North Coast Salmon Project

2 people fishing on Eel riverFishing on the Eel River
Two Adult Coho SalmonAdult Coho Salmon
Lower Willow Ck. ArraysLower Willow Creek Monitoring
Juvenile Coho SalmonJuvenile Coho Salmon
Eel River mouth and oceanEel River Estuary
New Bridge over San Geronimo CkNew Bridge at Roy’s Pools, San Geronimo Creek
SF Noyo river with trees in backgroundSF Noyo River

Project Motivation

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) launched a new initiative, the North Coast Salmon Project (NCSP) in 2018 to expedite and enhance efforts to recover threatened and endangered Coho Salmon in California. The NCSP has initially focused on developing strategies to be applied in four specific watershed areas; these approaches will then be extended across the entire North Coast.

The NCSP is guided by an Advisory Team consisting of representatives from conservation groups and resource management agencies who work in the North Coast region including California Trout, Trout Unlimited, Salmonid Restoration Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. In addition, CDFW will seek input from local stakeholders and tribes within each of the four initial watersheds identified above.


1. Evaluate recovery actions from the State Coho Recovery Strategy and Priority Action Coho Team (PACT) report that have been completed to date and collaborate with regional watershed partners to identify priority actions to implement moving forward utilizing PACT recommendations and the Salmon Habitat Restoration Priorities (SHaRP) process.

NCSP staff completed a report, Assessment of Restoration Projects Funded from 2004 to 2018 Supporting Coho Salmon Recovery in Four Focus Areas Along California’s North Coast (PDF), which is a comprehensive review of restoration projects funded through CDFW’s Fisheries Restoration Grant Program (FRGP) that have focused on Coho Salmon. This review assessed the number and types of projects funded for Coho Salmon and provided detailed analysis in focus areas on how FRGP funding has aligned with CDFW recommendations. The NCSP analyzed range-wide and watershed-specific trends in grant funding to make recommendations regarding how FRGP could align itself with the highest priorities for Coho Salmon and meet FRGP’s intended purpose of restoring habitat to recover listed salmonid populations.

In conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), project staff worked to complete the SHaRP Plan for the South Fork Eel River. This plan describes the collaborative SHaRP process and includes Action Plans for seven focus areas within the South Fork Eel River watershed that contain reach-scale restoration recommendations. SHaRP processes are currently ongoing for the lower Eel River, Mendocino Coast, Russian River, and Lagunitas Creek, with the goal of creating similar final SHaRP plans to that of the South Fork Eel River.

2. Assess current habitat, population, and effectiveness monitoring efforts and utilize these efforts to guide recovery actions.

CDFW and NMFS staff developed a workshop that provided a multi-agency and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) forum for presenting and discussing current California Coastal Salmonid Monitoring Plan (CMP) monitoring efforts and potential improvements to monitoring programs that will allow for more comprehensive, coordinated efforts. A report on Coho Salmon population and habitat monitoring efforts will be completed by NCSP staff in coordination with CDFW staff already engaged in these topics to be consistent with interpretations and recommendations across CDFW as well as those resulting from the workshop.

3. Evaluate CDFW programs that affect the implementation of restoration actions and progress towards Coho recovery and develop recommendations on how to increase internal and external efficiencies and collaboration within and between these programs.

In August 2020, NCSP staff created and administered a survey for restoration practitioners. The survey sought feedback on limiting factors within CDFW granting and permitting processes that hinder their ability to implement restoration projects. The survey also posed a suite of options that CDFW could focus on as potential solutions to these issues. NCSP staff completed a report, North Coast Salmon Project Survey: Assessing Specific Concerns and Opportunities in California Department of Fish and Wildlife Permitting and Grant Funding, which provides a summary and analysis of data collected from this survey. Survey response data were analyzed in the context of other permitting recommendations from the Restoration Leaders Committee and PACT. The report also provides recommendations for improving granting and permitting pathways to enhance the ability of restoration practitioners to perform restoration.

