In a historic opportunity, Western Rivers Conservancy is partnering with California’s Yurok Tribe to create a salmon sanctuary and ensure the survival of one of the West’s great salmon streams: the Klamath River. The backbone of this effort is Blue Creek, a vital cold-water tributary on the lower Klamath and a lifeline for migrating salmon and steelhead. WRC is working to purchase and conserve the entire lower Blue Creek watershed and help recreate a homeland for the Yurok, California’s largest Native American tribe.
The Importance of Blue Creek
The Klamath was once the third largest producer of salmon on the West Coast. Sadly, its great runs of Chinook, coho and steelhead have been reduced by hydropower dams, irrigation projects and over fishing. Today, one of the greatest threats to salmon and steelhead are high water temperatures when the Klamath is stressed by low summer flows. For returning fish, Blue Creek is the first cold-water refuge they encounter on their journey inland from the Pacific Ocean. Studies have shown that by holding in Blue Creek’s cold water, Chinook can lower their body temperature by up to eight degrees Fahrenheit, making this tributary critical to their survival. Without this cool-down period, most Chinook would likely die before reaching their spawning grounds in the upper Klamath.
Blue Creek also provides high-quality spawning habitat for Chinook, coho and steelhead. The riparian and upland areas within the Blue Creek watershed provide outstanding habitat for rare and imperiled animals like marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, California condor and Humboldt marten.
An Unprecedented Partnership to Save the Klamath's Salmon
Western Rivers Conservancy and the Yurok Tribe have established a long-term partnership to buy 47,097 acres along the lower Klamath and Blue Creek from Green Diamond Resource Company. The land includes the entire lower Blue Creek watershed, as well as extensive frontage along the lower Klamath. The upper reaches of Blue Creek are already protected by the Siskiyou Wilderness Area. The cold-water tributaries that are included in these lands are vital to the recovery of diverse species, including coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl. Once the project is complete, 73 square miles of the Klamath-Siskiyou will be managed as a salmon sanctuary, climate preserve and sustainable community forest.
To date, WRC has conserved over 38,000 acres of land and placed more than half the lower Blue Creek watershed into permanent conservation. As part of this effort, WRC helped the Tribe create the Yurok Tribal Community Forest along the Klamath. The Tribe now manages this for the sake of forest health, clean water, fish habitat and cultural rejuvenation. By 2018, we will convey the final 8,582 acres to the Yurok. Once complete, 14,790 acres will be protected as salmon sanctuary and 32,307 acres will be sustainably managed as community forest.
A Pioneer in Conservation Finance
To create a salmon sanctuary of this scale, WRC is pioneering new approaches to conservation finance. Through the federal New Markets Tax Credits Program, designed to spur revitalization in low-income communities, WRC is now tapping a significant—and nontraditional—source of private funding. Combined with donor and foundation support, including generous funding from an anonymous foundation and a grant and low-interest loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, WRC was able to raise the needed funds to purchase these lands.
WRC will now pay off the loan from the Packard Foundation through the sale of carbon offsets and sustainable forestry practices that will rejuvenate old-growth habitat and improve the overall health of the Blue Creek watershed. To accomplish this, WRC created a supporting nonprofit, called Western Rivers Forestry (WRF), which will hold the land until it can be conveyed to the Yurok Tribe for permanent stewardship. From the outset, the Tribe will manage the lands on behalf of WRF and in line with WRC’s conservation vision.
Making the Vision a Reality
WRC is now working to purchase the remaining 8,582 acres of this project from Green Diamond. This will place the rest of Blue Creek, including its confluence with the Klamath River, into permanent conservation while adding additional lands to the Yurok Tribal Community Forest.
When this project is complete, it will help ensure the survival of one of the West’s great salmon streams, protect vital wildlife habitat in one of the most biologically rich areas on Earth, and reestablish a sacred homeland and economic base for the Yurok. Then, Blue Creek will be safeguarded by a community whose greatest cultural, spiritual and economic interests are healthy forests, healthy habitat and healthy returns of wild salmon and steelhead.
Thanks to Our Supporters!
