February 14 (1983, 2006)
Courtship. Beauty. Responsibility.

2/14/83   Morning... some high clouds but the sun has promised to shine today and I won't let it shirk its duty.

Cassandra was here yesterday and we walked out to Casa Loma as the last storm was dwindling. We saw sun and shadow, rainbows and eagles and waterfalls. We saw a pair of eagles doing ‘courtship’ flights, swooping down and sailing up.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Late day light, 2/14/06.

February 14, 2006

An Open Letter Regarding the Destruction of Historic Trails

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, Congressman Doolittle, and the Supervisors of Placer County:

I am an amateur historian and geologist, an avid hiker, and have lived here in the Dutch Flat area of Placer County for thirty years. Before then I resided near Grass Valley; but I grew up in Palo Alto. My name is Russell Towle.

I write to inform you of the destruction of our historic trails, here in Placer, Nevada, and El Dorado counties, and elsewhere in California, I fear. Please note, there are not infinitely many of these trails.

I shall often refer to Tahoe National Forest (TNF), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF).

Over several decades, then, I have become familiar with the rich complex of trails in this area, many dating to the Gold Rush, and some, like the Donner Trail, following, exactly, the line of a prehistoric, trans-Sierran, “Indian” trail. In such a case the trail may be ten thousand years old, or more.

On December 15, 2004, I wrote to you, Governor Schwarzenegger, about the recent (~October 2004) obliteration of parts of the historic Big Granite Trail, southeast of Cisco Grove on I-80. When a bulldozer drags huge logs directly along a historic foot-trail, that trail may as well have never existed. Such is the case here. Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) performed a “10% exemption” harvest on some of the old “railroad” lands near Four Horse Flat, and so, their bulldozers ran wild, and I could just cry.

For here is a fine old trail, which drops 3,600 feet to the North Fork of the American River, a Wild & Scenic River, by the way, and this trail, this “Big Granite Trail,” is our only access to that river from the north, for miles up and down the great, great canyon.

I had volunteered many hours of my time to restore this Big Granite Trail, after SPI first ruined it, in 1990. Gradually, gradually, I was closing the gap. But then, SPI returned to the scene of its earlier crime. My work counted for nothing. The trail is much worse than ever before.

It cannot even be found and followed by the chief trails officer of Tahoe National Forest, David Michael. I warned him! I said, “David, you should have me along when you drive out to the trailhead; the bulldozers cut it up too badly, you will not find it.”

But David Michael, veteran of decades of trail work in our National Forests, kindly refused my offer. He went there alone, and he walked for miles; he never found the Big Granite Trail, and got lost, and finally slowly struggled up and out of Little Granite Canyon, through heavy brush.

Now, who is in charge of administering and monitoring timber harvests on private lands in California, such as these destructive harvests by SPI? CDF, of course. Is this Big Granite Trail an isolated case?

Not at all, in fact, it is all too common. It is absurdly and bizarrely common.

I shall explain.

I sent a CDF archeologist maps, Governor, and other information showing that the Big Granite Trail has always been a part of Tahoe National Forest’s (TNF) trail system, and in fact that it long predates the establishment of the Forest, in 1905.

Hence it is much like many other trails in TNF: it is older, perhaps much older, than the Forest itself. The Forest inherited a system of pre-existing trails. TNF rangers used to patrol these trails. They blazed the giant pines along these old-time mountain paths with the “small i” blaze of the Forest Service, a vertical rectangle of two by six inches, with a square of two by two inches above.

I have examined Tahoe National Forest maps dating from 1928, 1939, 1947, 1962, 1966, 1985, 1995, and 2005, and exhaustively analyzed the trail system depicted on these maps, comparing them, also, to USGS maps of various ages, and to the General Land Office maps, which form the basis for our cadastral survey, and thus for the legal description of land parcels.

I have used GPS and computers to transfer the courses of trails as depicted on maps a century and more old, onto digitized and georeferenced topographic maps, then uploading “waypoints” marking a trail to my GPS unit, and then, following that trail, on the ground, here in the Sierra.

