Lisa Fields, CDFW Conserved Lands Environmental Scientist (Specialist), welcomed the large group of Sierra Brooks residents stating they were there to have communication with the community and stressed nothing was set in stone.
Kevin Thomas, CDFW North Central Region Manager, mentioned he had been to two dozen public meetings in other areas and never had this good of turnout. He told of the Department’s mission, which is to conserve Fish and Wildlife for the benefits of Fish and Wildlife and for the use and enjoyment by the public. Thomas said their mission fits exactly with the SCWA where they are protecting habitats and offering recreation for hunting, fishing and hiking. He explained Wildlife Areas have special uses for how they are managed, allowing horseback riding, hiking, and most type of activities, but don’t allow OHV use, woodcutting or harvesting. Thomas stated their solution is not theirs; it’s “ours because we are neighbors.” The goal is to find something that works with everyone. He acknowledged their lands have been neglected and didn’t have the staff to manage the over 100,000 acres but now have a couple dozen people to work on it. He stressed they were there to talk and to listen.
Thomas introduced Mario Klip, CDFW Wildlife and Conserved Lands Supervisor, who stated it was obvious people have a strong feeling to the area. He gave a shout out to RCD on their work adjacent to the SCWA and met with RCD recently to talk about grazing potential to keep grasses down more effectively. Klip said their intention is to be here as neighbors and one of the objectives they have as an agency is better fire resiliency, adding there was room for discussion on how to get there. He explained 10 years ago a land management plan was created for SCWA and Antelope Valley. In this plan it identifies the objectives for research activities, fire suppression activities and management activities which include talking to the community, County, and stakeholders, to make sure they are all on the same page on how to best manage this area. The Department has increased funding for fuel resiliency. Mario talked about the wildlife management of the SCWA and addressed unauthorized users. He explained there are special species in this meadow that do not work well with OHV. He stated their intention was not to affect anyone’s livelihood. The intention was to locate the correct boundary lines and help with fuels management.
Comments from the community included discussion on the houses that border the SCWA that have been taking care of their own weed abatement as well as the Department’s for many years. Thomas stated they are going to try and be more aggressive and get rid of weeds which is why they talked about grazing. The Department wants to get to a point so property owners don’t have to go out and rid weeds on Fish and Wildlife land. One resident worried if a fence is behind properties it will be harder to clear and harder for a fire department to get through the fence in the event of a fire. More concerns on fencing, later called the “F-word” on whether it would be right on the property line or would the Department give a “cushion.” It was stated the fence was not a done deal. A resident asked, why barbed wire? One resident felt it a safety issue when you put up barbed wire where they play. It was stated fences have purposes and if they don’t need to graze it, they probably won’t fence it. Thomas added the Department grazes an enormous amount of the lands they have. Most of the homeowners did not want a fence and stated cattle are destructive.
One resident thought the Department used the
meadow for deer migration and a fence would change that. Another resident worried that grazing would hurt the canna lilies that bloom in the meadow. Concerns about access points going through back yards, and boundary signs impeding views were also brought up. One resident stated he had seen maybe five OHV in the meadow since he lived there over 3 years and was against the fence. He felt the Department was trying to throw government money away for something they don’t need. Thomas stated all that is going in at this point are boundary markers not a fence. Chairman of the RCD and second vice president of the California Cattlemen’s Association, Rick Roberti, explained cattle can do damage if not controlled property, adding nobody is going to put cattle out there to graze if it’s not safe. He stated they’ve been pushing for a long time to start opening up some of the areas for grazing, as research shows good grazing benefits the ground, but no rancher is going to put cattle next to your back door with dogs or horses. Roberti stated the problem with sheep are predators. He told the group, if they want this to work he suggested creating a working group between the Department, ranchers, UC extension and community because “it won’t work, if the people aren’t happy.” Thomas acknowledged they didn’t do the outreach they should have. Fields stated they are trying to correct not coming to the community first and build back trust lost.
One resident asked about meadow restoration, raising the water table and creating more biodiversity. Others stated mowing would probably only take two times a year and suggested putting boulders in openings they don’t want OHV going through to block access and putting up signs. Sierra County Sheriff Mike Fisher explained those that want to break a law won’t follow signs and felt the situation could be addressed through education and patrol. He stated when you impound an ATV or Quad that gets out to the public, stressing the need to have communication and community involvement.
Fields concluded the meeting by stating they would stay in contact with the community and would take comments back with them and plan to set up a working group.