News & Stories

  • Study finds danger to Smith River coho

    October 30, 2018

    Crescent City Triplicate By Tony Reed (Justin Ly and Dan Free)

    Authors of the NOAA Fisheries 2017/2018 water monitoring report of the Smith River say tested levels of dissolved copper are alarming, due to the potential damage to endangered Coho Salmon.

    Released Oct. 23, the Smith River Plain Dissolved Copper Monitoring Report focused on defining concentrations of dissolved copper in the Smith River plain.

    “Copper is used as a fungicide to control fungal diseases on newly emergent and growing lily bulb plants,” the report reads. “Lily bulb plants emerge from the ground during the fall/early winter and must be frequently sprayed with copper to control fungus during the rainy season and as new growth appears on plants. Copper is the second highest pounds of pesticide applied during lily bulb production, which is of particular concern because of its high toxicity to aquatic life.”

    Justin Ly and Dan Free were two NOAA Fisheries researchers who worked on the report, which states that in every site tested downstream from the lily fields, concentrations were above levels determined to cause damage to salmon.

    Asked if the results were alarming, Ly, a supervisor at the North Coast Branch, said yes. He added even tiny amounts of copper can elicit effects on salmon’s ability to smell, find food, detect predators and migrate upstream.

    “The levels are high enough for us to be concerned about,” Ly said.

    Free, a biologist with the North Coast Branch, said the recorded levels of copper would not cause visible outward damage to salmon, but damage to its sensory systems would be observable under a microscope.

    Asked if any agencies are testing Smith River salmon for such effects, Free said no, but added that the Tolowa Dee-Ni’ Nation has been conducting tests on Sculpins. Free explained sculpins are native to the river, and do not migrate into the ocean, increasing their potential exposure to pesticides used in the Smith River Plain.

    Calls to the Tolowa Dee-ni’ offices were not returned as of press time.

    “We focused our report on copper, which is highly toxic to salmonids,” Free said, “and Coho Salmon in particular.”

    According to the report, tests were also done in areas outside the influence of pesticides.

    “Dissolved copper was detected at 8 of 13 downstream sites and 3 of 8 upstream sites,” the report stated. “For every site where dissolved copper was detected, concentrations were well above those that cause olfactory and lateral line damage.”

    According to the report, “the lateral line is the visible line along the side of a fish consisting of a series of sense organs, which fish use to detect movement, pressure, and vibration in the surrounding water.”

    In addition, the report said dissolved copper may potentially limit the productivity and growth of salmon populations by reducing their survival rate and reproductive success.

    Asked about upstream test results which still showed detectable levels of copper, Ly said the samples were taken from areas near Little Mill Creek, Sulton Creek, and others. He added some of the levels could indicate pesticides blown from fields. Free said copper is a naturally occurring mineral, and that there are mines along some upstream parts of the river.

    “In really low levels, it’s not unusual to see in a watershed,” Ly said, “But below the lily fields, we saw dramatic increases in some cases.”

    “Dissolved copper was found at all upstream and downstream sites,” the report said, noting that some ‘hot spots’ were found and levels were higher in the fall than in the spring. It also said while water hardness effects the toxicity of copper, it was not enough to reduce sensory toxicity to salmon.

    In response

    In a media release Monday, Greg King, executive director of the Siskiyou Land Conservancy, said his organization is calling for lily growers in the plain to begin transitioning to organic, pesticide-free growing methods.

    “This new report is praiseworthy but devastating,” said King. “Given the 260,000 pounds of toxic, non-copper pesticides also used by lily growers, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Lily growers can no longer be allowed to dump 300,000 pounds of highly toxic pesticides into crucial salmon habitat. It’s illegal, it’s immoral, and it could cause salmon to go extinct even in the Smith River.”

    According to the release, the river is one of the state’s most pristine, it provides critical habitat for young salmon and steelhead.

    “A compromised estuary could cause these species to go extinct,” it states. “At the same time, the state and federal governments consider the Smith River to be a “core watershed” that is essential for aiding the recovery of salmon in nearby streams along the California-Oregon coast.”

    The Land Trust’s release called it clear the testing shows lily pesticides to be the source of the detected levels of dissolved copper.

    To the growers

    A letter from the California Water Boards was mailed to four major lily bulb growers, Hastings Bulb Growers Inc. Palmer Westbrook Inc. Dahlstrom and Watt Bulb Farm, and United Lily Growers, asking for information that could be used to create a water quality management plan. The letter was due, in part, to the test results and water connections between the many fields where pesticides are applied.

