North Coast Coho Project awarded $2.9 million in restoration grants

TU's North Coast Coho Project site, large wood installation, Ten Mile River.

The California coast between San Francisco and Eureka is renowned for its steelhead fishing. Rivers such as the Eel, Garcia, Navarro, and Mad are familiar by name, if not by experience, to any serious steelhead angler. But over the past two decades this rugged region has become known for another fish-related enterprise: a landscape-scale effort to bring back the steelhead’s cousin, the coho salmon, from the brink of extinction.

Coho salmon, once common in small coastal watersheds here as well as in the larger Russian and Eel River systems, have been hard hit over the past 150 years by logging, development, dams and other factors, to the point where they are now one of the rarest of this state's native fishes.

Enter Trout Unlimited’s North Coast Coho Project. This program, launched in 1998, is at the forefront of coho recovery work here. In fact, the project’s seminal habitat and fish passage restoration efforts, in partnership with the Mendocino Redwood Company, have established the template for effective coho restoration efforts throughout the state. Today, the NCCP is California’s largest and most successful coho restoration program.

This success is illustrated clearly in two ways—physical metrics and fundraising.

In 2018, for example, the NCCP completed the construction phase of 16 projects and the design phase of two others. These projects treated 15 miles of stream and installed 918 pieces of site-sourced wood in stream channels in the Garcia, Eel, Noyo, Navarro and Ten Mile rivers. They also treated nearly 2.5 miles of old forest roads, preventing more than 5,515 cubic yards of sediment (that’s the equivalent of 460 full dump trucks) from being deposited into the South Fork Eel and Noyo River systems. In addition, three projects in the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen and Big River systems re-established fish passage to more than a mile of stream.

(L) NCCP fish passage improvement project, Cooper Mill Creek before (top) and after (bottom).

The two projects for which the NCCP completed the design phase in 2018 will ultimately re-open nearly four miles of stream in the Navarro and Van Duzen Rivers to coho and steelhead.

The North Coast Coho Project’s reputation for leadership and innovation in building partnerships, planning and implementing projects, and helping advance the science of salmonid restoration have also translated to success in raising funds for this vital work. Recently, the project was awarded more than $2.9 million in grants from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Fisheries Restoration Grants Program, for seven projects in the South Fork Eel, Noyo, Big and Van Duzen rivers and in Usal Creek.

(R) Gulch C Project site, pre-construction phase, Noyo River.

These projects will be completed between 2019 and 2022 and treat nearly two miles of streams, install 200 large wood structures, and restore fish passage to 3.5 miles of high value habitat.

The NCCP’s work is mirrored by coho restoration work supported by TU’s Redwood Empire and Golden Gate chapters in such waters as Lagunitas Creek, tributaries to the Russian River, and in the Eel River watershed. All of this work is driven by priorities laid out in federal and state species recovery plans.

As 2018 draws to a close, the fate of coho salmon in California remains uncertain. But TU staff and volunteers, through a groundbreaking program and multiple chapters, are playing a lead role in the collective effort to save an iconic fish species near the southernmost limit of its historic range and to conserve a unique component of California’s remarkable natural and sporting heritage.

— Sam Davidson



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