Estuary & Lower River Projects
Two consensus based planning documents provide guidance for restoration work on the Smith River. Both plans identify the estuary and lower reaches of the Smith river as a high priority targets for restoration initiatives. The existing habitat has been degraded and habitat conditions have been simplified in nature’s nursery for aquatic species. The two documents are:
The Smith River estuary plays a very important role in the life history of its salmonids. Young fish migrate to the estuary from the fresh water tributaries of the Smith from higher elevations in the watershed. The estuary is a biologically rich environment, where the river reaches salt water creating a mix called “brackish” water. In this environment, their bodies adapt to salt water and they learn to consume new sources of food and to avoid a new set of predators. This major change causes young salmon to become less active and more vulnerable to predators such as birds and larger fish.
To survive, young salmon must find places to hide and feed. Ocean-bound young salmon may spend days or months in estuaries and near shore waters as they adjust to saltwater and grow, getting ready for an ocean journey. The estuary provides habitat year round for steelhead and is particularly important in summer and fall seasons when the river headwaters and tributaries typically have low stream flows and higher water temperatures that may limit the carrying capacity for larger fish.
In general, current restoration on the lower Smith is focused on increasing the tidal influence in sloughs and creeks, improving circulation and water quality, enlarge the salt-fresh water interface, enhancing riparian vegetation including removal of exotic plant populations, reconnecting existing off-channel wetlands to tidal waters to decrease stranding, removing barriers to fish passage, and creating additional foraging grounds for rearing salmonids.
All plans identify the estuary and lower river as nature’s nursery for salmonids as the most degraded habitat in the entire river ecosystem due to development, road building, and agriculture. The Lower Smith River Salmonid Restoration Project is focused on priority restoration projects along the lower reach of the Smith River and its tributaries and estuary. The restoration goals of this project will greatly enhance juvenile salmonid survival in the lower Smith River. Of additional major significance is the economic importance of this sports fishery to the local economy. Millions of dollars of revenue come into the local community from sports fishing activity focused on these salmonids.
In all of its projects, the SRA builds consensus among disparate local interests for salmonid habitat restoration. SRA has working partnerships with virtually all the various government agencies involved in fisheries work and we work on joint projects with CalTrout, Save-the-Redwoods League, AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Project, Trout Unlimited and Western Rivers Conservancy. We work closely with Green Diamond Resource Company, Del Norte County’s largest private landowner, and we are also active in the Del Norte – Crescent City Chamber of Commerce.
Yontocket Slough Salmonid Access & Habitat Enhancement
Yontocket Slough is a remnant river channel adjacent to the Smith River estuary, located approximately ten miles north of Crescent City, California. The Yontocket Slough/Tryon Creek system drains into the Smith River estuary approximately 1500 feet from the mouth of the Smith River.
At one time, Yontocket Slough was a bend in the main channel of the Smith River — abandoned over 900 years ago. Historic maps (1856) depict Yontocket Slough as a tidally connected oxbow tributary channel to the Smith River and shows Tryon Creek flowing into Lake Earl rather than the Slough. The Yontocket Slough played a vital role in the life history of juvenile salmonids originating from throughout the Smith River basin.
Fish production within the Slough is severely limited by blocked access and degraded habitat. Culverts at Pala Road block access to salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout and have lead to sedimentation of the slough. This sedimentation has facilitated the spread of invasive reed canary grass, which chokes the channel, degrades water quality, and prevents native riparian growth. A fish passage barrier located at the lower end of Yontocket Slough blocks migrating fish and invasive nonnative reed canary grass has colonized much of the slough, stream channel and riparian areas, which has a major impact on riparian vegetation and the stream channel.
A planning document has been developed to identify habitat restoration opportunities and develop restoration alternatives for the portions of Yontocket Slough and Tryon Creek that lie within properties managed by the State of California. The restoration objective will include canary grass eradication and removal of the fish passage barrier. This is a complex project that will involve many seasons of work. The 5.5 mile Yontocket Slough/Tryon Creek system drains into the Smith River estuary approximately 1500 feet from the river’s mouth. The lower 3.5 miles of the slough is a migration corridor for adult fish and contains quality juvenile salmonid rearing habitat. Yontocket Slough plays an vital role in the life history of juvenile salmonids originating from throughout the Smith River Basin.
A fish passage barrier located at the lower end of Yontocket Slough blocks upstream migrating adult and juvenile salmonids at almost all flows. Invasive nonnative reed canary grass has colonized much of the slough, stream channel and riparian areas, which prohibits riparian growth, chokes the stream channel,increases sedimentation, and inhibits the mobility of fish at lower flows. Sediment deposition to the stream channel has filled in pools and greatly contributes to colonization by nonnative riparian vegetation.
Cedar Creek Fish Passage Restoration
Cedar Creek is a tributary of the Smith River that drains roughly two square miles of land, 100% of which is in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The lower reach of the stream contains good spawning and rearing habitat for anadromous fish. In 1949, a culvert was installed on Cedar Creek in order to construct a road. That culvert is a barrier to fish passage today.
The objective of the Cedar Creek Project was replacement of the culvert with a pre-fabricated bridge and development of a post-project monitoring program.
Primary partners: SRAC, DPR, DFG, Pacific Coast Fish, Wildlife and Wetlands Restoration Association (PCFWWRA), and the California Coastal Conservancy. The Cedar Creek watershed is roughly two square miles in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. In 1949 a culvert crossing was installed on Cedar Creek for an access road 600 feet upstream from the creek’s confluence with the Smith River, blocking fish passage. Habitat surveys conducted from the 1970s and 80s to the present have recognized Cedar Creek’s potential to support anadromous fish, but all earlier attempts to remedy the passage situation with culvert baffle installation and jump pool enhancement have failed. Design and assessment work was funded by CDFG and SRA and a current proposal (submitted by PCFWWRA, see below) under submission to CDFG will fund culvert replacement with a bridge.
Watch a video about fish passage restoration on Cedar Creek.
Sultan Creek Fish Passage Restoration
Sultan Creek enters the Smith River about two miles downstream of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Sultan Creek is three miles long and has the potential to support much larger salmonid runs than it does presently. An existing culvert under Highway 197 upstream from the creek mouth is a barrier to fish migration and impedes gravel transport. The objective is to complete the design and planning for replacement of the fish barrier and then replace the culvert.
Sultan Creek enters the Smith River about two miles downstream of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The creek supports chinook and coho salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. Sultan Creek is three miles long and has the potential to support much larger salmonid runs than it does presently. In 1991, 1994 and 2005 boulder and complex LWD structures were installed. Salmonids were observed in following years utilizing the habitat provided by these structures. An existing culvert under Highway 197 approximately .7 miles upstream from the creek mouth is a barrier to juvenile salmonid migration, may impact movement of adult fish, and impedes gravel transport. The proposed project will install two concrete culverts.