Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Standing on a stone bridge overlooking Lagunitas Creek in west Marin County, giddy onlookers observed a male coho salmon swimming upstream toward a nesting area guarded by a female.
Naturalist Catie Clune explained that male coho have a mere 20 seconds to fertilize hundreds of eggs laid by females. It’s a delicate, acutely time-sensitive task crucial for the survival of one of Northern California’s iconic species — and one most people have never witnessed.
Yes, you read that right, 20 seconds.
“This is amazing,” said Larry Martin, a retired food and wine professional from Forestville. “I’ve pretty much lived here my whole life and never seen a salmon spawning in a creek.”
This year’s salmon spawning season so far appears to be a mixed bag, with some locations, such as Lagunitas Creek, showing robust activity, and others, including the Russian River in Sonoma County, falling short of expectations.
Officials with the Sonoma County Water Agency observed about 1,200 to 1,500 chinook salmon in the Russian River this winter, roughly half the historical average of 3,200, according to Gregg Horton, a principal environmental specialist for the organization.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/9145531-181/endangered-coho-returning-to-north
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Planned logging near a Healdsburg stream that provides some of the last refuge in the region for wild coho salmon has been put on hold after a court decision overturned a timber harvest plan for the 160-acre site.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau determined last month that the plan approved by Cal Fire last fall inadequately analyzed potential impacts for endangered and threatened fish species in Felta Creek and the greater Russian River watershed into which it drains.
Chouteau also agreed with neighbors’ claim that property owner Ken Bareilles failed to sufficiently address the effects of logging trucks on narrow roadways and five rural bridges they would travel to haul lumber from the remote parcel.
The resolution is unlikely to be the final chapter in the dispute, with both sides anticipating ongoing legal battles.
“The land isn’t safe until it has a conservation easement on it or a harvest plan geared for limited, smaller-scale logging, said Lucy Kotter, a one-time forester and a spokeswoman for Friends of Felta Creek, which was formed to block the plan.
Bareilles, a Eureka attorney, said Wednesday he still hopes he can start logging in the spring and intended to revise and resubmit his timber harvest plan for approval in the meantime.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8729540-181/judge-puts-controversial-healdsburg-logging
Alastair Bland, NEWS DEEPLY
For California’s endangered Coho salmon, just a trickle of water may mean survival in the small rivers and streams where the fish spend their first year, researchers found.
“Our hope is that people might be more inclined to sacrifice a little water now that they realize it’s not all that much and that it would be really meaningful for the fish,” [Obedzinski] said.
In California’s small coastal streams, where hundreds of thousands of Coho salmon once returned each year to spawn, most wild populations now barely cling to survival. Habitat loss and intensive water use have pushed them to the brink; now climate change and increasing competition for water resources could send them over the edge.
However, recent research offers some encouraging findings – that juveniles of Coho salmon, an endangered species in California, can survive in creeks where just a trickle of water remains flowing. Since Coho spend their entire first year in fresh water before heading for the sea, it’s critical that their creeks don’t dry out in the summer.
Scientist Mariska Obedzinski and three collaborators – Sarah Nossaman Pierce, a California Sea Grant Extension specialist; Gregg Horton, a principal environmental specialist at the Sonoma County Water Agency; and Matthew Deitch, an assistant professor of watershed management at the University of Florida – found that less than 1 gallon per second of flow in small streams is all it takes in some creeks to keep pools interconnected.
Read more at
Tom Gogola, PACIFIC SUN
State Senator Mike McGuire convened the 45th annual Zeke Grader Fisheries Forum last week in Sacramento, bringing together a dozen-odd anglers and experts for an afternoon of testimony about the state of California’s aquatic life. Grader was a legendary commercial fisherman in the state, who died a few years ago.
As McGuire noted, the fisheries meeting this year had special significance, occurring as it did against the backdrop of a reinvigorated offshore gas- and oil-drilling push from Washington, which pretty much nobody in California is supporting.
