Staff at the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte this month are celebrating 25 years as a non-profit conservation organization.
The group, also known as CSERC, is touting its efforts to protect water, wildlife, and wild places across 2 million acres of Northern Yosemite region in the Central Sierra Nevada.
Embraced by outdoors and nature people and respected by agencies including the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, CSERC has also been criticized by some ranchers, loggers, miners, snowmobilers and other motorsports enthusiasts, who have seen their livelihoods and recreation pursuits restricted by environmental rules and regulations.
According to CSERC executive director John Buckley, staff and members have helped Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center accomplish several milestones.
He said in the 1990s, CSERC helped convince the U.S. Forest Service to recommend Wild and Scenic status for the Clavey River and North Fork Stanislaus River and to manage the rivers based on that recommendation.
Staff with CSERC were the lead conservation participants in a 6-year-long hydroelectric relicensing process for the Middle Fork and South Fork Stanislaus rivers, Buckley said. The current license was issued in 2009 and it included mandatory water levels during summer months at Pinecrest Reservoir.
He noted that more than 20 years of wildlife photo-detection surveys have been done in the Sierra Nevada, across a region that includes the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.
CSERC sets up and maintains infrared-triggered cameras year-round to detect rare species. The results are shared with USFS and Yosemite Park biologists at no cost to taxpayers. CSERC is the only non-profit environmental group to do this, Buckley said.
The cameras have detected elusive and seldom-seen species, including the extremely rare Sierra Nevada red fox, the Pacific fisher and the American marten. CSERC photo surveys have also documented mountain lions, ringtail cats, porcupines, bears, bobcats and other species. Funded by grants and donations, CSERC staff have maintained with weekly visits as many as 11 cameras at a time, from above 11,000 feet elevation in Yosemite to lower elevation National Forest areas.
In other CSERC efforts to assist federal agency wildlife biologists, CSERC biologists have performed free surveys for at-risk amphibians and for the rare great gray owl, Buckley said. Over the past two years, CSERC staff have provided more than 7 months of intensive wildlife photo-surveys for the Forest Service in the Rim Fire burn area.
In CSERC’s early years, the 1990s, staff efforts to defend wild, roadless areas in the Stanislaus National Forest from road construction and clearcuts helped convince Forest Service timber sale planners to focus logging projects outside of remaining wild areas, sparing many roadless areas from entry.
These days, Buckley and CSERC staff are engaged with others in finding solutions that work for people representing diverse points of view. These include:
• The Tuolumne-Stanislaus IRWM watershed collaborative, which aims to gain state funding for water and watershed projects and build relationships between diverse water interests.
• The Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group, which works on projects in the northern quarter of the Stanislaus National Forest and the southern portion of the Eldorado National Forest.
• The Lower Tuolumne River hydroelectric relicensing process, which deals with all river management associated with Don Pedro Reservoir and La Grange Dam. The negotiations are a years-long effort to help shape the outcome of federal hydropower license conditions.
• Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, which works to gain funding and to build consensus for forest projects within the Stanislaus Forest and on associated private lands across the southern half of the Stanislaus Forest.
Buckley said the organization has presented more than 2,800 slide show presentations to more than 140,000 participants at schools and community groups in the foothills and in the Central Valley’s urban and rural areas.
In addition, volunteer workday restoration projects have worked on public lands across the Northern Yosemite region in the Central Sierra Nevada.
Last year, CSERC was presented with a national award from the Forest Service for organizing volunteer workday projects to restore meadows, rehabilitate eroded hillsides, pull invasive weeds, clean up trash and do other volunteer projects on public lands.
This year, CSERC staff and volunteers have done a Rim Fire conifer seedling planting day in February.