This is only to say that I have been reasonably thorough. For thirty years I have not stopped learning the histories of these many trails. I have gleaned accounts of them from California’s old newspapers, from magazine articles in Bret Harte’s “Overland Monthly,” from diaries, and from the people who once walked them freely—before our National Forests became the handmaidens of the timber industry, and CDF began to pretend that the ancient paths simply do not exist.

You might well ask, “Why is GPS needed to find and follow a historic trail? Surely the Forest Service has signs which mark the trail, its beginning, its end?”

The answer is that many, many of our historic trails have been utterly obliterated by timber harvests. The old Forest Service signs mysteriously disappeared during these timber harvests. The trees which once held blazes were cut down and hauled away. The very bulldozer which dragged the blazed trunks away, also ruined the trail they once marked.

Even with GPS, it can be difficult to follow one of these ruined historic public trails.

By far the majority of these destructive harvests have occurred on private lands, and the majority of these in turn, on the old “railroad” lands, granted to the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR) by President Lincoln, in 1862 and 1864 (although actual title was not transferred, for a few years after, in many cases).

The railroad land grants left a “checkboard” pattern of land ownership, the CPRR being granted every other square mile, the odd-numbered “sections,” for twenty miles to either side of the railroad.

Within a radius of five miles of the Big Granite Trail, which, please recall, was itself severely damaged, first about 1990, then again in the fall of 2004, the following historic Forest Service trails have been destroyed, since 1970:

1. Sugar Pine Point Trail.
2. Big Bend-Devils Peak Trail.
3. Big Valley Trail.
4. Mears Meadow Trail.
5. Monumental Creek Trail.
6. China Trail, South.
7. Burnett Canyon Trail.

I do not mention those other trails which, in the course of time, have become roads, since I think it reasonable that timber be harvested, and roads built to harvest that timber.

On the other hand, I believe there must be limits. We do not, should not, make roads, everywhere; we do not, should not, harvest timber, everywhere. And when we do harvest timber, we must take care to protect historic trails. And I believe we have already far exceeded reasonable limits, in Tahoe National Forest, and elsewhere, building thousands of miles of roads into the very mountain wonderlands once reached only by trail.

Now, although Four Horse Flat, along the Big Granite Trail, is entirely within the boundary of Tahoe National Forest (see attached map), it is railroad land. And these railroad lands were all sold off, around 1985, and SPI has obtained the lion’s share of these hundreds of thousands of acres.

Being private land, timber harvests are administered by CDF. I have been trying to talk to CDF about historic trails for many years, and have met a baffling bureaucracy.

Suffice it to say that CDF routinely signs off on timber harvests which obliterate historic public trails. It is vandalism and mischief on the highest scale.

And private property is common, in Tahoe National Forest. Hence there has been widespread vandalism and mischief.

Perhaps one of the more distressing aspects, is that many private parcels within TNF boundaries are patented mining claims; and whether hard-rock claims,or placer claims, ultimately, way back when, the ore was run through a sluice box, charged with mercury.

Hence we lost some bit of The Commons, say, in 1872, say, when a claim was “patented,” and the owner polluted our rivers and streams, and the newly-patented parcel itself,with mercury (used to trap fine gold); so now We the People are cursed down to the umpteenth generation by the poisonous mercury, and the present owner of the property decides to harvest timber, and subdivide, and sell; and there goes yet another historic trail.

Now, Governor, Senators, Congressman Doolittle, Supervisors: You should know that I believe that We the People, the Public, long ago acquired a “prescriptive right” to use these historic trails, and follow them across private property, wherever it is met. These trails not only pre-date the establishment of Tahoe National Forest, they pre-date the railroad land grants of the 1860s.

Within the context of both Common Law, and case law, as in Gion vs. the City of Santa Cruz, such trails have long since obtained the status of public trails; they are, in the abstract, “public highways,” even though they are mostly only foot trails.

So, by my philosophy, We the People already have the right to use these historic trails; they are historic public trails.

