The SRRC has been engaged in various habitat restoration projects in the Salmon River watershed since 1992.
The goal of the Habitat Restoration Program is to maintain and restore the fishery and aquatic habitat by rehabilitating and decommissioning roads and mine tailings and restoring the function of floodplains, creek mouths, riparian areas and related in-stream habitat.
Our habitat restoration projects have included a whole river riparian assessment and planting project to increase stream shading; a watershed wide sediment source assessment of both public and private roads, and a resulting sediment reduction impelementation project on private roads; fish passage improvement projects including barrier removal on roads, and creek mouth enhancement; and a comprehensive floodplain and mine tailing assessment and restoration plan.
The floodplain and many other aspects of the Salmon River watershed were substantially altered during the gold mining era from 1851 to the early 1900's. Since that time, road-building, logging, additional mining, and erosional processes exacerbated by these activities have further altered the condition of the watershed.
Roads create barriers to fish migration when streams are routed through culverts or other crossings that are impassable by fish.
These barriers effectively limit the amount of available habitat for spawning, increase demand on remaining spawning beds, and may also inflict direct injury or death upon fish attempting to pass the barriers.
The SRRC has helped to identify and remove the known man-made fish barriers in the Salmon River watershed. We are cooperating with Siskiyou County, US Forest Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Karuk Tribe to systematically remove these barriers. The Five Counties Salmonid Conservation Program has inventoried and prioritized all known fish barriers in Northern California.
The last remaining fish barrier on a Siskiyou County road in the watershed is at Hotelling Gulch, a tributary to the South Fork Salmon River. It has a complex channel alignment, making it the most technically challenging barrier removal project yet. SRRC is conducting feasibility and hydrologic studies to determine the best course of action to eliminate this barrier. This may result in the replacement of
the culvert with a new bridge, allowing the stream
to flow in its natural channel. Fish screens are also
being installed on key water diversions. Final project design is expected to be completed in 2015.
SRRC coordinated the removal of significant barriers to fish passage on Whites Gulch, a key tributary to the North Fork Salmon River. On October 1, 2008, the uppermost of two dams blocking fish passage was blasted by a CDFG crew. Two weeks later, the smaller dam downstream was removed with an excavator. Finally, in 2009, Siskiyou County removed a fish-blocking culvert and replaced it with a bridge, eliminating the final fish barrier on Whites Gulch. In all, Salmon River steelhead gained 1.5 miles of spawning habitat with the completion of this project. This project was a major milestone for the SRRC: not only did we successfully remove two dams, but we also completed our first full NEPA analysis for the project. Many thanks are due to the agency personnel who put in their time to make the project happen, as well as to the local landowners and equipment operators who did much of the groundwork. Check out our video of the upper dam blasting.
As part of a cooperative effort, the Merrill Creek culvert on the Salmon River Road was replaced with a bridge in 2002, opening over one mile of blocked Spring & Fall Chinook habitat in the lower watershed. The SRRC and the Karuk Department of Natural Resources have documented steelhead spawning above the new bridge.
In 2006, Siskiyou County replaced the Kelly Gulch culvert on the Sawyers Bar Road with a bridge.
The Salmon River Riparian Assessment was a multi-year project designed to bring the temperature-impaired waters of the Salmon River into compliance with water quality laws by reducing peak summer water temperatures. The assessment combined federal mandates, private funding sources, and the work of SRRC and our collaborators.
The reduction and compositional alteration of riparian vegetation along the river and its tributaries has led to increased solar exposure of the water and river bars. This, in turn, has caused an increase in water temperatures, primarily in the hot summer months. High water temperatures adversely affect the aquatic ecosystems and fishery of the Salmon River.
Additionally, loss of riparian vegetation makes stream banks more susceptible to erosion and ultimately leads to increased sediment delivery to the river.
Riparian vegetation may need to be reestablished after mining, road decommissioning, floods, fires, timber harvest, and livestock use.
Water bodies in the Salmon River watershed are considered to be temperature-impaired and are therefore subject to regulation by the Clean Water Act. In compliance with the law, the California North Coast Regional Water Quality Board adopted the Salmon River TMDL and Implementation Plan in 2005. The goal of the plan is to reduce peak water temperatures by increasing riparian shading.
