The Sequoia National Forest in California features some of the most iconic wild places in the southern Sierra Nevada. In early 2021, the Forest Service will release a final plan for these 1.1 million acres of public lands, including which wild places are recommended as wilderness and which streams are eligible for wild and scenic river protection. Many of these wild places will provide refuge and critical migration corridors for plants and animals to survive climate change. CalWild is advocating for the protection of the following wild places in the Sequoia Forest Plan:
Wild and Scenic Rivers
The Sequoia Forest plan revision process began in 2012 with 75.5 miles of eligible wild and scenic rivers identified the 1990s. The 2016 Sequoia Forest draft plan revision stuck with the same 75 miles of eligible streams. Due to extensive drought-induced tree mortality, the Forest Service released a revised draft plan in 2019. The 2019 draft identified several addition eligible streams, totaling 329.6 miles of streams – more than a 300% increase in eligible stream miles. Many of the newly identified eligible streams are tributaries streams that contribute to the values of the existing North Fork and South Fork Kern Wild and Scenic Rivers.
An exciting aspect of the 2019 assessment is the potential for value-added protection of existing wild and scenic rivers and their watersheds. For example, the North Fork Kern Wild and Scenic River possesses one of the highest levels of biotic integrity in the Sierra Nevada, largely due to the protected wilderness and roadless areas, and free-flowing tributaries that make up its watershed. In the 2019 assessment, the Forest Service has identified dozens of tributaries of the North Fork as eligible for wild and scenic, which would provide a significant step towards watershed protection. With wild and scenic protection for the river’s key tributaries and the establishment of additional wilderness, we can ensure the permanent protection of the North Fork’s watershed and the biotic integrity and water quality of one of the longest wild and scenic rivers in California.
Organized by major watersheds, below are descriptions of eligible rivers and streams identified by the Forest Service as of 2019, as well as additional waterways that CalWild believes is eligible on the Sequoia National Forest, including Rattlesnake and Osa Creeks, and the entire North Fork Middle Fork of the Tule River. Although the Forest Service and Calwild’s descriptions note the eligible streams’ cultural values (including prehistory and history), no details are provided to preserve the integrity of these values (which are often site-specific and susceptible to vandalism).
While the agency’s evaluation of eligible wild and scenic rivers produced generally positive results, the Forest Service’s wilderness evaluation in the Sequoia draft plan produced was disappointing. Out of an inventory of 535,046 acres of roadless land that the Forest Service determine met wilderness inventory criteria, the 2019 draft plan only recommended a very modest 4,900 acre addition to the existing Monarch Wilderness east of Kennedy Meadow and the Kennedy Giant Sequoia Grove.
KINGS RIVER WATERSHED
Kings River (12.7 miles), Fresno County – The mighty Kings River forms the boundary between the Sequoia and Sierra National Forests. From its 13,000 foot high source in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, the Kings River has carved one of North America’s deepest canyons. Segments of the Middle and South Forks, and the main stem to elevation 1,350 feet, are already protected as National Wild and Scenic Rivers. But the main stem Kings below 1,350 feet elevation is not. In 1986, Congress established the Kings River Special Management Area encompassing the federal public lands along the main stem, reserving the right to approve any future dam project on the river. Fortunately, the Forest Service has already determined nearly 13 miles of the unprotected main stem to be eligible for wild and scenic protection. The Kings boasts a plethora of outstanding values, including scenery, recreation, wildlife, prehistory, and history values. The Kings is a popular class III-IV whitewater run for rafts and kayaks for visitors from all over California. The Kings River National Recreation Trail parallels several miles of the river. Several campgrounds along the river offer good base camps to explore the canyon. Due to its relatively low elevation, the Kings provides year round outdoor recreation opportunities. Wild trout, rare salamanders, and numerous raptors are found along the Kings, which is also critical winter range for two deer herds. The Kings flows through CalWild’s proposed addition to the Monarch Wilderness, which not only would protect ecosystems under-represented in the National Wilderness Preservation System, it would also ensure a protected migration corridor stretching from about 1,000 feet elevation in the Sierra foothills to the 13,000 foot-high crest of the Sierra Nevada for plants and animals in response to climate change.
