Big Springs Creek is a tributary of the Shasta River, which historically was one of the most productive salmon streams in California.
But over time, cattle grazed on the aquatic plants that provide salmon shady cool water and plenty of insects to eat. Salmon populations plummeted.
In 2009, the Nature Conservancy leased the pasture so ranching could continue, but put up a fence along the creek. The result: a seven degree drop in water temperature.
“There is no other project I can think of that can demonstrate this kind of success in such a short time period,” says Ann Willis, lead researcher with UC Davis’s Center for Watershed Sciences.
“That’s the kind of thing that people spend millions of dollars removing dams and re-operating dams to try to achieve,"says Willis. "That kind of change in Big Springs was achieved simply by putting up this fence and targeting this temperature impairment problem.”
Average returns of fall-run Chinook salmon in the last four years have now quadrupled, even in the drought.