Butte Valley National Grassland occurs in a scenic basin within the southern Cascade Range, located in Siskiyou County, California. The National Grassland is 18,425 acres in size and is easily visited along U.S. Route 97, between the communities of Macdoel and Dorris. The landscape is shrub-steppe, dominated by sagebrush, rabbitbrush, bitterbrush, basin wildrye, intermediate wheatgrass, and many other arid grasses and flowers. Western juniper is the only tree, scattered over the Grassland.
The area is east of Meiss Lake and the Butte Valley Wildlife Area, administered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Visiting the Grassland
There are no designated recreation sites within Butte Valley National Grassland. However, a pleasant drive is available through the grassland. From Macdoel, go north 5.1 miles to Meiss Lake Sam's Neck Road. Follow that road west 4.9 miles, through the Grassland, to Indian Point Road. Go north along Indian Point Road for 4.6 miles, and admire the low rock bluffs on the west side. The sharp turn at Indian Point is a scenic spot to park and see the windmill. At Richardson Road, go east 5.2 miles back to Route 97, one mile south of Dorris. If coming from Dorris, simply take Richardson Road west to Indian Point Road, go south, and then return east on Meiss Lake Sam's Neck Road.
Nearby Klamath National Forest campgrounds include Juanita Lake and Martins Dairy (to the west from Ball Mountain Little Shasta Road), and Shafter and Orr Lake Campgrounds to the south (from Forest Road 8Q01).
Butte Valley contains an ancient lakebed, filled with sediment washed down from the surrounding mountains long ago. Meiss Lake, west of the Grassland, is the remnant of the lake that used to fill the whole valley. For over 7000 years Butte Valley has been within the ancestral lands of the Modoc Tribe.
European settlers arrived in the 1860s. Homesteaders drained, plowed and grazed the land. Farming and ranching may have been successful for a time, but productivity declined and many farms failed during the drought and Depression of the 1930s. During the 1940s, when the area was less inhabited, the military used the Grassland as a practice bombing range.
Under the authority of the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tennant Act of 1937, the Federal Government began purchasing sub-marginal lands in Butte Valley. In 1943 the acquired lands were designated as the Butte Valley Land Use Project (LUP). The Soil Conservation Service was appointed administrator and started the task of stabilizing the ground by planting over 4,000 acres of crested wheatgrass. They worked with local ranchers to set up grazing associations and develop local conservation practices.
In 1954 the management of these lands were reassigned to the USDA Forest Service, specifically the Goosenest Ranger District of the Klamath National Forest. While other lands acquired under the same authority were designated National Grasslands, the Butte Valley LUP remained a purchase unit. By the 1980s various attempts were made to dispose of the land. The site was proposed to be sold, and considered for both a prison and county landfill. However, in 1984 the National Grassland designation received strong support from the local Congressional delegation, California Cattlemen's Association, California Fish and Game, and the local public. In 1991 the Butte Valley Grassland received its official status and became the nation’s 20th National Grassland.
Grassland Use Today
The Butte Valley National Grassland is administered under multiple-use management to protect, enhance, and obtain the greatest benefit from all grassland resources. A number of local ranchers graze cattle on the Grassland, under permit with the Forest Service. Wildlife use of the grassland includes mule deer, Roosevelt elk, pronghorn, coyote, marmot, weasel, porcupine, bobcat, snakes, and lizards. Recently bighorn sheep released in nearby Oregon have been spotted near the Grassland.
Butte Valley is a good place for bird watching. The Grassland is home to Swainson's hawk, golden eagle, bald eagle, merlin, and sandhill crane. Winter residents include red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, rough-legged hawk, northern harrier, American kestrel and prairie falcon. Nocturnal species that may be observed at dawn or dusk include great horned owls, short-eared owls, and long-eared owls. Burrowing owls were here historically but haven’t been seen in several years.
For over 35 years Butte Valley has been the site of a long-term study of Swainson's hawk. These migratory birds nest in western juniper trees during the spring and summer, but winter as far south as Argentina.
For information on Butte Valley National Grassland, contact or visit the Goosenest Ranger District at 37805 Highway 97, Macdoel, CA 96058. Phone (530) 398-4391.
Indian Point, Butte Valley National Grassland
Butte Valley National Grassland in winter