Boulder Creek (11.6 miles), Fresno & Tulare Counties – From its source at Jennie Lake in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness, Boulder Creek flows north to its confluence with the South Fork Kings Wild and Scenic River. Along the way, it flows out of the Jennie Lakes Wilderness, through the only recommended wilderness in the Sequoia Forest Plan (the 4,900 acre Monarch Wilderness Addition South), and then into the existing Monarch Wilderness. The Forest Service found Boulder Creek to be eligible due to its outstanding geology value. The creek flows out of the ubiquitous granite pluton that dominate much of this Sierra Nevada region and into meta-volcanic and metasedimentary rock formations that make up the Boyden Cave roof pendent.
TULE RIVER WATERSHED
North Fork Middle Fork Tule River (2.8 miles), Tulare County – The North Fork Middle Fork Tule River begins at Summit Lake at elevation 9,400 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park and then almost immediately flows into the Giant Sequoia National Monument portion of the Sequoia Forest. This important tributary of the Middle Fork Tule then flows for more than 12 miles to its confluence with the South Fork Middle Fork Tule at about 2,500 feet elevation. The Forest Service only found the short upper segment of this river flowing through the Moses Research Natural Area to be eligible, in recognition of the Upper Tule Giant Sequoia groves. But there are amazing Giant Sequoias groves downstream of this eligible segment, along with scenic waterfalls, popular swimming holes and hiking trails, and diverse habitat as the river drops nearly 7,000 feet through multiple vegetation zones and ecosystems. CalWild believes that all 12 miles of the North Fork Middle Fork Tule, from its source in Sequoia National Park to its confluence with the South Fork Middle Fork Tule, should be determined eligible in recognition of its outstanding scenery, recreation, botanical (Giant Sequoia groves), and ecological (diverse ecosystems ranging from 9,400 to 2,500 feet in elevation) values. The popular Camp Wishon Campground provides a year-round base camp for exploring the North Fork Middle Fork, including hiking the Wishon Trail, which leads upstream through multiple Sequoia Groves and eventually connects with other trails that lead to the river’s source at Summit Lake and beyond. Downstream of Camp Wishon, the lower segment of the North Fork Middle Fork is a popular day use destination for visiting waterfalls and swimming in the river’s deep pools and water slides. Much of the river upstream of Camp Wishon is located in the proposed Moses addition to the Golden Trout Wilderness (previously recommend by the Forest Service in the Giant Sequoia National Monument Plan). Determining all 12 miles of the North Fork Middle Fork to be eligible meets the Forest Service’s guidelines to “Consider the entire river system, including the interrelationship between the main stem and its tributaries and their associated ecosystems which contain outstandingly remarkable values.” Further, eligibility for the entire North Fork Middle Fork Tule complements the agency’s eligibility findings for the Middle Fork Tule River and the South Fork Middle Fork Tule.
South Fork Middle Fork Tule River (12 miles), Tulare County – From its source high in the Greenhorn Mountains in Quaking Aspen Meadows, the South Fork Middle Fork Tule flows west to its confluence with the North Fork Middle Fork. The Forest Service found the entire South Fork Middle Fork to be eligible in recognition of the river’s outstanding scenery, recreation, and botany values. A beautiful bedrock granite stream with deep pools and falls, high meadows, and old growth forests, the South Fork offers outstanding scenery. The Belknap Campground on the river, and the nearby Quaking Aspen Campground near the river’s source bookend the popular Camp Nelson Trail, which meanders through the heart of the nearly 4,700 acre Belknap-McIntyre-Wheel Meadow Giant Sequoia Grove complex. The trail is popular for hiking, angling, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and backcountry skiing. Most of the South Fork Middle Fork upstream of Camp Nelson is located in the ecologically diverse and scenic Slate Mountain roadless area.
