Record Funding Demonstrates Widespread Support for Protecting Smith River Estuary

Aerial photo from a 2014 report by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board illustrating contamination of streams that feed the Smith River estuary after running through Easter lily fields. Four of these six sample sites turned up "acute (and) chronic reproductive toxicity."

Aerial photo from a 2014 report by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board showing contamination of streams that feed the Smith River estuary after running through Easter lily fields. Four of these six sample sites turned up “acute (and) chronic reproductive toxicity.”

Often a non-profit organization will put out a fundraising plea asking supporters to “match” a certain major contribution. It’s usually wishful thinking. After Siskiyou Land Conservancy received a $25,000 grant from the San Francisco-based Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, late last year, for our work to reduce pesticide use at the Smith River estuary, we wrote in our annual mailer, “With this mailing we are hoping you can help us to match the Goldman grant to ensure that our campaign to protect the Smith River estuary can thrive during the coming year.”

Imagine our shock and delight when our 2014 winter mailer brought in $25,150! Wow. We are honored and amazed.

We don’t normally talk about money. To us, funding is a tool that allows us to do our work. There is almost never enough of it, and we appreciate every dollar. But the unprecedented response from our supporters to protect the Smith River estuary from agricultural toxins deserves notice. We hear you, and we’re on it. 2015 will be the year of pesticide reduction. No, it’s not guaranteed, but there’s a far greater chance of it now than there was one month ago, thanks to you.

If you would like to be on our snail mail or email list please send your information to: Thanks!

“Acute (and) Chronic Reproductive Toxicity” Discovered at Smith River Estuary

State and federal regulators charged with protecting public trust values — such as clean air and water, healthy wildlife, and human health — are apparently uninterested in enforcing laws that should protect the estuary.


It appears that pesticides are poisoning one of the most biologically important estuaries on the West Coast of the United States. In Del Norte County, in the far northwestern reach of California, farmers who grow ninety percent of the U.S. production of Easter lily bulbs apply an annual average of 300,000 pounds of highly toxic pesticides on some 1,000 acres of lily fields that drain directly to the Smith River estuary. The apparent damage of such chemical use is now evident:

  • In 2014 the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board released a devastating report revealing that its scientists had uncovered “acute (and) chronic reproductive toxicity” in three of the four streams that feed the Smith River estuary. This means that invertebrates that make up the basis of the salmonid food chain cannot reproduce in these waters, and that the entire food chain is threatened. Several pesticides used on Easter lily fields can cause reproductive toxicity (see pesticide list below).
  • This testing occurred three years after the Water Board found that a stream feeding the Smith River estuary’s only remaining large slough was contaminated with pesticide residues, namely copper at levels that were 28 times higher than that allowed by state law. Lily growers apply more than 30,000 pounds of copper products annually.
  • Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., an expert on the effects of pesticides on aquatic organisms, said of the state’s Smith River testing, “The chronic toxicity result is very significant; I saw almost zero reproduction. That test uses Ceriodaphnia dubia, a freshwater invertebrate, the ‘water flea.’ It is very relevant to use as it is the base of the food-web. If Cerio can not reproduce in your watershed, you can technically extrapolate this to say that salmon habitat is likely impaired as their food source (small aquatic invertebrates) is impacted.”

“Impaired” is a technical term under the federal Clean Water Act, meaning that some aspect of the stream is significantly unhealthy. For the Smith River to possibly quality for such a listing is unheard of.

These tiny testing events, with their huge results, have forced public trust agencies, lily growers, and NGOs to address the issue of pesticide contamination at the estuary of California’s wildest river. The Smith River is considered a “seed bank” of wild salmonid stocks that, in terms of species recovery, can recolonize salmon and steelhead streams up and down the California-Oregon coast. The Smith is a last holdout in a state riddled with damaged watersheds. But will pesticides prove to be the Smith’s undoing?

Estuaries provide critical habitat for salmonids — particularly, in California, endangered Coho salmon — and other species. Protecting the Smith River, in the northwestern corner of California, serves all Californians, and Americans. Superlatives describing the Smith River are inexhaustible and in no way overstated. The watershed is unique among coastal rivers in the United States.

  • The Smith River is the wildest and cleanest river in the country outside of Alaska — indeed, it is one of the cleanest rivers in the world.
  • The Smith is the only major undammed river in California, and it anchors the coastal heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion, one of the oldest, largest and wildest temperate ecosystems in North America.
  • The Smith River contains more stream miles federally designated “Wild and Scenic” than any other river in the United States.
  • Smith River salmon and steelhead runs are legendary. Some of the largest Chinook salmon (greater than eighty pounds) have been found on the Smith, and the Smith holds the state record for the largest steelhead ever caught (27 pounds).

