Habitat work shows benefits for protected salmon

Mar 7, 2018 at 1:00pm

By Christine Souza

Moving discussions on water and protected species from the courtroom into the field, collaborative projects to benefit salmon are proving helpful in recovering fish, according to participants in the projects.

Farmers, researchers, agencies and organizations that have come together as partners in salmon and species habitat recovery programs report positive results from ecosystem improvements that address passage and habitat challenges to salmon at various life stages.

That's encouraging in several respects, California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Counsel Jack Rice said, noting that for the past several decades, environmental groups have often "perpetuated conflict by filing lawsuits that lead to regulations that lead to more lawsuits." None of that has much helped salmon or other species, he said.

"But over the past few years, a new approach to helping species is emerging," Rice said. "Conservationists are now working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers to identify creative solutions that will provide real ecological benefits to species while also considering the well-being of people."

Cannon Michael, a Los Banos farmer who chairs the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, said a previous "flow-only focus"—simply requiring more water to be devoted to fish flows—has not yielded positive results.

"Farmers are suffering and the fish continue to suffer," Michael said, noting that the authority has been a partner in several recovery projects.

"We're looking to change that trajectory and improve outcomes, not just for fish, but for farms, communities and others served by the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project," he said.

For example, in integrating salmon conservation practices with working farms on floodplains, the Nigiri Project began in 2012 by flooding rice fields in the Yolo Bypass west of Sacramento. It has shown benefits for juvenile Chinook salmon before they run to the ocean.

That proven effort was altered slightly in 2016 as the "Fish Food on Floodplain Farm Fields" project by the University of California, Davis, Center for Watershed Sciences; California Department of Water Resources; and California Trout, and funded by the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

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