By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Projects by private landowners to boost salmon and other fish populations in North Coast streams are set to receive an additional $2 million this year from an arm of the federal government.
Federal and local officials on Friday announced the commitment of new grant money for six major river basins stretching from Sonoma County — and including the Russian River — to Eureka, in Humboldt County.
Development, dams, logging and water diversions for farms and cities have harmed the region’s once-bountiful salmon and steelhead runs, with several species now listed as endangered or threatened.
The new funding, along with the patchwork of existing federal, state and local efforts, is aimed at repairing habitat the fish need to rebound.
“We’re here to get results,” said James Gore, assistant chief for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the arm of the federal Department of Agriculture responsible for the additional grant money. Gore said the extra commitment is set to continue beyond 2013, but that the funding level in future years was unknown.
Friday’s announcement came at a Camp Meeker press conference before two dozen representatives of local agencies and organizations involved in the issue.
Attendees later toured a $1.1 million dam removal and habitat improvement project on Dutch Bill Creek, a tributary to the Russian River. Completed in 2010, the long-planned overhaul has opened up more than three miles of stream previously blocked to spawning fish.
Several speakers hailed the new funding as the outcome of what they said was a broader collaboration between government, landowners and other interests on stream projects in the region.
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who was joined at the announcement by board colleague Mike McGuire and Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Hamburg, called the new funding a “critical step forward.”
“We’re celebrating a lot of good that’s happening in our watershed,” Carrillo said of the Russian River.
Other watersheds in the mix for the new grant money include the Gualala, Garcia, Navarro, Big and Eel Rivers. Together with the Russian, the river systems drain more than 6,100 square miles of coastal forests, inland mountains, farmland and urban areas.
Public agencies and private organizations each year spend millions of dollars on North Coast salmon restoration.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service, which focuses on projects with private landowners, directed more than $9.1 million in 2012 to 164 upland and stream projects in Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties. A third to 80 percent of the projects have components that benefit fish, according to the agency.
The new money is meant to match other funding sources and support projects such as barrier removal, streambank stabilization and construction of off-stream ponds to reduce seasonal demands on rivers and creeks.
Officials stressed that the program is voluntary, a key aspect of its appeal for landowners and its long-term prospects to help fish.
“To me it’s the landowners that make this happen,” said Joe Pozzi, district manager of the Sebastopol-based Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District.
Applications will be accepted at regional NRCS offices in Petaluma, Ukiah and Eureka, with a mid-March deadline for the first wave of projects.
(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or email@example.com.)