Smith River Restoration and Protection

Salmon Strongholds Offer Hope for Preservation

The Smith River projects outlined here are being led by the Smith River Alliance. CalTrout remains supportive and enthusiastic about this work. The Smith River is a critical salmon and steelhead stronghold in the state, and we want to ensure that we are supportive of the Smith River Alliance and their great work.

The Smith River remains one of California’s healthiest, most pristine, and protected rivers. Great strides have recently been made to further protect CA’s premier salmon stronghold. With bridge funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, our partner, the Smith River Alliance (SRA), has permanently protected over 5,400 acres of the Hurdygurdy Creek, Little Jones Creek and Siskiyou Fork watersheds. SRA has transferred part of these lands into the Smith River National Recreation Area (SRNRA) and additional transfers will occur as federal Land and Water Conservation Funds become available. The project is ranked #6 on the U.S. Forest Service national priority list for FY2013 funding due in part to the significance of these lands for salmon and steelhead. Permanent protection of these lands will safe-guard the very heart of the SRNRA including over 12 miles of outstanding salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing habitat in the Hurdygurdy Creek tributary. Completing the remaining land acquisitions and implementing conservation and restoration measures to all public lands throughout the watershed continues to be a critical priority.

Critical coho salmon habitat is threatened in the North Fork
Thirty years ago the threat of strip mines inspired CalTrout, SRA, and a many other partners to establish the 460+ square mile SRNRA which was passed by the 101st Congress and signed by President George H. W. Bush. Unfortunately, the SRNRA does not provide protection for approximately 45,000 acres of the North Fork Smith River in Oregon. A multi-national corporation is proposing to mine nickel in Baldface Creek, a major North Fork tributary. This is despite the documented presence of coho which are designated as threatened through the federal ESA – along with Chinook salmon, steelhead, Coastal cutthroat. The Oregon Department of Water Resources has issued a limited license to withdraw water to support summer 2013 drilling operations, and environmental documents will be released soon. Stay tuned through CalTrout’s Trout Clout.

Monitoring salmon and trout populations
Several critical monitoring projects are underway in the Smith watershed thanks to the persistence and support of many partners. Projects include:
1) A long-term population abundance and spatial structure monitoring program for coho salmon (escapement surveys are completed for Chinook and steelhead as well)
2) Summer abundance dive counts which annually survey over 30 miles of the South, Middle and North Forks for adult coastal cutthroat trout, salmon and steelhead
3) Use of Dual Frequency Identification Sonar (DIDSON) units in the Lower Smith River to enable biologists to better estimate the number of migrating fish that swim up and down the river
4) Out-migrant trapping of juvenile salmonids in Mill Creek
5) A juvenile coho salmon tagging program in Mill Creek to evaluate how effective restoration actions are on the growth and survival of juvenile salmon.

Conservation Goals

  • Protect and restore anadramous fish populations and habitat in the Smith River.
  • Use the Smith River as a demonstration of conservation program success and salmon and steelhead population potential through the Salmon Stronghold program and population monitoring.

Recent Accomplishments

  • In 2012, CalTrout offered recommendations to the Fish and Game Commission for revising Smith River recreational fishing regulations, primarily to curtail unlawful “snagging” and poaching.
  • Our recommendations included raising the low-flow closure threshold from 400 to 600 cfs, implementing catch-and-release regulations in the lower river during low-flow closures, and moving the closure boundary downstream. We think this is the best balance of regulations to curtail harmful fishing activities.
  • CalTrout is a stakeholder on the Regional Water Board’s technical panel developing an Agricultural Lands Discharge regulatory program. The purpose of this program is to regulate potentially harmful runoff from
    pesticide use in the lily-bulb farms whose grounds and surface waters drain directly into the Smith River estuary.

What We Will Accomplish in 2013-14

  • Continue our support and involvement with Smith River Advisory Committee.
  • Support ongoing restoration projects in Mill Creek and Yontocket Slough.
  • Advocate for SRNRA/USFS support and funding for restoration and monitoring, visitor services, ecosystem management, and improvement of forest health.

Key Partners: Smith River Alliance, Smith River Advisory Committee, CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wild Salmon Center, Siskiyou Land Conservancy, Zack Larson And Associates

Other Partners: Friends of Del Norte, USFS, USFWS, NOAA, California Department of Fish & Game, UCE Sea Grant, Redwood State and National Parks, Del Norte County, Lily Bulb Growers, Reservation Ranch, CA Conservation Corps, Rowdy Creek Hatchery Rural Human Services, Green Diamond Timber Company, private landowners, fishing guides

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