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Fishing stewards

Wildlife agencies rely heavily on volunteers to protect habitats.

November 08, 2005|Gary Polakovic

CALIFORNIA'S fish need help. Dams block salmon from reaching spawning grounds. Steelhead trout don't have enough water. Golden trout in the Sierra are losing their colorful genes due to crossbreeding with other trout.

From the Colorado River to the Bay-Delta and up and down the coast, fish -- especially the coldwater game fish popular among anglers -- face threats from pollution, development and invasive species.

"Steelhead are the most important issue. Along the 1,100-mile West Coast, almost every river has depleted steelhead populations," says Jim Edmondson of California Trout, a conservation group that promotes angling. "And close behind is the state fish, the golden trout, in the southern Sierra. These are the two greatest species of concern."

Despite the threats, government wildlife agencies are increasingly short of money. So they rely more and more on volunteers to help. The opportunities to get involved, officials say, have never been greater.

"Fish can't vote or repair habitat, so it's up to individuals. It's the public property, and the public needs to take responsibility," Edmondson says.

Here are some organizations and projects that can hook you up with good deeds for fish and the waterways that support them:

Trout Unlimited. Founded 50 years ago, the 135,000-member organization promotes hands-on work to preserve and restore trout, salmon and steelhead. Among other things, they remove invasive species from San Mateo Creek, collect Sierra trout for DNA tests, restore coho salmon habitat in Humboldt County and teach kids how to fish.

"It's pretty great when you volunteer for a project and the purpose of the trip is to catch fish," says George Sutherland, who runs Trout Unlimited's steelhead recovery program. For details, visit

California Trout. The 5,300-member group is politically active in efforts to protect watersheds and ensure fish have sufficient water in rivers and creeks.

The group needs clerical help, contributors and volunteers in the field to keep an eye on fish habitat. Go to

Fisheries Resource Volunteer Corps. Established in 1994 as an arm of the Federation of Fly Fishers, volunteers work with the U.S. Forest Service to patrol streams in the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests to teach tourists and anglers about fishing regulations, pollution and habitat protection. Visit

The Adopt-a-Stream Foundation. The Washington-based group establishes stewards for particular streams and watersheds to build a bond between communities and riparian areas and help fish. Details at

-- Gary Polakovic

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