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South Fork Kern

Wilderness Record Recap: A vision in 1978 for the South Kern Watershed turned wildly successful

In the Sep-Oct 1978 issue of our “Wilderness Record,” CalWild board member Bob Barnes wrote a short article sharing a vision of protecting and preserving as much as possible of the entire 736,573 acres of the South Fork Kern River Watershed and bordering lands outside the watershed proper. This long-term strategy to protect the South Fork Kern River and its watershed was wildly successful.

The South Fork begins in the Golden Trout Wilderness east of Cottonwood Pass in the Inyo National Forest and flows south into the South Sierra and Domeland Wilderness areas in the Sequoia National Forest. The river flows in its north/south orientation through an unparalleled range of relatively unaltered habitats with an astounding array of values.

Recap by former CalWild Board Member, Bob Barnes:

The success to date of realizing this vision is beyond impressive, and the number of individuals and organizations involved over the past 45 years is equally impressive; including CalWild.

Partners along the way who have helped make these conservation efforts successful are hereby recognized – as credit fosters credibility, making it easier for positive conservation actions to transpire. A few of those organizations include the County of Kern, Defenders of Wildlife; Friends of the River, National Audubon Society (& scores of Audubon Chapters across the USA), Native American Land Conservancy, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pacific Crest Trail Association – just to name a few.

Results to date include an impressive 736,573 acres of Congressionally designated wilderness in 8 wilderness areas.

  • 59,042 acres of private land now under conservation management by both private and public entities
  • 72.5 miles of Congressionally designated South Fork Kern Wild and Scenic River through Inyo and Sequoia National Forest (along with 78.5 miles of the North Fork Kern) in 1986
  • Protection of scores of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and much of the South Fork Kern watershed with the Congressional designation of the South Sierra Wilderness in 1984 and the Domeland Wilderness additions, Kiavah, Chimney Peak, Sacatar Trail, and Bright Star Wilderness areas in 1994.
  • 10,561 acre South Fork Kern River Valley Globally Important Bird Area (one of the first 10 Globally IBAs designated as in the USA)
  • 319,846 acre Southern Sierra Desert Canyons Important Bird Area
  • 6,508 acres now owned and managed by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife
  • 25,316 acres owned and managed by Cal State Parks
  • 5,242 acres owned and managed by Audubon-California
  • 5,108 acres now owned and managed by the Kern River Valley Heritage Foundation
  • 2,913 acres owned and managed by Mojave Desert Land Trust,
  • Repatriation of 1,246 acres to the local Tubatulabal Native American community
  • 240 acres to the Native American Land Conservancy
  • Establishment in 1990 of the conservation biology Kern River Research Center (now Southern Sierra Research Station)

Most recently, CalWild was deeply involved in the Forest Service’s Sequoia National Forest Plan Revision, which was finalized in 2023. In response to the advocacy of CalWild and other conservation groups and activists, the Forest Service determined that key tributaries of the South Fork Kern are eligible for Wild and Scenic River protection, including Lost Creek, Fish Creek, and Trout Creek. Consequently, the free-flowing character and outstandingly remarkable recreation, fish, and prehistory values of these eligible tributaries are administratively protected.


It all starts with a vision, and it’s these very visions, accompanied by resolute dedication, that pave the way for triumphs in preserving our natural landscapes. Witnessing achievements such as the South Kern Watershed’s success is a motivating force that instills us with optimism, assuring us that our ongoing initiatives will persist in achieving success in the years to come.