Compilation of Stream Cleaning Data in the North Coast, CA

By John Wooster






During the Winter of 1999 a history of stream cleaning in Humboldt County and the greater North Coast was compiled. The scope of the investigation was to determine the location, extent, timing, and quantity of stream cleaning activities. The primary sources of data were state government agencies and interviews with agency employees and others involved with cleaning activities. A database titled Cleaned Streams.xls, was compiled listing streams with cleaning data and their source. A breakdown of CA Department of Fish and Game (DFG) stream surveys by basin can be found in DFGSurveySum.xls. Specific data from government agencies can be found in the CCC Data.xls file and the DFG Projects.xls . Information from the initial data query was used for the study Large Woody Debris Volumes and Accumulation Rates in Cleaned Streams in Redwood Forests near Confluence of South and Mainstem Eel River, CA ( Wooster, in press.) Descriptions of the history of stream cleaning, data sources, and groups involved with stream cleaning are outlined below.






  • Data is minimal during this time period and few people were available for interview regarding cleaning activities.
  • Isolated documents discussing clearing activities were found in DFG stream surveys. Examples include a 1959 document discussing the Pacific Lumber Co removing jams on a yearly basis since 1955 in the Bear Creek drainage in So Humboldt, and a 1961 document requiring ARCO to clean up debris in Mae Creek (tributary to Prairie Creek) resulting from a logging deck in channel.
  • A 1966 Status Report for Bull Creek prepared by H. Heinze and C. Espinosa for Humboldt Redwoods State Park discusses stream clearing done in the park between 1963 and 1965. The report discusses labor hours and costs of cleaning and a rough map shows channel lengths of cleaning. The clearing work was done by High Rock Conservation Camp and Park Personnel. A hard copy of the report is on file at Redwood Sciences Laboratory.
  • Based on conversations with California Conservation Corps (CCC) personnel and former DFG fisheries biologist Don La Founce, the bulk of cleaning was carried out by inmate crews, timber companies, and to some extent DFG field techs. The extent and amounts of clearing done during this period is relatively unknown.
  • DFG stream surveys noting barriers and recommendations for cleaning provide the only written account of cleaning found pre-1980. Allen Creek (tributary to Mainstem Eel) was only surveyed in 1963 and barrier removal was recommended. A field check in 6/99 showed evidence of stream cleaning activities.



  • Minimal written accord of clearing activities during the 1970s was found.
  • The California Advisory Committee on Salmon and Steelhead Trout published An Environmental Tragedy (1971) , A Conservation Opportunity (1972), and The Time is Now (1975) documenting dramatic declines in anadromous fish populations. These reports paved the way for legislative funding for salmon restoration. The majority of initial funding was allocated for hatchery rearing programs; although, some money was used for habitat improvement, often stream clearing.
  • Stream cleaning was done primarily by inmate crews, the Ecology Corps (conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War and civilians post-Vietnam), and the CCC after being established by 1976 legislation.
  • Isolated DFG stream files contain documents outlining agreements for wood removal between timber companies and private landowners. A 1971 contract between Pacific Lumber and DFG discusses plans to clean Twin and Diner Creeks (Mainstem Eel), salvage merchantable logs, remove unmerchantable debris to above high water marks, and remove high risk trees immediately adjacent to the stream.
  • Based on anecdotal accounts, the CCC directive in the late 1970s and early 1980s was to remove all wood within high water marks and cut off pieces keyed into the banks. CCC directives did vary among centers and between crew leaders.



  • During the early 1980s the political/public climate began to focus on salmon restoration. Additional funds were allocated towards salmon improvement and specifically opening streams. In 1980 the Energy Resources Fund was used to contract with the CCC on a million dollar a year basis and clean 100 miles of stream per year. A thermometer was set up in Sacramento to measure the number of stream miles opened for salmon per year. The Bosco Keene Assembly Bill 951 in 1981 allocated an additional 1 million dollars a year for cooperative fish restoration projects. Additional funds were also supplied by SB400 and CELP. The primary contractor for stream cleaning contractor was the CCC; however other groups received state funds for stream cleaning (see Cleaning Crews for complete list.)
  • The bulk of the CCC stream cleaning was done between 1980 and 1984 (see Figure 1). During this period the general protocol of the CCC was to remove all debris from the channel. Although problematic jams were outlined in DFG surveys, typically all wood was removed in an effort to prevent future jams. Often the debris hauled above the high water line was burned on site.
  • By 1986 the idea that wood was good for the channel became more widely accepted and restoration efforts began to shift their focus. Stream cleaning crews often only removed select barriers and attempted to construct instream habitat and bank stabilization structures. DFG stream surveys post 1985 also focus on locations for structures and not on jams and volumes to be removed.





