Sierra Bioregion The Sierra Bioregion -- An Overview

   The Sierra Bioregion is a vast and rugged mountainous area extending some 380 miles along California's eastern side and largely contiguous with Nevada. Named for the Sierra Nevada mountain range it encompasses, the Sierra Bioregion includes magnificent forests, lakes, and rivers that generate much of the state's water supply. It shares spectacular Lake Tahoe with Nevada and features eight national forests, three national parks -- Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia -- numerous state parks, historical sites, wilderness, special recreation and national scenic areas, and mountain peaks that beckon climbers, including 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney.

High Sierra Lake

High Sierra Lake

Location, Cities, People

    Eighteen counties, or their eastern portions, comprise the Sierra Bioregion: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tulare, Tuolumne, and Yuba. The bioregion extends from the northern edge of the Plumas National Forest south to Tejon Pass in the Tehachapi Mountains about 30 miles southeast of Bakersfield. The northern half of the Sierra Bioregion is bordered by the Nevada state line to the east and the Sacramento Valley floor to the west. The southern half of the Sierra extends westward from the Nevada state line and the western edge of the Bureau of Land Management's California Desert Conservation Area to the San Joaquin Valley floor. California's historic Mother Lode region of 19th century Gold Rush fame is in the Sierra Bioregion.

    Scattered throughout the mountains are small cities such as Truckee, Placerville, Quincy, Auburn, South Lake Tahoe, and Bishop, and picturesque mountain hamlets. The colorful history and rustic charm of the Sierra is captured in towns such as Markleeville, Sonora, Angels Camp -- site of the annual Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County immortalized by Mark Twain -- Oakhurst, Auberry, Big Creek, and Three Rivers, to name a few. The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (SNEP) fixed the Sierra population at 650,000, which is consistent with 1990 census figures.

    Major routes for vehicular traffic are Interstate 80, U.S. Highways 50 and 395, and state highways 4, 49, 70, 88, 89, 108, 120, and 178. Some mountain roads at higher elevations are closed in winter because of snow, and highways frequently require chains or snow tires for travel.

Tourist Attractions, Industries 

Hydroelectric power plant

along the Feather River

Caribou Power Plant -
along the Feather River

The beauty of the Sierra, its serene mountain vistas and next-to-nature hiking, camping, boating, river rafting, fishing, and skiing, make this bioregion one of California's most popular year-around vacation attractions. The Lake Tahoe Basin, shared by California and Nevada, offers water sports and golf in summer, spectacular skiing in winter, and -- on the Nevada side (and just outside the bioregion) -- casino gambling anytime. High tech has emerged as a significant industry in the Sierra, introducing satellite, on-line, and computer software companies and stimulating entrepreneurial small businesses. This growing segment of the economy joins staples such as hydropower, tourism and recreation. Other industries include logging, cattle ranching, and -- in the northern Sierra foothills -- apple orchards and wineries.

Climate and Geography

    The climate varies with the elevation, offering cold snowy winters and cool summers at higher elevations and rainy winters and mild summers in the foothills. Summers are dry. Snowy winters in the northern Sierra are crucial to California's water supply, which depends heavily upon spring snowmelt to feed the reservoirs of the State Water Project and a portion of the federal Central Valley Project. The projects supply about two-thirds of California's water for drinking, irrigation, and industrial use. Snowfall also is welcomed by the ski industry and a myriad of other businesses that serve and supply skiers. Mild dry mountain summers accommodate outdoor sports and activities, but when high pressure areas push temperatures upward and gusty winds blow, California is vulnerable to wildfires that consume thousands of acres of brush and timber every year.


Mono Lake's tufas

Mono Lake's tufas

National forests of the Sierra Bioregion are the Plumas, Tahoe, Sierra, Eldorado, Stanislaus, Sequoia, Inyo, and Toiyabe. Major rivers include the American, Feather, Yuba, Cosumnes, Tuolumne, Merced, San Joaquin, Kern, Owens, Kings, Carson, Truckee, Walker, and Stanislaus. Mono Lake east of Yosemite is famous for its peculiar tufa formations rising from the lake bed.

Plants and Wildlife

    The Sierra Bioregion is rich in biodiversity, containing over half the plant species found in California and more than 400 of the state's terrestrial wildlife species, or about two-thirds of the birds and mammals and half the reptiles and amphibians. The variety of habitat types include annual grassland, blue oak savannah, chaparral, ponderosa pine, black oak woodland, mixed conifer, red fir, riparian, alpine meadow, Jeffrey pine, sagebrush, and bitter brush.

    Animals that inhabit the Sierra Bioregion include lodgepole chipmunk, mountain beaver, California mountain king snake, black bear, wolverine, California big horn sheep, Pacific fisher, mule deer, and mountain lion. The California Golden Trout -- the state fish -- is native to the Southern Sierra. Birds include the northern goshawk, mountain chickadee, pine grosbeak, California spotted owl, mountain quail, willow flycatcher, bald eagle, and great grey owl.

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