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Sierra Bighorns on Ledge of Breakthrough

  • Sunday, 28 May 2017 23:37
  • Tom Stienstra

From a perch above a boulder-strewn ravine, we peered with binoculars up canyon walls and across a steep jumble of rocks and dirt for endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.        

The arrival of spring in the high country is when Sierra bighorns feast on fresh, water-saturated forage in the front country of the Eastern Sierra Nevada outside Bishop.

A warm, dry breeze pushed out of the north. The scent of sage was in the air. At the mouth of Sawmill Canyon, on a steep mountain face below a towering monolith, we found pockets of greenery amid the rocks. We scanned sections, segment-by-segment, for the silhouette of a Sierra bighorn, attracted there to feed.

“Nothing yet,” I said to Tom Stephenson, our mentor and program leader for the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Recovery Program of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We know they’re in there,” he said.

Sierra bighorns, he noted, can seem nearly invisible. Their ability to blend against the rock is a defense against predators. When you finally see one, others nearby can suddenly appear as if out of nowhere.

To some, the spike in population also seems to have come out of nowhere. In the late 1990s, about 100 Sierra bighorns were thought to be left on the planet; the latest count was roughly 600. This spring’s count is expected to be lower, Stephenson said, “as a result of heavy snow and mountain lion predation.” But Stephenson said the Sierra bighorn population could sustain its long-term expansion in the next few years and could be relisted from endangered to threatened.

Landmark breakthroughs could help assure that:

Domestic sheep threat: In March, the Mono County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to reject a grazing lease for domestic sheep near the range of the Sierra bighorn. That is critical because domestic sheep remain the biggest long-term obstacle to recovery, Stephenson said. In the 1850s, when early pioneers arrived to California, thousands of Sierra bighorns roamed the high country, Stephenson said. The pioneers brought herds of domestic sheep, which infected the bighorns with disease, killing them.

Mountain lion threat: For several years, the Mountain Lion Foundation has softened its stance toward the DFW killing lions in favor of protecting endangered Sierra bighorns. Without pushback, the DFW has identified and killed 24 lions that were specifically targeting bighorns in threatened herds. “When there were thousands of Sierra bighorns, the size of the herd could handle occasional predation,” Stephenson said. “When you have a few hundred animals of a species left in the world, every individual becomes important.”

End of a severe winter: In the desolation of the Eastern Sierra, the arrival of spring means more water-filled plants are available, which can lead to better health of ewes and higher survival rates of lambs. “We believe we have turned the tide for the recovery of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep,” said Ginnie Chadwick, a scientist who volunteers with the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation.

The best place to find and see Sierra bighorn is out of the town of Bishop, about an hour south of Mono Lake. From San Francisco, Sacramento or anywhere else west of the Sierra, it can be a mind-bending drive.

The range of the Sierra bighorn includes some of the most foreboding, steep and desolate high country in America.

Over the years, I’ve spotted and stalked Sierra bighorn in several areas. In the Eastern Sierra, I’ve had the best luck up Pine Creek Canyon, the canyons just above the floor of Round Valley, Sawmill Canyon and Taboose Canyon. Another good spot, east of Bishop, is up Silver Creek Canyon on the flank of White Mountain, for a subspecies, the desert — or Nelson — bighorn. For that trip, which includes a creek crossing, a four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance is required.

A new herd was transplanted in 2015 in the Cathedral Range of Yosemite National Park. It takes a combination of backpacking, trekking and rock climbing to get close. Jen Joynt of Berkeley, who won the DFW’s first-place award for best wildlife photo of the year in 2016, said she made the attempt last fall, but was unable to get a photo.

Ocean Kayak Pro Annie Nagel Fishes Florida Blind

  • Sunday, 28 May 2017 23:30
  • Lara Kaylor

Northern California-based kayak angler explores Florida offshore for first time

Old Town, ME (March 31, 2017): There’s a chaos that comes with kayak fishing, especially in saltwater. But it’s a chaos that’s pursued by thousands of anglers on top of Ocean Kayak ‘craft each year, many pushing the future of the sport into new, unimagined territories.