Belknap Creek (2.3 miles), Tulare County – This tributary of the South Fork Middle Fork flows from its source on the lower slopes of Jordan Peak to its confluence with the South Fork near the Belknap Campground. The Forest Service found the entire stream to be eligible due to its outstanding geology, prehistory, and history values. In its steep but short 4,000 foot drop, Belknap Creek flows through the Wishon Tule roof pendant of metasedimentary rocks, including schist, slate and marble, and the massive granite pluton that dominates much of the Sierra Nevada. Halfway down, the creek flows past the flat-topped perch of McIntyre Rock, a 350-foot tall granite formation thrusting out of the forested slope along the Hossack Trail.
Middle Fork Tule River (4.8 miles), Tulare County – The Middle Fork Tule River begins at the confluence of the North Fork Middle Fork and the South Fork Middle Fork. The Forest Service determined the river eligible due to its outstanding prehistory and history values. CalWild also believes the Middle Fork has outstanding scenery and recreation values. The river is a popular day use destination for local residents of Springville and Porterville, but it also attracts visitors from as far away as Los Angeles to its legendary waterfalls, pools and waterslides. Known for its class IV-V kayaking through narrow granite channels, chutes, and slides, expert kayaker and photographer Darin McQuoid considers the Middle Tule to be a “unique run” and one of the most (naturally) “channelized” bedrock rivers he has ever seen.
North Fork Tule River (3.9 miles), Tulare County – From its source at Summit Meadow in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, the North Fork Tule River flows southwest into the Giant Sequoia National Monument portion of the Sequoia National Forest. When it leaves the Monument/Forest, the North Fork flows for several miles through private lands to its confluence with the Middle Fork Tule River just upstream of Springville. The Forest Service found the North Fork on public lands to possess outstandingly remarkable recreation, prehistory, and history values. State fishing regulations requires the use of barbless hooks with a limit of two trout per day. The Forest Service considers this an outstanding fishing experience unique in the southern Sierra. CalWild believes that the 3 mile upper segment of the river within the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park is also eligible.
NORTH FORK KERN RIVER WATERSHED
Bull Run Creek (12.4 miles) & Deep Creek (4.2 miles), Kern & Tulare Counties – Bull Run Creek flows from its source in the Greenhorn Mountains to its confluence with the North Fork Kern Wild and Scenic River just north of the community of Kernville. The creek was determined by the Forest Service to be free flowing and to possess outstandingly remarkable geology, cultural, and history values. The creek crosses the Kern Canyon Fault, which has tilted a spectacular un-eroded marble band of rock almost vertically into the sky. The creek also has rare prehistory and history values. In addition, the creek is a favored local recreation destination for Kernville residents. An upper tributary of Bull Run Creek, Deep Creek also possess outstanding geology and prehistory values. The creek’s geology values is associated with the nearby Deep Creek Cave and the Tehachapi Metasedimentary roof pendant with large marble bands, through which the deeply incised creek runs. Bull Run Creek flows through CalWild’s proposed Stormy Canyon Wilderness.
Salmon Creek (13.6 miles), Tulare County – From its sources on Sirretta Peak and in Big Meadow, Salmon Creek flows west to its confluence with the North Fork Kern Wild and Scenic River. Not identified as an eligible stream in the 2016 draft plan, CalWild conducted its own study of this creek and nominated it as an eligible wild and scenic river. The Forest Service agreed in the 2019 draft Plan that the creek was eligible due to its outstanding scenery, recreation, wildlife, botany, history, and prehistory values. From its source at 9,000 feet elevation in the Twisselmann Botanical Area, Salmon Creek flows through some of the most diverse forest in the heart of the ecologically unique Kern Plateau. The stream provides habitat for rare salamanders and endangered Mountain yellow-legged frogs, meanders through large and small meadows past important history and prehistory sites, and then drops over scenic Salmon Creek Falls (the highest in the southern Sierra) on its way to its confluence with the North Fork. Hikers have access to most of Salmon Creek, including the Sirretta Peak Trail which follows the upper creek through the heart of the Twissellmann Botanical Area, and the Salmon Creek Trail, which parallels the creek between Big Meadow with Horse Meadow and then drops down to the top of Salmon Creek Falls. Located on the creek, Horse Meadow Campground provides an ideal base camp to explore this scenic creek and the wild country through which it flows. The upper creek flows from its source in CalWild’s proposed Dome Land West Wilderness Addition and the lower creek bisects CalWild’s proposed Cannell Peak Wilderness.