The meetings occurred against an additional backdrop which has seen sardine populations collapsing across the state and where, in Marin County, state health officials moved to shut down the coastal shell-fishery there two weeks ago because of high levels of a potentially fatal poison found in mussels and oysters at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures are the suspected culprit, an increasingly common theme in state waters that have only recently come through a devastating and demoralizing outbreak of domoic acid poisoning in Dungeness crabs. In short, the poisoning occurs via algae blooms that occur in warm water.
Read more at https://pacificsun.com/feature-of-creeks-and-geeks/
Nicholas Iovino, COURTHOUSE NEWS
Pacific Gas and Electric’s operation of dams, tunnels and a 109-year-old power plant on Northern California’s Eel River harms endangered salmon and steelhead, two conservation groups claim in a new lawsuit.
California River Watch and Coast Action Group sued the utility giant in federal court Friday, claiming its management of the Potter Valley Project in Mendocino County threatens endangered Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
“The project water diversions have reduced flows and increased water temperatures in various parts of the Eel River, in addition to altering important environmental cues that, for example, tell fish when to spawn or begin their outmigration,” the 12-page complaint states.
The groups claim the project also creates conditions that are beneficial to the predatory Sacramento pike minnow, which further threatens the endangered fish.
Earlier this year, PG&E filed its intent to renew its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to run the 109-year-old irrigation and hydropower system. Its existing license expires in April 2022.
Read more at: PG&E Project Blamed for Harming Endangered Fish in NorCal River
SALMONID RESTORATION FEDERATION
Registration is still open for the 20th Annual Coho Confab in the scenic Mattole River valley in Humboldt County this August 24-26. SRF is coordinating this event in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Mattole Restoration Council, Mattole Salmon Group, and Sanctuary Forest. The Confab will feature workshops focused on coho recovery strategies and BMP land stewardship practices for landowners.
Field tours will include the Mattole estuary where participants will see off-channel slough, Heliwood placement, riparian restoration, forest and fuels reduction, water conservation, and stream bank stabilization projects.
Tours will also include a tour of the Salt River estuary restoration, beaver dam analogues, and groundwater recharge planning projects in the Mattole headwaters. One-day registration is now available.
Read more at: August 2017 eNewsletter Highlights | Salmonid Restoration Federation
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The National Marine Fisheries Service, whose mission includes the protection of imperiled fish species, identified Felta Creek as “the only stream in the Dry Creek watershed where wild coho salmon have been observed frequently.”
“There were two years where Felta was the only stream in the entire Russian River watershed that we knew coho existed,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fisheries biologist with the California Sea Grant program who specializes in endangered salmon recovery.
A cold, clear stream that provides some of the last refuge for wild coho salmon in Sonoma County lies at the center of a dispute over logging plans in the forested hills above Healdsburg.
The proposed removal of redwood and Douglas fir trees from a steep hill above Felta Creek and the Russian River Valley poses a risk, opponents say, to remaining habitat for an endangered fish species once abundant in the freshwater streams and rivers of the North Coast.
Some of the trees marked for harvest on the 160-acre property grow on grades of 65 percent — so steep that foes of the plan, including neighbors and several environmental groups, say it could unleash significant erosion into the creek if carried forward. They are prepared to go to court to block the proposed harvest, which is being studied by state forestry officials.
Last week, those officials kicked the proposal back to landowner Ken Bareilles and his forester for significant additions and revisions
Read more at: Fight over disputed Healdsburg logging plan escalates amid state delay | The Press Democrat
Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
A Humboldt County businessman appears poised to get the green light from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) to log most of a forested 160-acre Healdsburg parcel crossed by Felta Creek.
Read more at: Fight for Felta | News | North Bay Bohemian
Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
“There’s not a lot of information out there about how to protect habitat in watersheds,” Green said. “Many people don’t realize fast-flowing, unobstructed creeks are not how this area evolved.”
