An occasional feature of BLM California's News.bytes

Lower Clear Creek Restoration Project celebrates success

part of a restoration project used tree root balls on the creek bankingAlmost as if they were performing on cue, fall-run chinook salmon splashed upstream through the sparkling riffles of Clear Creek as people responsible for restoring the Redding-area stream gathered on the banks to celebrate success.

In a partnership celebration held Oct. 19, local, state, federal and private partners in the Lower Clear Creek Restoration Project toured sites to get a close look at projects that are having dramatic effects at restoring the creek that has suffered from more than 100 years of impacts due to gold and gravel mining. The partners celebrated the return of spawning salmon, heralded an amazing increase in riparian plant growth and bird diversity, and discussed growing public interest in returning to the stream to again enjoy outdoor recreation.

In addition to celebrating their accomplishments, the partners took time to look ahead, discussing upcoming Clear Creek projects, including developing the Lower Clear Creek Parkway. The trail segment would be part of a 200-mile regional trail connecting the Sacramento River, Clear Creek, and Shasta, Trinity and Whiskeytown Lakes.

The celebration marked a decade of planning and work that began with formation of the Lower Clear Creek Restoration Team in the mid 1990s. Team members from a wide array of agencies and interest groups came together with a shared vision that the stream, which flows 16 miles from Whiskeytown Dam to the Sacramento River, could again become an important component of the Sacramento River salmonid fishery. By 1996 they had completed a watershed assessment documenting conditions in the watershed. They then embarked on an ecosystem-based, consensus-driven effort to restore the damaged stream channel, improve conditions for spawning salmon and revegetate the riparian corridor, which had been stripped in previous decades of mining. In 1998 the Lower Clear Creek Coordinated Resource Management Planning (CRMP) group drafted the management plan. The organization is now the Lower Clear Creek Watershed Group.

Among the projects envisioned and developed by the partners were actions to return the stream to a more natural, meandering course and to eliminate pits and ponds that once stranded migrating salmon before they could swim downstream. A little needed irrigation dam was dismantled to improve stream flow and fish passage. Some riparian vegetation was replanted and other areas recovered naturally. Floodplains were repaired to allow the stream to respond to, and recover from, high water flows. Projects were designed and implemented to return gravel, essential for salmon spawning, to the streambed which had eroded to hardpan in some places.

large tree root balls anchor eroding creek bank sections
Above, one of the many projects at Lower Clear Creek involved anchoring of large tree root balls along eroding creek bank sections. The trees are helping to keep the creek in the desired channel. Riparian vegetation is becoming well established in many areas, below.
Riparian vegetation is becoming well established in many areas along Clear Creek

Even members of the team have been astonished with the rapid rate of recovery in some areas. For instance, the average fall-run of chinook salmon was less than 1,600 fish per year between 1967 and 1991. By 2002, the fall run had jumped to more than 16,000 salmon with. Spring run salmon and steelhead numbers also are up since the restoration work got underway.

Below, Matt Brown, a fisheries biologist with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, discusses salmon recovery with participants in the partnership celebration.
Matt Brown, a fisheries biologist with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, discusses salmon recovery with participants in the partnership celebration.

Implementation of the Lower Clear Creek Floodway Restoration Project is led by the Western Shasta Resource Conservation District, with most activities taking place on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management's Redding Field Office.

Below, BLM Assistant Field Manager Francis Berg explained that the BLM Redding Resource Management Plan, adopted in 1993, directed the BLM to acquire for public ownership parcels along lower Clear Creek In addition to improving management efficiency by consolidating isolated public land parcels, transfer to public ownership allowed for restoration work that would have been extremely difficult to achieve on smaller, privately owned parcels.
BLM Assistant Field Manager Francis Berg points to a map to help explain how BLM's Redding Resource Management Plan consolidated parcels to help the restoration effort

The dramatic rock cliffs of Saeltzer Gorge, below, are among the areas that may soon see more public visitation. The city of Redding recently donated to the BLM 30 acres at this site, where plans are being developed for a salmon viewing area and other amenities.
The dramatic rock cliffs of Saeltzer Gorge

The ongoing work at Lower Clear Creek is reversing the effects of more than 150 years of activities that started in 1848 with the discovery of gold at Reading Bar. Placer mining and dredging continued in to the 1940's, turning "upside down" the terraces and floodplains. The stream was stripped of riparian vegetation, with piles of cobble and rock unable to support plants. Commercial in-stream gravel mining followed in the 1950s and continued for 30 years, further altering the natural channel and floodplain. Further fishery impacts occurred in 1963, when Whiskeytown Dam was completed, reducing Lower Clear Creek water flows by 60 percent and halting the natural infusion of gravels.

Recognizing the long history of impacts on the stream, watershed partners knew they had major challenges ahead when they undertook the restoration project. BLM's Berg credits the talents of the team members and their willingness to work together -- regardless of who received the credit -- as the driving force behind the dramatic turnaround for the stream.

Members of the restoration team, which provides technical assistance and project direction are the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Department of Water Resources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Shasta County Environmental School, National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Park Service, US Bureau of Land Management, US Bureau of Reclamation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Shasta Resource Conservation District, Graham Matthews and Associates (consultants), Sousa Environmental Solutions (consultants) and Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science.

More information on the project is available from the Western Shasta RCD at www.westernshastarcd.org, or www.clear-creek.org.


BLM California News.bytes, issue 255