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unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Russian River Dredging Imperils Salmon

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View Tom Turner's blog posts
06 January 2011, 3:57 PM
Just as fish start to recover, a new disaster looms
The Russian River. Photo: Ingrid Taylar / Flickr

Coho and chinook salmon, along with their steelhead cousins, are making some promising headway in California's North Coast streams. The San Francisco Chronicle carried a front-page story on Dec. 19 describing a higher-than-expected return of spawning coho in Lagunitas Creek. The same trend holds true for the Garcia and several other streams.

This is not a coincidence. Government agencies and private individuals have spent vast amounts of time and money restoring logged-over and over-grazed watersheds, and those efforts are paying off.

Imagine the dismay, then, when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to dredge up to 350,000 tons of gravel a year for 15 years from a six-and-a-half mile stretch of the Russian River.

Salmon and steelhead, let us remember, lay their eggs in redds, shallow dips in gravel that the females dig with their tails before they lay their eggs. The males then fertilize the eggs and cover them with gravel, again using their tails. Gravel is vital for these fish.

Under the plan approved by the supes, big bulldozers would grind their way into the stream and scoop sand and gravel from the streambed, to the obvious detriment of salmon, steelhead and other aquatic creatures.

Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who grew up near the Russian River, has gone to court to challenge the permit.

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