Jarbidge ‘Road Work’ Spells Disaster For Bull Trout
Trout Unlimited Calls on Rep. Carpenter for Cooler Heads
10/4/1999 — — Trout Unlimited (TU) today urged Nevada State Assemblyman John C. Carpenter (R-Elko) to reconsider his plans to lead a ‘work group’ to conduct illegal construction in and along the Jarbidge River in the Humboldt National Forest. Matt Holford, Chairman of TU’s Nevada Council, and David Best, President of TU’s Elko-based Northeastern Nevada Chapter, today sent a strongly worded letter to Carpenter urging him to consider other alternatives to his illegal road plans. The Jarbidge River is home to North America’s southernmost population of bull trout. This spring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the river’s population of bull trout as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“Here we go again,” stated Holford “Mr. Carpenter’s plans to rebuild that road violate the Clean Water Act and Nevada law, just like the County’s work last summer. Mr. Carpenter took an oath of office to uphold the law. His proposal is nothing more than vigilantism, and is particularly troubling because the County has ignored all of its legal options for asserting its claim to the road. If the County thinks it has the right to rebuild the road, it is perfectly entitled to go to court and try to prove it. These efforts to rebuild the road outside of the legal process just waste time and taxpayer dollars.”
Assemblyman Carpenter recently announced his intent to lead a group of people to the South Canyon area to attempt to reopen motor vehicle access from Pine Creek campground to the Snowslide Gulch portal to the Jarbidge Wilderness. The 1.5 miles of dirt road that dead-ends at a wilderness trailhead was closed when a portion of the road was washed out by a flood in 1995. In June 1998, the Forest Service issued a draft environmental assessment indicating that, because of the road’s tendency to wash out regularly and because of the road’s negative effects on the health of the river, the “preferred alternative” was to not rebuild the road. The Elko County Commission promptly ordered work crews up the river to rebuild the road without any of the permits required by the Clean Water Act, Nevada Law, or Forest Service regulations. The crews stopped work after two days without completing the job when the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection issued a cease and desist order.
The County’s work channelized a 900-foot stretch of the Jarbidge River and did substantial damage to aquatic habitat. As a result of the damage, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the rare step of ordering an emergency listing of the Jarbidge’s population of bull trout as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Forest Service had to undertake a significant restoration of the river at that work site in order to repair the damage done to the river. According to TU, Carpenter’s proposal appears to represent another attempt to circumvent legal processes and work in the river.
“These guys need a time out for cooler heads,” stated David Best, President of the Northeastern TU Chapter located in Elko . “The posturing of our elected officials on this topic has only resulted in wasted time, wasted taxpayer dollars, and the destruction of a river. The roadwork planned for October 9th cannot amount to anything good for the county and certainly not for the bull trout.”
TU is particularly concerned about Carpenter’s proposed work because it is planned during spawning season for bull trout.
The Forest Service’s environmental assessment is continuing, and the options it is considering include replacing the last 1.5 miles of road with a foot trail from Pine Creek to Snowslide Gulch or creating ATV access to Snowslide Gulch.
In their letter (ATTACHED, 2PAGES) to Carpenter, Holford and Best urged the state assemblyman to abandon his plan, “Trout Unlimited strongly objects to the way in which you and other road proponents have chose to express your views in favor of rebuilding this stretch of road, including your plans for October 9-10. The County’s actions of last summer, and your recently announced plans, completely ignore the legal process available to assert your views and are simply attempts to take the law into your own hands.
“Instead of leading people up the canyon to do illegal work in and around the river, we urge you to help lead an effort to make Jarbidge residents and the rest of Elko County aware of the benefits which accompany options available to Elko County in lieu of rebuilding South Canyon Road.”
The Jarbidge River is of particular concern to TU members in Elko County and the rest of Nevada. The river is home to the southernmost population of bull trout in North America, and TU has worked hard on the ground to improve conditions for the fish. Last year, the Northeastern Nevada TU Chapter obtained a $10,000 grant to help build a bridge that replaced an ill placed culvert on Jack Creek, a tributary of the Jarbidge. TU volunteers helped in the work to install the new stream crossing. The old culvert had been a barrier to fish passage, and the project has both opened up new spawning habitat for bull trout and made the crossing safer. According to a 1999 survey by the NV Division of Wildlife bull trout have since begun to repopulate Jack Creek. TU has also assisted in a fencing project to protect Jack creek, and has devoted hundreds of volunteer hours to improving the habitat in and management of the Jarbidge watershed.
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s leading coldwater conservation organization, celebrated its 40th Anniversary this year. TU’s 500 chapters and more than 100,000 members nationwide, including TU Nevada’s 650 members, are committed to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.
See attached TU letter to Rep. Carpenter
Northeastern Nevada Chapter of Trout Unlimited
PO Box 5882
Elko, Nevada 89802
September 30, 1999
The Honorable John C. Carpenter
Nevada State Assembly
P.O. Box 190
Elko, Nevada 89803
Dear Mr. Carpenter:
We are writing you on behalf of the Northeastern Nevada Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Nevada Council of Trout Unlimited (“TU”). We were troubled to read your announced intention to attempt work in and near the Jarbidge river upstream of Pine Creek campground on October 9-10, and we urge you to abandon these plans.
