In the whole of San Francisco Bay Watershed, the Yuba River represents one of the last strongholds for wild, self-sustaining salmon and steelhead runs. As one of the few major rivers spared from the artificial propagation from hatcheries, the 24 miles of the lower Yuba River below Englebright Dam provide spawning and rearing habitat for two distinct populations of Chinook (King) Salmon, as well as ocean-going Steelhead Trout and Green Sturgeon-all species threatened with extinction from the SF Bay Watershed.
Since the 1990′s SYRCL has spearheaded numerous efforts resulting in the protection and recovery of Yuba Salmon. Our efforts are now coalesced into a comprehensive Save Yuba Salmon campaign with the goal of recovering an abundant Wild Salmon population to regenerate the ecological, economic, and cultural foundations of our bioregion.
Our strategy is integrative, holistic and inclusive-yet recognizes the root causes of the wild salmon crises and the urgency for implementing solutions. Some of our recent success and on-going work include:
- Challenging the federal government in court for failure to protect and recover threatened salmon, steelhead and sturgeon on the Yuba River.
- Initiating stakeholder processes that have resulted in broad support for physical habitat restoration on the Lower Yuba River to re-establish ecological complexity, including precedent-setting floodplain restoration in Yuba County, expanding riparian forests and creating stream meander and backchannels to support juvenile salmon rearing success.
- Negotiating a multi-party agreement-the Lower Yuba Accord “ with water purveyors, land owners, public agencies and conservation groups to provide improved in-stream flows on the Yuba, additional water to the Delta’s, and a funding mechanism for a half-million dollars a year in salmonid research and remediation on the lower Yuba.
- Compelling state and federal investment in determining the feasibility of re-introducing salmon and steelhead to the upper Yuba River.
- Building partnerships with local tribes, community groups and citizens to re-establish the Maidu "Calling Back the Salmon" ceremony on the Yuba River, and related "pre-requisite" work of healing community relations so that salmon can be welcomed and respected upon their return to ancestral waters.
Wild Salmon Legal Action
Two federal dams on the lower Yuba River are operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and are documented as killing, harassing and harming Spring-run Chinook, Central Valley Steelhead, and Green Sturgeon-all species listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act.
It took a threat of legal action by SYRCL to compel the federal government to meet their obligation of developing a plan (known as a Biological Opinion) for the terms and conditions for operating the Corps’ Daguerre Point Dam and Englebright Dam. That initial Biological Opinion was issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2002, with a 5-year term of operation. In SYRCL’s estimation, the plan was inadequate and developed in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
Yet, four and half years into the Plan, the Corps of Engineers had failed to meet the basic terms of the Biological Opinion. During those four years, salmon populations on the Yuba declined significantly. In December 2006, SYRCL, joined by Friends of the River, filed suit in federal court against the Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Yuba County Water Agency-which benefits from Daguerre Dam with their water diversion infrastructure. The purpose of the legal action is to compel the federal government to put forward a real plan, followed by enforceable actions, that will lead to the recovery of the Yuba’s uniquely wild salmon populations.
Since filing suit late in 2006, the federal agencies have engaged in purposeful foot-dragging and legal maneuvering-re-issuing two Biological Opinions with few substantive changes, which has forced our citizens suit to be amended and re-filed. In June of 2008 we received a procedural victory in court, with federal Judge Karlton ruling that NMFS consistently violated the law in their failure to provide timely documents to SYRCL.
Now, our attorneys are preparing our case for the substantive, and perhaps precident-setting issues, where we will argue that wild populations of Spring-Run Chinook, Steelhead and Green Sturgeon are indeed in jeopardy of extinction and that modifying the federal dams on the Yuba, and expanding spawning and rearing habitat, are necessary for the recovery of these fish.
SYRCL’s lawsuit is supported by the generous pro-bono representation by the San Francisco-based law firm Environmental Advocates. Yet, many legal fees and related legal research must be supported through other funds. Consider a targeted donation to our Wild Salmon Legal Action Fund-your contribution will be leveraged 20-fold and ensure our success in recovering wild salmon-starting in the Yuba!
Calling Back the Salmon
On a chilly morning during the first moon of 2006, about 25 people gathered near the Great Madrone at the confluence of Spring Creek and the South Yuba River. A spiritual messenger brought a ceremony and message from the Suquamish people of the Pacific Northwest, a people that view Salmon as symbols of ….and persistence. This messenger had success integrating indigenous practices with other salmon restoration methods-the first coho salmon returned to Blue Line Creek in Marin County after a 70 year absence-and he saw the opportunity to bring together the communities of the Yuba to deepen our work for salmon restoration
Among those participating and witnessing the ceremony that morning was Don Ryberg, Tribal Chairman of the Tsi-Akim Maidu, and Roger Hicks and Jason Rainey, the founding Board Member and the current Executive Director of SYRCL, respectively. Before departing the river that morning, it was agreed that a community effort should emerge-a movement rooted in the local Maidu traditions and ceremonial practices for the Yuba’s salmon, focused on acknowledging cultural differences and healing social relationships damaged from the dark history of the Gold Rush through active, collaborative work to prepare the conditions necessary to return salmon to the upper Yuba Watershed.
The Calling Back the Salmon Committee was born-involving community leaders from many sectors of our local society. Through monthly meetings, planning sessions, ceremony and spirit work, the group has re-initiated the traditional Maidu salmon ceremony, practiced on the banks of the Yuba in October 2006 for the first time in over 150 years. Involving the spearing of a Chinook Salmon on the lower Yuba River and conducting a 15 mile "spirit run" around Englebright Dam, the ceremony is conducted on the banks of the South Yuba River at Bridgeport State Park. In a gesture of openness and with a goal of healing through shared experience, the Maidu have invited all people of good intention to join in the ceremony. It’s been resolved that the Calling Back the Salmon ceremony will continue annually in October, as long as there are salmon in the Yuba.
SYRCL is honored to have played a role in initiating and supporting the Calling Back the Salmon effort. More information can be found at the group’s website www.callingbackthesalmon.org.