MALIBU, Calif. – In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead trout into the Santa Monica Mountains, California's transportation agency is planning to spend $935,000 to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.
The project is the latest, yet far from the most unusual, steelhead recovery attempt by government agencies that have spent millions of dollars on concrete fish ladders, cameras, fishways and other contraptions to allow seagoing trout to spawn in Southern California streams.
The problem, even some conservationists say, is that there is little evidence construction efforts since the 1980s have done anything except absorb taxpayer dollars. The work to save the species has led to about a dozen concrete fishways at a cost of more than $16.7 million.
A $1 million fish ladder — a structure designed to allow fish to migrate upstream over a barrier — may cost $7.5 million in stimulus funds to rebuild. Another fish ladder would require fish to leap 8 feet to reach it. Studies alone for replacing a third ladder have cost an estimated $3 million.
Matt’s Rant: Environmental issues get pretty heated on both sides these days and with good reason. Humans don’t tend to realize the impact they make until it is too late and then the method to repair the damage takes a lot of money with little impact at first glance. In many cases it will take decades to see if we have made the right moves or not.
Some of the projects existing and proposed have many aspects that should be scrutinized, analyzed and discussed. I understand that the price tag of this species conservation can be staggering and bordering on the verge of ridiculous. To most people in the United States one silly little fish species may not be worth millions of dollars to save. But to steelhead anglers…no dollar should be spared for such an amazing trout species that is wildly unique. I tend to agree with them but my opinion as an angler may be biased.
In the case of California Steelhead, both arguments have flaws. The argument against the waterway projects does not offer a solution to the problem where as the “pro” side desperately needs to firm up their science and documentation on the subject. They need to be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that efforts are working, even if to a small degree. This recovery is still in its infancy so major results right now should not be expected.
Another element to these projects that is being lost in the discussion is the fact that the ladders, fish bridges and diversions help return a lot of other natural elements to the river such as sedimentation. It also helps regain the original aspect of the river flowing from headwater to delta.
Potential for more trouble like easier invasive species introduction, less control in regards to flooding and of course spending a heck of a lot of money are concerns that must be addressed as well. Personally I think some of the California designs go a bit overboard in a few aspects, which is common for bureaucracies. Dealing with the existing landscape will be another massive obstacle.
In closing, the one thing you can count on regards to conservation and undoing the damage or harmful changes that we as humans have caused is that there will be plenty of argument, debate and discontent on both sides. There is a middle ground and hopefully both parties will reach that ground, shake hands and smile. Then cast out for monster steelhead.