New Landscape Linkage at the Top of South Fork Eel River

by Steven Day

On January 13, 2011 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released Elkhorn Ridge (Mendocino County, California) from “Potential Wilderness” status into actual Congressional Wilderness designation. Good news–conservation management is now connected from Red Mountain and Little Red Mountain through Elkhorn Ridge, Brush Mountain, Cahto Peak, the Angelo Coast Range Reserve, Redwood Forest Foundation’s Usal Forest and into the Mattole. Congratulations came to me from the conservation community, but I’d like to tell you about more of the people who made this happen over a long period of time. There were many twists and turns along the way, which lead me to start up LEGACY-The Landscape Connection, a conservation Geographic Information System (GIS) organization.

First, I want to explain a portion of BLM’s news release stating, “the area had naturally rehabilitated itself over the five years” following “2006 when President George W. Bush signed the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act.” Wilderness opponents immediately jumped on the improbable “five years” and used that to attack the interim “Potential” designation and the 1964 Wilderness Act as a whole. Also, distribution of the official BLM news within the conservation community interpreted, “the area had sufficiently recovered from years of timber cutting” and “a 1,500-acre previously acquired private in-holding” may have been a single ownership.

The supposed “years of timber cutting” occurred in small harvests at various times on multiple ownerships 80 to 100 years before January 2011. A federal land exchange in the 1980s with Harwood Products, Branscomb CA, was the majority of the 1,565 acres BLM acquired, which linked Elkhorn Ridge to Brush Mountain across the South Fork Eel Wild and Scenic River. Three hundred BLM acres with old-growth Douglas-fir forest was traded to Harwood on the outskirts of Red Mountain. Subsequently, trading away public land to private ownership became unpopular, to say the least.

The balance of the federally-acquired 1,565 acres took place in outright purchases from willing landowners, thankfully hurried, just before 2006 by The Wilderness Land Trust and Resources Legacy Foundation. Unmistakably the Elkhorn Ridge Wilderness news stated, “BLM has determined that the benefits of mechanized restoration are outweighed by the adverse impacts of such mechanized restoration on wilderness character.” This BLM determination was in my prayers for five years!

Rarely visited, this summer pool is on BLM land, deep in the heart of the proposed SFERS Wilderness--Eklhorn Ridge left, Brush Mountain on the right. It rages with white water in the rainy season.

My personal involvement began in 1977 with partner Michael Huddleston. We lived on the east side of Brush Mountain on Elk Creek, just south of Tan Oak Park. Neighbor and friend Ken Diamond (Big Bend Lodge near Elkhorn Ridge) brought us a kit of unembellished BLM maps and comment forms BLM provided as the agency began its “Wilderness Inventory” Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the scoping phase. Ken told us Red Mountain Association was already active because strip mining for nickel, cobalt, and cadmium was threatening to tear down the mountain.

Michael and I started up the Cahto Coalition. We were excited the maps showed large blocks of BLM lands nearby, which might qualify as government Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and ultimately be recommended to US Congress for legislative designation. The “Inventory” was on! We hopped onto my motorcycle to explore those blocks apparently accessible from Branscomb Road out of Laytonville. What did we find for our turn off Branscomb, but Wilderness Lodge Road! Puttering along, we chose the forks that brought us to another great surprise–The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Coast Range Reserve greeting area. Information posted inside a little redwood shack teased us to learn more. We signed the visitor log and returned home.

Heath Angelo and Michael Huddleston in Heath’s orchard. Photo: Steven Day

The more we learned, the more dedicated we grew to seek strong conservation management of the public land on Cahto Peak, Brush Mountain, and Elkhorn Ridge. As we saw it, the public land surrounding TNC’s first reserve in the Western US (now University of California Berkeley, UCB, Angelo Coast Range Reserve ought to afford a broad shield from fish and wildlife habitat-destructive land use. On another motorcycle ride, we ventured further into the Reserve. Just before we found Heath Angelo relaxing on his front porch, ready to offer beer and chocolate chip cookies to any visitors, was another surprise–a bronze plaque bolted to a boulder emblazoned with “National Natural History Landmark.”

Michael and I may have had two or three more visits with Heath before he died at age 92 in December 1983. On that first visit 1978, Heath barely wavered from telling his story a few times to make sure what we were up to with the BLM. Michael took thorough mental notes for further research! My favorite Heath statement was when he told us he was a true conservative … from the days when it meant conservation. He told us of his own story of civil disobedience shortly after he and his wife Marjorie settled in next to Elder Creek in 1931–to stand in front of a bulldozer coming down Elkhorn Ridge to log near the river. It was a foretelling of the necessary Earth First! Blockade in 1989 on Elkhorn Ridge. The Deposition of Judy Bari. I count Heath in among all those who helped bring wilderness protection to the top of the South Fork Eel!

