Away from the hum of Interstate 5, with Mt. Shasta rising majestically in the distance, Fall Chinook salmon are busy swimming up the Shasta River to spawn after spending several years in the ocean.



On Saturday, hundreds of people were excited to see the large, hearty fish at the Nature Conservancy’s Shasta Big Springs Ranch open house event.

Away from the hum of Interstate 5, with Mt. Shasta rising majestically in the distance, Fall Chinook salmon are busy swimming up the Shasta River to spawn after spending several years in the ocean.

On Saturday, hundreds of people were excited to see the large, hearty fish at the Nature Conservancy’s Shasta Big Springs Ranch open house event.

They lined the bridge, peering down into the water to see salmon swim through undulating plants. They also sat on the river’s edge a few miles upstream, where dozens of fish splashed in the shaded water to make their nests and spawn.

Knowledgeable staff from the Nature Conservancy and the Department of Fish and Game were on hand to answer questions and explain efforts underway to keep the Shasta River a perfect spawning ground for salmon.

There are an estimated 8,000 salmon in the Shasta River to date, with likely more moving in, said Amy Hoss, Nature Conservancy’s manager for the project.

“This looks to be one of the best runs of Chinook in the Shasta in 10 years,” Hoss said.

The Nature Conservancy purchased the 4,534 acre Shasta Big Springs Ranch in March 2009. The ranch contains three miles of the upper Shasta River and 2.2 miles of the Big Springs Creek. Both waterways are important Klamath River tributaries and originate from Mt. Shasta’s glaciers, according to the Conservancy.

“What was just a mere 30 to 60 feet of suitable salmon habitat in 2008 has grown to more than 10 miles today,” said Hoss.

This is being accomplished through the planting of 6,000 trees along the river, which will eventually provide shade to help keep the stream cool. In addition, fencing has been added to keep cows away from the water, Hoss said. This has already helped encourage vegetation in the stream to grow.

Other efforts include changes in irrigation practices in order to keep tailwater from running back into the river.

On Saturday, hundreds of salmon could be seen swimming upstream; females built and guarded their nests and males competed with one another for spawning opportunities. Though they must have been exhausted from their long, arduous journey, onlookers couldn’t tell by their enthusiastic tail flipping.

So people could get an up-close look at the fish, biologists with the Nature Conservancy set up an underwater camera near some of the adults.

“This was a great opportunity for local folks and people visiting fro out of the area to come and see the salmon spawning,” said Hoss about the open house. “For decades significant time and money has gone into restoration projects to improve salmon habitat in the Shasta. The hope is that the Fall Chinook population is on an upward trend."

Hoss said the Nature Conservancy plans to have the open house again next year because of this year’s great turnout – 350 to 400 people visited on Saturday. If the salmon run is strong again  next year, they hope to make it a two day event.

The Nature Conservancy us a non-profit organization that works around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters. Since 1951, the Nature Conservancy has protected more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide.

Other partners who have helped with the restoration of the Shasta Big Springs Ranch project include California Department of Fish and Game, NOAA Restoration Center, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District, California Trout, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

For more about the Nature Conservancy and their Shasta Big Springs Ranch project, go to www.nature.org.