News & Stories

  • Petition to list spring Klamath chinook as endangered considered

    February 5, 2019

    Crescent City Triplicate By Jessica Cejnar

    The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday will consider a petition to list spring run chinook salmon on the Upper Klamath-Trinity River as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

    The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is recommending the Fish and Game commission accepts the petition, which was submitted by the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council in July 2018, according to the commission’s staff report. If the commission determines listing may be warranted, a one-year review of the run’s status will be conducted before a final decision is made, according to the report.

    “UKTR Spring Chinook used to be abundant in the Klamath Watershed and are important to the culture, health and economy of the Karuk Tribe,” the petition’s author, Karuna Greenberg writes. “Their survival as a species in California is threatened due to the destruction of their habitat or range, construction of dams and water diversions, disease, predation, non-existent or limited regulations and other cases.”

    According to the CDFW’s report to the commission, the amount of available habitat to spring chinook salmon in the upper Klamath and Trinity watersheds has been severely restricted by dam construction. The report notes upper Klamath River dams considered for removal in 2021 would reopen historical habitat.

    According to CDFW’s report, the spring chinook population has declined in the upper Klamath-Trinity watersheds, particularly on the South Fork Trinity River and the Salmon River. According to the report, run estimates have ranged between 1,945 and 69,007, averaging 21,339, between 1980 and 2017. Most upper Klamath-Trinity River spring chinook salmon spawn in the upper Trinity River and at the Trinity River Hatchery, according to the report.

    Major threats to the salmon run include mainstem dams, water withdrawals, disease, past logging and suction dredging practices, according to the report.

    Though most letters to the Fish and Game Commission support the Karuk Tribe’s petition to list Upper Klamath-Trinity spring run chinook as threatened or endangered, the Del Norte and Siskiyou County boards of supervisors oppose the proposed listing.

    In a Dec. 11, 2018 letter to California Fish and Game Commission President Eric Sklar, Del Norte County Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris Howard notes the county has been at the forefront of state policies and decisions to eliminate sport fisheries “further eroding Del Norte County’s ability to provide for its businesses and residents.”

    Howard’s letter states a previous listing petition made by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2012 was deemed not warranted by the National Marine Fisheries Service. His letter states that through proper management and policy decisions at the tribal, state and federal level would address disease and other aspects of Klamath-Trinity River health.

    “We estimate that the spring run fishery, from the end of April to the end of June, generates close to $521,000 in revenue to our communities,” Howard writes. “A listing of the UKTR Spring Chinook would result in losses at local hospitality, restaurant, hotel and service sector industry, not to mention those in our community who operate as licensed full-time guides on our rivers.”

    In his letter to Sklar, Brandon A. Criss, chairman of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, also points out several fishing guide services in his county conduct business on the Klamath River. He also notes recreational and commercial fishing is economically important for communities throughout Northern California, pointing out that the per capita median income is $40,884, well below the state average.

    Criss also states a group of stakeholders, including Siskiyou County, are part of a coalition to address water quality and habitat for endangered coho salmon, which would also benefit spring chinook.

    The California Fish and Game Commission will meet at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the California Natural Resources Building, 1416 Ninth Street in Sacramento. Meeting agendas, staff reports and a live stream of the proceedings will be available at www.fgc.ca.gov.

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  • Big surge in Coho salmon population, but the endangered species still needs protection

    February 2, 2019

    San Francisco Chronicle By Peter Fimrite

    The winter rains have caused the biggest surge of coho salmon in a dozen years in the celebrated spawning grounds of western Marin County, one of California’s last great strongholds for the embattled pink fish.

    At least 648 coho this winter made their way against the current up meandering, forested Lagunitas Creek and its many tributaries on the northwestern side of Mount Tamalpais, according to a new census by biologists.

    The coho run is the largest in the North Bay since the winter of 2006-07 and well above the long-term average of about 500 fish. It’s the sixth-largest run since systematic surveys began in 1996.

    The surge of salmon is being credited to habitat restoration efforts for the endangered fish.

    “Many organizations and individuals have worked tirelessly for years to improve fish habitat in the creeks of Marin County, and it’s gratifying to see so many salmon returning to those creeks,” said Eric Ettlinger, an aquatic ecologist for the Marin Municipal Water District, which conducted the count with Watershed Stewards Program, National Park Service and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network.