Nonetheless, a 2002 study commissioned by the Smith River Project revealed that in 2000 lily growers applied more pounds per acre of metam sodium and 1,3-Dichloropropene (highly toxic and carcinogenic nematicides, both of them deadly to fish) than occurred in any other county in California. In 2010 Siskiyou Land Conservancy discovered that use of both of these chemicals in Smith River had more than doubled. In addition, use of at least four pesticides along the Smith River estuary exceed the federal government’s established level of concern for endangered aquatic organisms. Seven of the most toxic pesticides are known carcinogens, and many are harmful or fatal to aquatic life. This is an extreme application of chemicals well known to be dangerous to wildlife — particularly fish — alongside what is arguably one of the most biologically critical estuarine habitats on the West Coast of the United States.

In 2012 the National Marine Fisheries Service released its long awaited Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Coho Salmon Recovery Plan, which lists pesticide use on lily bulb farms alongside the Smith River estuary as one of the greatest threats to salmon in the watershed. The Recovery Plan cites the work of Siskiyou Land Conservancy and its predecessor, the Smith River Project, owing to our original research on pesticide use along the Smith River and its potential impacts on salmonids. Coho salmon are at risk of extinction in California, and the Smith River is considered one of the few streams in the state that sustains viable Coho populations. Nonetheless, the Coho Recovery Plan notes that the Smith River Coho population is at a “high extinction risk.”[1] (The northernmost population of tidewater goby, listed as “Endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act, is also found in the Smith River estuary.)

Siskiyou Land Conservancy exists in part to protect farmers and farmlands. Yet we cannot abide by the poisoning of one of the most important estuarine habitats on the West Coast of the United States simply to produce an ornamental crop — a commodity that earns Del Norte County far less revenue than do the commercial and sport fishing industries. Yet even these industries are potentially threatened by pesticides. State and federal regulators have shown little interest in protecting the Smith River estuary from pesticides, despite the now obvious cause-and-effect correlation between massive chemical applications surrounding the estuary and the inability of estuary waters to sustain life. Siskiyou Land Conservancy will continue to pressure regulators to enforce the law, and we will encourage consumers to purchase only “salmon safe,” organically grown Easter lily bulbs.

If you would like to support our grassroots work to protect the Smith River estuary, please send a tax deductible donation to: Siskiyou Land Conservancy, POB 4209 Arcata CA 95518. Thank you.


Bad Actor Pesticides_Smith River_2012

Another round of restoration on South Fork Smith River

SLC recently completed Phase II of a restoration project that improves forest health and reduces the danger of catastrophic fire on the largest privately owned flat along the South Fork Smith River in Del Norte County, CA.

In January, crews from Ashland, Oregon-based Lomakatsi Restoration Forestry thinned 15 acres of conifers on the 148-acre property, an idyllic landscape dotted with meadows, white oak woodlands and mature redwoods, once a site for clear-cutting now protected by a conservation easement managed by SLC.


Crews spread the cut material over the forest floor to build the soil, as decomposition in the Big Flat area is accelerated by up to 200 inches of rain per year.

Funding for the restoration effort was provided in large part by a 50 percent grant from the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service. The landowners, the SLC general fund, and SLC contributors and volunteers provided the other half of the cost-share program.

Volunteer Restoration Work on the South Fork Smith River

Many thanks to the Humboldt State University Natural Resources Club for spending the weekend of Sep. 15-16 on the South Fork Smith River property managed by Siskiyou Land Conservancy. Club members (all 18 of them!) cleared nearly a mile of trail along old skid roads to allow restoration crews access to hillside thinning units, and they practiced peeling Douglas fir poles to construct shelters on the site (so that, this winter, restoration crews can get out of the rain on occasion). The Natural Resources Club provides an incredible service to our communities, and it is much appreciated. Thank you!

Greg King, Executive Director

California’s Wildest River Comes to San Francisco

We had a great turnout and a wonderful time during Siskiyou Land Conservancy’s Bay Area presentation about the Smith River. Thanks to Bess and Royce Gallery for offering such a beautiful space in the heart of our “sister city,” San Francisco, and to Joanne Rand for bringing the music of a wild river to a place where the river needs to be heard. Check back for updates on SLC’s Smith River projects, and on all of our work along the California North Coast.

Greg King, Executive Director

The Devastating New Zealand Mudsnail: Is the Smith River Next?