CCC Data.xls

  • A detailed database of Fortuna CCC activities was cataloged by Gary Flosi of the CA DFG. This database was not compiled as events happened; Gary Flosi and other CCC employees cataloged past CCC activities and began a current tab around 1990. It is unclear what percent of early CCC activities where recorded and subsequently available for transfer into the database.
  • The CCC database contains: dates of stream activities, chords of wood removed, total crew hours spent rehabilitating streams, length of stream worked on, riparian vegetation planted, and instream structures. Chords removed and length of stream cleaned are estimates made by crew leaders after work was completed. Crew hours is probably the most reliable estimate of cleaning effort.

(NOTE - No figure available)

Figure 1.
Sum of chords of wood removed by County. Data supplied by Fortuna CCC division. Numbers should not be viewed as absolutes but as a trend of CCC activities.




DFG Projects.xls

  • A database listing DFG/State funded projects dating back to the 1981/1982 fiscal year.
  • The database contains streams, fiscal year of project, project objective, and the contractor for the project.
  • The primary funding sources listed are the Bosco/Keene AB 951, SB 400, and CELP.
  • The file does not contain specific data regarding length of cleaned reach or amounts wood removed.


DFG Stream Surveys

  • The Eureka DFG office has hard copy stream files for all USGS named streams in the North coast region. The files contain stream surveys dating back to the 1950s. The stream surveys often recommend whether to clean a stream or not. The stream surveys were the only records found prior to 1980.
  • Stream Surveys were used as prerequisites for stream cleaning. The surveys can be used as general criteria for cleaned vs. not, particularly for pre-1980. If a stream survey recognizes no barriers it is assumed the stream was not cleaned. Streams with barriers that were not modifiable or the habitat did not warrant modification are assumed probably not cleaned. Surveys noting barriers appropriate for removal are classified as probably cleaned.
  • During the 1980s, 28 stream surveys recommended cleaning in the SF Eel, and 20 of those streams were confirmed cleaned by CCC, DFG, and field evidence. However, the SF Eel probably has a higher frequency of confirmed cleanings to recommended removals than other basins due to the proximity to the Fortuna CCC center.



  • The North coast region was subdivided into basins within the Eureka DFG office filing system. Each basin/file drawer has a summary sheet listing all streams and the recommendations of the last stream survey as to whether stream cleaning was merited. These summary sheets are analyzed by basin in DFGSurveySum.xls . The summary sheets are combined with data from the CCC data file and DFG project file to compare percentage of streams recommended for cleaning to streams with confirmed cleaning reports. Individual stream recommendations from the summary sheets are tallied in Cleaned Streams.xls.
  • The summary sheets only list the last survey, thus obscuring recommendations for cleaning from previous surveys. Streams not recommended for cleaning in the 80s may have been identified as potential cleaning targets in the 60s and 70s.
  • All stream files for the Eel River basin were individually reviewed and a complete stream survey history was compiled for the Eel River basin from 1950 until present. The Eel River, particularly the South Fork Eel represents the best picture of basin wide cleaning effort and comparison of stream cleaning recommendations verses confirmed cleaning.




Total Number Named Streams

Total Surveyed

% Surveyed

% Streams with confirmed cleaning data



% No Barriers

% w/ barriers but not modifiable

% streams last surveyed in 1960s

% streams last surveyed in 1970s

% streams last surveyed in 1980s

Cleaning Code in Cleaned Streams.xls






















SF Eel











Lower Main Stem Eel






















Van Duzen


































































Figure 2. Breakdown of DFG stream surveys in the Northcoast, CA, and comparison with confirmed cleanings from other sources.



Cleaned Streams.xls

  • A compilation of all available data regarding stream cleaning, including: the previously mentioned files, anecdotal information, State Parks documents, individual reports from DFG stream files.
  • Cleaned Streams.xls contains information regarding whether streams were cleaned or not, dates of cleaning, dates of stream surveys, and sources of information; specific wood amounts and reach length is available in CCC Data.xls.




Field Evidence

  • Six confirmed cleaned streams and two streams that were recommended for cleaning were field checked in 6/1999. All eight streams showed easily discernible evidence of stream cleaning. Typically, the evidence was bucked logs keyed into banks and oriented perpendicular to the channel.
  • Large Woody Debris Inventories were tallied on five streams, see Large Woody Debris Volumes and Accumulation Rates in Cleaned Streams in Redwood Forests near Confluence of South and Mainstem Eel River, CA ( Wooster, in press.) for a detailed description of stream cleaning field evidence.





California Conservation Corps


  • The Fortuna CCC camp became operational in 1979.
  • The Fortuna CCC camp was arguable the primary stream cleaning force in Humboldt County. The Fortuna CCCs received the bulk of the stream cleaning funding set aside from the Bosco Keene Assembly Bill 951, the Energy Resources Fund, and SB400.


Del Norte

  • The Del Norte, Requa CCC camp became fully operational in 1983. Between 1977 and 1983 the Del Norte CCC camp was located at Alder Camp and was primarily a small scale fire center.
  • A comprehensive database containing Del Norte activities was not available. Information pertaining to Del Norte stream cleaning can be found in the DFG projects database that describes Del Norte activities funded by Fish and Game.
  • Some Del Norte CCC activities can be found in the Fortuna CCC Data.xls and DFG Projects.xls.
  • Additional anecdotal information pertaining to Del Norte cleaning was provided by John Schwabe of the CA DFG.


