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Placer Land Trust and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) are pleased to announce the permanent protection of Sierra Nevada forest lands in the American River headwaters near Lake Valley Reservoir, south of Interstate 80 at Yuba Gap.

“This 1,151-acre forest represents our second-largest project to date,” said Placer Land Trust Executive Director Jeff Darlington. “We’re pleased to work with CAL FIRE and other partners to ensure that this beautiful forest – and the vast watershed it supports – is protected forever for public recreation, ecological health and climate resilience.”

The property was formerly owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). Through PG&E’s Land Conservation Commitment in partnership with the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, the property has been transferred to CAL FIRE. CAL FIRE will own and manage the property, and Placer Land Trust holds a conservation easement that permanently prohibits subdivision and limits development.

“PG&E is thrilled to transfer this important American River headwaters property to CAL FIRE as part of its State Forest Program, to be managed for public benefit and protected forever by Placer Land Trust,” said Mike Schonherr, PG&E Director of Power Generation Planning.

The property is the second of a three-phase project with multiple partners to create a permanently protected 2,618-acre Demonstration State Forest spanning the Upper American and Bear River watersheds in Placer and Nevada counties on both sides of Interstate 80 from Emigrant Gap to Cisco Grove. The first phase was CAL FIRE’s recent acquisition of 267 acres between the South Yuba River and Bear River below Lake Spaulding, permanently protected by a conservation easement held by the Nevada County-based Bear Yuba Land Trust. The final phase will be the addition of 1,200 acres near the Bear River anticipated to be acquired from PG&E in early 2023.

“CAL FIRE is excited that this permanently-protected forest will become one of 12 Demonstration State Forests owned and managed by CAL FIRE,” said Kevin Conway, State Forest Manager. “The Demonstration State Forests serve as a ‘living laboratories’ where researchers, scientists, landowners and interested citizens are able to learn about and experience a variety of forest management strategies including forest health, wood products and timber production, public recreation, watershed and wildlife protection, habitat restoration, and climate adaptation strategies related to wildfire. Adding new forests like this one creates additional opportunities for critical forestry research and watershed restoration in the era of climate change, while providing new recreation opportunities for all Californians.”

This 1,151-acre property contains the headwaters of the North Fork of the North Fork American River which contributes to the high quality of drinking water in Placer County. Significant wetlands and water resources are located on the property, including Sixmile Meadow, valued for its beauty as well as its ecosystem functions of storing and filtering water, regulating flow, sequestering carbon, and providing important wildlife habitat. 

Sixmile Meadow, a significant wetland resource located on the preserve. Photo credit: Placer Land Trust

Funding to ensure the property’s permanent protection was provided to Placer Land Trust by the Stewardship Council.

“The Stewardship Council is excited to help permanently protect this land,” said Erin Healy, Stewardship Council’s Executive Director. “The mixed conifer/hardwood forests and chaparral provide habitat for a diverse range of wildlife from large mammals such as bear, deer, coyote, to reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds and insects. The property also provides scenic and recreational value as it protects the forests surrounding Lake Valley Reservoir, a popular outdoor recreation destination.”

CAL FIRE’s Demonstration State Forests are managed for multiple-use objectives, and public recreation is a priority. Recreation activities on this property include fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, and quiet enjoyment and study of nature. The land will be stewarded under a Forest Management Plan to be approved by the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection; CAL FIRE Sacramento Resource Management will be managing the property. CAL FIRE retains the right to build forest and fire management structures on less than 2% of the 1,151-acre property, such as a fire station, fire lookouts, or barracks for fire/forestry personnel working in the area.

The project helps meet global, federal, and State goals to protect natural and working lands as nature-based solutions to climate change and expand public access to natural areas. To do its part locally, Placer Land Trust is working with willing landowners to protect at least 25,000 acres in Placer County by 2030.

“Protection of this land creates a lasting benefit for all living beings – from native plants and animals to us humans who enjoy clean water, healthy forests and outdoor recreation,” said Darlington.