For millennia, coho salmon have been returning to the cool waters of San Vicente Creek to lay their eggs and give birth to the next generation. In the early 1800s, the fish returning from the ocean to this creek were so plentiful they could be fished with a pitchfork.
But things have changed dramatically in the last two centuries. As a consequence of high and low impact land use in the Santa Cruz Mountains, San Vicente Creek (and most of the creeks in California) lost almost all of its coho salmon. In recent years, only a few fish have returned to lay their eggs at what is now the southernmost habitat in all of North America for this endangered species struggling to survive.
It’s not too late for coho salmon in San Vicente Creek.
In 2011, POST partnered with The Nature Conservancy, Sempervirens Fund, Save the Redwoods League and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County to acquire the 8,532-acre San Vicente Redwoods property. In doing so, we took control of the majority of San Vicente Creek and started a new chapter for this creek and the coho salmon it supports.
We’re fighting for these fish.
For these coho salmon to survive, habitat within the creek needed to be improved. The Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County (RCDSCC) took the lead in this work, outlining the ingredients needed to restore the health of this creek. Their first priority was adding large woody material.
It might seem a bit counterintuitive to put large pieces of wood in a creek to support fish. But the reality is that this large woody material creates gentle pools young salmon need to find refuge from the creek’s current in winter and the deep pools formed downstream of the wood provide refuge and cover in summer. The wood also helps direct floodwaters to side channels and floodplains which provide additional refuge and are important wetland habitat.
In partnership with the RCDSCC, we’ve added a dozen large wooden structures to over a half mile of the creek, about two miles upstream from where it crosses Highway 1. The wood for this project was sourced right on site, allowing us to restore natural conditions within the creek.
Projects like this aren’t about trying to rebuild the past. They’re about improving current conditions for the future ecological resilience of our landscape and the wildlife that call it home. Some might believe it’s too late for coho in San Vicente Creek. But as long as these fish continue to fight for their survival, we’ll keep fighting for them too.
Learn more about our restoration work at San Vicente Redwoods here.
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Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 86,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more