Meet the monuments: Berryessa Snow Mountain

This peaceful sanctuary should be expanded

Cover photo: Berryessa Snow Mountain overlook, Edison Velez II, BLM via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

 

North of the San Francisco Bay area—one of the most populated metro-areas in the U.S.—you can find a peaceful escape from the endless hustle and bustle at Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. With more than 330,000 acres, Berryessa has much to offer recreationists and nature-lovers alike. Now, there is a chance to add 3,925 more acres with the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act introduced by Reps. John Garamendi and Mike Thompson.

From Lake Berryessa to the summit of Snow Mountain Wilderness, the elevation rises by 7,000 feet. This wide range of altitudes means many different ecosystems: dry, hot chaparral; old-growth conifer forests; and mountain sides covered with Jeffrey pine and cedar. Cache Creek’s blue-green waters even provide opportunities for fishing, whitewater rafting and kayaking. The waters also harbor native fish species, such as the Western brook lamprey.

These many habitats host a huge variety of wildlife, including some threatened or endangered species, like the Pacific fisher. Swooping bald eagles, swimming river otters, slithering gopher snakes and countless other species roam the many ecosystems found in Berryessa.

Exploring this varied terrain, you’ll discover a wide array of diverse plant life. In the springtime, Berryessa’s lower valleys explode with vibrant wildflowers of every color: hot pink, deep purple, burning orange, crisp white and everything in between. 

Field of wildflowers in Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (source: Gary Ford via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

In addition to its beautiful views and recreational opportunities, this place was protected because of its connection to several Indigenous tribes, including the Nomlaki, Huchnom and Wappo. There are many historical cultural sites including boulder petroglyphs and intact buildings of once-major settlements. 

The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act proposes to expand the current national monument to include an adjacent federally-owned land parcel in Lake County known as the “Walker Ridge” tract—to be renamed “Condor Ridge” (“Molok Luyuk” in the Patwin language). 

Expanding this monument to include Condor Ridge safeguards sloping mountain sides covered in plants unique to serpentine soils (soils with high heavy metal concentrations), such as adobe lily. It protects habitat for roaming tule elk and incredible views of snaking blue waterways.

Entrance to Walker Ridge (source: Bureau of Land Management California via Flickr; no copyright)

Amid the beauty and life of Condor Ridge also stand cultural sites for Indigenous tribes, primarily the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. These land’s historical inhabitants have conducted trade and traveled through Molok Luyuk, the name for Condor Ridge provided by the Yocha Dehe Wintun, for centuries.

With a proposed wind energy project threatening to encroach, the ridge’s fragile ecosystems and cultural heritage are at risk of being damaged. Putting a wind farm in this location would clear large pieces of land, endangering the 27-plus rare plant species that call Condor Ridge home as well as the 80 species of butterflies that pollinate wildflowers and wildlife. Additionally, the California Energy Commission found that the proposed site has moderate to low energy potential. Fortunately, the Bureau of Land Management recently denied a permit for an energy project on the ridge, but that won’t stop future projects from being pursued. This place needs lasting protection. 

Expanding Berryessa Monument to protect Condor Ridge means protecting the natural ecosystem, creating more recreational opportunities and safeguarding Indigenous cultures. Join us in showing support for expanding the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument to include Condor Ridge.

This blog was co authored by Environment America intern Kristine Meader,