Dear Friends of the Fall River Conservancy,
We write to report on our progress at the FRC over the past two years.
While the pandemic has curtailed some of our activities, it has been a very busy and productive period for the FRC and its board of directors. We were blessed to have good water conditions and fishing on the Fall River over this time – a needed diversion for many from the tribulations of COVID-19.
Here follows a report on our activities and initiatives over the past two years.
CHALLENGE TO THE CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE (CDFW) INLAND TROUT ANGLING REGULATIONS
A most notable initiative of the FRC during the past two years has been addressing, first through written comment letters, and then by litigation against the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the California Fish and Game Commission (CFGC), the revised regulations for the Fall River proposed by the CDFW and approved by the CFGC.
Following the initiation of litigation by the FRC (joined in the case by California Trout) in Superior Court in Sacramento against the CDFW and the CFGC, a settlement in principle has been reached with the agencies which will, upon full implementation by further revised regulations approved by the CFGC, greatly enhance the protection of our beautiful and bountiful fishery. The litigation was based on the view that the agencies’ new regulations affecting the Fall River failed to comply with the environmental review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The agencies, through their counsel at the California Attorney General’s Office proposed, and the FRC and Cal Trout agreed, to a stay of the litigation to allow implementation of further revised regulations by the agencies which would provide for comprehensive changes to the regulations governing the Fall River Complex and which would make the Fall River Complex an all-year, zero-limit fishery that would allow only the use of barbless artificial lures (and flies). The litigation is now stayed until October of 2022 to allow further regulations to be proposed by the CDFW to the CFGC which, upon its approval, would implement this agreement in principle. If such further regulations are not adopted, the terms of the stay allow the FRC and Cal Trout to move forward with the litigation against the agencies against the revised regulations. The FRC and Cal Trout will be continuing a dialogue with the staff of the agencies as this process moves forward.
The background of this situation can be summarized as follows:
In 2019, the CDFW issued a sweeping set of proposed changes to its Inland Trout Angling Regulations. Some of these changes, we believe, could have highly negative impacts on the Fall River fishery.
Fishing is allowed year-round, which we oppose, although from October 1 through the Friday before Memorial Day, there will be a zero bag limit but artificial lures with barbless hooks would be allowed; during the regular open season (from the Saturday before Memorial Day through September 30) there is a two fish bag limit and artificial lures are allowed (apparently with barbed hooks). Importantly, a long-standing provision of the regulations prohibiting the taking of fish over 14-inches in length was eliminated in the new regulations.
We found this particularly alarming since the larger fish make up the majority of the brood stock of the fish population. The 14-inch maximum limit had been in effect since the 1980’s and contributed greatly, we believe, to the robust nature of the fishery.
The FRC, in coordination with our friends at Cal Trout, submitted written comments to the CDFW strongly opposing year-round angling.
We noted that, based on our Passive Integrated Transponder Program (PIT), operated in conjunction with UC Davis Watershed Sciences, some 30% of the fish population moves into the upper reaches of the system to spawn between December and late Spring.
We also noted that opening the river to unlimited angling during the waterfowl season clearly presents safety and other concerns. Our bottom line was that allowing angling in the dead of winter on this fragile system makes no sense.
Representatives of the FRC and Cal Trout, together with legal counsel, had various video conferences with the staffs and legal counsel of the agencies while the proposed revised regulations were pending.
It had been our hope that an amicable resolution, not requiring litigation, would have been possible.
Unfortunately, the agencies proceeded with the adoption of the proposed revised regulations over our objections. The board of the FRC then approved the retention of legal counsel to bring litigation against the regulations.
The law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, San Francisco, was retained by the FRC and Cal Trout to bring the litigation. The case was filed on April 12, 2021 in Sacramento County Superior Court (Fall River Conservancy and California Trout vs. California Department of Fish and Wildlife and California Fish and Game Commission, Case No. 34-2021-80003622-CU-WM-GDS; before Judge James Arguelles).
As noted above, following negotiations with the agencies and the Attorney General’s office, an agreement in principle was reached to revise the recently adopted regulations as described above and to stay the litigation until October of 2022 to allow the further revision to be implemented. If finally implemented, the revised regulations will greatly enhance and protect the Fall River.
The agreement to stay the litigation reserved the rights of the FRC and Cal Trout to submit further comments to the CFGC as the regulatory process moves forward.
We remain concerned about the year-around fishery concept, due to the fragile nature of the Bear Creek tributary, and we expect to continue to monitor this situation.
In conclusion, while the matter is not yet definitively resolved, we have made great progress toward a satisfactory resolution. We will report further on developments in this matter in due course.
FALL RIVER HYDROLOGIC ASSESSMENT AND LARGE WOOD DEBRIS (LWD) PROJECT
Starting in late 2018 and continuing through 2019, representatives of the FRC engaged in preliminary planning for introducing a pilot LWD project into the upper reaches of the river where sedimentation from the fires in the 1980’s remains a chronic and serious threat to the health of that part of the river.
The introduction of large wood debris in other river systems (notably Hat Creek and Northern California coastal streams) has been shown to have very beneficial effects on the hydrology of the river with consequent break-up of sedimentary deposits and the restoration of aquatic plant life and fish habitat.