Critical support for our work for the Blue Creek Salmon Sanctuary & Yurok Tribal Community Forest has been provided by Aveda, Inc., the Compton Foundation, Flora Family Foundation, Flycasters Inc. of San Jose, Foundation for Sustainability and Innovation, George F. Jewett Foundation, Kendeda Fund, Lawrence Foundation, Mead Foundation, David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Weeden Foundation and an anonymous foundation.
November 1, 2017
The Sacramento Bee
January 1, 2016
Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine
November 16, 2015
December 4, 2014
Del Norte Triplicate
April 15, 2011
April 15, 2011
Del Norte Triplicate
April 14, 2011
Nov 9, 2017
This article ran in the November 1, 2017 edition of The Sacramento Bee.
By Jane Braxton Little, Freelance Writer
Before rushing to join the Klamath River, the waters of Blue Creek pause in a turquoise pool beside a bed of stone-gray cobbles. Salmon pause here, too – coho and fall Chinook, basking in the cool-water refuge to rally for the upstream swim to spawning grounds.
The journey up Blue Creek takes them past groves of redwoods and Douglas firs, over boulder-strewn cascades in a 4,000-foot climb to the misty Siskiyou Mountains. This ascent leads to what Yurok People call the “high country,” a hallowed place where they have gone for millennia to gather medicinal and ceremonial plants, and to commune with the sacred.
Mar 27, 2017
In northern California, Western Rivers Conservancy has purchased the final 8,582 acres in our effort to forever protect Blue Creek, the lifeline of the Klamath River. This extraordinary step puts us within striking distance of completing the Blue Creek Salmon Sanctuary and Yurok Tribal Community Forest, a 73 square-mile preserve in the heart of redwood country. WRC is now working to convey the land to the Yurok people for permanent conservation.
Mar 10, 2016
Thanks to a generous show of support during our 2015 crowdfunding campaign and a $1 million grant from the Kendeda Fund, Western Rivers Conservancy is one step closer to saving Blue Creek! The contributions allowed us to purchase another 562 acres of coastal temperate rain forest in the heart of the California redwoods. This is exciting headway in our effort to bring the final 10,000 acres of land into the 47,000-acre Blue Creek Salmon Sanctuary and Yurok Tribal Community Forest.
Nov 3, 2015
This week, WRC launched a crowdfunding campaign to Save Blue Creek and complete a cold-water salmon sanctuary in the heart of the California Redwoods. We’re in the homestretch of conserving 73 square miles of land in partnership with the Yurok Tribe to save this all-important tributary to the lower Klamath River. Now, we need your help to bring this project to the finish line! To watch the video we made about this rare and wild place go to www.savebluecreek.com. Please donate to the campaign and, most importantly, help us spread the word through email, Instagram and Facebook. Together we can Save Blue Creek!
Apr 8, 2015
Western Rivers Conservancy pushed ahead this month in our effort to create a major cold-water salmon sanctuary in the heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou, one of the earth’s biodiversity hotspots. We successfully completed our third land acquisition on the Klamath River and Blue Creek, which brings us three-quarters of the way toward conserving 47,000 acres in partnership with the Yurok, California’s largest Native American tribe. The acquisition adds 6,479 acres of vital forest and riverland to the Blue Creek Salmon Sanctuary, as well as extensive forestland to the recently created Yurok Tribal Community Forest.
Dec 9, 2014
"As controversial legislation to remove dams in the Klamath Basin awaits congressional approval, the right to manage one of the river’s main tributaries and its most important salmon stream will soon be restored to the Yurok Tribe.
This month, some 6,479 acres along the middle reach of Blue Creek will be transferred out of Green Diamond Resource Company’s ownership as part of a plan to buy the entire 47,000-acre watershed and return it to Native American stewardship. Once the deal goes through, the Yurok Tribe will manage about 30,500 acres around Blue Creek, all acquired since 2011 through a partnership with Portland-based non-profit Western Rivers Conservancy.
Using a complex financing scheme, the conservancy will receive and hold the latest parcels for a seven-year period before selling to the Yurok Tribe, which takes over land management from the outset."
Feb 20, 2014
Jul 24, 2013
Dec 1, 2010