Bear River Headwaters now protected in perpetuity for public benefit

Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT), in partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), announces the permanent protection of 267 acres of mixed conifer forests and meadows in the Bear River Headwaters and beautiful granite walls along the South Yuba River canyon. This transaction represents the donation of the land by PG&E to CAL FIRE as a State Demonstration Forest, as well as the donation of a conservation easement to BYLT to ensure that the property’s scenic open space, forest, wildlife habitat, recreation, and historic and cultural values will be protected forever.

The Bear River Headwaters Conservation Easement, located downstream of Lake Spaulding in the headwaters area, comprises the ridges and valleys between the South Yuba River and Bear River. Adjacent to popular recreation spots such as Emerald Pools and Bear Valley Campground, this area offers exceptional opportunities for outdoor recreation. The conservation easement ensures continued public access and honors ongoing recreational uses.

CAL FIRE will incorporate this new property into its system of Demonstration State Forests, which serve as a living laboratory for how to care for California’s timberlands for multiple benefits—wood products and timber production, recreation, watershed protection, and habitat restoration. The conservation easement allows sustainable timber harvest in accordance with a Management Plan that CAL FIRE will develop through a public process and protects plant and animal habitat and  unique historical and cultural resources. CAL FIRE has developed popular trail systems in other Demonstration State Forests, and it will be exciting to see how recreation on this property can connect to nearby recreation attractions including: ADA-accessible Sierra Discovery Trail and picnic area, Pioneer Trail, (hiking/biking/equestrian), swimming, boating and angler access at Bear and South Yuba Rivers and multiple lakes including Fuller, Rucker, Spaulding, and Lake Valley.

“This property will be one of  six new Demonstration State Forests at different elevations and latitudes that fill the gaps in California forest types. CAL FIRE urgently needs these additional forests for applied research to track, understand, and adapt to climate change with actions that promote forest health and reduce the risk of stand-replacing wildfires,” says Erin Healy, Executive Director of the Stewardship Council.

The protection of the lands at the Bear River Headwaters is part of a larger effort by the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E, the Stewardship Council, and a variety of stakeholders to conserve 140,000 acres of PG&E watershed lands throughout California. Following the 2003 bankruptcy of PG&E, a settlement was reached with the California Public Utilities Commission known as the Land Conservation Commitment (LCC). The LCC requires the permanent conservation of PG&E-owned forests, meadows, streams, and wetlands across the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, to be protected for their conservation values and for the people of California.

“PG&E is thrilled to see the transfer of this important Bear River headwaters property which will become part of CAL FIRE’s State Demonstration Forest Program with a conservation easement held by Bear Yuba Land Trust. We are all excited that this land will be protected forever for the public benefit,” says Mike Schonherr, PG&E Director, Power Generation Planning.

BYLT, a nationally-accredited land trust based in Grass Valley, protects and defends the working and natural lands in the Bear and Yuba River watersheds and empowers a healthy, resilient community through nature access and education. In accepting the CAL FIRE Bear River Conservation Easement, BYLT agrees to monitor the property annually and meet with CAL FIRE about planned management and uses in Bear Valley to ensure that the conservation values and public recreation access are protected for future generations. BYLT has signed commitments to conserve over 10,000 acres of PG&E lands. The majority are in the headwaters area and provide permanent protection from private development and ensure public recreation forever.

Erin Tarr, BYLT Executive Director, says about the project, “The work we are doing with PG&E and other partners in the headwaters region is so exciting for our community. These vast landscapes we are protecting provide habitat for wildlife and access to nature for people. Knowing these special places will be here for the generations of today and tomorrow is very gratifying.”