    “The expectation is that growers will coordinate their response into a general description of the farming operations and current and planned water quality protections in the Smith River Plain” the letter reads. “Once reviewed and approved by the Regional Water Board Executive Officer, the information submitted in response to this request will be incorporated by Regional Water Board staff into a Smith River Plain Water Quality Management Plan.”

    The letter says that while the plan is being developed, growers are expected to implement management practices sufficient to control discharges into surface and groundwater.

    The letter asked each grower for a description of agricultural operations, assessment of risk to water quality, a description of current and planned water quality management practices, and monitoring and reporting data and a detailed explanation of how data should be provided.

    “The Regional Water Board recognizes the work that has been done since the April 2018 meeting to address water quality risks in preparation for this season’s operations,” the letter concludes. “Regional Water Board staff are available to help clarify the information being requested and to provide assistance as you prepare the response to this information request.”

    A deadline of Feb. 1 was given to respond and the letter was signed by Matthias St. John, Water Boards executive director.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Federal judge orders EPA to protect salmon from warm temps in Columbia River basin

    October 18, 2018

    Seattle Times By Lynda V. Mapes

    A federal court ruled Wednesday that the Environmental Protection Agency must come up with a plan to protect salmon from warm water temperatures.

    The summer of 2015 was a bad one for salmon. Water temperatures spiked in rivers across the Northwest. Fish can die when water temperatures hit the 70s. In the summer of 2015, around 250,000 adult sockeye died in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

    The record-high temperatures and salmon deaths led conservationists and fishing groups to sue the federal government. Now, a judge has ruled the Environmental Protection Agency must develop a plan to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead from dangerously warm rivers.

    The ruling says dams are a big reason rivers get too warm. Waters are predicted to get even warmer with climate change.

    “Because of today’s victory, EPA will finally write a comprehensive plan to deal with dams’ impacts on water temperatures and salmon survival,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, in a statement.

    The Environmental Protection Agency has 30 days to respond to the court’s ruling.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Judge says steelhead need more help in Santa Clara River

    October 2, 2018

    Ventura County Star by Claudia Boyd-Barrett

    Conservation groups are claiming victory in a legal case against United Water Conservation District after a federal court judge ruled the water agency had failed to adequately protect endangered steelhead trout in the Santa Clara River.

    Ruling from the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on Sept. 23, Judge David Carter declared the Santa Paula-based water agency had violated the federal Endangered Species Act by failing to ensure an adequate water supply and migratory passageway for steelhead through the Freeman Diversion dam. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in June of 2016 by a coalition of environmental groups, including the local Wishtoyo Foundation.

    Constructed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Freeman dam is about 10 miles up the Santa Clara River from the Pacific Ocean, near Saticoy. United Water’s practice of diverting water from the river, together with an ineffective fish ladder at the dam, harms a steelhead’s ability to migrate to and from tributaries in the upper Santa Clara River and the ocean, the judge found.

    “Continued operation of (the dam) … contributes to increase the extinction risk to endangered steelhead by reducing and at times eliminating migration opportunities and success for endangered steelhead, and precluding migration of this species to historical spawning and rearing habitat, leading to spawning failure in the Santa Clara River watershed,” Carter wrote.

    United Water must make sure the river has a sufficient flow of water for fish to swim between the dam and the ocean, and it must replace the current fish ladder with new infrastructure that allows steelhead to pass through the dam, the judge ruled. United has until January of 2020 to design the infrastructure solution, working with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

    Steelhead trout are a unique species of fish classified as endangered in Southern California. The trout are born in fresh water, but some migrate to the ocean where they grow larger, and then return to fresh water to spawn. The fish are vulnerable to environmental threats and degradation.

    Prior to construction of the dam, it’s believed as many as 20,000 adult steelhead swam in the Santa Clara River, according to John Buse with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the case. Since then there’s been a dramatic reduction, he said, with fish counting devices tallying just a handful and sometimes no steelhead in the river each year. It will take a long time for the fish to recover, he said.

    “The decision itself isn’t going to bring steelhead back. It’s the start of things instead of the end of things, but that start is important,” he said. “The steelhead in the Santa Clara River are the key to recovering steelhead throughout Southern California. This is kind of the keystone population. If we can bring back some fraction of the historic steelhead runs that we once saw in the Santa Clara River, that’s good news not just for Ventura County but for other areas of Southern California, as well.”

