CREATED IN 1999 VIA THE HEADWATERS DEAL,
the 7,472-acre Headwaters Forest Reserve in coastal northern California was purchased with public funds through provisions in a long-negotiated agreement between Maxxam / Pacific Lumber Company and state and federal agencies. Comprised of a highly functioning, biologically diverse, intact old-growth forest ecosystem surrounded by cut-over land, the Reserve provides refuge to many rare species, including federally-listed endangered species such as the marbled murrelet and spotted owl, and contains one of the best coho salmon spawning streams left on California’s North coast, the South Fork Elk River. The Headwaters Forest Reserve is a jewel in a rare forest still under great threat.

The Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters (BACH) has taken a leadership role in the Headwaters Forest Reserve planning process through our Wilderness Forever! project. BACH helped shape the Management Plan for the Headwaters Forest Reserve and was successful in getting the agencies to respond to our concerns about impacts of recreational use, and to take another look at some of their proposals. For example, we were successful in getting docent tours of the sensitive habitat areas of the southern portion of the Reserve rather than unmonitored access. We singularly took a strong stand for the habitat of the endangered species over recreational uses. We filled the record with compelling and relevant arguments for providing the highest degree of protection for the wildlife habitat in the Reserve, particularly for the marbled murrelet, prioritizing protection of at-risk species over recreational uses.

BACH has been closely involved with all aspects of the planning process for the Headwaters Forest Reserve. As we shifted from planning to implementation, we formed the Friends of Headwaters Reserve as a project of BACH to provide a platform for ideas and action in the interest of monitoring and supporting continued preservation of endangered species habitat in the Reserve. We work in partnership with other organizations and the Bureau of Land Management, and are also part of the NLCS Coalition, a national coalition of grassroots and national groups advocating for the Conservation Areas, National Monuments and Wilderness Areas in the National Landscape Conservation System.

The Headwaters Reserve is a refuge unequalled in the region for the endangered marbled murrelet. In fact, a noted murrelet biologist estimated that approximately 25% of marbled murrelet reproductive activity in the southern Humboldt region may occur in the Headwaters Reserve. With its habitat shrinking elsewhere, the recovery of old growth characteristics in the forest surrounding the old growth core in the Headwaters Reserve provides perhaps the best promise for stabilization of the population in Northern California.

The Headwaters Forest Reserve is a jewel in a rare forest still under great threat.

The carefully crafted Management Plan calls for restoration of the cut-over land that surrounds and serves as a buffer to the ancient forest grove of 3,000 acres, allowing that surrounding forest to regain, over time, old growth forest characteristics, thereby becoming wildlife habitat. The Management Plan also prescribes decommissioning of the network of logging roads and skid trails that threaten to deliver tremendous amounts of sediment to streams that at this point, still support healthy runs of salmon and steelhead. In fact, the Elk River not only still supports a significant coho salmon run, but is seen by fisheries biologists as one of the most important coho spawning streams in the region and a potential source of fish to decolonize degraded streams. Salmon Creek, originating in the Headwaters, is also degraded but recoverable.

The Reserve is part of the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), created in 2000 to include newly designated National Monuments, and National Conservation and Wilderness Areas under Bureau of Land Management (BLM) jurisdiction. The NLCS encompasses 26 million acres of spectacular western lands, from red rock canyons to mountain peaks; from thousand-year-old archaeological sites to nearly two thousand-year-old redwoods. These lands offer unparalleled opportunities for scientific learning and protection of rare ecological treasures and cultural history. But the NLCS has been the “ignored little sister” of higher profile federal land systems. The 2005 budget for the NLCS is approximately $39 million, or about $1.50 per acre. By comparison, the National Wildlife Refuge System receives about $3-$4 per acre, and the National Park System receives about $18 per acre.

Other work outlined in the final Management Plan includes re-routing of trails, and development of visitor facilities and interpretive displays. In addition, BLM conducts innovative docent tours at the Reserve in order to protect the biological resources while providing for public education and access to this unique forest.

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