Williamson Rock Update, CA

By Troy Mayr, Friends of Williamson Rock

Background:
The Williamson Rock area is a well-known recreation site used predominately for rock climbing. It has been used by climbers since the 1960s and is widely regarded as a unique rock climbing resource for the entire Southern California region. The Williamson Rock area has been closed since December 2005 to protect the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog (MYLF), which is an endangered species listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Populations of the frog are known to exist within the closure area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated approximately 615 acres along Little Rock Creek within the closure area as critical habitat for the MYLF in October 2006.

Current News:
Friends of Williamson Rock (FoWR) is waiting for an official response from the USFS regarding recommendations for access issues at Williamson Rock.

Unofficially, the USFS does not yet know whether an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) (see definitions below) is needed for Williamson Rock.

It has been suggested by the USFS Inter Disciplinary Team (IDT) that an EIS will be required. The IDT was organized specifically to work on the Williamson Rock issue. If an EIS is required, the process normally takes at year or so to complete, depending on whether formal consultation with the USFWS is required.

(On a related note, the USFS is working with USFWS on the protection of the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog in the proximity of Williamson Rock and has set up a detour for a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that lies within frog habitat. Recently FoWR learned that the USFWS is requesting formal consultation on that issue. The USFWS is the agency behind the closure, but the USFS is managing the issue because Williamson Rock is located on National Forest land.)

The USFS has indicated that they do not anticipate having funds available through their federally appropriated dollars for either an EA or EIS on the Williamson Rock project in 2008. The USFS will need to consider / secure grants or other forms of funding to continue work on the Williamson Rock issue. FoWR may need to help with funding to expedite the process or to at least keep it moving forward. The cost of an EIS is estimated at $60k$100k. Finally, if an EIS is required, it will be managed from the USFS headquarters, not the district station with whom we've been working.

Unfortunately (obviously), FoWR believes that the USFS will reissue the closure in December for 2008.

Once FoWR receives an official response we will review the details, make appropriate decisions on what is the best course of action, and proceed from there. We will post new information as it becomes available on our website and through Access Fund channels.

As we've indicated many times, the process is cumbersome and slow, so please continue to be patient.

To join FoWR or for more information, please visit www.williamsonrock.org or email troy@williamsonrock.org

Definitions:
Environmental Assessment (EA): Generally, an EA includes brief discussions of the following: the need for the proposal, alternatives (when there is an unresolved conflict concerning alternative uses of available resources), the environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives, and a list of agencies and persons consulted.

Environmental Impact Assessment [Study] (EIS): A National Environmental Protection Act document, an EIS should include discussions of the purpose of and need for the action, alternatives, the affected environment, the environmental consequences of the proposed action, lists of preparers, agencies, organizations and persons to whom the statement is sent, an index, and an appendix (if any).