Henry Little, project director for The Nature Conservancy in California
At the start of 2009, experts counted little more than 30 juvenile coho salmon in the Shasta River. Grim news indeed, since the Shasta once spawned half of the salmon in the entire Klamath basin. But there is hope.
The Nature Conservancy has been working closely with state, federal and non-profit partners on the protection and restoration of the 4,534-acre Shasta Big Springs Ranch in Northern California, which serves as an important nursery for salmon, steelhead and other species throughout the Klamath basin.
The Klamath River was once the third largest source of salmon on the West Coast of the United States. For decades, experts broadly agreed that to restore Chinook and coho salmon in the Shasta River, and perhaps ultimately throughout the entire Klamath River, Shasta Big Springs Ranch would likely be a linchpin.
The ranch contains 3 miles of the upper Shasta River, as well as 2.2 miles of Big Springs Creek. Both waterways are important Klamath River tributaries and originate from Mt. Shasta’s glaciers. Upon the completion of the restoration, their waters will remain cool all year and provide salmon and steelhead with ideal conditions for spawning and rearing in both winter and summer.
“If there exists a ‘silver bullet’ for restoring the lower Klamath’s endangered coho population, this could be it,” said Henry Little, project director for The Nature Conservancy in California. “Whereas most other rivers in the state are warming due to climate change and becoming less suitable for salmon, the Shasta River likely will remain cold and thus provides a unique opportunity for us to bring this species back from the brink.
Because of the work completed with investments from the California Department of Fish and Game, who holds a conservation easement on the ranch, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “what was just a mere 30 to 60 feet of suitable salmon habitat in 2008 has grown to more than 10 miles today,” said Amy Hoss, project manager for the Klamath River Project.
“We saw a drop in temperature of 13 degrees Fahrenheit during some critical periods in the summer, which has benefits 10 to 15 miles downstream beyond the Conservancy’s Nelson and Big Springs Ranches,” added Hoss. “We’ve illustrated that very promising results can be achieved in only a short period of time while continuing to run 500 head of cattle on the property. Our efforts could become the model for neighboring ranches and properties beyond the region.”
“This is a prime example of how conservation supports a healthy and prosperous California,” continued Little. “Protecting key places like Shasta Big Springs Ranch could help revive California’s salmon fishery as an important source of wild, locally caught salmon.”
In addition, a number of public and private parties have reached an agreement to remove four of the six major dams on the Klamath River. If they are successful, the Shasta Big Springs Ranch could also serve as a natural nursery for re-establishing populations of coho and other salmon species in the upper Klamath.March 11, 2013