Along those lines, Ocean Kayak is proud to introduce a series of saltwater fishing videos for 2017, which will cast a spotlight on the pros, guides, and passionate everyday anglers who rely on Ocean Kayak boats day in, day out.

Sonoma County, California-based Annie Nagel is one of those anglers, a West Coast fish-head who pursues lingcod, cabezon, rock fish, halibut, steelhead and salmon… pretty much everything that swims around the San Francisco Bay area.

Annie’s versatile, and her main boat is equally adept in varying conditions: from the open Pacific to behemoth bass-filled California lakes. Her vessel of choice? Ocean Kayak Trident 11, Trident 13 and Trident 15 models, stalwart boats recently revamped for 2017 with the same legendary hull but improved ACS2 seating, center pod redesign, and a whole lot more.

With the goal of challenging her angling skills, Annie recently flip-flopped coasts, traveling with her Trident 13 Angler to the Ft. Lauderdale area for some multi-species spring break fun. Call it fishing “cold” or “blind,” Annie had no idea to expect other than shattered expectations. As anyone familiar with the Atlantic Florida coast knows, it can be a real mixed bag of species, as the video reveals.

Could that be you?    

We're currently inviting media to visit Redding, the hub city for adventures in Shasta Cascade. It's absolutely beautiful there now, with too many waterfalls to count!

All you need to do is get a story assignment, grab a friend, select the dates you want to visit (2 nights 3 days) and contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I'll do the rest! We host journalists separately and create personalized itineraries so you can experience the activities you want to write about!

To discover all the adventures and attractions Redding and Shasta Cascade offer, and for additional information about the many amenities available, visit www.visitredding.com.

Looking forward to discussing the area with you. Thanks in advance.

Sincerely,

Susan Hartzler

Five High-Tech Hunting

Gadgets You May Not Know You Need

Minneapolis, MN (May 5, 2017) - Today’s hunters can choose from a dizzying array of high-tech gadgets, but how many of these devices actually improve our experiences afield? Items that work as advertised and solve common problems in many different hunting applications are well worth the investment. Here are five no-brainers.

Smartphone Mapping App

Next to a good pair of binoculars, maps and geographic reference materials are a hunter’s most valuable scouting tools. And if you haven’t checked what’s available in the way of mapping for your smartphone, tablet or computer these days, boy are you going to be surprised. Apps such as HUNT by onXmaps include detailed satellite images with landowner overlays. While these apps aren’t free, they’re worth every penny in areas fragmented with a mosaic of different landowners. Obtaining permission to hunt private ground just got a whole lot easier. Learn more at HuntingGPSMaps.com.

Thermal Monocular

Once reserved for military and law enforcement use, thermal-imaging technology is becoming better, increasingly affordable, and is now widely available to civilians. FLIR’s Scout TK pocket-sized thermal vision monocular retails for under $600 and is a powerful tool for hunters. The Scout TK works in all lighting conditions, making it the ideal optic for scouting game in full sun, fog or total darkness. In addition to aiding in game recovery, the FLIR Scout TK also helps hunters detect and elude large predators and avoid bumping game animals while traveling to and from hunting stands in the dark. Did I mention it records still images and videos? Learn more at FLIR.com.

Robert Desmarais is no ordinary caretaker, living as he does in a ghost town 8200 feet above sea level. He is also an historian, story teller, geologist, chemist and licensed blaster. He speaks of the people who inhabited this place as if he’d known them all personally, which due to the eerie nature of this town, he might well have. Robert is in the process of putting together a book on the history of the town. Hopefully it will be available before long, as just the few stories he told us made me want to learn more.

