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How it was on the upper Sacramento.

Some portions of the river are being restored. You can get a firsthand look

EXPLORERS WHO ventured into the upper Sacramento Valley in the first half of the last century found a river much different in appearance from the farm-threading waterway of today. Spawning salmon and steelhead trout thronged the Sacramento River in every season, and its banks sustained mile upon mile of forest so dense and impenetrable that valley residents still refer to its remnants as "jungle."

Since then, dams and diversions have dramatically reduced the numbers of salmon and steelhead coming up the river to spawn from spring through fall, and pushed the winter-run salmon to the brink of extinction. Walnut and almond orchards have supplanted cottonwoods and valley oaks, and willows have given way to riprap, leaving only 14,000 acres of the 800,000-acre aboriginal riparian forest intact.

Lately, however, there have been some encouraging signs that the remaining natural stretches of California's largest river may be preserved, and some developed portions even restored to their aboriginal state. You can get a firsthand look at the areas at issue on guided or independent float trips, or as a volunteer helping to restore the riparian forest.

Fortunately, the disastrous tanker car spill that wiped out fish and plant life in the river above Shasta Lake last July hasn't affected the river below the lake, but it underscored the fragility of the river's ecosystems and the need to take measures to safeguard them.

PADDLE POTENTIAL WILD AND SCENIC SEGMENT

From Redding to Red Bluff, the Sacramento carves a leisurely route 50 miles through rolling hills and rimrock canyons. Signs of civilization are few and far between once you pass the Balls Ferry Bridge, 7 miles east of Anderson. Ducks, turtles, river otters, and fish hug the banks, shaded by a green screen of cottonwoods, willows, and sycamores. Ospreys keep a watchful eye for prey from their nests in standing dead trees. Herons and egrets fly unhurriedly over the river, flapping their long wings, while woodpeckers flit from tree to tree. Deer and wild turkeys appear in clearings in the riverbank foliage.

In a recently released draft management plan for the area, the Bureau of Land Management identified 25 miles of the river above Red Bluff that are eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Through fall, you can float this section of mostly flat water shaken up by a few lively riffles on guided trips offered by the nonprofit Sacramento River Preservation Trust. Inflatable rafts and canoes make up the flotilla on these one- and two-day trips; costs are $70 and $170. To reserve a spot or get more information, write or call Turtle River Rafting Co., Box 313, Mt. Shasta 96067; (800) 726-3223.

If you have your own canoe or raft and two cars for a shuttle, you can use a map available from the trust to plan floats of varying lengths. Jellys Ferry Road, accessible from I-5 about 4 miles north of Red Bluff, offers convenient access to a number of put-in and take-out spots along the potential Wild and Scenic segment. Or you can rent a canoe or raft from Park Marina Water Sports in Redding (246-8388) and arrange to be shuttled back.

Paddlers with any experience should have little problem on the river if they steer clear of brush and snags along the banks. Life jackets are required by state law. You can pull ashore to picnic or even camp along the 7 miles of BLM-owned riverfront (left bank only) between Inks and Paynes creeks.

BRINGING THE FOREST BACK TO THE RIVER

Below Red Bluff, the Sacramento winds lazily past alternating sections of orchards and remnant stands of riparian forest to Colusa (where it is channeled into submission for the rest of its journey to San Francisco Bay). This 100-mile stretch has recently become the focus of a major undertaken and restoration project undertaken by a unique partnership of public and private agencies.

In 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the first riverfront parcel here for a new Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge. Ultimately, the FWS hopes to acquire up to 18,000 acres for the refuge to protect threatened and endangered species that depend on riparian habitat for their survival. Just as the spotted owl has played a pivotal role in recent decisions concerning old-growth coniferous forests, the riparian forest has its winged champion too: the yellow-billed cuckoo, which nests only in the closed-canopy forests found along rivers.

Among the properties to be added are ones that have been cleared of their original vegetation for orchards and row crops but are prone to crop-damaging flooding. The FWS has enlisted The Nature Conservancy to managee and restore these lands, employing the expertise that the nonprofit organization has gained on its own riverfront properties on the Sacramento and other California rivers. In some cases, the Conservancy will continue to manage profitable orchards to help fund the riparian restoration, the most ambitious such project ever.

Volunteers are critical in all phases of the project. They will be busy this month planting shrubs such as elderberry and wild rose. Later, attention turns to such tasks as planting oak acorns, collecting and planting willow and cottonwood cuttings, and installing irrigation. Work sessions are held most weekends; for more information, call the Conservancy's habitat restoration team at (800) 733-1763.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sacramento River
Author:Mahoney, David
Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Words:896
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