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Jenner Jottings - December 2014

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Jenner Jottings - December 2014

The recent closing of the mouth of the Russian River and the subsequent reopening by the SoCo Water Agency remind us of the efforts underway to restore our precious Coho and Steelhead habitat. Of course in a manner of days, Mother Nature’s ocean forces had it closed again. Currently we have an estuary brim full, with the waves washing over the dunes regularly, hopefully helping to create habitat beneficial to the salmonids. 

It wasn’t that long ago when the lower reaches of the River seemed destined to be dredged and developed. Thanks to Gloria Keller’s scrapbook of Press Democrat articles saved from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, we see how different attitudes were just 40-50 years ago. The Keller’s have owned their home and acreage at the confluence of Sheephouse Creek and the Russian River for generations. 

A February 1963 PD article outlined a “Huge Gravel Permit Asked at River Mouth”. It read, “Natural Resources Development Co. has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to take upwards of 20 million tons of gravel from the Russian River’s mouth over a 30 year period”. The application was for permission to dredge a 100-foot-wide, 15 foot-deep channel and conduct commercial dredging on the river between the mouth and Duncans Mills, a six mile stretch. 

A 3/36/1963 PD article by long time Outdoor Editor Walt Christensen spoke of “The long sought desire of sportsmen and others to secure a harbor and permanent opening of the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner.” The U.S. Corps of Engineers held a public hearing at the Sportsman Club in Duncans Mills to discuss the possible “economic justifications of the undertakings.” 

Christensen closed his column with the statement, “There is no doubt but a wide open river mouth would improve catches of both steelhead and silver salmon in the river from Duncans Mills to Jenner. A deep, permanent channel would assure good tidal action and improved fishing.”

This proposal to create a new harbor and sport-fishing facility as well as industrial development production (gravel mining) received support from the Greater Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, according to a May 1965 PD article. They sent a wire to Senator Joseph A. Rattigan in support of his appearance before the Natural Resources Committee in support of his S.B. 1316, urging “immediate action on the proposed Russian River Estuary development”. Logging and lumber production levels were dropping and new revenue sources were needed for the area, they said. 

By 1970, dredging the river mouth for gravel was a hot topic. In late May the PD headlines read “Jenner Gravel Ruling Put Off”. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors hearing discussing approval of this project became so crowded that it was reconvened at the Santa Rosa High School Auditorium where it dragged on until after 5 a.m. with no decision being made.

At the same time that Northern California Aggregates (NCA) dredging proposals were meeting with strong public opposition, Russian Harbor Corporation (NCA’s sister company) was making progress with its Jenner Bay Project, a planned community of about 2,000 dwellings on 1,100 acres at the river’s mouth. But that is another column waiting to be written!

Suffice to say, we have come a long way in our awareness as humans and our impact on our environment, but we have a long way to go. Not that long ago, the mind-set was that a permanently open river mouth would be beneficial and attract more fish. We are now realizing how delicate the balance is that we need to maintain. Watersheds which our threatened and endangered species desperately need for their survival need to be de-fragmented and healed. Larger specimen trees that are a critical part of our ecosystem need to be preserved and protected. 

Hopefully the current efforts being made to heal and restore the Estuary and its “perched” streams will pay off. It is important that we do all we can to make sure these vital Coho and Steelhead breeding grounds are accessible and acceptable to the fish that spawn there. During this extended drought, the fish from the Estuary-perched streams have by far the best chance for survival as the tidal influence in the estuary helps them reach their home streams. 

Willow Creek, Freezeout Creek, Sheephouse Creek and up into Austin Creek are all watersheds for these unique “perched” streams. Much work has been done to heal and restore these sensitive watersheds in the effort to make this once more hospitable habitat for the dwindling fish populations. We are on the right track; if we can continue to focus on these seemingly tiny pieces of the bigger environmental picture, our children and their children will look back and know that we did the right thing. Please support all of our volunteers who have a part in making this a reality, and Please join the growing movement to bring the Sheephouse Creek watershed into the protection of the managed Jenner Headlands Preserve.