News & Stories

  • Surprise: Drought may have helped Marin's young coho

    June 20, 2014

     Marin News by Mark Prado

    A record number of Marin's young coho salmon are making their way out to sea and it may be the winter drought that helped boost the numbers, according to biologists.

    The Marin Municipal Water District has been tracking the migration of the endangered species from the county's creeks out to the ocean since 2006. In that time the most coho counted by biologists was 11,000 in 2012. Given the dry conditions in the early part of the year it wasn't thought the number of young coho would approach that number.

    But counts done in the spring showed almost 20,000 of the coho smolts in Lagunitas and Olema creeks, shattering the previous recorded high. It raises the hope that the carry capacity for coho in the Lagunitas watershed is greater than previously thought and could bode well for the recovery of the imperiled species.

    "It was a huge surprise, we were expecting more like a third of what we saw," said Eric Ettlinger, aquatic biologist for the water district, which manages many of the creeks where the fish live. "It was the dry winter and the timing of the rain that may have made the difference."

    Because there was little rain in the county until February, the fish — born last year — were in a holding pattern and did not move downstream. Typically as soon as rain begins, the young coho will begin making their way out to the ocean, gathering en masse in lower Lagunitas Creek.

    But the habitat and lack of shelter in the lower creek can't support very many young salmon and they die off before they can get to sea. But because there was little rain in the winter, the young coho spent the winter spread throughout the watershed, which apparently approved survival, Ettlinger said.

    While the Lagunitas fish were much more plentiful this year, they were also much smaller than usual, which could limit their chances of survival in the ocean.

    Topics: drought

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  • Study finds medical pot farms draining streams dry

    June 1, 2014

    Sacramento Bee by Jason Dearen

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Some drought-stricken rivers and streams in Northern California's coastal forests are being polluted and sucked dry by water-guzzling medical marijuana farms, wildlife officials say — an issue that has spurred at least one county to try to outlaw personal grows.

    State fish and wildlife officials say much of the marijuana being grown in northern counties under the state's medical pot law is not being used for legal, personal use, but for sale both in California and states where pot is still illegal.

    This demand is fueling backyard and larger-scale pot farming, especially in remote Lake, Humboldt and Mendocino counties on the densely forested North Coast, officials said.

    "People are coming in, denuding the hillsides, damming the creeks and mixing in fertilizers that are not allowed in the U.S. into our watersheds," said Denise Rushing, a Lake County supervisor who supports an ordinance essentially banning outdoor grows in populated areas.

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  • Is the First Steelhead Trout in Decades Really Back at Malibu Lagoon?

    May 30, 2014

    By Ani Ucar, LA Weekly

    For the first time in decades, Los Angeles media this week reported, an adult endangered southern steelhead trout was spotted in the Malibu Lagoon channel, an event long dreamed of by environmentalists and fishermen.

    But the sighting by members of two government agencies and a non-profit foundation has spurred debate and suspicion among some environmentalists and activists, who question the legitimacy of that claim as well as the argument that the sighting indicates that a controversial wetlands restoration is working.

    In 2012, the California Department of Parks and Recreation launched a dramatic reshaping and bulldozing of Malibu lagoon that opponents say is further damaging the habitat of the degraded, but wildlife-filled, lagoon and wetlands. Proponents, including the state's allies, The Bay Foundation and the Santa Monica Mountains Resources Conservation District, say it will restore water quality to the sluggish lagoon and revitalize marine life, birds and other creatures.

    Suzanne Goode, senior environmental scientist for the state parks department, and one of the officials who spotted the fish two weeks ago, says the steelhead sighting is proof of the restoration project's success:

    "This is very significant because we had seen them in the creek, but never in the channel, proving that the water quality has improved," she said. "The fact that they are in the channels shows that the project was pleasing to them, it has created a better habitat for them."

    But others claim the agency is misrepresenting the fish sighting to bolster support for its restoration project.

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  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries Introduce Voluntary Drought Initiative to Protect Salmon and Steelhead

    May 14, 2014

     Sierra Sun Times.

    The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries announced a Voluntary Drought Initiative today designed to protect populations of salmon and steelhead from the effects of the current unprecedented drought.

    “This is one of many measures we’re attempting to get us through this extreme drought and keep enough water in the state’s rivers and streams to protect our fish resources,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “I am thankful that water users and landowners came to our agencies with ideas about working together in northern California, which allowed us to take this immediate, voluntary action during this important spawning time and improve regulatory certainty for rural communities.”

    The initiative provides a framework for water users to enter into individual agreements with the two agencies in an effort to maintain enough water for fish spawning in specific high priority streams, and implement other collaborative actions like fish rescue, relocation, monitoring and habitat restoration. The geographic focus includes some Sacramento River tributaries (Antelope, Deer and Mill creeks) and the Russian, Shasta and Scott rivers. In return, landowners and water users will benefit from greater regulatory certainty under the federal and state endangered species laws, and may receive incidental take authorizations for California Endangered Species Act (CESA)-listed fish in case a participant unintentionally takes listed fish species while withdrawing water.

    Archie “Red” Emmerson, owner of Sierra Pacific Industries and the largest private landowner in California, was among the first to participate in the voluntary program. “This is one of the toughest water years in recent memory for people, cattle and fish,” Emmerson said. “We have learned a great deal about salmon spawning and rearing on our properties. This year we are volunteering to keep additional cold water in the creek to help salmon. We hope working with the fish agencies will give the salmon a better chance to survive this difficult drought.”

    This is a temporary, voluntary initiative that is only being implemented during federal and state drought declarations or designations, with the goal of supporting agricultural activities while protecting the survival and recovery of federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and CESA-listed salmon and steelhead during this crucial time in their life cycle.

    Topics: drought

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  • Restoration of Dry Creek to continue this summer

    May 11, 2014

    Santa Rosa Press Democrat by Mary Callahan

    Crews will soon return to work in the upper reaches of Dry Creek, enhancing and creating new habitat for coho salmon and steelhead trout.

    About a half-mile section of the creek will be modified over the summer months to slow the current and carve out still-water areas where juvenile fish can rest while in-stream, Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay said.

    The work is part of a 12-year project to mitigate human impact on the creek by restoring it to more natural conditions.

    The water agency will hold a public, neighborhood meeting on the upcoming work Monday, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lake Sonoma Visitors Center on Skaggs Springs Road.

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