News & Stories

  • Creek work in Sonoma Valley to remove barriers for steelhead

    September 15, 2014

    By Eloisa Ruano Gonzalez, The Press Democratic

    Steelhead trout once returned in strong numbers to Sonoma Valley from the ocean and San Pablo Bay, swimming up Sonoma Creek to the sheltered waters of Stuart Creek, an ideal stream for spawning and rearing with its rocky bed and abundance of aquatic vegetation and insects.

    For decades though, it’s been rare to spot steelhead upstream in the creek near Glen Ellen. Man-made barriers and steep drop-offs formed by erosion have blocked their access, further imperiling a fish that has disappeared from much of its former range on the North Coast.

    However, work is underway to restore a section of Stuart Creek in hopes of bringing back its once sizable steelhead run.

    Work crews last week were out at a 3.5-acre property on the creek north of Sonoma Valley Regional Park building a series of five pools and chutes to ease the upstream journey for the federally threatened species.

    “Once we deal with these, there are no other barriers for their movement,” said Tony Nelson, stewardship project manager with Sonoma Land Trust.

    The nonprofit group in 2011 purchased the so-called Stuart Creek Run property, a pivotal piece of land that could help the group open up access to 2.5 miles of protected spawning habitat.

    When it first bought the property, the trust was aware of only one major barrier — a bridge culvert on Stuart Creek Run, according to communications director Sheri Cardo. She said they found after purchasing the land that two other barriers needed to be resolved: a culvert under a bridge on Arnold Drive in the heart of Glen Ellen just southwest of Stuart Creek Run and a historic dam on Glen Oaks Ranch, a 234-acre property across Highway 12 that the group owns.

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  • Fall run adult salmon begin their return to Siskiyou County

    September 15, 2014

    Siskiyou Daily News By David Smith

    The first adult Chinook salmon are returning to Siskiyou County, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife monitoring data.

    Counting facilities opened on the Shasta River on Aug. 28 and on Bogus Creek on Sept. 4.

    Thus far, the data show that no Chinook or coho salmon have been observed in Bogus Creek. Last year, the first Chinook observation occurred on Sept. 17, with the largest numbers starting to arrive closer to the end of the month.

    As of Sept. 12, 125 Chinook had been observed on the Shasta River, setting that river off to an earlier rush than 2013. No coho have been observed on the Shasta, but data show that the bulk of coho returns start in mid-to-late October.

    According to CDFW fisheries biologist Morgan Knechtle, the Scott River counting facility is expecting to open in October, which agency data show is the typical month returns begin.

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  • Los Padres gravel project gives drought-stressed steelhead more places to spawn

    September 4, 2014

    Monterey County Now by Kera Abraham

    Carmel River steelhead are picky about their rocks. They can’t be too big or too small. So Monterey Peninsula Water Management District is trying to get them just right.

    MPWMD is in the process of stockpiling 1,500 tons of Central Valley quarried rock for its latest steelhead spawning gravel enhancement project. Once it’s all been delivered, likely next week, district staff will dump the rock in three locations within a quarter-mile of Los Padres Dam, with the goal of improving spawning habitat between the Los Padres and San Clemente dams.

    The river’s natural gravel gets stuck behind the two dams rather than rolling downstream, so it’s up to resource managers to give threatened steelhead the right-sized substrate for spawning. Beverly Chaney, the district’s associate fisheries biologist, hopes to increase the available steelhead spawning habitat by at least 50 percent.

    The project began 20 years ago, when district staff placed trucked-in river rock at 27 sites. In 2003 they added another 600 tons. This year’s enhancement, Chaney says, is the biggest yet in terms of cost and material.

    It’s funded by a California Department of Fish & Wildlife grant, including $133,000 to buy and transport the gravel and $35,000 to place it in the river.

    For now, the gravel is piling up on an open field by the Los Padres Dam. Once it has all been delivered, crews will begin loading it onto a truck with a conveyor belt to spew it into three areas: the dam’s plunge pool and along two edges of the river channel.

    Chaney expects all the rock to be placed by mid-October, in time for winter rains to start moving it downstream – assuming there are winter rains. This a sensitive time for the river, which is experiencing record low flows as the California drought worsens.

    “We’re going to be very careful not to harm anything out there,” Chaney says. “We’ve got our fingers crossed for rain.”

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  • Racing to Save a Drought-Threatened Species of Salmon in California

    August 29, 2014


    It was just past dawn, and a team of wildlife officials were already out wading into California’s Scott River, at some places just a murky creek trickling through a dusty patch of land. The team is from the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, and they are on an unprecedented rescue mission, racing against the clock to net and evacuate as many of the fabled Coho salmon in the drought-parched streams as possible.

    California has been hit with a historic drought this summer, one so extreme that, in some areas, it has turned rivers and streams into small pools, dried out wells and left hundreds of residents in various communities without water from their home faucets.

    When the water level drops out, many fish become trapped in small bodies of shallow water that can heat up to dangerous levels.

    “We are absolutely on a deadline,” said Andrew Hughan, an information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The fish can only tolerate so much temperature and so much low water.”

    Wildlife officials are particularly concerned about the fabled Coho salmon. Hatched in remote streams, the fish are supposed to swim out to the ocean and return to their birth place to spawn, but there wasn’t enough water for the parents to get all the way back upstream this summer, and the babies were born in the wrong spot.

    “In a drought year like this, fish are going to die,” said Gary Curtis, a Senior Environmental Scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We can’t have thousands and millions of dead fish washed up on the streams. We just can’t.”

    Wildlife officials are hoping to avoid the worst case scenario – the type of fishkill that occurred in 2002, when rising water temperatures left fish vulnerable to disease and tens of thousands of Chinook salmon died.

    Coho salmon can grow to be more than two feet long, but the babies wildlife officials are hoping to find are tiny, just a couple of inches. Officials use buckets and nets to catch them, and then the fish are sorted and carefully transported during the journey to a new home in a way that carefully mimics the conditions in the wild.

    Topics: drought

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  • U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to release dam water for fish in Trinity, Klamath rivers/Decision comes after weeks of pushback by North Coast tribes, official

    August 22, 2014

    By Will Houston, Times-Standard News

    After weeks of pressure from North Coast tribes, river advocates and government officials, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday that it will change course by releasing flows into the Trinity and lower Klamath rivers starting today.

    The decision comes less than a month after the bureau announced in late July that it would not make pre-emptive water releases from Trinity Lake to the two drought-stricken rivers as it had done several times in the past to prevent massive fish die-offs.

    In a press conference, Bureau Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo said the agency altered its decision after consulting with tribes, federal and state agencies, and after gathering more evidence of ongoing drought effects over the past few weeks.

    "This was our basis for our July 31 decision and is the basis for today's decision," he said.

    A strong voice

    Murillo stated that the evidence gathered indicated that water conditions on the lower Klamath River were worse than the 2002 drought, when tens of thousands of fish died on the river due to disease and parasites caused by the low flow and high temperatures.

    The Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk tribes applauded the bureau's decision after weeks of efforts to persuade them to reconsider. On Tuesday, hundreds of tribal members and river activists rallied in front of the bureau's Sacramento headquarters to voice how much the North Coast communities care about the fish and the rivers, which Karuk Tribe Klamath Coordinator Craig Tucker believes made a strong impression.

    "Nothing really communicates it like a couple hundred community members showing up at their doorstep," he said. "I think that made the difference in the bureau's decision."

    Topics: drought

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