It Takes More than Stocking for World-Class
Eastern Sierra Fishing Connecting Eastern Sierra Watersheds and Land for Fish and Wildlife.
First published by Western Outdoor News on April 15, 2022.
Bishop, CA: The much-anticipated Eastern Sierra trout season opener is almost here!
Before you grab those rods and reels and head out to your secret fishing holes, cast an eye
to what is happening on the land and water affecting your favorite world-class fisheries.
More Than Planting
Keeping streams full of fish takes more than just stocking. Outdoor recreation relies on
clean, flowing water and undeveloped natural spaces, just as fish rely on them for
survival. Healthy streams need permanent connections to fresh water sources. “All those
critters that live in water, one of their climate resiliency strategies is to move and find
cold, clean water,” according to CDFW Director Chuck Bonham in a recent California
Natural Resource Agency talk with Secretary Crowfoot. When connections are
interrupted, devastating changes are felt upstream and downstream, blocking access to
food sources and spawning grounds.
In Southern California rivers, runs of tens of thousands of steelhead salmon have dropped
to less than five hundred, largely due to disrupted habitat. Now, though, we have the
& collective will, tools, and funding to actually make a difference and reconnect habitat
according to Dr. Sandra Jacobson, Director of CalTrouts South Coast and Sierra
Work Being Done
Concerned groups are working to keep Eastern Sierra habitats connected. With the
support of a growing membership, Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) works with willing
landowners and funders to permanently protect vital private lands through conservation
easements. The 22,000 acres ESLT has protected provide a natural buffer to nearby
public lands where we camp, fish, and hike. These family farms and ranches remain
forever undeveloped, wide-open landscapes where mule deer forage on bitterbrush and
fish swim through miles of rivers and streams.
Connecting Eastern Sierra Habitats
Extreme weather, wildfire, and development play roles in shrinking vital habitats. Mule
deer have narrow migration corridors pinched by development and highways, making access to food
sources challenging. “Animals out in the desert that survive on wetlands, their ability to move between
habitats in the face of climate change is a core species adaptation strategy,” Director Bonham continues.
“Protect the last best places, reconnect those places, and restore the landscape,” he advises.
Thankfully, ESLT works to protect the habitat of mule deer, an iconic species of the West, to the benefit
of other species as well. “Our wildlife habitat is abundant and diverse, supporting fisheries, migrating
deer herds, and important bird flyways. This majestic landscape is a harmony of many distinct lands
needing us to care for it and protect it,” says Kay Ogden, ESLT’s Executive Director/CEO.
Other ways to connect fragmented habitats include wildlife crossings over and under busy roadways.
These provide mule deer and other animals safer passage to water and food and when migrating between
winter and summer ranges. Such a community project is in the works by a collaborative group of
agencies and organizations including ESLT. The Mammoth Lakes 395 Wildlife Crossing project seeks to
reduce wildlife and vehicle collisions on Highway 395 near the Mammoth Lakes Airport. Follow updates
A Wetland Without Water
If you’ve spent time in the Eastern Sierra, you are likely aware that water is a hot topic and has been for
decades. LADWP owns much of the land and diverts water to Los Angeles. In 2018, 6,000 acres of
wetlands and meadows were dewatered in the Long Valley and Little Round Valley regions of Mono
County. Matt McClain, who serves on the Keep Long Valley Green Coalition and ESLT’s Advisory
Council, noted “Invertebrate life is the base food chain for all our fish in the watershed. If that landscape
dries out, cheatgrass and Russian thistle, invasive plants prone to fire, move in. Then we have dusty
conditions like at the Owens Dry Lake.” Keeping this waterway flowing is just as vital to recreation on
the Upper Owens River as it is to wildlife, native plants, and sustainable cattle operations. Watch the
newly released short film “Without Water” from the Keep Long Valley Green Coalition for far-reaching
impacts of this ongoing dispute.
Lend a Hand on the Land
Keeping landscapes and waterways free of litter protects wildlife as well as improves our enjoyment of
these special places. Join the many volunteers for the Owens River Annual Cleanup on Saturday, April
23rd hosted by fishing guide Chris Leonard, CalTrout, Trout Unlimited, California Waterfowl
Association, ESLT, and LADWP. Also, watch for the Great Sierra River Cleanup later this summer.
While you’re out soaking up this amazing place, participate in the work connecting vital habitats for now
and for future generations. It takes all of us to protect what makes the Eastern Sierra so special.
Happy Opener, anglers!
About Eastern Sierra Land Trust
Eastern Sierra Land Trust is a nationally accredited land trust based in Bishop, CA. ESLT, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, works with willing landowners to protect vital lands in the Eastern Sierra region for
their scenic, agricultural, natural, recreational, historical, and watershed values. Learn more about
ESLT’s work and how to get involved at www.eslt.org.