Looking back on 2014, it's hard not to feel despair for California salmon. Come August, several streams in the Central Valley were drying up. Native fish were absent from many of their summer haunts. There was, however, a startling exception to the run of bad salmon news.
On the Shasta River, a lifeline for Siskiyou County cattle ranchers, more than 18,000 fall-run Chinook salmon returned from the ocean. That's more than double the return from the previous fall. More importantly, average returns during the past four years have quadrupled.
Read the full story of this Nature Conservancy success.
Fish disembarking from the Werra that February in 1883 were trout-to-be in the form of 80,000 fertilized eggs from a hard-fighting strain of Salmo trutta, the European brown trout, which makes its first appearance in Roman literature about a.d. 200, swims through Izaak Walton's Compleat Angler and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, inspires Franz Schubert's "Trout" quintet of 1819 and establishes a beachhead in North America with this 1883 shipment.
The consequences of its arrival are felt—on the riverbank, in public hearing rooms and in courthouses—to this day. Indeed, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that the continuing story of trout in America—native and introduced, threatened and thriving—is a fair reflection of our own restless history, with its marathon migrations, its paroxysms of prejudice, its well-intentioned blunders and its reassuring urge to set those blunders right again.
Recently the tide has been turning and there is a broad acceptance that native fish should be preferred over introduced species. This is not always an accepted conclusion in large waters with well established wild fisheries of introduced trout. These conflicts are being resolved throughout the land by cooperative work by scientists, conservationists, landowners, fishing groups and other stakehoders. Smithsonian magazine recently ran a comprehensive article that documents the introduction of alien species the result and work being accomplished to accept their presence or on a limited basis to eliminate the aliens and reintroduce natives. The complete article may be read here.
On December 3 the Fish and Game Commission accepted the DFW recommendation for the designation of Caples Creek, Putah Creek and Lake Solano as Wild Trout waters.
Trout Unlimited El Dorado has worked with the DFW for several years collecting fishing data in Caples Creek directed towards this result. We have also worked with the Forest Service in restoration and planting of the trailhead area on Silver Fork Road.
Putah Creek Trout has over the past six years taken part as volunteers and acted as stewards of the Creek and fishery. This is a very important milestone in the fishery restoration that they have all been involved with. There is still a lot to do in the future to assure that the fishery will continue to improve as such an important resource for those that fish and for those that otherwise enjoy the Creek. This action demonstrates the effects which grass roots action can realize. The Sacramento Bee provided a history of Putah Creek.
DFW is required to designate 25 miles of wild trout waters in each year. The selection of waters this year included a record number of eight, all of which the Commission approved. The list includes Putah Creek, Lake Solano, the Truckee River, Caples Creek, Pauley Creek, Milton Reservoir, Gerle Creek Divide Reservoir, and Manzanita Lake. To see the complete list of designated waters and view maps, please visit us at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildtrout .
It may be a slow year for salmon in the rivers but returns to foothill creeks are showing promise and improvement. Two conservation efforts have been highlighted in the Sacramento Bee lately. The Dry Creek Conservancy works in Roseville on Dry Creek and its tributary creeks like Miners Ravine, Secret Ravine and Antelope Creek. They perform restoration work and conduct annual salmon counts in November and December. With only 3-5 reaches being sampled they found 100 fish on Nov 7, 120 on the 14th and 85 on the 21st. The Bee story ran on November 17th. SARSAS, Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead,works on the Auburn Ravine and tributaries to improve salmon recruitment. Auburn Ravine has numerous obstacles placed by the Nevada Irrigation District, NID, which restrict salmon access. They are on the threshold of gaining a fish passage on the Hemphill Dam with NID. Their Bee Story was published on November 23rd. You are encouraged to write a letter to the Bee urging completion of the Hemphill project and referencing Matt Weiser's article.
