Where Antelope and Bighorn Sheep once roamed, barbed wire fences and high speed roads now impede the seasonal migration from the peaks to the valley. With the LADWP legacy encompassing 492 square miles of Owens Valley we have an opportunity to allow this area to be wild once again. The proposed Buffalo Commons in the Great Plains inspires a vision of establishing the Owens Valley Commons, an open range and preserve connecting Yosemite to Death Valley, replacing the herds of Cattle with Buffalo, Tule Elk, Pronghorn Antelope, Wild Horses, and Burros.
To achieve this, we start by removing the fences and creating wildlife corridors across the 395 and the Aqueduct to reconnect isolated populations and reduce habitat fragmentation. Reintroducing Grizzly Bears and Wolves to surrounding forests would keep browsers on the move and allow the ecosystem to recover (similar to changes that have been documented in Yellowstone). Reestablishing the Beaver to the Lower Owens River is a means of allowing nature’s engineers assist with our restoration of wetland habitat where their dams have the potential to slow the flow of water and increase groundwater recharge. Below is a set of maps that illustrated the complex interaction and potential opportunities that result from the variety of landownership and ecological conditions in Owens Valley:
While we are looking into reintroducing extirpated species, why not look back 8,000 years ago to the Ice Age when Mastodons and Woolly Mammoths, American Camels, Rhinoceros, and other mega fauna roamed California? There are endangered species alive today that are close analogs to their Pleistocene ancestors that could thrive in the Owens Valley, which could make the valley a rich and ecologically diverse place to enjoy both recreation and nature.
[Data Sources: LADWP, Inyo County, BLM, US Forest Service, Senator Feinstein, CA Fish and Wildlife Service, California Essential Habitat Connectivity Project, National Audobon Society, and the Aqueduct Futures Project. Images used under a creative commons license]