Walking along the shaded banks of Dutch Bill Creek outside Occidental, geomorphologist John Green and environmental scientist Derek Acomb are satisfied with the winter that just passed. A deluge of water swelled thirsty watersheds, and strong winds knocked down an untold number of trees throughout the Sonoma County.
“It’s been a good year for trees coming down,” said Acomb, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s all about context; it’s all about where you are.”
While falling trees are a threat to both life and property, they create healthy habitats for coho salmon and steelhead trout. As much as dams, logging, agricultural runoff and overfishing throughout the decades have contributed to the collapse of salmon and trout populations, clearing creeks and rivers of downed trees and upended roots has been a major driver, too, Acomb said.
With more than 90 percent of the county’s watershed in private hands, the onus is on landowners to protect riparian habitat on their property. Before an individual can alter downed trees, logs and other forest material in waterways on their property, they must first receive a free permit from Fish and Wildlife — unless there is an immediate threat to life and property. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District can also assist in the process, said Green, the lead scientist and program manager there..
There are times when property owners call Fish and Wildlife, afraid debris in a nearby stream might flood their property or their homes. While there are serious emergencies, he said, most trees don’t pose an immediate threat.
“When they call, they’re in a survival state-of-mind,” Acomb said. “Then the following day the water has subsided and they see they’re going to be OK.”
Until the late 1990s, flood protection was the primary focus when managing creeks, streams and rivers, not habitat protection, said Green, overlooking a creek flowing through Westminster Woods where he has devoted a decade of work. The faster the water flows, the more quickly it can drain water when the rivers hit flood levels.
But without the protection from pools created by debris shaping the creek beds and slowing down the flow of water, juvenile salmon and trout are vulnerable to predators like river otters, raccoons and blue herons, Green said. Pools created by fallen timber also provide a place for coho to wait out a long, dry Californian summer before they finally venture out to the ocean in the winter months, he continued.
“With a little less flood capacity you can have a huge increase in habitat,” Acomb said, standing on the mossy bank next to Green. While the two work for different agencies, they have partnered to restore habitat in west Sonoma County.
Read more at: Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat | The Press Democrat
Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After an absence of more than a decade, a trickle of salmon are finally finding their way back to Sonoma County streams, thanks to private landowners and a coalition of conservationists.
Roughly 22 million years ago, the fish we know as salmon evolved the complicated biology they needed to commute between inland freshwater streams and the open salty ocean. Thus began one of the most remarkable life cycle journeys known on the planet.
Two million years ago, on the ancient California coastline, the salmon would have found a perfect cold and clear waterway emptying into the Pacific near the mouth of today’s Russian River. Running a hundred miles back among high ridges and dense redwood forest, its widely branching network of creeks and tributaries made ideal habitat for the spawning fish and its young.
And that paleo-Russian River has been the salmon’s home ever since.
So it came as a shock in 2001 when naturalists, fishermen and the community discovered that the number of coho salmon counted returning to the Russian River, once totaling 100,000, had dwindled to only 5.
It was found that throughout the watershed, the populations had crashed, and the salmon were disappearing, stream by stream. By 2004, only 3 of 39 tributaries and creeks in the entire watershed held any coho at all.
This past December, in a quiet event out of public view, red-flushed mature coho salmon were once again found spawning in the tree-shaded upper reaches of Mill Creek west of Healdsburg, where they had been virtually absent for decades.
That small, exciting homecoming was no accident. It came after more than 10 years of study and planning, captive breeding and painstaking stream rehabilitation by a smorgasbord of local, state, and federal agencies, private groups, academic institutions, community coalitions and concerned individuals.
And the vital key and the unsung heroes of the salmon rescue, according to those involved, are some of the private landowners whose property surrounds Mill Creek. In a scene that’s playing out along hundreds of miles of streams and creeks across Sonoma County, individual landowners are proving to be the crucial link in bringing the salmon home again.
Read more at: Baby salmon trickle back to Russian River waterways after a long absence | The Press Democrat