Submitted by:

Big River Watershed Council

18451 Orr Springs Road

Ukiah, Ca 95482


Rolland A. Schmitten

Acting Administrator for Fisheries

National Marine Fisheries Service

Silver Springs, MD



for protection of coho salmon in Big River Watershed

June 27, 1997






Big River is located on the north coast of California approximately 150 miles north of San Francisco in Mendocino County (See Map 1). Big River drains a watershed of approximately 165 square miles and flows into the ocean just south of the town of Mendocino. The river and its tributaries once supported substantial runs of coho salmon (Gibbons 1993; Hassler et al. 1991) as well as runs of other anadromous fish such as steelhead and Pacific lamprey. Few data are available but some authors have estimated runs in the 1970s of 6,000 coho spawners (Brown et al. 1994; US Bureau of Reclamation 1973). However, due to intensified logging and road building on industrial timberlands over the last three decades (see Map 2), the watershed has become seriously degraded. The watershed has been declared impaired by sediment under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act (California Regional Water Quality Control Board 1996). High temperatures that approach lethal levels for salmonids have also been identified in portions of the watershed (Flossi 1993). As a result of watershed degradation, coho populations have been substantially decreased (Brown and Moyle 1991; Higgins et al. 1992). The major causes of the watershed deterioration and coho decline are road-building and industrial logging practices, as there are few other dominant land uses in the watershed. There are no extant dams on the river and little agriculture or urban/suburban development.


The purpose of these guidelines is to provide the National Marine Fisheries Service with a set of practical, enforceable, and scientifically-based guidelines that will provide for immediate measures to protect coho salmon and their habitat in the Big River watershed.


The goal of applying these guidelines is to protect and restore the habitat for coho salmon and other anadromous fish within Big River Watershed taking an ecosystem approach while minimizing impact upon local people and economies. In order to define an ecosystem approach the objectives of the aquatic conservation strategy of the President's Forest Plan, Record of Decision (Page B-11), are adopted as follows:

1. Maintain and restore the distribution, diversity, and complexity of watershed and landscape-scale features to ensure protection of the aquatic systems to which species, populations and communities are uniquely adapted.


2. Maintain and restore spatial and temporal connectivity within and between watersheds. Lateral, longitudinal, and drainage network connections include floodplains, wetlands, upslope areas, headwater tributaries, and intact refugia. These network connections must provide chemically and physically unobstructed routes to areas critical for fulfilling life history requirements of aquatic and riparian-dependent species.


3. Maintain and restore the physical integrity of the aquatic system, including shorelines, banks, and bottom configurations.


4. Maintain and restore water quality necessary to support healthy riparian, aquatic, and wetland ecosystems. Water quality must remain within the range that maintains the biological, physical, and chemical integrity of the system and benefits survival, growth, reproduction, and migration of individuals composing aquatic and riparian communities.


5. Maintain and restore the sediment regime under which aquatic ecosystems evolved. Elements of the sediment regime include the timing, volume, rate, and character of sediment input, storage, and transport.


6. Maintain and restore in-stream flows sufficient to create and sustain riparian, aquatic, and wetland habitats and to retain patterns of sediment, nutrient, and wood routing. The timing, magnitude, duration, and spatial distribution of peak, high, and low flows must be protected.


7. Maintain and restore the timing, variability, and duration of floodplain inundation and water table elevation in meadows and wetlands.


8. Maintain and restore the species composition and structural diversity of plant communities in riparian areas and wetlands to provide adequate summer and winter thermal regulation, nutrient filtering, appropriate rates of surface erosion, bank erosion, and channel migration and to supply amounts and distributions of coarse woody debris sufficient to sustain physical complexity and stability.


9. Maintain and restore habitat to support well-distributed populations of native plant, invertebrate, and vertebrate riparian-dependent species.



The following guidelines are based on existing studies, reports and recommendations for salmon, watershed and forest protection as described in the President's Forest Plan, the Ten Elements of Sustainability of the Institute for Sustainable Forestry, and the Landowner and Forester Handbook for Pacific Certified Ecological Forest Products, and the

Mendocino County Forest Practice Rules1 submitted to the California Board of Forestry. Thus to ensure readability of these guidelines we have incorporated many of these existing guidelines by citation.

