ECOS Diagram

Those of us fortunate enough to have experienced the Camp 9 section of the Stanislaus River near Angels Camp in the early 1970s remember the exciting rapids, the towering limestone cliffs, the caves decorated with Native American petroglyphs and  the stunning beauty of Rose Creek. For those of us who were there, it was love at first sight! You wanted to enjoy the Stan and all the other Sierra rivers often and forever.

There were at least two problems with this plan. First, the Stanislaus was on track to be destroyed by a dam in the next decade. Second, all the other rivers in the Sierras were similarly threatened by poorly thought out plans to add to California’s already 1400 dams. When the Stanislaus was lost to the Melones Reservoir some were heartbroken and simply gave up. Others decided to fight, and that was how our original river company, Scott Free River Expeditions, was born. Its purpose was to help California’s rivers get off “Scot-free” and the need could not have been greater.

It has been a long and winding path from those beginnings to the Mother Lode of today. Suffice it to say that virtually the only thing that remains the same is the primary purpose of the company- the stewardship of California’s rivers. The way we do this has not changed either- it is by hand writing letters advocating for rivers. The addition of the Outdoor Education Program and the Challenge Ropes Course in the year 2000, the expansion of the camp from the original 4 acres to the current 20 over the years- these are all important changes that help create the Mother Lode River Center of today.

We love rivers….

The mission of our company has always been to advocate for rivers through education and conservation. Whether it is a Sierra river like the Merced that formed the Yosemite Valley, the Colorado in the Grand Canyon, or your favorite creek in your own backyard, it seems that those who choose to protect the environment are those who most directly Experience it. Natural places like rivers transform you and help form a deep Connection with them. They sharpen your senses and powers of Observation. The result is a desire to take action and engage in acts of Stewardship to save these places for future generations. Our shorthand for this process is ECOS and it underlies all our programs at Mother Lode. We take satisfaction in knowing that over the past four decades over 290,000 Mother Lode participants have not only experienced rivers, they have also been moved to help protect them through acts of stewardship. Over 29,000 have written letters in successful efforts to help protect 14 of California’s rivers including all three Forks of the American River, the Yuba, Tuolumne, Merced, Kings, Kern, five other rivers, Sespe and Cache Creeks. This achievement has been a team effort by an aroused river community led by California’s foremost river conservation organization, Friends of the River. During the 2015 season we helped the Foothill Conservancy and FOR move closer to achieving permanent protection for the Mokelumne River under the State Wild and Scenic Rivers Act with the passage of AB 142. During the 2016 season we wrote over 900 letters in support of the Merced River and 600 letters on the Bear River. As we complete the 2017 season we have written another 1200 letters in support of the Bear River in opposition to the proposed Centennial Dam. We attribute this success to ECOS and the magic of rivers!

Environmental Education Program…..

A particularly important way to support the future of rivers is to raise the awareness of youth to the unique value of rivers and to inspire them to study the science of rivers. Since its inception in the year 2000, thousands of students have participated in our Outdoor Education Programs in which River Science is among the most popular choices.  As this number grows, so too does the awareness of our future leaders.

Climate Change and the New Threat to Rivers…..

Like the planet as a whole, the future of rivers is profoundly affected by human induced climate change. Since Dr. James Hansen of NASA sounded the alarm about climate change in 1981, the science has become increasingly clear that many of the most severe future threats to rivers will be driven by fossil fuel consumption and rising greenhouse gas concentrations. As a result, our Sustainable Practices Program became a core element of our Outdoor Education Programs and in 2007 we drafted our Greenhouse Gas Action Plan or GAP which analyzed our carbon footprint and set a series of goals based upon the IPCC recommendations. By the 2008 season we had implemented the GAP with solar hot water heating, waste vegetable oil (WVO) as fuel for our vehicles, a permaculture garden and energy conservation measures which allowed us to better the IPCC guidelines by 10% and its timeline by 4 years.

Although it was gratifying when The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) chose our carbon reduction effort for presentation to their meeting in Vancouver, BC in November of 2008 (check out the ECOS video below that was shown at the conference), the very fact that it stood out was a bad sign for the world’s climate! Without radical changes in national and international policy profound consequences would follow.


So in December of 2015 when COP21 convened in Paris, there seemed to be little reason for optimism. Almost unbelievably an historic event occurred when 195 nations unanimously adopted two degrees centigrade as their target and signed the COP21 Climate Change Agreement! Although President Obama played an important role in the success of the conference, this effort did not originate from Washington, rather it was the result of grassroots activism.  “Subnational actors,” such as states and cities from around the world, demonstrated amazing feats of leadership with aggressive de-carbonization goals that far outstripped their respective governments. (Adriane was part of this effort, see: “The World Agrees: Let’s Get Busy on Climate!“)

Continuing the fight……

What comes next?  The planet Earth is at a crossroads. Whether your passion is climate change, ocean acidification, species extinction, or something as local as the threat to California’s rivers, the years ahead are critical.