4. Explore local/regional conservation initiatives and strategies for Coho Salmon recovery and potential inclusion in NCSP. Promote water saving efforts and restoration projects that enhance flow during critical salmonid life stages.

The NCSP plans to work with other existing conservation initiatives and investigate alternative strategies for promoting Coho Salmon recovery that could be incorporated into NCSP activities. Some of these initiatives and strategies include Regional Conservation Investment Strategies, Mitigation Credit Agreements, and Natural Community Conservation Plans which are managed by CDFW’s Landscape Conservation and Planning Program. The NCSP is also working to incorporate water conservation and flow enhancement efforts within the SHaRP processes that are underway in each focus area.

Lagunitas Creek

Watershed Background

Lagunitas Creek is the largest watershed in Marin County and has four major tributaries: San Geronimo, Devils Gulch, Olema, and Nicasio creeks. Several dams restrict salmonid access to half of the watershed, and the populations have fluctuated significantly since 1970. Around half of the watershed is privately owned, concentrated in San Geronimo and the towns of Olema and Point Reyes Station. The rest of the watershed is publicly owned, with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Samuel P. Taylor State Park being large areas of public land. This watershed is home to the largest persistent population of Central California Coast (CCC) Coho Salmon south of the Noyo River. While many of the watersheds with CCC Coho Salmon have lost abundant populations, the resiliency of Lagunitas Creek has largely been attributed to the concerted efforts of local stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, state, and federal agencies.

Existing Planning and Restoration

Lagunitas Creek has experienced concentrated planning and restoration efforts that have helped sustain salmonid populations in the watershed. A 2008 limiting factors analysis conducted by Stillwater Sciences for the Marin Resource Conservation District found that winter habitat was likely the greatest factor limiting Coho Salmon and has led to a number of restoration actions focused on improving winter habitat. Subsequent planning efforts by local restoration stakeholders have designed specific instream habitat projects that have added large woody debris and created the types of winter habitat that provide refuge for Coho Salmon during periods of high flows.

Other restoration actions to date have focused on important needs like fish barrier removal and population monitoring. Several partners in the watershed including Marin Water (formerly Marin Municipal Water District) and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) have contributed to removing passage barriers for salmonids. Recently SPAWN removed the highest priority barrier in the watershed, Roy’s Pool, and restored passage as well as instream habitat with funding from a Fisheries Grant Restoration Program (FRGP) grant. Lagunitas Creek also has one of the longest time series of redd surveys, has two life cycle monitoring stations, and has significant monitoring coverage with both Marin Water and the National Park Service conducting annual monitoring in Lagunitas and Olema Creeks.

Current NCSP Efforts

The analysis of restoration actions for Coho Salmon conducted by the NCSP (linked above) found that in Lagunitas Creek has received some of the most concentrated funding in terms of number of projects funded and amount spent through FRGP of any HUC10 watershed along the North Coast since the publication of the CDFW Recovery Strategy in 2004. Between 2004 and 2018, 51 projects were funded that focused on Lagunitas Creek salmonids. Instream Habitat and Watershed Evaluation, Assessment, and Planning projects made up the greatest proportion of projects with eight projects funded during this time period in each of those two categories.

With a detailed understanding of the types of projects focused on in the watershed since the 2004 Recovery Strategy, NCSP staff are collaborating with partner agencies like NOAA, as well as local stakeholders to implement SHaRP efforts in the watershed. These efforts have compiled relevant biological, habitat, and other types of data to frame discussions around reach scale restoration priorities. While this effort mirrors principles applied in the South Fork Eel River SHaRP, certain aspects are tailored to Lagunitas Creek relatively small size and active restoration community. The goal of this SHaRP effort is to work with other agency and watershed partners to plan the highest priority restoration actions, so projects can be implemented in a manner that has the most immediate impact of habitat restoration and species recovery. 

The SHaRP collaborative effort is now complete, and the Lagunitas Salmonid Habitat Priorities (SHaRP) Action Plan (PDF) was released in the summer of 2022.  

