Released! See “Southern California Steelhead: Against All Odds” In Its Entirety

Nine months in the making, Southern California Steelhead: Against All Odds is now available online. We hope you enjoy watching this video as much as we enjoyed making it happen. Kudos to filmmaker Mike Wier for producing this stirring documentary, which looks at the dangers facing Southern California’s steelhead populations — and the things being done to protect and restore them.

Southern California Steelhead: Against All Odds from California Trout on Vimeo.

(Having trouble viewing it through the embedded player? Then watch it on Vimeo.)

Recovering California Steelhead South of Santa Cruz

By Kurt Zimmerman, Tim Frahm and Sam Davidson

Article reprinted with permission of Osprey Magazine

Kurt Zimmerman is Southern California Regional Manager for California Trout. Tim Frahm and Sam Davidson are California Central Coast Steelhead Coordinator and California Communications Manager for Trout Unlimited. Visit their web sites at:

Many anglers consider the steelhead trout (O. mykiss) the “perfect fish.” Steelhead are widely revered for their power and grace in the water, and for the high challenge of actually catching one. Sport fishing for steelhead is a major contributor to many local economies along the California coast.

Steelhead are rainbow trout exhibiting an anadromous (i.e., migrating to and from the ocean) life history. Unlike salmon, however, steelhead do not perish after the first spawning season, and may complete the cycle of anadromy multiple times.

Steelhead populations have declined precipitously across much of their range along the west coast of North America. Yet, steelhead are a remarkably resilient salmonid, and even in the most degraded habitats, remnant populations still persist. This fact, and the legal status of steelhead, have led to a multi-party effort to recover the species south of San Francisco Bay by restoring habitat, improving streamflows and fish passage opportunities, and even rescuing juveniles, as river segments dry up or become disconnected during summer. For more than two decades, steelhead advocacy groups such as California Trout (CalTrout) and Trout Unlimited have driven this effort, working in partnership with local steelhead conservation organizations, resource agencies, municipalities, agricultural interests, and water providers.

Click here to read more…

Sizable Snowfall Loss Predicted in Southern California Mountains

LA-area mountains may lose 30-40% of annual snowfall by mid-century according to new UCLA climate study

LA snow loss

The mountains surrounding Los Angeles will lose up to 42% of their snow by mid-century.

Southern California has long been known as the place where you could ski the nearby mountains in the morning and surf in afternoon.

By mid-century, those days may be gone. This “Climate Change In L.A.” press release was published by Climate Resolve — a Southern California group aimed at “Inspiring Los Angeles to meet the challenge of climate change.”

You can find more on their Climate Change LA website, but those who fish Southern California’s mountain streams for trout will want to pay attention.

Press Release

Today, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences released Mid- and End-of-Century Snowfall in the Los Angeles Region, the second in a series of studies commissioned by the City of Los Angeles, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The snowfall study provides detailed forecasts of diminishing snowfall in Southern California Mountains between 2041-2060 and between 2081-2100.

The full study is available here.

This study predicts that, by mid-century, Los Angeles area mountains – including the San Bernardinos, San Gabriels, San Jacintos, and the Tehachapis – will lose upwards of 42% of their annual snowfall, given greenhouse gas emissions continue in a “business as usual” scenario. By the end of the century, the loss of snow will be closer to 70%.

Fortunately, if immediate substantive efforts are made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mid-century and end-of-century loss of snow could be limited to 31%.

Despite the threats of climate change, Los Angeles’ future is not yet decided. The City of Los Angeles has already taken big steps to reduce our carbon impact – including the decision to move off of coal by 2025 and investing in public transportation throughout the region.

While we will have to adapt to a changing climate with less snowfall and increased temperatures, Los Angeles has the opportunity to lead cities across the globe to a better future, ensuring that we will not only survive climate change, but thrive.

The full study is available here.

CalTrout’s Southern California Steelhead Recovery Efforts Win Wells Fargo Environmental Grant

Good news if you’re a Southern California steelhead!

CalTrout received a grant from Wells Fargo & Company and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help fund our San Diego and Orange Counties Watersheds Steelhead Restoration Coalition (SanDOC for short).

This will help us grow and solidify the Southern California Steelhead Coalition, which already encompasses a sizable list of government and non-governmental stakeholders:

  • Trout Unlimited
  • Golden State Flycasters
  • The National Audubon Society
  • San Diego Coastkeeper
  • The Chaparral Lands Conservancy
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • US Fish & Wildlife Servidce
  • US Fisheries Service
  • The United States Marine Corps

CalTrout was one of 64 nonprofit recipients of Wells Fargo’s 2013 Environmental Solutions for Communities grant program, which was started in 2012 as part of Wells Fargo’s commitment to provide $100 million to environmentally-focused nonprofits and universities by 2020.

