Homesteading in the Klamaths (Part One) - Goldmines and Salmon Streams

Bryan Souza at China Creek minesite, Siskiyou County, California

Happy Camp was as a mining and fishing outpost during the California gold rush.   Booming in the 1850's, it “lived fast and died young” and was abandoned by 1863.[1] Hydraulic mining had washed the hillsides down to bedrock and clogged the salmon creeks.   One such scene was the China Creek minesite, eight miles from Happy Camp near the homestead of Bryan and Laurel.
Our goal is to become reasonably self-sufficient while improving the health of the forest and waters through restoration projects. Bryan and Laurel's profile at WWOOF-USA[2]
Homesteading so deep in the Klamath National Forest, with its endless "Knots"[3] of steep ravines and ridges, Bryan and Laurel depend heavily on their surrounding ecosystems.  From China Creek they pump water for both drinking and irrigating their gardens.  The forests sustain their goatherd which in turn sustain the homesteaders with milk and meat.  And hopefully one day they can feast on salmon like the Karuk natives had, once the damage of gold mining has been repaired and fish populations recover.

Hydraulic Mining at Happy Camp, Siskiyou County, California
Hydraulic Mining depicted on a Happy Camp mural.

 Gold Mining - A Destructive Legacy 
Hydraulic mining excavated 11 million ounces of gold by the 1880's -- $13.5 billion in today's prices.[4] By creating wealth for themselves miners destroyed it for others. Flooding and sediment deposition ruined shipping lanes, towns and farmlands. In fact it was the lawsuits of farmers that finally ended hydraulic mining in 1884.  But ecosystems suffered beyond a quick natural recovery.

High pressure hoses literally disintegrated whole hillsides and washed them into rivers, and gold dredges physically devoured whole rivers, throwing the gravel out of the stream channels and onto the banks where, in many places, it remains today. [5]
Such scars still dominate the landscape of lower China Creek.  Rock piles line the barren streambanks; original soil levels tower above the minesite, eroded down by often 20 or 30 feet.  Worst of all, the miners wrecked the creek's hydrology, both by diverting it into reservoirs for hose pressure and by channeling it directly into the Klamath River, speeding up its transit time, washing away sediment and erasing aquatic habitat.

China Creek minesite, Siskiyou County, California

Google's satellite mode (above) shows the minesite's rocky infertility and lack of vegetation.  Google's terrain mode (below) shows the depth to which hydraulic mining blasted away earth.

China Creek minesite, Siskiyou County, California

Rock piles at China Creek minesite, Siskiyou County, California
Bryan standing on bedrock along the piles.

Erosion at China Creek minesite, Siskiyou County, California
Former soil level above current, eroded level.

Restoration of the Creek
Building soil and an orchard on the rocky flats may be a future goal, but the current priority is the salmon and the creek.  In this endeavor, variation is the goal.  Creeks that bend and dip, that have varying depths, speeds, temperatures and substrates provide more aquatic habitat.   Therefore, anything that helps diversify --  rock piles, log jams, and even additions via erosion -- all contribute to restoring the creek's character.

1. Building Pools.
Rocks piled by Chinese miners 150 years ago are now re-piled by Bryan into the creek.  The resulting pools gather sediment for salmon to spawn in.  During my visit (October, 2016) I saw several Chinook salmon spawning in Bryan's pools, a new occurrence over the past few years.

Bryan Souza restoring salmon spawning pools at China Creek, Siskiyou County, California
Bryan and his hand-made salmon pool.

Salmon spawning pool at China Creek, Siskiyou County, California
Goats cross the downstream wall of Bryan's pool.

2. Creating Meander.
The miners channeled the creek into a straight, rocky permanence, unfortunately for the ecosystem of the creek, which would've naturally snaked over time as its currents carved out new banks.  Therefore, added obstacles can help force the creek out of the channel and into new bends.  Such was the case after a wildfire on the hills delivered dead trees into the creek, jamming it, and turning a straight 200-foot segment into a meandering 400-foot detour.

Downed trees from wildfire in Klamath National Forest
Results from a wildfire that burnt 100,000 acres in 2014.

Downed trees from wildfire in China Creek, Klamath National Forest
Log jam that forced China Creek into a new route.

3. Clearing Brush.
Another major problem with the creek is the bushy overgrowth along its banks. (This is also the number one problem with the forests, according to Bryan.)  Due mainly the the suppression of fire that historically kept them in check, understory shrubs like invasive blackberry have spread so densely that they smother ecosystem diversity and habitats.  They also block deposits into the creek, like sediment that salmon would spawn in or larger debris that would create habitat.  Enter the goats.  They happily clear the brush, converting it to milk and meat while covering their own feed bills.

Goats cross the rocky flats of the former minesite.

Blackberry invasive removal along China Creek, Siskiyou County, California
Raspberry defoliated, weakened and eventually killed by goats.

[1] Remi Nadeau, Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of California (1965)
[2] "Ecological Literacy on the Klamath," (host profile) WWOOF USA [link]
[3] David Rains Wallace, The Klamath Knot (1983)
[4] "Hydraulic Mining," wikipedia [link]
[5] Jim Lichatowich, Salmon without Rivers (Washington D.C., 1999): p. 57-58

1 comment:

  1. All these pictures are so beautiful and soothing to eyes. it is very important to protect and safe guard our forests and trees as they are very important for our environment.