), elk are moving into the area, and the national park benefits from conservation-minded management of the land upstream from the park’s famous Tall Trees Grove on Redwood Creek.

Perhaps more parcels will grow with new acquisitions over time. Some may become recreation meccas like Humboldt Bay’s South Spit, Lacks Creek, and the King Range.

Most will probably remain isolated fragments of wild land, mostly unknown. But these can provide valuable ecological benefits by providing a place for a raptor’s nest, a quiet den site for forest carnivores such as bobcats or fishers, refugia for old-growth dependent lichens and fungi. Pat Higgins of the Eel River Recovery Project has noted that many critical salmon spawning creeks locally have their headwaters on BLM land, where undisturbed forest provides clean cool water.

For more information on BLM holdings on the North Coast, including information and maps on how to visit the most accessible, you can stop by the Arcata Field Office, 1695 Heindon Road (near Toni’s and the 101/299 junction).