It is funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through a $15 million, five-year relationship to promote environmental stewardship across the country.

The SanDOC program is run by recent hire Roxanne Carter — an attorney with a real appreciation for steelhead and the ocean (look for an interview with Carter soon).

With so many pressures working against them (population, water diversions, barriers to migration, etc), endangered Southern California steelhead will require strategic and coordinated efforts if they’re ever going to recover — including the backing of a strong coalition.

We thank Wells Fargo and the National Fish & Wildlife Service for their support.

A CalTrout Interview: Southern California Regional Manager Kurt Zimmerman

Though he’s now CalTrout’s Southern California region manager, Kurt Zimmerman is a former federal prosecutor, and he clearly means business when it comes to protecting and restoring steelhead and other species.

Welcome to another in a series of interviews with CalTrout’s regional managers — the people on the front lines in the battle to protect California’s trout, steelhead and salmon. Enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself and your region.

SoCal Region Manager Kurt Zimmerman

SoCal Region Manager Kurt Zimmerman

I’m Kurt Zimmerman and I’m California Trout’s Southern California Regional Manager. My office is located in Ventura, and I grew up in Pasadena and Sierra Madre, so I’m no stranger to Southern California.

The Southern California region stretches from Santa Maria, California to Tijuana on the California/Mexico border. It supports 2/3 of the state’s population and it’s also the home of endangered Southern California steelhead.

In my former life, I was a federal prosecutor who worked to enforce environmental laws, both in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. I was also a natural resources attorney with NOAA where I provided legal oversight for restoration projects, including steelhead and salmon restoration.

What is the most critical problem facing fish in your region?

Mostly human impacts to Southern California’s native steelhead, especially dams and water diversions. Also, our enormous consumption of water has driven the Southern California steelhead to the edge of extinction; today, only about 500 adults remain.

In the past, about 50,000 steelhead occupied Southern California’s coastal streams and rivers.

The problem is that the steelhead are in trouble, but almost nobody down here knows about them. I think that’s a big issue — simple awareness. Most residents in the region have never seen a native trout or steelhead.

Still, I’m optimistic. CalTrout is taking a leadership role in the fight to restore Southern California steelhead with projects like removal of fish passage barriers.

For example, the Vern Freeman Diversion Dam’s fish ladder on the Santa Clara River looks like something from a Rube Goldberg nightmare; it’s not the most effective fish passage technology. We’re looking at what we can do to fix that.

We also oversee or support efforts to restore fish passage in other watersheds including the Ventura River, Zams Creek, Malibu Creek, San Juan Creek, San Mateo Creek and Santa Margarita River.

I’m optimistic we can make things happen, and while I doubt we’ll see the kind of numbers we once did in my lifetime, we can bring real steelhead runs back to Southern California.

Are Southern California Steelhead any different from those found elsewhere?

Yes. One of the long-term issues we’re facing is climate change; warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns will result in increased pressure on water supplies.

The Southern California Steelhead can survive much higher temperatures than the northern fish, and with climate change coming, that tolerance will prove useful.

It would be a shame for us to lose them right now when we needed them the most.

What’s your favorite place in your region to fish?

The Southern California steelhead is an endangered species, so you can’t fish for them here.

I will say the Kern River isn’t that far from Los Angeles, and it’s a beautiful place to fish for trout..

For families looking for a fishing experience, Lake Cuyamaca — near Julian, in the mountains north of San Diego — is a pretty place, too. It’s at elevation, so they can stock it year-round with trout. The fishing is usually pretty easy, which is important when you’ve got kids.

After Two Dry Months, California’s Waterpack Swings From Feast To Famine

A warm early winter storm and record-setting Holiday snowfall put California’s snowpack at 150% of normal at the turn of the year, but the driest January and February on record have moved the pendulum the other way — the snowpack is now only 63% of normal.

With little in the way of precipitation in the forecast, it’s clear that California’s water users — and its steelhead, salmon and trout — could be facing a painful, low-water year (from the SacBee):

If February concludes without additional storms — and none are expected — the northern Sierra will have seen 2.2 inches of precipitation in January and February, the least since record-keeping began in the region in 1921.

That is well below the historical average of 17.1 inches.


