Moving Forward with Tragic Loss on the Rivers


May 6, 2017


Staff, Board, and volunteers of WildPlaces offer sincere condolences to the families and friends of the drowning victims on the Tule and Kern Rivers during recent high waters. In addition to the loss of human lives, these accidents have tarnished the reputation of the rivers as places of respite and relaxation. Enforcement and management agencies will close many if not all sites including trails in an effort to "protect" the public. These sites (above and below "The Stairs") are the only free sites, which WildPlaces’ Rio Limpio Program adopted over 8 years ago in an attempt to increase personal responsibility and understanding of the critical role rivers play in our communities’ health.

Prior to these tragic accidents, WildPlaces’ position in light of increased use on the river and resulting environmental impacts plus reduced federal budgets was to agree to the temporary closure of no more than 1/3 of the sites, allowing WildPlaces to oversee the remaining. Now any such discussion will be difficult.

I don’t think that closing the sites entirely is the best response. What is needed is more, not less, exposure to and education about this single most important element of the region – the Tule and Kern Rivers. The last thing we want is for people to stop coming here. Already we are dealing with generational gaps in getting communities outdoors. Taking use away will only exacerbate the problem.

The Rio Limpio program has made significant headway by inspiring responsible recreation use. It is a progression of education that some feel will falter when access is denied.

In response to these recent events, WildPlaces will conduct Swift Water Safety workshop that are available to the public. Additionally, WildPlaces has secured financial support to design and strategically place signage that reminds folks that risks are present and how to manage those risks to reduce incident. The first workshop will occur on May 13th from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. during the annually scheduled two-day WildLeaders Guide Training in Springville held May 13 – 14, 2017. (See and fb for details and to sign up. Space is limited.)

This is an introductory workshop and is not to replace full Swift Water Rescue Training taught by certified trainers. The WildLeaders Training will also cover basic risk management in field settings, orienteering, and first aid. Cost is free to WildPlaces' volunteers and $10-25 (sliding scale) for all others. Participants must register by reaching Mehmet at 760.447.1702 and

We must always respect nature. With all the beauty and free serves provided by the river like air and water, we cannot simply close it off to the world. Let’s learn from this terrible sacrifice to become better, more prepared river warriors! 




Two Spirit Gatherings

Two Spirit (also two-spirit or twospirit) is a modern term used to describe certain spiritual people who may also be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and gender-variant.

 "Two Spirit" is not interchangeable with most words currently used in western culture such as LGBTQ, Queer, Gay, etc.  This title differs from most western, mainstream definitions of sexuality and gender identity in that it is not so much about whom one sleeps with, or how one personally identifies; rather, it is a sacred, spiritual and ceremonial role that is recognized and confirmed by the Elders of the Two Spirit's ceremonial community.

A Gathering of Two Spirit People is being organized now to be held on the Tule River in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California within the Giant Sequoia National Monument April 14-16th, 2017. 


Registration is required for this free event. Upon registration, you will be directed to receive, review, and complete (where requested) the following:

  1. Liability Waiver and Medical History are required. Complete and return by email or bring it along when you come.
  2. Guidelines for the Land upon which the event is held.
  3. Personal/Suggested Gear List
  4. Map Directions

The Land

The land is a 12-acre homestead located on both sides of the Tule River at 1,200 feet within the Blue Oak Woodlands in the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains within the Sequoia National Forest/Giant Sequoia National Monument.

We the peoples of divese tribes are The stewards of this land and we do our best to protect and enhance the natural qualities of it. It is an amazing privately-owned sanctuary and ceremonial place that includes MEXICA Temazcalli , Indigenous Dance, multiple, Talking circles, community leaders training, land and water restoration and stewardship, and camping for those who agree with its philosophy and vision.

The Activties

The Two-Spirit Gathering will include:

  • Temazcalli (or Mexica sweat) Lodge
  • Native dancing such as Danza Azteca
  • Facilitated Breakout sessions, workshops, and Talking Circles
  • Habitat restoration and stewardship project (Giant Sequoia seedling planting) on Sunday morning, 3/15th.
  • Sacred Alter  

The Accomodations

Limited camping is available. Information on BnB and other accomodations are limited but available. Advanced hotel reservation is recommended.

