The Current Magazine Spring 2015 - Page 9

Eel River Estuary Preserve Enhancement Project

In 2012, CalTrout joined forces with The Wildlands Conservancy, the State Coastal Conservancy, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and a top-notch team of engineers and planners. Together this team began the process of designing ecosystem enhancement elements across the Preserve’s 1,200-acre property at the mouth of the Eel River.

The Wildlands Conservancy's project team will restore tidal marshland and coastal dune habitat, fish passage into newly restored high quality aquatic habitat for salmonids and estuarine fish species, freshwater ponds for migratory waterfowl use, and native riparian vegetation along Russ Creek and soon-to-be-re-excavated and restored Centerville Slough.

The project will also protect and maintain hundreds of acres of highly productive pasture-lands for livestock grazing, ensuring the viability of the

area's important agricultural economy. And, central to The Wildlands Conservancy’s mission, the project will enhance recreational uses of the Preserve to allow wildlife enthusiasts and youth educational programs to experience the ecological wealth of the Preserve.

A portion of the Preserve’s lands will be returned to their historic function as an extensive network of slough channels draining tidal marsh, seasonal marsh, and freshwater streamflow from Russ Creek and Centerville Slough. These wetland areas and tidal channels will provide high quality habitat for Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead, as well as endangered tidewater goby, Dungeness crab, and dozens of estuarine-dependent fish species.

A portion of the Preserve’s lands will be returned to their historic function as an extensive network of slough channels draining tidal marsh, seasonal marsh, and freshwater runoff from Russ Creek and Centerville Slough to support salmon rearing. These wetland areas will act as rearing habitat for coho, steelhead, and Chinook salmon, with a newly planted native hardwood and conifer riparian corridor along Russ Creek and Centerville Slough.

Improving Fish Passage

Since the estuary currently has limited access to salmon rearing habitat within creek and tidal slough channels, the restoration is designed to increase salmon rearing habitat for out migrating juveniles in the Eel River delta. The current tide gates prevent fish passage due to high water velocity during their open periods and a properly designed gate will allow fish to access the inboard wetland habitats. In the springtime, fish access to rearing habitat into Cutoff Slough, a restored Centerville Slough, as well as smaller tidal creek channels will also be enhanced by designing a properly sized and style of tidegate to replace the current top hinged tidegates at the mouth of Cutoff Slough.

Completion of the design phase of the project is anticipated for 2016.