Boulders And Tree Trunks Could Help Save Winter-Run Chinook Salmon

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Massive cranes are lifting 6,000-pound boulders, bolted to giant tree trunks and placing them into the Sacramento River.

It is an unusual sight, and if all goes as planned, it could have the power to save Winter-run Chinook salmon from extinction.

The project looks like a floating construction site. A giant crane on top of a barge, pushed by a powerful tugboat, all working together to drop three-ton limestone boulders strapped with tree trunks to the riverbed below.

Crews are meticulously plotting the location of the tree-strapped boulders that will serve as new habitats for winter-run Chinook salmon babies.

“This area is really the prime spawning and rearing areas for these threatened and endangered fish,” scientist David Vogel, who designed the project, said. “This is the bull’s-eye for the best real estate.”

Twenty-five of the massive boulders will become the safe-haven of baby salmon under the Bonneyview Road Bridge in Redding.

Roger Cornwell is the general manager of River Garden Farms, which is helping fund the first-of-its-kind program. He showed how the habitats will work.

“All these little places (inside the tree trunk) are places that small fish can dart in and out of,” Cornwell said. “You know, all this complex mesh of roots here, is what they need to get away from their predators.”

The Sacramento River is one of the only rivers in the world that’s home to four salmon runs. But the winter-run Chinook salmon are now nearly extinct. Few survive the hundreds of miles from the Sacramento River to the Pacific Ocean and back.

“There have been some success stories but right now its not looking too good for the salmon,” Vogel said.

The winter-run Chinook’s numbers are a fraction of what they once were.

From more than 100,000 in 1969, to 17,000 in 2005, and just 1,500 now.

“I kind of think of it as death by a thousand cuts right,” Cornwell said.

Dams, hatchery practices, and the drought are all part of the problem for a species struggling to survive in the Sacramento River.

Now will this powerful display of manpower and machinery power a Chinook salmon revival?

More from Steve Large
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