On a late April day, snow still thick on the high peaks, I joined the Eastern Sierra 4X4 Club for a trip up the rugged, steep dirt road to Cerro Gordo. We drove south out of Bishop, known as the “Little Town with a Big Back Yard,” and headed south to Lone Pine, where we picked up the 136, the road over to Death Valley. Just past the fading town of Keeler, we turned left and abandoned the highway for a dirt road that wound up eight miles to this historic mining town. Bishop indeed has a very big back yard.

It was clear, long before reaching our destination, that my two wheel drive car wouldn’t have made it, particularly on a steep section with loose rock. A good SUV with fairly high clearance would do just fine in dry weather. A four wheel vehicle could continue on the White Mountain Talc Road, which runs along the ridge and is supposed to return to the 395 at some distance north, but don’t take my word on that before heading out.

Cerro Gordo was considered the Comstock” to Los Angeles, with tons of silver bullion taken from the rich ore in these mountains. The Union, the main mine, drops about 1100 feet straight down, the ore car, still supposedly operational, reaches down 900 feet, and was last used years ago for an Annenberg Foundation video documentary. The foundation paid for the use by restoring the boiler room and pully in the huge building that sits just above the town and can be visited if escorted by Robert.         Over 32 miles of shafts connect to this vertical hole, and there are over 50 total miles of mines at Cerro Gordo. During the mining years, miners got 30 ounces of silver from every ton of ore, which was considered rich ore. While coal miners suffered from Black Lung Disease, silver miners got silicosis from the silica dust. We were shown an underground rebreather that was used by the miners, as sulfur dioxide was a mining hazard.

Complete article to appear in California Explorer.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” -- Albert Einstein

A century of wildfire suppression, four years of drought, and restoration practices that replanted burned and harvested forests with plantations of similar trees have led to a crisis in the Sierra Nevada that threatens a watershed that supplies 60% of the water used in California, sustains 60% of the state’s wildlife, and is essential to our populace, economy, environmental quality and way of life.

This is a manmade problem whose solution, as Einstein stated, cannot be achieved with the same level of thinking that created it.

The Sierra Nevada forest became unnaturally overpopulated primarily because of years of wildfire suppression that allowed forests to become more congested than is natural. In the late 1900s, fewer trees began being cut after environmental regulations and cheaper foreign lumber put loggers and mills out of business. The result is that high-intensity wildfires have increased in size and frequency.

Today, not a single active saw mill is processing raw timber into lumber in El Dorado County. Very few remain anywhere in the Sierra. Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree said, “If I were to offer a sale (of timber) today, there's no one locally to buy and process the logs. The cost of trucking logs to a distant mill substantially reduces the value of the public's timber."

The decline of California’s forest products industry has had serious consequence on the ability of local contractors and wood processing companies to compete successfully for U.S. Forest Service (USFS) contracts against larger, often out-of-state businesses with lower overhead and operational costs.

Not only are there fewer and smaller companies of loggers and saw mills to reduce fire danger and improve forest health, but the USFS has lost revenue from timber sales that previously helped fund forest restoration.

The USFS manages 6.3 million acres in the Sierra Nevada, about 60% of the range’s total forested area. It estimates that 500,000 acres of forest will need to be treated annually (two to three times greater than current efforts) in order to restore the watershed.

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC), a state agency, reports that very little progress is being made in the pace and scale of watershed restoration, quoting the USFS that “only an environmental restoration program of unprecedented scale can alter the direction of current trends.”

To help build a consensus on what to do, the Sierra Nevada Forest and Community Initiative (SNFCI), established five years ago, brings together diverse perspectives from local government, environmental and conservation organizations, the wood products industry, fire safe councils and public land management agencies.

Their biggest impediments are funding and what to do with the biomass cleared from the forests.

Presently, when a forest is thinned or cleared, logs are piled and burned (as there are few mills to process the timber and no market for it), but doing so on 500,000 acres of forest annually would ruin air quality, create a massive release of greenhouse gases (GHG) affecting climate and greatly damage recreation, tourism and quality of life in the Sierra.

