The Salmon Renaissance In Marin
Today, San Geronimo Valley coho salmon, swimming nearby in the Pacific Ocean, are waiting for just the right storm that prepares the way for their homeward journey. An as-yet-unexplainable, almost magical, signal developed over countless centuries triggers a need for them to enter the mouth of Tomales Bay where they wend their way, with no wrong turns, to their ancestral homes along the Lagunitas and San Geronimo Creek watershed. Believe it or not, some swim 17 miles inland as far as rural Woodacre (in the middle of Marin County) spawning and dying along the way. Amazingly, ten percent of the remaining coho salmon on the West Coast return to this small but beautiful stream.
Despite Taylor's Paper Mill spilling toxins and waste into the creek during the 1800s; the destruction of riparian habitat by the construction of the North Pacific Coast Railroad; over-fishing; the development of summer homes and building projects that has caused devastating erosion and siltation in San Geronimo and Papermill Creek since the turn of the century; accidental toxic spills from MMWD's transfer station; the temporary insanity of those who would change the land for questionable benefits that would threaten the salmon; the difficult rapids at the Inkwells in Lagunitas; and damage to Roy's fish ladder in San Geronimo, the salmon return. Year after year they come. They spawn, they die, they leave the next generation to take its chances.
Although there is still much to be done, those chances have significantly improved of late:
¥ MMWD is implementing a Sediment and Riparian Management Plan. They are required to provide water releases from Kent Lake.
¥ The SGV golf course is required to provide water releases from illegally-built storage ponds for Larsen Creek (between the two Valley schools).
¥ Pt. Reyes National Seashore is implementing a major multi-year grant to improve salmon habitat, to work with schools, and educate the public.
¥ Taylor Park is working on a salmon restoration project and educational projects/activities for campground visitors.
¥ Last year the federal government put both coho salmon and steelhead on the threatened species list which provides additional protection.
¥ Trout Unlimited received a grant for habitat restoration and public education.
¥ Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) of Forest Knolls, have received grants for salmon and watershed protection and public education.
¥ Last year the first Salmon Dance was performed at Valley Day.
¥ SGV Planning Group funded a Salmon Project to help restore the Marietta Larsen Memorial Preserve and update/expand school resource materials.
¥ Groups, agencies, and individuals working together began the restoration of the fish ladder and environs at Roy's Dam with a work project in '97 and again in '98. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt also came and took his turn with a jackhammer to help repair the salmon's home. He enthusiastically described his plans to use our grassroots efforts as a role model for other communities.
There are worthwhile salmon projects in other areas of Marin too numerous to mention. But here's a special one for all ages. Kids, parents, and adults in the San Geronimo Valley will soon be making "wishing poles" to call the salmon back to their ancestral homes. The pole of choice is a three to six foot willow branch. Different colored yarn, string, or fabric are tied along the length of the pole. Each tie carries a wish for the salmon's safe return. The poles are then tied, facing downstream, to one of the numerous bridges that cross a salmon stream. You remove your pole, of course, once the salmon start their return.
What are you doing to preserve and protect your salmon neighbors' home here in Marin? Classes, a song, a salmon shirt? Hey! The Salmon Renaissance is here. Dive in!
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Jean Berensmeier lives in Lagunitas and is the coordinator for the Salmon Project at the Marietta Larsen Memorial Preserve. She is a retired professor of Physical Education and is active in numerous environmental issues. If you would like an informative Wishing Pole flyer, send a SASE to Wishing Pole, POB 286, Lagunitas 94938.
By Jean Berensmeier