Since 2006, one of CSPA’s primary areas of effort has been to reintroduce salmon to historic habitat upstream of major Central Valley dams. Today, Central Valley salmon are confined to the valley floor: 5-10% of their historic habitat. In the face of climate change and inadequate flows due to political pressure, regulatory timidity, and frequent bad management, limiting salmon to the valley floor is a strategy for extinction, widespread extirpation, and/or reduction of salmon to a few boutique tourist attractions.
In a July 22 op-ed in the Sacramento Bee (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article28349512.html#storylink=cpy), Yvon Chouinard and Matt Stoecker criticize the Yuba Salmon Partnership Initiative (YSPI), one of the reintroduction efforts of which CSPA has been part. The YSPI is working to create a program to trap and haul adult spring-run Chinook salmon from the lower Yuba River to the North Yuba River, and to capture juveniles moving down the North Yuba River and transport them downstream to where they can gain access to the ocean. Chouinard and Stoecker say that trap and haul is the “wrong way” to recover salmon in the Yuba River, and suggest that trap and haul should be off the table everywhere. Instead, they recommend removal of Englebright Dam.
Central Valley rim dams are here to stay
Dams on the Sacramento, the Feather, the American, the Mokelumne, the Tuolumne, and other major Central Valley rivers aren’t going away. They are all too tall to put fish ladders on. Right now, wild salmon are struggling and in some cases dying on the valley floor. They are competing with fish from hatcheries; but without those hatcheries, there wouldn’t be enough salmon in California to allow any salmon fishing at all. Fish that spawn in Central Valley rivers are affected by extensive hydraulic infrastructure and by dozens of management decisions affecting water operations in the Delta, in the major rivers, and even in the smaller rivers like Butte Creek, where the largest population of Central Valley spring-run salmon is kept going by weekly and sometimes daily oversight. The whole system is managed. What can and must change is how it is managed. It’s high time that part of the management include getting wild salmon back to historic, higher elevation, cold water habitat.
In the big picture, that means getting fish past about five Central Valley rim dams. While options need to be investigated in each case, the likelihood is that this will be accomplished using trap and haul. For CSPA, the question is not whether trap and haul is morally acceptable or achieves “real recovery,” but whether we can reintroduce salmon upstream of rim dams soon enough and well enough to help save the Central Valley’s wild salmon populations. What’s not morally acceptable is to live with the way things are now. Continue reading