Editor’s note: One of Siskiyou Land Conservancy’s ongoing projects is to research and document the “State of the Smith River.” The Smith River remains the healthiest major river in California. As such, it provides pristine habitat for rare and endangered species throughout much of the watershed.The most significant exception is found at the Smith River estuary, which has been besieged by loss of flood plain and off-channel habitat, simplification due to levees and reduction of riparian cover, and the highest concentrations in California of certain highly toxic pesticides.

Now a new threat has emerged at the Smith River estuary: New Zealand mudsnails. This pernicious exotic species has spread rapidly throughout the American west, devastating the food chain of several streams. Last year Wendell Wood, a wildlands interpreter with Oregon Wild, discovered New Zealand mudsnails in the Smith River estuary.The mudsnails were already well established in nearby Lake Earl, but the Smith River estuary had apparently been spared until recently. The California Department of Fish and Game has yet to survey the Smith River to determine the extent of New Zealand mudsnail distribution, though DFG may do so this summer.

Following is a report by Doug Simpson, Siskiyou Land Conservancy’s intern for estuary research, on mudsnails in North Coast streams.  Simpson recently graduated from Humboldt State University with a major in Natural Resource Planning, emphasizing marine resources and climate.

Growing Concerns Over Invasive New Zealand Mudsnails in Humboldt and Del Norte County Waters

Siskiyou Land Conservancy research intern Doug Simpson seeks New Zealand mud snails in the Smith River estuary, March 2012. Photo by Greg King.

By Doug Simpson

The North Coast of California is blessed with an abundance of natural and scenic splendors. Among my favorite places in California are the lagoons and estuaries located along our coastline.  These brackish environments provide a range of ecological communities where fresh water meets the sea. They provide wonderful recreational opportunities for anglers and kayakers, and they support several important fisheries.

However, as more and more people use these waters – locals and tourists alike – impacts are increasing on pace. One troubling management issue is how to deal with invasive species, which can be directly correlated with higher use. In waterways, aquatic hitch-hikers are proving to be more than just a nuisance – both globally and locally. Many of us have already heard about the invasive Zebra Mussel, which has devastated the Great Lakes and many other areas in the United States. A comparable, but less known invasive is the New Zealand mudsnail. It has appeared only in the last decade in local lagoons and rivers and poses a real threat to fisheries and aquatic ecosystems.

When it comes to mudsnails, it’s not size that counts: it’s tiny. It ranges in size from less than one millimeter to nearly a centimeter, but virtually all Mudsnails found locally will be 2mm or smaller – that’s about the width of a quarter. What is alarming is their ability to propagate in astoundingly high numbers. According to a USGS fact sheet they’ve been reported in densities higher than 300,000 per square meter. In other words the ground can literally be crawling with mudsnails.

New Zealand mud snails have spread rapidly in North America. They were first discovered in the Snake River, in Idaho, in 1987. For about a decade their numbers remained relatively low, as seen in this graphic that shows mud snail distribution in 1995.

The New Zealand mudsnail is most likely to travel across watersheds by hitch-hiking on fishing and boating equipment. It can also travel across and within a watershed via the guts of fishes and birds. Fish and waterfowl will feed on benthic invertebrates such as the New Zealand mudsnail. However, many species can’t digest the mudsnails. Instead they travel through the digestive tract intact and are passed in the feces, still alive, sometimes several miles away from where they were originally consumed.

The mudsnail’s indigestibility poses significant problems. One is that they travel much faster and farther than they would otherwise be capable of. The other is that the trout, salmon, duck, or other species that eat the mudsnails often glean very little nutritional value from

them. If mudsnails begin to overwhelm and push out other native macro-benthic invertebrates, as they have been recorded to do, this could pose a serious threat for the many species of waterfowl and fish that feed on small bottom dwelling snails.

New Zealand mud snail distribution, 2001.

The chemical and physical conditions that Northern California has to offer seem to be ideal for the mudsnails. They originated from New Zealand, whose climate is similar to our own. Keith Bensen, resource manager for Redwood National Park, is seriously alarmed at the presence of the mudsnail. Currently, Bensen is

New Zealand mud snail distribution, 2009.

monitoring the speed and densities of the mudsnail’s spread in known present locations, as well as areas that they expect the mudsnail may spread to. Big Lagoon and Stone Lagoon may harbor the largest population of mudsnails in our area. Evidence of their hitch-hiking style can be seen in their proximity to boat ramps and popular fishing areas. I recently circumnavigated Stone Lagoon in a kayak, and I found the mudsnails everywhere I looked. They are also in Redwood Creek, Lake Earl, the Smith River and undoubtedly waiting to be discovered in many other local waterways.

