Water & Drought

Bathrobe biologists can study Sacramento Valley salmon from home

Steve Hubbardlooks out over Auburn Ravine Creek in 2014. A nonprofit is seeking volunteers to count Auburn Ravine salmon and steelhead on their home computers.
Steve Hubbardlooks out over Auburn Ravine Creek in 2014. A nonprofit is seeking volunteers to count Auburn Ravine salmon and steelhead on their home computers. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento-area fish lovers and wannabe scientists: Here’s your chance to do some salmon biology – all without changing out of your bathrobe.

Several nonprofit groups recently teamed with California wildlife officials to arrange for a real-time salmon count on a Lincoln-area spawning stream with the help of three underwater cameras and one overhead camera placed at Auburn Ravine Creek near Lincoln. Volunteers can count and record salmon and steelhead this fall and winter by reviewing the footage on a home computer.

Backers say the project could prove vital to understanding more about how the fish use the stream to spawn. The data could be useful in shaping plans to improve habitat and remove barriers for fish whose numbers have plummeted in California’s five-year drought.

The project is headed by the Friends of Auburn Ravine, a nonprofit whose members advocate for restoring Auburn Ravine, which flows from the Sierra Nevada foothills near Auburn through Lincoln and into the Sacramento River.

James Haufler, president of Friends of Auburn Ravine, said that after getting buy-in from state wildlife officials, his group approached Sacramento-based California Fly Fishers Unlimited for a $5,000 grant to buy camera equipment. State officials will install the technology – which incorporates lights for night viewing – at the Lincoln Gauging Station, which has a fish-passage structure.

Haufler said he and another member of his group will train at least 20 volunteers, who will be asked to monitor the stream from October through February.

“It will be a bit of a chore for the volunteers. They’ll be looking at four cameras on screen, just staring,” Haufler said. “It could be a long time that they won’t see any fish. But with anything scientific, nothing is something. In other words, knowing that there were no fish there at that time is just as important as knowing if there are six fish there at that other time.”

People interested in volunteering can call 916-672-9672 or visit auburnravine.org for more information.

Biologists say Auburn Ravine could play an important role in sustaining Sacramento Valley’s native fish. Cold-water streams buffer migratory fish from the warming effects of climate change, and fish that spawn naturally are more hardy than hatchery salmon.

Hemphill Dam, 22 miles upstream from the Sacramento River and two miles upstream from the camera array, now blocks most fish. Rem Scherzinger, general manager of the Nevada Irrigation District, which operates the diversion dam, said his agency plans to remove the barrier in coming years.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow

  Comments