Eel River Estuary

Rejuvenating tidal wetlands for one of California's great salmon and steelhead streams

Eel River
With its extensive free-flowing length, wilderness reaches and its relatively intact estuary, the Eel River nourishes a wide spectrum of Northern California ecosystems, from pine and redwood forests to oak savannah to tidal flats.
Photography | Ali Rivera
Eel River
The Eel River estuary is a place of tremendous biological diversity. Its mosaic of tidal flats, sloughs, marshes, and seasonal wetlands supports hundreds of thousands of resident and migratory waterfowl, as well as important habitat for coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout. Western Rivers Conservancy's efforts in the Eel River estuary restored 440 acres of tidal wetlands.
Photography | Kenneth and Gabrielle Adelman
Eel River
The Eel River is California’s third largest river and boasts more Wild and Scenic miles than any other river system in the West – 398 miles along the mainstem Eel and its major tributaries. WRC conserved 440 acres within the Eel River estuary near the start of the Eel’s Wild and Scenic River corridor.
Photography | Daniel Dyer
Eel River
Although the Eel River's native fish runs are a fraction of their historic abundance, the river is still a crucial stream for wild salmon and steelhead. One third of California’s summer steelhead runs are supported by the Eel, along with important runs of Chinook and coho. WRC's efforts at the estuary have conserved vital habitat for these imperiled fish. Today, the river remains a top fishing destination.
Photography | Michael Carl
Eel River
The Eel River owes its name to the eel-like appearance of Pacific lamprey, which thrive in the river and are an important food source for Native Americans. But they aren't eels at all. Pacific lamprey are anadromous, parasitic fish with boneless bodies, open gill holes and a jawless, sucking disc-shaped mouth. They’re more related to sharks than eels.
Photography | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In 2012, Western Rivers Conservancy completed a special project that we hope will inject new life into one of the most important estuaries on the California coast, the Eel River estuary. The Eel is California’s third largest river, and its mouth once formed a mosaic of tidal flats, sloughs, marshes and seasonal wetlands on the state’s remote North Coast.

Part of the Eel River estuary is formed by the Salt River, which flows into the Eel from the south. Upstream from the confluence, on the Salt River, WRC conveyed a former dairy farm to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The project turns 440 acres of potentially outstanding fish and waterfowl habitat over to the agency for long-term restoration and protection.

CDFW identified the property as possibly the most beneficial restoration project within the entire watershed. With transfer of the lands to CDFW, the agency can continue restoration efforts which it began soon after WRC purchased the property in 2006. CDFW will breach levies and disable tide gates that have choked much of the life out of this important estuary. It will rejuvenate habitat for more than 30 species of fish, including salmon and cutthroat trout, and reestablish feeding and nesting sites for shorebirds like western yellow-billed cuckoo and marbled godwit.

Our work on the Eel River estuary is supported by grants from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Campbell Foundation, Heller Charitable and Educational Fund and the Dean Witter Foundation.

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