The Wild Emigrant: Cows, Dams, and Damn Mosquitoes

By René Voss

RenéSo now I know why people came up with the idea of aerial spraying DDT to kill pesky bugs ... like the thousands of mosquitoes that attacked me over the summer solstice in the Emigrant Wilderness.  Relentless beasts!

 

As I was walking out of the Wilderness I struck an interesting conversation with a fellow hiker who was local and had been visiting the Emigrant Wilderness for over 50 years.  He said he had seen many changes since he first started hiking there as a kid.  His name was Larry.  I know this because he was wearing a "Larry" belt buckle ... local for sure.

 

Larry was happy to report that someone caught a golden trout in one of the lakes recently, which surprised me because goldens are only native in the Sequoia National Forest.  So they must be remnants from stocking or someone is still stocking trout there (likely remnant).  He missed the days when you could cast a line in Long Lake and catch 10 trout in an hour at any time of day.  But of course the federal and state authorities have stopped stocking the brooks and rainbows because they have literally wiped out most populations of mountain yellow-legged frogs, which are now listed as endangered with lots of designated critical habitat, including in the Emigrant.  I asked Larry when the Wilderness was created and he said 1971, so I was surprised that I found a hand-writted inscription in concrete in a small dam that was repaired by a trail crew in 1983.  Larry thought that it was a repair and that most of the dams in the Wilderness were built in the '30s, and that now they are just being left to fall apart on their own.  According to a story Larry had heard from a friend, the Stanislaus NF used to have a backcountry ranger whose job was to patrol the Emigrant.  His friend asked the district office whether the Forest Service was now dismantling the old dams.  The Forest Service official said they were not but were just letting them fall apart naturally over the seasons.  So his friend showed the official a video of the backcountry ranger tearing down one of the rock dams by hand.  Apparently the Forest Service did not give him an award for Wilderness stewardship and instead transferred the individual out of the district.
 
Lucky for me I missed the cow season, even though I saw lots of evidence of cattle, even a thousand feet up my ascent of Granite Dome.  There were cow patties in all the meadows, and some of the trails in the meadow were likely from the cows.  According to Larry, the ranchers drive the cattle into the Wilderness after July 1.  Maybe that's what all the mosquitos are waiting for, and they mistook me and my fellow hikers for cows.  Some of the many meadows, all wet, are apparently really good for fattening up cows.  Larry thought the Forest Service regulates the ranchers well and monitors the stubble height of the grass or whatever else the cows eat so it doesn't get below 5 inches.  Most of the grass wasn't even that high yet, and it was June 25.
 
Apparently there used to be many wooden signs in the Wilderness that told hikers how far it was to get to certain lakes, similar to the Yosemite backcountry, but the Forest Service removed those a few years ago because they were "unsightly," according to Larry.  But navigation was not an issue as there was a single sign at each of the trail intersections telling hikers they were on the right path.  There were lots of birds in the high country, and some were very tame and let me approach or even approached me, like the black yellow and grey warbler that seemed to want to check me out.  I even heard a few frogs on my second night, which was encouraging.
 
So, cows, dams, fish stocking, and endangered amphibians are the issues here.  But otherwise, the trees were stunning, the landscape was pristine, and glorious Wilderness survives in the Emigrant.

 

Emigrant Wilderness René Voss

 


René is an attorney who serves as treasurer on Wilderness Watch's board of directors.

 

Editor's note:

“Wilderness Experienced” is a platform to share stories of recent experiences in Wilderness. Stories focus on the virtues of Wilderness and/or challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System.

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We encourage readers to engage the authors and other commenters through the comment feature. Please be respectful and thoughtful in your response, and focus your comments on the issues/experiences. Please refrain from personal attacks and harassment, using rude or disruptive language, providing misinformation, or promoting violence or illegal activities. We reserve the right to reject comments. Thank you for your cooperation and support.

 

 

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Comments 36

Guest - lori conley on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:33

Please keep nature WILD the way it should be!

Please keep nature WILD the way it should be!
Guest - Paul Ramos on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:29

The Emigrant Wilderness is stunning. I have had a few trips to there. Glorious place to breathe and take it all in... May it remain beautiful, forever.

The Emigrant Wilderness is stunning. I have had a few trips to there. Glorious place to breathe and take it all in... May it remain beautiful, forever.
Guest - Beth Waterhouse on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:25

Good writing, Rene!

Good writing, Rene!
Guest - Daniel OBrien on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:25

Please keep nature the way it’s supposed to be and don’t sell it for oil or kill anything that lives there. I speak for nature just like Greta Thunberg.

Please keep nature the way it’s supposed to be and don’t sell it for oil or kill anything that lives there. I speak for nature just like Greta Thunberg.
Guest - Roxanne Donohue on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:24

Cows in the wilderness fishing till there are no more fish endangered frogs sounds like the humans are determined to destroy the environment our earth ..we must speak up we are running out of time and please people wake up.

