Thank you for being a champion for the Eel River watershed. The staff and board of Friends of the Eel River are truly grateful for being able to count on you as a partner in our efforts to protect and recover our beautiful watershed. As we near the end of this politically and climatically turbulent year, I am writing to ask you to once again give generously to support FOER’s important role as a conscientious voice for the Eel River, its fisheries, and its communities.
Make no mistake: it’s been a challenging couple of years for conservation – and even democracy – in America. In difficult times such as these, it is important to keep focused on our goals. Yes, we must stand up to and defeat regressive policies, but we must also hold true to – and advance – the vision of what we do want. Here in the Eel River watershed, that means ensuring our rivers, creeks, and estuaries regain the resilience they need to host healthy fisheries. In many ways, we’ve made some amazing progress:
From the travesty of the North Coast Railroad Authority to the promise of the Great Redwood Trail
Friends of the Eel River has been watchdogging the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) for more than a decade, seeking to hold the agency accountable for its mess in the Eel River canyon and elsewhere. We won an important legal victory in the California Supreme Court in 2017 and saw the US Supreme Court decline to review that decision in 2018, clearing the way for us to proceed with our claims. But with a final resolution remaining elusive, we were thrilled when Sen. Mike McGuire introduced the Great Redwood Trail Act (SB 1029) to dissolve this broken agency and railbank its right-of-way for a non-motorized trail system. With our support, a scaled-back version of the bill was signed into law this year.
Growing demand for removing the Eel River dams
FOER is unmasking the threats and liabilities that PG&E’s aging water project pose and building support for its removal. Despite holding only the waters of the Eel within its boundaries, Humboldt County had, for years, sidestepped taking a position on the dams and associated infrastructure that block fish passage and divert much of the Eel’s waters to the Russian River watershed. This year, under significant pressure from FOER and local communities, the Supervisors issued a resolution supporting removing Scott Dam and recovering the Eel River watershed. Key Russian River water interests – including the Sonoma County Water Agency – now acknowledge that their water needs can be met without Scott Dam. However, with a relicensing process stacked for the status quo and a possible sale of the entire project, we still have a massive battle ahead.
Eel River estuary restoration projects gaining steam
FOER is thrilled by the progress being made to restore the lower Eel River. From seeing the Salt River once again flow into the Eel to cheerleading the restoration of estuary ecosystems by the Wildlands Conservancy, the Wiyot Tribe, and the State (at the Eel River Estuary Preserve), we are heartened by the growing community that is working together to protect and restore the lower Eel, a vital component of fisheries recovery. We at FOER have been closely watching groundwater overuse in the lower Eel and anticipate work on this in the coming year.
That said, we have a hard road ahead. Native fish populations are either stagnant or continuing to decline. Climate change exacerbates our challenges. If our salmon and steelhead are to survive, we also need:
- For water diverting interests and politicos to accept that the Eel River dams need to go so we can get started working on a real two-basin solution: Despite a firm grasp of the liabilities they would face, some Russian River water interests are angling to purchase this White Elephant water project from PG&E. We will continue holding firm for volitional fish passage (Scott Dam at minimum must go) and forcing a reckoning on the significant safety threats this aging system poses.
- A firmer commitment to mitigating the cannabis industry’s watershed impacts: The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors continues to refuse to adequately address the cumulative watershed impacts of cannabis cultivation. After the Supervisors rejected our very reasonable settlement offer, we expect to take our claims before a judge in 2019.
- Stronger collaboration to ensure the transition from the NCRA to the Great Redwood Trail: With the passage of SB 1029, the NCRA now has two years to wrap up its failed enterprise and set the stage for a successor agency that will focus on restoration and trails. We are looking forward to working with the new administration, our champions in the legislature, and a lot of excited local communities and trail advocates to finish the job of laying out a new agency focused on trails and restoration.
- Greater protections for endangered salmon and steelhead: This fall, we petitioned both the state of California and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list summer steelhead as endangered, thereby creating a recovery mandate. We will continue working towards the protections these iconic fish need.
These are troubling times. In addition to doing what we can on the national level to right the sinking ship of our democracy, we also must increase our commitment to thinking and acting locally. This is not a mere platitude: It is in fact our most achievable goal. Despite the harm that the boom and bust extraction economies have wrought upon it, the Eel River is still renowned for its native fisheries, and scientists agree that it holds perhaps the greatest hope we have for recovering some of the abundance our rivers once had.
For 25 years now, Friends of the Eel River have been fighting to protect and recover this magnificent watershed. We use science, the law, and grassroots organizing to forge stronger, conservation biology-based protections for our region. Thank you for being such a steadfast member of the community defending the Eel River watershed.
With thanks and gratitude,
Stephanie Tidwell, Executive Director