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Wild Salmon Return to Restored Habitat in California


In 2011, the NOAA Restoration Center participated in removing blocked culverts on Willow Creek in the Russian River watershed in northern California, opening seven miles of the creek for salmon passage. And this summer, wild coho salmon were once again swimming up past the former barriers. We’ve seen nearly 450 wild spawned coho salmon juveniles swimming in the creek—the first wild coho salmon observed in this watershed since 1990.

Before the restoration, Willow Creek passed through a series of six 3-foot culverts, which had become clogged by sediment and debris. Salmon and other fish were completely blocked from migrating upstream, and the blockages also caused frequent flooding of Willow Creek Road. Coho salmon and steelhead trout actually had to swim over the road to try to reach their spawning grounds.

The NOAA Restoration Center, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and others removed the six plugged culverts, rechanneled the creek, and installed a 43-foot clear-span bridge. This allowed endangered salmon access to the rich wetlands upstream, including as much as seven miles of creek habitat. Immediately after implementation of the project, 11,000 tagged juvenile coho salmon were released in Willow Creek to jump-start production. We’re waiting to see those fish return as adults this coming winter to spawn. Through NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint, we’ve also contributed funding to monitor use of the creek by salmon in all their life stages.

Posted September 3, 2013



Wild Salmon
Wild salmon swim in Willow Creek.