Steelhead view spawns hope
By Jesse Phelps
While working up in the Sespe
to restore the habitat of steelhead two weeks ago, in a tributary
called Piedras Blancas Creek, members of Concerned Resource and
Environmental Workers (the C.R.E.W.) ran across a welcome sight.
There, in a pool, shying away but clearly visible, were several
"We're excited to find fish still there," said Wally
McCall, leader of the C.R.E.W. "Piedras Blancas Creek has
always had trout."
McCall said activists are concerned about the creek because it
was significantly affected by the runoff from the Wolf Fire a
couple of years back. "The runoff turned that creek into
something that looked like concrete slurry," he said.
The C.R.E.W. received a grant for more than $140,000 from California
Fish and Game last year, originally to be implemented in 2004,
to repair the habitat for the fish, which are listed as an endangered
As a result of the fire, however, the schedule for the restoration
project was moved up and in June, in collaboration with the fire
service and Ventura County Wetland Recovery Taskforce, the C.R.E.W.
went to work.
Members of the team are working on a two-phase project, said
McCall. "The first phase," he said, "is to minimize
siltation and erosion. We sent a crew out in the summer, in excess
of 25 people each week for the first month and a half, working
out there to rebuild the trail to prevent siltation runoff ...
We finished phase one in early August."
Then, said McCall, a team went into the area to prepare for the
second phase. "With one of our chief trail leaders and two
biologists, a horseback team went out to assess the current status
of the creek," he said.
And there, looking quite healthy, were healthy fish in several
"In the process of assessing creek stability and health
and inventorying vegetation sites and sources, we were able to
photograph trout in three separate sites. What makes this significant
is that they're still there," said McCall. "That's
why we selected it as a site to save."
Consulting biologist Jeff Brinkman was on the team that observed
the fish. He said that any steelhead in the Piedras Blancas could
be native or the result of stocking. He believes, however, based
on both behavior and appearance, that all the fish seen by the
team were born in the wild and will potentially make the migration
to the ocean traditionally undertaken by steelhead.
"Hatchery fish usually have worn down fins and bland silvery
coloration. These fish didn't look like that, " Brinkman
said. "The fish that we saw were definitely not hatchery
fish. Intact fins and markings indicate that they're wild fish.
Good brown spots, good coloration. The wild-born fish tend to
be very skittish when they see people. These fish were definitely
exhibiting that behavior."
McCall said that trout in the Piedras Blancas have been adversely
affected not only by the fire, but also by siltation and inappropriate
foot traffic into the shallows and spawning areas. He also pointed
out that an "impact on breeding caused by temperature changes
as a result of lost vegetation on the creek sides. "We're
trying to focus on all three of those issues," said McCall.
The second phase of the restoration project will focus on re-vegetation
using local native plants such as California Rose, California
Blackberry and other man-inhibiting plants the deter foot traffic
from the creek sides. "Significant discussion determined
which plants were appropriate," said McCall. Two plant biologists,
Mike Vaughan and Chis Bysshe, who is also developing a native
plant nursery for the land conservancy, have "strong working
knowledge of native plant biology," according to McCall.
The C.R.E.W.'s Piedras Blancas steelhead habitat restoration
project will continue for the next year and half. Piedras Blancas
Creek, located in the Dick Smith Wilderness system, serves as
a tributary to the Sespe, which flows into the Santa Clara River.
A fish ladder similar to the one undergoing construction in the
Ventura River at the Robles Diversion provides them access to
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