Aiming for a salmon comeback in Mill Valley

For hundreds if not thousands of years, the yearly salmon migration was a sight to see in what is now Mill Valley. A rich, thriving population of salmon would fill its streams and creeks, racing to spawn in their annual breeding grounds.

In recent years, that has changed. Big time. The coho salmon are completely gone, and steelhead are only at 5 percent of what they once were.

One resident is hoping to change this.

Laura Chariton said that the city’s watershed has ample habitat available for the fish. Channelized creeks, loss of summer water flow and lack of tree canopy, which leads to higher temperatures, are hindering their chances:

“If we can take down dams we can restore salmon habitat in Mill Valley.”

Chariton and other watershed caretakers such as Mill Valley Streamkeepers plan to use education and enact policy change to bring back the salmon.

The education and involvement of the community also includes children, who Chariton wants to get excited about helping the environment:

“They get involved in restoration and it’s kinetic learning. It makes them aware and it makes them care, which is what we want. We want kids to care about the environment instead of sitting in front of the computer.”

Chariton’s policy ideas include a halt to future development.

Different Mill Valley watershed municipalities have conflicting laws and regulations, creating problems, she said:

“The policies are all out of whack. We have one policy for the county and one policy for the city. The tree ordinance changes at the boundaries. My neighbor’s tree ordinance is completely different from my ordinance.”

There is opposition to her efforts. Increasing stream flow can cause trees that shade the waterways to fall into the streams and cause flooding.

Both coho salmon and steelhead are threatened species in California. Chariton said they are also integral to the environment, providing food and ecological stability:

“Human beings cannot really exist without animals, and the ecosystem services they provide to humans are significant. The carcasses of salmon have fertilized these valleys and made the soil rich, and made it so the trees could grow.”