Mixing history and the environment | SierraSun.com

Mixing history and the environment

Gordon Richards
My Turn

The recent Sierra Sun article (“Forest thinning planned for north of town” April 14) that seems to have the Truckee Donner Historical Society advocating the killing of beavers in the Alder Creek watershed needs a little further explanation.

Historically the Truckee River did not have beaver populations, but were relocated to the Sagehen Creek watershed by the University of California at Berkeley Research Station in 1945.

The stated goal of the U.S. Forest Service regarding the Alder Creek project is to restore a healthy historical forest along the immediate creek zone, including the replanting of aspen groves, and the maintenance of a healthy lodgepole pine forest. The environmental assessment study has little mention of the beaver population, which moved into the watershed about 1980.

Prior to 1980, Alder Creek on the Forest Service portion was a continuos stretch of dense aspen and lodgepole with very few openings in the forest canopy, and thousands of 100-plus-year-old aspen trees. The forest was recovering from extensive logging that occurred in the 1870s through 1905, regaining its historic environment. The portion in Tahoe Donner was burned in the 1960 Donner Fire, and is not involved in the Alder Creek project.

The creek was free flowing with no impediment to fish moving through the creek. Those species ” birds and mammals ” that depended on a mature closed canopy of riparian forest are now severally diminished or gone, replaced by species that rely on an open meadow creek side environment. Erosion was minimal and the creek banks relatively stable.

The beavers have moved in and have completed the removal of the last of these aspens for their food source and dam construction. This has then lead to the flooding of the adjacent lodgepole forest that has weakened them and led to an explosion of bark beetles that has now spread to the adjacent forest. Erosion has increased dramatically along the banks, especially during heavy rain events. Fish no longer have access to the range of the creek.

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This then leads the Forest Service to propose a project to treat the symptoms of the forest problems without addressing the impact of the root cause of the changed environment, and spend scarce funding on re-establishing aspen groves. Had the beaver population not been present, the forest management may not have been needed in the first place.

Why should the Historical Society be even involved in this issue? Truckee-area history is not limited to the buildings of downtown. The history is also in the changes in our environment that surrounds us. Extensive logging, fires, ranching, mining, road construction and wildlife changes are also an important part of the historical record.

The goal of the Truckee Donner Historical Society and the Echoes From The Past column in the Sierra Sun is to educate the public on a variety of history topics not limited to downtown Truckee. The comments on the beaver populations in the Alder Creek watershed were raised to further that discussion with the Forest Service and the public of the pre-settlement environments.

The question remains, however, of how to find a compromise that would allow the successful reintroduction of mature aspen environment and its dependent species if the beaver population remains? Relocation could be one of the answers.

Gordon Richards is president of the Truckee Donner Historical Society and a history columnist for the Sierra Sun.