Elk NetworkOrr Lake – onX Public Access Project

General , onX Public Access | March 6, 2021

A Rare Win for Elk, Ducks, Bass and People

4,487 acres protected and opened to access launched RMEF’s lands work in northern California 

Mount Shasta dominates the northern California skyline for a hundred miles around, exerting an equally magnetic pull on skiers, climbers and New Age mystics. At 14,179 feet, the massive volcano wrings out what the clouds bring it from the Pacific, dumping 22 feet of snow most winters and another 40 inches of rain in the other seasons. To the east, though, it casts a formidable rainshadow, leaving a perpetually thirsty high desert of sagebrush and juniper. But out there between Dead Steer Flat and Horsethief Creek lies a surprising oasis where Butte Creek meanders through a long chain of wet meadows and marshes. At the heart of this lush riparian area sparkles 10-acre Orr Lake.  

In 1997, the lake, the meadows and a ponderosa pine forest that climbed 1,200 feet to the peak of Orr Mountain came up for sale. This 4,447-acre block of private land was surrounded almost entirely by Klamath National Forest. 

“It’s not every day that you get to help protect a piece of ground that provides equally great habitat for ducks, bass and elk,” says Bob Hammond, RMEF’s California lands program manager. “If that place had been subdivided
and developed it would have gutted the wildlife values of great public land in every direction.”

Instead it was a rare opportunity for RMEF to partner with Ducks Unlimited, as well as the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the U.S. Forest Service to forever protect it and manage it as a special fish and wildlife unit for trophy mule deer. In a state where an acre of land can sell for as much as a Ferrari, it was a visionary score for $1.5 million. 

 “That was our first big land project in true northern California,” Hammond says. “It showed that we were serious about investing in this landscape and creating habitat for what was then an anemic and, to be honest, largely ignored herd of Roosevelt’s elk.” 

Since then the herd has grown to several hundred and RMEF has helped forever protect three more properties spanning another 4,400 acres for them and a host of other wildlife. That commitment extends equally to improving the habitat there. RMEF has helped battle weeds, conduct prescribed burns, thin pine stands, remove junipers and enhance aspen stands on the Klamath. 

“This was also one of our great early wins in California for public access. It’s equally popular with hikers, anglers, duck hunters, deer hunters and those lucky enough to be elk hunters here,” Hammond says. “And the last time I was out there cutting firewood, I saw these white shapes winking in and out through the pines. It took me a minute to realize I was looking at a band of 30 antelope. That was a first.”