Russian River Tributaries

Watershed Background

Geographically, the Russian River is the largest watershed inhabited by Central California Coast (CCC) Coho Salmon with historical estimates at approximately 20,000 returning adults, but by the year 2000 had dwindled to less than ten fish (NMFS 2012). Unregulated extraction of the watershed’s natural resources such as gravel mining, timber harvesting, and over-fishing contributed to the reduction of native salmonid populations. In addition, the barriers created by Coyote and Warm Springs dams reduced spawning and rearing habitat and natural flow of river gravels. Channel modification, incision, and over-development into the floodplains reduced available juvenile Coho Salmon habitat and disturbed the natural connection between the streams and groundwater (CDFG 2004, NMFS 2012).

Coho Salmon spawn predominantly in lower-basin tributaries of the Russian River and require a year of freshwater rearing before out-migrating to the ocean. Suitable habitat conditions supporting the freshwater rearing stage is crucial to the recovery of the species. The four tributaries selected by the NCSP; Green Valley, Dutch Bill, Willow and Mill creeks, are key areas for recovery and were identified as core priority areas for protection and restoration within the federal recovery plan (NMFS 2012). Furthermore, all four tributaries are an integral part of the Russian River Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program established in 2001, and intensively monitored by California Sea Grant and Sonoma Water (formerly Sonoma County Water Agency) as part of the California Coastal Salmonid Monitoring Plan in the Russian River. Decades of research, monitoring, and projects have been completed in these streams by dedicated partners and landowners. About 99% of the land within these tributaries is privately owned and used for agriculture and rural residential apart from Willow Creek, in which nearly all is owned and managed by California State Parks.

A suite of threats to Coho Salmon recovery were identified in the Russian River watershed. The highest threats include diversions, urban development, channel modification, and agriculture (NMFS 2012). Along with these threats, poor habitat conditions such as lack of velocity refuges, habitat complexity, and instream flows have impaired progress to recovery. Poor conditions are exacerbated by the state’s on-going drought, causing streams and redds to dry and stranding fish. Although a formal limiting factor analysis has not been performed in the lower-basin tributaries, lack of flow was identified as the most critical threat to Coho Salmon survival by the Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership (RRCWRP 2015, 2017, 2019).

Existing Planning and Restoration

Watershed management plans were developed for Green Valley (PDF), Willow (PDF), and Mill (PDF) Creek watersheds in 2013, 2005, and 2015, respectively. These plans helped guide restoration priorities in the watersheds along with the state and federal recovery plans. In addition, flow availability analyses were completed for Mill Creek (PDF) and Green Valley/Dutch Bill (PDF) watersheds. Between 2004 and 2018, the CDFW Fisheries Restoration Grant Program awarded close to $6.3 million for 42 projects within the four focus streams. Projects receiving the most funding were upslope erosion remediation, fish passage, and instream habitat restoration. Fish passage barriers often block access to suitable habitat, and barrier removal projects can show immediate results. In 2016, Trout Unlimited and partners completed the Mill Creek Fish Passage Project that opened 11.2 miles of stream. That winter, Coho Salmon were observed spawning in the newly available habitat. With ongoing critically dry conditions due to drought and the uncertainty surrounding water security in the face of climate change, water conservation projects such as storage and forbearance, rooftop collections, and flow release augmentation have become critical components of the habitat restoration portfolio.

Current NCSP Efforts

The Russian River Salmonid Habitat Restoration Priorities (SHaRP) Steering team, consisting of local NOAA Fisheries and CDFW biologists began meeting regularly in 2020 with initial attention focused within the Green Valley Creek watershed. Historical and current fisheries data, habitat conditions, and land use information will be used in subsequent watershed stakeholder meetings utilizing an on-line mapping tool. Green Valley, Willow, and Dutch Bill creeks SHaRP watershed meetings occurred in early and mid- 2022. The Mill Creek SHaRP meeting is planned for early November, 2022. The Lower Russian River SHaRP Action Plan will describe restoration actions discussed during the initial meetings, plus any follow-up information. This new planning document is slated to be released in 2023.

