UPDATE (11/99)-(8/10) Streamflow Dams in the
Emigrant Wilderness Area

by Jerry Yesavage
(yesavage@stanford.edu )

If you know the issues and been here before, scroll down to the update at the bottom of the page for MAJOR, and then some less than MAJOR NEW DEVELOPMENTS.


The Emigrant Wilderness is a "Federal Wilderness" area directly to the east of Stockton, California. The area contains several "streamflow dams" that provide water in streambeds that may go dry in the fall. These dams have preserved wild trout in these streams and along with other angling activity, such as stocking, were "grandfathered" into the legislation that created the Wilderness.

This area has a Management Plan that has undergone review by the United States Forest Service (USFS). The result of this review has been essentially to cease operation of these dams. Apparently they are, in the opinion of the USFS, not in keeping with the wild nature of the area.

Our position is that in a thoughtful assessment of the streams supported by these dams any wild trout populations in these streams must be carefully considered. In California today wild trout streams are at a premium and any streams with solid populations of fish are a major resource to anglers. From 1991 to 1996 the number of angler hours on California lakes and streams has increased over 50%. It is our understanding that certain of the streams such as those in the Emigrant Lake and Huckleberry Lake drainages support major spawning runs of rainbow trout, as well as the Cherry Creek drainage, which is well-known throughout California. These runs are important no only for the maintenance of wild populations of fish in lakes but also to repopulate streams with larger wild trout that make for an extremely high quality angling experience. Thus, the proposed decision that will lead to the destruction of these valuable fisheries is unacceptable.

A Streamflow Dam: The Alleged Crime

The above photo, from Long Lake shows a 15 foot wide dam. The Wilderness is 112,000 acres. All dams constructed before the wilderness was designated "Wilderness" were perfectly legal.

The Alleged Perpetrators at the Scene of the Crime

The above photo taken of Ernie Marino, Fred Leighton (Center) and an unknown backwoodsman (Now probably identified through the wonders of the web as Mr. Willie Ritt, former owner of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station). Mr. Leighton was the builder of some early dams. Note, other names verified by Missy Marino, Earnie's wife. According to her, the picture was taken around 1970 when Ernie was 16. However, he couldn't remember if the other gentleman was Bill Burnham or Bill Liptiman. Note, Fred wears a white hat.

Cherry Creek Downstream from the Dams - We Could Lose This

The above photo taken below where there various branches of Cherry Creek come together. It was taken by an angler who has spent decades in the backcountry of the Emigrant fishing Cherry Creek with his family.

Many anglers have found this decision regarding the dams to be unacceptable. The USFS introduces a new concept in this decision: to maintain dams some of the 18 dams in question, apparently as historic monuments, but not to allow streamflow regulation except in the case of two dams. Furthermore, we note that in those cases streamflow regulation will only be allowed after "sustained low streamflow" which they define to be "...the second successive consecutive summer/fall periods when flow is lower than a specified rate for more than a number of days." To many people familiar with the backcountry this plan is worrisome since it is not clear how the dams could be monitored so that streams will not go dry. The actual plan for each dam follows:

The USFS Plan for Dams

UPDATE (8/99)

CalTrout along with the California Department of Fish and Game have filed an appeal of the USFS decision. No action has been taken on the appeal as of yet.......

Representative Doolittle, who represents the area in Congress, submitted a bill last year to preserve these dams. The bill was passed overwhelmingly in the House but "got lost" in the Senate.

The Representative has reintroduced the bill (H.R. 359 "The Emigrant Wilderness PreservationAct of 1999) and I testified at hearings in late February. A copy of my testamony is found below.

Copy Cal Trout Appeal Letter.

Copy Cal Trout Testamony.

In sum, we are still in deep trouble over these dams. We are using a two-pronged approach: 1. appeal the USFS decision and 2. support legislation. More background is found in my appended letters below. We expect that this issue will soon move to the Senatae where it will be necessary to contact our Senators on this matter. Letters and e-mail will help.

e-mail Senator Feinstein

Draft Letter to Senator Feinstein -- Add your own experience in the Emigrant.

Phone: (202) 224-3841
Fax: (202) 228-3954
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

District Office: Los Angeles
District Phone: 310-914-7300

e-mail Senator Boxer

Draft Letter to Senator Boxer -- Add your own experience in the Emigrant.

