Yellow Creek restoration planned despite concern about impacts on trout
Yellow Creek and the Humbug Valley are to be the newest recipients of the pond-and-plug restoration treatment, possibly as soon as this fall.
Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson signed a negative declaration after reviewing project plans and public comments in January.
Comments did not change the design, he wrote, though they did result in some clarifications and a re-circulated document.
Five more comments were received after that, but he said they raised no significant new effects.
No appeals of his decision were made to the Plumas County supervisors, so the work to get permits and bids in place continues via Plumas Corporation and the Feather River Coordinated Resource Management group.
While officials in the management group claim public comments were taken into consideration during the final plan preparations, local experts are not so sure.
Hopes are that the restoration project along 6,396 feet of Yellow Creek and an unnamed stream channel in Humbug Valley will restore full hydrologic function and improve water quality and habitat for wildlife and coldwater fish, like the wild rainbow trout. The pond-and-plug method will be used, as shown on the design map, even though some local experts still have reservations about its effects. Graphic courtesy Plumas Corporation
Michael Kossow, owner of Meadowbrook Conservation Services, said project planners basically blew off their concerns.
Wild trout fishery concerns
“Little is known about how all of the native fish that inhabit the Yellow Creek watershed use the free-flowing stream system during their entire lifecycle and how the project may impact them,” Kossow wrote.
Kossow, who has been studying rainbow trout migration in the greater Feather River watershed for 30 years, first became concerned about this issue after walking lower Red Clover Creek this past summer.
Red Clover Creek is like the flagship project for the management group and was one of the only creeks that didn’t blow out in the flood of 1997.
Kossow concluded the Red Clover Creek fish migration corridor had altered and become disconnected due to the pond-and-plug treatments.
“I believe pond reaches impair fish migration,” he wrote. “This is especially true for young-of-the-year rainbow trout that rely on free flowing water to disperse their populations.
“Competition from other fish that do well in ponds may also be a problem young-of-the-year rainbow trout encounter while trying to occupy the altered habitat.”
Kossow first began his “fishy” relationship with the Yellow Creek area in 1964, when newly constructed Forest Service and logging roads made fishing access easy.
Over the next 15 years he witnessed meadow and stream degradation due to hundreds of miles of roads and skid roads being added.
Wilson requested a response be made to Kossow before he would sign the declaration.
Resource management group project manager Leslie Mink replied that while most of the pond-and-plug project areas are not trout fisheries, there are some exceptions, like Red Clover and parts of Last Chance Creek.
“Studying the response of fish populations to these projects is an ongoing effort,” she wrote. “It has proven to be more difficult than one might think because of the difficulty of sampling ponds in the post-project condition.”
Red Clover Creek has shown a dramatic increase in trout productivity, though, she added.
Fish migration shouldn’t be an issue, since grade control structures are built specifically to allow fish passage.
Fish migration and the whirling disease affecting the wild rainbow trout population in Yellow Creek were concerns of California Fish and Game Environmental Program Manager Jeff Drongensen, who offered the department's support of the project.
The department is one of several agencies and organizations that are members of the resource management group.
Kossow still believes that the project will be a huge waste of time and money, unless other issues in the watershed are addressed, such as the roads and grazing.
“All this tinkering is very expensive,” he wrote. “What happens when beaver move in and change the original design?
“Where will the maintenance and monitoring money come from as more and more projects are constructed?
“The Plumas Corporation has created their own bureaucracy.”
Ken Roby, retired Forest Service fisheries biologist, raised concerns as well.
He focused some of his expertise on the flood-control claims made in the plan, though most of his concerns were washed over.
“As I stated in my initial comments, portions of Yellow Creek downstream of the project area maintain floodplain connectivity at present,” he wrote. “How then, is floodplain inundation upstream at the project area going to improve protection of people and property?”
The overall performance of the pond-and-plug projects continues to increase their confidence, replied Mink.
“We also continue to learn lessons that translate back into design modifications,” she added.
In other words, the benefits of restoration were deemed worth the risk.
Their designs at the bottom of the restoration project are made to withstand maximum stress, she added, though “most project decisions are made without exact certainty of the impacts.”
Damage-resistant design modifications built into this plan include not planting willows on plug surfaces and using sedge mats instead.
The willows seem to concentrate flows, she wrote, while the mat configurations retard flows.
She also found a mistake in the flood protection data and said they might have overstated flood protection claims.
Cultural heritage concerns
The restoration project generated a 269-acre heritage survey in Humbug Valley in 2008, according to Diane McCombs, of McCombs Archaeology.
Native American consultation was provided by author and Maidu Summit Consortium member Beverly Ogle, the Greenville Rancheria of Maidu Indians, the Maidu Cultural and Development Group and the Native American Heritage Commission.
McCombs, with review by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. archaeologist James Nelson and Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist Erin Hess, deemed the project would not impact any native sites; rather, it would actually reduce artifact loss from creek erosion.
“Lab analysis of sample toolstone was particularly interesting, with the obsidian geochemically sourced to Kelly Mountain in Plumas County and to Buffalo Hills in Washoe County, Nev.,” McCombs wrote. “The results added to a growing database on the very active obsidian and basalt procurement network in effect prehistorically in Plumas County.”
Although scientifically unclear, the Mountain Maidu creation story begins in Plumas and Lassen counties, and there is no oral history of migration as there is in many other Native American tribes.
Read more about it
For more information about the Humbug Valley-Yellow Creek Meadow Restoration Project, visit feather-river-crm.org, and click on Documents for Public Comment, then scroll down and click on the pertinent document links.
Interested people may also call Mink at 283-3739.