Protecting the Clavey River from future development and degradation is a slam-dunk. Designating it Wild & Scenic (W&S) is not.
Its status as one of three undammed rivers in California makes it an ideal candidate for careful protection and stewardship. Much can be learned through study of its native flora, fauna, and its natural processes. The river and watershed are highly valued for their historic and cultural significance to Me-Wuk Indians and early Tuolumne County settlers. The area currently provides high quality scenic and recreation experiences and multiple use activities which contribute significantly to the quality of life and our local economy.
The river itself along with a half- mile wide river corridor is currently managed by the US Forest Service to W&S standards, though to date it has only been designated a W&S Study Area. Even though some traditional uses within the corridor have been limited as a result, it seems to be working. The Clavey and all it means to Tuolumne County are well worth protecting.
To that end, until recently our Coalition representing several county officials, the timber industry, and cattle grazing permittees had been meeting with Congressman Radanovich’s staff, Tuolumne River Trust (TRT) staff, and environmental and recreation representatives. We sought to agree on how best to protect the Clavey River from development while simultaneously protecting existing multiple uses and local economic interests.
Early on, TRT staff was open to utilizing special legislation to prohibit future development, but ultimately TRT’s Board of Directors and other environmental interests not at the table were adamant that only W&S status is acceptable. Our Coalition briefly considered inserting language into W&S legislation or Congressional committee testimony to protect the Clavey from development and protect existing uses, but was advised it would be difficult if not impossible to achieve, let alone guarantee. We discontinued further consideration after a Friends of the River W&S expert informed the Coalition that W&S could permit removal and/or changes to existing uses far beyond the river corridor if it was determined that those activities could impact the River.
Unfortunately, we subsequently learned several environmental organizations (excluding TRT) recently initiated litigation to compel the study of cattle grazing impacts in the upper watershed (beyond the river corridor) on the grounds that the Clavey River is a W&S Study Area. That not only proved to us that it could be done, it demonstrated that any agreement our Coalition made could and likely would be undermined by interests not at the table. Their action damaged trust built in our meetings and torpedoed TRT staff’s efforts to come up with a solution that works for everyone.
Cattle have grazed and timber has been harvested on public and private lands in the Clavey watershed for over a century. Both are subject to strict restrictions and management oversight by the USFS and a variety of regulatory agencies. Various types of recreation and activities have been and still are occurring there. While there are areas where some improvements should be made, overall the Clavey and its watershed are in good health.
In fact, as is prominently stated in TRT materials and in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project’s Index of Biotic Integrity, the Clavey River is “one of the three most pristine rivers in the Sierra Nevada.” Webster’s Online Dictionary says pristine means “not spoiled, corrupted, or polluted” and “pure… fresh and clean as or as if new.” If the Clavey River is pristine, why further restrict multiple and traditional uses if those uses aren’t spoiling, corrupting, or polluting it? If the real goal is to prevent damming the Clavey forever, W&S legislation is not necessary — special legislation can accomplish it.
TRT, other groups, and individuals can help us protect the Clavey River from future development by supporting special legislation which could be widely endorsed by a broader group of people and interests, leading to quicker protection for the Clavey.
We can continue to live with current management of the river and its half-mile wide corridor to W&S standards. We don’t want the Clavey dammed. Meet us halfway.
We urge TRT and others to join us in a good-faith effort to protect the Clavey and protect existing and traditional multiple uses. Special legislation will best satisfy the shared interests of the Clavey River, its watershed, our community, California, and the country.