The Volunteer Opportunities

Two Spirit Gathering is on Facebook and is recruiting Two Spirit allies to help in all organizing facets.  Volunteers who are not necessarily participants but rather Two Spirit allies/supporters are needed for logistics, set-up and breakdown. Those volunteers are encouraged to arrive earlier in the week to help with set-up. We  will host and feed you. If you're free during any days in the week prior to the event and/or on event days and want to help, then please inquire...and help to bring our humanity, our lands, and traditions together.

The Sponsors

Two Spirits Ceremony is co-sponsored by Dolores Huerta Foundation, Acadamia Jovenil de Arte y Cultura (AJAC), and WildPlaces.

Wildlife and Pets in the Wildlands

Protecting Wildlife and Pets By Keeping Them Apart

by Amber Kingsley

One of the best ways we can help to preserve and protect wildlife is by keeping them away from our companion animals. Although it can be said that wildlife can pose possible risks to our pets, our animals can also be dangerous to smaller critters like possums, skunks, rodents, etc. Sadly, one of the few possible solutions from keeping tame animals away from wildlife is by trapping the latter and possibly relocating them.

One of the few risks with living in, near or recreating inside the Sierra Nevada mountains is the off-chance you may run into some dangerous wildlife. While smaller animals like those mentioned previously don’t pose a too much of a threat to people or their pets, larger predators like coyotes, black bears and mountains lions can be more than simply problematic.

But when it comes to stalking predators like mountain lions, although there has been headlines about sightings over the years, attacks are rare. In fact, over the course of the last 150 years, there have only been 17 reported attacks by mountain lions in the entire state of California. Studies have shown that if you come across one of these big cats, you should never approach them nor should you run from one. It’s also not a good idea to go jogging through the mountains, with our without your pet for this reason.

This is why it is so important to keep your pets leashed in and near the the Sierra Nevada mountains at all times. No matter how well behaved your animal may be, if they encounter this type of wildlife, the chances they will be injured, attacked or killed are greatly diminished if they are under your control.

Keeping Wildlife Out Of Your Yard

For those living near these beautiful mountains, there are many ways to keep wildlife, big or small away from your home and yard. For example, when I was a kid and we were living in the foothills, my Dad always had a radio blaring outside somewhere, usually where he was tinkering on something in the garage, cutting wood, etc.

I thought he just liked the company of the background noise, but I didn’t realize until I was much older that one reason he did this was to keep wildlife away. It is also effective in keeping nocturnal animals, like raccoons, skunks and rodents, from nesting in and around your home. Other ways to keep outdoor animals away from your house and yard include:

●     If you have fencing, make sure there are no loose boards, holes, cracks and that the latches and hinges are in good working order.

●     Don’t store pet food (or people food) outdoors or inside out building or garages. If you have a garden, make sure it’s fenced and keep fruit from trees picked up off the ground.

●     Get rid of standing water, which will also help keep the insect and mosquito population under control. Basically, you shouldn’t be offering wildlife free food and drink.

●     Regularly check outdoor structures and sheds for holes and possible entry points.

●     Keep clutter, even stacked wood, down to a minimum or kept in places where wildlife can’t use them as shelter.

●     Wildlife often like to use overgrown shrubbery and out-of-control landscaping as homes and temporary hiding places, so keep these well-trimmed.

●     If you have a compost pile, keep it covered and away from your house.

Sometimes the best way to live in harmony with nature is to avoid encountering wild animals, especially if you have pets. It will keep them both safer if they’re kept apart.

Thank you, Amber, for contributing this piece. It is timely. With rain and rising water, the wild is meeting our back doors here...

Director's Lip: A Bit of History

Rather then trying to  look optimistically at the future, the day before inauguration, I  thought I'd look to happier days when ranchers and environmentalists could focus together on a shared vision...preserving and restoring BOTH range land and oak woodland habitat. Creating space where cattle and oaks could coexist in one world.

History Time:

River Ridge Ranch is a special place for me personally and for WildPlaces. As its first partner in this watershed, RR holds special significance and I am grateful even more today for that relationship . It began in 2003 when WildPlaces,  first arriving in this watershed, was looking  for a partner on a rather unique proposal--- to restore endangered and declining Blue Oak woodland habitat on agricultural and range lands. (Cattle ranching, it turns out, was devastating for oak woodlands just by nature of cattle doing what they do--trampling, eating, and eroding sensitive habitat, soil, and species). Yet some woodlands survived, and conservation interests seemed to indicate that range lands were the "new black" in restoration...and River Ridge became our partner with Barbara and Gary remaining very valued and dear friends. (Yes, I knew Emma way before university at Mill's.)

