Conservation

New hope for coho in San Geronimo Creek

San Geronimo Creek, which provides important spawning and rearing habitat for endangered coho salmon in Marin County, California, flows parallel to the road in the center of this photo on the far side of the former golf course, up against the forested hillside.

Imperiled coho salmon benefit from major land acquisition and open space conservation and restoration project in Marin County, California.

It is a long-standing axiom of wildlife conservation that protecting and restoring habitats is of paramount importance. This makes sense at the most basic, Leopoldian level: without good habitat, the prospects for trout, salmon and other wildlife that occupy a limited ecological niche, in a warming world which has undergone 150 years of rapid development, are not-so-good.

This axiom was on full display on May 17, when The Trust for Public Land (TPL)—a primary partner with Trout Unlimited in two major conservation projects in California over the past few years—announced its vision for a key property in the heart of California’s coho salmon country.

This project involves the permanent protection of nearly 160 acres of land in the San Geronimo Valley in Marin County as open space, with a concerted habitat restoration effort along San Geronimo Creek—important spawning and rearing habitat for coho—which flows through this property.

San Geronimo Creek is a tributary to Lagunitas Creek, the last, best stream system for coho salmon in Marin County. For three decades TU, through our Golden Gate (formerly North Bay) Chapter, has worked to restore habitat in this vital drainage.

TPL’s acquisition of the San Geronimo property—a former golf course—last year was hailed by TU and other salmon conservation groups for its benefits for coho salmon. The iconic coho, or silver, salmon is today one of California’s rarest native fishes. Lagunitas Creek is near the southern limit of the historic range for coho on the West Coast.

This month, TU and TPL formed a partnership in which TU’s North Coast Coho Project will play the lead role in designing and implementing a comprehensive vision for restoring the riparian portions of the property along San Geronimo Creek.  The multi-year project will build upon existing restoration efforts, and a major goal will be to enhance connectivity between San Geronimo Creek and its floodplain. Salmonid science increasingly underscores the importance of floodplains and other seasonal and ephemeral aquatic habitats for juvenile salmon and steelhead.

Native coho salmon, Lagunitas Creek watershed.

TU’s California Water Attorney Matt Clifford, who worked with TPL on both the San Geronimo acquisition and on the acquisition of another former golf course on the lower Carmel River (now a county park) several years ago, said, “Lagunitas Creek is home to the Bay Area’s strongest remaining run of coho salmon. For decades, TU members have been working with other stakeholders in this watershed to keep this run alive. The San Geronimo property, which has some of the best habitat value in the Lagunitas Creek drainage, offers us the chance to write the next chapter of that effort: habitat restoration on a regionally significant scale.”

Local television and the Marin Independent-Journal covered the San Geronimo announcement event and Clifford’s remarks.

TPL’s announcement today was preceded by months of discussion with diverse local stakeholders over the future of the San Geronimo property, and commits TPL to “an enhanced community engagement process” to develop a formal plan for the property. That process will begin this summer and will include site tours, vision workshops and other events. More information is available at www.ReimagineSanGeronimo.com.

In addition to coho salmon restoration, priority objectives for the San Geronimo property include new and enhanced public access for recreation, education and community events, as well as enhancement of fire safety for local residents (including potential siting of a new fire station, staging for emergency response, emergency refuge for West Marin residents, and proactive fuels management). The property also can provide a link between the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore—collectively more than 100,000 acres of open space.

Coho salmon image by Joannatirn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31100636.