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Steelhead Festival Hooked on Raising Awareness

Steve Simms and Pete Congdon head up the Steelhead Festival, benefiting efforts to restore and protect the Pescadero Marsh Watershed and its endangered species.

grew up on the Pescadero Creek, hooking his first wild Steelhead trout at 8 years old and fishing the streams of the southern portion of San Mateo County for many years thereafter.

But Simms is not fishing Pescadero Creek these days. Ever since the 1990s, he's noticed a steady decline in fish numbers and a gradual degradation of habitat in both the Pescadero and Butano marshes and creeks.

“I feel I need to set an example now by not fishing these creeks,” Simms said. “I hope to fish it again some day, if it ever comes back.”

For now, Simms is heading up the Coastal Alliance for Species Enhancement (CASE), a local non-profit dedicated to protecting native wildlife in the coastal watersheds, with Pescadero resident and recreational angler, , who’s also experienced firsthand the rapid deterioration of the southern San Mateo County streams and species in the past two decades.

The pair is putting on the 2011 Steelhead Festival tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Pescadero I.D.E.S. Hall to benefit efforts to restore, protect and enhance the stream systems in the southern portion of San Mateo County. The free event, offering activities for kids, a vendor fair, exhibits, and live music, will be followed by a $35 buffet dinner and live auction with no-host beverages.

“The Steelhead Festival is designed to raise awareness and funding to continue with our mission to help protect these valuable resources,” said Congdon. “These streams and their habitat were once teeming with fish and other species of marine life. Now, they are depleted resources with an annual fish kill.”

The reason why? One cause is what Congdon says is the botched State Parks restoration job on the Pescadero Marsh system.

“Coho Salmon, Tidewater Goby, Red Legged Frog, San Francisco Garter Snake, Steelhead Trout are all on the endangered or threatened species list and have been adversely affected by the so-called restoration work that State Parks did in the Pescadero Marsh system during the 1990s,” said Congdon.

Prior to the State Parks restoration project, “we had healthy numbers of adult fish spawning and large numbers of rearing juveniles in the lagoon, as verified by seining in1986 that resulted in 20 to 25,000 fish. Last estimated seining in 2008 resulted in 750 fish,” said Simms.

Another goal of the Steelhead Festival is to find a resolution to the chronic flooding issues that Pescadero experiences annually due to the restoration project. Mismanagement on the part of the State Parks with the marsh is causing flooding of Pescadero Road, explains Congdon.

The restoration project has also threatened sculpin, tidewater goby, smelt, Dungeness crab, flounder, and brine shrimp by an anoxic water mix at each year’s sand bar opening, explains Simms.

“The north pond gate system, mismanagement of, and failure to repair, has led to massive loss of habitat for the red legged frog, the San Francisco garter snake, and the goby,” said Simms. “As a result of the decline of these species as a whole, raptor and waterfowl populations have declined as well.”

The marsh flooding issue coupled with the endangered species in the area “goes hand and hand,” said Congdon, who says that the annual flooding of Pescadero Road is a direct result of the changes that State Parks made by lowering the height of the levy on the Butano Creek, which resulted in siltation buildup and caused the loss of the Butano Creek Channel and the complete blockage of the migratory path for Steelhead Trout in the Butano system.

“This will be the demise of the Butano Creek Steelhead species,” said Congdon. “This blockage and rise in sediment is the reason the Pescadero Creek Road floods at the Butano Creek Bridge during heavy rains.”

Next to what Congdon says is State Park’s mismanagement of the streams and marshes, Congdon cites other contributing factors that threaten the health of the streams and marshes and the species that inhabit them such as “increased water usage by the various camps and Parks along Pescadero Creek as well as some farmer’s over pumping of the resource,” he said.

Still, when it comes to the type of action that needs to take place to restore and protect San Mateo County’s stream systems, Congdon believes that the State and Federal agencies that are in place to enforce the “take” of these species should do so, and site, fine and require State Parks “to remediate the mistakes they made in the restoration work they did that has caused the dramatic loss of habitat and decline of the protected species,” said Congdon.

“It’s not our position to define the cure of the problems that State Parks created, only that they need to be held responsible for the mess they have created,” he adds.

A successful Steelhead Festival will help CASE financially with their cause, but more importantly, raise public awareness “to the fact that 14 years of studies on the subject is enough,” said Simms, who started working with Congdon in the late 1990s as a Native Son group “to develop the science and work in concert with the agencies and State Parks to show the decline that is so evident, starting with fish kills the very year that the State Parks restoration project was completed,” said Simms. “It was at this juncture that Pete and I decided to seek legal council.”

With CASE, Congdon and Simms have the vehicle to move forward with the judicial system to come up with a resolution to these flooding problems and the annual fish kill.

“State Parks have left us no choice but to continue on this path, and we will not let it go,” said Simms. “Our main goal, in particular with CASE and the Steelhead Festival, is to educate the public and develop the necessary support to return our wetlands to a healthy environment.”

 

IF YOU GO:

The Pescadero Steelhead Festival, organized by the Coastal Alliance for Species Enhancement (CASE), is tomorrow in Pescadero at the I.D.E.S. Hall and Grounds on Stage Road from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free admission. Followed by a $35 buffet dinner and live auction with no-host beverages. For more information, call 650-255-6098 or visit www.CASEforOurEnvironment.org.

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