An affiliate of the
Albion Community Coho Defense
DESCRIPTION AND LOCATION
The Albion River is a 43 square mile watershed located in western Mendocino County; it empties into the Pacific Ocean at the town of Albion. The river's most inland reach is approximately 15 air miles from the ocean; it ranges in elevation from sea level to 1,566 feet. Tidal influence extends as much as five miles up the river. The watershed's geology is largely comprised of Coastal Belt Franciscan Complex with Marine Terrace deposits in the lower river; its land forms are characterized by flat coastal terraces and deeply incised inner gorges. The major vegetation type is coniferous forests (Redwood and Douglas Fir). The unique and fascinating Pygmy Forest type covers several hundred ridge-top acres.
Though a small river, the Albion's beneficial uses include, among others, cold freshwater habitat and estuarine habitat. Approximately 85 miles of Class I (fish-bearing) streams in the basin support both coho and steelhead throughout the river; the remnant population of coho, a native stock, with all three year-classes present, comprises a genetic refugia that may be a vital component of coho recovery in Mendocino County. The estuary supports extensive eel grass beds, tracts of both fresh and saltwater marshes, and mudflats, all home to numerous species of invertebrates. The National Marine Fisheries Service has listed estuaries as critical habitat for coho, both for feeding and for the acclimatization to salt water.
The majority of the basin is in private ownership, with 54% owned by one timber company; another 20% is in eleven holdings. Residential use is confined primarily to ridges and the coastline, the valleys largely maintained in coniferous forests.
The dominant land use has been - and remains - timber production. Logging began in 1852 with the cutting of the original forest. In 1980, harvest levels again increased dramatically as second-growth stands began to mature. This increased harvest rate was accompanied by an accelerated rate of road building. Today, only a tiny percentage of the watershed is still in mature, second-growth stands and only scattered, individual old growth trees remain. Both are still being cut. Most of the basin is third- and fourth-growth trees - too small to anchor stream banks, to provide the necessary shade to cool water temperatures, or to allow input of large woody debris to meter and store the vast quantities of sediment left by previous logging.
This degradation of water quality has led to the river's listing as impaired by sediment by the EPA under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. The EPA has published a draft Total Maximum Daily Load for Sediment for the river that will be finalized by EPA by the end of 2001 after which an implementation plan will be adopted by the Regional Water Board into its Basin Plan.
California's multi-agency NCWAP (North Coast Watershed Assessment Program) is now gathering information on the Albion to make a coarse-level watershed assessment to guide future stream monitoring and restoration.
WATERSHED PROTECTION GROUPS
The first environmental advocacy group in the Albion, the Albion River Watershed Protection Association (ARWPA), had its beginnings in 1978 with community protests of Masonite Corporation's clearcutting and herbicide use. Following the Louisiana Pacific purchase of Masonite's Albion lands, ARWPA continued its activities of reviewing timber plans, organizing educational workshops on the impacts of logging, and bringing litigation aimed at preventing adverse cumulative impacts to the watershed - particularly to the wildlife species that inhabit the area. In the early 90s, ARWPA merged with the organization Friends of Salmon Creek, defenders of the stream just south of Albion, to become a community-wide advocacy group. (ARWPA: Linda Perkins: 707-937-0903)
At the same time, another group, Friends of Enchanted Meadow (FOEM), brought a lawsuit on two timber plans in an area known as Enchanted Meadow. An adverse ruling at the superior court level led to an 8-week-long series of acts of civil disobedience by the Albion community and Earth First! This "Albion Nation Uprising", as it was named, though brought to an end by an appellate court ruling favorable to FOEM, left its mark on the environmental community which has retained a keen interest in the river and the forests surrounding Enchanted Meadow. Protests erupted anew this year when L-P's successor, Mendocino Redwood Company, filed timber plans above the meadow. A community tree sit currently guards large trees and unstable slopes above the river. (FOEM: Zia Cattalini 707-937-2031)
The Coastal Land Trust (CoLT) has been active in Albion River since its establishment in 1995. The mission of CoLT is to preserve and restore natural land, including the wildlife and scenic values; to establish trails to the sea and rivers; and to research the ecology and geography of watersheds. The emphasis has been on land around the estuaries, and critical habitat for endangered species. CoLT worked with Fish & Game to conduct coho spawner surveys and habitat typing on the upper Albion and nearby Salmon Creek; sponsored research on estuary use by salmonids migrating to the sea, and research on estuarine wetland habitats. Both publications are available from the land trust. Presently, an effort is being made to provide accurate mapping of the watershed for use by protection groups and for watershed planning. (CoLT: Rixanne Wehren 707-937-2709)
RECENT NEWS FROM NMFS
The work of the watershed groups was lent added urgency following the release of a March 31, 2001 report by the National Marine Fisheries Service. ["Status Review Update for Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus Kisutch) from the Central California Coast and the California portion of the Southern Oregon- Northern California ESUs. Prepared by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Santa Cruz Laboratory."]
The report concludes with this dismal observation: "The Central California Coast ESU is presently in danger of extinction. The condition of coho salmon populations in this ESU is worse than indicated by previous reviews."
We needn't look far for reasons for the continued decline. For example, the sediment source analysis for the Albion TMDL makes this summary statement: "In the 1989-2000 period, harvesting activity increased and the quantity of roads increased dramatically, with almost half of the roads in the watershed being built in the last two decades. Thus, sediment generation increased...in the current period, even though road building and timber harvest practices improved. [Emphasis added.]
The picture is bleak. The state of the coho is critical. Our only hope is that enough voices will be raised in defense of these fish that it won't be said of us that we, open-eyed and armed with knowledge, stood by in silence and watched their extinction. Person responsible for information in article: Linda Perkins 707-937-0903.
Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance PO Box 87, Elk, CA 95432 email: firstname.lastname@example.org