Sep 30, 2019
by Tim McKusick
Happy Fall! It seems like the Seasons turned overnight, with the Coastal Redwoods shedding massive amounts of their needles seemingly all at once. The distant Cazadero hills have entire stands of dead and dying Tan Bark Oaks and Firs, obvious brown swaths of tinder-dry forest, reminding us of the extended drought of not-too-long-ago, and its long-term damaging effects.
Most of our local Osprey population have raised their young and moved-on for the Winter. Missing is their always interesting treetop chatter. Deer seem to be everywhere, wandering out into traffic, oblivious of the dangers.
Logging trucks are hauling Redwood trees down the Coast and through River Rd, on to Hwy 101 to mills, probably in Cloverdale. In the past, they would have delivered the logs to Berry’s Saw Mill in Cazadero, which has been shuttered and is up for sale. It was shocking to see how small the logs were. Hopefully, they are thinning ‘suckers’ somewhere to enhance the growth of the larger trees left to grow. Seeing logging trucks seems rare these days. They are having to drive farther to the disappearing log mills, with their loads of increasingly smaller and smaller trees. Sad, indeed. When will they see that leaving the older trees actually benefits our personal well-being and the well-being of the environment and the Planet?
Our rivers are showing the end-of-Summer symptoms; low flows and questionable water quality. The Gualala River is nothing but puddles upstream from the Hwy 1 bridge, a stark reminder of the mega-wineries who purchased vast land holdings in the watershed, who have been sequestering class-2 and 3 streams (small swales & ditches) into their own holding ponds for vine irrigation. It seems innocent enough, but the cumulative effect is devastating to the scarce water supplies for any fish that might survive in these gravel-puddles.
The Russian River is faring a bit better but is having troubles of its own. The lower river Estuary from Austin Creek to the ocean is virtually level, so when the tide is high and the river-mouth open, this part of the river has water pushing upstream for a ways. This is great news for the few Estuary-perched streams (Sheephouse, Jenner and Willow Creek) and the fish that call them home, usually, as they can count on getting home to their spawning grounds in spite of low flows.
Historically, logging and over-logging in these sensitive watersheds pushed the native fish populations to the brink of extinction. But, recent efforts at restoration and because of the exhaustive efforts of a few true ‘Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods’, fish numbers are increasing – slowly. The Setting aside of the lands of the Jenner Headlands Preserve was a giant step in the right direction, as the headwaters of Sheephouse Creek are within the park. Unfortunately for the fish of Sheephouse Creek, a ‘wing-wall’ (part of the highway culvert) where the creek meets the river, fell into the streambed before last winter’s storms. Incredible amounts of gravel built-up behind this concrete slab, hindering migration of native fish species.
Cal-Trans and NOAA had a plan to repair the problem (remove and replace the concrete culvert) and were geared-up to do it last Summer, but postponed it when the river Estuary level increased due to the river mouth closing for a period, flooding the work area. They put it off for this season, but have recently come up with more excuses Not to clean-up this environmental hazard.
Other projects are getting priority and funding, obviously fixing roads for tourists is a higher priority than opening the fish channels for the stranded Endangered young Salmon.
Pampas Grass has come back with a vengeance along Hwy 1 around the mouth of the River, despite a massive eradication effort a couple of years ago. This amazingly tough plant will even grow in the grey Serpentine soils that Nothing will grow in. The only way to contain its spread is to cut off and bag the seed-fronds off before the seeds become air born. Not an easy task, as the plants are in hard-to-reach areas, mostly. Perhaps a Herculean Volunteer Effort could contain further spreading.
Get out and enjoy these gorgeous Fall days! The beaches at the river mouth have thousands of shorebirds, Pelicans, Egrets, Gulls and Eagles enjoying this biologically diverse habitat. Grab your kayak and cruise amongst them. Magical.
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