    “After looking at where the population was just a few years ago I’m actually quite happy that it’s grown so much,” he said.

    The Lagunitas Creek migration is the largest run of wild coho between Humboldt and Monterey counties — most other river systems contain hatchery-raised fish — and one of the most remarkable. The fish swim 33 miles from the ocean into Tomales Bay and through the redwood- and oak-studded San Geronimo Valley, where half their spawning grounds are in developed areas, including the towns of Forest Knolls, Lagunitas, San Geronimo and Woodacre.

    The fish, which can reach lengths of 35 inches and weights up to 36 pounds, swim through people’s backyards, lay eggs and die. Their progeny migrate to the ocean to become adults, returning to the watershed — which includes Devil’s Gulch, Lagunitas, San Geronimo, Nicasio and Olema creeks — at age 3 to repeat the cycle.

    The number of coho spawning this year is a 10 percent improvement over their parent’s generation three years ago and a 30 percent gain since their grandparents spawned, Ettlinger said. Generational improvements like this are what conservationists want to see, especially in a species that has long been in decline along the West Coast.

    But the coho are far from being out of danger, as a half-eaten carcass in the gravel made clear to Ettlinger recently during a survey of Devil’s Gulch Creek. The bite marks were from a river otter, one of a half dozen that frequent the watershed.

    “It looks like this otter ate the heart and internal organs and left the rest,” Ettlinger said, as he cut off the head with a knife and dug into the bone and tissues, which he would later send to a laboratory for analysis.

    “River otters wouldn’t be a problem for a healthy population, but they can do real damage to a small population.”

    Sea lions and other ocean predators are among the many obstacles facing coho, which are also known as silver salmon.

    At least 10,000 coho once swam through the picturesque valley and bred in tributaries that snaked all the way up the side of Mount Tamalpais. Silvers, chinook and other salmonids were once so plentiful that, legend has it, old-timers living along the creek used to spear them from decks overlooking the creek.

    The fish continued to thrive despite rampant logging and construction of five major dams, starting in 1873. The spectacular runs finally came to a halt when Seeger Dam, which formed the Nicasio Reservoir, was built in 1961, wiping out the salmon population in Nicasio Creek.All together, the dams blocked 50 percent of the historic spawning habitat in the Lagunitas watershed.

    Development, drought and habitat destruction have made things worse. In 2009, only 52 coho returned to spawn in Marin’s creeks and tributaries.

    It’s not an isolated problem. Coho now make up only about 1 percent of their historic population along the coasts of California and Oregon. The species in California was listed in 2005 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

    Biologists say a full coho recovery would require the return of 2,600 fish to the Lagunitas watershed. The best winter since biologists began keeping records in 1994 was 2004-05, when 1,342 coho were counted.

    The Lagunitas surveys located a total of 324 egg clusters, known as redds, since the first big rains hit the Bay Area in late November. Since a male and female produce each egg cluster, the number of fish is calculated by doubling the number of redds.

    A year ago, Ettlinger counted 110 redds, meaning there were 220 coho in the creek system, but to his astonishment 30,000 young fish, known as smolts, migrated out to the ocean.

    “The number was far greater than what people thought this watershed could still produce, so that was very encouraging,” Ettlinger said. “We now know that tens of thousands of young fish can survive and go out to the ocean and that restoration efforts in the watershed are working.”

    Chinook salmon also have been seen in the creek, and the steelhead trout run, which peaks in February, is on track to be one of the largest on record, he said.

    He credited a community-wide habitat restoration program — including school work parties — and limits on creekside development. Future generations of coho will also benefit from a just completed project by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, or SPAWN, to build new floodplains on a mile-long stretch of land next to Samuel P. Taylor State Park where the community of Tocaloma once stood.

    Still, only about 2 percent of the coho that left for the ocean over the past two years have returned to spawn, a well-below-average survival rate.

    “This is still a critically endangered species,” Ettlinger said. “Salmon are going to be impacted by climate change and ongoing development, so the population could take a nose dive again if we are not very careful.”

