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Students defend salmon habitat

Casa Grande United Anglers campaign to catch off-roaders
January 31, 2003


Steelhead returning to Adobe Creek in Petaluma for a winter spawn are being greeted by stretches ripped up by all-terrain vehicles and trucks.

"They're just out there tearing it up," said Justin Evans, a student at Casa Grande High School who is part of a 20-year effort to restore the natural habitat on the creek.

The students' efforts have helped restore the run of steelhead, which are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The steelhead run on Adobe Creek had dwindled to near extinction before the restoration effort got under way two decades ago.

On Thursday, students walked door-to-door in nearby neighborhoods, talking with residents and handing out 175 fliers asking for help reporting the off-roaders to authorities.

They also used an auger to dig holes and mount four new signs urging people to protect the creek and the gravel nesting beds of its slippery inhabitants from harm.

This summer, they hope to construct a five-strand wire fence -- in partnership with the National Marine Fisheries Service -- to keep motorists from dropping into the creek bed. The fence, however, won't keep the off-roaders from a trail that cuts through nearby wetlands where dirt jumps have been created.

The kids got the brush-off from a few residents who said they were too busy or mistook them for sales people. But others quickly offered to help.

"We want to see them busted," said Frederick Rothberg, a songwriter and pianist who lives in the Cross Creek subdivision near the creek.

Rothberg said just a few people are causing the problems. He said they "don't have a clue about restoration of habitat" and may not know they are doing anything wrong.

The students, under the tutelage of Casa Grande wildlife teacher Tom Furrer, started the restoration in 1983. Since then the Casa Grande United Anglers has gained international recognition for its success.

They cleaned out trash and cars, planted willows to provide shade and keep water temperatures low, took measures to control erosion and built fish ladders to keep the steelhead and salmon moving.

Instead of one to four fish a year, Furrer said they stop counting now at 60.

But that doesn't mean the work for Furrer and his students, who also raised the money to build a $510,000 fish hatchery on campus, is over.

Now they have to protect their work.

"It's an intolerable problem," Furrer said. "We figure the people who live over there enjoy that open space, and they'll help protect it."

Police stopped some quad runners two weeks ago, but the city may have to post more signs forbidding trespassing by vehicles before cracking down harder. A meeting with city representatives is expected today, Furrer said.

Maren Regin, 17, who came out with her United Angler classmates on Thursday afternoon to help dig holes for the signs and walk the neighborhoods, said the off-roaders are drawn to the mud and water of the creek channel.

Last year, when the problem first surfaced, students had to scatter straw along the creek banks to stop the erosion.

The wetlands and Adobe Creek sit under the flight path to the Petaluma Municipal Airport in a greenbelt on the edge of the city.

"I guess people with the quads and trucks don't have property of their own to destroy," Regin said. "They have to destroy public property. That's sad."

You can reach Staff Writer Tobias Young at 762-9498 or [email protected].

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