Brush Creek (9.9 miles), Tulare County – Despite its mundane name, Brush Creek flows from its source on the Kern Plateau through wet meadows and forests. In its last 1.5 miles, the creek drops over a spectacular series of water falls, smooth rock slides, and pools to its confluence with the North Fork Kern. The Forest Service found the creek to possess outstandingly remarkable scenery, recreation, geology, fish, and wildlife values. The creek hosts an annual competitive kayak race event that attracts boaters from all over California. The lower creek segment supports a remnant population of Kern River Rainbow Trout, a fish native to the North Fork Kern River that is a candidate for federal endangered species protection. The upper creek provides suitable habitat for the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog and the Kern Plateau slender salamander (a species of concern). Brush Creek flows through the northern portion of CalWild’s proposed Cannell Peak Wilderness.
Dry Meadow Creek, Nobe Young Creek, & Bone Creek (21.9 miles total), Tulare County – Dry Meadow Creek and its tributaries, Nobe Young and Bone Creeks, flow east from the Greenhorn Mountains to Dry Meadow Creek’s confluence with the North Fork Kern. The Forest Service found eligible 9.3 miles of Dry Meadow Creek, 8.1 miles of Nobe Young Creek, and 4.5 miles of Bone Creek in recognition of their outstanding scenery, recreation, fish, geology, history, and prehistory values. Dry Meadow Creek is probably best known for its famous class V “Teacups” whitewater kayak run. Further upstream at the confluence of Dry Meadow and Alder Creek is a popular natural water slide enjoyed by families. The Summit National Recreation Trail provides access to Dry Meadow Creek’s source at 8,400 feet elevation in Freeze Out Meadow. The State of California proposes to restore the Kern River rainbow trout to the clean, cold waters of Bone and Nobe Young Creeks.
Freeman Creek (7.4 miles), Tulare County – Freeman Creek drops from the high country of the Greenhorn Mountains through the pristine and beautiful Freeman Creek Giant Sequoia Grove – the largest and easternmost unlogged grove in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The President George H.W. Bush giant Sequoia tree is found near Freeman Creek. The Freeman Creek Trail parallels much of the creek and is popular with hikers and mountain bikers. The nearby Quaking Aspen campground provides a good base camp to explore this area. Recreation is a Forest Service identified outstandingly remarkable value of Freeman Creek, along with botany (Giant Sequoias and the Freeman Creek Botanical Area) and prehistory. Freeman Creek flows through a roadless area that could be added to the Golden Trout Wilderness.
Little Kern Lake Creek (3.1 miles), Tulare County – This upper tributary to the North Fork Kern begins at 11,000 feet elevation in glacial cirques, alpine lakes, and meadows, tumbling down 4,800 feet through a glaciated u-shaped canyon to its confluence with the North Fork. At the confluence is Little Kern Lake, an unusual instream lake created by a massive landslide in the 1800’s. The Forest Service found the creek eligible due to its outstanding geology and prehistory values.
Little Kern River (24.4 miles), Tulare County – Located in the Golden Trout Wilderness, the Little Kern River is a major tributary of the North Fork Kern. It is perhaps best known for its Little Kern golden trout, a federally listed threatened species. A state-designated Wild and Heritage Trout Water, the Forest Service found the river to possess outstanding scenery, recreation, geology, fish and wildlife values. The upper segment was shaped by the southernmost extent of glaciation in the Sierra Nevada and the river also supports endangered mountain yellow-legged frog, Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, and the Western pearlshell mussel, a species-at-risk. Many of the Little Kern’s tributaries were also found eligible due to the presence of Little Kern golden trout, including Deep Creek (4.8 miles), Fish Creek (5.8 miles), Clicks and North Fork Clicks Creek (5.8 miles & 2.5 miles), Mountaineer and South Fork Mountaineer Creek (5.5 miles & 3.1 miles), Table Meadow Creek (2.4 miles), Soda Spring Creek (7.2 miles), Lion Creek (3.5 miles), Willow Creek and Sheep Creek (4.3 miles & 2.8 miles), Tamarack Creek (3.9 miles), Rifle Creek (2.9 miles), Pistol Creek (2 miles), and Shotgun Creek (3.8 miles). Many of these tributaries also possess other outstanding values, including scenery, recreation, and prehistory.
