News & Stories

  • West Marin nonprofit snares $593K for creek restoration

    May 20, 2019

    Marin Independent Journal By Will Houston

    The West Marin ghost town of Jewell is set to be reclaimed by nature this year with a $593,000 boost from the state.

    The Olema-based Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, or SPAWN, plans to use a grant to restore the historic floodplains on Lagunitas Creek that once provided vital refuge for the now dwindling populations of endangered coho salmon and other wildlife.

    “Restoring the floodplain along the creek will re-create the large, dynamic wetland with off-channels, alcoves and numerous large woody debris structures — all elements that coho salmon critically need for recovery,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of SPAWN and the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “These habitats will create slow off-channel areas that are commonly seen in undeveloped pristine waterways that provide spawning, feeding and rearing habitat for fish and other threatened wildlife including California freshwater shrimp and California red-legged frog.”

    These historic floodplains were filled in to make room for houses, fences and swimming pools at the Jewell and Tocaloma subdivisions along the creek near Olema during the early 20th century. By removing the fill and concrete foundations of the homes and a former bridge, SPAWN seeks to allow the creek to spread out as it once did, improving both water quality and habitat.

    Without these floodplains, the rain-swollen creek waters have nowhere to spread out to. As a result, the water flows faster and more powerfully.

    “(The creeks) just cut down into their own skeletons basically and leave their flood plains up and dry,” said Preston Brown, SPAWN’s watershed conservation director. “If the water has nowhere to go, no flood plains, it’s just going to carve out the bed and transport that sediment out. But by having a flood plain again that sediment can build back up.”

    Newly hatched coho salmon must survive for another year in the freshwater before returning to the ocean, but risk being washed away if there are no floodplains to weather out the heavy winter flows in. To restore the flood plains, contractors are set to begin removing 6,000 cubic yards of fill, concrete and rubble on the site as well as dig out side channels for the water to flow through. This will create slower moving pockets within the channels where the fish and other critters can find respite from predators and strong storms.

    SPAWN has already performed this work last year a couple miles downstream where the subdivision of Tocaloma once was located. So far, the results have been promising, with the habitat improvements stretching beyond the project sites through natural processes.

    “We’re anticipating that here,” Brown said, standing along the eastern bank of the creek where Jewell once stood. “By treating this side of the creek, we’re also treating the other side and upstream and downstream.”

    Various state, federal and local agencies are partnering for this project, which is being funded through the state’s Proposition 1 and Proposition 68 bond funds. Other partners include the California Coastal Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service.

    “Projects like this are essential to ensuring that juvenile salmonids can take refuge and make it through the high, winter flow events in Lagunitas Creek,” said David Press, wildlife ecologist with Point Reyes National Seashore. “We are very impressed with the bold and innovative work that SPAWN completed during the first phase of this project, and look forward to seeing this additional work on National Park Service lands.”

    Local students from elementary to high schools have also lent a hand in helping to raise the plants and trees that will populate the new habitat. The plants will work to stabilize the creek banks, provide shelter and shade and have the added benefit of sequestering carbon, said Audrey Fusco, SPAWN’s plant ecologist and native plant nursery manager.

    “We’ve had students involved all along, through every step of the process from growing the plants, even collecting the seeds,” Fusco said.

    Only vestiges of Jewell remain after the park service demolished the former waterside homes in 2016. What remains are large concrete foundations, brick fences, bridge foundations and a former swimming pool now filled with dirt and plants.

    Dewey Livingston, a Marin historian and author, said Jewell and Tocaloma subdivisions arose after the owner of the historic Cheda dairy ranch, which ran along the eastern bank, decided to subdivide the waterfront into more than 100 pieces. While it is referred to as a ghost town by some, Jewell was merely a subdivision named after a former train flagstop that passed by Omar Jewell’s dairy ranch in the late 19th century, Livingston said.
    “It was one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ places,” Dewey said.

    The neighboring Tocaloma subdivision just downstream was a kind of “suburb” of the community that was established on the other side of the creek, Livingston said. After the national parks were established, the waterfront homes remained in place until their leases expired in the early 2000s and were left vacant thereafter.

    Brown says that Marin must learn from its history as it considers future developments in San Geronimo Valley so as to avoid having to spend years and decades repairing the damage.
    “We can’t make the same mistakes of the past,” Brown said.

    Read the article at the source »

  • After 25 years winter-run salmon return to Battle Creek

    May 19, 2019

    Redding Record Searchlight

    For years fisheries experts have watched the number of winter-run chinook salmon dwindle as they suffered through drought and adverse conditions in the Sacramento River.

    But this year a small crop of the endangered salmon have made their way back from the ocean to return Battle Creek in southern Shasta County, something that hasn't happened in some 25 years.