Representatives of the FRC have met or been in contact with various regulatory agencies that will have input on such a project, including the CDFW, the Army Corp of Engineers, and the State Water Quality Board. We have also explored possible sites for the project and have tentatively identified an appropriate reach.
Our strategy will be to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach in the context of the Fall River through a pilot project and then seek funding from major donors (such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation which provided funding for the FRC’s stream bank restoration project in 2016-2017) for a more extensive placement of LWD in the river.
The travel and other restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic slowed our progress on this project over the past two years. During this time, our friends at UC Davis identified areas of natural regeneration of the native grasses in the upper part of the river.
The FRC board decided that due to the complications from the pandemic and the apparent natural regeneration occurring in the river, we would pause this initiative for the rest of 2022 to allow further study.
WILD TROUT MONITORING
Working closely with UC Davis, our PIT wild trout monitoring program, which began in 2013, continued into 2019. During the program’s life, we have tagged some 3,000 fish. The science developed clearly benefits our efforts to preserve and protect the river, as noted above in our comment letter to the CDFW on its regulatory revision project.
Here are a few notable facts we have developed:
- Genetic data shows that there are two distinct sub-populations of rainbow trout in the river – One which spawns in the spring-fed reaches of the system (Thousand Springs and Ja She) and another which spawns in the Bear Creek habitat.
- There is very little apparent gene flow between the two populations even though the populations intermingle in the main stem of the river.
- The spawning period is relatively extended for the spring-fed population (October-July) while the Bear Creek population has a more typical limited period.
- Although the drought of 2012-2015 led to some loss through stranding’s in Bear Creek, the population appears to have endured.
The travel and other restrictions resulting from the pandemic led the FRC board to pause this initiative during 2020 and 2021.
We hope to re-start this effort during 2022 or 2023.
TROUT PASSAGE FROM PIT RIVER TO FALL RIVER LAKE
The FRC has been exploring, with the help of UC Davis, the feasibility of and issues involved with creating a trout passage from the Pit River into Fall River Lake (which would then interconnect with the river itself).
This will be under study during 2022. The goal would be to restore the historical connectivity between the two river systems.
We would note that we would move forward on such a project only in close consultation with the scientific experts at UC Davis with the aim of assuring that there would be no unexpected adverse impacts on the health of the river.
MONITORING THE FRC STREAM BANK RESTORATION PROJECT
The FRC has continued to monitor our major project of a few years ago in which the fencing on about five miles of the river was restored with funds provided by the FRC, Cal Trout, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Department of Agriculture.
We believe that this reach of the river has greatly benefited from the project as evidenced by the regeneration of natural plant life along the river and greatly reduced cattle incursions.
It was a win-win project for the FRC, its supporters, the ranch, and most importantly, the river itself.
FALL RIVER VALLEY SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
The FRC has continued to be active during the past three years by offering scholarships in the amount of $1000 to local graduating high school students attending Fall River, Burney or Big Valley Joint Unified School Districts.
Qualified applicants are typically pursuing a post high school education in natural resources, agriculture or other science fields at a two- year college or four-year university level.
While we have historically limited our scholarship awards to one student per year, in 2021 we offered two awards due to the outstanding qualifications of two of the applicants along with generous funding of this program by individual donors.
Scholarship award recipients over the past three years are as follows:
2020: Alexis Easley, Fall River High School
2021: Cade Harner, Burney High School
Arlo Eades, Fall River High School
2022: Jaycee Norris, Fall River High School
PROJECTS FOR 2022
During 2022, the FRC will continue to study the Large Wood Debris project.
We will also, working with Cal Trout, continue to address the CDFW regulation issues.
We will also seek to find new reaches of the river that could benefit from improved fencing, and alternative cattle watering facilities.
We will also study the trout passage project from the Pit River into Fall River Lake.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The FRC board met (via conference calls) every quarter during 2020 and 2021 and several of our Board members spent many volunteer hours on the FRC initiatives.
We were pleased to add to our Board in 2019 Bob Norman, a long-time resident of the Fall River area, and an accomplished guide. His wisdom and experience with the river is a great complement to our long-time Board member from the guiding community, Art Teter.
During 2021, Cal Trout’s Drew Braugh, who had served on the FRC board for many years, decided to leave Cal Trout to pursue other interests. Drew also moved on from the FRC board after many years of great service.
Continuing the close relationship between the FRC and Cal Trout, we were pleased to add to the FRC Board Damon H. Goodman, Shasta-Klamath Regional Director, Cal Trout.
And also during 2021, the FRC was delighted to add to the FRC Board Barry Scougale, a long-time home-owner in Fall River Mills and dedicated advocate for the Fall River.
We hope you will find this report of great interest as we know of your love for this river. We have some ambitious goals for 2022 and beyond which will require your continued support.
You can go to the FRC website at FallRiverConservancy.org to donate.
We will keep you apprised of our activities in 2022.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you on the river in 2022!
Best wishes to you and your families.
Rod Peck, President
Fall River Conservancy
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