If there were ever an argument for the importance of conservation to sustain not only our physical health, but our economic health as well, California’s salmon fishery would be it.
The collapse of salmon populations in California’s rivers has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and has left thousands of people out of work.
The Conservancy is fighting hard to restore the state’s once great fishery; like in the creeks of the Lassen Foothills, an area recognized as having some of the best spawning habitat in California.
Not only are these creeks, including Mill Creek and Deer Creek, significant for salmon, but these waters may escape the increased drought and reduced stream flow that are predicted as temperatures warm due to climate change. While most streams across the Sierra Nevada front are fed from snowmelt — which is predicted to decline — the Lassen creeks are fed primarily from groundwater, which is expected to remain constant.
At an elevation of 5,000 feet, Mill Creek is the highest spawning area in North America. But salmon aren’t the only ones relying upon Mill Creek. Farmers have long used its water to irrigate their fields.
Recently, the Conservancy purchased available water rights to the creek. We’re now developing an innovative “banking and accounting system” that benefits both fish and farmers. Farmers are able to use water that is dedicated to fish when the farmers most need it for irrigation. And during critical fish migration periods, farmers agree to leave more water in the creek. The program has been well received and could serve as a model for creeks throughout the region.
Like Mill Creek, Deer Creek is one of only four remaining creeks in California supporting major spring-run Chinook. The Conservancy recently protected a 15-mile stretch of this critical creek, creating the first conservation corridor in the region that links the mountains to the Central Valley.
From the Ishi Wilderness area, east of Red Bluff, to the Sacramento River, we’ve acquired a series of easements to create a protected corridor. The easements prevent not only development along Deer Creek and the surrounding oak woodlands and grasslands, but also the selling and transferring of the creek’s water, thereby protecting the salmon.
In addition to safeguarding this species, this new corridor will provide wildlife with access from the valley to the mountains, access that is vital for the survival of wide-ranging animals like songbirds, mountain lions and black bears.
The Conservancy has been actively engaged in the restoration of California’s Chinook salmon habitat for more than two decades, starting with our Sacramento River restoration project. Our efforts have extended to the estuaries and the ocean as we bring our science, policy work and ability to create successful partnerships together to protect the Chinook throughout its life cycle.March 11, 2013