Smith River, California© Ken Morrish
Where We Work


Where We Work


Building back Golden State salmon

There is little question that California salmon and steelhead are in trouble. A recent study concluded that if fish population trends continue, 25 of the 32 distinct salmon, steelhead, and trout groups native to the Golden State may be extinct within the next century. But there is hope for California salmon and steelhead in select watersheds throughout the state, which still boast healthy wild salmon populations.

A statewide stronghold strategy

Wild Salmon Center worked with public and partners to identify the state’s best wild salmon rivers — salmon strongholds. The state of California has since formally recognized strongholds throughout the state, including the Smith; Salmon/Mid Klamath; Mattole; South Fork Eel; Mill, Deer, and Butte Creeks (in the middle Sacramento); Big Sur; and Santa Clara river systems. Together, these watersheds represent less than 5% of the state’s land area, but contain roughly 70% of its remaining salmon and steelhead diversity.

The challenge now is to drive investments into those strongholds.  Fortunately, when California took a big step to address its water challenges with the 2014 water bond, it earmarked $1.5 billion for ecosystem management. Tapping this and other sources of funding will be key to protecting strongholds in the years ahead.

WSC is working with our partners, including CalTrout, to develop an “investment portfolio” that will promote projects that are critical to conserve and restore the state’s best salmon runs.

One focus will be getting fish access to clean, cold water. The need could not be more urgent. Salmon returns are expected to remain low in the next few years, due to three poor water years in 2013-15. Salmon experts are genuinely concerned that runs in the more remote reaches of stronghold rivers might blink out without critical restoration work. And the future of salmon in the Golden State depends on protecting these remaining reservoirs of locally adapted genetic diversity.

© Tom and Pat Leeson
25 of 32 California native salmon and trout population groups may go extinct in 100 years if we don't act now
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