Conservation funding and steelhead

In Oregon by Shauna Sherard

Eel River barrier removal project



By Sam Davidson

The California Coast between San Francisco and the Oregon border has been a magnet for steelhead anglers for more than half a century. Legendary steelhead waters like the Eel, Klamath, Garcia and Gualala Rivers remain wild steelhead sanctuaries today, despite decades of pervasive habitat decline due mostly to dams, timber harvest, marijuana cultivation and drought.


The importance of California’s North Coast for wild steelhead is a big part of the reason why two of TU’s core programs in California are hard at work here. TU’s California Water Project is dedicated to improving stream flows in vital salmon, steelhead and trout waters, while our North Coast Coho Project (NCCP) works with private timber companies and other partners to remove fish passage barriers and enhance habitat conditions in important coho salmon streams (virtually all of the NCCP’s focal streams also have wild steelhead runs).


Project on tributary of upper Eel

Most of the streamflow, fish passage and habitat improvement projects developed and implemented by these programs depend on federal conservation funding and research programs (such as EPA’s Sec. 319h, Sea Grant and NOAA’s Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and Community-based Habitat Restoration Program) that are targeted for elimination or drastic cutbacks in the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget.


Zeroing out or reducing such funding makes little sense, since it leverages required state and local matching funds, catalyzes local business activity and community investment, and empowers exactly the kind of public-private partnerships that are a hallmark of prudent government. Go here to learn more about the impacts of proposed budget cuts on cold water conservation, and what you can do about it.


Eel River

TU’s projects in the Russian River and Eel River watersheds provide a good snapshot of the significance of such work for wild steelhead conservation. On Mill Creek, an important spawning and rearing tributary to the Russian, a project completed last fall to improve fish passage around an old flashboard dam immediately resulted in a dramatic increase in redd construction and spawning coho and steelhead above the project site. This project recently earned Honorable Mention for the Distinguished Project Award at Fish Passage 2017, the International Conference on Engineering and Ecohydrology for Fish Passage.


The Eel River has the most potential for wild steelhead recovery of probably any other watershed in the state. In the upper Eel, TU’s NCCP is working in multiple tributaries to improve fish passage and habitat quality. These projects involve placement of wood structure into the stream channel; removal of old dams and other structures; and repair or removal of logging road crossings.


For more information on TU’s projects that benefit wild steelhead conservation in the Golden State, go here. To learn more about how federal conservation programs leverage matching local and state funds and provide local jobs to help organizations like TU improve prospects for wild steelhead, go here.