The Current Magazine Winter 2016/17 - Page 22


Along with Mill, Deer, Antelope, and Butte creeks in the middle Sacramento, identified salmon strongholds include the Smith; Salmon/Mid-Klamath ; Mattole; South Fork Eel; Big Sur; and Santa Clara river systems. These rivers are the hubs of salmon recovery in California. Now CalTrout and Wild Salmon Center are redoubling our joint efforts to protect these strongholds through the California Stronghold Initiative.

The challenge is clear: in a drier and more competitive water environment in California, we need to be more strategic about how we restore and protect access to cold water in the state’s best salmon streams. Despite being identified as salmon strongholds, many of these rivers face imposing threats due to the multi-year drought. In Mill Creek, for example, just 300 spawning adults returned last year.

Fortunately, California took a big step to address its water challenges by earmarking $1.5 billion for ecosystem management under the state’s 2014 water bond. Hundreds of millions of dollars are available for salmon protection in the years ahead, and Wild Salmon Center and CalTrout will be working to drive those investments into the strongholds.

To make that happen, we are jointly developing an investment portfolio that will promote projects that are critical to conserving the state’s best wild salmon runs. One focus will be getting fish access to clean, cold water.

Wild Salmon Center and CalTrout have already collaborated on one such project on the South Fork of the Eel River, where we are working to understand the minimum cold water flows necessary to sustain juvenile coho salmon during summer months. Once those needs are understood and a water flow assessment developed, local project partners hope to use the information to establish minimum streamflow objectives in the South Fork Eel. They’ll also work with private landowners to implement voluntary water conservation projects.

The South Fork Eel could be a pilot approach to maintain cold water that may be replicable throughout the state’s strongholds.

The need to drive money into water conservation projects in strongholds across the state could not be more urgent. Salmon returns are expected to remain low in the next few years, due to three poor water years in 2013-15. And the future of salmon in the Eel, the Sacramento, and across California depends in part on protecting the remaining harbors of locally adapted genetic diversity found only in wild fish.

We’re looking forward to working more closely with CalTrout to make sure these salmon strongholds are protected for the future.