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Published: August 8th 2007
Spring has arrived early this year in Central California. With two free days a few weeks ago, I decided to take advantage of this and visit Yosemite NP. While Yosemite has the name and the goods to prove its spectacular, the Los Banos National Wildlife Refuge only has the goods. Both places were a great escape, especially the incredibly dense flocks of birds at the Wildlife Refuge. I dont think I'll ever forget the sounds of their wings and their squawking when the whole flock- tens of thousands of birds- took off all at once. (Wildlife pictures on last page)
Tragic to find out less than 10% of California's Central Valley wetlands remain, lost forever to agriculture. Not that Agriculture is bad- In 2004 agriculture brought in $31.8 billion in revenue. But the intensity to which it destroyed seasonal lakes and wildlife habitat is shocking. Take Tulare lake for example.
"During the early history of the San Joaquin Valley, most of the land which was later to become Kings County was covered by a large fresh water lake, said to have been the largest in the western United States. Supplied with waters brought from the Sierra-Nevada mountains via the
Kings, Kaweah and Tule Rivers, this body of water was named Tulare Lake for the tules, or bullrushes, which grew thickly around it. An 1892 description by Thomas H. Thompson, a historian of the city of Tulare, said: 'The area of the lake at highest water (220 feet above sea level) was 760 square miles.' In his History of Tulare County and Kings County, which was published in 1926, J. Larry Smith stated that the area surrounding the lake 'abounded in game and was full of edible fish.' There is evidence that its shores were a favorite habitation for Indian Tribes and a stopping place for the aborigines and wild animals who made their seasonal migrations across the valley from the Sierras to the sea, and returning. An 1850 account told of 'bands of elk, deer and antelope in such numbers that they actually darkened the plains for miles and looked in the distance like great herds of cattle.
Julius Jacobs wrote in his The Story of Kings County that millions of fish were still breeding in the lake at the end of the 1890s and that sometimes they could be 'shoveled up by the very tubful.' Those varieties
which were not particularly good eating were cooked and fed to the pigs.
The tules and other grasses that grew so thickly around the lake made it an ideal habitat for ducks, geese, plover, snipe and curlew which the sportsmen were able to bag by the hundreds and thousands. Reportedly, a sportsman could walk the short distance from his Lemoore home to the shores of the lake, shoot as many ducks as he wished and walk back to his home in plenty of time for his evening meal.
The vast lake has been eliminated by the march of progress. Beginning with the congressional passage of the Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act in 1852, its demise was certain. Reclamation districts were formed. Each district built levees to protect its own holdings. In the meantime, beginning in the early 1870s, much of the water was diverted into irrigation canals. What was once lake bottom has become some of the richest agricultural land in the world. The building of the Pine Flat Dam and Reservoir was, virtually, the final nail in the coffin of Tulare Lake. Still, in years of particularly high precipitation, the phantom lake still tries to arise.'"
Los Banos National Wildlife Refuge
Thousands and Thousands of Birds from Canada
For more on this, see this Google Earth Posting: Tulare Lake: A Google Earth Overlay
Or Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulare_Lake
Tulare Lake Map: http://lo.redjupiter.com/images/thoughtsonliving/TulareLakeMap.jpg
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