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Will overhauling Scott Dam save native fish?

Alastair Bland, THE BOHEMIAN

Salmon three feet long seem to clog the water as the chrome-colored fish, fresh from the ocean, begin their journey upriver toward the high-elevation gravel riffles where they were born. Here, in the remotest tendrils of the watershed, they will lay and fertilize the eggs that ensure the next generation of salmon.

At least that’s how it once was early each autumn on the Eel River. But nature’s security system for fish survival is only as good as the health of a river. In the case of the Eel, a local power company built a dam on the Eel’s main fork in 1920. As a result, Chinook salmon lost access to about 100 miles of spawning habitat.

Steelhead, which swam farther upstream into smaller tributaries, suffered even greater impacts. Intensive in-river commercial fishing, water diversions, logging and other land degradation took their toll, too. Today, annual salmon runs in Eel River that once may have totaled a million or so adults consist of a few thousand. Lamprey eels, too, have dwindled.

Now, there is serious talk of removing Scott Dam, owned by PG&E since 1930.

For fishery proponents, such a river makeover is the optimal way to revive the Eel’s salmon runs.

“We want to see volitional passage, both ways,” says Curtis Knight, executive director of the conservation group California Trout.

Volitional, in this context, means the salmon are able to make their historic migration on their own—downstream as newly born juveniles and, later, upstream as sexually mature adults—all without the assistance of human hands.

“We think dam removal is one possibility here,” Knight says.

California Trout is one of several local groups and agencies now formally considering taking over the operation of Scott Dam from PG&E. As a hydroelectric facility, Scott Dam is not very productive, and with PG&E’s operating license scheduled to expire in 2022, the utility giant recently stepped away from the project. PG&E even briefly put the Potter Valley Project up for auction, though the offer attracted no takers.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/saving-salmon/Content?oid=9360901

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Best salmon return since 2014 leads to longer season for North Coast fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast fishing crews idled by an early end to the Dungeness crab season will have a longer 2019 salmon season than in recent years after fishery managers finalized dates Tuesday, a reflection of this year’s healthier projected adult spawning run.

In fact, this generation of returning adult king salmon is thought to be the most abundant since 2014, allowing for a season opener beginning May 16 and stretching to at least late September in coastal waters between Point Arena on the southern Mendocino Coast and Pigeon Point on the coast of San Mateo County.

That 122-day span is nearly twice the 73 days provided to commercial boats in 2018 — a reflection, experts say, of abundant rainfall when this year’s adult spawners were juveniles two years ago, making their way down freshwater streams to the Pacific Ocean.

The brighter forecast comes amid generally declining conditions across ocean fisheries and continued restrictions needed to rebuild West Coast salmon stocks, twin blows that have landed hard on California’s struggling commercial fishing fleet.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9505574-181/best-salmon-return-since-2014

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Bay Area salmon advocates decry proposed delta water diversions

Bay City News Service, SFGATE.COM

Officials from a San Francisco-based group dedicated to preserving the region’s salmon habitat say a new federal plan to divert more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and San Francisco Bay would decimate the fish as well as jobs.

“This is a blatant water grab that threatened thousands of fishing jobs and families in California,” said Dick Pool, secretary of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

Added GGSA Director Noah Oppenheim, “The Trump administration won’t be able to get away with killing off our salmon runs if the state refuses to cooperate.”

These comments come in response to Monday’s release by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation of a “biological assessment” helping guide long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, which operate separate but largely parallel canals in the Interstate Highway 5 corridor.

The Trump administration aims to make more water available to the agricultural producers in the central part of the state. The biological assessment is part of that overall plan. It isn’t known yet how much more water state farmers could get.

The GGSA calls the assessment’s assertions “a step towards abandoning federal rules governing the damaging effects of the giant state and federal water diverting pumps in the Delta.”

“We’ve seen what happens when water users are given free rein to divert Bay-Delta water,” said Mike Aughney, another GGSA director, who also published USAfishing.com. He said that before 2008, so many baby salmon were killed that the commercial salmon fishing season was cancelled the following year.

If the state opts to free up additional water to help preserve fisheries, that water would likely come from the State Water Project, which serves a mostly urban use base. The federal Central Valley Project largely provides water for ag producers.

The economic power of the salmon fishing industry, GGSA officials said, is approximately $1.4 billion annually, at current volumes. This includes everything from commercial and recreational fishing, fish processors, equipment manufacturers, the hospitality industry and businesses that support the fishing industry.

Source: https://www.sfgate.com/news/bayarea/article/Bay-Area-Salmon-Advocates-Decry-Proposed-Delta-13600379.php

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Endangered coho returning to North Bay to spawn in streams, with mixed results

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

 

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Judge puts controversial Healdsburg logging plan on hold

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

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Local habitat may be at risk

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Trump administration is seeking to alter key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a 45-year-old federal law that has shaped growth in Sonoma County during repeated battles between builders attempting to develop land and environmentalists seeking to protect rare plants and animals.

