From its headwaters to the sea, California’s Ten Mile River undergoes a restoration transformation

Fall 2014

Partners are coming together to do something no one in California has ever done before – restore an entire watershed from the headwaters to the sea to help recover endangered coho salmon. The Nature Conservancy, in close cooperation with NOAA Fisheries, Hawthorne Timber, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited, is planning to restore stream and floodplain habitat from the mouth of Ten Mile River all the way to its headwaters.

Up to one third of all endangered coho salmon along the Mendocino Coast spawn in the Ten Mile River, just north of Fort Bragg, California, making it a focal area for salmon recovery. Unlike other basins, where human impacts have taken a toll on salmon habitat, the Ten Mile watershed remains in relatively good ecological condition – aside from the legacy effects of logging and ranching. As a result, there is significant potential to restore the watershed relatively quickly.

“Ten Mile really is one of the best opportunities we have for recovering endangered coho salmon,” said Jon Ambrose, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. “It’s untouched in so many ways, a stark contrast to what we’re seeing in the rest of California.”

Recovery partners are tapping into this opportunity. They’re protecting the relatively healthy portions of the watershed while working to undo the effects of historic logging and ranching. Their activities are focusing on restoring historic floodplains, installing logjams to re-establish natural flow patterns, and replanting the riparian areas adjacent to the river, which are some of the strategies outlined in the Recovery Plan for Central California Coast coho salmon.

“The full-scale restoration is designed to revive the dwindling coho runs,” said Ambrose. “The idea is to resurrect the pre-development landscape to restore the natural environment for fish.”

Floodplain habitats, for example, are some of the most fertile grounds for coho. As partners create off-channel habitats and reconnect Ten Mile to its historical floodplain, coho salmon will once again find refuge from predators and be able to rest and feed before entering the ocean.

Some private landowners in the watershed are getting involved to support the restoration efforts.  Since most land in the watershed is privately owned, their involvement is critical for successful restoration planning and implementation. This summer, a partnership led by The Conservation Fund, with support from The Nature Conservancy, the California State Coastal Conservancy, and the Wildlife Conservation Board, secured conservation easements on Smith Ranch. The easement allows owners Margaret Perry and Susan Smith Lampman to continue logging and ranching, but bars future subdivisions and development on the property.

“The easement establishes one of the most critical environments in the Ten Mile, the lower floodplains, as a restoration zone for wild fish into perpetuity,” said Daniel Porter, Regional Ecologist with The Nature Conservancy. “Due to a legacy of logging and ranching impacts, the floodplains are currently disconnected during low to moderate flow events, which precludes their use by young salmon during winter and spring freshets. Fortunately today’s logging and ranching practices are much gentler on the river so we have a lot to work with,” Porter said.

margaret perry and restored landscape

3rd generation rancher, Margaret Perry. Photo courtesy The Nature Conservancy. 

“The protection of our family’s ranch is a critical step toward the restoration of salmon runs in the Ten Mile watershed,” said third generation rancher, Margaret Perry. “We are grateful for the extraordinary commitment of our partners that makes the future restoration of the Ten Mile River and estuary possible.”

Restoring the acquired land parcels will get underway this fall, but there are plans to restore an additional 2,500 acres and six miles of river upstream in the future. When all is said and done, nearly 4,000 acres will be protected and restored for endangered coho salmon – ensuring they can once again migrate from Ten Mile’s upper reaches all the way to the Pacific and back again.

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Home page photo: Courtesy The Nature Conservancy