Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
BAYSIDE – Coho salmon aren’t that different from you or I in some respects, and it goes well beyond the scaly skin and wide-eyed stare.
Like us, the wiggly salmonids don’t really want their children raised in the middle of a busy street, or in their case, a fast-flowing creek. Also like the humans who have decimated their habitat over the last few centuries, coho and steelhead will, given the chance, find a calm, quiet place to conduct family business.
Now, local cohorts of coho have a few more such locations along Jacoby Creek to bring forth fresh generations of fish. Habitat along lower areas of the creek has been compromised by more than a century of human modification of the surrounding flood plain for pastures, roads, agriculture and housing.
In 1952, a fish census netted 14,000 coho in Jacoby Creek. By 1986/87, that number had declined to just 700.
Fortunately, the Jacoby Creek Land Trust went into operation in the area in 1992, and by 2001, had begun restoration efforts along the creek. Fences were removed to create a riparian zone, and trees planted to stabilize and shade the creek.
Now, with a $313,494 grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Fisheries Restoration Grants Program (FRGP), two ponds for coho salmon fry to enter the world and overwinter have been newly refurbished.
A volunteer workday takes place this Saturday, Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to further restore riparian areas with planting of native trees and bushes. Participants are asked to bring a shovel and gloves. Assemble at Kokte Ranch, 2182 Old Arcata Rd., Bayside.
Both ponds are “historic meander scars,” that is, places where Jacoby Creek flowed in the past that are now disconnected from the main channel.
The new restoration project – now being installed after years of meticulous study and planning – reconnects the former creek fragments to today’s creek via carefully engineered side channels. This creates seasonal “ox bow” ponds that provide refuge for juvenile salmon.
The project was designed by Michael Love & Associates, Inc. It is detailed here.
The lower pond, located on JCLT property, is more than 800 feet long, up to 65 feet wide and more than five feet deep. It lies about 90 feet from the bank of Jacoby Creek.
Now, an impressively engineered channel connects pond with creek. It features a series of short, flat runs of varying levels, with six-inch spillovers that the fish can easily jump. The sides are covered for now with coconut-based, woven coir fabric, which will decay and give way to native plants.
“There’s a much better connectivity,” said Mitch Farro, project manager for Pacific Coast Fish, Wildlife and Wetlands Restoration Association (PCFWWRA). “They [salmon] grow phenomenally better than they would in the creek.”
Several hundred feet farther inland, the upper pond, also on JCLT property, is nearly 600 feet long and more than 100 feet wide. A memorial bench honoring the late June Thompson has been installed there.
Both will provide calm waters teeming with invertebrate and microbiological activity to nourish the fledgling fish. The result will be larger, hardier salmon springing forth from Jacoby Creek, and probably more of them.
“The bigger they are when they get to the ocean, the better they fare,” Farro said. “They’re the ones that eat rather than get eaten.”
The impressive techniques and technologies used in the Jacoby Creek project reflect generations of hard-won experience.
It is just one of many regional restoration efforts that Farro speaks of with pride. Others are listed at pcfwwra.org.
“Humboldt is like the Silicon Valley of watershed restoration,” Farro said.
A volunteer workday takes place this Saturday, Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to further restore riparian areas with planting of native trees and bushes. Participants are asked to bring a shovel and gloves. Assemble at Kokte Ranch, 2182 Old Arcata Rd., Bayside. (707) 822-0900, jclandtrust.org, Facebook