However, returning to the Big Granite Trail, I discovered, only last summer (2005), that it is not only a public trail by virtue of a prescriptive right, but that We the People, the United States of America, have a deeded easement on this trail!

It is dated to 1950, but survey notes reveal that Tahoe National Forest began the process of securing easements on its historic trails at least as early as 1946.

Well might the Tahoe have been concerned, in 1946, and it no doubt was concerned about its trails, in 1905; for, because of the railroad land grants, and the checkerbaord pattern of alternating private and public sections, most every trail in Tahoe National Forest crosses from public to private land, again and again. It would not take a genius to foresee problems.

Of course, TNF rangers, until about 1960, were in complete accord with my opinion, that these old trails are public trails. That could never be an issue, the rangers must have thought; anyone and everyone could see, and all knew that these trails were public trails, no matter which section of railroad land, or which patented mining claim, a given trail might cross.

Howsoever. Having obtained deeded easements on many historic trails, did Tahoe National Forest act to protect and maintain these trails?

Since about 1960, no. One might almost consider Tahoe National Forest, today, to be an enemy of its own trail system. It’s doing a bang-up job of letting OHVs run wild everywhere, but a terrible job of protecting our historic foot trails.

You should know that when a Timber Harvest Plan (THP) is submitted to CDF, by SPI, let us say, involving lands within or adjacent to TNF boundaries, that THP is copied to TNF. Hence TNF had all due notice when SPI’s initial Four Horse Flat THP was approved, in about 1990; this resulted in the first episode of destruction of the Big Granite Trail. SPI bulldozers ran wild over the pretty path.

Did a TNF ranger meet with SPI’s Registered Professional Forester (RPF), to try to avoid damage to the trail?


Did CDF require that SPI avoid damaging the trail?


So. Here is one of the best trails in Tahoe National Forest. There is no sign at the trailhead. There is no sign at the river. If you try to talk with someone employed by TNF about this trail, as I have many times, you will be lucky if one of their “recreation officers” has even heard of it, much less, ever walked on it.

And of course, TNF does nothing to maintain the trail.


Once upon a time, TNF maintained this trail, and worked hard to protect public access to this trail.

That was then, this is now.

I wrote letters to Tahoe National Forest, and to you my Senators and Representative, urging that LWCF money be allocated so that this Section 9, T16N R13E, among others, could be purchased from SPI, and transferred to TNF.

I had hopes that Four Horse Flat could be bought before any future timber harvests further wrecked this remarkable area; but in the fall of 2004, SPI entered Four Horse Flat and performed a “10% exemption” harvest.

The very trail which TNF had not troubled to maintain, to sign, to protect in any way, was damaged even further, so that even those familiar with it, like me, could not easily follow it, or could not follow it at all.

It is a shame, and an utter disgrace, but remember, the Big Granite Trail is only typical; please realize, the same scenario has been played out on many another old trail, in the past two decades, since the railroad lands were sold, and SPI came into possession.

I complained bitterly to CDF about the 2004 damage to the Big Granite Trail; I complained to you, personally, Governor. You were kind enough to forward my letter to CDF’s Director, Dale Geldert, who then wrote to me, on February 22, 2005.

Mr. Geldert asserted that CDF “... does recognize the importance of protecting historically important features such as historic trails.”

Mr. Geldert is so very wrong, Governor. CDF has presided over the rampant and inexcusable destruction of our old trails.

CDF is so skewed towards protecting the “rights” of lumber companies such as SPI, that it would not know a historic trail, if one rushed up and bit CDF on the butt.

For instance, when I spoke with CDF archeologist Rich Jenkins (a fine man, by the way), about a THP involving the historic town-site of Lost Camp, here in Placer County, near Blue Canyon, and its associated historic trail, the China Trail, leading from Lost Camp to the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River, and asked whether CDF was requiring any special treatment of the China Trail, inasmuch as it is a historic public trail, Rich told me, “If it is not on the National Register of Historic Trails, we cannot offer it any protection.”

He explained, then, Governor, and Senators, and Representative, and good Supervisors, why our historic China Trail is not a Historic Trail.

