The year comes to a close on a few high notes concerning the economy, the stock market — even rainfall.
So far, most Sonoma County communities are recording rainfall totals that are more than double what they were a year ago, which itself turned out to be a pretty good year for water.
But perhaps the most encouraging numbers from an environmental perspective concern salmon. As of Nov. 28, the Sonoma County Water Agency had counted 2,414 chinook at the fish ladders near Forestville. This was the most that have been counted during the fall run in four years. A year ago, the count was 1,801, up from an historic low of 1,125 in 2008.
This promising report got even better last week as California Fish and Game officials reported counting 2,314 chinook at Van Arsdale dam near Potter Valley. That's the highest count since this kind of tracking began back in 1945. By comparison, only about 500 chinook made their way to the top of the main stem of the Eel River last year.
Counts in the Sacramento River system are incomplete. But early reports were equally promising. Last month, officials reported 20,000 chinook had returned to the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, which was already twice as many as had returned for the entire season last year.
The reasons for the chinook rebound are probably as numerous and complicated as the reasons for their decline in the first place. But let's give credit to river restoration and habitat improvements that have been made — as well as a virtual ban on ocean salmon fishing over the past three years.
But give most of the credit to the ocean itself. Experts point to improved food conditions in the ocean as the primary reason for the recovery of chinook salmon, which are on the federal threatened species list. The water agency contends poor ocean conditions in 2005 and 2006 were the primary reason for the drop-off of adult salmon over the past two years.
Chinook salmon are the largest of the salmon and steelhead that return to spawn every year in the Russian River and other North Coast tributaries. Moreover, so much of Sonoma County life —- agriculture, water supply, tourism, etc. — is inextricably linked to the future of this majestic fish.
Given all that, these increasing fish counts, after precipitous declines in recent years, is something worth celebrating this New Year's eve. But let's also renew our resolve to help the fish continue its recovery. There's more work to be done.