Coho salmon slowly make comeback with human help

June 21, 2011 7:29:20 PM PDT
They've been overfished and repeatedly kicked out of their natural breeding grounds, but now California's endangered Coho salmon are making a comeback, with a little help from their human allies.

In Sonoma County, efforts to re-create the salmon's lost habitat appear to be working and ABC7 got to follow along as a new batch of young fish were released into Devil Creek.

The young Coho salmon may have spent the first six months of their lives at a hatchery, but they'll spend the rest of their lives in the wild.

State workers load up the salmon in 60-pound backpacks filled with water and hike up the wooded banks of Devil Creek. They are on private property and the owner, Nancy Summers, bought it with one goal: to turn it back into a habitat for endangered species like Coho salmon.

It is a big commitment on her part, but Summers says she makes the commitment because she truly believes in it. Summers has the help of more than 60 people -- including the Army Corps of Engineers, which will help pay for the project -- to replace some of the salmon habitat that was lost when they built the Warm Springs dam.

"We have to try and repopulate as many of the historic Coho streams as we can," said Peter Lacivita from the Army Corps of Engineers.

But to do it, they have to undo what years of logging and mining on the property left behind. Years ago, loggers left huge chunks of redwood lying all over the property. Now, that redwood has become the basis for the new salmon habitat. One redwood has actually been bolted to the tree next to it. The giant logs actually create good hiding places for the young salmon to feed and also keep the gravel that the adults need to spawn from getting washed away.

"The exciting thing is that the habitat restoration is working," said Summers.

It is working so well that Summers and her husband shot video of a wild Coho salmon that swam up to a spot in the creek from the ocean to spawn. That means the endangered fish are making it to the ocean and surviving.

"It's very gratifying, very gratifying. It's a lot of hard work," said Lacivita.

And there's more work left to do. Out of the thousands of young salmon being released here, only four percent will ever see the ocean. If even one out of a hundred makes it back to the creek to spawn, biologists will call it a monumental success.


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