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The Implications of Current Restoration Practices and Regulatory Policy for Recovery of the Federally Endangered Southern California Steelhead


Policy, management, and restoration practices focused on the federally endangered southern California steelhead (Oncorhyncus mykiss) were reviewed, tested, and compiled to provide opportunities to capitalize on already existing tools for steelhead recovery and other protected species inhabiting southern California coastal watersheds. Review of the Similarity of Appearance Clause, a rarely used portion of the Endangered Species Act, could provide southern steelhead’s landlocked resident form (native rainbow trout) with greater protection from take based on the difficulty in differentiating between the two life history stages. Southern steelhead meets inclusion criteria set forth by the act, but more importantly fills the need for a precautionary approach in managing a highly endangered species. Despite being a priority recovery action small dam removal is still subject to environmental review, but recent streamlining efforts through programmatic permitting could reduce the burden on restoration partners. In the absence of examples of small dam removal monitoring data National Marine Fisheries Service programmatic biological opinion for southern California was forced to implement precautionary thresholds on the amount of impounded sediment to avoid prolonged effects of sediment bleeding and loss of downstream habitat quality that may result under extended drought conditions. This research utilized low-cost, longstanding techniques to meet the monitoring requirements set forth in the programmatic opinion and added six small dam removal cases to support the finding of limited effects by impounded sediment on habitat quality downstream of dam removal sites. This study highlights the greater influence of upstream watershed inputs (land-use practices, roads, fires, etc.) on habitat quality rather than small dam removal impacts. Consideration of impacts and drivers on a watershed-wide scale (headwaters to ocean) is important for restoration targeting anadromous species like southern steelhead. A comparison of stream and wetland restoration issues identified common problems: climate change and process organization. Differences in permitting issues for streams and design concerns for wetlands are discussed in relation to the scale and geographical extent of habitat type in southern California. These are just a few examples of how rethinking lessons learned and reexamining already existing tools could aid in recovery of endangered species and maximize restoration dollars.

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