SYRCL’s “Yuba Salmon Now” campaign

SINCE IT BEGAN 32 YEARS AGO, THE SOUTH YUBA RIVER Citizens League has become the nation’s largest single-river grassroots watershed organization with 3,500 members and 1,000 active volunteers.

The long-term focus of SYRCL’s advocacy work has to do with restoring wild salmon, now in jeopardy of extinction, to the upper Yuba. “We recognize that salmon are indicators of river health—if salmon thrive, the Yuba River thrives too,” said SYRCL’s Executive Director Caleb Dardick, who grew up in the Yuba watershed and is reenergizing the organization.

SYRCL’s Yuba Salmon Now campaign is based on three science-based strategies: advocacy, restoration and education. Thanks in part to its advocacy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun a $3 million study on the feasibility of getting fish upstream over the Englebright Dam—now a complete barrier.

SYRCL also has begun to restore the lower Yuba River for salmon habitat. It has planted over 6,000 trees below Englebright, restoring barren riverbanks that were once devastated by hydraulic mining.

Education also is at the heart of the Yuba Salmon Now campaign. SYRCL takes hundreds of community members and school groups on salmon tours in rafts and on riverbank walks.

SYRCL’s advocacy also has been instrumental in the effort to keep the South Yuba River State Park from closing in 2012. Last year, SYRCL and others helped convince the state to allocate $1.3 million to repair and re-open the Bridgeport Covered Bridge.

In April, SYRCL’s river advocacy led to the official cancellation of a hydropower facility on the Yuba at Daguerre Point Dam. SYRCL also is teaming up with the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association—a group that poet Gary Snyder helped organize in the ‘70s—to prevent the reopening of the San Juan Ridge Mine. Residents are worried that mining will damage the community’s water aquifers, as it has in the past.

Now in its 18th year, SYRCL’s annual Yuba River Cleanup is a grassroots effort to keep the river trash free. Together volunteers have removed about 194,000 pounds of trash and recyclables since it began.

The fall cleanup attracts more than 760 volunteers, who fan out on 30 sites along 85 miles of river, creek and lake shoreline within the Yuba River and Bear River watersheds. More than 40 agencies, schools and organizations join in the cleanup.

SYRCL also sponsors a river ambassador program, which brings volunteers to popular river crossings of the Yuba to speak face-to-face with visitors about stewardship.

The group’s challenges are expected to continue. “Today we have record droughts,” sums up Dardick. “In this new, dryer world, our activism and leadership on water issues will become more important than ever.”

(Salmon on the Yuba by Jacob Katz; Fishing on the Yuba, circa 1920s by Searls Historical Library)

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