Elk River Recovery Program

Elk River Recovery Program

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Project Goal:

Recover the Elk River from current severe water quality and sediment impairment, nuisance flooding conditions, habitat degradation, salmonid population reduction and community strife that resulted from years of excess timber harvesting.

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Project Stages

Relationship Building


Permitting Phase


Conceptual Design



Estimated Completion Date:


Project Funders

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – National Coastal Resilience Fund

State Water Resources Control Board

Resources Legacy Fund

North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board

Fish Affected:


Project Description

The Elk River drains a 58.3 square mile watershed in Humboldt County, California. The majority of the watershed (82%) is privately owned and actively managed for industrial timber production. Other land uses include cattle grazing, dairies, cannabis production, rural residential, and some publicly-owned land including the Headwaters Forest Preserve in the upper watershed (13%) and CDFW Elk River Wildlife Area in the lower estuary. The Elk River is the largest freshwater tributary to Humboldt Bay and historically provided miles of quality habitat for salmon and steelhead. Currently, the Elk River provides limited critical habitat for several anadromous salmonid species which were historically abundant but are now all federally listed, protected species including coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, and coastal cutthroat trout.

The Elk River in Northern California has had a contentious past. At the center of the mid-90’s Timber Wars and the era of heavy clear-cutting, the Elk’s river system was left with a legacy of degradation that is still causing problems for landowners and native fish.

CalTrout sees an urgent need to address the most pressing problems in the watershed–both ecologically and socially. We have been leading technical studies since 2014 to document the issues facing the Elk River. CalTrout is working to incorporate timber and agricultural interests, local residents and agencies to design and implement viable solutions to the Elk River Watershed for the recovery of SONCC coho and steelhead.

Project Partners:

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation –  National Coastal Resilience Fund
Regional Water Quality Control Board
State Water Resources Control Board
State Coastal Conservancy
Humboldt Redwood Company
Kristi Wrigley and Middle Reach Landowners
Northern Hydrology and Engineering
Stillwater Sciences
Redwood Community Action Agency
Elk River ranching community
County of Humboldt Environmental Services
University of California Cooperative Extension
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Wiyot Tribe

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