The Bureau of Land Management's California Director, Jim Kenna, visited the Lost Coast last week to hear a short presentation on watershed management and tour a streambed restoration project near Whitethorn, where Baker Creek feeds into the headwaters of the Mattole River. Baker Creek is the site of a streambed rehabilitation project creating off-channel habitat for coho salmon and raising the surrounding water table to increase water flow year-round.
"This really used to be the historic breadbasket for coho production," said geologist Sam Flanagan.
"They've got to run the gauntlet of the watershed to get up here, and they find a shortage of water and habitat complexity. The idea with Baker Creek was to improve in-stream habitat complexity, improve flood plain connectivity to give winter juveniles refuge habitat, and then store water in those valley floors so it can trickle out during summer," Flanagan said.
To do this, workers with Sanctuary Forest used stream control structures made from locally sourced logs placed across the creekbed to increase ponding and promote streambed scour, a process by which sediment gets moved downstream.
"At high flows, the water is going to get forced under the log, mobilize the gravel, and scour out a little hole," said Flanagan. "The idea with the logs is to deepen up the channel and keep the mouth of the alcove open so fish have access."
Just a few feet away, a ditch has been dug into the side of the streambed, creating a pool of standing water off the main channel of the creek that can be used as low-flow habitat. It's been freshly dug, and the water is still opaque with suspended silt. Despite having been just recently completed, the adjacent water table has already risen by one tenth of a foot - before the rainstorm that struck early last week.
"Ten similar projects could be enough to totally restore coho salmon [in the Mattole] and it will help steelhead and chinook," said Tasha McKee, Executive Director at Sanctuary Forest.
Sanctuary Forest has also worked to ensure healthy water levels by installing water storage tanks for local landowners in exchange for an agreement to forego pumping from the river during the dry season. "Sanctuary Forests has now installed a million gallons of water storage, and we have 16 people who have signed forbearance agreements - so they can't exercise their water rights during low-flow months," McKee said.
Part of the underlying motivation of local nonprofits to meet with Director Kenna seemed to revolve around persuading him that projects like the one at Baker Creek were worthwhile and effective, and that they deserved to receive ongoing funding from the BLM. According to BLM spokesperson Jeff Fontana, the Baker Creek project has already received $100,000 - in addition to $7,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and local funds directly from Sanctuary Forest.
"I think this is a tremendous opportunity for us as an agency to be supportive of a community that has a good strong scientifically based problem description, a good plan to address the problem, and they're really working well together and making stuff happen," Kenna said, "so I'm pretty impressed."
Throughout the day, Kenna praised the way in which local non-profits have partnered with the BLM to affect significant environmental impact in the King Range - repeatedly expressing optimism that our local model for organizational cooperation could be exported to the rest of California, the United States, and the developing world.
"I think fundamentally what makes it such a potent model is the engagement of the community and all the people that work together," Kenna said. "They have a common understanding of what they're trying to do. It doesn't take as much money to fund that kind of a model - it just takes people who are willing to work together and put what they have available into the pot. And we as an agency want to support that."
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTOS BY DAVE BROOKSHER
1. Hezekiah Allen, co-director of the Mattole Restoration Council, points to the north end of the Lost Coast on a 3-d relief map at the BLM's King Range NCA office. (Left: Jim Kenna, California Director for the Bureau of Land Management).
2. California Director Jim Kenna, with the Bureau of Land Management, at Baker Creek near Whitethorn.
3. Recently felled logs placed across Baker Creek to create "streambed scour" and preserve salmonid access to nearby off-channel habitat.
4. Garbage that was illegally dumped at Baker Creek, includes soil bags and small water-storage containers.
5. Geologist Sam Flanagan (left) and Tasha McKee, Executive Director of Sanctuary Forest (right).