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By Miriam Raftery

December 29, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)—“Scenic resources are among the biggest values we can offer to the American people,” Will Metz, Cleveland National Forest Supervisor, told ECM. 

The U.S. Forest Service is now weighing a proposal to protect vast tracts of federal forests as roadless wilderness—including 42,000 of Cleveland National Forest.  That includes the lands around Cedar Creek and above Cedar Creek Falls, Eagle Peak, the upper San Diego River Gorge, and the Caliente area.

The proposal  will likely be open for public comment in January and could be finalized by mid-2013. While the USFS would then manage the lands as wilderness, it would take an act of Congress to formalize the designation.

Portions of Padre, Angeles, and San Bernadino national forests would also be designated as wilderness, in addition to the 42,000 acres in Cleveland National Forest here in San Diego’s East County.

The decision arose as the result of a lawsuit settlement.  A suit filed against state and federal agencies contended that the USFS did not adequately protect habitat and endangered species.  The settlement enabled forest officials to take a look at  federal forest lands in southern California and propose more restrictive uses  in some places.

“From my perspective, being able to take a second look was a great opportunity,” Metz said.  “Southern California forest lands are under a lot of pressure,” he noted. “We’re pretty urbanized and there is a constant balancing act of vying interests,” Metz added.

 As examples, he cited pressures from utility companies and wind energy developers for projects on forest lands, as well as housing developments on adjacent lands.  A wind testing study has been approved in Thing Valley within the Descanso Ranger District, and other wind developers have also expressed interest.  Sunrise Powerlink also carved out lands with CNF for high voltage power lines.

While Metz says the federal government deems energy projects acceptable uses for forest lands in “appropriate areas” , he adds that energy interestse must be balanced against other interests including endangered species, habitat, scenic view sheds, fragmentation of the forest, and Native American cultural resources.

Forest Service officials are also looking at changing the way it permits projects for SDG&E, which is currently in the process of converting wood poles to steel to reduce fire danger. Currently, SDG&E  has close to 100 difrerent permits.  “We’re looking to be more efficient with one permit, or several,” Metz said. He denied rumors that SDG&E is attempting to build stealth new powerlines through the forest, and asys he has worked hard to mitigate impacts of Powerlink.   

Roadless designation, if approved, would keep motorized vehicles out of those areas. Hikers will still be able to enter and enjoy Cedar Creek Falls, Metz assured, however the new designation would protect those areas around and above the popular hiking destination from projects such as wind turbines.

San Diego County has lost significant portions of our forested lands to wildfires in recent years, notably the 2003 Cedar Fire that burned over 99% of the pine forests in Rancho Cuyamaca State4 Park.  Fortunately, Cleveland National Forest lands were largely spared. 

“What we’ve learned is our forests are very resilient,” Metz said, citing Palomar after the fires, adding that he is more concerned with the frequency than intensity of wildfires when it comes to changing the landscape and habitat.

Roadless designation offers long-term protection for vast areas of East County’s remaining forests and wildlife habitat—a move Metz believes is good not only for the land and woodland creatures, but also for the people of San Diego County to enjoy open spaces and solitude.

“There are not a lot ofopportunities for that here,” the Cleveland National Forest Supervisor concludes. ““There are approximately 10 million citizens within an hour’s drive--that’s quite a lot of humanity that has access to Cleveland National Forest.”

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I am confused

I thought National Forests were created for people to use? I guess the new progressive definition is, only for the use of the able bodied who can hike. Guess us fat old people and the disabled are out of luck?

handicap access

We have suggested several places for handicap access.  This was always a priority in documenting these places.  I also suggested a brail trail at a location where one can actually yodel or yell and hear the echo travel around behind a mountain and come out the other side.  It seems to me that accommodating the handicap with some access would be a small drop in the congressional budget.  These do not have to compromise wilderness.  Our wilderness proposals are very small units with the same access roads that have always been used. None of them were removed that were legal access.  I suggested wheel chair access in the future for Inaja Memorial Park, for a view and boardwalk at Mildred Falls, and maybe a small one for handicap placard specific at the junction of Cedar Creek Road and Cedar Creek weather permiting (this is more difficult) , and especially at the trailhead to Eagle Peak and Three Sisters Waterfall.  One could not get to the falls but one could get to a point where you could see the falls.  There is actually a waterfall right over the edge of highway 79 out of Descanso going towards the state park that with some safety measures in place you can see just feet from  your car, right over the guard rail.  However it is very dangerous with traffic there so one needs to be very very careful next to the road.  Mildred Falls viewing is right next to Eagle Peak road if the road is maintained. I've been thinking about a few others but so far the political support is not there.   I'm on www.facebook.com/eaglepeak if you want to correspond for more. Thank you for pointing out this concern.