All of the stakeholders have contributed to the degradation of the watershed and thus have responsibility to deal with the problems. However, since the primary cause of the decline of anadromous fish in the Big River Watershed is the activities on corporate timberlands, the guidelines place a proportionate burden on these organizations. However, portions of the guidelines will affect most forest landowners within the watershed with acreages larger than 10 acres who plan to harvest large amounts of timber within the next decade.


The guidelines are in six categories: (1) Protection of Key Watersheds; (2) Protection of Riparian Reserves; (3) Timber Harvest Restrictions; (4) Restriction on Use of Pesticides; (5) Prohibition of Additional Water Appropriation; and (6) Monitoring.

(1) Key Watersheds

The Big River Watershed will be considered a key watershed as denned in the President's Forest Plan. Key watersheds are those that directly contribute to salmon survival or that provide sources of high quality water. The Big River Watershed and its subwatersheds provide both functions. Guidelines for management of key watersheds from the President's Forest Plan Record of Decision (Pages C-7) are incorporated here by reference. The principal guidelines include:


(A) Roadless Areas: No new roads will be built in roadless areas; Roadless areas are generally areas of over 5,000 acres without existing roads.


(B) Outside Roadless Areas: Reduce existing system and nonsystem road mileage outside roadless areas; no net increase in the amount of roads.


(C) Watershed analysis is required prior to major management activities such as road-building or timber harvest.


Watershed analyses must be up to federal standards as set out in published guidelines (Regional Ecosystem Office 1995) and must be approved by both the Big River Watershed Council and the principal regulatory agencies.


(2) Riparian Reserves

Definition: Riparian reserves include the body of water, inner gorges, all riparian vegetation, 100 year floodplain, landslides and landslide prone areas as defined by the President's Forest Plan Record of Decision (Pages C-30 to C-31). Basic definitions for riparian reserve widths are:

(a)    for fish bearing streams - width on either side of the stream of 2 site potential trees (up to 600 feet)


(b) for permanently flowing but not fish bearing streams - width on either side of the stream of 1 site potential tree (up to 300 feet)


(c) for seasonal flowing or intermittent streams - extension from the edges of the stream channel to a distance equal to the height of one site-potential tree or 100 feet slope distance, whichever is greatest.


Guidelines for management of riparian reserves from the President's Forest Plan Record of Decision (Pages C-31 to C-38) are incorporated here by reference. Key elements of these guidelines provide that:

(A) Timber harvest is prohibited in Riparian Reserves;


(B) Riparian Reserves are not included in calculations of the timber base; as applied here, Riparian Reserves would not be included in timber base calculations for Sustained Yield Plans; Habitat Conservation Plans, EISs, EIRs, or other such documents.

 (3) Restriction on Timber Harvest

Guidelines for timber harvest are designed to ensure that forestry is practiced in a sustainable manner so that (1) there is no net impairment of historic coho-bearing streams, and (2) the forest grows back to where it can return to historic levels of capture of the fog precipitation that is an integral part of the hydrologic cycle in the Big River watershed.


(A) Existing state rules governing forest practices are incorporated here to the extent that they are consistent with or do not contradict additional rules outlined in these guidelines;

where guidelines presented here are more restrictive they will supercede existing forest practice rules for the ownership categories indicated.

(B) All timber harvest is to be conducted in accordance with Institute for Sustainable Forestry (ISF) guidelines for sustainable forestry, i.e. certified by ISF under current guidelines; this applies to all ownerships of 50 acres or larger.


(C) Timber harvest within a given watershed or on a given ownership will be limited to 2% of inventory per year (or 20% per decade) as described in the Mendocino County Forest Practices Rules submitted to the State of California Board of Forestry on June 8, 1994; this applies to all ownerships of 10 acres or larger.


(D) Clearcutting is prohibited on all ownerships except for single-family residential purposes.

(4) Pesticide Spraying



Pesticide: The term pesticide is used here to denote any artificial chemical designed to kill or poison plants, animals, insects or other life; it includes but is not limited to herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides.

Wildlands: The term wildlands here includes all areas away from residential or business areas or the immediate area surrounding homes, businesses, or residential gardens or landscapes.


