CALTROUT AIMS TO IMPROVE SPAWN
Nonprofit’s projects in north state include Big Chico Creek, Battle Creek
CHICO >> One day, chinook salmon and other native species of fish will have better access to ancient spawning grounds up Big Chico Creek and other local freshwater tributaries, thanks to regional efforts in restoring fish habitat.
CalTrout, a statewide conservation nonprofit, opened its seventh office in Chico this month to focus on improving fish spawning and rearing habitats in Butte, Tehama and Shasta counties.
The new region, which it calls the Mt. Lassen Region, encompasses rivers and creeks flowing from the Cascades into the eastern side of the Sacramento River including Butte Creek, Mill Creek, Big Chico Creek, Antelope Creek, Deer Creek and Battle Creek.
Holly Swan is the new project manager for the CalTrout Mt. Lassen Region and has lived in Chico for 20 years, most recently graduating with a masters degree in biology at Chico State.
Swan was recently hired to work on two projects improving native fish spawning habitat in the region, including one at Big Chico Creek heading up to the Butte Creek Ecological Reserve and one at Battle Creek near Red Bluff.
“The Big Chico Creek project is allowing those fish, once it’s complete, will be able to go up way higher elevation; will be able to be in much colder water,” a favorable condition for spawning, Swan said.
CalTrout is working on the project with the Chico State Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria which is providing placebased knowledge and experience, the city of Chico and Friends of Butte Creek.
“I think it’s a kind of overlooked area. Deer Creek — they have recurring salmon runs every year and historically; Big Chico Creek sustains a large population of chinook salmon,” Swan said.
Big Chico Creek
CalTrout’s project at Big Chico Creek aims to improve a section called Iron Canyon, which Swan says will open an additional 8.5 miles of spawning habitat for native species of fish including chinook and steelhead trout.
“The issue right now is they can only make it as far as salmon hole, and salmon hole is too warm and it’s got too many people,” Swan said.
In 2019, Swan said a run of salmon made its way up to salmon hole but died before spawning. The project aims to improve the area so that more natal — species that return to their birthplace to reproduce — fish return to the habitat during spawning season.
“Big Chico Creek doesn’t really have any natal fish because they’re never able to spawn because they die first. But, there’s always adventurous fish who are like, ‘Oh, maybe this is a cool creek to go spawn at instead,’ and that’s what happened with that run in 2019,” Swan said.
Swan said the CalTrout team will be going into the Iron Canyon area to remove about 17 tiers of fish ladder, including concrete and rebar sticking out of the creek.
Part of the project includes strategically picking up and placing some to create stream patterns favored by fish migrating upstream to spawn.
Right now the project is
in its initial planning and design phase and Swan said the design team for the next six months will map out the area’s boulders and hydrology
conditions; measure stream velocity and capture images and LIDAR data using drones.
Once the project is in
construction phase, a crane will be brought out for a season or two to remove the concrete and move boulders, Swan said, with no use of blasting in awareness of preserving the surrounding environment.
“It’s going to look very natural,” Swan said.
Swan said the team is designing the project to recreate the hydrology environment found further downstream — attempting to match the speed, depth and run riffle-pool characteristics favorable for spawning.
“It’s not just about (chinook) salmon and steelhead, we also have a component that is going to relocate other native fish species,” including suckers, hardhead, pikeminnow and lamprey, Swan said. The restoration has the potential to also bring in river otters, bears and osprey that feed on the fish.
The project’s time frame will be about four to five years for designing, permitting and construction, Swan said.
In addition to the habitat improvement, CalTrout will also be working with K-12 schools for field trips.
Swan said Battle Creek, near Red Bluff, is one of the very few winter-run chinook salmon habitats left in the entire state.
CalTrout completed a project in December 2022 at Battle Creek which is similar to the project in Chico that opened up 8 miles of spawning habitat for native fish, including the less common winter-run chinook salmon.
Holly said CalTrout is working further at Battle Creek to speed up the removal process for dams built along the creek used for hydropower by PG&E.
Swan said hydropower plants that run along Battle Creek are no longer economically viable for PG&E, so the nonprofit is working to speed up the decommissioning process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which in November 2022 approved the decommissioning for dams in the Klamath River.
Removal of the dams will open up an extra 42 miles of spawning habitat to the limit they have historically been able to get to, Swan said.
More information about CalTrout’s project at Battle Creek can be found at https://bit.ly/3EhP1fq and Big Chico Creek at https:// bit.ly/3KdqXOx.