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  • It’s been a great year for coho in the Lagunitas Creek watershed and it continues to be great for steelhead

    February 1, 2019

    Marin Municipal Water District by Eric Ettliinger

    The coho spawning season typically runs from November through January, and this year’s run is ending on schedule. Only nine spawned-out coho were seen last week and no coho were seen this week. For the season, surveyors from the Marin Municipal Water District, Watershed Stewards Program, National Park Service, and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network counted 324 coho redds, making this the sixth-largest run since systematic surveys began in 1996. This run was 10% larger than their parent’s generation, 70% larger than their grandparent’s, and 400% larger than the run of their great-grandparents (back in 2009-10). Such sustained generational growth is a very hopeful sign for the population.

    The steelhead run continues to be on track to be one of the largest on record. So far we’ve counted 65 steelhead redds, which is a record for the end of January. February is peak spawning time and we’re hoping that this weekend’s rain will encourage a lot of spawning activity. Spotting these fish isn’t easy, as the photo below shows. Even though they can be up to three feet long, they’re cryptic, prefer to spawn in fast water, and don’t stay on their redds very long. Your best bet for catching a glimpse of one is as they jump or swim through shallow water. If you’re a local, check out the Inkwells at the mouth of San Geronimo Creek on Sunday, when flows should be receding.
     

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  • Salmon populations may adapt their eggs to survive in degraded rivers

    January 31, 2019

    Science Daily from University of Southampton

    A University of Southampton study suggests that the membrane of salmon eggs may evolve to cope with reduced oxygen levels in rivers, thereby helping their embryos to incubate successfully.

    The research, funded by the Environment Agency and published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, has found that differences in the structure of the thin film surrounding a salmon embryo affects its ability to absorb dissolved oxygen from river water.

    Atlantic salmon are in decline in their natural habitats and it's thought this is partly due to a reduction in the quality of the water in which they spawn. Sediments washed off the land can starve rivers of oxygen by encouraging more organic matter to grow and by silting up the gravel beds where salmon lay their eggs in nests (redds). The eggs rely on a sufficient flow of oxygen across their membranes to successfully incubate and this latest study examines how the structure of these membranes vary in different salmon populations.

    The researchers took a range of measurements from membranes of eggs at a fish farm in Scotland and from conservation hatcheries in four different UK rivers; Dorchart, Tilt, South Tyne and North Tyne. They were chosen for their varying levels of sediment and oxygenation. The results showed membrane thickness, porosity and permeability varied according to each location.

    Further tests on eggs in laboratory controlled conditions showed that those with less permeable membranes were less likely to survive low-oxygen conditions -- in other words, the thicker the membrane, the more likely the egg will be starved of oxygen and perish. Conversely, greater permeability means a greater chance of survival.

    Lead author Jack Bloomer from Tyne Rivers Trust, who undertook the research while a PhD student in the School of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Southampton, comments: "Our findings tell us that the permeability of salmon egg membranes differ according to their location and that their structure affects how efficiently they can receive oxygen from the water around them.

    "What we can't say for certain yet is whether populations are surviving by evolving a specific membrane structure to suit the particular conditions of the river they are hatching in -- although the evidence points to this as a strong possibility and we hope future studies will provide further evidence."

    Professor David Sear, also of Geography and Environmental Science at Southampton, was the lead supervisor on this research working with colleague Professor Paul Kemp of the School of Engineering. Past research by Professor Sear examined how fine sediments from soil erosion, farm run-off, road verges and eroding river banks can accumulate in the nests of Atlantic salmon and other benthic spawning fish.

    He comments: "We've previously shown that reduced oxygen supply to the incubating embryo, due to increased fine sediment accumulation in spawning gravels, contributes to the decline in fish numbers in UK and European rivers.

    "This new research explores the biological factors that might make populations of Atlantic salmon more or less susceptible to a low oxygen environment. With further work, it could have important implications for the management and rearing of salmon populations."
     

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  • Scott Dam in Lake County listed by CalTrout among top 5 dams to remove to benefit fish, habitat

    January 30, 2019

    Lake County News

    LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Five dams across California – including one in Lake County that forms Lake Pillsbury – have been listed as key for removal by an advocacy group in the effort to stop the extinction of native salmon and steelhead.

