Environment

Rare mammals, hiking and more: Forest Service adds 835 acres to Eldorado National Forest

Horse Tail Falls in El Dorado National Forest, pictured here in 2015, is just north of Forni Meadows, a recently-purchased expanse of ecologically and culturally significant land.
Horse Tail Falls in El Dorado National Forest, pictured here in 2015, is just north of Forni Meadows, a recently-purchased expanse of ecologically and culturally significant land. The Sacramento Bee

Forni Meadows — a high-elevation wilderness area, endangered species haven and cultural site newly added to Eldorado National Forest — is now open to the public, the U.S. Forest Service announced in a news release Monday.

The 835-acre property includes alpine meadows, wetlands and riparian areas (ecologically rich riverside habitats) along 2 miles of streams and a small pond.

The Forest Service bought the $3 million property from the Forni family, which had privately owned it for over a century. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that funnels oil and gas lease revenue toward conservation, provided much of the purchase's funding.

The endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog is known to breed on the property, which also provides a potential habitat for rare, at-risk species like the Sierra Nevada red fox, American marten and California wolverine.

Although there are no trails into Forni Meadows, 4 1/2 miles of service roads closed to public vehicle access provide ample hiking opportunity.

Forni Meadows appealed to the forest service not just for its biological diversity but for its historical significance. The property features two barns and a number of cabins, the oldest of which was built in 1862. In the 1880s, the Forni family used the property as a homestead and a summer cow camp, which will likely be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places now that the meadows are publicly owned.

"The American people have been entrusted with a very special place," Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree said in a news release. "We are committed to caring for this land as well as the Forni family did."

Forni Meadows is east of Placerville off of Highway 50, adjacent to the community of Strawberry, the news release said. It is a few miles west of Sierra-at-Tahoe, a popular ski resort.

In the future, Forni Meadows may provide new routes into the geographically-adjacent, ever-popular Desolation Wilderness, according to the Trust for Public Land, an environmental nonprofit that helped facilitate the purchase.

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