The informational hearing, dubbed “Coho salmon on the Brink”, featured testimony from several key agencies, including the Director of the Department of Fish and Game, and the Southwest Regional Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Executive Officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The DFG and the NMFS presented compelling evidence that Coho salmon populations have substantially declined over the last 30 years, and that those declining trends show no signs of abatement. Coho salmon populations have all but disappeared when compared with historic estimates, and many historic Coho streams are now considered either extinct or at risk of extinction, even in the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coho region.
Lack of adequate funding, regulations, and enforcement mechanisms to protect Coho, particularly on privately-held timberlands in California continues to hamper efforts to protect, conserve, and restore properly functioning freshwater habitat conditions. In particular, 2010 budgetary cuts to the DFGs Timber Harvest Plan review program has left the Department hampered in its duties to conserve and recover Coho on privately-held timberlands, where the NMFS estimates approximately 90 percent of remaining freshwater habitat for this species resides.
Water diversions, both legal and illegal, also continue to hamper Coho conservation and recovery. Once again, the lack of adequate funding for the DFG, and ultimately, the lack of adequate regulatory muscle for the Department continue to allow water diversions, both legal and illegal, to remove essential flow from Coho bearing streams in critical summer months.
The loss of adequate habitat structure and complexity in freshwater habitats for Coho was also identified as a primary limiting factor. Lack of a streamlined regulatory process to allow for the placement of large woody debris in Coho bearing streams to provide habitat complexity to facilitate rearing and sheltering habitats continues to hamper efforts by the agencies and independent landowners to provide for these essential habitat elements.
Coho salmon are indeed on the brink, and the lack of adequate funding, regulatory mechanism, and enforcement mechanisms at the state level, these trends are likely to continue. The State must act swiftly and decisively to provide adequate funding, regulations, and enforcement of such regulations if we are ever to hope to recover this iconic fading species and prevent its annihilation . EPIC is dedicated to the conservation and recovery of this essential species, and will continue to advocate for adequate regulations, and adequate funding and enforcement of those regulations.