Studies by Dybdahl and Kane in 2005 have shown that mudsnails can tolerate a wide range of conditions. They thrive in disturbed watersheds with high nutrient flows. They can tolerate high water levels by finding shelter under rocks and in eddies. They can grow and reproduce in salinities as high as 15 parts per thousand, but can tolerate salinity as high as 30 parts per thousand for short periods. (The ocean is 33 parts per thousand.) That means they can live in the bilges of ocean-going boats long enough to get dumped into a storm drain and potentially invade a whole new watershed. They also reproduce sexually and asexually, so all you need is one to soon have an entire population.

The U.S. west coast population of New Zealand mudsnails seems to have originated from Idaho – presumably from an angler having traveled from New Zealand, or perhaps from the dumped remains of someone’s aquarium. The entire North American population of mudsnails is clonal, consisting of genetically identical females. One female snail can produce 230 young per year, and it reaches sexual maturity at around 3.5mm, which is usually about 8 months of age. If one hitch-hiking mudsnail lands in a new spot conducive to growth and has 230 young, and each of those young reproduce, within one year that same spot could have a population of more than 50,000.

New Zealand mudsnails reproduce to such high densities that they push out other macro-invertebrates and begin to dominate the food chain level called “secondary production.” A study led by Robert Hall junior found that mudsnails have the highest secondary production rate of all benthic invertebrates. In this way they threaten to become a dominant part of fish and bird diets, which, combined with accompanying low nutrient values, could devastate native populations and completely alter the processes of an ecosystem. Trout have been known to starve on a mudsnail diet.

Preventing the spread of New Zealand mudsnails is essential. This is done primarily through protocols established for use of waterways. After use in the water, all fishing and sporting equipment should be decontaminated. If possible, the same set of gear should be dedicated to a single location. After use, gear should be cleaned with a scrub brush and water, preferably high-pressure. Inspect gear – it should be free of any visible traces of sand, mud, gravel, or plant fragments. In addition to rinsing and scrubbing, there are two follow-up treatments to decontaminate gear. One involves a chemical treatment of what is known as quaternary ammonium compounds. Formula 409® cleaner degreaser disinfectant in a 50% dilution has been proven to kill Mudsnails. Gear should be soaked in the solution for 5 minutes and then rinsed thoroughly with tap water. (This method should only be used where the chemical solution will not run-off into a water body). The second treatment is to expose mudsnails to intolerant physical conditions, including:

1)    Freezing gear for a minimum of 4 hours.

2)    Soaking gear in hot bath water (minimum 120°F) for 10 minutes.

3)    Drying gear before reusing. Gear must be dry for at least 48 hours with low humidity. Places like pockets and boots stay damp longer and may need longer to dry.

The New Zealand mudsnail is an incredibly tolerant and proliferative invasive species. It hasn’t been seen on the North Coast for long, and solutions to its spread, and safe means of eradication will not be easy to develop. But our fragile and often pristine North Coast ecosystems demand that we take up the challenge.

SLC’s Coho Recovery Plan comments

Below is a link to Siskiyou Land Conservancy’s comments on the National Marine Fisheries Service draft of the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast  (“SONCC”) Coho Salmon Recovery Plan. Although the SONCC Coho were listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1997, NMFS is only just now completing a draft of a Recovery Plan for the species, as mandated by the Endangered Species Act.


Siskiyou Land Conservancy’s comments focus solely on the Smith River. Although the Smith is California’s most pristine major river, even here Coho are listed in the Recovery Plan as a “high extinction risk.” This is due in part to an overall decline of the entire SONCC population of Coho, but also in large part to destruction of Coho habitat at the Smith River estuary, and at Rowdy Creek, one of the two most important Coho spawning streams on the Smith. (The other major Coho tributary on the Smith River is Mill Creek, which also experienced widespread logging and therefore alteration of spawning habitat. But the lowermost reach of Mill Creek is protected by Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and much of the upper reach is undergoing intensive restoration work led by the Smith River Alliance in partnership with State Parks, the state Department of Fish and Game (DFG), the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) and Save-the-Redwoods League.)

In large part, our comments focus on the Smith River estuary, where, as noted in the Recovery Plan, habitat destruction and simplification, and excessive pesticide use on surrounding Easter lily farms, pose the greatest threat to survival of Coho salmon in the Smith River.

SLC’s comments also emphasize the need to address continued clear-cut logging and herbicide applications by Green Diamond Resource Co. on Rowdy Creek, which runs through the Smith River estuary. The SONCC Coho Recovery Plan contained only one paragraph on Green Diamond’s ownership in the Smith River basin, a “punt” to the wholly inadequate Aquatic Habitat Conservation Plan devised by the company.

Please feel free to comment on this paper. We appreciate your input.

Greg King, Executive Director


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