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July 29-August 5, 2009

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Letters to the Editor

Clear on Coho

A RECENT ARTICLE ("Big Fish," Currents, June 17) and several letters have appeared in this paper regarding coho salmon, local and statewide forestry practices and pending policy changes, along with a quote from myself. These articles have raised several issues that would benefit from clarification.

I should state this was not an interview I solicited. When contacted by the Santa Cruz Weekly reporter, I stated repeatedly that I was not an expert of forestry practices or policies. I did agree to discuss local ecological challenges to coho salmon, including fluctuating ocean conditions, predation and habitat issues. Regarding habitat issues, the reporter asked about local forestry practices and their potential impacts on stream temperatures. I replied that our research was not directly targeted at addressing the impacts of local forestry practices, and stated that stream temperatures were a complex issue with fish that involved more than simply being too high or too low, and related to other issues such as productivity in the stream and growth potential of fish under these conditions.

There are several reasons our research has not directly addressed forestry practices, none of which relate to our access agreements with Big Creek Lumber or any other landowner in the Scott Creek watershed. As quoted and implied in the article, we established our research site in Scott Creek in 2002, in part based on data available at the time that it had the largest population of coho salmon remaining in the area.

In recent years, changes in coho population trends in Scott Creek and all other rivers in California have involved dramatic declines in adults returning from the ocean across the entire state, and this has brought concerns about ocean conditions to the top of our priority list. In addition, no one would argue that the local selective harvest practices have less impact than other more severe practices, such as clear-cutting, as in other watersheds farther to the north. There are plenty of data on variables such as stream flow, turbidity, and temperature to indicate that other more human-impacted watersheds in the Santa Cruz Mountains have more degraded habitat than Scott Creek. This is not meant to imply that Scott Creek does not have habitat challenges or state one way or another that I feel Big Creek's "self-regulation works," as printed in the original article. Rather, I believe that factors other than forestry practices are of greater concerns for setting local research priorities for coho salmon.

The original article also quoted some numbers I provided for local salmon and steelhead populations that were questioned in subsequent letters to the editor. These numbers, although vague and lacking in detail, are more or less accurate. Since the devil is often in the details, it seems necessary to provide additional information here. The letters to the editor indicate much lower numbers, with specific reference to the past two years. In general we have only caught a few coho in our fish trap during the past few years, due in part to low numbers of returning spawners but also to variable efficiencies in trapping success associated with storm events. In other words, we never catch them all. To compensate for this, our team conducts hundreds of hours of spawner surveys each winter on foot and through snorkel/dive surveys of the river. In addition, we make use of microchip technology, tagging juvenile coho smolts as they leave the watershed. As we have an approximate idea of what percentage of juvenile fish were tagged, we can use this as an additional tool to estimate the relative number of untagged fish that returned to the river. With that said, through a variety of sampling methods, our team detected 12 unique coho salmon returning to Scott Creek this year. As several fish were detected by our in-stream tag readers, and we know the ratio of tagged to untagged fish, we determined an upper estimate of possibly 40 fish returning to the river this year.

Finally, as a private resident of Santa Cruz county for 15 years, and a current home owner, it is my hope that a way can be found to maintain a locally owned and operated, environmentally responsible timber harvest practice here, rather than increasing the demand for timber harvest in someone else's back yard, creating additional problems for their salmon, and increasing the overall costs and carbon footprint challenges associated with trucking lumber from far away.

Sean A. Hayes, Ph.D.
Research Fisheries Biologist for NOAA
Southwest Fisheries Science Center

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I JUST SAW what could be the dumbest thing I've ever seen in my 30 some years of living in Santa Cruz--a large motorized sidewalk cleaner (kind of like a Zamboni machine without the ice) going up and down the sidewalks of Pacific Avenue in the middle of lunch hour! The sidewalks were full of people desperately trying to get out of the way of this thing. There's no room between the iron rails fencing in the diners (trying to enjoy a peaceful meal at one of the restaurants downtown) and the trees, bike racks, parking meters, etc., on the other side of this ankle-banging monstrosity. Is the city really that anxious for a lawsuit? I stopped the guy driving it and asked, "Did the city really authorize doing this in the middle of the lunch hour?" He embarrassedly informed me that he was supposed to do it all day and let me know who to contact if I had concerns: Mark R. Dettle, director of Public Works. I think we should all let Mr. Dettle and the city manager, Richard C. Wilson, know what we think of this reckless and incredibly stupid decision.

Doug Springs,
Santa Cruz

Doggone Shame

I CAN'T BELIEVE you had a pet issue (July 22) and did not include anything about this group: Woofers & Walkers! They are changing Santa Cruz into a dog-friendly town one paw at a time. The group walks every Sunday morning and then goes to "Yappy Hour." Thanks to Woofers & Walkers, over 15 restaurants now allow dogs on their patios that were previously "no-dog territory." Check the site for info.

Whitney Wilde,

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