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Federal Government Considers NorCal’s Summer-Run Steelhead for Endangered Species List

Photo by NOAA

In November 2018, the Friends of the Eel River petitioned to list Northern California’s summer-run steelhead on the Endangered Species Act. Now, the federal government has nominated the struggling fish species for consideration.

A group of federal wildlife management agencies said last week that listing the North Coast’s steelhead as an endangered species may be warranted and is enlisting more public opinion before the decision is made. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service released a 13-page proposed rule that proves to be the beginning of what may protect the fish in the future.

“We find that the petition presents substantial scientific information indicating the petitioned action may be warranted,” the proposed rule said. “We will conduct a status review of Northern California summer-run steelhead to determine if the petitioned action is warranted.”

The Friends of Eel River claim that less than 1,000 adult steelhead spawn in the North Coast rivers today, which includes the Redwood Creek in the north to the Mattole in the south. The group blames the decline to the Scott Dam, which blocks 98% of potential habitat for the steelhead. They claim the entire steelhead population was nearly wiped out during the construction of the dam.

Friends of Eel river attribute the diminishing steelhead populations to the Scott Dam. Photo by Cal Trout.

Now, the federal agencies are accepting commercial and scientific input on the proposal for 60 days beginning on April 23.

The steelhead were listed as a threatened species in 2000, a lower category than endangered. But the Friends of Eel River have since made the argument that summer-run Chinook deserve separate consideration from their winter-run brethren, citing the different states of the river that the steelhead spawn during their respective seasons.

This new argument was enough for the agencies to further review the petition.

“After reviewing the information contained in the petition, as well as information readily available in our files, we conclude the petition presents substantial scientific information indicating that the petitioned action to delineate a Northern California summer-run steelhead distinct population segment may be warranted,” the proposed rule said.

The Friends of Eel River has been a great watchdog for North Coast tributaries, even calling out “secret meetings” by PG&E that were discussing the future of the Potter Valley Project, which has diverted Eel River water into the Russian River for over a century.

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