A FEW HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 100+ PROJECTS WE HAVE PERFORMED SINCE 1991
Removal of Fish Passage Barrier at Panther Creek
We have been awarded funding to remove a barrier to salmon and trout along Panther Creek, a key tributary to Redwood Creek in northern Humboldt County. This tributary is particularly important as a thermal refuge for juvenile coho salmon within the Redwood Creek watershed. Panther Creek is located immediately upstream from Redwood National Park within the federally designated Park Protection Zone. Panther Creek provides year-round cold water, which is especially important during the summer and fall months when temperatures in mainstem Redwood Creek can become too warm for rearing juvenile coho. Additionally, Panther Creek contains 4.5 miles of anadromous habitat that could be utilized by juvenile coho seeking thermal refugia and by adults migrating in search of spawning habitat. However, this habitat has been partially disconnected due to a road crossing that was placed near the mouth of the channel sometime between 1970 and 1978. Sill logs were placed within the channel bed as a stable platform for the abutment logs for the log spanner bridge crossing. The sill logs have subsequently caused a vertical step in the channel bed which blocks fish passage.
The abandoned road crossing/gauging station is currently a year-round barrier to juvenile salmonids, especially coho salmon. In addition, adult coho passage is impeded much of the year due to the hydraulics necessary to negotiate this barrier.
Consultants at Pacific Watershed Associates have engineered 100% designs for the removal of the barrier and the stabilization of the streambed and newly excavated banks. The design alternatives were considered by a stakeholder group and the option that most improves fish passage and habitat while remaining consistent with the landowners’ management plan was fully developed and subsequently funded as an implementation project.
View of Panther Creek at high flow. The barrier is located at the highest point of the creek visible in this photo.
Redwood Creek is recognized as one of the more significant coastal salmon and steelhead producing systems in the North Coast region. Located in Humboldt County, it is crossed by Highway 299 just west of Berry Summit and flows northward, emptying in the Pacific Ocean near Orick. Approximately 59 miles of the mainstem and 50 miles of tributary streams are utilized by anadromous salmonids in this 285 square mile watershed. Chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout, utilize the mainstem and lower reaches of the major tributaries.
PCFWWRA is working on this project in collaboration with Pacific Watershed Associates, Green Diamond Resource Company, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), with funding provided by CDFW’s Fisheries Restoration Grant Program.
View of abandoned crossing and gauging site with decomposing abutment logs on left and right. View is looking downstream.
View of abandoned crossing showing sill log juvenile jump barrier embedded in the stream channel.
Fish Passage Restoration within Yontocket Slough at Tolowa Dunes State Park
Coho salmon are listed as threatened under the State and Federal endangered species acts and are at risk of extinction. Recovery of coho populations in the Smith River system has not been nearly as successful as that of other salmonids. One of the likely factors limiting their survival is the lack of connectivity to slow moving waters. An extensive area of low flow, low gradient overwintering habitat exists in lower Tyron Creek and Yontocket Slough. This potentially highly productive habitat was severely blocked by 4 failing culverts that were complete barriers to native fishes at the Pala Road crossing of Yontocket Slough in Tolowa Dunes State Park. In 2016 and 2017, we restored access to over 6 miles of this rearing habitat for coho salmon, as well as chinook salmon, steelhead, and coastal cutthroat trout by replacing the previous culverts with two new, larger capacity crossings. The new culverts are providing access to this habitat that is arguably the best remaining winter-rearing habitat within the Smith River estuary.
This project has been funded by CDFW's Fisheries Restoration Grant Program. The project has been implemented with the cooperation of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Tolowa Dee-Ni Nation, and our project partners Michael Love & Associates and Rocky Brown Construction.
Little River and Hall Creek Instream Coho Habitat Improvement Projects
Trees that fall into streams were once considered detrimental, but research has shown that these "large woody debris" (LWD) are a vital and naturally ocurring component of healthy stream systems. They provide fish habitat, deeper pools, cooler water, stream channel and streambank stability, and biological diversity that supports salmon (including invertebrate food sources).
In streams where LWD is deficient, like Little River and Hall Creek, we are adding LWD. The additional wood will provide low velocity refuge for young of the year coho salmon during heavy runoff events, allow for deeper summertime pools, and maintain a complex geomorphic environment with increased edge habitat. Enhancement using a variety of LWD augmentation methods is also increasing shelter values, allowing improved rearing habitat, as well as secondary effects of improving spawning conditions and water quality.
Completed this year, the two projects have added 11 log structures along a 0.5 mile stretch of Little River and 12 log structures along a 0.5 mile stretch of Hall Creek.
These projects were performed in cooperation with Pacific Watershed Associates, private landowners, heavy equipment operators, and funded by CDFW's Fisheries Restoration Grant Program.
