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Salmon to get protection from Valley golfers

On a muggy afternoon at the San Geronimo Golf Course, contractor Uli Zangpo of Forest Knolls pulled a lever on the console of his biodiesel-powered tractor, driving an augur drill some five feet long into the earth beside the fairway.

Zangpo was there, along with several other volunteers, helping kick off the latest – and, to date, the largest – habitat restoration project undertaken by the Forest Knolls-based Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN). During the first phase of that project, a 550-foot wooden fence will be built along San Geronimo Creek.

The fence, when complete, will address yet another of the threats to the creek’s endangered salmon: that posed by wandering golfers.

“The goal is to create a buffer between human activities and the creek,” said SPAWN biologist Paola Bouley.

Golfers who chase errant balls into the creek, Bouley explained, cause erosion to the bank descending from the course’s border to the water. While the fence will only be three feet high, Bouley is confident that several warning signs to be erected will prevent unwanted intrusions.

For fish, land matters

Designed to last at least 10 years, the fence is only part of a larger restoration project that will ultimately reclaim 5,500 square feet of riparian habitat. Other components of the project include stabilizing parts of the creek bank with natural materials to prevent erosion and the revegetation of a 650-foot stretch of the creek.

Healthy riparian, or waterside, habitat is important to fish in several ways, Bouley noted. Shade from trees around the creek is critical in maintaining the cold, clean water preferred by salmon, and small invertebrates that the salmon eat drop into the creek from overhanging trees. And while salmon are the “totem creature” of the watershed restoration effort, Bouley said, riparian areas are also home to fairy shrimp and migratory songbirds, which periodically stop at the creek to rest and feed.

In the Valley, Bouley said, creekside habitat is particularly deserving of attention.

“Development in this area has really been right along the creek,” she said. “Riparian forests have taken a beating.”

Golf course: fish `part of experience’

Aiding in the volunteer construction effort are Americorps members and local residents. The spots where contractor Zangpo, also a volunteer, was busy drilling post-holes Monday had been measured out earlier in the day by middle schoolers from San Rafael, brought to the site by the Marin Conservation Corps.

“This is typical of the Valley,” Bouley beamed. “We have so many people who are willing to help.”

In addition to the golf club, Americorps, and the conservation corps, SPAWN’S partners in the project include the state Department of Fish and Game, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the Marin Resource Conservation District. The environmental consultancy Prunuske Chatham, Inc. designed the materials that will be used to stabilize the creek bank.

Golf course superintendent Chanaan Fasanello told The Light that he was happy to get behind SPAWN’s efforts to preserve the creek’s salmon.

“The salmon are an important part of the golf course,” Fasanello said. During the winter, he added, when the creek teems with salmon on their upstream run, groups of golfers often stop on the bridges over the creek to watch the fish. Sometimes, he said, the spectacle actually holds up traffic on the course.

“It’s part of the golfing experience,” Fasanello said.

Bouley said that the golf club is the largest private landowner her agency has ever worked with.

Construction on the fence is due to be completed by Oct. 15. The revegetation effort, which will begin this fall, will span the next three years, Bouley said.

More work upstream

Further upstream, separate efforts to protect salmon in the Valley’s creeks were underway. Last week, the county began construction work on a new culvert that will restore 200 feet of Woodacre Creek, from Crescent Road to the Woodacre Improvement Club.

“I’m excited to see this first project in what will be a series of culvert replacement projects,” Supervisor Steve Kinsey said.

Three years ago, the Improvement Club and the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group received a Coastal Conservancy grant to replace a metal pipe running under Crescent Road with an arched culvert that would “daylight” or open up the creek and allow salmon improved passage upstream.

As part of the project, the Improvement Club’s tennis courts will be shifted over at least ten feet to make way for the restored creek channel. The tennis courts will also receive new surfaces and fencing.

Bouley said that the county project had not been carried out in conjunction with SPAWN’s own preservation efforts downstream, but that she hoped for more collaboration with the county in the future.

“Currently there are no partnerships between various interests in the watershed,” she said, “and I think that [partnership] could really speed up the process.”