Cutting down forests to increase the dwindling number of coho salmon may seem unusual, but groups are embracing this in California's Garcia River Forest.
The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund have joined in an unlikely partnership with Hawthorne Timber Company to restore endangered coho salmon populations, by felling trees to create better stream habitats.
According to The Nature Conservancy, the area's coho salmon numbers may be at just 1% of the estimated population from the 1940s. Since 2008, 15 miles of stream have been restored in Mendocino County and that number is expected to double by the end of 2011.
In a video released about the project, Chris Blencow, a forester with Blencow Watershed Management said that to protect the salmon, they are attempting three things: "We're trying to provide overhead shelter from predators, we're trying to create larger and deeper pools and we're also trying to slow the water down in the winter and give those fish a place to hide out, out of those high winter flows."
Instead of simulating the natural habitat by constructing cable and wood structures, the project uses loose logs, directly fells stream-side trees at strategic locations, and allows rains and high stream flows to naturally create log jams.
In 2004, 23,780 acres of former industrial forest land was acquired by The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, the California State Coastal Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Board with a goal to restore the streams and forests and sustainably log its Redwood and Douglas fir timber. The aim was to help local Mendocino County and reduce carbon emissions.
Chris Kelly, California Director of the Conservation Fund told Living on Earth in 2009: "Ironically by us going in and selecting out some of the slower growing weaker trees and creating space for the more vigorous trees to grow, we are increasing the rate of carbon sequestration in the forest."
She says: "Each healthy, standing tree that would have been logged in the past now translates into stored carbon that is helping curb climate change. And that stored carbon can be sold as emissions offsets, bringing money that can be reinvested in restoring this forest and the river cascading through it."
Signs that the health of the streams and coho salmon are improving have been noted by the Nature Conservancy, which writes, "Conservancy ecologist Jennifer Carah spotted juvenile coho salmon in the Pardaloe Creek of the Garcia River watershed. This is a first sighting of endangered coho on the creek, and it's a significant distance upstream from where the salmon have previously been seen. This sighting is a very positive indication of the improving health of the stream and the river."