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Shasta River Coho Restoration – The Nature Conversancy

July 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Had a great day fishing the McCloud River Preserve the other day, part of the Nature Conservancy. Afterwards, while taking a rehydration break at the cabin, we ran into Christopher Babcock, one of the Field Scientist who keep the Preserve running. An actual River Keeper.

After chit-chat about fishing success (or lack thereof), weather, smoking regulations on the Preserve, and the like, he mentioned the recent grant that the Conservancy received to restore the Shasta River at Big Springs. This was recently written about at the Trout Underground.

You know when you are talking with someone, and that light goes off in their eyes when the topic turns to a topic where they are passionate? That happened. He lit up with energy and enthusiasm about the great opportunity that has come across, to restore the coho run on the Shasta River.

Nature Conservancy staff work to monitor the river. Photo Credit: Bridget Besaw

Watershed Institute of UC Davis staff work to monitor the river. The Watershed Institute is working in parternship with the Nature Conservancy. Photo Credit: Bridget Besaw

For years, agriculture operations have been slowly killing this river, and the baby salmon that call it home. The cool 55 degree water was being pumped out to irrigate plants, and the runoff returned at ambient temperature. This is fine for the plants, but it way too warm for the salmon fry. The river has also been used to irrigate the local cattle population. The cows walking in the river tend to flatten out cut banks and channels in the river, which also warms up the water.

Coho Salmon, photo credit: redakuma

Coho Salmon, photo credit: redakuma

Christopher described the strategy they are using to restore the coho salmon habitat:

  • Protect the riparian area with fencing to keep the cattle away.
  • Restore the channel, to allow deeper (and cooler) water to flow
  • Assist the repopulation of Coho Salmon

Build it and they will come: this works for crooked baseball players, but is pretty slow for salmon restoration. We mentioned the idea of introducing hatchery salmon to populate the river. Christopher schooled us on the genetics of hatchery fish, and instead shared his idea of introducing fertilized eggs to the ecosystem. This gives the Coho run a jump-start, but they still have to fight it out against nature to survive – so only the fittest return to fill the next generation gene pool.

That chat was a highlight of the day.

McCloud River at the Preserve

McCloud River at the Preserve

Here is how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes the project:

This project will improve more than 11 miles of important salmon spawning and rearing habitat along the Shasta River and tributaries by supporting natural revegetation of 70 acres of the riparian zone and actively planting 20 riparian acres. Additional activities include creating structural improvements to allow for fish-friendly irrigation. These efforts will protect cold water springs, enhance cold water flows, and restore aquatic habitat critical for Chinook, steelhead, and threatened coho salmon in the Shasta River, which is the last major tributary before the mainstem Klamath River dams and crucial for salmonid restoration.

20 acres of riparian habitat restored, 70 additional acres enhanced, and 11.2 stream-miles improved for salmon

What a cool finish to a day on the water…

Tags: Conservation · River Keepers · Salmon

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