Tending a Borrowed Earth, Igo Pair Live Their Environmental Ethic

Al Carter and I are walking through the blackberry brambles and poison oak on his newly acquired property along Clear Creek, between Placer Road and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in the vicinity of Igo.

Carter seems not to care that it’s pouring rain on an unseasonably cool spring morning. He’s too busy marveling at the small stands of mature Ponderosa pines, and eyeing the invasive plants he needs to chase out. The farther we walk – and the wetter we get – the deeper he delves into his environmental ethic. Carter strongly believes that healthy ecosystems provide for strong economies and vibrant people.

“I see flowers. I see trees. I see everything,” he says. “You look down there at the lupine. See how ghostly gray it is?” He shakes his head, as his thoughts soon extend far beyond his own small piece of the Clear Creek watershed.

“I’m interested in the economics of it. People don’t even think about it. They just complain, ‘We’re spending all this money on some fish,’” Carter says in reference to federal, state and local Clear Creek restoration efforts. “I’m trying to promote seasonal streams. They are huge, important, species areas that provide trout and salmon for the main river. The fly-fishing industry in downtown Redding is international. People have got to wake up. It’s a money-maker, and the money stays in the community.”

We pause to catch our breath in a clearing. Carter asks me, “I’m preaching now, aren’t I?”

Al Carter points out native plants along Clear Creek

Well, yes. But Al Carter has a lot to preach about: Decades of volunteer work on environmental and outdoor causes, during which he and his wife, Marilyn, have walked the talk on their own property in the Clear Creek canyon. Recently, the Shasta Conservation Fund honored the Carters with a conservation award “for dedicating their lives to conserving Shasta County’s natural resources and its rich local history.”

The Shasta Conservation Fund is a nine-year-old nonprofit organization with close ties to the Western Shasta County Resources Conservation District (RCD), a federal agency based locally in Anderson. The group tries to bridge the gap that often exists between environmental organizations, regulatory agencies, landowners, ranchers, and natural resource businesses.

In addition to recognizing the Carters, the Fund also gave a conservation award this spring to Gary Nakamura, who served many years as a forestry specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Redding. Nakamura also helped establish the Forest Institute for Teachers (FIT), in which K-12 teachers from all over California attend a six-day summer seminar to learn about forest soils, wildfire and wildlife management, and other forestry issues. The Fund’s annual watershed student video contest was won by the 6th through 8th grade class at Castle Rock Elementary School in Castella, and by Shasta High School students Sierra Wright and Jesse Ward. (View the Castle Rock video on RCD’s You Tube channel.)

The Carters have lived on 19 acres at the end of a narrow lane off Muletown Road since 1975. Last fall, they purchased an adjacent 52 acres with the intent of healing land that had not been carefully tended. Their new property includes a half-mile of frontage on Clear Creek.

Although most of us can barely see beyond the needs of our children, the Carters advocate thinking seven generations ahead, a philosophy that guides how they manage their property.

“We’re short-timers on this planet,” Marilyn says. “My favorite saying is, ‘We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’”

“Our grandchildren,” Al quickly adds.

The Carters acknowledge theirs is not a mainstream point-of-view. “We’re funky as hell. We’re way out there,” Al says with a knowing chuckle. They also make no apologies for seeing natural resources as something other than opportunities for one-time exploitation.

Back in the 1970s, the Carters were among the first members of the Shasta County Trails Council, a group that advocated for, built and catalogued trails and off-road routes for hikers, equestrians and off-road vehicles throughout Shasta County. Although they have distanced themselves from motorized activities because of thoughtless driving by some off-roaders, the Carters have continued to work on hiking and equestrian trails in the Clear Creek watershed and to coordinate with public agencies. They are proponents of the Mule Ridge Trail Project, now under construction close to their home.  They also are not shy about telling the trail builders where they should avoid riparian areas and expressing concern about erosion on some steep slopes.

“We’ve been working on trails since our kids were babies,” says Marilyn, a retired cardiac nurse. “Now they’re 40 years old.”

The Carters have worked with the Western Shasta County Resources Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and even the Redding School District to advance ecological health. Al helped lead RCD’s Lower Clear Creek Coordinated Resource Management Program, which is aimed at restoring Clear Creek. The conservation award states that the Carters “make things happen by building coalitions within the community.”

“I don’t know what we did to deserve an award,” Al grumbles. “All we did was go to a bunch of meetings.”

But Dave Drennan, president of the Shasta Conservation Fund, says the recognition was past due.

“For Al and Marilyn, it has been all as volunteers,” Drennan says. “Their main theme is, ‘Think seven generations ahead.’ It’s hard to believe people have that much foresight.”

On our rainy walk across his new property, Al, who retired after 40 years as a Redding School District custodian, points out where the previous landowner washed away hillsides above Clear Creek as part of a gold mining operation. We climb up the remnant of a road that was graded many years earlier without regard for erosion or vegetation. We gaze upon oak savannahs that were badly overgrazed by cattle. These days, he and Marilyn implement erosion control measures, replant grassy areas, and spend days removing invasive, exotic species such as Himalayan blackberry, Chinese tree of heaven and Scotch broom. Yes, they utilize herbicides, but they rely heavily on mechanical means of removing invasive plants. They relocate their horse, pony and mule frequently so the animals don’t overgraze an area.

It’s hard work for people of any age, but it’s clear there’s little else they would rather do. “They take home what they preach,” says Leslie Bryan, the RCD’s westside watershed coordinator/climate stewardship coordinator.

Al talks eagerly about providing habitat for wild turkeys, deer, black bear and even fishers who live in the area. Unlike most people, the Carters think in terms of watersheds. “A good watershed provides for the health of the river and for the economic health of everyone, including our friends on the coast in the salmon industry,” he says.

Whether people visit the Redding area for fishing, kayaking or mountain biking, they are spending big dollars on equipment, lodging, food, guides and amenities, Carter notes. In addition, the locals receive the health benefits that come from active lifestyles made possible by the trail system and other outdoor opportunities.

“Healthy people are good economics. That helps the community,” Al says as he restarts the sermon. “That’s another thing people don’t think about.”

shigley-mugshotPaul Shigley is a freelance journalist based in Western Shasta County, CA. He may be reached at pauls.anewscafe@gmail.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.

Paul Shigley

has been a professional journalist since 1987. For 12 years, he served as editor or senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a statewide trade publication for land use planners, real estate development professionals and attorneys. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter or editor at newspapers in Redding, Grass Valley, Napa and Calistoga. Shigley's work also has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Planning magazine, Governing magazine, California Law Week, National Speed Sport News and elsewhere. In addition, he is co-author of Guide to California Planning, a college text and reference book, and is currently working on a book for the American Planning Association about the Bay Delta and California water resources. A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Shigley has contributed to A News Cafe since 2009. He and his wife, Dana, live in western Shasta County.

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