Wendell Towle Robie, a Placer County Republican, tried hard to protect Lost Camp and the China Trail, decades ago. But he is long gone from this world. And the 590 acres of land there, old patented mining claims, passed to Siller Brothers Lumber Company.

I remember scouting the area, trying to understand the Lost Camp THP; and at the top of the China Trail, I found flagging tied to a small cedar by the Registered Professional Forester (RPF), with the words, “trail,” on the flagging.

“Wonderful!” I thought, “they are going to protect the China Trail! Lost Camp will be destroyed, but the China Trail will live!”

How wrong I was! That flagging marked a bulldozer skid trail. That flagging meant the utter end and obliteration of the China Trail. That is, Lost Camp would be destoyed, and the China Trail would be destroyed!

At that time (2003), I did not know that Tahoe National Forest has a deeded easement on the China Trail. I did know, from my old maps and explorations, that the southern half of the China Trail, from the North Fork of the North Fork, up onto Sawtooth Ridge, had already been obliterated by logging; but I did not know that TNF had an easement on the entire China Trail, both north and south of the river.

Of course, Tahoe National Forest no longer maintains the China Trail; there are no signs, and it does not even appear on TNF maps, any longer.

Yet it is, or rather, was, one of the finest trails in Placer County!

Half of it is left mostly intact. For now. Siller Brothers have not yet executed their CDF-approved THP. The bomb has not yet dropped on Lost Camp.

However, I must return again to the Big Granite Trail, for a related subject.

An archeologist of my acquaintance, John Betts, often works for CDF. He met with SPI’s Registered Professional Forester and CDF staff, for a tour of the newly-damaged section of the Big Granite Trail, in the summer of 2005. While they walked among the bulldozed mounds and craters where the trail once led, large logs and boulders blocking their way at every turn, the RPF remarked that, quite honestly, SPI wished the hikers would just go away, and never come back.

Honesty is refreshing.

It is true that the terms of the 1950 easements, deeded to the United States from the Southern Pacific Land Company, explicitly state that if a given trail is abandoned for five years, the easement becomes null and void.

Hence, if SPI, let us say, wishes that hikers will in fact “go away, forever,” it might purposely bulldoze the line of some old trail, and cut down the trees with blazes, and remove the TNF signs. If hikers cannot even find a trail, the easement will lapse.

I hate “conspiracy theories.” Having said that, why is it that I observe, time and time again, that SPI bulldozers have used the exact line of a historic trail, with its old Forest Service blazes, as one of their principal skid trails?

The result is the complete obliteration of the trail.

I have seen this in Tahoe National Forest; I have seen it in Eldorado National Forest.

CDF administers these SPI harvests. Yet CDF seems stuck in a dream of its own supposed achievements, in protecting archeological sites. CDF imagines a happy world in which the noble RPFs share archeological findings with CDF personnel, and that this or that Indian village site, or group of petroglyphs, will be protected from undue damage.


In the meantime, CDF pretends that our historic trails do not exist.

Strangely, Tahoe National Forest also pretends the historic trails do not exist. TNF rangers scarcely ever set foot on these trails, not to speak of performing any maintenance. Their budget will not allow it, or so they tell me. They have many “ologists”: biologists, geologists, archeologists, who must study the various Forest “projects” and devise ways to avoid environmental damage. This requires long hours sitting before a computer. But if we seek the good old-time rangers who would actually handle a shovel or a saw and do some honest work, well, that was then.

This is now.

You may be certain that a wealth of bureaucratic explanations exist, much after the fashion of FEMA, for why CDF and TNF so utterly betray the public trust.

In order that SPI can harvest timber by the most industrial methods, scorning recreational uses such as trails, scorning scenic resources, scorning erosion on the grand scale, using illegal alien work crews (“pineros”), CDF and TNF look the other way.

Now, having said too much, I must continue.

I have presented the picture of historic trails in Tahoe National Forest, increasingly obliterated by timber harvests on private inholdings.

But what of historic trails outside the Forest Boundary?

