Dear Friend of the Eel River,
Thank you for being part of the Eel River’s advocacy network. 2017 has been a year of big changes, growing threats, expanding opportunities, and amidst it all, steadfast advocacy for the Eel River, its fisheries, and its communities. We’re glad you are with us.
Since 1994, Friends of the Eel River has been a rallying voice for people like you, people who envision a free-flowing Eel River, rich with thriving fisheries and abundant recreation opportunities. A healthy Eel River is within our reach – if we aim high.
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: this is truly a critical time for the Eel River. We currently have before us a once in a lifetime opportunity to remove the two dams on the upper mainstem Eel. Efforts to develop a more ecologically viable cannabis industry and remedy the threats that a crumbling freight rail line poses to the Eel River canyon are also at important junctions. And for our local salmon and steelhead, there’s no time left to lose.
To recap, 2017 saw the following victories, movement, and progress for the Eel:
Removing the Eel River Dams
In the summer of 2017, the Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC) began the formal process for relicensing the two dams and diversion tunnel on the Eel River. This (de)licensing process only happens every 30-50 years. It will take at least five years to complete. Friends of the Eel River has been at the table for every step of the process thus far, and we are committed to seeing it through to completion, and ultimately, decommissioning.
But the truth is FERC is no friend of rivers or fish. To date, the agency has only required dam removal when dam owners ask for it. Thus, PG&E must come to the conclusion that the dams need to go. We are therefore working closely with stakeholders from the Russian and Eel watersheds to reach solutions that go beyond the narrow bounds FERC will consider. We will bring strong, science-based advocacy to bear throughout this process.
Protecting the Eel River Canyon from lawless railroad development
In 2017, the California State Supreme Court ruled that FOER, and our allies at CATs, can hold the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) accountable for its failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The NCRA, a state agency, has retained a Washington, DC law firm to try to convince the US Supreme Court to overturn our win. Meanwhile, the NCRA board has reaffirmed its intention to rebuild the freight line through the Eel River canyon with public money.
It is long past time for the NCRA to be held accountable for its reckless abuse of the public trust. FOER are pursuing resolutions through both the courts and the state legislature to ensure that, in the future, this remote and highly erosive watershed is sufficiently protected from the effects of railroading.
Forging sustainable land use and cannabis regulations
Land use plays a huge role in determining the health of a watershed. While logging, road construction, dam building, and livestock grazing wreaked great historic harm on the Eel River, today, summer water diversions and sedimentation from industrial-scale marijuana cultivation pose the greatest threat to the river’s native fisheries. With recreational marijuana becoming legal throughout California in 2018, Humboldt County is scrambling, and failing, to develop and enforce cultivation and land use rules that adequately protect fish, wildlife, and watersheds.
In particular, the County’s efforts have been wholly insufficient to prevent continued, dire impacts on imperiled salmon and steelhead populations. Friends of the Eel River will continue to insist that the County’s permitting process protects our waters, fisheries, and other public trust values. We believe that an economically sustainable cannabis industry must, of necessity, also be ecologically sustainable. The survival of the Eel River’s native fish is on the line.
Moving Forward By Staying the Course
For the foreseeable future, these three issues will continue to be top tier priorities for Friends of the Eel River. Each of these opportunities, in and of itself, requires a significant amount of time and resources to tackle. Thus, this fall, we expanded our staff to rise to the occasion. I am honored to join Scott Greacen, Alicia Hamann, David Keller, the Board of Directors, and our members in forging a sustainable future for the Eel River watershed.
Friends of the Eel River is a small but mighty organization. That said, saving a river doesn’t come cheap. All of our campaigns require expert legal and scientific support. We work with some of the best to ensure that Eel River protection and recovery gets a fair shake.
Across the globe, native salmon runs are teetering on the brink of extinction. Scientists generally agree that the remote and rugged Eel River watershed holds perhaps the West’s greatest promise for salmon and steelhead recovery. To get there, Friends of the Eel River absolutely must do our job well. Are you in?
Stephanie Tidwell, Executive Director
Friends of the Eel River
PO Box 4945
Arcata, CA 95518