WRC Blog

A River of Hope for Klamath River Salmon

Feb 15th, 2014  |  Written by Western Rivers Conservancy

A River of Hope for Klamath River Salmon
Klamath River, Dave Jensen.

Great news from the Klamath River! Western Rivers Conservancy took a major step forward in our effort to create a salmon sanctuary on California’s Redwood Coast. The heart of this effort is Blue Creek, the largest and most important tributary on the lower Klamath and a cold-water lifeline for returning salmon and steelhead. In early December, we closed on an 8,489-acre land acquisition that will conserve half of the lower Blue Creek watershed and add more than 3,700 acres to the Yurok Tribal Community Forest.   

Ensuring the health of Blue Creek is critical to the long-term survival of the Klamath’s anadromous fish, including coho, Chinook and chum salmon, steelhead, green and white sturgeon and coastal cutthroat trout. Chinook, which return to the Klamath during the warm months of late summer and fall, are especially dependent on this source of cold water. Without the refuge that Blue Creek provides, most Chinook would likely die before reaching their spawning grounds in the upper river.  

Our partner in this historic effort is California’s Yurok Tribe, which will act as the long-term conservation stewards of the land. WRC recently helped the Tribe create the Yurok Tribal Community Forest, which conserves over 22,000 acres along the main-stem Klamath, immediately upstream of Blue Creek. The Yurok now care for these lands for the sake of forest health, clean water, fish and wildlife habitat and cultural rejuvenation—all of which will improve conditions for Klamath salmon. As for Blue Creek, the Tribe will manage the lands as a preserve, consistent with the highest standards for both salmonid recovery and restoration of other threatened and endangered species.

Creating a salmon sanctuary of this scale, in the heart of Klamath-Siskiyou and at a cost of over $60 million, is an enormous undertaking. There are countless hurdles and pieces to put into place to make an acquisition of this size a reality. Without question, we could not have made it this far without you. Support from our donors and our foundation partners, including generous funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and an anonymous foundation, has been critical to this effort. And we are proud of our partnership with the Yurok. Natural resource conservation lies at the heart of the Yurok Tribal Constitution, and healthy forests, diverse habitat and strong returns of wild salmon and steelhead are in the Yurok’s greatest cultural, spiritual and economic interests.  

As complex and time-consuming as this project is, it will pay off. In the end, Blue Creek will be one of the most important safety nets for salmon and steelhead in the western United States, an ice-cold river of hope for these incredible—and incredibly important—anadromous fish.