What of the other standard methods We the People lose a historic trail: the gate, the “no trespassing” sign, the real estate subdivision?

To the west, roughly, “below the snow,” as it were, are many other old trails, and much less in the way of public land, although the Bureau of Land Management administers large holdings in the Sierra foothills.

Here are many Gold Rush era trails, often giving access to the various rivers, dropping down and down into steep canyons.

For instance, near Gold Run, in Placer County, on I-80, are many old trails. To the south is the so-remarkable North Fork American Wild & Scenic River; but how to get to it? How to enjoy it, to see it, to admire it? In 1978, Congress created the “Gold Run Addition” to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, so that a “portal” for public access could be formed at Gold Run, taking advantage of the several historic trails, and the proximity to I-80.

There are large BLM holdings in the Gold Run area, near and within the great canyon of the North Fork American. This abundance of public land also favored the idea of a “portal” to the Wild & Scenic River.

Congress directed the Department of Interior to acquire the private inholdings within the Gold Run Addition boundaries. But no land was acquired; the owners were not willing sellers.

No signs were placed, no trails marked. The Fords Bar Trail, from Gold Run, south to the North Fork American River, and beyond to Iowa Hill, was gated closed in 1985, and then Placer County approved a subdivision at the trailhead. Following this (2005), still another old trail was blocked, “We the People” being denied access to our own BLM lands, because the humble little forest road crossed ten feet of the newly-subdivided private property, beside Garrett Road.

So, rather than becoming a portal for public access to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, as Congress intended in 1978, public access has been lost since then, no land has been acquired, and not one sign placed marking a trail, nor any one trail even maintained.

The private inholdings within the Gold Run Addition are for sale right now, and are being considered for purchase by a party who would make this large tract of open space a “private reserve,” and keep We the Public out, forever.

The Bureau of Land Management has no funds with which to purchase these lands.

That is a little of the sad story of Gold Run’s old trails; but quite generally, private land owners have been routinely allowed to close historic trails, here in Placer County.

Again, they are all public trails, in my opinion.

It is common for these old trails to begin on the canyon rim, on private property, and then pass quickly onto public land, such as BLM or TNF, as they enter the North Fork canyon.

In fact, historically, despite public or private ownership, all of Placer County “above the snow” and all of its many canyons, “below the snow,” formed a part of our Commons.

The residents of Placer County saw the trails problem emerge after the Second World War, when many new residents began to move here. One old road after another, one old trail after another, was being gated closed, with “no trespassing” signs, just as is happening right now on the historic Dutch Flat Donner Lake Wagon Road, up near Donner Lake, or out on Garrett Road in Gold Run.

The Commons was shrinking, and shrinking quickly.

So, in 1953, the Placer County Supervisors passed a “Trails Ordinance” which decreed that every trail or road depicted on existing USGS maps, was a public, County road or trail, and provided misdemeanor-type penalties for blocking any such road or trail.

A list of sixty specific trails, including the Big Granite Trail and the China Trail, formed a part of the Ordinance.

Within minutes of its passage, suit was filed in superior Court, in Auburn, to stop Placer County from enforcing the Trails Ordinance. The suit was filed on behalf of large landowners, mainly in eastern Placer County.

I do not know the outcome of the case, but private property appears to have prevailed, for in 1954 the Trails Ordinance was rescinded, and another much weaker ordinance replaced it.

Now, subsequent legal developments and precedents, such as embodied by Gion vs. the City of Santa Cruz [1970, 2 Cal. 3d29], suggest that each and every trail listed in the 1953 Ordinance, easily met the legal criteria for a public trail.

Our grandparents would never have stood for the closure of these trails; nay, our great-grandparents strongly questioned whether the CPRR should ever have been given so much land, and thus be entrusted with so much of the futures, of Placer, Nevada, and El Dorado counties. Our parents knew the value of these trails, and fought for them: notice that Tahoe National Forest obtained its easements in 1950, and that Placer County’s Trails Ordinance was enacted in 1953.

Those were the good old days, when rangers still patrolled and maintained the trails, so when a private property owner tried to close the road to the Green Valley Trail, near Dutch Flat, TNF rangers responded quickly, and made them remove the gate.

