Visions of the Lost Sierra


The Middle Fork of the
Feather River is important to a lot of different people from all different walks of life. Aldo Leopold said that
some people can live without wild places
and some people cannot. And like Aldo Leopold, I’m a cannot. Free-flowing rivers,
mountains and canyons, wild places make me who I am. (exhaling) In 1967, a good friend of mine and I hiked the Middle Fork. And it took 13 days and as best I could
figure, close to 65 miles. Of course, we were the last to
walk the bottom of the lake, if you will, from Fall River to the dam, and we walked right up to
the face of the dam. The State Water Project
came about in 1955 when the citizens of California voted to put a dam in at Oroville to provide water to Southern California and flood mitigation
for Northern California. During the 1960s with the building of dams
all over the country, there was resistance to damming those wild, flee-flowing rivers. Places like the Middle
Fork of the Feather River in Bald Rock Canyon are
remote—hard to get to. Very few people had documented them. And Les Whitman and Dick Laursen were men who rafted and canyoneered and documented the Middle
Fork of the Feather River in an effort to protect
it as a wild river. (soft banjo music) This was written when we came out, which was Friday, September 01, 1967. Couple of years ago. I realized the lifelong goal of Laursen. Laursen kept his camera intact and pending development, will
have several hundred photos to show the entire reach
of the Middle Fork. He said he hopes to use the photographs to help get the stream
classified as a wild river. Well, to our joy, it did become a wild and
scenic river the next year. And so with the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, that precluded dams that had been approved by the state of California. So without the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Middle Fork of the Feather
River would have been dammed. (birds singing) (soft guitar music) My earliest memories are coming out to the Sierra Valley Preserve and getting worms for fishing season. That was my main introduction
to the environment, was actually hunting and fishing. It’s been a big part
of my life growing up. It becomes part of who you are. You know, when you really
start visiting a place at your earliest memories, Some of the earliest hopes I had in helping to start the
Feather River Land Trust were conserving some of these areas along the Middle Fork
here in the Sierra Valley. When it becomes part of who you are, it just feels like a natural act of protecting your memories, protecting your heritage, yourself. Here in the headwaters of the Middle Fork, it’s located right at
the triple intersection of the Sierra Nevada from the south, the Cascades from the north, and the Great Basin from the east. So you have a great meeting of ecological, geologic regions of the Western U.S. And because of that, you
have a great biodiversity. 280 bird species have been identified in the Sierra Valley Basin, and a lot of them hang out in
the wetlands right behind me. So the bird life is amazing. It’s 120,000-acre valley floor, which is just about the exact
same size as Lake Tahoe. About 60% of the quantity of water to supply both agriculture
and residential use in California comes from
the State Water Project. There was this pretty rapid development of eastern Plumas County
and along the Middle Fork. There was literally a new golf resort every year on the grounds. There’s eight of them now. When I was a kid, there
was just one of them. So, got together with some friends, found out how to start a land trust. Feels good to be part of the long legacy that has included the designation as the Wild and Scenic River in 1968. So there’s no place I’d rather be working. There are very few rivers in California that are not dammed, and the Middle Fork has the
major dam of Lake Oroville that the rest of the river and its tributaries aren’t dammed. A lot was lost in the filling
of the Oroville Reservoir. Right where the dam currently is were numerous village
sites, ceremonial sites, that have almost been
wiped from our memories and definitely wiped from us being able to be in those places again. This is a historical site
of the Mountain Maidu. These cultural places are
our ancestral history. There’s thousands of years of a relationship in these places. These cultural places are
all that we have left. We’ve been fragmented. We’ve been sent off to boarding schools. We’ve assimilated. We’ve gone to colleges. We’ve become janitors
and law professionals and all different things. But we haven’t become ourselves, and to be able to come
back to these places to restore ourselves is vital. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act gives us one more layer of protection. Most people don’t even know that the Maidu people still live here, and we have a beautiful culture and a beautiful language
and beautiful food systems. And so what we have left
is very important to honor and to protect.
(gentle, upbeat music) The Middle Fork Feather
River is special to me. Number one thing, it
forces me to be present. Whether it’s kayaking
down the lower section or up here fishing, it’s one of those things
that’s real rewarding. It’s a beautiful spot. Pretty awesome just to
have this in my backyard. I can drive 15 minutes and be on this world-class fishing stream that I won’t see another soul. When I moved to Plumas County in 2002, right away I fell in love with it. I think it’s made me
definitely a different person. I’ve had the most scariest
moments of my life down here, the near-death experiences, versus the most happiest times where you either catch a huge trout, and you’re super stoked, or
whether you style a rapid. It’s like this magical place for me. There’s nothing like it. You meet these people
that have been doing this for a really long time, and for me, that’s been awesome, like being able to go down this river with people that know it really well and get their stories on
how it’s changed their lives. That’s what makes this river special. And if someone wants to make
the effort to get down here, they deserve to get down here just because it’s not an easy thing. So I think it is important
to share my wealth, my knowledge of this place. One of those people
might be the next person that wants to protect this spot. You never know.
(uplifting music) It really meant a lot to me
to be in Bald Rock Canyon. To many people, eh, it’s
just an old bunch of rocks. But to me, it was glorious. It looked like it’s never been touched. It’s a good feeling to know
there’s still a place or two that you can go, and that’s you’ll find. (soft, slow piano music) There isn’t really a concrete plan on how the Middle Fork should be treated. It’s probably coming
due to get off our butts and do some things. You need to make sure
that we are thinking about the next generations and the next generations after that. Well, I have a lot of hopes and dreams. I would like to see people come together and to really listen to each other and think of the different
uses that we need, that we depend on. From logging to cattle to needing those quiet
places that are undisturbed. It’s gonna take all of us. The Middle Fork connects
communities together. That commonality is an instant
sort of a handshaking moment. It’s something you can relate to. The management plan for the Middle Fork of the Feather River
was written before 1976, and it needs to be revised to
reflect contemporary issues. That’s one of our goals. The Middle Fork of the
Feather River is important to a lot of different people from all different walks of life. And they relate to it in different ways, whether it’s recreational, culturally, agriculturally or ecologically. (background chattering) There are wild rivers and wild places, be they named that way or not,
they’re important to all of us. For the Middle Fork, leave it wild. (water roaring)

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