How we got to River Ridge? A couple of years prior to 2003, WP joined the Sierra Nevada Alliance and attended its annual conference as a new member organization. We were asked to present on our projects, which at the time was exactly one : The Manter/McNally Wildfire Recovery Project in the Kern Valley, also the location of WP's first "office" --basically crashing on the couch of the Southern Sierra Research Station's facility on Faye Ranch Road (another remarkable partner tale).

The presentation was easy--wildfire restoration was sexy and our project at the Alliance conference was very well received. We had found a home of like-minded people. So in the following year, 2002, I was asked again to present on a WP project. Caught like deer in headlights and admitting that there were no other projects, Joan Claybourn, the marvelous ED at SNA, suggested presenting a dream project. I presented on an issue that was relevant-- recovery of declining oak woodland habitat often conflicting with agriculture but more so with poor urban expansion. In short, WP suggested restoring and protecting oak woodland habitat on cattle ranches and essentially attracting not only the oaks but also the 300 or so species that come with it ----including some rare and endangered animals that most private land owners would rather do without (Endangered Species Act). And, here was the catch: putting together a demonstration site to the that effect on a private ranch.

Of course , I had only penciled an outline of how this would be done ---a demonstration site where techniques of oak restoration would be modified to include the rangeland aspect-- fences, cattle, equipment, water troughs , etc. -- and visa versa. I had no experience beyond my pencil.

Folks at the conference were  supportive including CA Native Plant Society members who said it had not yet been done on a large scale. Thanks, Joan Steward, for your direct and supportive input then...and now (another remarkable tale). And yet, who was the lucky ranch partner-to-be? Alas, the the less obvious details of my plan.

That's when Terry and Carol Manning from Springville, who were in attendance that fateful day, introduced themselves saying that there is this town called Springville, and would I consider starting the search for the rancher who would say, "Why yes, by all means, bring your environmental organization and liberal ways onto my land and attract you some Elderberry Longhorn beetles, Willow Flycatchers, and what-not. While you're at it , bring in some Mountain Lions to keep my calves company at night."

So I began the journey to Springville where the Manning's suggested I meet Barbara and Gary of River Ridge Ranch. I did, and (What??), they were biologists as well as ranch owners! And there it was. No gun fire "Get off my land, boy" drama. Some of you know the rest of the story -- that WildPlaces and River Ridge Ranch secured funding to develop a demonstration site on the ranch that would show how cattle ranching and Oak Woodlands could co-exist together and fend off the common threat of poor Urban Development. The project took two years to complete and today hosts dozens of species of plants and animals that live in harmony on the 722-acre River Ridge Ranch.

The story goes on to include multiple fundraisers and volunteer activities at the ranch as well as yours truly having the great privilege of living in the cabin in Camp Nelson, the place I called home for five years. I could go on but feel this bit of history is enough to show the gratitude I have for my relationship to Gary, Barbara, and to Springville. It is a tale worth remembering. Thanks so much.

Founder's Lip 12/7/16

Founder's Lip   
WildPlaces is honored to serve the environment, its wildlife, and its peoples by completing restoration and education projects that help change the mindset of how we see conservation, economics, and progress. For over 15 years now, we have restored meadows, planted trees, cleaned rivers, repaired trails, surveyed forests, planted seeds, conducted unique education and adventure opportunities, and reached thousands, of people in an effort to do what is without question the right thing--protecting and helping Mother Earth and our communities. While we may experience resistance from some who are not convinced that natural resources have critical value, WildPlaces is unwavering in its mission to restore and protect the land, water, and peoples of the southern Sierra. We are on the ground and doing the work that others are still talking about doing. It's that simple.  
Thanks to you all who have participated. We hold your trust and faith in the highest regard. Without you--our volunteers, funders, and members--we would be far less effective. I urge you to keep up your involvement with WildPlaces. Join one of our projects, volunteer at our office, make a generous donation, and most of all keep focused on the restoration of land and people. Please reach me directly so that I can hear your story and share ours.   
Mehmet McMillan, Founder

Climate Change and Drought

Regardless of whether drought and climate change are influenced by humans or is a natural phenomenon, we must face the problem and learn to adapt now or risk a calamity that will jeopardize the lives, economies, and available water resources of future generations.