    And officials hope the fish are the beginning of a new run of salmon in the creek.

    "We're just really excited," said Jim Smith, project leader at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Red Bluff. "It's a pretty significant step, in terms of the winter run."

    Fish and wildlife service officials last year released 214,000 one-year-old winter-run chinook salmon into Battle Creek, about 10 upstream of the Coleman National Fish Hatchery south of Anderson.

    As of last week, 13 of the 2-year-old salmon had returned from the ocean. Smith said he expects more to return over the next several weeks.

    Most salmon return to the stream where they were hatched at 3 years old, so this years returnees will be fewer in number. They also are expected to be almost all males, so they won't likely be finding any females to spawn with, he said.

    More salmon, and more females, are expected to return next year, he said.

    Fisheries officials are particularly interested in establishing a salmon run in Battle Creek to augment the existing run in the Sacramento River, where the fish have struggled for many years.

    The winter run is one four runs of chinook salmon in the North State, each named after the time of year when returners are headed back to their spawning grounds and pass under the Golden Gate Bridge -- fall, late fall, spring and winter.

    The fall run of chinook return to Battle Creek by the thousands each year as they make their way to the Coleman Fish Hatchery. But the fall run return to the North State later in the year than the winter run.

    Before Shasta Dam was built the winter run spawned upstream of what is now Lake Shasta, in the colder waters of the McCloud, Pit and Sacramento rivers.

    When Shasta and Keswick dams were built, the winter run were cut off from their spawning grounds.

    The winter-run populations once reached as many as 100,000 in the 1960s, but since then the fish have struggled in the Sacramento River below the dam because they require colder water, fisheries officials said.

    To help the fish the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam, sends colder water from the deeper parts of Lake Shasta down through the dam into the Sacramento River when the winter run are spawning in hot Redding summers.

    But in 2014 and 2015 the cold water pool in Lake Shasta was depleted leaving only warm water, above 56 degrees, to send downstream into the river. During those two years nearly all the winter run eggs and recent hatches were killed.

    Fisheries officials said establishing salmon runs outside the Sacramento River will help ensure the survival of the winter-run chinook and make them less dependent on a single spawning stream.

    “This is a significant step towards success of expanding the current range of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon and in the recovery of this unique species,” Smith said.

    In addition to establishing a new salmon run on Battle Creek, fisheries officials are working on a plan to re-introduce winter run to the McCloud River by trucking them past Shasta Dam.

    Smith said he expects about a quarter of a percent of the fish released into Battle Creek last year will return this year and next. Nearly all of them will be diverted from the creek to Coleman Fish Hatchery, he said.

    There are barriers in the creek that prevent adult salmon from returning to where they were released, about 10 miles upstream of the hatchery.

    Over the past 20 years federal officials have spent about $100 million removing barriers in the stream that have prevented the salmon from spawning upstream of Coleman. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has several diversions on the stream used to create hydropower.

    The Battle Creek Restoration Project aims to help the salmon get around those barriers. There are plans to remove the final two barriers on the creek during the next two years, Smith said.

     

    Read the article at the source »

  • Endangered Winter-Run Chinook Salmon return early, a good sign for the species

    May 17, 2019

    ABC Sacramento by Briona Haney

    RED BLUFF, Calif. — U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Biologists are welcoming a surprise in the Sacramento River this spring. Some of the endangered Winter-Run Chinook Salmon have returned early and it is a good sign for the future of the species.

    Biologists found that at least 13 male juvenile Winter-Run Chinook Salmon have already returned after being released into Battle Creek one year ago. These fish were part of a group of 214,000 released into the river last year.

    Experts say it is exciting news because the only place this species of fish exists is in the Redding area.

    "They're important because they're an endangered fish species. We're trying to recover them. It's also important because this particular run of Salmon used to be in the hundreds of thousands right here in Red Bluff and they used to support a very healthy in river fishery. So, this is a step toward recovering these fish and the potential for having another healthy fishery in the river," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Project Leader Jim Smith.

    The Winter-Run Chinook Salmon population has overcome a lot of hurdles to see this progress. In 2014 and 2015 drought nearly wiped out the entire juvenile population.

    However, to offset the dwindling population, government agencies have invested more than $100 million to restore roughly 48 miles of prime salmon and Steelhead habitat since 1999, and it seems to be working.

