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Jenner Jottings - Tim McKusick - March 2015

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Jenner Jottings - Tim McKusick - March 2015

This column is dedicated to Robert C. McKusick, Sr.
5/6/1921 to 1/30/2015. 

My father moved his young family from So Cal to Santa Rosa in 1948, settling in the brand new Montgomery Village neighborhood, the Hugh Codding development just outside the Santa Rosa city limits. My little sister Linda was one of the first babies born at the Memorial Hospital in 1950.

We had “Leave It To Beaver” childhoods in small-town Santa Rosa. We bicycled everywhere. The creeks flowed freely, and were a great place to play. My mother had her home remedies for the poison oak that we inevitably caught. Indian arrowheads were a regular find when the orchards got plowed. The Carrillo Adobe was in much better shape, and probably could have been saved. 

I remember standing at the bridge over Santa Rosa Creek (where the creek is now concrete-undergrounded) watching giant fish leaping upstream. It was like something right out of a National Geographic show. We were so lucky to live in such a fertile plain as the Santa Rosa Valley, with its many creeks all feeding into the Laguna and ultimately the Russian River. It is no wonder that the River was a fisherman’s paradise with such a vast network of streams and watersheds supporting it. 

Now, less than one generation later, we find ourselves grasping at straws in an attempt to save some of the natural beauty that we enjoyed back then. Watersheds, streams and native species’ habitat have been taken for granted for years while the fragile eco-system that supports them was exploited for natural resources.

Sonoma Land Trust, at its Jenner community meetings, has shared historical aerial photographs of the Jenner Headlands and associated watersheds. They showed one taken in 1948; it showed lands being logged in what appears to be a manageable way. Then they showed one taken in 1963; it looked more like a Moonscape with the webs of logging roads everywhere. Creeks were clearly used as skid roads for the logging operations; it was a mess, almost completely devoid of vegetation.

The 11 o’clock News had a segment last week on how there is speculation that the Central California Coho Salmon, that we have desperately trying to save, may indeed become EXTINCT very soon.

The biologists at the Warm Springs Dam hatchery considered themselves fortunate to have obtained vital Coho “seed stock” a dozen years ago, as the numbers of returning Wild Coho dropped off significantly shortly afterward. They have been doing their best to produce a gene line that would once again flourish in the Russian River Watersheds.

The sobering reality is that all of their hard work may be for naught due to Climate Change. Although trying to remain optimistic regarding the future survival of our Coho, the hatchery biologists admit that without water in the streams it is “game over” for the fish.

The situation is dire. We cannot afford to wait any longer to save what little habitat is conducive to nurturing our decimated native species. 25 years ago, the “fog drip” theory was scoffed at. The theory that the Old Growth trees that thrive in the coastal fog belt actually act like giant “wicks”, gathering the moisture flowing through their branches and channeling it into the soil and ultimately into the streams and rivers.

This has now been scientifically proven to be true. Unfortunately, current logging practices call for the removal of the trees once they reach a certain diameter. This runs counter to logic, if healing of habitat is your goal. Thin young trees just cannot compare in fog processing efficiency. The logging industry must re-think and re-tool. Instead of taking the larger trees, they must focus on the thickets of small spindly trees that choke the forests and are the real fire danger. 

With some initial adjustment, I feel the companies that log can still turn a profit and also be good stewards of the land. A new breed of loggers is emerging who understand that this balance can be achieved.

Once again I am pleading for all of the public and private agencies who are serious about saving our Coho to focus on the lower Russian River watersheds and streams. These few Estuary-Perched Coho breeding streams are accessible to the returning fish every time the tide comes in, unlike their cousins up the river who depend on the rain-fed streams to be reach their breeding grounds.

God bless Virginia Hechtman. We enjoy the fruits of her struggle every time we walk on the quiet beach.