River Partners' mission is to create wildlife habitat for the benefit of people and the environment.

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River Partners Celebrates its 10th Anniversary

By Irv Schiffman, Board Chair

(Above) Scott Clemons of the Wildlife Conservation Board receives the River Partners 2008 Restoration Pioneer Award from John Carlon and Barney Flynn at the 10th Anniversary Dinner. Photo by Stacy Small.

The year 2008 marks the 10th anniversary of River Partners, an organization started by two Valley farmers for the purpose of restoring riparian habitat along the Sacramento River.

In these 10 years the organization has grown from a small group of scientists and field staff to over forty full time employees engaged in restoration work on eight California rivers and a handful of creeks and streams.

We have expanded our collaborative partnerships with state and federal agencies, local governments, NGOs, educational institutions and the general public. And membership in the organization continues to grow as news of its programs and awards become increasingly known. The contributions received from members help us to develop future projects and educate students and the community about our rivers.

River Partners has prospered because its work is particularly relevant to a society concerned with sustainable development and the loss of environmental assets. The problems that we are engaged in mitigating are some of the most challenging facing California and the world beyond: flood prevention, global warming, water quality, loss of wildlife habitat, and the depletion of native fish runs.

In our 10 years of existence we have re-established mixed hardwood forests along the rivers, the benefits of which are multifold, including their role in carbon sequestration. Included in the 6,000 acres of plantings along Central Valley rivers are varieties of native grasses and over two dozen different native plant species, providing diverse habitat for scores of bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, and invertebrate species. By fall 2008, we will have planted our one-millionth tree.

We have developed specific design features to attract targeted wildlife species. We are especially proud of our role in the survival of the endangered Riparian Brush Rabbit and the return of the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo to our restoration site at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.

We know that riparian habitat is crucial for a healthy ecosystem. The vegetation that we plant along rivers and streams forms a natural buffer that filters runoff and groundwater, removing pollutants from the waterway, particularly harmful runoff from neighboring agricultural fields. The trees also provide important shade to waterways, which helps to moderate water temperature and oxygen, both of which are important to native fish.

The recent closure of commercial and recreational fishing for Chinook Salmon in the ocean off California and most of Oregon after the virtual collapse of the fall salmon run gives emphasis to the important role that River Partners plays in the preservation and restoration of Central Valley salmon populations. Our floodplain plantings provide critical habitat for juvenile salmonid rearing and the floodplains are designed to allow young salmon safe access and egress. An expected consequence of global warming will be a more rapid melt of the Sierra snow pack and River Partners is working with flood control engineers to establish flood plains which will absorb and control river overflow while creating habitat for native species.

The O’Connor Lakes project along the Feather River is but one example of such a collaborative success. River Partners worked with engineers to use native plants to redirect flood flows and improve floodwater conveyance. For another project at the confluence of the Feather and Bear rivers, River Partners constructed a floodplain of more than 600 acres lying between the river and a new levee. The expanded floodplain not only will absorb and control river overflow, but enabled the organization to plant habitat for such native species as the Swainson’s hawk, the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, and Chinook Salmon.

Our staff has also enjoyed its association with area schools. Elementary school students have used restoration sites as field classrooms, have helped us assess tree and plant survival after their first year of growth, and, most recently, Las Plumas High School students received practical horticultural experience by growing much needed acorns for our 2008 planting season.

We expect to continue our ability to turn over River Partners properties for recreation purposes. Last year we gave the Gaines and Gianella Landing properties along the Sacramento River to the California State Parks system. Clearly Valley residents are eager to explore our rivers. Our Canoe Floats, which allow the public to view a number of our restoration sites, are regularly oversubscribed.

Looking ahead to the next ten years, we envision an expanded commitment to our mission to create wildlife habitat for the benefit of people and the environment. Challenges that lie ahead will provide opportunities to collaborate with our many partners to bring creative thinking to such areas as river and floodplain restoration, flood control, land purchases, field research, consulting services, ecological monitoring, carbon sequestration, education and recreation opportunities and wetland mitigation.

The above article originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of the River Partners Journal.