The rains have started and are hopefully here to stay till spring, with the rivers rushing back to life and Chinook salmon runs taking place throughout the Eel River. The Eel River Recovery Project is a non-profit that monitors the health of the Eel River watershed, and this Tuesday, Nov. 15, they’ll be presenting a “State of the Eel River” panel discussion and forum at the Willits Environmental Center.
The talk will include information about the current health of the Eel and its various salmon runs, and provide information about how you can contribute to the monitoring of the local watershed. Also on the agenda is a discussion about a proposal to turn the Willits Environmental Center a kind of “one-stop-shop” for information and research for cannabis cultivators to learn about fish-friendly farming methods and environmentally sustainable “best practices.”
Co-Director Pat Higgins will present a five-year overview of data from local waterways, including their ongoing salmonid counts and blue-green algae monitoring done in coordination with local residents, University of California Berkeley researchers, and the Round Valley Tribes. Higgins said the river is showing “phenomenal resilience,” and there are a variety of ways locals can get involved.
“It’s kind of an interesting time in Willits because of the bypass now,” Higgins noted. “The town is going to have a whole different character.” By working with local volunteers on data collection, the ERRP uses scientific measurements to assess ecological health and deterioration. This approach allows the ERRP to avoid advocacy or assigning blame, and allows residents help collect data they can trust about their nearby waterways. “We try to provide a local focal point for organizing,” he said.
The discussion will include population trends for the current Chinook runs — currently happening — as well as for the coho salmon and steelhead in Outlet Creek and tributaries near Willits. Anyone who has seen spawning or migrating Chinook salmon is encouraged to bring information to the meeting (or to call 223-7200).
A grant from the state waterboard has allowed ERRP to conduct outreach among cannabis cultivators on “best practices” for watershed health, and the group has worked with over 70 farms so far. Higgins will provide an overview of this work, which included farms tours, information about water conservation methods, and stream monitoring projects, and how these efforts can be expanded.
“Now that legalization has happened,” he said of cannabis farming, “we have an opportunity to shape the culture in a way that’s sustainable, since people are trying to get permitted and use best practices. We’re interested in getting the cannabis community in harmony with nature.”
The ERRP is assessing whether there’s local interest in creating a resource center, such as the WEC, to help rural gardeners and cannabis cultivators learn about ways to implement more sustainable growing methods and restoration projects. He said the center could help cultivators develop a farm plan and parcel map of their parcel, highlighting environmental sensitive areas such as sensitive riparian zones and landslide risk areas, to prevent erosion, water depletion and pollution, and impacts to the ecosystem.
The ERRP is applying for grant funding from the water board for this outreach, but also considering other funding sources. They hope to create additional centers in Laytonville and Garberville in order to reach out to cultivators along the Eel River.
The free meeting will take place from 6pm - 8pm on Tuesday, November 15 at the Willits Environmental Center at 633 South Main Street.There is no charge for admission and some food and refreshments will be served. ERRP has recently been recognized as its own 501c3 non-profit corporation and is requesting that people join as members. See www.eelriverrecovery.org to sign up or send $25 for an individual or $35 for a family to ERRP, P.O. Box 214, Loleta, CA 95551.