UC Davis: Nearly half California salmon at risk of extinction in 50 years – KCRA Sacramento

UC Davis released a troubling outlook for native California salmon, noting that nearly half of the state’s species will become extinct by 2067 unless changes are made.

The bleak forecast increases to 74 percent of species extinction in the next century.

The UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and California Trout chronicled the potential future of 31 species of California salmon, as well as steelhead and trout, in a 106-page report.

California is home to the most diverse species of salmon in the continental U.S.

“They’ve been around for at least 50 million years and these fish have been arguably through a lot more,” one of the authors, Dr. Robert Lusardi, said. “The reason they’ve always been able to persist is because of that inherent diversity that they have within their populations, and we just don’t have that diversity anymore.”

Historic drought, as well as a changing landscape of dams and water infrastructures blocking traditional fish runs, is contributing to salmon’s dim future, according to Lusardi.

“In general, migratory salmonids have been cut off from 95 percent of their historical spawning habitat throughout the Central Valley and 95 percent of historical floodplain habitat (now blocked by levees) — which these fish historically used for rearing prior to migrating to the ocean,” Lusardi said.

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Some of the more critically endangered species in our region, such as spring and winter-run Chinook in the Central Valley, are at historic lows, according to Lusardi.

“For winter-run, it was estimated that 3,500 individuals returned to spawn in 2015 down from historical abundances of approximately 200,000 annually, before dams were constructed,” Lusardi said. “For spring-run, the most recent counts (2016) are likely the lowest on record with a few thousand returning total. Historically, before dams were constructed, it’s estimated that Central Valley spring-run Chinook run sizes were likely in the range of 500,000 to 1,000,000 annually.”

Although the report is dire, the authors are optimistic.

“This doesn’t have to be permanent, in fact I should say that the report really focuses on solutions for the future,” Lusardi said. “How do we diversify the habitat now? It’s mostly providing access. So the habitat is there, it’s a matter of moving water out on the landscape.”

HOW FARMERS ARE WORKING TO SAVE SALMON

The report recommends a collaborative effort between environmentalists, the state and farmers to work towards creating a thriving ecosystem despite, with at times, conflicting interests of water rights.

“I think there’s always been conflict between water, people and species,” Roger Cornwell with River Garden Farms said. “We’re trying to get past all the rhetoric and just get in and actually get something done that’s going to improve the ecosystem.”

River Garden Farms has been in Knights Landing since 1908. Cornwell grows alfalfa, corn, safflower, sunflower, rice, walnuts, tomatoes and melons.

But Cornwell is now branching out to help salmon succeed in California.

“As a farmer we’re part of the environment,” he said. “The river right here is our life blood. So anything that affects the river, it affects us.”

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Roger Cornwell with River Garden Farms

River Garden Farms engineered a new habitat to help winter-run juvenile salmon 200 river miles north in Redding.

The juveniles need protection from the velocity of the Sacramento River just below Shasta Dam, as well as defense from predators, according to Cornwell.

The habitat involves a walnut trunk bolted to a 1,200-pound limestone boulder dropped about 25-feet in the river.

“By doing that they can utilize more food and they’ll grow quicker,” he explained. “The walnut roots give them that predator escapement they can dart through the root zone and be able to get away from the predators and not have to worry as much.”

Twenty-five of these “root wad” shelters were placed along the Sacramento River in Redding. Cornwell is hoping to influence other farmers, as well as take on other projects to help salmon.

“I think there’s a real chance if we can all start working together on the same plan and get everybody in the room I think there’s a great chance that we can we can keep the species from declining,” Cornwell said.

UC Davis: Nearly half California salmon at risk of extinction in 50 years – KCRA Sacramento

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