Federal officials contend the changes to the act — which protects local species like the coho salmon and the California tiger salamander — will streamline and improve it. Local environmentalists have called them a “coordinated attack” on science that could push fragile species into extinction.

The act, passed in 1973 during the Nixon presidency with strong bipartisan support, protects critically imperiled species and their habitats. In Sonoma County, development conflicts have arisen over those species, sometimes requiring costly mitigation measures for projects to advance. But the law has also been a salvation for wildlife on the North Coast, like the gray whale, the bald eagle and osprey, said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

A major change would eliminate language instructing officials to ignore economic impacts when determining how wildlife should be protected.

Other reforms include changing limits on the designation of critical habitat — areas with biological or physical features necessary for the conservation of a species. It also seeks to end to the automatic regulatory process that gives threatened plants and animals the same protection as those listed as endangered, and streamlines consultation between agencies when actions from the federal government could jeopardize a species.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8551721-181/sonoma-county-awaits-clarity-on

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Op-Ed: Stop efforts to kill salmon and fishing jobs

John McManus, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Today, many Northern California commercial fishermen sit in harbors along our coast worrying about their bills and waiting for another disastrously shortened salmon season to begin. Many businesses that serve the normally robust sport salmon fishery also have suffered because of the delay. River fishing guides have lost half their season as well.

Salmon numbers are predicted to be down from the lingering effects of the last drought and the damaging water allocation decisions that put salmon fishing families last. Meanwhile, San Joaquin Valley congressmen are hard at work tilting the balance of water in California toward valley agricultural barons.

These House members are acting like this is their last, best chance for a huge water grab. There are four separate riders in House budget bills aimed at seizing more Northern water at the expense of salmon and fishing families. None are responding to a crisis in agriculture. The past decade has seen record harvests, revenue and employment for California agriculture.

For salmon, it’s another story. During the past decade, California salmon fishermen have seen the two worst crises in state history. Our fishery was shut down entirely in 2008 and 2009 following record siphoning of Bay-Delta water. The Golden Gate Salmon Association and other fishing groups are seeing a second crisis today as salmon try to fight their way back from the drought.

The Bay-Delta’s salmon runs are the most important south of the Columbia River and the backbone of a $1.4 billion salmon fishing industry that supports 23,000 jobs.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8549850-181/close-to-home-stop-efforts

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How much water do Coho salmon need?

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

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Forecast shows California salmon fishermen in for another year of sharp limits

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A third straight year of low king salmon runs is expected to deliver another blow to one of the North Coast’s most iconic and lucrative fisheries, wildlife managers indicated Thursday, as both regulators and fishermen faced the prospect of a federally mandated plan to reverse the trend and rebuild key stocks.

The grim news comes amid a dramatic, yearslong decline in the state’s commercial salmon landings, which are down 97 percent last year from their most recent peak, in 2013, when they hit 12.7 million pounds.

The full picture for commercial and sport seasons won’t be clear for several more weeks, but spawning projections show Sacramento River salmon — historically the largest source for the state’s ocean and freshwater harvests — have fallen so low that they’re now considered by regulators to be “overfished.”

Wildlife officials acknowledged that term minimizes the many factors that have led to this point, including shifting conditions in the ocean and years of low river flows during the drought, all of which have pummeled stocks.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8055549-181/forecast-shows-california-salmon-fishermen

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Fire retardant use explodes as worries about water, wildlife grow

Matt Weiser, KQED SCIENCE

In 2014, scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service published a study showing that two fire-retardant formulations are deadly to Chinook salmon, even when heavily diluted in streams.

Chemical fire retardants are considered a vital wildland firefighting tool, helping to slow the spread of flames while ground crews move into position. But as their use increases, the harmful side effects of these chemicals are coming under increasing scrutiny.
The chemicals, usually dropped from low-flying aircraft, largely consist of ammonia compounds, which are known toxins to fish and other aquatic life. Studies have shown retardants can kill fish, alter soil chemistry, feed harmful algae blooms and even encourage the spread of invasive plants. Yet there is little regulation of their use, and no safer alternatives on the market.
In California, state firefighting crews have applied 15.3 million gallons of chemical fire retardants so far this year, according to data provided by CalFire, the state’s wildland firefighting agency. That’s a new record, and double the amount used just three years ago.
CalFire applied 2.7 million gallons of retardant in a single one-week period starting October 9 – also a record. Of that amount, about 2 million gallons were used on the North Bay wildfires, which killed 43 people and burned more than 8,000 structures in October as they swept across several counties north of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Sonoma and Napa.

Read more at: Fire Retardant Use Explodes as Worries About Water, Wildlife Grow | KQED Science