Phone: (202) 224-3553
Fax: (202) 228-1338
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

District Office: San Francisco
District Phone: 415-403-0100

Hike into the Area July 1999

I also hiked into the area over the July 4th weekend (quite a death march) and include some photos below. This is really a prime fishery, the entire run of fish was located at the point where the stream meets the lake waiting for the waters to drop -- dozen of fish were being caught. Many local people come to the area via boats over Cherry Lake and have done so for years as a family outing. There people say that the river goes stone dry in drought years (so quickly we forget the drought). This trip only reinforced my deires to keep the streamflow checkdams working on this creek.

Cherry Creek the Actual "Canyon"

This is the actual "Canyon" from which I would believe the name "Cherry" comes from - note the color of the rock. It would be great if this spring runoff were there every year.


Overview at Mouth (Logjam) of Cherry Creek where it Enters Cherry Lake

Fish "stack-up" at mouth of Creek ready to run up as spring run off declines- a major opportunity for anglers. They hide under the logjam that is pushed into the mouth of the creek by prevailing winds.


Detail at Mouth of Cherry Creek: Note Anglers Lined Up- Fishing Under and in Front of Logjam

These folks come here every year to take advantage of the runs of fish. There are spin anglers, bait anglers and flyfisherfolk.


Successful Angler- Will his Children be able to do the Same Thing?

This child was here with his older brother and father. Many families I talked to an the mouth of the creek have been coming for generations.

UPDATE Partial Success???? (11/99)

I have just received a letter dated October 25, 1999 Roberta A. Moltzen, Deputy Regional Forester, stating "I reverse the Forest Supervisor's decision on the future maintenance of dams within the Emigrant Wilderness." This appears to be what can be called at least a partial victory, but we are not out of the woods yet. The devil is in the details, and the reversal basically requests that the Director of Fish and Game and relevant Forest Service staff make reasonable decisions on a case by case basis. It may still be necessary to support the legislation described above to keep the pressure on to actually maintain the checkdams in question. More later.

UPDATE2 Still Partial Success???? (02/01)

Guess what- nothing has happened to assure the fate of Cheery Creek. There is no change on the reversal of the decision to kill the check-dams, but still there is no concrete (get that concrete?) plan to fix them. In the meanwhile some of the checkdams may have been vandalized. More later.

UPDATE3 Still a bit more than Partial Success???? (05/01)

I have talked a bit with all relevant parties including in congress, USFS and CDFG and it seems that a reasonable compromise is afoot. A major issue probably has to do with the fact that the chekdams likely improve habitat for the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog, a potentially endangered species- see the Muir pages for the issue as it relates to high mountain lakes. More later.

UPDATE4 Still a bit more than Partial Success- A Good Compromise???? (03/03)

A new Evironmental Assessment has been formulated and appears to encompass the dams that were to be saved in the compromises discussed above, but when will it be implemented?

UPDATE5 A Visit to Inspect Vandalized Dams (07/03)

During this controversy I have not mentioned that it appeared as if some dams have been vandalized, since I was not convinced that this was more than rumor. But I took the opportunity to go into the North Fork of Cherry Creek to see the alleged damage and it is pretty clear that in fact vandalism has occurred.

Three Dams on the North Fork All with Similar Damage

All dams have lost about 5 feet of one layer of stonework in their centers.


Middle Emigrant Lake Dam with Crowbar Marks on Stones in Dam

High Emigrant Lake Dam with Crowbar Marks on Stones in Dam

They could not get these stones out but the marks from the crowbar are strill there.....

UPDATE6 New Record of Decision (01-3/04)

A new Evironmental Assessment has been accepted by the Forest Supervision and a Recod of Decision (ROD) issued. This ROD appears to encompass 11 of the dams that were to be saved in the compromises discussed above, but when will it be implemented? It is expected to be appealed. The interesting new twist is that some of the dams will be considered for their historic value. We arestill waiting for final word on this late March 2004.

 The Bottom Line: We Hope these Dams are Repaired ASAP and that the Vandals who are Trying to Destroy them are Found

More information on Dams (and Fishing)

Wild Rainbow from this Trip

Wild Rainbow (22") from Emigrant (Big) Lake on 1994 Trip by Harry W Grecousis
(Note well the size of feet to get size of fish.....)

Wild Rainbows from Emigrant Meadow Lake on 1948 Trip by Jim Vertin

Lost in Court: Record of Decision (5/06)

The Federal court in Fresno recently (5/06) found that the USFS was in error in maintaining the check dams. It is not clear if or how this decision will be appealed. Here is the record of decision.


For those of you who actually fish, rather than politic, more information about fishing in the Emigrant backcountry and the dams can be obtained from Matt Bloom at Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station Web Page.

Pages last revised 8/9/14 with no substantial changes.

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