    They say these early-arrivals are a good sign for the Chinook Salmon population. They made it back in only a year. So, they're hoping to see large numbers returning next year as well.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Feather River smolt release to help biologists study salmon life cycle; Carlsbad Desalination Plant updated permit approved by San Diego Water Board

    May 9, 2019

    NEWS WORTH NOTING From the Department of Fish and Wildlife

    On May 8, CDFW released about 1 million fall run Chinook Salmon smolts into the Feather River at the Boyd’s Pump Launch facility. This experimental in-river release will provide fisheries biologists an important opportunity to study how fish respond under specific environmental conditions, as compared to fish released at other points in the river system.

    Anglers have expressed concern that striped bass predation is high during this time period on the Feather River. While predation is always a threat to the young salmon, it is only one of the challenges they face throughout their complicated life cycle. The good news is that current high river flows favor increased downriver salmon survival.

    “It’s critical that a portion of the population survives the treacherous journey downriver, eventually returning to pass their genes to their offspring,” said Jay Rowan, CDFW supervising fisheries biologist. “The traits those survivors pass on will help the species adapt to current conditions and better prepare them for long-term challenges such as climate change.”

    Central Valley rivers like the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne have been modified through the addition of dams, river channelization and flow control. To maximize returns and allow for naturally occurring genetic variation, hatcheries in each river system have begun to utilize a variety of release strategies including trucking a portion of the fish downstream, utilizing ocean net pens and varying release sites to improve overall salmon resiliency and survival.

    More than 30 million Chinook Salmon smolts are released from hatcheries throughout California’s Central Valley each year. This upcoming release of 1 million smolts on the Feather River is only one of almost 100 different releases taking place this spring up and down Central Valley rivers, San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay and into coastal net pens. Each release has a different intent and goals for contributions to ocean and inland fisheries, returns to the river and returns to the hatchery.

    Feather River Hatchery alone will release 7 million fall run Chinook Salmon in 2019. In addition to the 1 million that will be released this week, another million will be trucked to Fort Baker in the San Francisco Bay and 5 million will be trucked to acclimation net pens in the San Pablo Bay.

    Survival prospects for all releases are very good. This year’s large snow pack and high river flows are a far cry from the drought years with low clear water conditions that foster higher levels of predation, disease and other stressors. Survival out of the system should contribute to improved harvest opportunities in the near future.

    Last month, CDFW released 600 spring run Chinook Salmon smolts into the Feather River. The fish were implanted with acoustic tags before their release, and preliminary data indicates that this group is showing a significantly higher survival rate as they travel downriver than fish that were released during low water years.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Feather River Smolt Release to Help Biologists Study Salmon Life Cycle

    May 8, 2019

    California Fish and Wildlife News

    On May 8, CDFW released about 1 million fall run Chinook Salmon smolts into the Feather River at the Boyd’s Pump Launch facility. This experimental in-river release will provide fisheries biologists an important opportunity to study how fish respond under specific environmental conditions, as compared to fish released at other points in the river system.

    Anglers have expressed concern that striped bass predation is high during this time period on the Feather River. While predation is always a threat to the young salmon, it is only one of the challenges they face throughout their complicated life cycle. The good news is that current high river flows favor increased downriver salmon survival.

    “It’s critical that a portion of the population survives the treacherous journey downriver, eventually returning to pass their genes to their offspring,” said Jay Rowan, CDFW supervising fisheries biologist. “The traits those survivors pass on will help the species adapt to current conditions and better prepare them for long-term challenges such as climate change.”

    Central Valley rivers like the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne have been modified through the addition of dams, river channelization and flow control. To maximize returns and allow for naturally occurring genetic variation, hatcheries in each river system have begun to utilize a variety of release strategies including trucking a portion of the fish downstream, utilizing ocean net pens and varying release sites to improve overall salmon resiliency and survival.

    More than 30 million Chinook Salmon smolts are released from hatcheries throughout California’s Central Valley each year. This upcoming release of 1 million smolts on the Feather River is only one of almost 100 different releases taking place this spring up and down Central Valley rivers, San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay and into coastal net pens. Each release has a different intent and goals for contributions to ocean and inland fisheries, returns to the river and returns to the hatchery.

    Feather River Hatchery alone will release 7 million fall run Chinook Salmon in 2019. In addition to the 1 million that will be released this week, another million will be trucked to Fort Baker in the San Francisco Bay and 5 million will be trucked to acclimation net pens in the San Pablo Bay.

    Survival prospects for all releases are very good. This year’s large snow pack and high river flows are a far cry from the drought years with low clear water conditions that foster higher levels of predation, disease and other stressors. Survival out of the system should contribute to improved harvest opportunities in the near future.

    Last month, CDFW released 600 spring run Chinook Salmon smolts into the Feather River. The fish were implanted with acoustic tags before their release, and preliminary data indicates that this group is showing a significantly higher survival rate as they travel downriver than fish that were released during low water years.

    Read the article at the source »

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