The Tragic Death of the Feather River Canyon

The Feather River Canyon

Whenever the Feather River canyon comes up in conversation or in the news the topic surrounding it is usually related to the issues of transporting Oil by Rail through the canyon. There is much more to it than that in this beautiful canyon located in Northern California 8 miles north of Oroville. When the Media addresses the Feather River Canyon they tend to focus on topics that will spark the most outrage. Their go-to phrases are pollution by oil and death of fish. When this happens it tends to cause people to jump on the anti-oil by rail bandwagon without knowing all the facts.

The Feather River canyon has gone through many changes over the years. This image shows Highway 70 and the Union Pacific Railroad winding through the Feather River Canyon following the path of the north fork of the Feather river. Along with this on the North fork of the Feather River itself there are 8 PG&E Hydroelectric Dams. This has had a huge effect on the overall state of the Canyon.

Why the Canyon is Dead

The road and railroad track cut through what used to be untouched land. This has led to the displacement of animals as they may no longer be able to find food or water. In a class I learned all about how dams on rivers cause great harm to the canyon itself. The dams on the Feather River Canyon have blocked the ability of Salmon to swim all the way up the Feather River to their ancestral spawning grounds. The Salmon no longer spawn and die in the river causing a lack of nutrients in the soils in the canyon. The dams themselves also hold nutrients behind them and don’t allow these nutrients to help the Canyon further downstream. A Lack of nutrients over the years has led to how the Feather River canyon looks today. It is dry and crumbling. The dry conditions have led to Wildfires spreading faster and with more devastation than normal. Most of these fires were also started by normal operations of the railroad. These fires have destroyed most of the trees in entire sections of the canyon. This just adds to the problem creating looser ground and increasing the possibility of devastating rock slides and landslides. In a clip linked here about the Oil trains in the Feather River Canyon you can see a boulder falling down a slope from construction up above. It takes out two trees as it falls to the river. If these trees were healthy they would not have easily snapped and fallen over like what the video shows. On top of all of the issues the dams have caused in the canyon the railroad itself is in bad disrepair. The economy and state of the government has led to rail and bridge maintenance to be neglected. Bridges that were owned by the state were replaced when they should have been. Many privately owned bridges that are in disrepair have yet to be replaced.

Butte Creek Canyon

Just about 10 miles north of the Feather River Canyon lies Butte Creek canyon just east of Chico, CA. Butte Creek Canyon can be seen on the left and The Feather River Canyon on the right in this Google earth image. It is pretty obvious to see the difference between the canyons. Butte creek canyon is very lush where as the Feather River Canyon is bare and rocky. Some of this may have to do with natural phenomena or geology but some also has to do with lack of nutrients and lack of trees due to wildfire. Butte Creek is one of the few if not the only creeks or rivers left in California that has yet to be dammed at all from where it reaches the Sacramento River to its head waters in butte meadows. Exploring and working in Butte Creek canyon I have seen firsthand how lush and green it stays even the last few years in a drought. I have also had the privilege of seeing salmon spawn in butte creek canyon.

Why does it Matter

It is important to dig into an issue and find all the facts and the back story before taking a stand or an opinion of the issue. This is a topic that it is hard to find information on. It seems that there are entire topics that don’t get published or talked about. The articles I found all focused on what was great about the Canyon and covered up the bad. This topic and article itself could be expanded on to include a lot more. There is more research to be done as I just went upon some sources I found and my knowledge from a couple previous classes.


Weissenborn, Michael. “On The Wrong Track: Crude Oil Trains in California’s Feather River Canyon.” YouTube, YouTube, 30 Mar. 2016, Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.

“Sierra Nevada Geotourism.” Feather River Scenic Byway-Feather River Canyon — Sierra Nevada Geotourism MapGuide, National Geographic, www.sierranevada Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.

“Feather River Route.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Feb. 2017, Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.