As you know, Trout Unlimited has long opposed rebuilding the 1.5 miles of road from Pine Creek campground to the Snowslide Gulch trail head. We have taken this position for two reasons. First, every scientist who has looked at the issue has concluded that the road is bad for the bull trout and redband trout that live in the river. Second, the road has washed out repeatedly over the years, and the costs of repairing and maintaining the road probably outweigh any of its economic benefits.
The Jarbidge river is of particular concern to TU members in Elko County and the rest of Nevada. The river is home to the southernmost population of bull trout in North America, and TU has worked hard on the ground to improve conditions for this remarkable fish. Two years ago, the Northeastern Nevada Chapter obtained a $10 thousand grant to redesign and rebuild a culvert over Jack Creek, a tributary of the Jarbidge. TU volunteers helped in the work to install the new stream crossing. The old culvert had been a barrier to fish passage, and the project has both opened up new spawning habitat for bull trout and made the crossing safer. TU has also assisted in a fencing project to protect Jack creek, and has devoted hundreds of volunteer hours to improving the habitat in and management of the Jarbidge watershed. Our interest in and knowledge of the river is based hands on experience and hard work; our opposition to the road is similarly based on extensive observations of the road’s effects and our significant investment of time and money in the river.
We know that you have taken a strong position in favor of rebuilding this stretch of road, as have the members of the Elko County Commission. Although we respect this point of view and welcome an open discussion of the issues, Trout Unlimited strongly object to the way in which you and other road opponents have chose to express those views, including your plans for October 9-10. The County’s actions of last summer, and your recently announced plans, completely ignore the legal process available to assert your views and are simply attempts to take the law into your own hands. Proponents of the road have given a series of widely varying justifications for why the road is needed, including that the road is needed for fighting fires, that it is central to the economic health of the Jarbidge area, that without it there are insufficient camping opportunities in South Canyon, and that the road is need to give the elderly and handicapped full access to South Canyon. However, at the heart of these arguments has always been the claim that road belongs to the County and not the U.S. Forest Service.
There is a simple and well accepted method for asserting that claim: the County could simply file a lawsuit arguing that the road belongs to it. If the County could prove its claim was correct, it would win the lawsuit, and its rights to the road would be established. Doing so would short-circuit all of the current controversy and resolve the issues at far less cost than the path the Commissioners have apparently chosen. If the County believes it can prove it owns the road, it is a complete mystery to us why they have not filed such a lawsuit.
In addition, all of the rhetoric about the road ignores that no final decision has been made about exactly what should happen in South Canyon. The decision last summer that prompted the County’s actions was the issuance of a draft environmental assessment. Based on the mediation efforts of Senator Reid, the environmental assessment process is still ongoing, and various options are being considered. It was by participating in that process that TU convinced the Forest Service to consider alternatives other than building the road. Proponents of the road should participate on the process as well. If any party does not like the Forest Service’s final decision (whenever that may be reached), they can appeal it to court.
The refusal of opponents of the road to participate in these processes, but rather to take or threaten actions outside the established legal framework, has imposed significant costs on the County. The County’s work last summer, which achieved nothing once it was abandoned in the face of a cease and desist order from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP), almost certainly cost County taxpayers thousands of dollars. The work need to repair the damage done by the County cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and is now the subject of potential litigation between the County and the federal government.
In addition, the single-minded insistence that the road be rebuilt has resulted in missing opportunities to bring far greater benefits to the Jarbidge area than rebuilding 1.5 miles of road leading to a wilderness trailhead. We are also concerned that the residents of Elko County have not been made fully aware of these opportunities. In the context of the mediation sessions sponsored by Senator Reid, the parties discussed a number of options to mitigate the loss of the road that might bring the Jarbidge area far greater benefits than the disputed 1.5 miles stretch. One of these options was improving road access to the town of Jarbidge itself. The current roads make winter access difficult, and require constant maintenance. Everyone at these sessions agreed that improved roads to Jarbidge might provide economic benefits to the area and would definitely reduce the costs and inconvenience associated with road maintenance. The parties also discussed exploring alternative campsites to replace those to which vehicle access is now impossible. It is our understanding that the Forest Service agreed to study these options, and that Senator Reid was willing to do what he could to obtain funding for them.
Instead of embracing these very promising alternatives, you and the Elko County commissioner have appeared to pursue, at all costs, the rebuilding of 1.5 miles of narrow dirt road that dead ends at a wilderness area. Instead of leading people up the canyon to do illegal work in and around the river, we urge you to help lead an effort to make Jarbidge residents and the rest of Elko County aware of the benefits of options available to Elko County in lieu of rebuilding South Canyon road.
We should add as final point that the work you propose doing is both illegal and unlikely to accomplish anything meaningful. Working in the stream or its channel without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and NDEP would violate the Clean Water Act and Nevada law. Doing so without the permission of the Forest Service is also illegal. Everyone that participates in your plan risks violating these laws.
Our country is, and always has been, based soundly on the rule of law. The insistence of Elko County’s elected officials to ignore the rule of law with respect to the South Canyon road has accomplished nothing but the wasting of time, effort, and taxpayer dollars. Your proposal to attempt to reestablish the road is simply an attempt to take the law into your own hands, and promises only further waste, expense, and controversy. We urge you to reconsider your plans.
President, Elko Chapter
Chair, Nevada Council
cc: Elko County Commissioners
Governor Kenny Guinn