Literature Cited

  • CDFG. 2004. California Department of Fish and Game. Recovery Strategy for California Coho Salmon. Report to the California Fish and Game Commission. 594 pp.
  • NMFS. 2012. National Marine Fisheries Service. Final Recovery Plan for Central California Coast Coho Salmon Evolutionarily Significant Unit. National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Region, Santa Rosa, California.
  • RRCWRP. 2015. Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership Mill Creek streamflow improvement plan.
  • RRCWRP. 2017. Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership Dutch Bill Creek streamflow improvement plan.
  • RRCWRP. 2019.Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership Upper Green Valley Creek streamflow improvement plan.

Mendocino Coast

Watershed Background

The Mendocino Coast hydrologic unit (total area 1,590 square miles) lies entirely within the Central California Coast (CCC) Coho Salmon Evolutionarily Significant Unit and is comprised of coastal watersheds in Mendocino and Sonoma counties (CDFW 2004). These coastal watersheds provide valuable habitat to Coho Salmon, California Coastal Chinook Salmon and steelhead. However, historic and current land uses (timber production, livestock grazing, agriculture, and urban areas) have affected the quality and quantity of Coho Salmon habitat within Mendocino coastal rivers and estuaries. An increase of sediment delivery to streams, lack of floodplain and off-channel habitat, and the historical removal and low present recruitment of large wood have degraded riverine and estuarine habitats for salmonids on the Mendocino Coast. The Mendocino Coast benefits from the fact that it is composed of willing landowners who are committed to working with agencies and NGOs to collaboratively implement restoration actions and projects to aid Coho Salmon recovery.

Existing Planning and Restoration

The NCSP HUC10 watersheds on the Mendocino Coast (Ten Mile River, Pudding Creek, Noyo River, Navarro River, and Garcia River) have received extensive regard from local agencies and NGOs. Trout Unlimited’s North Coast Coho Project has planned or initiated Coho-focused restoration projects in all five of the focus watersheds in the last few years. Similarly, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) has focused on restoring the South Fork of the Ten Mile River by providing missing habitat features which include off-channel ponds, side and overflow channels and log jams. TNC has also collaborated with vineyards in the Navarro basin to better understand solutions to water demand between vintners and fish. Restoration of diminishing habitat and re-treatment of existing projects (as they age) remains a priority for partners on the Mendocino Coast. Meanwhile, efforts to combat climate change and improve resiliency have become increasingly important in restoration planning and actions.

Current NCSP Efforts

The NCSP team identified that the majority of Fisheries Restoration Grant Program (FRGP) funding for the Mendocino Coast area from 2004-2018 focused primarily on habitat enhancement, large woody debris (LWD) augmentation, sediment issues, and road improvements. These efforts aimed to correct destructive historic logging practices, stream clearing, and poor road maintenance - all of which accelerated the degradation of Coho Salmon habitat along the Mendocino Coast. Recommendations for these projects came from CDFW’s 2004 Recovery strategy and subsequent PACT document.

Current NCSP efforts hope to build on these past efforts and focus future recommendations on priority actions which are being developed through the collaborative Salmonid Habitat Restoration Priorities (SHaRP) process. This process is underway on the Mendocino Coast. The Mendocino Coast SHaRP steering committee has met with local landowners, been advised by regional experts, and analyzed data to rank and select priority watersheds. Multi-day meetings for each priority watershed will produce high priority and fine-scale restoration actions and projects for the selected watershed. These ‘roadmaps to recovery’ will be helpful tools for restoration professionals seeking guidance for restoration on the Mendocino Coast.

Eel River Watershed

Watershed Background

The Eel River is the third largest river in California, draining an area of approximately 3,684 square miles that is entirely within Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast (SONCC) Coho Salmon Evolutionarily Significant Unit and represents the southern edge of the population’s extent. Despite the enormous size of the Eel River, Coho Salmon distribution has historically been restricted to the South Fork Eel River, the lower mainstem Eel River (below the confluence with the South Fork), the Van Duzen River, and Outlet Creek, with the South Fork Eel containing the bulk of the population (CDFW 2014).

