Recommendations

What watershed and habitat improvement activities would most likely lead toward more desirable conditions in a timely, cost effective manner?

Consider careful planning of land uses that could exacerbate mass wasting, since the relative potential of landsliding is high to very high in 56 percent of the subbasin;

Continue efforts such as road erosion proofing and decommissioning throughout the subbasin to reduce sediment delivery to the North Fork and its tributaries;

Encourage cooperative efforts to reduce sediment yield to streams at stream bank erosion sites;

Evaluate the possibility of spreading timber harvesting operations over time and space to avoid concentrated road use by heavy equipment and resultant mobilization of road surface fines into watercourses;

Encourage the use of cable or helicopter yarding on steep and unstable slopes to reduce soil compaction, surface disturbance, surface flow interference, and the resultant sediment yield;

Maintain and enhance existing riparian cover. Where current canopy density and diversity are inadequate and site conditions are appropriate, initiate tree planting, thinning, and other vegetation management to hasten the development of a denser, more extensive and diverse riparian canopy. Dry Creek, Robinson Creek, the central and higher reaches of the mainstem, and the lower reaches of Bear and Stewart creeks are high priority areas for riparian improvements;

Encourage the addition of large organic debris and shelter structures in order to meter sediment inputs, improve channel structure, channel function, habitat complexity, and habitat diversity for salmonids. The natural large woody debris recruitment process should be enhanced by developing large riparian conifers with tree protection, planting, thinning from below, and other vegetation management techniques;

Evaluate the fish rescue activities and fish holding facilities on Doty Creek to determine if it is causing a migration barrier and/or habitat degradation due to water diversion;

Encourage more habitat inventory surveys and biological surveys of tributaries, as only 81 percent of the subbasin has been completed;

Encourage continuation and expansion of the in-channel monitoring.

Conclusions

Based upon this assessment, the North Fork Subbasin appears to have the least impacted habitat for salmonids in the Gualala Basin. Historical accounts indicate that this subbasin supported populations of coho salmon and steelhead trout. Current surveys indicate that it continues to have the highest fish productivity in the Gualala Basin, and is the only subbasin where coho salmon were observed during the assessment. However, the salmonid populations are currently being limited by depleted canopy cover and elevated water temperatures along the upper reaches of the North Fork mainstem and its tributaries. Reduced habitat complexity is also present in some reaches. These stream impacts are at least somewhat related to elevated levels of sediment yield. In general, roads, especially near-stream, unpaved roads, are major sources of erosion.

The North Fork Subbasin has 125 miles of identified roads. Recently, through the on-going cooperative watershed improvement efforts by CDFG and Gualala Redwoods Inc., 65 miles of road improvements have occurred resulting in reduced sediment delivery to subbasin streams. In particular, the Doty Creek Planning Watershed was identified to contain the highest density of roads proximate to streams in the subbasin. Eighty-three percent of the Doty Creek roads have been improved to date.

These cooperative improvement efforts should be continued. Additionally, residents and landowners located in the headwaters areas of the subbasin have an opportunity to help maintain and improve stream habitat by becoming better educated in methods of planting riparian vegetation and near-stream forest areas to reduce water temperatures. They can also help reduce road related sedimentation to improve water quality and habitat complexity. They are also encouraged to enlist the aid and support of the Gualala Basin improvement groups and agency technology, experience, and funding to accomplish these goals.