Hiking Hacker Creek

Wild Turkeys hiding below the Hacker Creek Spill

She offered to hike me in so this afternoon we set off. Hacker Creek is a blue line creek–legally we are allowed to walk up it as long as we stay below the high water mark. The creek through her property was beautiful but as we reached the edge we noted some slight sheening. We ran our hands through it and felt a faint slipperiness.  A week and a half ago, an alleged marijuana grow had been the scene of an ecological disaster–about 1000 gallons of diesel had overflowed into a generator shed, the soil beneath, and eventually into the headwaters of Hacker Creek.

Less than 50 yards past the sheening was a Pacific Giant Salamander. If you look closely at the photo, you can see the greasy effulent from the diesel spill floating in the water above it.

Surrounding us on the hillsides was critically endangered California Bunch Grass.  The short basal leaves stay green year round.  While tall graceful stalks turn pale gold with age, the roots extend up to 20 feet deep searching for moisture.  Some plants are up to 200 years old. They can survive drought but they are vulnerable to invasion by non native species. I wonder how these plants will survive one more onslaught into their frail ecosystem.

The creek area was full of unique plants and tree configurations.  I have lived in the area my whole life and have never seen some of these.

lichen

fungus

another fungus

We hiked past beautiful flowers, deer scat, and birds.

Wild Violet

Blue Jay feather

As we went upstream, mostly the water looked clean but then we came upon the first berms.  They lay  like kids’ long floaties across the creek. Behind them, like squares of dirty toilet paper were the absorbent pillows. The pungent aroma of diesel grew stronger as we climbed up the creek bed.

We found our first dead insect and heard the rumble of heavy equipment.

Soon we were right below the spill site.  The building must have almost overhung the creek before the generator shed was torn down.  The equipment noise had stopped.  The woods were quiet as we scrambled up the hill to peer over the black cloth like fence. The bobcat mini excavator was still.

A 12 to 15 foot hole was dug out of the earth.  The smell of diesel was overwhelming but not as bad as I had expected after Tuesday.

We contemplated waiting for the men to come back but decided we had seen what we were there for.  Bleak and a little tired after our hour and a half climb, we headed diagonally downhill.  And stumbled on this…

A bog above the creek filled with the greasy shine of diesel.  There were no pillows or absorbent padding here.  We don’t know if they hadn’t yet discovered the area or if they felt it best to clean it up when it reached the creek.

Quietly, we hiked down the hill.  Passing the same ugly foam and oily surface covered with pads we returned

to the unique woodlands and native meadows. They looked as beautiful as they had two weeks ago–before the spill.

Wild Strawberry

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14 comments

  • Very good coverage. Thanks! I sure wish I had seen that giant salamander! I have been hoping to run across one for the last 30 years.

  • I have enjoyed your reporting on our area and on this incident. thanks

  • Kim, i wish I hadn’t seen him there though!

    Tom, thank you. So many people have helped me.

  • Kym, What a fine photo essay! I was really pleased to see the bunch grass surviving. This country was once covered in bunch grass, then the cattle industry wiped it out and replaced the native grass with introduced species which arrived with the cattle themselves. Wid oats is an example of an introduced species. Our meadows and prairies have seen a species change far more dramatic than our forests. It would be wonderful to collect seed and reintroduce the bunch grasses.

  • From what I was reading about them, it sounds as though they don’t have many seeds. Supposedly, they do well on well drained hillsides though. I wonder how you can get them started.

  • Kym,

    You are doing a great service to all of us in Salmon Creek as well as the greater community! It can be far too easy to go on with our lives and forget the importance of adressing such a terrible incident. In mid/ late summer hundreds of juvenile Steelhead make their way up into the smaller creeks like Hacker and the nearby Kinsey Creek searching for cooler water as the the South Fork of Salmon Creek heats up to near lethal levels. I have conducted both spawning surveys and juvenile Steelhead surveys on Hacker, Kinsey and Tosten Creek which are the three main tributaries feeding the South Fork. A spill of this magnitude later in the summer could of been absolutely devastating to the Steelhead population, especially if it had happened in Kinsey which is literally packed with juveniles come late July into the Fall. I hope with that with our persistence and education we can transcend this era of diesel grown herb and move on to a brighter future that embraces and respects the community and all of its inhabitants.
    Keep up the good work!! Kyle

  • Good story and photos. That wild violet is beautiful. The bunch grass looks suspiciously like stuff I have growing in my backyard!

  • Kyle, Thank you for the information on the Steelhead. I had no idea that those creeks provided a home for the juveniles. I appreciate that you identified the Pacific Giant Salamander for me when I called you but, even more, I love that you write your information on the blog. I think that in the future, a great deal of news will come through blogs supported by communities of “citizen reporters.” The information will be more diverse and more comprehensive.

    Aunt Jackie, look up the plant. It is considered a beautiful addition to gardens and because it is native you can look all hip and cool with your local plant garden.

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  • Wow, nice work. What a beautiful spot.

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