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Watersheds of the Modoc Summer 2004


Kids Discovery Day:
Thursday, August 5 at the River Center. Join us for a day of discovery and fun for kids and the kid in all of us. Please call the River Center for more information 530-233-5085.

Modoc District Fair ~ Modoc a Playground in the Wilderness:
August 19, 20, 21, and 22, Cedarville, CA. Be sure to visit the Central Modoc RCD and River Center booth at the fair.

5th Annual Modoc Migratory Bird Festival ~ Cranes for All Seasons:
September 10, 11 and 12, Alturas, CA. This promises to be one of the most spectacular family events of the year!! Hundreds of participants gather annually to learn more about Modoc's migratory birds and the Pit River watershed.

3rd Annual Pit River Clean Up Day:
September 18—Help us give the Pit River a good cleaning! Last year about 40 folks hauled in over a ton of trash.

Is your property in the City of Alturas subject to flooding?
The City of Alturas, in cooperation with the Central Modoc RCD will be holding a public meeting later this summer to kick off the development of a stormwater management plan for the City of Alturas. Public input is encouraged so please watch the local newspaper for this public meeting date.

2nd Annual Goose Roundup — Held June 19
This certainly wasn't your typical roundup with horses, cowdogs and cowboys. An airboat driven by US Fish and Wildlife Biologist Bill Henry was used to carefully catch flightless geese with large fishing nets. The geese were then brought inland and placed in large holding pens were participants banded, collared and released them unharmed back into the wild. The plastic neck collars provide Modoc National Wildlife Refuge biologists with valuable information about the Canada Geese that nest on the refuge.

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By Cliff Harvey, Central Modoc Resource Conservation District Watershed Coordinator

Day in the District

Our "Day in the District" tour of watershed projects managed to dodge the rain drops long enough to get a good look at a few of our most recent projects, have a good discussion of watershed management issues for Modoc County, and take a nice break for lunch in an aspen grove on Wither Creek.

Our first stop was the Talbott project, just outside Alturas on the South Fork of the Pit. Excavation and most of the revegetation is done and there is additional work slated for this summer and fall. For the first time in over 50 years, soil was deposited instead of washed away at the site in last winter's floods.

Then we looked at the Godfrey Tract project, which has been growing in for two years now. Habitat values are much greater now, and erosion at the site has been nearly eliminated. Need for some maintenance was pointed out. A factor to remember when planning any watershed project.

The tour wrapped up at Witcher Creek Ranch where Glen and Marie Nader provided lots of chips, dips, sodas and fresh home grown cherries to go with our bag lunches, followed by a tour of the newly completed Witcher Creek project. Nearly a half mile of new channel structures are providing a variety of benefits: The water table in the adjacent meadow is rising; the creek has better flood plain access, thus decreasing the erosion hazard; and the habitat value of the creek is greatly improved. We hope to stock a few redband trout in there someday. Glen pointed out that he started with 6 pastures and now has 16 pastures. This new riparian and cross fencing has greatly increased the forage production and utilization of forage on the ranch, while also protecting and enhancing habitat and water quality.

All of these sites illustrate that multiple benefits can be achieved when landowners take advantage of the partnerships available through their R.C.D.

New this summer: The Pit River Fencing Initiative will provide one-on-one assistance for landowners in the development of ranch water quality plans. This assistance will soon be available through Central Modoc R.C.D. in cooperation with the local University of California Farm Advisor.

This program will assist landowners in documenting and monitoring water quality conditions and trends for their property. It will also help in finding and fixing water and soil conservation problems by making it easier to qualify for various state and federal grant programs and for project permits.

As an incentive to participation, the program will provide fencing materials to landowners who agree to install and maintain riparian pastures and corridors as part of the planning process. Call us for more information!

Other new projects starting up soon:

  • Riparian restoration for a reach of the North Fork Pit River at the X-L Ranch in cooperation with the Pit River Tribe.
  • Riparian restoration and wetland enhancement for a reach of the Pit River in cooperation with John & Sally Clark.
  • Revegetation demonstration sites on the Pit River, in cooperation with Bob Heard and the Bill Valena family.
  • New meadow fencing for Dry Creek Basin in cooperation with Warren Weber and Chris MacPherson.
  • Channelization remediation for over 2 miles of the South Fork of the Pit River, in cooperation with the Flournoy, Hagedorn, and Morris families.
  • Plus many others in the early planning stages. CMRCD welcomes new cooperators! Bring your ideas to us and we will work with you to meet your conservation goals!
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Hundreds of Students Adopt a Watershed Project

By Lynda Demsher, River Center Volunteer


"So, what do we need to do here," River Center Education Coordinator Laura VanAcker asked the group of secondgraders sitting in the grass.