42,000 acres proposed wilderness


What an awesome article, the best Christmas present I could have hoped for!  Will has done an outstanding job balancing the many pressures on the forest. We are blessed to have him; I know the other three Southern California Forests in the Land Management upgrades wish for as much. All in all this is welcome, very good news.

I would beg to differ with a couple of points.

First the Cedar Fire DID affect large portions of the Cleveland, even large conifers on the Cleveland in the Cuyamacas.   Maybe not as much on Palomar but we were hit hard, in the rest of the Palomar District as well as the Descanso District.  The land IS resilient and I agree that the frequency is a significant issue because with too many fires the species diversity is compromised as well as the danger of type converting the ecology altogether.  I'm relieved to hear that the Forest Supervisor recognizes this danger. 

There is a proposal on Palomar for 3000 acres of control burning and vegetation management, another around the corner for the Sweetwater, and the state of California seems to be at least a decade behind the science with vast portions of state forest up for control burning and vegetation management with little regard for the differences between the ecology in Northern California and ours.  The current onslaught of vegetation management projects lately is way too excessive and in my opinion the effort, money and other resources, needs to focus on the urban interface, education, and in clearing right next to public roads.  Better communication and education forums with the Forest Service Fire departments would be helpful as well before we get so embroiled in email commenting periods.

As far as the wood to steel poles I hope Will Metz is right.  His intention of protecting the forest from more heartbreaking fires is well taken. I have no problem being wrong, I would welcome a chance to wipe the proverbial egg from my face in lieu of the alternative; but I remain very concerned.  I talked to the engineer from SDG&E myself and just by chance I asked him what the temperature of the lines would be.  He stated now they are as high as 190 degrees F. However with the new lines they would be 270 Degrees F. 

A quick refresher: voltage X amperage = wattage.  Notice your bill has mentioned an increase for Sunrise in wattage lately, not in the former voltage such as Sunrise's 500 kV, historically expressed in voltage.

The engineer reassured me these were not an expansion of 230 kV such as the ones going into Alpine. This is great news.  However upon asking and asking some of the details came out just recently.

The engineer said the increase in temperature was due to an increase in amperage instead of voltage.  Some people believe that the more serious affects of EMF's are from voltage. I cannot confirm but would like more information. If so than this is at least partially good.   However, given the increase from half inch wire to one inch wire the increase in amperage would be nearly four times because the amperage increases in proportion to the cross-sectional area of the wire: 3/16 square inch now 12/16 square inch for the proposed new one.  Or 4 times the current one.

  Then add the increase in temperature 270 - 190 = 80;

80/190 = approximately  .4 or 40%  increase in temperature which is directly proportional to the amperage and then add to the 4x increase in amperage from the increase in diameter of the wires  or .4 X 4 1.6 for a total increase in wattage as high as 5.6 times what it is currently. 

Maybe that is not potentiall a full 230 kv "expansion" per se, but it surely does seem a bit stealth of the full truth of the situation.

Then they suggest for some areas a double circuit as well as an additional 6 wires of the same capacity for 12 kV.  Since the County has curtailed subdividing of the land in many places what on earth could a 12 kV line 6 times over with 4 times the amperage capacity possibly be for?  The engineer did not have a straight answer but something about “preparing for the future”.

 According to NEPA “preparing for the future” requires disclosure of connected actions which they did not do in their MOU or their preliminary statement or PEIS. Indeed their main connected action was the part of the line that was on private land vs Forest as though the project was any different either place.   The SDG&E engineer provided to take my questions, also did not know the current amperage of the wires. The 12 kv line does not even go all the way through some areas such as Boulder Creek Road, so again are they adding more distance? That would need to be disclosed.

 As was decided by the 9th district court in the Roadless Order, August 2009, creating a potential for more development IS a significant impact that has to have disclosure and EIS with it. This is on Federal Land and falls under NEPA, not the CEQA rules our governor has targeted lately.  

Additionally the areas and distances for double circuit were not disclosed. I did find out that they were not proposed for the lines running adjacent to the recommended wilderness areas, though with a PEIR/PEIS the criteria are so general and widespread I do not see any oversight for limiting expansion in the future. It’s not Will Mets that worries me but big politics and big money’s capacity for getting their first big toe into the door and then pressuring, marginalizing, and isolating, everyone in their way.

Dry Rye grass, the often used annual non-native quick fix reseeding, for “regreening” can ignite as low as 300 degrees. Seems 30 degrees leaves little buffer in our 80 mph Santa Ana winds that can easily blow dry rye grass into power lines.  

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) says that the public as well as the decision makers have to been provided enough information to make an informed decision.  Obviously so far that has not been provided.  Also NEPA says that commenters of record would be provided all of the correspondences.   Well I'm a commenter of record and I know a couple others and we were not sent notice of this.  We heard from people directly under the lines. 