In its report, “The State of the Sierra Nevada’s Forests,” SNC states that diverting the biomass generated by these forest treatments from pile and burn to bioenergy could reduce GHG emissions by 3.15 million metric tons annually. Over ten years that would be the equivalent of eliminating the emissions of 3.9 million cars.

There are 14 biomass power plants in the Sierra Nevada today, with inadequate capacity “to handle the pace and scale of restoration” SNC reported. It described a 2013 incident in which the Honey Lake biomass power plant stopped all chip deliveries in mid-summer at a time when forest restoration was in full swing and places that would accept forest biomass were in high demand.

Without a place to dispose of the biomass that summer, a number of proposed restoration projects could not be completed.

Limited options to restoring the watershed, through logging, result in publicly unpopular choices, such as increased use of planned or prescribed fires (set intentionally to remove unwanted vegetation).

Local air districts impose very tight burn windows and durations of prescribed fires, which can complicate their implementation, resulting in the unintended consequence of enabling larger, more damaging fires, which emit more pollution than would have been released by controlled burns.

Despite funding, biomass disposal and prescribed fire limitations, a number of collaborative watershed restoration projects have been conducted in Fresno, Amador, Calaveras, Shasta, Placer, Madera, Plumas and El Dorado Counties, including $5 million allocated by the USFS to reduce fuel and help restore the Eldorado National Forest watershed.

In the Caples Lake watershed, Eldorado National Forest and the El Dorado Irrigation District are partners in trimming selectively, creating fire breaks, conducting controlled burns with ground crews and by helicopter in remote areas to create multi-age stands, and restoring the forest and its watershed to a more natural and fire-resistant condition.

Nevertheless, what’s being done to restore the Sierra Nevada watershed is virtually a drop in the bucket. It is a problem that only can be solved by thinking and acting at a different level.

The third and final part of this series will describe benefits of restoring the watershed.

With participation growth over 120 percent in recent years, it is exciting times for standup paddleboarding.

WRITTEN BY Margaret Littman 

Since exploding in popularity a decade ago, paddleboarding continues to be the wunderkind of the paddlesports world. More than three million Americans paddleboarded last year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, contributing to a 120-percent growth in the sport over the year prior.

Early adopters purchasing expensive, high-performance gear are slowly giving way to the popular consumer at a lower price-point, says Andre Niemeyer, publisher of industry mag SUPConnect. “As is usually the case with new technology adoption cycles, highly educated, 35 to 55-year-olds with incomes north of $100,000 per year dominated the early years of standup paddling, generating lots of demand for high-end, expensive, specialty product constructions,” he says. “As the industry matures, college educated paddlers with incomes around $50,000 per year are coming in droves and represent the majority market,” adds Niemeyer. “There are far more of them, so we'll likely continue to see downward pressure on price points but steady participation growth, at least in the short-term.”

Find the world's best boats and gear with the Rapid Media's Paddling Buyer's Guide                 

From that pool of new users, board manufacturers expect a percentage will become hooked on the sport and become enthusiasts of a specific discipline, while most will remain occasional recreational users. “The majority of participants will continue to simply want to go out and enjoy being on the water with friends and family. All of us that are heavily involved in the sport need to remember these folks,” says Jimmy Blakeney, marketing manager at BIC SUP. At Outdoor Retailer’s 2016 Open Air Demo there were many rec-focused designs directed at this audience, prioritizing fun and fitness on the water rather than speed or surf performance. Hobie’s new Mirage Eclipse is one such design. The pedal-powered 54-pound board gives riders an elliptical-style fitness experience, but can easily be converted into a traditional paddleboard thanks to removable fins and removable handlebar.

Another hit at the Open Air Demo was Hammocraft’s mounted hammock system, which can support five hammocks stretched across two boards for the ultimate relaxing day on the water with friends. “The growth in paddleboarding will level off eventually,” predicts Sea Eagle’s president Cecil Hodge. “[Manufacturers] need to look at new ways to use paddleboards or people will give up on them.”

