The Battle Over Fish Verify Dams within the Emigrant Wilderness

For the previous three many years the Emigrant Wilderness, located simply north of Yosemite Nationwide Park, has been the setting for a dispute over 18 small, stone “examine dams” constructed through the first half of the 20 th century. On one facet in favor of the dams have been anglers, wilderness campers, and advocates in search of to protect native historical past. Arguing towards them have been environmentalists who imagine a wilderness space mustn’t include any man-made constructions, besides maybe foot paths and an occasional path signal.

The Emigrant Wilderness, a part of the Stanislaus Nationwide Forest, encompasses 100 named lakes and about 500 smaller, unnamed lakes. It accommodates miles and miles of streams, the headwaters of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers. However it wasn’t all the time the fishing paradise that it’s at this time.

Quickly after the final emigrant wagons rolled out of the mountains close to Sonora Go within the 1850s, cattlemen and sheep herders started to graze their animals in excessive meadowlands that at the moment are is a part of the Emigrant Wilderness Space. Discovering a dearth of fish within the lakes that dot the area, stockmen began hauling buckets of native fish from decrease elevation lakes and streams and dumping them into the alpine lakes.

By the late 1800s giant lakes like Kennedy Lake and Emigrant Lake grew to become standard fishing locations, attracting sportsmen from close by gold nation cities like Sonora and Columbia and from valley cities akin to Modesto and Stockton. The one vital reservoir on the time was Strawberry Lake, at this time’s Pinecrest Lake. Most river and stream fishing was at low elevations alongside the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers. As a result of the excessive elevation streams and a few lakes tended to dry up in late summer time and fall, they didn’t present a habitat satisfactory to maintain fish populations.

Building of the Verify Dams

Round 1900 a younger native man named Fred Leighton started to make his approach into the excessive nation close to Sonora Go. He quickly realized that if just some of the lakes may very well be regulated with what he would name “examine dams”, extra water may very well be saved within the lakes after which launched at a slower fee early in the summertime through the snowmelt. In consequence there would nonetheless be a reserve of water within the lakes when the rainless late summer time and fall arrived so an satisfactory stream move may very well be maintained to supply habitat for native trout. They’d additionally function an early methodology of flood management.

Beginning in 1920, Leighton and a crew of volunteers started to assemble a lot of low “examine dams” on key lakes. They hauled provides into the excessive nation on pack animals and constructed the dams by hand utilizing stones and mortar. They acquired the total assist of the US Forest Service, California Fish and Recreation, and plenty of native organizations.

The primary dam was constructed at Yellowhammer Lake on the headwaters of Cherry Creek, solely two miles north of the Yosemite boundary. Through the years 17 extra dams had been constructed. Most had been on lakes, together with Decrease Buck Lake, Bigelow Lake, Emigrant Lake, Emigrant Meadow Lake, and Huckleberry Lake. Two dams had been constructed alongside streams, creating reservoirs to supply summer time irrigation water to meadowlands. The final couple of dams had been constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1941.

On account of the dams, fishing improved significantly within the area with Rainbow, Brown, and Brook trout populating the waters. Each summer time anglers flocked to the excessive nation, taking pack animals in from trailheads like Pinecrest, Kennedy Meadows, Gianelli’s Cabin.

The Designation of the Emigrant Wilderness

The start of the tip of the “examine dams” got here in 1975 when the area was designated because the Emigrant Wilderness. The 1964 Wilderness Act prohibits nearly any form of man-made construction throughout the boundaries of a wilderness. Exceptions made for historic constructions akin to early log cabins have been uncommon. For a time it appeared that the “examine dams” would fall into the class of historic options. A lot of them had been eligible to be included within the historic register. Most of them solely stood a couple of toes tall and had been hardly intrusive. Others noticed them in a different way.

The battle over the “examine dams” continued for many years. In 1988 the Regional Forester for the Stanislaus Nationwide Forest ordered all of the dams to be eliminated. His determination created a public outcry, and shortly afterward he reversed his place. Then in 1991 the Forest Service started to develop a Land Useful resource Administration Plan for the world. On the identical time Consultant John Doolittle tried, however failed, to get a invoice via Congress to guard the dams.

Within the meantime proof mounted that the dams had been in determined want of restore. Some had been vandalized, others had been merely eroding. Spill valves had been misplaced beneath silt. Finally in 1998 the Forest Service determined to rebuild eight of the decaying dams with a view to keep stream move. However solely a yr later the Regional Forester reversed that call. He held the place that there was no proof that the dams had been wanted. Aerial stocking was retaining the fish ranges at a suitable degree.

The US District Court docket Choice

The dispute over the “examine dams” reached its conclusion in 2006 when Wilderness Watch and different environmental teams filed swimsuit to cease the proposed upkeep of the dams. Either side argued persuasively. Advocates for the dams identified their historic worth, their non-obtrusive nature, and their profit to wildlife habitat. Wilderness purists identified that there was nothing within the Wilderness Act that permitted such constructions throughout the boundary of the Emigrant Wilderness. Moreover, the Forest Service had conceded that the fish populations had been self-sustaining. The development of the dam at Cherry Reservoir in 1957 had way back negated the necessity for flood management upstream.

Choose Anthony W. Ishii dominated in June 2006 that the dams couldn’t be rebuilt or maintained. However neither did they must be dismantled. They’d be left to decay naturally.

“The world manifested its wilderness attribute earlier than the dams had been in place and would lose nothing in the best way of wilderness values had been the dams not current,” Ishii wrote in his determination. “What could be misplaced is a few enhancement to a selected use of the world (fishing), however that use, whereas maybe standard, shouldn’t be an integral a part of the wilderness nature of that space.”

With that call the destiny of Fred Leighton’s “examine dams” seems to have been settled. Even with out upkeep, a lot of them might final for one more century or longer. Within the meantime, fish populations have continued to carry regular. Each summer time 1000’s of holiday makers flock to the Emigrant Wilderness to fish, camp, and benefit from the pristine great thing about the world.