Additionally then upon commenting to the CPUC as well as to the East County Magazine, SDG&E put laminated signs all over the forest on every forest gate and  some private, and even miles into the forest stating that there were no unmitigatable impacts and they wanted the CPUC to approve without hearing.  Well then I was sent by SDG&E an MOU signed by the USFS and the CPUC way back in January, 2012 stating that there were impacts that required the full EIS process.  The project for Scoping as well as for DEIS, or Draft Environmental Impact Statement has not even been prepared and out for public comment so I question the legality of this posting as fair or honest in every way. The USFS did not post these, SDG&E did.  If they had sent this in the mail as they are required to do, could they have been charged with Mail Fraud for making statements for the purpose of manipulating public opinion,  that differ from what they were directed by the CPUC and Federal Government?  

In my opinion the lines should be underground. The problem would be conclusively resolved. By all means I hope someone responds. SDG&E made a proposal back in 2004 to combine  69kV and a 138kV line near Jamul underground as a 230 line for less money per mile than what they are suggesting for this project in keeping it above ground.  There are impacts to going underground, but doesn’t it seem high time to consider all of the options? Maybe Will knows something about this option we don’t. Or not. Maybe they didn’t tell him everything.

I think the criteria should be described.  Several very respected environmentalists point out concerns for undergrounding.  I’m not convinced yet considering the damage and threat of fires as well as the abominable erosion from all of the access roads to power lines that are bulldozed and bulldozed and bulldozed for what was described as the need to walk the line and inspect only once a year. Surely they have someone that can do this on foot?

  First and foremost the odd difference in cost analysis should be explained.

Make no mistake, I think Will Metz is a blessing and I’m glad he is our Supervisor.  I cannot imagine anyone else in his shoes or doing better.  The only thing that can make this better for him and for all of us is YOUR input!!!

 I think the initial pressures of Sunrise were way beyond his control though I have no way to really confirm. Yes, he is right he DID go way beyond the norm or the precedented to mitigate as much as possible.  That does not mean that we have to like what Sunrise did to our lives. I do not fault him for a host of decisions that took place under the radar long before it got to the Forest. It seems at this point well beyond intuitive considering the power politics well beyond the Forest. .  I do fault the politics that led up to it in every way and we should stay informed and involved to see that they are kept honest.  It stands to reason that he could use our support and something we can do very easily as a minimum to make sure we are heard.

 I hope the pubic realizes what an unprecedented move this is, for the Forest Supervisor to even come before this publication on record as he has, many kudos to Miriam Raferty as well!

   The current plan keeps our Cleveland Forests like they are.   They do not remove current legal access.  A thousand times no.  They do protect us from all of the things Will Metz had the courage to say in this article, we hope.

I have only one major concern for that effort and in a project this big that is, all things considered, pretty amazing. That would be a section of uniquely unspoiled land just below the Inaja Reservation.  The State Water Quality Boards have identified Cedar Creek as important waters for protection as has Will Metz in conversation.  The surrounding private lands and Indian Reservation are also of the same very unspoiled, uniquely unspoiled I emphasize even for that area, in character. It is not a very large addition but one that is especially important to the ecology of the region and especially unique in character; and hence, a critical baseline for research of our local ecology.  It is one of the most rugged and unspoiled little corners of our county left in nearly untouched quality and it should be protected and not in danger of fragmenting all that Will Metz referrers to above.   

One of my particular pet peeves is the road used to maintenance the 69kv line as it continues to threaten Cedar Gorge and Boulder Gorge with erosion. It is not necessary to maintenance the lines or the forest access, to have it dive bomb straight into Cedar Creek the way it does.  There is a similar portion that does the same directly into Boulder Creek right on top of the fish studies by the River Park Foundation.  They could do everything with plenty of room to fight another day, so to speak, if they removed this segment going straight down into the stream. These sections are not public vehicle access nor have they ever been.  They are at minimum only a few hundred yards, though more makes better sense, and theoretically exist predominately for only a once a year walk through of the lines above.

The MOU does not mention the amperage issues, nor does the initial notice that is all over our backcountry gates, getting soggy in the current rains.  I have every reason to believe that the USFS was not told, specifically the Forest Supervisor.   I made A’s in basic physics classes in High School and College, -but it was decades ago.  IF there are some updated science brains that want to weigh in please, please, do and soon.  Everyone's input and interest in our lands is extremely important right now. I’m only one, and the sum is far greater than the parts.  Please jump in !  

Cindy Buxton

Chair Forest Committee, San Diego Sierra Club

Cindy - Thanks for your detailed comment on

the rest of the story. I hope you will raise your questions and concerns with Will Metz and through the public comment process. 

I know that many of our readers are very happy to hear of the roadless wilderness proposal, and I hope many of them will submit comments when the comment period opens up to assure that all issues are known to the Forest Service and other decision makers.