Modoc BioregionThe Modoc Bioregion -- An Overview

Mt. Lassen hikers

Hikers at Mt. Lassen

The Modoc Bioregion, an area of stark contrast, extends across California's northeast corner from Oregon to Nevada, and south to the southern border of Lassen County. From many vantage points, the view to the west is of forests and mountains, while the vista to the east is high desert characteristic of Nevada. Much of this sparsely populated bioregion of forests, mountains, high desert, picturesque valleys, piney woodlands, and volcanic uplands still looks as it did when wagon trains rumbled across the area 150 years ago.

Location, People, Cities

Bounded by Oregon on the north and Nevada on the east, the Modoc bioregion extends westward across the Modoc Plateau, encompassing the Lassen and Modoc national forests. It includes all or part of seven counties: Modoc, and Lassen, and the eastern end of Shasta, Siskiyou and Tehama, northern edges of Butte and Plumas. Because bioregions have only fuzzy lines and can take in portions of several counties, it is difficult to estimate their populations precisely. But the rural nature of the Modoc Bioregion is reflected in the populations of the two counties totally contained within its boundaries: Modoc, 10,700, and Lassen, 29,800. According to 1990 census figures, Modoc has the smallest population of all 10 bioregions, with fewer than 81,000. The largest cities are Alturas, the Modoc County seat; Susanville, the Lassen County seat; Burney in eastern Shasta County, and Maglia in northern Butte County.

The Northern Paiute and the Paiute-Shoshone are native to this bioregion. Indian reservations include Fort Bidwell, Alturas, Cedarville, Likely, and Lookout Rancherias; and Pit River, all in Modoc County.

Main highways are U.S. Highway 395 and state routes 299, 139, 89, 44, and 36.

Tourist Attractions, Industries

Lassen Volcanic

Quaint little towns and settlements still reflect the bioregion's pioneer heritage when “downtown” may have consisted of little more than a general store, saloon, and church. Relics of the past -- a trading post, an old fort -- can still be found.

Ranching remains the major agricultural industry, and timber is a significantly large employer.

Climate and Geography

The climate features hot dry summers and cold moist winters with snow at higher elevations. Geography is varied in the Modoc Bioregion,with volcanic areas and wetlands to the west and high desert to the east. Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is studded with lakes and crowned by 10,457-foot Lassen Peak; Tule Lake, and Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuges, Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, and Lava Beds National Monument are on the western side. The eastern side, which resembles its neighbor, Nevada, has desert alkali lakes, Honey Lake Valley, and Modoc National Wildlife Refuge. The last volcanic activity at Mount Lassen was in 1915.

As if to demonstrate the variation of the bioregion's landscapes, the 25-mile Bizz Johnson Trail linking Susanville and Westwood follows a railroad grade from high desert through grasslands and oak woodlands into a dense forest of pine and cedar.

The bioregion includes Modoc and Lassen National Forests and part of the Klamath National Forest. The largest lakes are Lake Almanor in Plumas County, Eagle Lake in Lassen County, Lower Klamath Lake in Siskiyou County, and Goose Lake in Modoc County. The Pit River flows southwest from the rugged Warner Mountains in eastern Modoc and Lassen counties across the Modoc Plateau and into the Sacramento River.

Plants and Wildlife

A strip of manzanita along Hwy. 44

Juniper and sagebrush cover much of the eastern side of the Modoc Bioregion, while yellow and Jeffrey pine, white fir, mixed conifer, cedar, and aspen are common in the more mountainous and forested areas to the west. Wildlife include bald eagles, antelope, greater sandhill cranes, ospreys, Canada geese, black-crowned night herons, mule deer, muskrats, pronghorn, cinnamon teal, northern pintails, Swainson's hawks, sage grouse, rainbow trout, marmots, hummingbirds, great horned owls, black bears, coyotes, porcupine, Modoc sucker, goshawk, bank swallow, Shasta crayfish, sage grouse, and Lost River sucker.

Rare plants include yellow arrowleaf, balsam root, long-haired star tulip, spiny milkwort, Ash Creek ivesia, Raven's lomatium, and woolly stenotus.

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