Rattlesnake Creek (14.7 miles), Tulare County – A major tributary of the North Fork Kern, the Forest Service did not find Rattlesnake Creek to be eligible due to a supposed lack of outstanding values. Although the Forest Service acknowledges that the creek was the home of the Kern River rainbow trout, it was not identified as a priority restoration stream for the rare fish. And yet a 2015 report published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife identified Rattlesnake Creek as one of only three tributaries of the North Fork Kern where this fish species of special concern may still be found. CalWild believes that the Forest Service should identify Rattlesnake Creek as eligible for wild and scenic river protection due to its Kern River rainbow trout population and habitat. Much of the creek flows through CalWild’s proposed addition to the Golden Trout Wilderness.
Osa Creek (6 miles), Tulare County – The Forest Service did not find this North Fork tributary to be eligible, even though the California Department of Fish and Wildlife identified it as one of three North Fork tributaries that still support the rare Kern River rainbow trout. CalWild believes that the Forest Service should find it eligible due to its outstanding fish value. Recent restoration efforts have focused on the creek’s source in Osa Meadows. Most of the creek is located in the existing Golden Trout Wilderness, but a portion of the upper creek flows through a small but important addition to the wilderness.
LOWER KERN RIVER WATERSHED
Lower Kern Wild & Scenic River (33 miles), Kern County – The lower Kern River downstream of Isabella Dam was found eligible for wild and scenic protection by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Even though some of the river is diverted for hydroelectric generation, the river was determined to be free flowing and to possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreation, wildlife, and cultural/historic values. The lower Kern sinuously flows through a broad blue oak studded canyon in its upper reach and then descends dramatically through a granite-walled canyon choked with house-sized boulders upsteam of Bakersfield. The river offers a wide variety of class II-V whitewater boating, as well as day use recreation opportunities for Central Valley and Los Angeles area residents seeking relief from the summer heat. Its lush riparian habitat supports numerous wildlife species, including the rare Kern Canyon slender salamander. The canyon is also rich in the remnants of historic gold mining and Native American cultural values.
Greenhorn Creek (8.4 miles), Kern County – Flowing east from the Greenhorn Mountains to the lower Kern, Greenhorn Creek was found by the Forest Service to possess outstanding history, and prehistory values. The creek is perhaps best known by cavers, who explore the Greenhorn Creek Cave.
Lucas Creek (7.6 miles), Kern County – Lucas Creek flows west from the Piute Mountains to the lower Kern River. The stream was found eligible by the Forest Service due to its outstanding wildlife, history, and prehistory values. Despite the arid nature of the Piute Mountains, Lucas Creek is a veritable wildlife mecca. The creek provides suitable habitat for endangered mountain yellow-legged frog and Kern Canyon slender salamander. Endangered California condor forage in the drainage.
Stark Creek (7.4 miles), Kern County – A tributary of the lower Kern River, Stark Creek flows west out of the Piute Mountains. A rare oasis of water in the dry Piute Mountains, Stark Creek supports the very rare Kern Canyon slender salamander. Endangered California condor are also present along the creek.