The prospects for more rain this winter are not good. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center released a long-range forecast on Feb. 21, saying that the odds favor dry conditions across California and the Southwest through May.

Fortunately, it’s too early for fishermen to panic; California has experienced heavy late precipitation the last few years, and while you never want to find yourself counting on late storms to prop up a sub-par snowpack, it’s possible.

Should the water situation not improve dramatically, expect California’s reservoirs to end the rainy season far below capacity, leaving the water users and fish to deal with the consequences of too many promises for too little water.

The Los Angeles River Before It Became A Concrete Channel (It’s Not What You Think)

A short piece in Los Angeles Magazine paints a picture of a Los Angeles River very different from the concrete jungle it’s become today:

Before human civilization transformed it, the L.A. River flowed in some places through grassy oak woodland. In others it coursed through a dense forest of willows, cottonwoods, and sycamores. Steelhead trout swam through its currents, antelope and deer paused at its banks to drink, and grizzly bears ambled into its waters for food.

After a winter storm, the tame stream became a whitecapped fury. In the parched summer months, the river plunged below the surface where it encountered the porous soil of the Los Angeles Basin. But at the Glendale Narrows, shallow bedrock forced the stream aboveground, guaranteeing a year-round flow. In other places, where the parking lots of Beverly Hills, Compton, and Hollywood bake in the sun today, groundwater hydrology conspired with seasonal flooding to create a vast system of marshes, ponds, and other wetlands teeming with plant and animal life.

Today, the Southern California landscape has been transformed and its steelhead and other wildlife have suffered for it.

While we’re in the midst of trying to save what’s left, it couldn’t hurt to pause every once in a while to remember things as they really were.

The Los Angeles River

(Photograph courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)

Feds Detail Central Coast Coho Recovery Plan

California’s coho salmon are in dire trouble, especially along the central coast, where they’ve all but disappeared.

The NOAA plan is not only significant in scope, it’s also apparently extraordinarily detailed (from the Santa Cruz Sentinel):

Meeting in Scotts Valley, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday detailed a road map to restore the legendary fish to local streams, slipping from the mountains to the sea for millions years before all but disappearing during the post-WWII era. And with it came a warning that the time for action is short.

“The situation south of the Golden Gate is dire,” warned Jon Ambrose, a NOAA biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Once found in more than a dozen rivers between San Francisco and Aptos, Coho are now found in two: Scott Creek and San Vicente Creek. The population ran into the hundreds of thousands during the 1940s; it is now listed as an endangered species.

The highly detailed recovery plan includes scores of recommendations and a detailed analysis of specific rivers. It covers proposed legislative and regulatory changes, pollution control practices, road and sewer management, monitoring and much more.

It calls for specific activities, such as felling trees into rivers to bolster habitat, restoring estuaries, reducing nitrate discharges from stables and even working with the Santa Cruz Seaside Co. to come up with a way to keep litter from drifting from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk into the San Lorenzo River.

The full 24-page executive summary is found at the bottom of the article, and it includes many of the habitat improvements (large woody debris, etc) championed by CalTrout in restoration projects (and legislation like the Coho “HELP” act).

NOAA coho salmon restoration plan

The NOAA coho salmon restoration plan (click image for document)

CalTrout A Part Of Native Species Restoration In Malibu

CalTrout is part of a native species restoration project at Chumash Village in Malibu, CA. Interested in helping? Everything you need to know is in the flyer below (June 10, bring work shoes, water and a hat):

Chumash Village Restoration

Restoring native species in Malibu...

Final Steelhead Recovery Roadmap For Southern California Steelhead Released

In an important step towards steelhead recovery in California, NOAA Fisheries has released the final Steelhead Recovery Roadmap for Southern California. This from the NOAA site:

“This final plan is a roadmap to recovery for one of the most endangered fish species in the United States,” said Penny Ruvelas, NOAA Fisheries Service Area Office Supervisor for Protected Resources in Southern California. “It will likely take decades to restore these fish to the coastal rivers and streams where they once thrived, but this plan is a very significant step in achieving that goal.”

It is estimated this Southern California distinct population segment of steelhead once numbered over 45,000 but has since declined to less than 500 and was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1997. The ESA requires a Recovery Plan be developed when a species is listed under the statute as either threatened or endangered.

CalTrout is heavily involved in Southern California steelhead recovery efforts (click here for a list of recent posts about Southern California).

This is only the start of the process, but we’re already seeing a lot of attention paid to steelhead recovery efforts.