Dos Rios Floodplain

Restoration Through the Eyes of Obi Kaufmann, Poet, Painter, and Naturalist

Naturalist, writer and illustrator, Obi Kaufmann. Photo: Pete Rosos

River Partners is delighted to introduce to you none other than the renowned naturalist, poet, and painter, Obi Kaufmann.

Obi is a true master of blending science and art to bring California’s natural world to life in his field atlases, creating a unique narrative based on the shaping forces of earth, air, fire, and water. Not only is he a gifted artist, but he is also an avid conservationist with a passion for protecting and preserving California’s natural resources.

Obi’s writing brings to life the magic of California’s living systems, and we are honored to have Obi share his insights with us on one of our floodplain restoration projects, Dos Rios Ranch Preserve.

Don’t forget to check out his monthly podcast series “Place and Purpose” with Greg Sarris, and of course, his bestselling books – The California Field Atlas, The State of Water, The Forests of California, The Coasts of California, and the upcoming Deserts of California and The State of Fire.

“Dos Rios Floodplain”

by Obi Kaufmann
Originally published January 19, 2023 on Coyote and Thunder

California’s Great Central Valley is a chimeric being. A theater of epic dynamics where California’s iconic rivers dance through the millennia, swelling, shrinking and braiding themselves into what can be described as a discrete, interconnected holobiont.  Given half a chance to rewild from the agricultural regime so completely imposed on it, the ancient systems of biodiversity remember their own self-sustainable vitality in just a few years. Three to be exact.

This is the conclusion of John Carlon, a veteran restorationist (pictured here holding one of my books) who has been working with River Partners for over twenty years to repair riparian habitat across the Sacramento and San Joaquin watersheds. Yesterday, I had the honor of touring the former Dos Rios Ranch site with John, Field Manager Austin Stevenot, our California Secretary of Natural Resources, Wade Crowfoot, and our Director of California State Parks, Armando Quintero.

Dos Rios, at the confluence of the Tuolumne and the San Joaquin Rivers, will soon become California’s newest State Park. Over the past several decades, River Partners has successfully coaxed the land back to a former, fecund identity of floodplain. None of this habitat was here before. There were no cottonwoods, there was no willow, there was no elderberry. The creation of this habitat space now supports dozens of threatened and endangered species like the Least Bell’s Vireo, Vireo bellii pusillus, and the Riparian Brush Rabbit, Sylvilagus bachmani—there are chinook salmon and happy, fat beavers in those flood waters! Not to mention the invaluable service a restored floodplain performs to protect cities downstream (Stockton in this case) from ever greater flood events spurred by atmospheric rivers.

What this scalable investment in land stewardship and habitat resurgence represents is a small but bold step forward into not only shoring up regional climate resiliency, but like the two rivers themselves, a confluence of scientific and traditional ecological insight that maps a strategic route through the closing bottlenecks of the Anthropocene. Apprehending the imminent beauty of a successful restoration project is a transformative revelation. The clarion call effect of this experience floods my heart, presenting an actionable model of just how beautiful the future can be.