State spends $730,000 to help coho salmon

By March 28, 2010Uncategorized

Marin organizations will receive nearly $730,000 from the state Department of Fish and Game to help ailing salmon on the brink of extinction.

A series of grants announced by the state agency last week comes at a time endangered central California coho salmon in West Marin and in other coastal counties are fighting for survival.

“People in Marin had some projects that were good enough to be funded,” said Patty Forbes, a state fisheries restoration grants program manager.

The Forest Knolls-based Salmon Protection and Watershed Network was awarded two grants to help protect and restore coho habitat in the San Geronimo Valley.

The largest grant for $282,934 is to help landowners make improvements to dirt roads not maintained by the county to reduce sediment that runs off into creeks.

“We are delighted to receive this grant to help local landowners fix their dirt roads and help protect coho salmon simultaneously,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and director of SPAWN.

The second grant of $48,492 is to put woody debris structures in San Geronimo Creek that will restore refuge habitat for both winter and summer juvenile coho and steelhead trout.

“This woody debris grant addresses a key limiting factor for coho salmon in San Geronimo Creek, where we have lost so much flood plain habitat to development,” said Paola Bouley, biologist and conservation director of SPAWN. “For years, woody debris has been removed from the creek as a regular practice with agencies and landowners not realizing its critical importance to salmon survival. This project in partnership with landowners in the valley will start the process of repairing past damage and restoring a balance for salmon survival.”

The state gave other grants to Marin groups to help protect coho salmon.

The Marin County Open Space District received $147,452 to reduce sediment in Spring and Montezuma creeks by implementing 22 road-to-trail conversions and erosion-control measures within the Giacomini Open Space Preserve.

The Marin Municipal Water District received $129,882 to conduct an assessment of how to increase winter habitat for coho and steelhead in Lagunitas and lower Olema creeks.

Trout Unlimited’s North Bay chapter received $71,667 to develop fish passage designs for the Dixon Weir on San Geronimo Creek.

And the Marin County Department of Public Works received $49,400 to develop fish passage designs and plans for two barriers impeding juvenile and adult coho at Larsen and San Geronimo creeks.

Marin’s coho population is in dire straits. For the third straight year the number of coho egg nests – which spawn the next generation of fish – was down significantly.

The Lagunitas Creek watershed has one of the largest remaining populations of wild coho salmon in Northern California, but the fish nearly vanished last year. While this winter’s migration from the ocean was slightly larger than last year’s run, it was still well below average.

Coho salmon were once abundant in the tributaries along the central California coast, from Aptos Creek near Santa Cruz in the south to Punta Gorda above Fort Bragg in the north. Historical records estimate populations were as high as 125,000 as late as the 1940s.

But as human population and development increased along the desirable coastal areas, coho numbers plummeted to fewer than 6,000. The federal government listed the species as threatened in October 1996 and in June 2005 it was re-listed as endangered.

Earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service published a plan in the Federal Register that will serve as a road map for restoring coho to coastal rivers and streams along the state’s coast.

The ambitious plan aims to restore coho over 50 years and would cost $3 billion to $5 billion.