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Second Marin Ghost Town Transformed into Salmon Habitat

The SPAWN team finishes breaching the Jewell site in October.

In October, SPAWN completed the second phase of our floodplain and riparian restoration project at the ghost town of Jewell in Northern California, re-creating floodplain wetlands along Lagunitas Creek to help recover key populations of endangered Central California Coast coho salmon.

The first step in restoring the floodplain at Jewell involved removing remnants of abandoned structures and hauling out 6,000 cubic yards of fill to carve out new channels. The next step was installing large woody debris at strategic locations. Seeding of native grasses and perennials along with installing erosion-control fabric began in mid-September. And finally, when the rains begin, SPAWN staff, interns, students at partner schools, and volunteers will plant several thousand native plants and plugs grown by SPAWN’s Native Plant Nursery directly on the site.

Town remnants were removed before restoration began.

Native plants provide multiple benefits to aquatic species. Water temperature is one of the most critical factors in salmonid incubation and development, and trees provide shade to keep temperatures cool in the summer. Vegetation also helps to stabilize banks, preventing fine sediment accumulation in the stream, which is another critical factor for spawning (laying eggs) as adult females need gravel beds to lay their eggs.

Many native plants such as willows attract insects—the dietary staple of juvenile coho—to the water. Vegetated corridors improve water quality by filtering pollutants from stormwater before it flows into the nearest body of water, provide protection from flooding by slowing water velocity down, and help recharge groundwater by infiltrating water back into the ground.

A Stellar’s jay sits on a native willow next to a row of shrimp structures at the Tocaloma site.

SPAWN began the first phase of the restoration project in August 2018 by removing 13,000 cubic yards of dumped fill from the Tocaloma floodplain, creating new seasonal and perennial side channels. The channels held up well during the stormy winter months, and spring began with the sight of meadow barley spreading across the floodplain, scores of juvenile fish, and endangered California freshwater shrimp in specially-made shrimp structures.

In addition to growing plants which provide bank stabilization, SPAWN’s nursery is focused on growing plants that provide direct benefits to all wildlife species that utilize the riparian corridor. Many of the plant species selected for both Tocaloma and Jewell provide benefits for multiple species of wildlife.

Staff, interns, and volunteers of the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network help plant native plants on the Tocaloma site

For example, creek dogwood has adventitious roots systems that provide food and cover for the endangered California freshwater shrimp, flowers which provide nectar for a variety of pollinators, and a berry which is coveted by many species of birds. Creek dogwood is also the host plant for the spring azure butterfly and many species of moths. Other plants added to the Tocaloma floodplain such as California aster, yarrow, and grass-leaved goldenrod provide nectar to many species of butterflies including the endangered Western monarch.

The project has been made possible through funding and support by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Water Resources Control Board, Environmental Protection Agency, State Coastal Conservancy, the National Park Service, and the members of Turtle Island Restoration Network, which is the parent organization of SPAWN.

The project has also been made possible from the support of hundreds of dedicated volunteers and students who help grow native plants in our nursery, plant trees and plants, and maintain the restoration sites. Thank you for your support!

Follow SPAWN’s habitat restoration projects throughout the Lagunitas Creek Watershed by signing up for our emails