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