    Mauricio Guardado, general manager for the United Water Conservation District, said the ruling essentially reaffirms a path that the agency is already on. United Water is already ensuring enough water is in the river for steelhead to swim, he said. Additionally, the agency has been working with the National Marine Fisheries Service on getting a design and permit finalized for the new fish passage infrastructure, he said.

    Guardado said the lawsuit cost the agency about $2 million in legal fees and amounted to a waste of ratepayer money. However, he said the ruling does provide a hard deadline for the fish passage project, which should help spur faster action from the federal government.

    “This gives us momentum,” he said. “There’s been a lot of science, a lot of analysis, a lot of meetings, and I think we’re at a point now finally with this court order that we actually see a light at the end of the tunnel and for us and our ratepayers that’s a good thing.”

    Read the article at the source »

  • Yurok tribe revives ancestral lands by restoring salmon runs, protecting wildlife

    October 1, 2018

    San Francisco Chronicle By Peter Fimrite

    HYAMPOM, Trinity County — The giant Douglas fir hit the water with a great splash just as a powerful gust of wind from the Chinook helicopter rotors blew across the river, forcing Aaron Martin and his fellow workers to hold their helmets and turn their backs against the gust.

    “That’s exactly where we want it,” yelled Martin, a habitat restoration biologist for the Yurok Indian tribe, holding up two thumbs as the chopper released the 150-foot-tall tree from its cable and thwap-thwapped away to pick up more timber.

    The charred trunk, weighing as much as 25,000 pounds, was one of 300 fire-damaged trees that the tribe and its partners strategically placed in the South Fork of the Trinity River this past week in an attempt to alter the current, scour out accumulated sediment and restore long-lost salmon habitat in the river.

    The 92-mile South Fork is the longest un-dammed stream in California and a primary tributary of the Klamath River, which used to froth yearly with spring-run chinook, a staple of the Yurok diet for thousands of years until European settlers arrived in North America, logged the forests and built dams that nearly wiped them out.

    The project, on this wild and scenic stretch of the Trinity, is outside the Yurok reservation, which stretches 44 miles from the mouth of the Klamath, but the two rivers converge at the edge of Yurok land and together support the largest salmon run in California outside of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta system.

    “We’re trying to help restore balance to the river,” Martin said of the plan, developed over the past three years with help from the Watershed and Research Training Center in Hayfork (Trinity County), the U.S. Forest Service and local land owners. “We’re adding a natural element and letting nature take its course.”

    The wood placement project, which is being paid for using about $800,000 in grants, is not only the largest river restoration ever undertaken by the Yuroks, but also an important part of their effort to bring back a culture and heritage that was largely taken away over the past two centuries.

    Spring-run chinook, “Nue-mee ney-puy” in the Yurok language, are so named because they head up the Klamath in the spring — between late March and early June — to complete their three-year life span by breeding in cold tributaries, preferably high in the mountains. The species, also known as king salmon, live in the river throughout the summer, storing up fat, and are highly prized for their rich flavor.

    More than 12,000 spring-run chinook once migrated annually up the South Fork of the Trinity, where it wasn’t unheard of for people to reel in 200 fish from a single pond. Then, in 1964, a catastrophic storm and flood caused mud slides on the surrounding hills and filled the river with vast quantities of sediment.

    The dirt was loose because loggers had clear-cut the surrounding forests in the 1950s and early 1960s, leaving nothing to hold the steep ridges next to the river in place. Silt poured into the river, choking off the salmon spawning grounds and filling up the cold pools salmon need to survive. Fishery biologists said water diversions and pollution from illegal marijuana farms have made the situation worse.

    Last summer, only 12 chinook were seen in the river, and the year before only 15 fish were counted by surveyors. The spring salmon run as a whole is less than 1 percent of its former size. The wild coho and steelhead runs are not doing any better.

    “We’re at the brink of extinction for this species, so it’s critically important that we do something,” said D.J. Bandrowski, project engineer for the Yurok. “The tribe relies on the spring chinook to help feed their families. This is widely important for the tribe and its people.”

    Engineers and biologists used thousands of aerial photographs to map the river. Bandrowski said a degraded 5-mile stretch was chosen for the restoration project. A computer model was used to figure out where woody debris would do the most good.

    Columbia Helicopters used one of their aptly named Chinooks to carry the logs to the project site and lower them by cable into place.

    The idea, Bandrowski said, is to position the logs so that they divert water, spread out the sediment, create gravel bars, wetlands on the banks and deep cold-water ponds where juvenile fish can shelter during the hot summer months and fatten up on bugs.

