HATCHING A PLAN
The Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery may be in line for a change in ownership.
The Hatchery, which was founded in 1917, produced trout for nearly a century before hatchery operations ceased in 2008.
According to the CDFW (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) website, “The hatchery and the surrounding area … were severely damaged in 2008 when heavy rains pounded the already fire damaged Oak Creek watershed. This triggered a massive debris flow that killed all the rainbow trout, destroyed four buildings and buried the fish rearing ponds … CDFW geologists advised against reconnecting the hatchery’s fish rearing water source.”
A source familiar with the hatchery says the water source is subject to whirling disease.
The Hatchery remains open as a historical/educational/tourist attraction. It draws approximately 60,000 visitors per year.
As it states on the mtwhitneyfishhatchery.org website, “Though we no longer hatch fish, we organize tours, fish feeding, and wildlife interpretation exhibits. With striking early 20th century architecture, our serves as both a tourist attraction and a venue for weddings and other functions. Visitors are welcome to speak to our docent or conduct a self-guided tour.”
Currently, the CDFW owns the property and the Friends of Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery, a volunteer organization comprised of local citizens, has an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with CDFW to run the interpretive center and gift shop and conduct tours. The Friends also assume some maintenance of the buildings and grounds.
Inyo County CAO (County Administrative Officer) Leslie Chapman says that in recent years, she and former CAO Clint Quilter made overtures to the CDFW about purchasing the property.
But in September, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom came out with a “Statement of Administration Policy” which says, “It is the policy of this administration to encourage every State agency, department, board and commission subject to my executive control to seek opportunities to support co-management of and access to natural lands that are within a California tribe’s ancestral land and under the ownership or control of the State of California, and to work cooperatively with California tribes that are interested in acquiring natural lands in excess of State needs.”
This policy came on the heels of a 2019 Executive Order, where Newsom “acknowledges and apologizes on behalf of the state for the historical ‘violence, exploitation, dispossession and the attempted destruction of tribal communities’ which dislocated California Native Americans from their ancestral land and sacred practices. The destructive impacts of this forceful separation persist today, and meaningful, reparative action from the State of California (State) can begin to address these wrongs in an effort to heal its relationship with California Native Americans.”
The upshot: You want to sell a piece of property and it’s located within a tribe’s ancestral territory, you have to offer that property to the tribe first.
And according to locally-based CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Heidi Calvert, when CDFW approached the Fort Independence tribe last fall about the Hatchery property, it expressed interest, ergo …
Calvert added that the tribe indicated it wanted to keep the property in its current state and appreciates its historical value. She said the tribe had no intent on economic development of the property and wanted to see the Friends’ role and lease maintained.
Calls and emails to Fort independence Tribal Chairman Carl Dahlberg went unreturned.
Calvert said there would be restrictions on property use if an agreement is reached with the tribe, including no casino or cannabis development.
When asked about the effect any property transfer would have on water rights, Calvert said, “We haven’t gotten to that either … we’re early on in the process.”
She estimated that the land conversion evaluation process may extend well into next year.
Some environmental cleanup will be required no matter who acquires the property.
When asked for comment, Inyo County District Four Supervisor Jennifer Roeser made the following statement this week: “The Hatchery is a beloved and cherished facility in the Eastern Sierra – as a gift from the people of Independence to the State of California – it is essential going forward to retain the historic and beautiful features that have made it a treasured location for visitors, residents and fishing enthusiasts for a century. Whatever becomes of the facility and the property it is my hope that the immeasurable contributions of the Friends of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery are not only recognized but instituted in the ongoing operations.”
The Friends of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, conservatively, have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and man-hours into the site over the past quarter century.
In other odds and ends … Mammoth’s Council unanimously approved the amended development plans for the Sierra Nevada Resort. As we’ve reported before, thirty new “cabins” are contemplated, but the agenda packet noted that the cabins can be up to 35’ tall, which didn’t sound very cabin-like at all, so we got some details.
Ten units are to be stand-alone, 380-square foot tiny-home type cabins. Height of approximately 15’. There will also be five, four-plex, two-story buildings, with each building being approximately 25’ in height and each unit about 850-square feet.
Mammoth Lakes Tourism gave a presentation on its 2020-2021 fiscal year. TBID actual receipts were as follows: 1. Retail $1.42M 2. Lodging $1.25M 3. Ski Area $899K 4. Restaurants $835K.
Inyo County still leads the pack in Covid. That came from the Inyo Supervisors update on Tuesday. Inyo leads the state in cases per 100,000 and test positivity rate, but both those metrics have declined within the past week and are well off recent peaks.
11% of September cases were breakthrough cases (among those already vaccinated). 5.5% of October cases were breakthrough cases. 62% of the county has been vaccinated. Another 9% have received at least one vaccine dose.
4% of 5-11 year-olds in Inyo County have been vaccinated. There’s a pediatric vax clinic scheduled for this Sunday at the Fairgrounds.
Inyo County currently requires universal masking in indoor public settings, as does Mono County.
Public comment regarding vax policy still takes up about two hours per Inyo Supervisor meeting. I have noticed that the pro-vaccination testimony tends to be submitted in writing, whereas the anti-vaccination/mask testimony tends to be delivered “in person,” er, via Zoom.