The Clavey River watershed starts in the alpine meadows, granite-bound lakes, and red fir/lodgepole forests of the Emigrant Wilderness in Central California and tumbles through four of the five west slope life zones of the Sierra on the way to its confluence with the Tuolumne River.
Most of the 100,370-acre watershed is in public ownership, managed by the Stanislaus National Forest; only eight percent of the land in the watershed is privately owned.
The free-flowing Clavey River is recognized as one of the three most pristine rivers in the Sierra Nevada, according to the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (SNEP) report’s Index of Biotic Integrity. SNEP gave the Clavey a score of 91 out of 100, making it third behind only Mill and Deer Creeks.
Thanks to the river’s remoteness, varied terrain and diversity of ecological communities, it supports many plant and animal species. Some of these, such as the Sierra Nevada red fox, wolverine, marten, California spotted owl, northern goshawk, foothill and mountain yellow-legged frogs and others, have special status due to their declining numbers elsewhere in the Sierra. Other creatures may not be fulltime residents but use the Clavey’s forested canyons for at least part of their lifecycles.
The Clavey also boasts its original array of native fish species, including rainbow trout, Sacramento sucker, and California roach. In the lower portions of the watershed, near the Tuolumne River, Sacramento squawfish, hardhead, and riffle sculpin can be found. Introduced brown trout and rainbow trout from the Tuolumne most likely use the lower Clavey for spawning. In recognition of the extraordinary fishery in the Clavey, the California Fish and Game Commission designated the Clavey as one of the state’s first Wild Trout Streams in 1972. This designation restricts stocking of hatchery fish in order to protect self-sustaining trout fisheries.
Fish and frogs are not the only creatures to enjoy the Clavey River and its habitat. In more recent history, pioneer-settlers traveled the watershed looking for gold or other minerals, ranchers grazed cattle, and timber harvesters cut trees via railroad and truck-based logging. Anecdotal evidence points to the likelihood of sheep grazing in the watershed, as well. Before that, Me-wuk and Washoe native American people likely traversed the watershed as part of trading routes, leaving behind bedrock milling stations, associated pestles, arrowheads, scrapers and the stone remains of tool-making.
Today the portion of the Emigrant Trail that runs through the watershed is part of the National Historic Trail System, serving as one of the more popular wilderness trails in the area. Other areas within the watershed still support cattle and some recreational horse grazing, off-highway vehicle use, scenic driving, camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, boating, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and other activities.
Source: Clavey River Ecosystem Project, History and Background, July 2003.