Cows in the wilderness fishing till there are no more fish endangered frogs sounds like the humans are determined to destroy the environment our earth ..we must speak up we are running out of time and please people wake up.
Guest - ahimsa42 on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:23

"The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future - deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease." -- The World Watch Institute

“Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife – birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed. Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer. So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for “Peace on Earth.”~ David Coates

"The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future - deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease." -- The World Watch Institute “Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife – birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed. Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer. So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for “Peace on Earth.”~ David Coates
Guest - Suzanne Baxter on Thursday, 03 September 2020 16:49

I hear you David Coates. Thanks for speaking the hard truth.

I hear you David Coates. Thanks for speaking the hard truth. :(
Guest - Suzanne Baxter on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:11

Thanks for letting us know what you found on your wilderness trip Renee’. Appreciate it!

Thanks for letting us know what you found on your wilderness trip Renee’. Appreciate it!
Guest - Darla Brunner on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:08

Thank you for Rene Voss' diary from The Wild Emigrant. It gave me a feeling of being there. Much that makes me sad, yet much that feeds the soul. Will the wilderness survive man's insatiable appetite for meat, murder and mayhem? Our existence on Earth, guess what, ultimately depends on Earth. Will we as a species remain mired in our vanity and greed to the point of dismantling the ship that carries us?

Thank you for Rene Voss' diary from The Wild Emigrant. It gave me a feeling of being there. Much that makes me sad, yet much that feeds the soul. Will the wilderness survive man's insatiable appetite for meat, murder and mayhem? Our existence on Earth, guess what, ultimately depends on Earth. Will we as a species remain mired in our vanity and greed to the point of dismantling the ship that carries us?
Guest - Margaret Meinert on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:06

I don't ever want to imagine a world without all of its unique animals and wildlife.

I don't ever want to imagine a world without all of its unique animals and wildlife.
Guest - Cliff Ballard on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:05

I have scanned the story but I'm unsure whether Larry thought the wilderness areas were better off now or better off years ago??

I have scanned the story but I'm unsure whether Larry thought the wilderness areas were better off now or better off years ago??
Guest - JF Forests on Thursday, 03 September 2020 16:17

I wondered that too as the author seemed to like a Sgt. Joe Friday and "just the facts, ma'am, just the facts," withholding judgment. Personally, it didn't seem like much of a wilderness because of so many obvious signs of the "hands of man" and the crap of cows, but am glad it is on the road to some healing, but it's still a long way off and for starters, the cows gotta go....

I wondered that too as the author seemed to like a Sgt. Joe Friday and "just the facts, ma'am, just the facts," withholding judgment. Personally, it didn't seem like much of a wilderness because of so many obvious signs of the "hands of man" and the crap of cows, but am glad it is on the road to some healing, but it's still a long way off and for starters, the cows gotta go....
Guest - Rene Voss on Thursday, 03 September 2020 21:17

Hi JF,

I guess it's the attorney in me in providing "just the facts, ma'am." Most of the Emigrant is as wild as can be and pristine, so long as you don't go in the meadows, stay away from cows, don't step on a cow patty, or don't notice the small dams, which are not that numerous. In my opinion, the cows must go, and WW is working on that. I just spent last week in the Yosemite Wilderness where there are no cows, and there is a noticeable difference in how pristine the backcountry there is. With everyone's help, hopefully it will be just like that in the future.

Hi JF, I guess it's the attorney in me in providing "just the facts, ma'am." Most of the Emigrant is as wild as can be and pristine, so long as you don't go in the meadows, stay away from cows, don't step on a cow patty, or don't notice the small dams, which are not that numerous. In my opinion, the cows must go, and WW is working on that. I just spent last week in the Yosemite Wilderness where there are no cows, and there is a noticeable difference in how pristine the backcountry there is. With everyone's help, hopefully it will be just like that in the future.
Guest - JF Forests on Friday, 04 September 2020 22:39

Thanks Rene for clarifying and ending on a note of hope. Will enjoy continuing to follow your pieces.

Thanks Rene for clarifying and ending on a note of hope. Will enjoy continuing to follow your pieces.
Guest - francis mangels on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:02

What? A wilderness with non-native cows grazing it hard? Since when is that wilderness, such ecological disruption? WW needs to connect with the sierra club grazing team and join up in protest. It is NOT wilderness until the native ecology is restored!

What? A wilderness with non-native cows grazing it hard? Since when is that wilderness, such ecological disruption? WW needs to connect with the sierra club grazing team and join up in protest. It is NOT wilderness until the native ecology is restored!:o
Guest - julie k stinchcomb on Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:02

Nice story. It was interesting to hear about the trout and birds and the dams and trees. Thanks for the article. Julie S

Nice story. It was interesting to hear about the trout and birds and the dams and trees. Thanks for the article. Julie S
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