Save Our Salmon
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For salmon in California, the threats never stop: predators, decimated habitat, Los Angeles. Thank goodness for Jack Sanchez.
Quick heads-up: I’m one of those aforementioned predators. I’ve salmon fished my whole life. I love it like other guys love golf, except it’s better because you can‘t grill a good score. However, you don’t have to fish to know about the utter collapse of the fall Chinook Salmon Run in the Sacramento River watershed. There is plenty of passionate disagreement over the cause, and the reality is it’s a combination of things. Regardless, Central Valley salmon are becoming scarcer than endorsement opportunities for Tiger Woods.
Enter Sanchez. A retired science teacher at Del Oro High School in Loomis, he and a few cohorts formed a group called Saving Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead, or SARSAS. I know, the acronym sounds like a flu strain. But, I hope what they are doing is contagious: restoring the habitat in Auburn Ravine so it’s once again hospitable for returning salmon. Sort of a Home Makeover: Riparian Habitat.
Auburn Ravine is a sinuous little creek flowing from Auburn, through Lincoln, to the Sacramento River near Verona. If the Sac is a freeway, Auburn Ravine is a residential street. For a millennia, it and dozens of other small central valley streams were home to millions of returning salmon. Then we came along. And there went the neighborhood.
Sanchez wants to revitalize. “I grew up on Auburn Ravine in Ophir,” he says, “my boyhood was like Tom Sawyer.” Sanchez points to old newspaper articles about 30-pound salmon caught near Newcastle. “They were plentiful until flashboard dams went up.” Flashboard dams divert water for irrigation and are Auburn Ravine’s main impediment to returning salmon. They’re too tall to leap…but they can be opened. If that’s done at critical times of the year, the difference could be huge: salmon are prolific – they make rabbits look like zoo pandas. Given a chance they can repopulate in a hurry. But SARSAS needs to sell that idea to landowners who control the dams, which seems daunting. Has it been?
Actually, no. Sanchez says so far, ravine landowners have done something larger parties in California’s water wars have been unwilling to do: cooperate. Why? “Nobody here wants to see the salmon go away,” Sanchez says simply.
It’s worked elsewhere. Butte Creek near Oroville was also a dying stream until a similar restoration effort. Last year, 6,000 fish returned – a number even more significant when you realize only 39,000 salmon returned to the entire Sacramento River watershed. Butte Creek inspires Sanchez. “Their efforts make ours seem possible.”
It’s one thing to stand next to a wide and mighty river and see salmon moving through the shallows. It’s quite another to stand at the edge of a creek no wider than a driveway, 100 miles from the ocean, and glimpse the thick back of a 20-pounder holding in a deep, sun-dappled pool. That fish is a survivor here, because she and her ancestors were somehow able to navigate a gauntlet of not only predators but 150 years of ignorance, apathy and naiveté. It’s an honor to be in her presence.
Private groups like SARSAS and Roseville’s Dry Creek Conservancy aren’t the whole answer of course (Hey L.A: quit consuming water like a camel eating pretzels), but they are a part. Fixing these streams may seem like small potatoes, but enough small potatoes together…you’ve got a side dish.
Now, bring on the salmon.
To learn more about SARSAS, visit sarsas.org and attend the Calling Back the Salmon Celebration in Lincoln’s McBean Park on Saturday, October 23. For details on the event, visit callingbackthesalmoncelebration.org
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