The guidelines for pesticide spraying is designed to ensure that further deterioration of coho populations or habitat does not result from pesticide use on wildlands within the watershed. The following guideline will apply:


No pesticide spraying on wildlands or public or private roads or highways within wildlands within the Big River watershed

(5) Water Appropriation

The guideline for water appropriation is designed to ensure that enough flow remains in Big River to ensure that natural flow regimes and adequate water remain in Big River. The following guidelines will apply.


(A) There will be no additional drafting or allocation of water from any surface water source within the Big River Watershed.


(B) There will be no additional dams that will adversely affect any surface water source within the Big River Watershed.


(6) Monitoring

Monitoring will be necessary to ensure that the above five guidelines are adequate to ensure the continued survival and recovery of coho salmon populations in Big River. This will need to be done at both the landscape/watershed level and at the site or stand level. Thus the following guidelines will apply:


(A) A specific program to monitor both the coho population of Big River and the habitat at the watershed level will be developed and funded prior to authorization of further timber harvest on commercial forestlands within the Big River Watershed;


(B) Specific monitoring programs for site-specific monitoring of timber harvest areas, to be done by qualified third-parties, will be designed and funded before additional timber harvest is authorized;


(C) Monitoring in (A) and (B) above may be funded by timber companies but must be performed by qualified, independent, third-party professionals not employed directly or indirectly by the timber companies.

(D) All monitoring plans will be approved by the Big River Watershed Council.



Because most of the damage to coho habitat is due to the activities on the industrial forestlands by corporate timber companies, it is equitable that the guidelines are more restrictive on such ownerships. However, some restrictions will need to apply to all people, activities, or ownerships.

Thus, the guidelines above will apply as follows:

1. Key Watershed - Corporate ownerships (over 5,000 acres)

2. Riparian Reserves - Corporate ownerships (over 5,000 acres)

3. Restrictions on Timber Harvest - All ownerships to varying degrees (see page 4)

4. Pesticide Spraying - All ownerships

5. Water Appropriation - All ownerships

6. Monitoring - Corporate ownerships (over 5,000 acres)


These guidelines can be practically implemented by existing state agencies (California Division of Forestry, California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Water Resources, California Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Pesticide Regulation) in conjunction / cooperation with Big River Watershed Council

1Mendocino County Forest Practice Rules were approved by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors on May 10, 1994 and sent to the California Board of Forestry for approval in accordance with provision for such local rules in the California Z'Berg-Njedly Forest Practice Act. In December of 1994 the Board of Forestry rejected the local county rules without providing reasons. Thus, the rules represented the desires of the local community as expressed by local government but are not now in effect.



Brown, L.R., P.B. Moyle, and R.M. Yoshiyama. 1994. Historical decline and current status of coho salmon in California. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 14(2):237-261.


Brown, L.R. and P.B. Moyle. 1991. Status of coho salmon in California. Report to National Marine Fisheries Service, 114pp.


California Regional Water Quality Control Board - North Coast Region. 1996. Clean Water Act Section 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Waterbodies for California's North Coast Region. 3pp.


Flossi, G. 1993. Stream Inventory Report—Daugherty Creek. Unpublished Report, California Department of Fish and Game, 12pp.


Gibbons, B. 1994. Petition to the Board of Forestry to List Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) as a sensitive species. Submitted by Boyd Gibbons, Director, California Department of Fish and Game to Dean Cromwell, California Board of Forestry, December 1993.

Hassler, T.J., C.M. Sullivan, and G.R. Stem. 1991. Distribution of coho salmon in California. Report to California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA., 24pp.

Higgins, P., S. Doybush, and D. Fuller. 1992. Factors in Northern California threatening stocks with extinction. Humboldt Chapter, American Fisheries Society, White Paper, 25pp.


Regional Ecosystem Office. 1995. Ecosystem Analysis at the Watershed Scale—Federal Guide for Watershed Analysis. Version 2.2. Regional Ecosystem Office, PO Box 3623, Portland, OR 97208-3623, 26pp.


U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 1973. Fishery improvement study. Eureka Division of North Coast Project, USDI, Bureau of Reclamation, Mid-Pacific Region, Sacramento, CA. 44pp.