In California, Entire Communities Work to Recover Less Than 1% of the Remaining Coho Salmon Population
Synopsis: The full importance of recovering coho salmon hadn’t hit me until I realized exactly how many people and organizations have come together to try and make their dream a reality. Public resource agencies, non-profit organizations, and hundreds of private land owners in all, despite whatever differences they may or may not have, believe the salmon have every right and need to be here in Sonoma County, California. And maybe more so in the way that nature doesn’t need us but that we actually need it in order to keep thousands of jobs, to help prevent excessive erosion, to fuel nutrients into our watersheds, to stay part of the three billion dollar a year salmon industry of the Pacific Northwest, and to keep our rich cultural history alive. For an anadromous fish that only lives three year, that’s quite an impact.
Each year, half a billion salmon make up to a 3,000 mile journey from the Pacific Ocean back to their natal rivers and streams, transitioning from salt to fresh water for the very last time in their short lives. The salmon return to their massive river networks to spawn a new generation of young inside of the richest ecosystems on the planet, the West Coast of North America. But their story starts… at the top of a mountain.
In Northern California, melted snow and rainfall that fell from clouds driven up above coastal mountains by strong winds cascade down through carved valleys, creating massive networks like veins, which spread and intersect, and then come together to form the 110 mile stretch that is the Russian River.
The Critically Endangered coho salmon of California are slightly different from other species of salmon. While others start to make their way up river in the late summer, coho start heading up during Fall. They have come a long way while dodging predators like orcas and other dolphin species, sharks, bald eagles, seals, and sea lions. If the rain and snow melt does not run down in time, which tends to be a problem for California in recent years, the coho salmon will sometimes wait at the mouth of the Russian River with their predators until the water does rise again.
Once they do enter the river system, drought, other invasive predators, wineries sucking up freshwater resources, and illegal harvesting of what is less than one percent of a species all contribute to the difficulties of restoring the coho salmon back to their original population.
The main vein of the Russian River leading up to its mouth where the adult salmon swim in from the Pacific Ocean. Jenner, California.