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$700K grant to remove Stuart Creek fish barriers

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Sonoma Land Trust has been awarded a $691,644 grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fisheries Restoration Grant Program (FRGP).

The purpose of this funding, together with a planning grant from the California State Coastal Conservancy in 2013, is to enable the removal of three barriers to the passage of steelhead on Stuart Creek as it flows through Glen Ellen to allow the fish access to critical spawning and nursery grounds.

In 2011, Sonoma Land Trust purchased three-and-a-half acres near the intersection of Highway 12 and Arnold Drive that includes a one-third-mile stretch of Stuart Creek. Stuart Creek is a major tributary of Sonoma Creek, which once supported the second largest steelhead trout run among Bay Area streams. However, most of the fish habitat in the Stuart Creek watershed has been largely inaccessible to threatened steelhead trout for decades because of the barriers.

Removing them and reestablishing the creek’s historic fish run has been identified by the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration as one of the highest priorities for recovering steelhead in the Bay Area – and is the goal toward which Sonoma Land Trust has been working since acquiring the property it subsequently named “Stuart Creek Run.”

“Removing these barriers to passage will allow adult steelhead to access spawning beds and safe refuges for their young in more than two miles of high-quality, protected habitat,” said Tony Nelson, the Sonoma Land Trust stewardship manager in charge of this project. “This will provide a lasting contribution to the recovery of the species.”

Stuart Creek originates in the Mayacamas Mountains near the Napa County line and joins Sonoma Creek in the Sonoma Valley near Glen Ellen.

Since 2012, approximately 50 percent of the Stuart Creek watershed and 95 percent of the steelhead habitat is under permanent conservation protection and ownership by either Sonoma Land Trust or Audubon Canyon Ranch.

Construction to clear the barriers is expected to begin this summer, with completion by November of this year.

The full cost of the restoration project will top $800,000, with the remaining contributions coming from the State Coastal Conservancy and contractor Hanford ARC, which is providing a significant in-kind donation.

“This project is an integral piece of Sonoma Land Trust’s overall Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor Program,” said Ralph Benson, Sonoma Land Trust executive director. “A vital wildlife passageway between the Mayacamas and Sonoma Mountain narrows down to a small pinchpoint in the Sonoma Valley, and we are committed to keeping both the land and creek corridors open.”