Hidden from the general public in Lundy Canyon, old-growth trees are being threatened by plans for a new bathroom near the trailhead of the Lundy Canyon Trail. The previous bathroom was removed in favor of a larger, concrete, prefabricated, handicap-accessible bathroom with two stalls. This is the same pit toilet seen at most Forest Service sites, however, there’s a catch installing this one: The toilet will not fit down the road to Lundy Canyon as it is today. Already, at least a dozen trees and small plants near them have been slashed and left by the side of the road, some spilling over into nearby beaver habitats.
The plan to widen the road for the truck to get the bathroom to the end of the road seems to be less of a plan and more of a loose idea. According to Stephanie Heller, District Ranger of the area, only eight trees were marked to be cut and no more. However, already many more than eight trees have been taken out, and there are still trees marked for removal. The first trees were taken out by a road crew without the supervision of the Forest Service.
A long-time local, Katie Maloney Bellomo, was there that day. “Around August 7th and the 10th is when we just happened to drive up. Then we got caught on the road, we saw activity and we got caught in between two trees, one ahead of us and one behind us that they had dropped. It was a very poorly planned project, because they didn’t have the road closed or any markings or anything. It was pretty nutty. So, then we were told we’d have to turn around so we didn’t get to go up as far, but that gave me an opportunity to chat with some of the guys who weren’t cutting the trees and get this update on how they were told it was because the equipment wouldn’t fit up the road to bring the new outhouse.”
Connie Miller, a tree ring scientist retired from the Forest Service with over twenty years of experience, drove us along the dirt road that leads to Lundy Canyon, shedding insight on what was happening around us.
“This tree is particularly concerning,” she said, pointing high above the car to an old, twisted tree stretched over the road. At its base, it is marked for removal. Connie noted she wanted to determine the ages of the trees marked for removal.
“Out of curiosity, a number of us wanted to know the ages of the trees that are potentially going to be cut, because you don’t have to be much of an expert to see that they are old. Likely, they were here before the road and so they have added historical value as well as their aesthetic value. I don’t usually request permission to take samples, because tree ring work is pretty standard operating procedure, but in this case, I did ask the ranger just to be sure she wouldn’t have any problems with it, and I haven’t heard back in that regard.”
Farther up the road, we stopped to look at a beaver dam. Connie pointed out two trees that made a beautiful V-shape. “These are especially troubling because people come up here with the road as a destination and this beaver dam behind here is beautiful. This picture gets many photographs and calendars and such looking through these trees that are here… for now.” Around the bend, a pile of tree trunks were haphazardly removed from the road and thrown against the bank.
At a mess of recently toppled Aspen near the road, we pulled over to take pictures. Connie spoke of what the public stands to lose by destroying the untouched beauty of the road.
“One of the points also that I’ve tried to emphasize to the Forest Service is that this is a pretty unusual road. I would say that you can have this very wild, beautiful, pristine experience without having to have any physical ability to hike. So, it’s accessible to people of all ages and disabilities and everything else. So often, I think maybe the Forest Service might think of a road that ends at a trailhead as really a means to get to a trailhead, but this road is heavily enjoyed simply by people who want to just enjoy being in this very accessible kind of terrain with all this natural beauty. It seems that the overhanging vegetation and the narrow corridor in the specifically not-improved-road is the destination. It’s one of the few places that is still accessible for that kind of close interaction with nature, which we don’t get when you’re going 50 miles an hour, bombing up to the Mammoth Lakes basin. The other thing about this trail here, people come up for non-rigorous hiking. There’s a beautiful waterfall that’s along the trail, maybe only a quarter of a mile or half a mile. It’s an easy place for children and families to get to.”
From what I had seen so far in my trip down the canyon, trees were being cut down that weren’t in the way. A beautiful Aspen that had recently grown in tandem with a rock formation was taken out, even though the rock was intruding into the road far beyond where the tree was. It looked awkward and sloppy with the stump still sticking up from the ground.
Multiple trees had been cut and fell away from the road into a sensitive beaver habitat.
Due to the nature of widening the road, it has been deemed road maintenance rather than forest work. This means no environmental impact study is needed to start the work. Although it may seem as if removing a few trees along a road is trivial, a once untouched, wild environment is now becoming carelessly managed.
Biologist Connie Miller shared about the cyclical nature of this forest system. “I would say that every species, every element, is part of the bigger ecosystem and this is an unusual ecosystem.”
Miller continued: “The Cottonwood I saw marked for removal there was quite an old tree. They don’t often get that big…Looking at it, seeing the trees falling over the feet of the habitat, is inexcusable for anybody. The Forest Service should be able to understand that. Also, maybe the trees individually are not so unique, but they’re providing shade over the pond. So in that sense, they are really important to that local habitat. They provide shade for other smaller bushes and trees, which birds may find to be part of their habitat and that’s what’s being cut- the brush as well as those big trees. So, it just opens it up, dries it out and goodness knows we don’t need more dry fuel conditions.”
According to Stephanie Heller District Ranger, the project has been paused until 2023.