Fate was on duty when a chance circumstance brought two key figures together during World War II.
Listening in rapt silence at the West End Theatre on a recent evening, an audience of 100 heard how mountaineer-soldier Wilbur Vaughn saved David Brower’s life by pulling him into a foxhole during a 1943 barrage of machine gun fire.
From that encounter, the men formed a lifelong friendship and eventually made history in Plumas County — the subject of which ultimately involved dozens of citizen activists and filled the evening’s Wild Words 2018 presentation on “Bucks Lake Wilderness: Past, Present and Future.”
A wilderness idea takes shape
The stage was set in 1951 when Brower, who became the first president of the Sierra Club, made a visit to Vaughn’s cabin at Bucks Lake and suggested the pristine wilderness was worth protecting. Vaughn agreed.
From their dreams, a four-decades-long effort came to fruition and, by 1984, the California Wilderness Act became law and included 21,000 acres of the Bucks Lake Wilderness, designated for permanent protection in their natural state.
Local panel remembers the struggle
On hand for the roundtable discussion about the journey from inspiration to historic conservation achievement were four notable volunteers who worked tirelessly to realize the Brower-Vaughn vision.
Michael and Sally Yost, Steve Evans and Michael Jackson entertained the attendees with humor and harrowing tales of close calls about the process that very nearly did not succeed, the wilderness designation that almost wasn’t.
“Bucks Lake is a protected wilderness because a handful of people generated more than 500 hand-written letters to their senators,” said Evans of the California Wilderness Coalition. “In 1983, that elevated this to the same level as protecting the Trinity Alps and other lands. The legislators told us they don’t get that many letters on anything. So if you want to protect public lands where you live, you need grassroots support.”
With Jackson, an attorney specializing in environmental issues, the Yosts were founding members of Friends of Plumas Wilderness, the organization that carried the Bucks Lake effort through to final designation.
The Yosts became involved in the Bucks Lake preservation effort for various reasons and through their love of backpacking. They formerly operated a backpacking company that held tours throughout the West.
Michael Yost told the crowd, “The Bucks Lake Wilderness is 21,000 acres of meadows, springs, jewel lakes, wildlife, rare plants and red fir forests. There were good, accessible main trails out there even then, before the wilderness was designated. I see wild areas as a bank of the natural world.”
Going around the table, the panel took turns thanking a long list of indispensible volunteers — including Tessie Roberts who brought her 14-year-old son and wore her scout leader uniform to meetings with legislators in Washington, D.C.
Sally Yost, added, “Wilderness isn’t just what’s out there. It’s what’s in your mind and how you connect with everything. We spent thousands of hours writing, designing informational materials, printing, folding and mailing to people here and across the country. We went to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the Bucks Lake Wilderness. One aide told me it wouldn’t end up in the (protection) bill. I almost cried, but then it passed and I learned not to believe what people in politics tell you.”
Value of protecting places you love
Jackson recalled that someone had said to him there was no chance a wilderness would be established in the heart of timber country.
“There’s something about being told that there’s nothing special about a place in the wilderness, a place you love,” Jackson said. “Those of you who love the wilderness — those places are still there for you to enjoy. Today, the Friends of Plumas Wilderness has been revitalized. They’re going to save the Middle Fork Feather River and they need your help. If we could do it, you can do it. The Middle Fork is priceless.”
Wild Words 2018, a project of Friends of Plumas Wilderness with support from the Little-Kittinger Foundation, hosted the discussion — the second in its Local/Wild series this year. FPW members Darla DeRuiter and Will Lombardi, both Feather River College instructors, cohosted the presentation.
Next Local/Wild event April 26
FPW’s third Local/Wild presentation for the year opens April 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Theatre on Main Street in Downtown Quincy.
Acclaimed photographer Tim Palmer of Oregon, author of more than two dozen books on environmental issues, will discuss the 50-year anniversary of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Middle Fork Feather River is one of the original rivers to receive this designation and protection nationwide.