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Forestland Management Benefits Salmon and Steelhead in Northern California

March 14, 2022

Conserving our forests is not only good for us, but good for fish.

Stream flowing over rocks in a wooded area The new Habitat Conservation Plan and Safe Harbor Agreement encompasses forest and key watersheds such as Boulder Creek, a tributary to the upper Sacramento River. Photo by Sierra Pacific Industries.

Sierra Pacific Industries is the largest private forest landowner in the state of California, with about 1.8 million acres of timberland throughout the northern and central portions of the state. Rivers and streams on the company’s land in the Trinity River and Sacramento River basins provide habitat for salmon and steelhead species listed under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA Fisheries understands the significant conservation value of the watersheds on these lands. We have partnered with SPI and approved a Habitat Conservation Plan and Safe Harbor Agreement associated with SPI’s forest management program.

Safe Harbor Agreements are an important model for endangered species conservation and recovery. They engage the support of landowners who are critical to species recovery. Participating landowners voluntarily undertake activities on their property to enhance, restore, or maintain habitat benefiting ESA-listed species. In return, they receive assurances that they will not face new restrictions on their land because of their good stewardship practices.

Sierra Pacific Industries will carry out various conservation measures to support salmon and steelhead recovery. Actions include:

  • Reducing erosion through road improvement projects
  • Enhancing watershed resiliency by identifying and implementing projects designed to reduce wildfire behavior, intensity, and magnitude

Maintaining Vital Habitat

SPI’s role and overall objective is ensuring streams and other wetlands on their lands continue to provide cold, clean water to salmon and steelhead habitat. They have also committed to maintaining the high-quality habitats identified in our recovery plans as being essential for ESA-listed species conservation and recovery.

“When SPI approached us about collaborating, we knew there were real gains to be made on all sides. We value such conservation-minded partners who share our commitment and desire to conserve at-risk salmon and steelhead,” said Cathy Marcinkevage, Assistant Regional Administrator in NOAA Fisheries’ California Central Valley Office. “We especially note the consideration of creative ways to contribute towards the recovery of salmon in the area. In particular, SPI’s work to maintain and improve upstream habitat, which will help advance NOAA Fisheries' priority actions of reintroducing populations of listed salmon to their historic spawning grounds.”

River flowing through a wooded area
A reintroduction plan aims to restore endangered winter-run Chinook salmon to the McCloud River above Shasta Reservoir. The new Safe Harbor Agreement and Habitat Conservation Plan includes the McCloud. Photo by Sierra Pacific Industries.

The partnership has been almost 5 years in the making. It reflects a 50-year commitment by SPI to monitor, conserve, and improve habitat to support the conservation and recovery of listed salmon and steelhead, like Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon. NOAA Fisheries named the species as one of nine of our Species in the Spotlight at high risk of extinction.

“Our work with NOAA Fisheries reflects our shared understanding that wildlife conservation and sustainable forestry management—combined with sound science—go hand in hand,” said Sierra Pacific Industries Vice President of Resources Dan Tomascheski. “We work to ensure our forests provide habitat features that support salmon, steelhead and other wildlife. This kind of conservation partnership maintains and produces thriving wildlife populations, while also providing SPI with the needed assurance to continue investing in our operations in a manner that provides for jobs, renewable forest products, recreation, and clean water and air.”

Support for Reintroduction of Endangered Fish Species

Recovery of endangered fish populations in California cannot be achieved without re-establishing populations back into their historical habitats. Reintroducing these species into their native habitat is vital to support healthy, resilient populations.

Barriers such as dams have cut off salmon from 95 percent of their historical habitat. Numerous watersheds on lands owned by SPI in the Sacramento River and Trinity River basins are upstream of these barriers. They are no longer accessible to salmon and steelhead. These areas include historically occupied habitats that are necessary for the successful reintroduction of ESA-listed species proposed in our recovery plans. Species planned for reintroduction in the Sacramento River Basin include Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, and California Central Valley steelhead. In the Trinity River Basin, we have proposed reintroduction of Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho salmon.

SPI’s commitment to support the reintroduction efforts proposed by NOAA Fisheries in the Sacramento River and Trinity River basins will contribute to the long-term conservation of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in these watersheds. Their support is not only greatly appreciated, but also critical, as reintroductions are essential to recover these at-risk species.

Last updated by West Coast Regional Office on March 14, 2022