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The Wood for Salmon Working Group developed this workspace to guide restoration practitioners through the permitting process for large wood augmentation projects and to promote habitat improvement for native salmon and trout.

About Us

The Wood for Salmon Working Group is an informal group of California state, county, federal agency staff, representatives from environmental non-profits, and private landowners and consultants. This group came together to develop a clear understanding of the regulatory permitting process for salmon habitat restoration projects in the United States National Marine Fisheries Service’s Central California Coast Evolutionarily Significant Unit of coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) involving wood placement, and to identify potential mechanisms to simplify the process and incentivize implementation of more projects.

Mission: The Wood for Salmon Working Group promotes actions described in state and federal recovery plans for improved habitat for listed anadromous salmonids by accelerating the pace and scale of instream restoration projects, especially large wood enhancement.

Objectives: The Wood for Salmon Working Group’s stated mission will be accomplished by (1) developing educational resources and tools, (2) disseminating information regarding the state and federal permitting process, (3) providing guidance regarding conformance with the California Environmental Quality Act, (4) improving regulatory efficiencies, (5) consolidating permit applications, (6) supporting the creation of new restoration permitting pathways, (7) disseminating lessons learned from large wood augmentation projects, (8) conducting outreach to landowners and the restoration community, (9) seeking funding assistance for large woody material restoration projects, and (10) advocating for restoration practitioners and land stewards.

Vision: Self-sustaining and resilient populations of California’s native anadromous salmonids.

Organizations involved include: Alnus Ecological Consulting, California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California Geologic Survey, Campbell Timberland Managment, Mendocino County Resource Conservation District, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Resource Conservation Service, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Sustainable Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, United States Army Corps of Engineers, and University of California Cooperative Extension.


The Nature Conservancy: Lisa Hulette or Jennifer Carah
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection: Pete Cafferata
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board: Jonathan Warmerdam

What are wood restoration projects and how do they benefit endangered salmon?

A host of threats have reduced both population size and distribution of salmon species across the California, and many of the threats are widespread and persistent. Threats include artificial migration barriers and dams, streambed alteration, disease, poor water quality, water diversions, agricultural, urbanization and forestry impacts, and climatic variation among other things (CDFG 2004, NMFS 2010). Among the most imperiled species of salmon in California are the coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), with experts estimating that they will be extinct in the state in the next 25-50 years absent serious intervention (Moyle et al. 2008; NMFS 2010). Declines of coho in California are estimated to be 95% or more from 50-60 years ago (Moyle 2008). The critical situation necessitates prompt and focused action to protect, and increase survival of the remaining populations in California (NMFS 2010). The California Department of Fish and Game’s (CDFG) Recovery Strategy for California Coho Salmon and NMFS’s Draft Recovery Plan for theEvolutionarily Significant Unit of California Central Coast Coho Salmon identify priority recovery actions to address these threats and recover populations (CDFG 2004, NMFS 2010). Priority recovery actions include: ensuring sufficient water flow and water temperatures for all life stages, reducing fine sediment inputs into streams, improving fish passage, increasing outreach and education, improving enforcement of laws and regulations that protect coho and their habitat, reducing by-catch of coho in other fisheries, engaging in land use planning that protects intact watersheds, implementing a state-wide coho population monitoring program, abating forestland conversion and promoting sustainable forestry practices including protecting riparian forests, and prioritizing restoration funding on recovery actions that have high potential to improve habitat and increase freshwater survival, such as installation of large woody material and creation of over-wintering habitats (CDFG 2004, NMFS 2010).

Installing large woody material (LWM) is a priority recovery action due to the important role it plays in forming habitat for coho salmon (and other salmon species as well). The importance of LWM to salmon has been widely recognized (Bisson et al. 1987, Sedell et al. 1988, Naiman et al. 2002, CDFG 2004, NMFS 2010), and many studies have shown a positive relationship between wood density and salmon abundance (e.g. Sedell et al. 1988, Cedarholm et al. 1997, Bilby and Bisson 1998, Roni and Quinn 2001, Whiteway et al. 2010). Trees that fall into a creek from the riparian forest influence channel shape by scouring pools and sorting and storing stream sediments (Bisson et al. 1987), forming clean gravel beds for spawning (House and Boehne 1986) and off-channel habitats that provide refuge from fast water at high flows (Bisson et al. 1987, Fausch and Northcote 1992). Wood-formed pools are the preferred habitat of juvenile coho salmon (Bisson et al. 1982), providing slow moving water where food can be captured with a minimal expenditure of energy (Fausch 1984). Woody material also traps nutrients, increasing food availability (Bilby and Bisson 1998), and provides cover from predators for both adult and young fish (Naiman et al. 2002). In the estuary environment, wood also provides cover from predators for both adults and juveniles, traps sediments and increases food availability (Gonor et al. 1988).

In many streams of the coastal California, wood densities are quite low. For example, over 80% of the priority focus watersheds have poor wood stocking (NMFS 2010). Loss, modification, or simplification of riparian forests has created a lack of natural LWM recruitment, as many of the riparian forests have been harvested in the last 60 years and do not have older trees that are falling into creeks as they age and die (Moyle et al. 2008, NMFS 2010). In addition, LWM removal activities have also reduced LWM densities (NMFS 2010).   
The most effective salmon habitat restoration projects have a strong understanding of biological context and address limiting factors (Beechie and Bolton 1999). They also restore physical and ecological processes, not just modify habitat (Beechie and Bolton 1999, Kail et al. 2007, Roni et al. 2008). Therefore, a first priority to restore LWM densities in streams where lack of wood is a limiting factor for coho salmon, is to protect and restore natural wood recruitment processes by protecting and restoring the primary future sources of natural LWM, the riparian forests (Boyer et al. 2003, Nagayama and Nakamura 2010). However, generating adequate volumes of large wood naturally following historical wood removal and riparian forest harvest is a slow process in second-growth coastal stands, typically requiring 75 to 150 years to reach acceptable levels (Sedell et al. 1988, Wooster and Hilton 2004). Accordingly, a second priority to restore LWM densities in streams where lack of wood is a limiting factor is to add wood as an interim measure, until riparian forests attain adequate size and stocking to achieve sufficient natural wood recruitment rates (Nagayama and Nakamura 2010). This will be necessary to maintain and create adequate summer and winter rearing habitat for coho salmon in coastal California (Moyle et al. 2008, NMFS 2010).