The relatively cool, heavily forested slopes on the western portion of the watershed support cold perennial flows that Coho Salmon require to complete their freshwater life history; however, anthropogenic impacts have severely impacted the quality and quantity of their habitat. Extensive logging in the middle of the 20th century followed by catastrophic flooding drastically altered the landscape of the Eel River, especially the redwood-studded slopes of the South Fork Eel River. The scars of these actions combined with residential and agricultural expansion into the Eel River continue to impact Coho Salmon habitat. Chronic fine sediment delivery, water extraction, poor large wood recruitment, and altered riparian forests and floodplains have hindered the recovery of Coho Salmon populations.

Because of their importance to the persistence of the Eel River Coho Salmon population, the North Coast Salmon Project selected the South Fork Eel River and the lower Eel River (including the Van Duzen River) as focus areas for additional planning efforts and analyses.

Existing Planning and Restoration

Extensive efforts have been taken to collect data on the health and status of aquatic habitat in the South Fork Eel River and lower Eel River tributaries. Thanks to these efforts, the South Fork Eel River Watershed Assessment (PDF) and the Lower Eel River Basin Assessment (PDF) reports were completed in 2014 and 2010, respectively. These documents analyze the available physical and biological data, assess trends and aquatic habitat condition, and provide a summary of the conditions limiting salmonid recovery in these areas.

These two documents, in addition to the state and federal recovery plans for Coho Salmon and other anadromous salmonids, have been the guiding documents for much of the restoration projects occurring in these regions. Thanks to the efforts of a great many conservation and restoration partners, hundreds of projects have been completed throughout the South Fork Eel River and lower Eel River with a majority of restoration funds going towards upland habitat improvements (road decommissioning, erosion control, etc.) and instream habitat improvement (large wood structures, boulder weirs, etc. The Lower Eel River also underwent a series of large estuary restoration projects to restore the tidal function, marsh habitat, and riparian forest surrounding the Salt River, a major tributary to the Eel River estuary.

Most recently, CDFW, NOAA fisheries, and dozens of restoration partners and private landowners have collaborated to complete a more focused restoration plan for key tributaries of the South Fork Eel River. The effort became known as the South Fork Eel River Salmonid Habitat Restoration Priorities (SHaRP) process and a document describing the effort and the resulting recommendation was release in the spring of 2021. This document details 1-3 km locations where specific restoration projects will likely result in the greatest improvements to salmonid production in the South Fork Eel River.

Current NCSP Efforts

With the SHaRP plan for the South Fork Eel complete, focus has shifted to coordinating restoration actions detailed in the SHaRP plan and beginning a new SHaRP process for the lower Eel River. The NCSP will engage with local restorationists and other CDFW staff to implement restoration projects detailed in the SHaRP. Many of these projects will be eligible for funding opportunities presented through CDFW’s Cutting the Green Tape initiative. The NCSP will also coordinate the data acquisition, analysis, and expert panel discussions to complete a SHaRP plan for the Lower Eel River. Given the size and complexity of the Lower Eel River, this effort will likely be different from previous efforts but will continue to adhere to the pillars of SHaRP and be guided through collaboration with stakeholders.

Water Storage Tanks in the Russian River Watershed
Westminster Woods Water Tanks, Dutch Bill Creek, CA (photo by Gold Ridge RCD)
Pudding Ck weir and traps
Pudding Creek Weir and Out-migrant Trap (CDFW photo by Andrew Hampton)

Prepared by: Chester Lindley and Mary Olswang

Map of California's North Coast with the initial watersheds highlighted in orange- link opens enlarged version in new window.
(CDFW map created by: Chester Lindley)

Related Information


(opens in new tab)Recovery Strategy for California Coho Salmon(PDF)(opens in new tab)

Additional Resources


Contact Information

Fisheries Branch
1010 Riverside Parkway, West Sacramento, CA 95605 |