At Mother Lode we choose to draw a line at California’s rivers, both because we know and care about them, and also because we have proven we can make a difference. The new threats to the San Joaquin and Bear Rivers, as well as the stirring of the thrice killed beast, the Auburn Dam, are unacceptable risks to the health of California’s river system. It helps to remember that forty years ago when we began our struggle to protect rivers the odds were stacked even higher against us. Yet there have been no rivers destroyed in California since the Stanislaus River, and the decisions to protect our rivers have not only proven to be wise, they have served as an example and inspiration to those who struggle to protect rivers all over the world. This season  join us and stand up for rivers!

See you on the river,

Scott the RiverDoc, Penny, Scotty, Ryan, Ben, Heather, Charlie the RiverDog and the whole MaLode EcoWarrior Clan

A brief review of the Scientific American article entitled  “Managing Earth’s Future” is available in our blog article entitled “Community Sustainability” for further information on this subject.

Our Partners

Friends Of The River

California’s foremost grassroots river conservation organization.

Formed in 1973 during the unsuccessful struggle to save the Stanislaus River, FOR emerged from that effort determined to lead an awakening that opposed the series of dams proposed on virtually every river in California. The Eel River, the North, Middle and South Forks of the American, Yuba, Mokelumne, Consumnes, Tuolumne, Merced, Kings, Kern Rivers, Sespe and Cache Creeks are all examples of rivers and creeks that would have been destroyed without FOR.  The success of this effort was inspired by such legends as Mark DuBois, driven by the quiet competence of Ron Stork and Steve Evans, and supported by an army of grassroots volunteers and supporters. The result has been that no California River has been dammed since the Stanislaus, serving as testimony to the power and courage of an aroused citizenry in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. This effort has inspired similar efforts nationally and internationally.

After serving on the Board of Directors of FOR for a decade during its early formative period and then following it closely over time, I am convinced this organization deserves our support.  We urge you to join and support Friends of the River which continues to be the voice of California river conservation in a time when the challenges to rivers are growing rapidly and the need to defend them is greater than ever.

South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL)

SYRCL unites the community to protect and restore the Yuba River. Motivated by the love for this watershed, SYCL advocates powerfully, engages in active stewardship, educates the public, and inspires activism from the Sierra to the sea.

SYRCL was founded in 1983 by grassroots activists determined to protect the South Yuba River from dams. Ultimately, SYRCL won permanent protections for 39 miles of the South Yuba River under California’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Today, SYRCL is the central hub of community activism to protect, restore, and celebrate the Yuba River watershed. With over 33 years of achievements, 3,500 members and 1,500 active volunteers, SYRCL is doing great things for the Yuba watershed as well as engaging in the current struggle to oppose the Centennial Dam project on the Bear River. SYRCL is working to restore wild salmon to their native waters, replanting the banks of the Goldfields with trees, and inspiring activism across the globe with its environmental film festival.

Contributions are tax deductible.

American River Conservancy

What if you save a river from dams only to lose its banks to development? This was the dilemma that created the American River Conservancy (ARC) and the video below honoring its 20th Anniversary describes the birth and trajectory of one of California’s most successful land trusts. Mother Lode has been a consistent supporter of the ARC since its formation and its owner, Scott Underwood, served 18 years as a member of its Board. To date the Conservancy has helped preserve over 15,000 acres on the South Fork of the American River alone with the establishment of a multi use trail system that is over 25 miles in length and rapidly gaining popularity. It has also preserved extensive land on the Consumnes River and recently completed a 10,000-acre acquisition to preserve land in the American River watershed at Granite Chief near Lake Tahoe. The Wakamatsu Farm project is another accomplishment that preserves 272 acres of the Tea and Silk Colony of Okei-San in Coloma, the original Japanese colony in America. In addition to historical displays and tours this location now also supports an organic farm supplying produce to the local community through a CSA.

Contributions to the ARC are fully tax deductible and the organization has among the lowest administrative overheads of any organization of its kind.

Protect American River Canyons (PARC)

PARC sponsors the Confluence Festival, outings and river cleanups. PARC makes public presentations, publishes the American River Guide Book and a seasonal newsletter, and remains alert to the political situation of the canyons. PARC is a member of the American River Coalition, which coordinates American River lobbying efforts.

The North and Middle forks of the American River flow west through the scenic canyons of the central Sierra Nevada to its confluence with the Sacramento River in California’s capital city. The river’s spacious canyons include nationally significant cultural and natural features that draw visitors from all over the world.

We are proud that one of Mother Lode’s founding Board members, Tony DiRiggi, also serves with PARC and was responsible for editing and revising its most recent version of its American River Guide Book. Contributions are tax deductible and participation in the activities of PARC are vital to raising public awareness.

The International Ecotourism Society

TIES honored the Mother Lode River Center in October of 2008 by selecting Scott Underwood as a presenter in the Green Operations and Technology Track, Conservation Section at their Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. The River Center was recognized for achieving decreases in carbon emissions through green technologies and its successful advocacy of  conservation through education and political action in support of California rivers.

TIES is a vigorous nonprofit organization supporting responsible tourism worldwide which deserves our continuing support for its educational and advocacy activities. Contributions are tax deductible.