Heath understood the value of tight-grained wood from his experience as a commercial box and basket manufacturer in San Francisco, before corrugated cardboard was invented. One of his clients was an orchardist and behind on invoice payments. Heath negotiated fruit and nut trees as payment. I’d like to go on with my pleasant memories of hearing Heath in person. Instead, I’ll defer to A History of the Angelo Reserve, where you can find more stories about Heath, waxing and waning of late 1800s homesteading in the Branscomb area, the Cahto people, and activities UCB has posted about the Reserve. Navigate back to the homepage from the above link.

Bear at Tenmile Creek near South Fork Eel, between the Wild River and Cahto Peak BLM Units and the UC Angelo Coast Range Reserve. Photo: Tom Hesseldenz

The twists and turns I experienced over the period of thirty years ranged back-and-forth between Congress and the Administration and within the conservation community now and then. Cahto Coalition’s logo/motto was “In Beauty It Is Finished.” We hand drew it at the top of hand-typed mimeograph masters. Elkhorn, Brush, and Cahto didn’t make it with BLM past the “Inventory.” We appealed. In 1982, the (Department of) Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) sent us a letter asking us not to solicit any more letters from the public in support of our appeal. They’d had enough! If you’re curious, Google `Michael Huddleston IBLA’. IBLA’s final denial was in 1984.

Michael, Carl Brown, and I had to clear out of our Elk Creek home in 1985 after a few years of legal struggles with my eight other land partner/owners. Luckily, from settlement and savings, we could afford a deal on raw land between Standish-Hickey State Park and Georgia Pacific’s Usal Unit–one of the Harwood parcels scattered about Mendocino County they’d put up for sale. We walked property lines with GP Forester Jere Melo after finding his footprint in Carl’s garden. We had $1800 for materials and got out of our tipi and into the shell of our house-from-scratch minutes before the first fall rain. HIV-AIDS hit hard among the friendships we’d found in Northern Mendocino and Southern Humboldt Counties. Prioritizing, we were off to Ukiah to help start up Mendocino County AIDS Volunteer Network, with Cahto Coalition on the back burner.

We did carry our Cahto concerns to several great strategy meetings in Davis CA with California Wilderness Coalition, but the focus was on upcoming Congressional hearings about US Forest Service (USFS) lands, not BLM. Northcoast Environmental Center referred BLM-curious Lynn Ryan to us, thank goodness! Read Lynn’s article at An Activist Shares Her Story.

Activists in California, Oregon, and Washington organized Ancient Forest Alliances (AFAs) in each state with the help of Audubon and The Wilderness Society(s)–to campaign Congress for new laws that could preserve old-growth forest habitat. Wilderness designations in the West had generally been “rock and ice” at higher elevations to avoid “locking up” marketable resources in lower elevation coast regions. Again, the focus was on USFS. Everyone was making maps of Ancient Forest stands with buffer zones, using USFS Ranger District base maps accompanied with descriptive raps. Such maps for BLM didn’t exist. I assembled a series of US Geological Survey (USGS) maps that showed all Arcata Resource Area BLM lands. Altogether, this formed a ten-foot-long map that I had to shrink to eight feet to match the Ranger District map scale.

I started up MAP RAP; the words came later: Multiple Agency Planning and Resource Assessment Program. I segregated that long map into a dozen 8 ½ X 11 rectangles, up for adoption. President Clinton called key opponents in the “Timber Wars” to a grand meeting in Portland OR, which put the three-state AFA’s to bed with the Northwest Forest Plan. BLM called a meeting in Ukiah where we met Eric and Joanne Swanson and together we dropped our jaws at the announcement of a timber sale on Elkhorn Ridge. Next up–blockade, litigation, Geographic Information System, Washington DC “fly in” with Anthrax, and more MAP RAP!

Trees Foundation is posting my older document, which was delivered to The Wilderness Land Trust in 2005 to help them accomplish the necessary land purchases for Elkhorn Ridge Wilderness. Please enjoy reading it:

The land protection efforts of Heath Angelo in the 1940s, Red Mountain Association and Cahto Coalition in the 1980s, and the Ancient Forest Defense Fund and Earth First! in the 1990s were brought forward!  The Elkhorn Ridge Wilderness connects federal and non-federal already-protected land holdings in the upper reaches of the South Fork Eel state and federal Wild and Scenic River (WSR), exhibiting an unusual diversity of biological communities and soil types.  These were the last undeveloped, unprotected federal lands in California coastal low elevation mixed evergreen/redwood forest.

A descriptive aerial that shows a major part of the Usal Redwood Forest, from the South Fork Eel River (lower left corner) and it's tributary watersheds, over Usal Creek watershed to the fogged in Usal (upper right). Photo: Richard Gienger

Steven relocated from Ohio to San Francisco following Army Infantry duty in Viet Nam in 1971. In 1976 he took a land caretaking position in northern Mendocino County and has been there since. For 30 years Steven tracked BLM California North Coast Late Seral Reserves and Wilderness designation, adopting South Fork Eel River source for permanent protection. In addition, he advocated HIV / AIDS support for a start-up of MCAVN and RAINS service organizations and helped start-up Forests Forever and LEGACY-The Landscape Connection (MAP RAP) Conservation GIS in the mid-1980s.