by Steve Evans, Wild Rivers Director (photo of Devil’s Hole by Ruth Nolan)
When I was a kid growing up in the Mojave Desert, my family would pack up the towels and a picnic lunch on hot summer days and drive to northern edge of the San Bernardino Mountains to swim in the cool pools of Deep Creek. Little did I know that I would play a role in protecting this stream 55 years later.
It all started 30 years ago when I started working statewide to encourage the Forest Service and other federal land management agencies in California to study rivers and streams on public lands for potential Wild & Scenic River protection. One of the first tasks that confronted me when I started this work in 1988 was to figure out how well the Forest Service accomplished this mandate in its final San Bernardino National Forest Plan. I worked closely with Joyce Burke, a local desert resident and Sierra Club activist on this issue, and other volunteers.
In the 1989 Forest Plan, the Forest Service determined that more than 20 miles of Deep Creek between Running Springs and its confluence with the Mojave River were eligible for Wild & Scenic protection. Joyce and I appealed this finding, arguing that since Deep Creek flowed through the Deep Creek Inventoried Roadless Area, most of the creek should have been classified as a wild river. Ultimately, the Forest agreed to reconsider its classification of the creek.
Sixteen years later, the 2005 San Bernardino Forest Plan Revision finally recognized half of Deep Creek as a Wild river, with the remainder classified as Scenic. The revised plan also identified 15 miles of Holcomb Creek, a major Deep Creek tributary, eligible for protection. Four years later, we worked with Senator Dianne Feinstein to include Deep and Holcomb Creeks as proposed Wild & Scenic Rivers in her California Desert Protection Act of 2010.
Several iterations of this legislation later, the U.S. Senate passed an omnibus public lands bills at the beginning of 2019 that includes Sen. Feinstein’s Desert Bill, including the provision protecting Deep and Holcomb Creeks as Wild & Scenic Rivers. This bill is now under consideration in the House of Representatives.
To secure permanent protection for our threatened public wild places requires persistence and patience. It also “takes a village” of local activists and professional groups like CalWild, as well as dedicated champions who never give up – like Sen. Feinstein. A personal connection is helpful to develop the needed commitment. That’s why I make it a point to always visit those rivers and areas for which I am seeking administrative or legislative protection. With Deep Creek, that personal connection goes all the way back to grammar school days.
When the omnibus public lands package finally passes Congress and is signed by the President, Deep and Holcomb Creeks will be permanently protected for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The creek’s diverse vegetation (montane forest, riparian habitat, and pinyon/chaparral), wild trout and other sensitive fish and wildlife species, Native American cultural values, and more than 15 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail winding its way through a spectacular and scenic canyon will all be protected as well. To celebrate, I’ll have to visit Deep Creek and once again swim in its cool and crystal clear pools.