    In response to what it calls a “statewide fish extinction crisis,” which indicates 74 percent of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout species are likely to be extinct in the next century, the fish and watershed conservation nonprofit organization California Trout on Tuesday released its list of the top five dams prime for removal in the golden state.

    CalTrout said the dams identified in the report were carefully selected based on scientific criteria. The facilities were chosen provide the least benefit for people and caused the greatest hazards for imperiled native fish rose to the top.

    “With the majority of California’s native salmonids at significant risk of extinction in the next 100 years, it’s imperative that we look for low-hanging fruit opportunities to improve conditions for fish, especially when we can do so without compromising public safety or water security for people,” said Curtis Knight, executive director of CalTrout. “The top five dams identified in the report provide only marginal value for people, while their removal would provide significant ecosystem and economic benefits.”

    Among the listed dams is the Scott Dam in Lake County, which forms Lake Pillsbury. It’s one of two dams that make up the Potter Valley Hydropower Project, which provides hydroelectricity, water storage and diversions into the Russian River.

    The project also includes the Cape Horn dam in Mendocino County, along with two reservoirs – the major one being Lake Pillsbury – and a diversion tunnel that sends water south to the Russian River watershed.

    CalTrout said species that would benefit from the dam’s removal including California Coast Chinook salmon, Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho salmon, Northern California summer steelhead and Northern California winter steelhead.

    The project, licensed through 2022 through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has over the last few years been in the midst of a relicensing process. CalTrout that process is likely to call for fish passage over dam, which would be cost prohibitive.

    Pacific Gas and Electric owns the project. On Tuesday, the same day that CalTrout released its list of dams to remove, PG&E filed for bankruptcy.

    PG&E put the project up for sale in September and last week announced it wouldn’t relicense the project with FERC, as Lake County News has reported.

    When PG&E’s decision to not relicense the project went public, CalTrout Executive Director Curtis Knight said that, while PG&E’s withdrawal does affect the process, it will not change CalTrout’s continued efforts to achieve a two-basin solution, and that in recent weeks it has put its resources toward building “a tangible plan that would remove Scott Dam and keep the water interests in the Russian River whole.”

    The organization said that for the last several years, it has been conducting studies in the upper Eel River basin, commissioned dam removal and fish passage assessments above Scott Dam, and spent significant resources in analyzing the water rights and water delivery aspects of the Project in preparation for the Project’s FERC relicensing process.

    CalTrout said it has worked with several other stakeholders in an ad hoc committee convened by Rep. Jared Huffman, and has assessed the fish passage options and water delivery options that will best meet the needs of water users and endangered native fish.

    As a result of PG&E’s decision not to relicense, it’s expected that FERC will initiate its “Orphan Project” process, in which it will allow potential buyers to submit an application for a new project license.

    In response to a question from Lake County News about whether PG&E’s decision to sell and not relicense the project had any impact on its listing of the Scott Dam, CalTrout said that the Eel River has long been a priority area for it, but its involvement in the Potter Valley Project started during the license amendment process in 1995. Since then, they have viewed the habitat above Scott Dam as high-quality potential rearing and spawning needed to restore salmonid abundance on the Eel River.

    CalTrout’s said its primary goal is to open up the 150 plus miles of habitat above Scott Dam and ensure the release of cold consistent water during the spring and summer months into the Eel River.

    “What is promising and what would likely be reflected in a settlement agreement, is that we can achieve those goals while diverting enough water from the Eel to the Russian River in Potter Valley during the high winter flows to satisfy the water users in Potter Valley and Sonoma County,” the organization said in a statement released to Lake County News.

    “Simply put, the removal of Scott Dam opens up pristine spawning and cold-water rearing habitat in the headwaters of the Eel River, which we believe holds the greatest opportunity to return salmon and steelhead populations to historical abundance. Combine this with a FERC orphan process and hydro facility that has historically lost between $5 and $10 million a year and you have got a great opportunity for the conservation and water users to both get the type of water security they need,” the organization’s statement said.

