The California Legislature prohibited the construction of new dams, diversions, and reservoirs on 60 miles of Deer Creek in Tehama County in 1995. The dam prohibition occurred in response to a state study of Deer Creek, which found the river to be eligible and suitable for wild and scenic protection. Due to opposition by local landowners (including Sierra Pacific Industries), the Legislature chose to simply prohibit dams on the river instead of granting it full state wild and scenic protection. New dams are prohibited on Deer Creek from its source on Butt Mountain to where the stream flows out of the northern Sierra foothills into the Sacramento Valley. The river flows through mixed public and private lands, including the Lassen National Forest managed by the Forest Service. In a separate study, the Forest Service found 30 miles of Deer Creek flowing through the Lassen Forest to be both eligible and suitable for federal designation.
The state study found Deer Creek to possess extraordinary scenic, recreation, fish, cultural, and scientific values. From its source of Butt Mountain on the Lassen Forest, Deer Creek flows through a dense conifer forest. Upper Deer Creek Falls and National Forest campgrounds and day use areas are easily accessible along the creek via scenic Highway 32. Downstream of the highway, Deer Creek enters a spectacular and remote lava rim rock canyon in the Ishi Wilderness, which offers pristine wilderness-oriented recreation and experts-only whitewater boating. The creek supports some of the last remaining wild runs of threatened spring Chinook salmon and winter steelhead in the Sacramento Valley. Deer Creek enjoys one of the highest levels of biotic integrity in the Sierra Nevada due to its undammed and roadless nature and the presence of native anadromous fish. The entire area is rich in Native American cultural values and is the setting for Theodora Kroeber’s biography about the “last” Yahi Indian, “Ishi In Two Worlds.”