Four years ago, the Henry's Fork Foundation, HFF, completed a study examining the role small caldera tributaries play in young wild trout survival. Findings from this study showed that young trout migrate to smaller creek systems - like Fish Creek- in the late fall, when habitat from the main Henry's Fork becomes limited due to reduced river flow or reduced macrophyte.
In 2012, HFF in partnership with the USFS worked to improve altered habitat on Fish Creek by re-routing it back to its original channel bed. Years of straightening, grazing, and irrigation had decreased the quality of in-stream habitat available to young trout, decreasing their odds of finding suitable winter habitat. A deeper, narrow channel should improve winter survival.
Earlier this month, with the help from BYU-Idaho students and USFS personnel, HFF re-visited Fish Creek and found increased trout use throughout restored sections, indicating that restoration efforts were successful in increasing winter habitat availability for our wild trout. HFF will continue to monitor seasonal trout use in Fish Creek throughout 2015.
Current thinking on beavers identifies them as a desirable resource as well as a species to be maintained. Beavers and their dam building provide benefits including storing water, restoring eroded streams, limiting erosion, extending wet cycles in streams, preserving meadows and wetlands and providing wildlife habitat.
We see beavers in a wide variety of places in California but it wasn't always so. Some questioned whether beaver were native above 1000 feet in the foothills and sierras and cascades. These conclusions were the result of near extirpation of beaver by trappers in the 19th century. The Hudson's Bay Company instructed their trappers to make a "fur desert" below the Columbia River so as to make the western states less attractive to the United States. They proved to be very successful and beaver were scarce by 1890. Trapping started about 1823 and continued through the 19th century. It wasn't all done by the Hudson Bay Company and many American trappers were active in California.
California Division of Fish and Game began studying beaver and attempting their placement throughout the state in about 1920. This placement resulted in the parachuting of 200 beaver into El Dorado County in 1950. We all can attest to the success of this program via their presence from the foothills to the mountains including in Southern California.
A comprehensive article on their history can be found here.
This early poster illustrates planting of beaver in California in 1950. About 200 were placed in El Dorado County. This period completed the reintroduction of beaver to a state where beaver were thought to be non-native. But alas they were reduced to near extinction by trappers in the 19th century. Beaver recovery started in about 1920 and continued until the 1950s.
A history of their presence in the state is provided by this California Fish and Game paper by James and Lanman.
The story of beaver placement in California is provided by this first person report by an unknown Fish and Game employee.
Jann Williams of the Forest Service and our El Dorado Chapter created a project to create Red-Legged Frog habitat near Georgetown. Frogs were known to populate private property near the divide. Jann searched for a nearby site within the National Forest to provide added habitat. Several sites were identified uphill from the existing population and Jann described a project and obtained approval for its conduct.
Jann led a team of about 30 individuals from the Forest Service, Save the Frogs, American River Conservancy, three from our chapter and some other NGOs on October 6 and 7 to create three wetland ponds at the site. Additional sites will be created in the near future.
Have you wondered what Trout Unlimited is doing in California. You may know what your chapter is doing but what of the staff in the Bay Area and around the state? The California staff has been preparing quarterly activity reports to show their progress. Read their summer 2014 report to understand the variety of projects in process.
Visually stunning and powerfully eye opening, DamNation documents the attempt to reverse a century's worth of land and water management mistakes. Dam removal is something you can do that actually has immediate effects on the environment. There are 85,000 dams on rivers throughout the U.S. so it's an issue that is literally in everyone's back yard. Most people in the general public just look at dams as part of the landscape and I think once you see the film you'll look at dams a lot differently. The stories of the salmon are deeply effected by dams. Salmon are some of the most versatile and tenacious fish and they are a part of so many native cultures. One of the main problems with dams is that they effect salmon runs. Every spring salmon swim upstream from the ocean to spawn. The trip can be hundreds of miles and after releasing their eggs, most of the fish die. This is a cycle that's been happening for thousands of years. A dam essentially stops this cycle.
Yvon Chinard of Patagonia went to the Sierra Club and asked them to make this movie. Read the story of the film and see how you can watch it.