    CalTrout said it’s studied the dam removal impacts on flow regimes on the Eel and Russian Rivers, salmon and steelhead populations, and is producing a peer-reviewed study of the Scott Dam Decommissioning and Removal study conducted by Sonoma Water. “We expect to make this study available for all interested parties and we will continue to analyze the potential impacts and feasibility of the removal of Scott Dam. Nothing in our research has shown that the removal of Scott Dam is not a real and feasible potential outcome of this FERC process.”

    The organization said removing the Scott Dam can have positive impacts on fish, the Eel river watershed as a whole and tribal interests, all the while keeping the necessary flows to the Russian River to support Potter Valley and Sonoma Water interests. “We have yet to analyze the effects of this project on groundwater interests, although we are analyzing the potential for groundwater recharge opportunities in Potter Valley as an opportunity for water storage on the Russian River side of this equation.”

    CalTrout said its Top Five California DAMS OUT Report is a natural next step to its 2017 “State of the Salmonids II: Fish in Hot Water” report, which was completed in partnership with UC Davis.

    That report detailed the status of 32 types of salmon, steelhead, and trout that are native to California and offered data about the threat of near-term extinction facing each of these fish populations. It also identified opportunities for stabilizing and even recovering many of the state’s native fish species.

    Restoring access to upstream habitat through efforts like dam removal is a priority action in the drive to prevent a mass extinction of California’s native fish.

    More than 1,400 dams block California rivers, creeks and streams. Many of these structures block access to salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing habitat.

    CalTrout said studies have shown access to upstream habitat is critical for promoting self-sustaining populations of migratory fish.

    While a great number of the state’s dams provide critical water supply, flood control and hydroelectric power, CalTrout said many others have outlived their functional lifespan and could be removed without impacting human health and safety.

    In addition to the Scott Dam, the other four dams in the top 5 that CalTrout suggests for removal are:

    Matilija Dam, Ventura River in Ojai: Built in 1947 for water storage and flood control, now essentially defunct due to excessive sedimentation. Widespread support for removal among locals and public agencies. Species to benefit: Southern California California steelhead.

    Searsville Dam, Corte Madera Creek/San Francisquito Creek watershed in Redwood City: Built in 1892, has lost more than 90 percent of its original water storage capacity due to sedimentation. The dam does not provide potable water, flood control, or hydropower. Removal would allow steelhead to access historical spawning grounds. Species to benefit: Central California Coast steelhead.

    Rindge Dam, Malibu Creek in Malibu: Located in Malibu Creek State Park about three miles upstream from the coastline, the concrete dam was completed in 1926 to provide water for irrigation and household use. The reservoir filled entirely with sediment by the 1940s. Removal would provide access to high-quality steelhead habitat. Species to benefit: Southern California steelhead.

    Klamath Dams (Iron Gate Dam, Copco Dam No. 1, Copco Dam No. 2) in Siskiyou County: Four aging hydroelectric dams, three of which are in California, block salmon and steelhead fish from reaching more than 300 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. Dam removal is now expected to proceed in 2021, pending a dam license transfer to the non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation. Species to benefit: Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Chinook salmon, Upper Klamath-Trinity Rivers fall-run Chinook salmon, Upper Klamath-Trinity Rivers spring-run Chinook salmon, Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho salmon, Chum salmon, Klamath Mountains Province summer steelhead and Klamath Mountains Province winter steelhead.

    CalTrout identified the dams as ripe for removal by analyzing information found in several studies to assess the overall benefits that removal would present to native fish, water, and people.

    Every dam considered for inclusion in the list blocks access to habitat for salmon and steelhead species listed as critical or of high concern in the State of Salmonids II report.

    CalTrout said these dams also no longer serve the purpose for which they were built and, in some cases, may now pose a public safety threat. Dams that currently provide flood control or water supply for people were not considered for inclusion in the list, nor were any dams that are part of the State Water Project or federal Central Valley Project due to their vital role in securing water for residents throughout the state.

    “CalTrout’s priority is always to find a middle ground that protects the water needs of people while improving conditions for native salmon, steelhead and trout where possible,” said Knight. “Removing these five dams would be a significant step in the right direction for imperiled native fish without having a significant impact on people. It would also be a step in the right direction for the overall health of our watersheds, which is especially important in this era of climate change.”

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