Living in Oakhurst

With Yosemite’s Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Valley as a backyard, residents in Eastern Madera County obviously want to take advantage of the topography and views when building their dream homes.

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics, our population grew 2.7 percent between 2001 and 2002. (The entire county’s population jumped by nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2000.) That translates to more than 36,000 households with an average of three people per home. A healthy 66 percent of our residents do own homes, compared to California’s 57 percent overall. And building permits for new houses are being issued in the hundreds every year this millennium.

At the same time, our housing and land costs are significantly lower than Fresno—a pleasant surprise when living on the outskirts of America’s most popular national park.

Area Demographics
As all who have ever tried have found out, it is very difficult to find demographic and other community statistical data that is specific to Eastern Madera County. And since the mountains of Madera County have very different characteristics than the valley, data collected for Madera County often is not suitable to describe and project trends and conditions found in the mountains.

The area within three miles of the intersection of Highway 41 and Highway 49 just about covers all of Oakhurst— lower Crane Valley Road, to the Goldside subdivision on Highway 49, and Deadwood summit to the Bass Lake turnoff (Highway 41 at Road 222). A five-mile radius brings the communities of Coarsegold and Cedar Valley into the picture. The nine-mile radius includes Fish Camp to the north, the Mariposa County line on the west, Bass Lake to the east and Indian Lakes Estates to the south. The 20-mile radius edges into Yosemite West to the north, North Fork and Mammoth Pool Reservoir to the east, south to Millers Corner, and west to downtown Mariposa. While some of the data in the 20-mile radius may pertain to Mariposa County, for many businesses their customer base is included within this 20-mile radius.

The History of Bass Lake’s Eaglets
The story of bald eagle #31—the female that produced Bass Lake’s first eaglets—is a heartwarming saga of a creature saved by wildlife biologists and striving to make its way in a contaminated world. It is recorded by Mike Smith, an eagle specialist, who would like to think #31 is still alive. If she is, she would be 11 years old.

Two weeks after hatching on a lake near Pit River in Northern California, she was taken from her nest by biologists and moved to Santa Catalina Island as part of an Institute for Wildlife Studies project to reintroduce eagles to the island. Once relatively abundant on the island, the eagles’ habitat was ruined by DDT. Thirty-five days before her arrival, biologists removed a DDT-addled egg from an active bald eagle nest and replaced it with an artificial one. At the end of the normal 35-day incubation, the eaglet replaced the artificial egg.

Twelve weeks later, just before fledging, biologists again entered the nest and fitted the bird with orange tags and the number 31. Soon afterward, #31 ranged far and wide, leaving Northern California to migrate north. She was seen—as #31—on the Columbia River atop a salmon carcass. During the winters of 1995, 1996 and 1997, a bald eagle with orange tags was seen at Millerton Lake. And then, in 1998, #31 and her mate were observed building a nest at Bass Lake. Normally, bald eagles do not become sexually mature until the age of five, so maybe these two were still trying to figure things out. In February 1999, both the male and #31 worked on the previous year’s nest and an eaglet was hatched. In 2000, the pair returned again to their commandeered nest, and by late June, two healthy eaglets fledged and departed after a brief period of local wandering and exploration. Yet another eaglet was hatched in 2001, this time in a new nest. This year’s pair has the two young birds, but #31 has vanished.

Bald eagle mortality can range as high as 80 percent during the first year of life. Most deaths are caused by gunshot, collision, poisoning and electrocution. As a Mono Indian told me, “My friend, sometimes it’s not easy being an eagle. They work hard.”

In many ways, the next chapter in the life of #31 is in our hands. I believe that when we respect eagles and the wild places they inhabit, they thrive. So let’s celebrate this magnificent survivor and all the members of her species as they slowly draw back from the brink of extinction. If we give them the space, they’ll take it from there.