For TNF was protecting the public interest, and the public trust, and the Commons.

That was the 1950s; this is now.

I have told you, briefly, about the plight of our historic trails. I have blamed TNF, CDF, BLM, and SPI; I have blamed Placer County, and by implication, Nevada and El Dorado counties, for they have allowed similar widespread closures of old roads and trails.

I also blame the Sierra Club, and other environmental organizations, for falling down on the job, and not paying closer attention to the terrible destruction which has taken place, year by year by year.

I blame you, my elected representatives.

And I blame myself, for not adequately communicating the situation to you, my representatives.

For, I wish to trust that, knowing the truth, my elected representatives will act in an honorable manner, and do the right thing.

The acquisition of private inholdings in Tahoe National Forest, and also outside the Forest, at Gold Run and Lost Camp and many other places, shall form a principal part of the solution.

We must also pay very close attention to the disposition of the PG&E lands in the Sierra, under the terms of their bankruptcy settlement. Here are many opportunities to preserve the Commons.

And we must forbid further destruction and closure of historic trails.

From a practical standpoint, and speaking the truth, this will mean we must disappoint any number of realtors, disappoint loggers, and also disappoint people who have purchased a parcel, assuming that now, as always, anything goes, and any trail or road may be closed, and any house built, and anywhere.

That is, we must have zoning and land use laws which severely limit or even exclude residential uses, in many areas.

This will become the crucial point; on this we must all, always, disagree (I mean, it is so inherently contentious, we could never agree on all points), but please remember, what is the net result we can expect, from continuing our business as usual?

I cannot imagine any of us would like that answer. How many more old trails are you willing to sacrifice? How much more open space, how much wildland? While our population grows, out of control!

What—as our population grows bigger and bigger, we need fewer and fewer trails, fewer and fewer places to hike and to camp?

Of course not. We can’t afford to lose any more trails at all. We can’t afford to give away any more camp sites.

I would like to ask you all, what good is a trail, such as the Big Granite Trail, if it remains open, but due to logging, is so ugly and scarred, that no one would even want to hike there? The people who used to camp in Four Horse Flat, like Lee and Anne DeBusk of Alta, who carved their names into the aspen trunks there, in the 1950s—would they want to camp there, today?

For it is not just that a bomb, nay, a mile of bombs, were dropped on the Big Granite Trail. It is also that roads and log landings scar so much of Four Horse Flat, which, a few years ago, was primeval wilderness!

Oh, it was just one of the glories of old Placer County, of which there were many, and so many fine trails connected them, and one could walk and fish and hunt for weeks on end, going from Lake Tahoe on the east, into the meadowy upper canyons on the west, and thence into the trout-haunted wilds of the deepling gorges, like the North Fork, the one and only American River Canyon.

Yes, Lee DeBusk knew the Big Granite Trail well. His family owned the Lost Emigrant Mine, south of the Royal Gorge, but lived “below the snow” in Weimar, and in the spring, when they performed their “assessment work,” Lee and his brother Wilbur would lead pack mules south over the snow from Cisco, on Highway 40, passing Huysink Lake, and on down the Big Granite Trail, crossing the North Fork at a ford, with the aid of a cable, then on up the main canyon on other old mining trails, to Wabena Creek and the 3000-foot climb to the Lost Emigrant Mine.

Then came the Korean War, and like other sons of Placer County, the DeBusk sons went away to fight, and die.

Wilbur DeBusk was blown into small pieces, when his unit stayed behind to cover a U.S. retreat, before rapidly advancing Chinese forces.

Wilbur DeBusk never knew the joy of hiking the Big Granite Trail again.

How could he guess that the very trail, where he would often see and greet the friendly Tahoe National Forest rangers, on patrol, cutting fallen trees off the path—that very same trail would be willfully wrecked by bulldozers, and Four Horse Flat, with its aspens and lush meadows, transformed into a mess of logging roads and log decks?

