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Restoring California’s Lagunitas Watershed for Endangered Coho Salmon

The forest and the ecosystem surrounding a creek is just as important as the creek itself to the survival of endangered Central California Coast coho salmon, and threatened steelhead trout.  To this end Turtle Island’s SPAWN program is actively working with volunteers, schools and the local community to improve salmon habitat.

Specifically, SPAWN is embarking on an ambitious project to restore a one-mile stretch of land along Lagunitas Creek that includes derelict buildings, old ghost towns, armored creek banks, driveways, and non-native plants. The Anadromous Forest Fund of the Trees Foundation gave SPAWN a generous grant to help expand our volunteer recruitment and nursery and restoration capacity, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fisheries awarded SPAWN a significant contract to develop a restoration and enhancement plan for this area.

This creekside swath of land owned by the National Park Service, incorporated into Golden Gate National Recreation Area and managed by Point Reyes National Seashore, when restored will have the potential to help salmon populations thrive and greatly improve the overall health of the watershed by addressing 10 broad ecological processes outlined by the EPA.

Habitat in this area is currently broken into patches and lacks the connectivity to fully support these keystone species that maintain balance in our watershed’s ecological community (i.e. providing food, bringing ocean nutrients into our watershed, and fertilizing the forests). This delicate dance of fish, creeks, oceans, and forests is known as ‘biotic interaction’ and is one of the ecological processes. It is one component to a healthy watershed that supports endangered salmon.

To adequately support these key ecological processes, with the help of the Anadromous Forest Fund, SPAWN has made improvements to our native plant nursery in order to grow the scale of native plants needed for the site.  SPAWN currently has 1,650 trees, shrubs and seedlings growing in our nursery. These plants are misted automatically by a solar-powered system that keeps seeds evenly moist, which is ideal for seed germination.

In addition, SPAWN has implemented a database to track native plant nursery inventory, as well as a scientific plant monitoring protocol to measure native plant survival rates at restoration sites. These improvements and measurements are key to successfully growing the thousands of plants needed to transform this one-mile-long stretch of riparian land into salmon-supporting habitat.

To further booster the success of native seedlings and plants taking to their new creekside habitat, SPAWN collects native seeds and cuttings, and keeps detailed data on their growth. Since September 2013, SPAWN has collected over 25,000 native seeds (or cuttings) from over 120 different native plants, and successfully cultivated roughly 350 plants through germination. These young plants grow in our nursery for 9-24 month, and then can be used in restoration projects where an estimated 85 percent of those plants will thrive in their new native environment.

More than 118 volunteers from all over the Bay Area have come out to help kick start the restoration project, grow seedlings, and remove non-native plants by the creek and plant new native plants. Sixth grade students and teachers from the Montessori de Terra Linda; students from Freemont High School, Irvington High School, Sir Francis Drake High School, Dominican University, College of Marin; along with California Naturalists, California Native Plant Society members, Northbay Girl Scouts, Volunteer Marin participants, Cardno Chem Risk staff; and many more dedicated individuals contributed 2750 hours of service since January.

The National Park Service is scheduled to remove the abandoned buildings along this one-mile strip of land this coming fiscal year. Soon thereafter on-site restoration work will begin with the support of dedicated volunteers. With the help of our community, SPAWN will restore creekside habitat with healthy seedlings grown in our native plant nursery to create a connected, protective buffer of land to protect Marin’s endangered coho salmon.