California launches strategy to restore salmon population
(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a new strategy Tuesday to restore the state's ailing salmon population.
"Salmon are an integral part of our shared history in California," said Newsom in a written statement. "We’re doubling down to make sure this species not only adapts in the face of extreme weather but remains a fixture of California’s natural beauty and ecosystems for generations to come.”
California still has four major species of salmon: Chinook, coho, pink, and chum. Winter-run Chinook salmon, or king salmon, are listed as endangered by the federal government. Spring-run Chinook are listed as threatened, but the Biden administration is considering a move to list it as threatened.
Once believed to have numbered in the millions, salmon populations have dwindled drastically in recent years due in large measure to climate change and resulting droughts, which are wreaking havoc to various habitat all over the western United States. Officials have said they are worried about a "cohort collapse."
Biologists for the state and federal governments have taken to capturing juvenile spring-run salmon and breeding them in captivity, just in case the populations disappear completely from rivers and streams. Last year, the federal government took the rare step of canceling the salmon fishing season near California's coast.
Newsom's strategy will depend on a wide range of initiatives, such as removing a number of dams in the Central Valley.
"In the Central Valley, large dams were built starting in the early 1900s on almost all major rivers," according to a report by the governor's office, which lays out the details of the new salmon strategy. "Those dams now block salmon access to over
90% of their historical spawning and rearing habitat higher in mountain streams."
The largest dam removal in U.S. history is already underway in California — one obsolete hydroelectric dam on the Klamath River was removed last year, and three more are slated for removal this year. The entire project, according to Newsom's press release, would restore "nearly 400 miles of once-blocked river to salmon, steelhead, lamprey and other native fish species."
Other initiatives include reintroducing salmon to parts of various rivers, modernizing hatcheries and injecting fish with thiamine, or Vitamin B, which researchers believe is deficient in some salmon populations due to shifting ocean conditions. The state will also begin restoring roughly 3,000 acres of tidal wetland near where the Sacramento River drains into San Francisco Bay.
In his announcement, Newsom said that the state had already spent $796.4 million in the last three years on restoring salmon population. In December, the Biden administration earmarked $1 billion for salmon restoration in the Pacific Northwest, which will mostly go to projects in Oregon and Washington state.
Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an email that Newsom's plan has "laudable goals to address the many threats to salmon in California’s rivers," but dismissed the announcement as "lip service" when taken along with Newsom's continual support of the delta tunnel project — a $15 billion plan to build a massive tunnel to carry fresh water from the northern part of the state southward, to the Central Valley and Southern California, where the effects of climate change are most sharply felt.
"These projects will wreak havoc on sensitive ecosystems and drive Central Valley salmon runs toward extinction," said Miller. "If Newsom really wants to help prevent a drier, hotter future for California salmon, he’ll abandon the delta tunnel and Sites Reservoir projects.”