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 Smith River Project > Introduction

Chapter 1 -- Introduction

Descending from the forested mountains and canyons of northwestern California, the Smith River flows cold and clear. This rugged watershed provides a wealth of biological resources, including anadromous fisheries of national importance. The excellent steelhead fishery of the Smith River is considered the only remaining healthy stock of anadromous salmonids in California (Huntington et al. 1996). Furthermore, this is the only major river in California that remains free of dams. The Smith River flows through majestic redwood forests and is known as the "crown jewel of the wild and scenic river system."

Since the 1850s, the landscape of the Smith River watershed has changed extensively due to unprecedented human impacts. Many ancient forests, especially old growth redwood forests, have been converted to young forests or other uses. Many ecosystem components have been reduced or eliminated including frequent low-intensity wildfire, grizzly bears, and wolves. The salmon runs have declined. Moreover, we face a variety of challenges:

  • survival of anadromous salmonid stocks
  • frequency and severity of fire, floods, and mass wasting
  • survival of old growth dependent species
  • sustainable production of economic benefits from fish, timber, livestock forage, agriculture, and tourism.

To meet these challenges, we need better understanding of environmental conditions and trends. In combination with improved understanding, we also need decision-making methods that integrate ecological knowledge with other priorities such as economics. Knowledge of the historical context of the river system is necessary in order to discern human influences on the system, influences that sometimes extend over many years and decades. This report discusses the historical and ecological context of the fisheries of the Smith River watershed and suggests methods for pursuing restoration of the Smith River and its fisheries. This report does not describe an entire restoration strategy because successful restoration requires all concerned parties to be involved in the planning. A restoration strategy created and imposed by outsiders is not likely to succeed. The intent of this report is to provide information and suggestions to help the necessary community dialogue that can lead to a workable restoration strategy. This report has the paradoxical task of making the most specific possible recommendations to meet conservation goals while still leaving as much flexibility as possible for community self-determination to meet important social goals. Through application of these proposed methods by concerned parties, it is certainly possible to create a restoration plan for the Smith River that will integrate scientific understanding with the goals of the community and region. This is essential if we hope to maintain environmental quality for our children, grandchildren, future generations, and other forms of life.

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