Nearly all the Alturas Elementary School students circled around VanAcker raised their hands. She pointed to one, than another, and heard the children's ideas for the site they will be working on for years to come as part of the new Pit River Watershed Adoption Project.

"Plant more trees," recommended several students.

"Clean out the bird boxes," a boy suggested, after telling about a dead bird he saw in a nesting box.

"Clean up the dead trees," others contributed. VanAcker explained that dead trees provide wildlife habitat until they decay into the ground, where they help build the soil so new plants and trees can grow up where the old one died.

"It's all part of life," she said as a pair of geese flew up from a nest in the meadow behind her and honked overhead. Squinting second-grade eyes, newly aware of the concept of "habitat," followed the geese across the sky.

The Pit River Watershed Adoption Project is a cooperative effort to give students and members of the community who want to participate, a hands-on opportunity to learn what it takes to maintain a healthy watershed for the animals and people who depend on it. Although the Pit River does not flow through the project area, the site is in the river's watershed, since it provides runoff into the Pit River.

The River Center, Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, Alturas Elementary School, Modoc Middle School, Modoc High School's Natural Resources Academy, the Modoc National Forest, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Pit River Watershed Alliance, the Bureau of Land Management, CALFED, the State Water Resources Control Board and community volunteers have all had a hand in getting the project going.

Although only students in the Alturas Elementary School have been involved so far, with more than 400 expected to visit this month, the project will be opening to Modoc Middle School and High School and to other school districts in the area as well, once it gets established.

The project is still "getting off the ground," according to the River Center's other Education Coordinator Paula Fields, but plans to expand the number of students involved are being made.

Alturas Elementary School Principal Randy Wise says the program is a great cooperative effort that will provide his students with a variety of experiences.

"They can go back every year and see how things are growing, what needs changing or what else needs to be done," he said. "They can also see the benefits of the work being done out there."

Every grade is scheduled to visit this year, he said, and so far, the kids and teachers are enjoying the experiences.

The area selected for the Adoption Project is on the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, south of the main entrance, where the Junior Hunt is held in the fall. The area is also known as the Sub-Headquarters because it used to have a house on it that was used by the assistant refuge manager. Before that, it was the Sharky Dorris homestead. The Dorris house was eventually moved to a site near the Dorris Reservoir so the area could be encouraged to revert back to wildlife habitat.

A fairy-garden of sunlit orange poppies are the only remnants of the dooryard that once opened onto green fields and the mountain vistas beyond. The 20-acre area, with a pond where coots occasionally complain, a ditch that's been there so long it has it's own habitat, and a forest of mostly dead trees, could use some attention.


VanAcker said she saw the potential of the site when putting the project together for the school children, and "can't thank Steve enough" for giving permission to use it. The whole effort depends on the cooperation of the Refuge, the schools, volunteers and several other agencies, and that has been "wonderful," she added.

Clay says he approved the site for the Watershed Adoption Project because it has a large, paved parking lot for school busses, a restroom, and will provide several projects for the students while improving the area for wildlife.

"The two uses blend nicely – it has a variety of projects for the school groups which will all enhance the habitat out there," Clay said. An added bonus will be the additional uses for the public that come with the improvements.

"We wanted to provide more public use other than the auto tour area and this will help us do that," he said. The site has a pond, flowing water, a perfect place to encourage a wetland area, and with a little encouragement, would be more inviting as a nesting area for a variety of birds, from migratory waterfowl to songbirds.

"It would make a great spring-summer bird watching area," Clay said. "We may even construct an observation tower out there for bird watching."

Projects the students will be working on as they progress up grade levels in school include: animal and plant observations and inventories, soil sampling, water quality monitoring, planting projects, stream bank restoration, and other enhancement projects designed to help wildlife habitat as well as provide a serene setting for people to enjoy. The students will create a portfolio of their work, including pictures, graphs, plans and reflective journal entries, that will follow them through the grades so they can document each improvement or learning activity, and monitor progress.

"It's a place-based learning project that the students will be working on each year so they can experience the changes that will be taking place," said VanAcker. "The students will be in on the planning process and will provide ideas for us to get started on," she said. "We want it to be their design and their project."

The Warner Mountains, misty-blue under mounds of thunderheads, provide the perfect backdrop for an outdoor classroom where the second-graders are lead to "stations" providing specific projects for them. At VanAcker's station in the meadow, the students are asked to pick a tree and then report back all they discover about their particular tree. At a station near the water, Shirley Clay leads the students in a variety of exercises to make them aware of all the nature they can absorb with their senses.

At the third station, out in a field, students are made aware of what a biologist does - by a real biologist. Modoc National Wildlife Refuge Biologist Shannon Ludwig shows the students how a biologist uses binoculars to spot wildlife, and demonstrates how quiet one has to be in order to observe.


"There's a special noise you can make to get the birds to come in," he tells the students, who still haven't quite gotten the concept of not walking while looking through binoculars.

