Ridge Trail Work In Progress, Sunny Brae Forest Roads Going Back To Nature – September 24, 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

Environmental Services Director Mark Andre and Natural Resources Maintenance Crew Leader Dennis Houghton on the Ridge Trail. Behind them is a Grotzman Creek crossing where a flatcar bridge is to be installed this week. Photos by KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA FORESTS – As you and I dusted our beards with glitter and played softball at Bat ’N’ Rouge (or watched those who did) a few weeks ago as a benefit for the Arcata Ridge Trail, others were busy out on the trail itself, with little to no glitter involved.

The Arcata Ridge Trail Logo by artist Dave Held. daveheld.com

Over the past several weeks, contractors, restoration experts and City personnel have been preparing the Ridge Trail  for use by forestgoers, and elsewhere, doing the opposite – making old logging roads disappear forever by turning them back into forested hillsides.

So well is the work going that by this fall, a northern stretch of the Ridge Trail will be opened for public use. That’s the portion being rocked – literally – thanks to funds from the current timber harvest, now being wrapped up. Rock is expensive: $300 pays for just 200 feet of rocked trail.

Meanwhile, this week, a bridge made from an old flatbed rail car is being installed across Grotzman Creek. A temporary crossing will be removed following installation of the $25,000 flatbed, purchased from Pacific Rail Services in Anderson.

Roughly 200,000 board feet of timber is being taken from the Sunny Brae Forest, thinning out overgrown areas. About 150,000 board feet is coming from the Jacoby Creek Forest, while the Arcata Community Forest is contributing 300,000 board feet.

The funding yield gained from the harvest is not yet known, but will be discussed at next month’s Forest Management Committee meeting. The timber market is somewhat recovered, but prices are still depressed, so the harvest was kept to a minimum.

A bucket of flags used to delineate work areas.

Proceeds from the Bat ’N’ Rouge Ridge Trail benefit are not yet known. A recent benefit held by the Northern California Horsemen Association provided $2,500.

Those wishing to make donations to Arcata’s Forest Fund to help the Ridge Trail may do so at hafoundation.org.

The state Department of General Services is presently reviewing the appraisal performed on a critical link in the Ridge Trail – the crossing just north of Fickle Hill Road, a five-acre parcel known as the Humphry Property.

The City wants two-and-a-half acres of the parcel for use by the Ridge Trail. If things work out, a lot line adjustment will be done to split the parcel in two. Environmental Services Director Mark Andre lamented the need to cross the paved street at Fickle Hill. He said it’s not entirely preposterous to consider installation of a tunnel for trail users there, as the southern approach comes up a steep hill.

The Sunny Brae Forest is being restored, with nearly two miles of old logging road being “put to bed” – that is, being covered and recontoured to match the surroundings. The former roadway will be replanted during upcoming volunteer workdays.

Environmental Services Director Mark Andre photographs road decommissioning work in progress in the Sunny Brae Forest.

Eventually, Andre said, no trace of the roads will remain. The Beith Creek Road Decommissioning Project is funded by the California Dept. of Fish & Game, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the City of Arcata.

During the restoration, the affected portions of the forest have a scoured and denuded look, but grow in with lush vegetation after a few years, their drainage issues corrected.

Forest Management Committee

The Forest Management Committee met Thursday, Sept. 13 for the first time since May.

The 2012 Northern Spotted Owl Survey was split between THP and NTMP properties, forwarded to the Fish and Wildlife Service and CalFire. A single barred owl was detected on the newly acquired Schmidbauer property. Because of its behavior, he was pretty sure it was the same one he saw a few days later in the ACF.

“It just acted different,” said Natural Resource Technician Michael McDowall. He said the ACF’s resident barred owls are “acting spotted owlish” after responding to mouse offerings by surveyors.

A barred owl pair in the ACF nested and produced one owlet this year. The baby wasn’t seen, but heard several times, and its parents were in full protective mode, warding away ravens.

The Jacoby Creek Forest (JCF) turned up a pair of spotted owls and a barred owl pair. He was optimistic that the spotted owls were going to mate and produce a fledgling, but subsequent visits indicated that the two may have split up and then migrated to another area. McDowall wasn’t sure of the domestic difficulties had been from a disruptive interaction with the neighboring, bully-boy barred owls, which are aggressive and antagonistic toward the more passive spotted owls.

The committee pondered maps of the owl locations in City forests –important considerations in forest harvest planning. The maps are not for public consumption, as owl locations are confidential. “A lot of effort and time goes into this,” Andre said.

The Sunny Brae Forest was also surveyed, though no harvests are planned there for at least three years.

Economic Development Committeemember Jane Woodward, who regularly attends FMC meetings, asked whether there was any plan to remove the barred owls. Biologist Lowell Diller said that other than experimentally, no federal policy exists to extract them. He said he suspects more barred owls are on the way, and being more aggressive, could crowd out the spotted owls.

The Arcata Ridge Trail is coming along. “We’re spending a lot of money on rock this year,” Andre said. “It’s a good thing.”

Much of the northern leg has been graded and rocked, with some segments still awaiting improvement. Six to 700 yards of the Green Diamond link was “mushy” and required extensive rocking.

Another 30 feet of buffer land may be acquired from Mad River Lumber, to whom the City is leasing land for use as a log deck.

“We can soon open the northern half of the Ridge Trail, from the Community Forest to West End Road,” Andre said. “Soon we’ll be putting up signs.”

SJL Construction of Ferndale is assisting the City with trail construction, creating a long loop trail in the Sunny Brae Forest, including the City-acquired parcel known as the Morris Property.

A Beith Creek crossing in the process of being restructured.

Harvesting on the Schmidbauer Property paid for most of the improvements being done on Ridge Trail segments. “It’s enabled us to stitch together access to the Sunny Brae Forest,” Andre said.

He said marking trees for cutting in the Schmidbaur land was difficult because of the “fog drizzle mess.” Now that some areas have been thinned, it is evident that many trees have been topped to allow bay views for hillside residents.

The annual study session with other environmentally oriented committees – Open Space, Wetlands and Creeks, Open Space, parks and Rec – is pending, the scheduling dependent on availability of all five City Councilmembers. Last year’s meeting was attended by just three of the councilmembers. The informational meeting allows the natural resource committees to synchronize their issues and puts the council in the loop on their activities.

Commiteemember Michael Furniss said that a “continuous stream” of travelers wearing backpacks is seen daily heading up 11th Street to the Community Forest for illegal camping, roughly estimating their numbers at perhaps 50 or so per night. Chair Russ Forsburg suggested that the APD park ranger attend an FMC meeting and discuss impacts and enforcement.

The travelers were said to be itinerant cannabis trimmers, in town seeking work processing marijuana harvests. McDowall said he encounters campers in the forest and educates them about garbage, waste and trampling impacts, letting them know that camping is illegal.

He said some campers protest that the forest is a public facility, but McDowall said he tells them that the forest is like other parks, and is closed at night. Should the park ranger find them, they will be checked for outstanding warrants.

A field trip to the forest to evaluate harvest impacts and view progess in road and trailbuilding is planned for Oct. 24.

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