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Plants and AnimalsTop 10 Worst Environmental Decisions in California’s History

Top 10 Worst Environmental Decisions in California’s History

Top 10 Worst Environmental Decisions in California’s History

Rating the lost landscapes and environmental features

California has a paradoxical history with its environment. On one hand, the state boasts incredible natural beauty, together with a government that’s an internationally recognized leader for strong environmental policies. However the state’s residents have also caused severe environmental destruction, particularly within the late nineteenth century — a few of which helped spur the mobilization that led to those environmental successes.

California’s history, what were a few of the most striking examples of environmental destruction? To qualify for this “Top 10” list, the destruction needed to be irreparable (at the least in anyone’s lifetime) and of a uniquely beautiful environmental feature (landscapes and plants). Of note, animals aren’t included, neither is an assessment of the economic trade-offs or alternatives.

10. Quarrying Morro Rock

Morro Rock Beach | City of Morro Bay - Official Website

Morro Rock is California’s Gibraltar, a striking coastal feature just north of San Luis Obispo on Morro Bay. It’s a remnant, exposed rocky volcano, visible from miles away. The local Chumash tribe consider it a sacred site (named Lisamu) and have special access to the highest for religious ceremonies. But half of the side of the rock was quarried from 1889 to 1969 to form the bay breakwater, leaving an enormous scar.

9. Draining the Owens Valley and Mono Lake

Owens Valley - Wikipedia

The Owens Valley is a remarkable north-south valley created by fault separation along the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Just past the northern end of the valley lies Mono Lake, an ancient salt-water body of water. Within the early 1900s, Los Angeles city leaders surreptitiously purchased land and water rights to direct the Owens river, and eventually the streams supplying Mono Lake, into aqueducts to service Los Angeles real estate development. The result was a shrunken Mono Lake and desiccated Owens river valley and lakebed, creating toxic duststorms and economic and environmental blight within the region.

8. Channelizing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta

The SF Bay-Delta Is Invaluable. What Will Happen to It Under Trump ...

The Delta sits between California’s Central Valley and San Francisco Bay, draining many of the water from the inside of the state to the Pacific Ocean. It’s one in every of the biggest estuaries in western North America, once featuring a vibrant ecosystem with wealthy soil. Chinese laborers were employed to construct levees between the 1850s and 1870s to dam and farm the land. Today, these levees are at constant risk of collapse, jeopardizing much of the state’s water transfer system from north to south, while much of the Delta ecosystem is in a state of freefall.

7. Clear-Cutting the Sierra and Lake Tahoe Pine Forests

Top 20 Best Lake Tahoe, US Vacation Rentals: cabin rentals & more ...

The Sierra Nevada mountains was blanketed in old growth pine forests, which included trees the scale and age of giant sequoias in some cases. But within the mid- to late-nineteenth century, much of the mountains, including all the Lake Tahoe basin, was clear cut largely to construct underground silver mines in neighboring Nevada. Today, the resulting second-growth forests of clumped juvenile firs and pines creates a fire-prone jumble that forest officials are struggling to administer properly. You possibly can still see the unique old-growth pines only in places like DL Bliss State Park along Lake Tahoe, paradoxically preserved by one in every of the industrialists who profited from the logging in the primary place.

6. The Los Angeles Freeway Embrace

Are Any New Freeways Coming to L.A.? Caltrans Answers

The City of Los Angeles is ringed by semi-arid mountains, distant snow-capped peaks and a protracted coastline featuring wetlands, coastal bluffs and sandy beaches. Yet in the midst of the 20 th century, city and state leaders enabled the paving of much of this landscape via the development of multiple large freeways, starting with the Arroyo Seco Parkway in Pasadena, the primary freeway within the country. This automobile network induced significant traffic congestion and sprawling development that to today generates a considerable amount of air pollution, despite efforts to retrofit the town back to a Railtown.

5. Damming Hetch Hetchy Valley

Head to Hetch Hetchy For a New Perspective of Yosemite

Hetch Hetchy is a rare glacial-carved valley inside Yosemite National Park within the Sierra Nevada, featuring a meandering Tuolumne River and similar in scale and sweetness to the more-famous Yosemite Valley to the south. San Francisco water engineers on the turn of the last century sought to dam this bathtub-shaped valley to bring mountain water to the groundwater-challenged San Francisco peninsula. Over the objections of John Muir and the Sierra Club, the federal government and San Francisco officials approved the dam, flooding and permanently marring this geologic wonder.

4. Logging Giant Sequoias

Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias Hiking Guide (Joe's Guide to ...

Giant sequoia trees can live up to 3 thousand years and grow to turn out to be the biggest living things on Earth. California’s western Sierra Nevada mountains host the last remaining 77 groves on Earth. Within the late 1800s, Californians chopped down about one-third of them. Worse, many of the wood from the trees would shatter on impact with the bottom, so these residents could only use the wood for constructing fences or manufacturing shingles.

3. Wetlands Destruction

WRP Initiatives - Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project

California once boasted over 4 million acres of wetlands, out of 163 million within the state, from coastal lagoons to Central Valley floodplains. These lands featured abundant bird and aquatic life, amongst other features. But 90 percent of them were destroyed by river damming and channelization. Today, what stays hosts 55% of the state’s endangered species, with much of those lands now irreparably lost to farms, cities and sprawl.

2. Clear-Cutting Old-Growth Coastal Redwoods

The Race to Save California's Last Old-Growth Redwood Forests ...

Coastal redwood trees grow to be the tallest living things on Earth and may live as much as two thousand years. They’re situated along California’s coast as much as the Oregon border. But starting within the mid-nineteenth century through the Eighties, loggers cleared 95% of the unique old growth forests. Once cut, latest trees may quickly grow up in a hoop across the old stump but resemble toothpicks in comparison with the originals. To view what was lost, you may visit Muir Woods 12 miles from San Francisco, Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz, or Redwood National Park near the Oregon border.

1.Hydraulic gold mining

Malakoff Diggins SHP
Malakoff Diggins State Park in Nevada City, California

Within the mid-1800s, mining firms discovered that they might harvest gold from the Sierra Nevada foothills more easily in the event that they blasted the rock with high-pressure water. In a couple of short years, these firms denuded and deformed much of the Sierra foothills, sending debris into the Central Valley and mercury pollution into the San Francisco Bay, where it still sits today. A federal judge stopped such a mining within the 1884 decision Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company, so as to protect agricultural land within the Central Valley. But much damage was permanently done to the foothills, agricultural areas of the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay water quality.


There are potentially many other examples of harmful environmental decision making to pick from, which you may suggest within the comments. The one upside of lots of these tragedies is that they resulted in a public backlash that inspired long-lasting environmental reform and organizations, with compounding successes to today. Much of the destruction described here might have been much more significant without this citizen (and sometimes business) mobilization. But still, what’s lost is forevermore, a cautionary tale that ought to give us pause before we sacrifice any more of California’s environmental heritage.

Delta, gold mining, Hetch Hetchy, Morro Bay, Owens Valley, Redwoods, Sequoias


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