Habitat Enhancement Planning for Threatened and Endangered Fish in Humboldt Bay
This planning project is looking broadly at the tributary streams entering Humboldt Bay, with a focus on the stream-estuary ecotone, to identify, assess, and prioritize specific sites for non-natal juvenile salmonid habitat restoration projects. The restoration of this habitat will not only benefit rearing juvenile salmonids that are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but also other ESA-listed native fish species such as tidewater goby and longfin smelt.
The primary contractor is Thomas Gast & Associates, with the engineering subcontractor being Michael Love & Associates. Started in Summer 2017, this project is made possible by funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife from the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014.
The types of restoration needs we are identifying include: re-connecting off-channel habitats (e.g. old slough channels) with mainstem tributaries; restoring connectivity in disconnected stream networks; creation of new off-channel habitats such as ponds, alcoves, and tidal sloughs; removal or replacement of migration barriers to fish movement; and also levee modifications. Potential acquisition projects may also be identified. Following the identification and prioritization of potential restoration sites, the project team will develop five site specific plans that will provide conceptual, planning level engineering designs for future funding opportunities.
A technical advisory team will be formed comprised of state and federal resource agency biologists and other stakeholders to guide and provide feedback related to each of the project work tasks, especially the identification and prioritization of potential sites, as well as the development of engineering level conceptual designs. This collaborative process should facilitate agency approvals of subsequent project phases. Completion of this project will provide resource managers and stakeholders with an action plan to guide implementation of the highest priority salmonid non-natal habitat restoration opportunities in Humboldt Bay tributaries.
Watershed Restoration and Upslope Erosion Reduction Projects
One of the most important elements needed for restoration of salmon habitat is the reduction of erosion into streams, since rocky debris and fine sediments crush and suffocate salmon and their eggs. Roads are widely recognized as one of the most significant, and most easily controlled, sources of sediment pollution. We perform assessments and decommission roads to rebuild the integrity of hillsides, channels, and floodplains to help restore the damaged ecosystem.
The photos below show before, immediately after, and several years after removal of a road in Bureau of Land Management's Headwaters Forest Reserve. Hillsides were stabilized to mimic natural topography, bare slopes were mulched with rice straw. Six years after completion alder trees were the first ones to grow. Technical oversight for this project was performed by Pacific Watershed Associates and funding was provided by the Bureau of Land Management and CDFW's Fisheries Restoration Grant Program.
Jacoby Creek Coho Off-Channel Habitat Restoration
This project improved rearing habitat for young coho salmon by restoring two ponds and reconnecting them to mainstem Jacoby Creek. Coho were found utilizing the newly restored habitat the winter immediately following construction.
Juvenile coho grow phenomenally better in the slack water of the ponds than they do in the higher velocity main creek (since they don't waste energy swimming against the current). The bigger the salmon are when they get to the ocean, the higher their chance of survival. Additionally, our planting of riparian vegetation along the waterways will provide shade, cooler water temperatures, bank stability, and improved habitat.
This project was funded by the CDFW Fisheries Restoration Grant Program. Michael Love & Associates provided engineering and construction oversight. Wallace Structures constructed the off-channel ponds with heavy equipment.
Community volunteers, including Humboldt State University students, planting hundreds of native plants alongside the newly restored streams and ponds along Jacoby Creek in 2015.
Riparian Restoration of Strawberry Creek in within the Redwood Creek Watershed in Orick Valley
Complex Sitka spruce forests and wetlands once covered the floodplain of lower Redwood Creek in Orick Valley. Historically, this complex ecosystem was converted to pasture for agriculture. Alteration of the original ecosystem and introduction of exotic grasses for bank stabilization resulted in invasive reed canary grass colonizing much of the stream channels, riparian areas and wetlands. Reed canary grass is detrimental in many ways. It prohibits native riparian vegetation growth, chokes the stream channel, provides poor to non-existent habitat for fish, inhibits their mobility at lower flows, and contributes to low levels of dissolved oxygen that can become deadly to salmon.
With partners such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program, NOAA Restoration Program, California Conservation Corps, National Park Service, and CDFW's Fisheries Restoration Grant Program, we have worked to reduce reed canary grass along Strawberry Creek through excavation, mowing, covering, and replanting with native riparian trees and shrubs. After reed canary grass removal, the water surface dropped as much as 3 feet during winter baseflow, dissolved oxygen levels improved, and juvenile coho were seen within the project area for the first time in decades. With additional funding, we hope to continue managing canary grass, planting native riparian vegetation, restoring the configuration of the stream channel, and restoring the area to a more natural and sustainable state. The long-term goal is to re-establish the biologically rich and productive forest wetland habitat that once existed along Strawberry Creek.
Before and during images of riparian restoration along Strawberry Creek in Orick Valley.