Defending, Restoring, and Enjoying the Eel River

Keep those Great Redwood Trail Act calls to Brown’s office coming!

As previously reported, Senator Mike McGuire’s Great Redwood Trail Act (SB 1029) will dissolve the NCRA and prioritize non-motorized trail development along the old rail right of way with the creation of the Great Redwood Trail Authority. (More details here). SB 1029 sailed through the Senate with a unanimous vote this spring, is making its way through the Assembly, and is widely supported in Humboldt County.

Now, we need Governor Brown to support the funds necessary to resolve the NCRA’s liabilities and make the Great Redwood Trail happen.

Time is running out. Please call the Governor’s comment line TODAY and leave a (polite) message asking him to actively support SB 1029 – the Great Redwood Trail Act.

Governor Brown’s Phone: (916) 445-2841

Talking points to include:

  • I’m ——————-, calling from (town), (county) to express my support for SB 1029, the Great Redwood Trail Act.
  • This bill would turn an environmental and fiscal liability into a public asset.
  • California’s state government is already on the hook for the NCRA’s liabilities one way or another. The sooner we resolve this situation, the better.
  • SB 1029 will bring much needed tourism revenue to the North Coast region.

Recovering the Eel River Estuary – From stagnant waters to a dynamic and thriving ecosystem

The Eel River estuary is probably something most people don’t think about much. It is largely surrounded by private ranch lands, and tiny Crab Park sees few visitors. Yet, this seven-mile long ecosystem, located west of Fortuna and near the tiny town of Loleta, is one of the most important and sensitive estuaries on the West Coast. It is particularly crucial habitat for salmonid rearing. It is also quite beautiful!

The Eel River estuary consists of some 8,700 acres of tidal flats and wetlands and is connected by 75 miles of river channels and tidal sloughs. It is the third largest coastal wetland region in California and provides critical habitat for many species of shorebirds, fish, and mammals. About 1,550 of its acres are undeveloped wetlands, while 5,500 acres have been partially drained and converted to agriculture. Thankfully, much of the lands and waters impacted by development are now being restored due to a blossoming of collaborative efforts, but it is an uphill effort in an area traditionally culturally divided between private property rights and salmon advocates. Thus, the progress being made, while sometimes maddeningly slow, is truly inspiring to witness.

Here are the projects we are particularly excited about:

Eel River Estuary Preserve
In 2008, the Wildlands Conservancy acquired 1,100 acres of Eel River estuary lands that include tidal wetlands, freshwater marsh, sand dunes, grasslands, beaches and a spectacular half moon bay on the Eel River. Since then, they have been working through the California Coastal Commission process to develop and advance restoration plans that will bring more natural tidal processes back into the marsh and enhance wildlife habitat. Visitors are welcome, but due to access issues through adjacent private lands, you must schedule your trip with the Conservancy. It’s totally worth the phenomenal tour you’ll receive!

Ocean Ranch
Located just north of the Eel River’s mouth, the Ocean Ranch Unit of the Eel River Wildlife Area is currently undergoing an “Integrative Ecosystem Restoration Project Planning Process” to enhance its estuarine and coastal dune ecosystems. Prior to European colonization, the area consisted primarily of salt-marsh habitat dotted with spruce and hardwood forests and native grasslands. An abundant fishery provided sustenance for the Wiyot people who lived around Humboldt Bay and the estuary. However, by the end of the 1800s, most of the salt marsh and forestlands were drained and converted to farm and grazing land.

More than 10 years in the planning, this project seeks to restore and expand natural ecosystem functions to facilitate the recovery and enhancement of native species and their habitats. Improving the connectivity of tidal and freshwater habitats and controlling or eradicating invasive plants are its key goals. The project is being headed up by the California Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited. CDFW has prepared on Environmental Impact Report for the project and is accepting comments through July 16th.

Salt River Ecosystem Restoration Project
In the 1850’s, the Salt River was a major waterway large enough to accommodate small ocean steamers. Ensuing European settlement brought intensive agriculture (including dykes, dams, and diversions) to the watershed, and massive sediment loads from the Wildcat Hills above Ferndale soon silted it up to the point of hydrological disconnection from the estuary. Landowners, conservationists, and environmental agencies started formally collaborating under the Salt River Advisory Group in 2004, and restoration plans picked up steam in 2007 with the formation of the Salt River Watershed Council, which acts as the convening and managing body for the Salt River Ecosystem Restoration project. Construction on Phase I of the project began in May 2013, and the estuary was connected to the newly excavated channel in October 2013. Phase II was completed this year, and monitoring is showing regular use of the waterway by native fish. The Salt River is once again a functioning part of the Eel River estuary! Much more work remains to be done, but the accomplishments thus far represent a major step forward for local fisheries recovery.

Despite these forward-thinking restoration efforts, significant water challenges do remain in the Eel River delta. One issue Friends of the Eel River is closely monitoring is groundwater depletion. The lower Eel River basin has been identified by the state as a ‘medium priority’ for groundwater. Humboldt County has attempted to dodge its responsibilities thus far but will now be required to develop and implement a process to ensure it complies with the “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.”

Please do yourself a favor and take a trip out to the one of these amazing spots in the Eel River estuary to enjoy it. Hiking and boating opportunities abound! For more details on getting there, either click the links above or email foer@eelriver.org.