California Department of Fish and Game

  • DFG field technicians were actively involved in clearing activities in the 1960s and 70s. According to Don La Founce, DFG fish biologist in the 1960s and 70s, fish techs were often involved in blasting jams in the 60s and 70s. No written record of their activities appears to have been compiled.
  • The best information regarding DFG activities can be found by reading individual stream files in the Eureka DFG office that contain stream surveys recommending removal. However, what percent of recommendations were acted upon in the 60s and 70s is uncertain.
  • BY the early 1980s DFG personnel functioned as tech advisors for CCC crews and completed stream surveys that recommended cleaning for crews.
  • DFG stream surveys were prerequisites for most stream clearing activities, there may have been isolated cases were cleaning was done without a survey.



Indian Tribes

  • Indian tribes/councils formed stream cleaning crews that worked on tribal lands. The Hoopa Valey Business Council and Orleans Karok Council provided stream clearing crews.
  • Funding for tribal crews was provided by the Bosco Keene AB 951and SB 400.
  • Individual tribes did not have records of where tribal crews had worked; the DFG Projects.xls database lists State funded projects.


Timber Companies

  • Timber companies often employed there own cleaning crews. Timber company clearing efforts surged in response to the passing of the new Forest Practice rules in the early 1970s that mandated all logging activities not contribute additional debris to streams. Anecdotal information from Bill Boake and others suggests that following timber harvests, crews would travel up channels removing all debris in an effort to comply with harvest rules. An anonymous Simpson Timber Co. employee relayed stories of walking up stream channels in the 1970s salvaging any merchantable timber and burning any slash found.
  • No written records of timber companies and wood removal were found or provided upon request. Isolated agreements between timber companies and DFG outlining plans to remove wood were found in DFG stream files in Eureka.
  • Specific incidences such as Simpson removing a 200,000 board foot jam out of East Fork Hunter Creek in 1986, and Pacific Lumber and Louisana Pacific removing an extensive jam out of Hely Creek in the early 80s were reiterated by DFG and CCC personnel.
  • According to Bill Boak, private contract logger, timber companies often hired the HSU forestry club as stream clearing labor during the late 70s and early 80s.


Private Small Landowners

  • A comprehensive source of data regarding stream clearing activities on private land was not identified.
  • Theoretically, CA DFG should have issued a 1603 permit for stream bed alteration for any clearing activities. However, there does not appear to be any tally of 1603 permits issued by DFG in the 1960s through the late 1980s.
  • Some correspondences between private landowners and DFG were found in stream files in Eureka DFG office. These letters often described updates of landowners using heavy equipment to remove log jams in their creeks. Leggett Creek in Southern Humboldt is an example of private landowners periodically removing log jams in the early 1980s.


Inmate Labor

  • Inmate crews were used to clean streams. Probably more so in the 1960s and 1970s before the CCC became prevalent.
  • Attempts to find records of con crew activities in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties were unsuccessful. I was unable to find any supervisors that were around in the 70s or early 80s and no written account appears to have been kept.
  • Alder Conservation Camp in Del Norte County was operational from 1961 until 1972, and was reopened in 1983. During both periods the Alder camp was active in stream clearing but to what extent is unknown.
  • Don La Founce relayed stories of inmate crews from Weott working for several winters on clearing the North Fork Elk in the late 1960s, and also of an inmate crew clearing extensive jams in tributaries to the Klamath in 1967.
  • There are good records of activities done by Parlin Fork Inmate Camp in Mendocino County. There is also record of CDF inmate crews receiving funding in Mendocino County in the DFG Projects.xls.


Other contractors

  • In Humboldt County other contractors that received state funding for stream clearing included: Humboldt Fish Action Council (HFAC), Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA), and the Mattole Watershed Salmon Support Group. These groups were not large scale labor crews and often focused turning small obstructions into habitat improvement structures or identified projects for larger scale jam removal.
  • In Del Norte County the Smith River Alliance and Rural Human Services also received money for stream improvement; these groups were also small scale.
  • In Mendocino additional contractors included the Center for Education and Manpower Resources (CEMR) and New Growth Forestry. These groups were larger scale labor forces that cleared significant channel lengths.




  • The best data on stream clearing is available for Southern Humboldt County due to the CCC Data.xls provided by the Fortuna CCC Center. Complemented with the detailed review of DFG stream files on the Main And South Fork Eel the Cleaned Streams.xls is most complete for these basins.
  • Additional information on stream cleaning could be obtained from a detailed review of DFG stream surveys in other basins in the Northcoast.
  • Minimal data on small private landowner or timber company stream cleaning activities is available.
  • Eight streams that were either cleaned or recommended for cleaning in DFG surveys had readily discernible field evidence of stream clearing.