Bear River Awakening

How You Can Help

The Bear River is one of the jewels of the Sierra. Though scuffed and scarred, opportunities abound to preserve its best features and to restore its luster. The Bear has shown its ability to withstand the most impact of any Sierra river, yet retain much of its allure. It is a testament to nature's generosity and willingness to come back again. Will we let her do her work once more?

The surging wave of growth in the Bear River watershed, particularly in the middle and lower reaches, brings both opportunity and threat. The processes are in place for addressing the issues and for participation by those who care. Oddly, the Bear River has the reputation of not having a constituency — there are no Friends of the Bear River or Bear River Canyon Keepers or Bear River Citizen's League as there are for many of the State's better-known waterways. And yet, more people live in the Bear River watershed than in any other Sierra river.

Will newcomers and old-timers alike, who love living in the Sierra foothills, make their voices heard?

Here are the most critical decision-making processes in which interested parties can participate to protect the Bear River watershed:

  • BLM Resource Management Plan. The BLM manages thousands of acres in Nevada and in Placer counties and has begun to update its Sierra Resource Management Plan. The plan will set the management direction for the next 20 years. Many of these lands are contiguous with PG&E settlement lands or lands owned by other agencies, presenting a once in a lifetime opportunity for increasing access for people to use and enjoy the Bear River. Contact the Bureau of Land Management's Folsom Field Office for more info.

  • PG&E Settlement Lands. Pacific Gas & Electric emerged from bankruptcy with a settlement agreement committing the corporation to divest much of its watershed land holdings, of which approximately 17,000 acres are in the Bear River and Yuba watersheds. The Pacific Forest and Watershed Land Stewardship Council was created to conduct the stakeholder process and to formulate the divestment plan by the end of 2007. Final determination will be made in 2010. Visit the Council's public information site for meetings and participation details.

  • FERC Re-licensing. Hydroelectric dams are licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Utilities are given up to 50-year licenses to operate their facilities, assuring the public purposes of responsible management and resource protection. Both Nevada Irrigation District (NID) and PG&E licenses are due for renewal in 2013. While this sounds far away, the stakeholder process here begins formally in 2007 and remains active for the duration. Many stakeholder organizations have already begun organizing — for more information, see:

  • County General Plans. Four of the counties in the Bear Watershed — Placer, Nevada, Yuba, and Sutter — all will be revising their general plans in the next five years, which will determine how growth will look in this region. The questions here are:

    • Will there be houses right up to the riverbank, or will there be buffers and setbacks?
    • Will houses be built in the flood plane? Will management practices be implemented to minimize erosion, from construction and roads?
    • Will the river be essentially private or will access points and public facilities be available?

    Contact the individual counties for further information.

Fire hazards decisions related to the fuel-loaded forests will also be made at the county level. Fire Safe Councils will define strategies to reduce the fire threat in the Bear River Watershed. For information, visit Colfax Community Watershed and Fire Safe Ecosystem Project.

The answers to the questions raised in this story of the Bear River hold the keys to its future. Will its many friends, old and new, who call the Bear watershed home now come forward with the effort and commitment to give the Bear a new chance? The future of the Bear River rests in the balance.

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Web Consulting by Dorene Matney