With an eye on this area of growth, Sea Eagle debuted the QuikRow. The QuikRow is an aftermarket add-on that transforms a paddleboard into an on-water rowing machine in minutes. This solution is designed to be a quick and inexpensive way to multi-purpose a paddleboard into a rowing skiff for those who love to both paddle and row. While these innovative designs and alternate propulsion methods represent areas of potential future growth, it’s the fishing market where the industry expects to see immediate growth.

Discover the trip of a lifetime with the Rapid Media Paddling Trip Guide         

“There are lots of demands in that area but very few companies making a deliberate and concerted effort to serve [them],” Niemeyer says. He also predicts that “surf, race and river—which command most of the SUP media landscape—will probably continue to command five- to 10-percent market share each.” As the sport matures, paddleboard safety has also become a growing concern. Though PFD-less beach bodies remain the norm in ads and some media, paddler education around safety gear is thankfully growing.

“Safety is big now after 24 deaths last summer and Andres Pombo’s high- profile accident at Hood River in 2015,” says veteran instructor Rob Casey. An experienced racer, 29-year-old Pombo drowned while training for the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge and reportedly was not wearing a PFD or leash. Over the last year, Casey says he’s heard more paddleboarders discussing PFDs and leashes, and is “luckily seeing more of them on the water as well.”

“I was here last Saturday, and this place was packed.” Chris Reeves, our river pilot from Tributary Whitewater Tours, was amazed how quiet the Oxbow put-in location was by the edge of the Middle Fork of the American River. Chris is used to guiding busy weekend trips, but it was a beautiful Monday morning, and we practically had the river to ourselves.

I rummaged through a pile of wetsuits, lifejackets and helmets to properly suit up for the adventure ahead. My friends and I were attending an Outdoor Writers Association of California conference and had chosen this sixteen mile river adventure from among several conference activities. It had been years since I had been on a white water trip, and I was excited for the adventure ahead.

Read the full story here.

In search of solutions to the extreme threat to California’s forests and watersheds, correspondent Tom Wilmer met with Bob Kingman, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s Assistant Executive Officer in Auburn, California. He then visits with Sean O’Brien in San Luis Obispo about urban forested Monterey Pines in conjunction with Cal Fire in Cambria.

More than 60 percent of California’s water supply comes from the Sierras. High-intensity fires such as The 2013 Rim Fire generated greenhouse gas emissions equal to what 2.3 million vehicles produce annually. During the rainy season, the subsequent massive run off and erosion created in-filled reservoirs, and severely degraded water quality.

Sean and Dana O’Brien in San Luis Obispo are sequestering carbon, and helping to minimize the threat of forest fires through their urban-forested Pacific Coast Lumber mill operation, and A Place to Grow Recycled Greenhouses. The O’Briens work in concert with Cal Fire’s efforts to remove dead and dying Monterey Pines in and around the coastal village of Cambria, California.

Read the full story and listen to the podcast here.

When I looked at the list of outdoor activities for this year’s Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) spring conference, a rafting trip down the American River practically jumped off the page. “Let’s do this!” I said to Kathy. “I haven’t rafted the American River since 1973, when I was a graduate student at Sacramento State.” I had also worked as a paid intern for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors during that time and learned firsthand about a fledgling organization called Friends of the River. Friends of the River was mounting a campaign to stop the proposed Auburn Dam project. It seemed that certain political heavyweights were pushing to bury the breathtakingly pristine north and middle forks of the American River under several hundred feet of water. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the project was eventually abandoned. Natural treasures like the American River Canyon are never completely safe, however. Like a bad cold that just won’t go away, the plan to build Auburn Dam still rears its ugly head from time to time.

Read the full story here.

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 Lara Kaylor

My name is Lara Kaylor and I have worked as a journalist for more than a decade covering everything from the outdoors to small town politics. I joined OWAC in 2007.