TU Begins Work on Landmark Salmon Conservation Partnership with Big Timber
8/29/2000 — — Contact:
Steve Trafton, TU California Policy Coordinator: 510-528-4772
Craig Bell, TU Point Arena Project Coordinator: 707-884-3012
Alan Moore, TU Western Communications Coordinator: 503-827-5700
August 21, 2000. Mendocino County, Calif. Trout Unlimited announced today that on-the-ground work is now underway to restore critical coho salmon habitat in Northern California’s redwood country.
The North Coast Coho Project, focused primarily on upgrading or decommissioning logging roads to reduce excess sediments that choke streams critical to fish, is the product of years of negotiations between Trout Unlimited and the Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) of Calpella, Calif., along with participation by local government and agencies.
The project stands as a landmark partnership between a conservation organization and an industrial timber company, which will allow for watershed-wide restoration on privately held land, where much of the region’s salmon habitat lies.
This summer’s construction phase of the North Coast Coho Project will focus on the South Fork of the Garcia River drainage, historically a producer of robust runs of coho salmon.
Decades of logging and networks of hastily constructed access roads have left streamside and upslope habitat on the Garcia and its tributaries unstable and subject to dumping huge amounts of sediment into the stream, and coho populations have plummeted. Sediment can devastate salmon by clogging gravel spawning areas, rendering reproduction nearly impossible. Work is now underway using heavy equipment to stabilize banks, decommission some roads, and improve fish habitat and passage.
Because the entire basin of the South Fork Garcia watershed lies on MRC-owned lands, North Coast Coho Project partners can approach restoration on a watershed-wide basis, rather than the piecemeal approach often necessitated by multiple ownership checkerboarded across a river basin.
The watershed-wide approach made possible by the partnership is critical, as often restoration work confined to a stream bed and its banks is literally washed away because unstable conditions upslope from the stream — such as poorly constructed logging roads or clearcuts — give out during heavy rains and re-create problems instream.
“You need to pay close attention what’s going on in upslope habitat as well as instream,” said Steve Trafton, TU’s California Policy Coordinator. “If you focus only on an instream approach and you ignore the clearcut or washed-out road right above you, you’ll likely see your instream work nullified after the first heavy rain. This partnership allows us to fix the whole watershed and gives us the best chance by far at success.”
Mendocino Redwood Co., a relative newcomer to the California timber market which nonetheless owns industrial timber plots totaling more than 230,000 acres in Northern California, has gone to great lengths to make the North Coast Coho Project possible.
MRC is not only allowing full access to its land holdings well as its data collections regarding those lands, but will also use company employees and company equipment to complete the restoration work. Further, MRC is kicking in $100,000 toward this and other projects with TU.
Other major funders include the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the California Departnent of Fish and Game, the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District, and Trout Unlimited. Thus far, about $420,000 has been raised.
“This is no public relations stunt,” said Trafton. “The partners in this project are serious about resource conservation and are in it for the long haul. You’ve got a major timber company partnering with a conservation group like Trout Unlimited, lending full access to its lands, its data, its employees, and its equipment, and footing a good part of the bill, to boot. To us, that shows a demonstrated commitment to long-term resource conservation, fish and wildlife conservation, and compliance with the Endangered Species Act [ESA].”
Both Northern California coastal coho and steelhead populations are listed as threatened under the federal ESA.
Initial phases of the project involved careful planning and habitat assessment. Project partners hired Pacific Watershed Associates (PWA) of Arcata, Calif., widely renowned as the premier watershed assessment firm in the West and credited with establishing now-standard restoration methods, to determine specifically which habitat required which type of restoration strategies to best enhance watershed health.
PWA has identified 75 sites along seven roads in the watershed for treatment. PWA calculates that those sites account for some 72 percent of the future sediment load in the South Fork Garcia. At the same time, TU local coordinator and instream expert Craig Bell of Point Arena will oversee habitat improvement work in the South Fork Garcia itself.
During the construction phase, MRC crews and heavy equipment trained by PWA will conduct the work prescribed by the PWA assessments. Work on the South Fork Garcia should be completed this summer, but the North Coast Coho Project will not end there. Already, plans for assessments of other watersheds on MRC lands are in place, including the Noyo River and Hollow Tree Creek, a major tributary of the Eel River.
“We look forward to a long partnership with Mendocino Redwood Company and the North Coast Coho Project. Hopefully, this will be a blueprint for future partnerships with other private landowners,” said Trafton. “The type of commitment to resource conservation and cooperation with private landowners we’ve seen in the project is critical to restoring California’s salmon and steelhead heritage.”
Trout Unlimited’s mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. TU is supported by over 125,000 members in North America.