In my last post I talked about how riparian oak woodlands are one of the most endangered ecosystems in California, and I went on about an exploration of one such woodland at Caswell Memorial State Park. One might think that I was saying there were no more rivers in the Great Valley, and given the horrific drought we've been suffering, that's practically true. But not really. There are still rivers in the Great Valley of California. The rivers have been changed and over-utilized, but they are still here.
At first glance, the river looks like a healthy watercourse lined by a forest of mature, even ancient oak trees. It is, but there is no forest here. There is a narrow strip of trees right along the river that didn't get cut down when they put first the pastures, then the water park, and then the housing development.
During the Gold Rush, the situation was catastrophic as far as riparian habitat was concerned. The miners overturned any loose sediment along all the Sierra waterways in their search for the elusive metal that has no real value except as jewelry, coins, and a few high tech uses. Dredge piles cover many square miles of the valley floor, useless for just about anything. In a few places, the river forests are starting to recover from the dredging. A little.
San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge a few miles west of Modesto. Abandoned and retired farmlands are being planted with hundreds of thousands of trees and non-native invasive species are being removed in an effort to bring back the imperiled species that used to live here in abundance.