Due to a lack of federal resources to implement the plan, in 2006 the SRRC obtained private funding from the Bella Vista Foundation to complete an assessment of shade and revegetation potential for riparian areas throughout the Salmon River, and began to work towards eventual implementation of the TMDL. The plan requires an increase in vegetation cover and height within the riparian zone in order to reduce impaired water temperatures and improve fish habitat.
The SRRC and our collaborators (USFS, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Karuk Tribe, and others) completed a detailed assessment of riparian vegetation and shading potential for the entire Salmon River cooridor. At each site, the potential shading effect of vegetation was determined using a solar pathfinder. The SRRC’s GIS specialists created detailed maps of the sites.
Sites were prioritized based on a number of different factors, including vegetation deficency, aspect, access, and fish habitat potential. Based on the prioritization of sites, three river reaches were identified as having the greatest potential for restoration. Habitat Restoration projects will be planned, designed and implemented based on the results of this assessment.
As restoration projects are implemented, the river should begin to see increased shading and channel complexity, resulting in a reduction in peak water temperatures and an improvement in fish habitat.
Our creek mouth enhancement projects aim to improve fish passage at tributary mouths, side channel rearing areas, and refugia habitats by removing the temporary flow barriers often found at the confluence of creeks and the main river forks.
We have been engaged in ongoing work at the mouth of Kelly Gulch (a North Fork tributary) and other key areas in the watershed for several years. Volunteers strategically move rock and wood blockages by hand so that cold creek water is better routed into the pools at the creek mouth. Kelly Gulch's connectivity to the river has been gradually reestablished and a side channel rearing area has been opened up. In addition, we have been replanting riparian vegetation to provide shade and fish habitat.
Research has revealed the critical importance of thermal refugia found at creek mouths during the summer months when river temperatures sometimes exceed the lethal levels for salmonids. Cold creek water fed into the river often collects at the creek mouth, providing a “pool” or thermal refugia of colder water that salmonids and other fish congregate in to avoid the stresses of warm river water. Summertime population densities in these thermal refugia is often much greater than that of any other part of the river.
Roads and road-related landslides contribute large quantities of sediment to the river system, especially during storm events. This sediment pollution can impair aquatic habitat and suffocate gestating fish eggs (redds).
The SRRC is committed to reducing and mitigating the delivery of sediment to streams and the river from both public and private roads.
National Forest road networks are considered by many to be the most damaging component of federal forest land management. Roads and road-related landslides generate the greatest amount of sediment pollution per acre of all types of watershed disturbances. They can alter hydrology, habitat connectivity, and the routing of wood debris and sediment. These combined effects have the potential to disturb aquatic environments critical to anadromous fish and other aquatic life.
The necessity to evaluate and implement measures to reduce
road-related impacts to watersheds is greater than
ever in light of decreasing road maintenance funds
allocated to the Forest Service by Congress.
The Klamath National Forest (KNF) has recognized the
need to reduce mileage of National Forest system roads.
To assist in this process, the SRRC completed the Salmon
River Sediment Source Assessment in 2001. This assessment identified
and measured all sources of sediment that have potential to deliver to streams
in the Salmon River watershed. The assessment has been used to update
the KNF’s Forest Transportation Map, create an
erosion hazard assessment for all roads in the watershed,
and assist in planning for road-related restoration in
Using the information provided by our assessment, the Klamath National Forest has completed 55 miles of storm proofing and 47 miles of decommissioning in the Upper and Lower South Fork road systems.
As part of an ongoing program, we sponsor community road stewardship workdays and workshops that encourage community members to care for the roads that they use. We completed a sediment source inventory of all roads in the watershed in 2001. This inventory has been used to prioritize sediment reduction efforts.
In 2009 we obtained funding to work with private landowners to assess and engineer improvements to their roads. Working in collaboration with Pacific Watershed Associates, we helped engineer redesign projects that improved road stability and decreased erosion on many private roads in the watershed.
Melissa Van Scoyoc,
Salmon River Restoration Council
PO Box 1089
25631 Sawyers Bar Road (shipping only)
Sawyers Bar, CA 96027