Lee survived the Korean War, and married Anne. Together they hiked the wonderful old trails of Placer County. They left their names on the graceful aspen trees, beside the inscriptions of the Basque shepherds. They hiked all the trails, like the Big Granite Trail, like the recently-obliterated Long Valley Trail, like the Heath Springs Trail, running west down the North Fork American from the famous Old Soda Springs.

Of course, Lee and Anne did this before the wealthy few who comprise the “North Fork Association” closed this lovely canyon trail, which is part of a trans-Sierran route which crosses Four Horse Flat, as it happens, some miles to the west. This Heath Springs Trail, a historic and public trail, a part of the Tahoe National Forest trail system as depicted on its maps down to almost the present day, is now littered everywhere with the most officious of custom-made “no trespassing” signs, and patrolled by North Fork Association “streamwalkers,” to keep We the People out.

They say that North Fork Association members are very very well-connected, politically; very rich, very powerful.

Did Tahoe National Forest act to protect the public’s interest on this historic, public, Forest Service trail, a crucial east-west link in a trans-Sierran route?


For goodness’ sake, people once made their livings guiding tourists on these very same trails, now buried beneath SPI’s logging slash, now littered with “no trespassing” signs and blocked by gates!

Yes, Four Horse Flat was a wondrous place. But it is also within odd-numbered Section 9, hence, President Lincoln gave Four Horse Flat to his political ally Leland Stanford, and then it went to the Southern Pacific Land Company, and finally, to Red Emerson’s Sierra Pacific Industries.

I suggest that we must more carefully manage our timber harvests, not just with a view to protecting our old trails, but also to protecting the scenic resources, and forested, wildland ambience, these very trails provide to us.

I mean that, yes, we not only make the lumber companies keep their bulldozers off the trails themselves, but we require them to leave an unharvested buffer zone along the trail, and protect scenic resources generally. They, the lumber companies, will not like this, but I say, it must become a part of the cost of doing business, here in California.

Please note, for instance, that SPI could have harvested the very same trees in winter, with ten feet of snow on the ground, and never touched the forest floor with even one bulldozer’s blade, and thus never touched the Big Granite Trail. All yarding of logs would have been over snow.

There are ways to walk lightly on the land, even when harvesting timber!

Governor, I know you wish to make California better suited to business, and I sympathize with your goal, and I support that goal.

The question is, how? How do we do it? And how do we make California a better place for legitimate business, while calling a halt to the illegitimate business of wrecking our old trails, our high country, and our canyon country, which have always formed a part of the “Commons” of Placer County in particular, and California generally, here in the Sierra Nevada?

One thing which comes quite immediately to mind, is that we must fix CDF. The pretense that historic trails are not Historic Trails, and hence cannot be protected, must end. And this end must be monitored to avoid further damage.

I do not trust SPI any farther than I can throw one of their bulldozers. We all must worry when so much of our heritage, so much of our open space and wildlands, and so many of our trails, have fallen under their control.

This is a company quite devoted to the bottom line, and to purely industrial timber operations, and thus its work force is now dominated, so far as I can observe, since I see them myself, in the woods, by Mexican laborers.

It will require a vigilant CDF, to restrain a rapacious SPI.

Land acquisition is so very important, whether we speak of our National Forests, or the Bureau of Land Management; Four Horse Flat, or Gold Run. We need to make many, many acquisitions.

The Land & Water Conservation Act must be much more fully exploited, to acquire these many private inholdings.

It is remotely possible that Congress, were it aware of this emergency, and this ongoing destruction of a recreational and scenic and wildland resource of truly National significance, might even act to qualify the railroad land grants of President Lincoln, and help turn back the clock, and ensure that a fair, and therefore low, price is paid, to SPI and others, for the return of our lost Commons.

Hoping, then, that you, my representatives, will awaken to a sense of urgency, as our population grows so very quickly, and the Commons of California disappears day by day, and hoping also you know, that we never could afford to give away our historic trails in the past, and still less can we afford to do so, now—in these hopes I am,


Russell Towle
P.O. Box 141
Dutch Flat, CA 95714

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