I am a third-generation cattleman in Madera County; my grandchildren are fifth generation. My grandfather, Dolores Topping, came to Hildreth, near O’Neals in 1886 with his family. He was 6 years old. His parents settled and homesteaded in the area now known as Topping Ranch. As a young boy, my grandfather worked for a neighboring rancher named Bill Kennedy herding horses that Kennedy raised and sold as Army remounts. In the summer, Dolores would herd the horses into the Sierra Nevada for grazing. He grew to love and appreciate the Sierra Nevada country, and in the early 1900s he started taking cattle to the Sierra in the summertime. A tradition that was passed on to my father and uncle, then on to me. From there on down to my children and grandchildren.
I was born in June of 1950 and went to cow camp at Buchenau Cabin (still standing on private property) in July 1950. In time my family established a cow camp at Big Buck Meadow (between Beasore and Mugler meadows), which still exists today and where our family bases our grazing permits. Until I graduated from high school, I spent every summer, all summer, at the cow camp and on the grazing permit known as the Mugler permit. From 1970 to 1990 I worked away from the ranch, going back to help on weekends. In 1990 I began to manage the family cattle ranch and summer grazing permits full time, and still do to this day.
I tell the story of my family to show that I am qualified to make the following observations:
I have experienced, and lived in, a healthy forest during the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. A time when the U.S. Forest Service managed the land well that they were entrusted by the public to manage. In my case, in Madera County. The USFS sold timber (a renewable resource) to the logging companies that supplied the lumber mills in Oakhurst, North Fork, Auberry, and Tollhouse. Those are towns close to the Sierra National Forest. These timber sales not only supported the mill towns, but the surrounding communities as well as the local schools. This practice no longer exists, the mills are gone, and the communities have suffered economic loss.
As a young boy growing up in the Sierra Nevada, I remember there being thunderstorms on an almost daily basis in the afternoons. This no longer happens. We are lucky if we get two such storms the entire summer.
As a boy I remember fishing in streams that always had an abundance of running water. Now some of these streams dry up during the summer or do not have enough water to support fish.
Both of these points I attribute to overgrowth of woody species due to the lack of management of our forest over the past three decades. Moisture that would run off, replenishing the streams or would be pulled up into the atmosphere to create thunderheads on hot summer days, has been sucked up by the unmanaged trees and woody plants (brush).
The change in USFS forest management (to no management) started in the 1980s after the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed. In the ‘80s the then forest supervisor for the Sierra National Forest (Jim Boyington) approved a forest management plan which basically did away with timber harvesting (management) and opened the door for the environmental community (through the courts) to dictate policy for the nonmanagement of the public’s forest lands. At about the same time a movement within the USFS started growing, and we started to see many employees no longer consider themselves as public servants but more like owners of the lands, and the public should be grateful that they are allowed to use the land. This brings me to my main point.
Thirty years of non-management and policy set by the environmental community has led to the destruction of our forest lands by catastrophic wildfire. This was driven home this fall as we are experiencing the largest fire in California history, the Creek Fire. We were fortunate that we were able to move our cattle out of harm’s way during this fire, but other grazing permittees on the SNF were not as fortunate and suffered tremendous losses. These preventable losses are what motivated me to get involved with like-minded folks who are serious about taking back control of our public lands for the good of the people of Madera County and other counties throughout California.
I believe that each forest must be managed on a local level and not on a one-size-fits-all basis, and that can only be done by local citizens having a say in the policy and management practices. Not policy from an environmental group based in another state or region of the country
Our forests should be managed on a holistic basis and not managed for a select few individual species basis as we are seeing today.
I have hope that there are enough other people who have similar memories of the way the Sierra National Forest used to be (1960s-80s), a healthy and productive forest, and would be interested in speaking up to see that our forest is managed with input from local citizens.