by Chris Wood June 24, 2020
Our iconic Snake River chinook salmon are down to less than 1 percent of their historic numbers.
With a few real exceptions, juvenile smolts in Idaho rear in some of the West’s best habitat, but on their way to the Pacific Ocean they must traverse eight dams, including four on the lower Snake River.
How do those dams impact their survival? A recent study used various approaches to estimate Snake River dam-related mortality and averaged their estimates with other comparable studies. The study confirms what scientists have been saying for decades. Read More
Wild summer-run steelhead in the Elwha were extinct before the dams came out. That’s right, extinct. Now – just six years after the dams were removed – hundreds of wild summer-runs have emerged, in all likelihood from the rainbow trout population that persisted above the dams, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
No hatchery was used to produce summer-run steelhead. All it took was unimpeded access to the ocean for these amazing fish to reappear. And, let’s remember, this resurgence happened during a period of poor ocean conditions that have depressed other salmon and steelhead runs up and down the West Coast.
Nearly everyone agrees that Western rangelands will produce even larger and more frequent wildfires in the future. But are engineered fuel breaks the best answer?
Jack Williams, a scientist who worked for multiple federal agencies and Trout Unlimited says, “The primary culprit for larger fires in the Great Basin is cheatgrass, but warming temps compound the problem. Creating periodic firebreaks would help by breaking up and slowing down the flames. We can do that in a way that benefits the natural systems by expanding riparian and wet meadows along our small streams.”
The answer may be a small dose of much less expensive firebreaks and, surprisingly, strategies involving cows and beavers. Ranchers who fence streamside areas and/or rotate cows to rest pastures occasionally and allow streamside vegetation to grow back help re-establish natural firebreaks of lush green vegetation.
The objective of many BLM management efforts is to shift streams that have been degraded by stressors such as drought, wildfire, and historical grazing practices from a non-functioning designation to a proper functioning designation, and then make sure they stay that way. But how exactly do you do that, especially for such a massive landscape?
Land managers are increasingly turning to two natural approaches to restore degraded riparian areas and improve stream habitats, a one-two punch involving grazing management and beaver. New research led by TU scientists and BLM biologists shows just how effective these can be. Read More
Thanks to the bipartisan work of Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and other senators, the Natural Resources Management Act passed the Senate Tuesday evening (Feb. 12). The bill bundles together over 100 pieces of legislation that in many cases have languished for years.
Among other things, the bill permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular program for acquiring new public lands and access for hunting and fishing, without costing taxpayers a dime. The bill also protects iconic rivers such as the North Umpqua, Rogue, Chetco and Elk in Oregon, and headwater streams to the Yellowstone River in Montana.
Helen Neville has rarely been inspired performing grant reporting. But in a recent effort to compile progress toward metrics for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Keystone Initiative, which funds much of TU’s work on LCT, she had one of those wonderful “Wow!” moments in seeing—distilled into just a few numbers—what TU has been able to bring to the table for LCT conservation since the Initiative’s inception in 2010. Read the Full Story.
Historic records reveal abundant numbers of steelhead once migrated from the Pacific Ocean to Southern California's coastal waterways in search of spawning grounds. The presence of steelhead in southern California is memorialized in places like Steelhead Park, which sits along the the Los Angeles River near Dodger Stadium. In the early 1900s, anglers visited this park in hopes of filling their creel with the formidable fish.
Images from the early twentieth century also portray successful steelhead fishing in Orange County at San Juan Creek, and in San Diego County in lower San Mateo Creek and lower Santa Margarita River.
Today, steelhead are nearly non-existent in Southern California - a strikingly different picture than the one painted by historic accounts. See The Story of Recovery.
Handpicking places for protection is becoming the conservation norm. As mass extinctions and climate flux confront ecosystems with the most unpredictable challenges the natural world has seen in millennia, scientists and land managers are discarding their efforts to resist all change. Cindy Noble, chair of Trout Unlimited’s Feather River Chapter reports “We don’t want to dump a bunch of time and money into a problem we can never fix, We are not going to do this the stupid way.”
Assessing where fish seem to be thriving, and where threats are most prevalent, will allow scientists to prioritize their efforts to protect and restore aquatic habitat in the upper Feather River region. The project is part of Trout Unlimited’s mission to sustain California’s cold-water fisheries. Read the full story to understand the work.
Beaver Dam Analogs, BDAs, have become popular in meadow restoration. Our chapter has worked with them in Audrain Meadow. Simultaneously they have contributed to a significant restoration in Squaw Valley.
Trout Unlimited believes that conservation work begins with people. This belief was affirmed again when over 75 volunteers gathered recently to renew one of the Lake Tahoe region’s most popular places—Squaw Valley—and begin the process of restoring its namesake stream to a more natural state. Squaw Creek is that stream. Once home to native Lahontan cutthroat trout, it is now the focus of a partnership-driven restoration project with TU at its heart. Read full story
Ten years ago, on a river revered for its huge wild steelhead, more than a ton of dynamite reduced a 47-foot high dam to rubble. At the time, it was the largest dam ever removed in the United States. It was also the first dam to be removed without first removing entrained silt. The operation was a success in removing the silt within a few days and long term return of steelhead.
As with subsequent dam removal projects on rivers such as the Penobscot, Elwha and Carmel, it didn’t take long for migratory fishes such as salmon and steelhead to begin moving into the upper reaches of the Sandy River, habitat they hadn’t reached for more than a century.
But would taking out the dam lead to a real boost in anadromous fish numbers in the system? This October, in a 10-year retrospective, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife looked at the numbers and offered the answer: an “unqualified yes.” The action was also revealing in that all of the silt was removed in days with the river returning to normalcy.