    “What we’re building is a complex architecture, an arrangement of individual wood pieces that are interlocking together (and) will evolve over time,” Bandrowski said, pointing out one crisscrossing log pile wedged between rock outcroppings that he dubbed “Downtown.”

    The ambitious project is one of many in the area spearheaded by the Yurok people who, as much as any other American Indian tribe, have dedicated themselves over the past decade to the restoration of their ancestral homeland, including the wildlife that once thrived along the Klamath River basin. They are key players in the planned removal of four dams on the Klamath.

    The Yurok are the largest tribe in the state, with 5,600 members living in and around the reservation, which encompasses 57,000 acres. They have a small casino with only a few dozen slot machines, a hotel and restaurant, but opioid addiction has plagued the tribe, which sued 20 drug companies this year for pushing on the tribe their habit-forming wares and causing a national epidemic.

    At one time, there were more than 50 Yurok villages covering about 500,000 acres and 50 miles of coastline. The tribe members, who called themselves Oohl, or Indian people, were renowned for fishing, canoe making, basket weaving, story telling and dancing.

    The Yurok were first visited by the Spanish in the 1500s and later by American fur traders and trappers, including Jedediah Smith, who raved about the abundant wildlife along the 250-mile-long Klamath River. In 1850, gold miners moved in, bringing with them disease and violence. The Yurok population declined by 75 percent, and the remaining Indians were forcibly relocated to a reservation in 1855.

    Besides efforts to restore their traditional dances, preserve their historic regalia and revive their language, the tribe has recently accelerated a campaign to revitalize the natural landscape, introduce fire and protect the wildlife on their ancestral lands, including a proposal to reintroduce the California condor.

    It is the fish, however, that tribal biologists say are key, not just for the Yurok, but also for the Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes, which hold traditional fishing rights on the Klamath. The three tribes have long been part of the fish-versus-farms battle that has raged as reduced rain and snow has cut the amount of water available for spawning fish.

    The steady degradation of the watershed and fish is why the Yurok started a salmon restoration project 10 years ago on the main stem of the Trinity and expanded it this past week into this remote, scenic stretch of river.

    “Spring chinook are a valuable species and highly prized by all the tribes, including the Yurok,” Martin said. “This is a very natural way that we can try to help. It’s a start, a step.”

    Read the article at the source »

  • Fishing the North Coast: Klamath River seeing good return of kings

    September 26, 2018

    Eureka Times Standard By Kenny Priest

    In case you haven’t heard, the Klamath River is chocked full of salmon. And it has been for quite a few weeks now. What makes this story remarkable is this is coming on the heels of the river being completely closed to fishing after Aug. 15 last year due to the projected low returns. The CDFW predicted roughly 93,500 fall-run adults were set to return this year, and it appears they may have been right. On average, 122,000 adult fall-run kings return to spawn. In 2017, only 18,410 were predicted, which was the lowest on record.

    Turns out 31,838 actually returned, which provided some hope for this year. The first sign that we knew this could potentially be a good year was back in June. Towards the end of that month the estuary was loaded with kings, likely a mixture of springers and early fall-run salmon. The fishing was as good as I’ve ever seen for about six weeks straight. Around the middle of August the fall run started to push upriver, and that’s when the real party started. And it’s been happening ever since.
    I’m sure there’s all kinds of scientific reasons for the season we’re having, but a couple stand out.

    First, the number of jacks that returned to the Klamath last year was sizable, 21,903 to be exact. History tells us when we have a good return of jacks, the following year should see a healthy return of three year-olds. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing. The condition and placement of the river mouth was much improved this year. It has started to move back towards the north and was much shorter. This allowed for the channel to remain deep and not sand over. Another factor that could have played a part is the extra water coming down from the Trinity. Flows went from 450 to 700 cfs back in July due to emergency releases out of Lewiston due to the Carr fire. Flows were just recently adjusted back down to 450. Whatever the reasons, the Klamath has made a tremendous recovery. And all the signs are pointing towards some epic fishing in the coming years.

    Klamath/Trinity quotas:

    As a reminder, the fall Chinook quota was met on the lower Klamath River on Wednesday, Sept. 12. Fishing is still open from the Hwy. 96 bridge in Weitchpec to the estuary, with the daily bag limit being two jacks (Chinook less than 22 inches) Fishing is
    closed from 100 yards around the river mouth (spit area). The quota on the Upper Klamath should remain open until Oct. 10. Closing dates for the Trinity have yet to be determined. Anglers may keep track of the status of open and closed sections of the
    Klamath and Trinity rivers by calling 800-564-6479.

    Read the article at the source »