NOAA Working To Re-Establish Coho On Marin County’s Lagunitas Creek

The following is courtesy of NOAA Fisheries:

Restoration of Lagunitas Creek is critical to removing Central California Coast (CCC) coho salmon and CCC steelhead from the Endangered Species List. Lagunitas Creek is the largest river system in Marin County and has two large tributaries, Olema Creek and San Geronimo Creek. Lagunitas Creek coho salmon contribute important genetics to a critical recovery effort, the Russian River coho salmon Broodstock Program. Within the watershed, there is a very active restoration community that cares deeply about these species. Community members gather to watch the coho salmon spawning each year at the state park. Historically, spawning coho salmon and steelhead supported a vibrant ecosystem, tribal cultures, and recreational fisheries. By restoring Lagunitas Creek, future generations will be able to enjoy a healthy river full of salmon.

The SHaRP process identifies potential high-quality salmon and steelhead habitat at the watershed scale and recommends restoration treatments to strengthen these areas. The SHaRP process also provides for a structured collaboration between representatives of resource agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), California Native American tribes, academia, restorationists, landowners, and land managers to collaboratively identify the greatest impacts to salmon during each stage of their life cycle.

The Lagunitas Creek SHaRP effort, initiated in Fall 2019, depended heavily on local community engagement. Creating these highly-specific restoration plans requires a deep, local understanding of Lagunitas Creek. The people who live and work in the region, and who have spent time studying or observing a particular area, had invaluable knowledge to contribute.

Biologists on a platform in the river using buckets to count coho
Marin Water Biologists counting the number of coho salmon and steelhead smolts migrating to the ocean. Credit: Marin Water.

Why Lagunitas Creek?

Lagunitas Creek CCC coho salmon are the largest persistent population south of the Noyo River. While the abundance of coho salmon in the watershed remains well below the recovery target set by NOAA Fisheries – the resilience of Lagunitas Creek coho salmon towards the southern extent of the species range is largely attributed to the concerted efforts of local stakeholders, NGOs, and agencies working in the watershed. In addition, Lagunitas Creek has benefited from several important planning efforts that have helped shape restoration focus in the watershed. These planning efforts and the state and federal recovery plans, the Final Coastal Multispecies Recovery Plan and the Recovery Plan for the Evolutionarily Significant Unit of Central California Coast Coho Salmon, helped inform the SHaRP effort.

Species in the Spotlight and SHaRP

Salmon swimming underwater
Coho salmon and Chinook salmon holding in Lagunitas Creek on December 9, 2021. Credit: Marin Water

CCC coho salmon are a part of NOAA’s Species in the Spotlight (SIS) initiative. The SIS initiative, launched in 2015, focuses on nine species that NOAA Fisheries manages that are on the brink of extinction. Five-Year Priority Action plans were developed as part of a strategy to marshal resources to immediately target efforts that are vital for stabilizing CCC coho salmon populations and preventing their extinction. SHaRP is identified in the CCC coho salmon Five -Year Priority Plan as a high priority effort towards stabilizing the decline of coho salmon.

The Lagunitas Creek Restoration Strategy

The SHaRP Action Plan for Lagunitas Creek prioritizes restoration to:

  1. Increase the complexity of instream, floodplain, and off-channel habitat
  2. Reduce fine sediment input
  3. Increase water quantity during the dry season, and
  4. Remove passage barriers

Download the full Lagunitas Creek SHaRP Action Plan (PDF, 44 pages) for more details about this process and for the action plan maps and tables.

Map of Lagunitas Creek showing restoration treatment types