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Restoration efforts spawn beaver vs. salmon questions

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Spawning chinook salmon will be swimming their way up Auburn Ravine Creek to Downtown Auburn by the fall of 2012. That is if the funding comes through to make their journey easier and beaver dams don’t get in the way of the fish. Despite the challenges, a coalition of organizations is aiming to bring the salmon run back. Jack Sanchez, a leader with the non-profit Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead, said that work to remove man-made impediments to future spawning runs has gone well for the group. That has included working with landowners and the Nevada Irrigation District to ensure 13 smaller diversion dams and three larger ones will not impede salmon movement. And funding should also be available. The ravine restoration group is seeking $400,000 to study what it will take – and how much it will cost – to move the salmon the final step from Wise Road to the Auburn Park Preserve in Downtown Auburn. Sanchez would only say that it’s expected to be expensive. But beaver-dam building is still an issue that needs to be worked out. Sanchez said he believes the salmon will be able to wait until dam openings occur and then move through. State Department of Fish & Game statistics show that beavers have become a source of concern in Placer County. From 2004 to 2008, 72 beavers were killed in the county under state-approved depredation permits. Sanchez said he believes more study has to be done to determine what kind of threat the beavers’ dam-building activity is to salmon runs. And there are differing thoughts on what to do about it, he added. Sanchez pointed to a new plan that describes the beaver-salmon question as a “hotly debated but unresolved” issue. For Sanchez, the salmon come first because they are native to the area while beavers are not. Beavers now lodged in the Lincoln area were introduced from Idaho in 1945 for flood control, he said. “Now I don’t think they’re helpful,” he said. “I’m not interested in exterminating or killing beavers but if you want to create a hierarchy, the salmon come first.” Kyle Orr, Fish & Game spokesman, said a permit allows property owners to kill a beaver themselves or bring in a county trapper or private pest control business. Along the Auburn Ravine in Lincoln, the Lincoln Open Space Committee has wrapped oak trees in wiring to prevent beavers in that area from eating into the bark and killing them. Lincoln City Councilman Tom Cosgrove told the Lincoln News Messenger earlier this month that the beaver population is flourishing in that area. Orr said building fences around trees is one option to protect them but the question of beaver dam building is more complex. The department’s position is that dams can stop salmon migration. “With beaver dams, though, if you break one up, they’re going to build another one nearby,” Orr said. The salmon are moving farther upstream toward Auburn, with the help of Nevada Irrigation District retrofits on two diversion dams that allow fish passage. The work will be finished this summer. The major remaining obstacle is the Gold Hill diversion dam, leaving a single mile to go before the fish reach Auburn. After that, 18 culverts need to be retrofitted to get the salmon through. “I think it will be expensive but I think there will be a groundswell of support,” Sanchez said. One salmon sighting occurred about a month ago at the Fowler Road bridge in Newcastle. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com