Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Extreme behavior

The iconic Sundial Bridge, spanning the Lower Sacramento River in downtown Redding, California before and during the Carr Fire.

By Sam Davidson

California is burning.

There are 17 wildfires charring the Golden State, at present. The biggest and gnarliest (of 2018, anyway) is the Carr Fire, which has torched more than 100,000 acres, mostly of public lands, in Shasta County near the city of Redding.

But this fire, feeding off daytime temperatures exceeding 110 degrees F and abysmal soil and vegetative moisture conditions from years of drought, didn’t keep to the hinterlands. It exhibited “extreme fire behavior”—generating its own weather, including fire tornadoes, which caused the conflagration to move rapidly and erratically into neighborhoods in west Redding.

More than 800 homes have been lost, so far. And six people have died as a result of the Carr Fire. Right now, firefighters are battling to keep the blaze from overrunning the sleepy hamlet of Lewiston, on the Trinity River just below Trinity Lake. Herb and Patty Burton’s venerable Trinity Fly Shop is squarely in the crosshairs.

Redding is one of the great trout fishing hubs anywhere. It’s literally surrounded by world class trout and steelhead fisheries.

It’s also the site of TU’s Annual Meeting this year, in the third week of September.

Fishing the Upper Sac.

I have spent many happy days fishing within a two-hours’ drive of Redding, on legendary streams such as the Upper and Lower Sacramento, McCloud, Pit, and Trinity Rivers. And attendees over the three-day Annual Meeting will, too—but the landscape in some areas will be…different, in the aftermath of the Carr Fire.

California has more species of native trout and salmon than any state except Alaska. The state’s amazing diversity of habitats and ecosystems is unique in North America. There is a lot at stake here, in terms of salmonid conservation and angling.

Larger, more frequent and more destructive fires are one of the predicted consequences of our warming climate in this region. But even if climate change is the primary culprit, the more salient point is: What (more) can we do to prevent or reduce the devastation of wildfires on our communities and trout waters going forward?

One answer can be found in new legislation, introduced on July 26 by Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-2). The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act (HR 6596) offers a visionary package of resource management solutions—including intensive forest thinning—to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, better protect vital habitats for salmon and steelhead, and bolster the safety and economies of local communities.

TU helped describe the fish and sporting values at stake in the public lands and waters covered by this important legislation and will work with other sportsmen’s groups to help pass it.

TU’s Shasta Trinity Cascades Chapter, based in Redding, California, taking care of their backyard trout stream, the Lower Sacramento River, eariler this year. This river reach burned in the Carr Fire.

The work TU has been doing for the past two decades across the West to strengthen protections for headwaters, remove or improve fish passage barriers, enhance dry season streamflows and restore degraded instream, riparian and meadow habitats provides another answer. We must double down on protecting and restoring our best remaining trout and salmon habitats in the face of more extreme weather, fires, and droughts.

A number of leaders and members of TU’s Redding-based chapter, the Shasta Trinity Cascades Chapter, are among the many folks in Redding who’ve lost their homes from the Carr Fire. Our hearts and prayers go out to them. Let us resolve to quickly provide them with the support they need to rebuild their lives, and to intensify our efforts to prevent or reduce similar damage from future “extreme behavior” events—on both people and coldwater fish.

Sam Davidson is TU’s Communications Director for California and Oregon. He lives in the fire zone now called the urban-wildland interface. Sundial Bridge images courtesy Dave Neal/Reel Adventures.