Middle & South Forks Erskine Creek (2.4 miles & 6.9 miles), Kern County – Located in the Piute Mountains, the Forest Service found the Middle Fork Erskine Creek to be eligible due to its outstanding botany, geology, and wildlife values. The Middle Fork flows around the base of the granite marble outcrop, Inspiration Point through a tilted roof pendent of schists, marble, and hornfels. The Inspiration Point Botanical Area through which the stream flows represents a unique ecosystem. The Middle and South Forks are two perennial streams that occur in the heart of the Piute Mountains, supporting a wide variety of wildlife, including many species of butterfly and migratory birds, slender salamanders, and endemic land snails. With lower Erskine Creek, the Middle and South Forks provides an important wildlife migration corridor.
SOUTH FORK KERN RIVER WATERSHED
South Fork Kern River (1 mile), Kern County – When Congress added to the Dome Land Wilderness in 1984, it left out the last mile of the South Fork Kern River upstream of the National Forest boundary. Similarly, Congress left this one mile segment out of the 1987 legislation that protected more than 72 miles of the South Fork as a National Wild & Scenic River. The reason was because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had issued a preliminary permit for a proposed small hydroelectric project on this segment. Conservation groups argued successfully that the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act required consideration of extending the protected river corridor to include the one mile orphan segment as an alternative to hydroelectric development. Consequently the Forest Service conducted a study and in 1991 found the 1 mile segment to be free flowing and to possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, wildlife, cultural (history & prehistory), and ecological values. The eligible segment was recommended by the Forest Service for addition to the South Fork Wild and Scenic River – a recommendation that Congress has yet to act on. This eligibility and suitability finding was reaffirmed in the Sequoia Forest Plan Revision.
Lost Creek (9.4 miles), Tulare County – Located entirely in the South Sierra Wilderness, Lost Creek was determined by the Forest Service to possess outstanding recreation, fish, and prehistory values. The creek provides angling for wild golden trout and is a state designated Wild Trout Stream.
Bitter Creek (3.3 miles), Tulare County – Forming the southern boundary of the South Sierra Wilderness, Bitter Creek parallels the Sherman Pass Road before connecting with the South Fork Kern Wild and Scenic River in Kennedy Meadows. The creek was found eligible by the Forest Service due to its outstanding recreation, fish, and prehistory values. The creek provides high quality opportunities to fish for golden trout and is a state-designated Wild Trout Stream.
Fish Creek (23.4 miles), Tulare County – From its source near 9,600 foot-high Black Mountain, Fish Creek flows south to its confluence with the South Fork Kern Wild and Scenic River in the Dome Land Wilderness. The lower 1/3rd of the creek is located in the wilderness. The Forest Service found the creek to possess outstandingly remarkable fish, wildlife, and prehistory values. Rare on the Sequoia Forest, great gray owls, as well as the more common but still sensitive Northern goshawk, forage in the creek’s adjacent meadows and forests. The stream supports a remnant population of golden trout and is a candidate for recovery efforts.
Trout Creek (15.7 miles), Tulare County – From its source high on the Kern Plateau, Trout Creek flows southeast through diverse conifer forests and meadows to the brushlands of the Dome Land Wilderness. Most of the stream is located in the wilderness. The Forest Service-identified outstandingly remarkable values of Trout Creek include fish and prehistory. The lower segment of Trout Creek in the wilderness is a critical aquatic refuge for golden trout and is a prime candidate for golden trout recovery actions. Although not yet determined eligible by the Forest Service, Little Trout and Machine Creeks are important tributaries to Trout Creek because they provide a significant amount of the creek’s flow. More importantly, these three tributaries and the main stem of Trout Creek are part of a Forest Service-proposed Conservation Watershed that provides high quality habitat and functionally intact ecosystems contributing to the persistence of at-risk fish and wildlife species. These tributaries are also located in CalWild’s proposed western addition to the Dome Land Wilderness.
Jacks Creek (4.4 miles), Kern County – From its source in the Scodie Mountains in the Kiavah Wilderness, Jacks Creek flows east and north to its confluence with Canebreak Creek, which flows into the South Fork Kern River. The Forest Service determined the creek to be eligible due to its outstandingly remarkable wildlife values. Jacks Creek is an important water source for wildlife in a very dry area. The water in Jacks Creek supports willows that provide habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.