Modoc County, CA (population 9,197) is rated as the only county in the state as “remote”. It is in the NE corner of the state with OR to the north and NV to the east. With 3,944 square miles, its population density of 2.3 per square mile makes it one of the lowest in the USA.
I had a wonderful 3 hour drive through incredible mountains and valleys from Redding to Alturas, the county seat for Modoc. Amee Albrecht, head of the Modoc County Employment Center, which brought me in for the talk/tour told me prior to the drive, “Be careful because we can get all four seasons in just one day!” She was right as I drove from balmy, sunny weather through rain, snow and hail. At one point hail was pounding my car, even as the sun was brightly shining in the west.
I got an indication of how rural the county was when the local newspapers lead story was, “Spring drive…Tips for driving through cattle drives.” The second paragraph is a classic, “Some of us never imagined we’d one day live in an area where a “traffic jam” involved huge animals with four hooves rather than four tires.”
Amee and another dozen passionate, committed citizens gave me a wonderful tour of Alturas (population 2,898) and Cedarville (population 600), driving me through the same pass (6,300’ altitude) that separates the Sierras from the Cascades and which was part of the original Oregon Trail. Some of the wagon wheel ruts are still visible today in the rugged terrain.
Laura Williams, who heads up the local Forest Service, told me of the importance that the Federal Government plays in the local economy, “We control over 1.5 million acres in this county which is 72% of the total land area in the county. The county gets all of the receipts from timber sales but the spotted owl changed that greatly. Today there is only one large mill operating in the entire county.”
Unfortunately, Washington DC often doesn’t understand how changes in policy can dramatically impact places like Modoc County. In 2001, DC didn’t allow ANY timber to be harvested, not one log! Last year 10 million board feet were harvested and one of the county supervisors on the bus told me that they figured that 15 million board feet per year could sustainably be harvest each year for an indefinite period of time.
Remote often means forgotten. The wonderful people that I met in Modoc County deserve much better.