"Pssssst, psssssst," Ludwig demonstrates. Then in a few minutes, "See, some birds have landed on that branch over there," he whispers. A dozen pair of binoculars pressed up against eyes swing in the direction he points. Birdwatchers are born.

After another quiet moment around a duck's nest where the second graders marvel over four, dusty-blue eggs, the eager children finally get to make noise again during the last exercise Ludwig has planned for them. Ludwig explaining how several things work together to contribute to the health and welfare of wildlife, the instructs the students to act out their own version of "working together." They line up, then fall back, trying to sit in each other's laps, domino-fashion, without falling over. Being second-graders, they do it with the grace of goslings suddenly pushed backward out of harm's way by a protective mother goose.

Topping off all the learning activities, is of course, a picnic in the grass, in the shade, between the pond and the stream. Happy voices mingle with the sounds of the place: rushing water, complaining coots, distant goose greetings, a meadowlark's trill, and the distant tapping of a woodpecker working on a hollow tree. A teacher calls the morning "awesome" and says she always learns something new on Refuge field trips. A student says maybe picnic tables should be added to the list of things "we need to do out here."

We hope this program will give students a sense of pride in their community and an opportunity to visit and watch the positive changes that they will help create. Anyone interested in helping with the project can call Laura VanAcker at 530-233-4656 or 530-233-5085. break line

Pit River Watershed Fun Facts

By James Rickert, Pit River Watershed Alliance Coordinator


The Upper Pit River Watershed assessment is in the final stages! There still are a few loose ends to tie, but the document will be released soon. Below are a few "fun facts" about the watershed to satisfy curiosity. Enjoy!

Land Use and Demographics:
The Pit River watershed encompasses 3,415 square miles. Land ownership in the Upper Pit River Watershed is approximately 60% public and 40% private.

In 1867, James Townsend established the first permanent white settlement in Surprise Valley in Modoc County. Most areas of the watershed were settled by 1871. Population in the watershed has experienced a steady overall climb over the years. The largest drop in the area's population came during the economically and politically troubled times from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. According to US census data, approximately 20% of the residents in the watershed have lived in poverty for the last ten years.

Water in the Pit River Watershed is always controversial. Water is diverted during the winter into reservoirs, which save water for the summer irrigation season. Nearly 70 percent of the total water storage capacity is associated with four reservoirs, including Big Sage, Moon Lake, West Valley, and Dorris.

Precipitation is highly correlated with Pit River flows. In Canby, the lowest recorded Pit River flow in was in 1934, with an average annual flow at 19.7 cfs (cubic feet per second). This was in response to the 1929-1934 drought. More recently, river flows and precipitation were recorded during 2001, with annual precipitation during 2001 as the lowest on record, and the average annual flows were the third lowest in recorded history.

The largest recorded flood occurred on March 8, 1904 and was estimated to have a peak flow of 13,000 cfs. On February 19, 1984 the second largest recorded flood occurred, with a peak flow of 9,180 cfs.

Fish History:
Naturally occurring fish populations have changed over time. In order to maintain balanced fish populations and to provide for the demand of anglers, fish planting has become the norm. The earliest planting records found for the Pit River date back to 1908. Did you know that the Mount Shasta Hatchery is the oldest active fish hatchery in the West? It was started in 1888 and is responsible for planting over eight million trout in the Upper Pit River Watershed between 1930 and 2002.

Wildlife is abundant in the Pit River watershed. Oddly enough, many wildlife species found in the watershed were not here historically. Wild horse, rock dove, European starling, muskrat, feral cat, ring-necked pheasants, and wild turkeys are all introduced species. Endangered species, such as the greater sandhill crane and the bald eagle proliferate in the Pit River Watershed. The greater sandhill crane is found throughout the watershed, but is most prolific in Modoc County. Modoc and Shasta Counties have the highest densities of nesting bald eagles in California.

Fire History:
Lightning related fires make up 35% of all fires in the watershed. Prescribed burns encompass nearly 15% of all fires in the watershed. The largest lightning fire in recorded history was the Glass Mountain Fire in 1910, located in the western portion of the watershed, burning 107,912 acres. The most recent large fire was the Blue Fire, burning a total of 34,000 acres in the South Warner Mountains.

*Fun Facts are taken from the Upper Pit River Watershed Assessment draft. None of the facts or figures is warranted.

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Central Modoc Resource Conservation District

Dick Mackey, President
David Hoxsey, Vice President
Valerie Coe, Jerry Hoxsey, & Chico Pedotti

Laura Shinn, Business Manager
Cliff Harvey, Watershed Coordinator
Paula Fields, Education Coordinator
Laura VanAcker, Education Coordinator

CMRCD meets the 3rd Tuesday of every month.
Anyone is welcome to attend!