Auburn Ravine and Western Placer County Streams, steelhead and salmon Op Ed, with an emphasis on Auburn Ravine steelhead and rainbow trout

By: By Ronald Otto For The Lincoln News Messenger
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Soothing to the eye as well as the spirit, Auburn Ravine, Coon and Dry creeks in Western Placer County provide us an essential connection with the natural world and have a rich history of resident trout and migratory (anadromous/sea-run) salmon and steelhead. New findings show that area streams may additionally aid in the recovery of severely diminished winter- and spring-run Chinook salmon, as well as sustain numerous resident trout that can transform into migratory steelhead.

Auburn Ravine in Ophir, for instance, was found to have up to nearly 8,000 estimated rainbow or steelhead trout per mile by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is more than some storied trout streams support!

Long-time Ophir resident Ancle “Slim” Goodall verified that it was a known fact that at one time salmon and steelhead came up to the Wise Powerhouse. Although now reduced from their historical abundance, these iconic fish reportedly ascended Auburn Ravine as well as other Western Placer streams in considerable numbers and are the object of extensive community and agency restoration efforts. Ensuring adequate water flows and water quality, as well as gaining year-round fish passage to and from the headwaters to the Sacramento River have been among our key objectives. The Ophir Property Owners Association and Auburn Ravine Preservation Committee have been working to achieve these goals and the protection and restoration of Auburn Ravine resident trout and migratory steelhead and salmon for three decades or more.

Many other fine, highly committed individuals, groups and agency staff are working tirelessly toward these ends from Auburn to Roseville, Lincoln and beyond.

Recent Fish and Wildlife analyses suggest that juvenile winter- and spring-run salmon from other Central Valley rivers move into and use lower Auburn Ravine due to its warmer temperature and abundant food supply, which may lead to higher growth rates and, conceivably, better survival. Similar use of Dry Creek by juvenile winter-run salmon has been documented.

The recent Fish and Wildlife study also observed that seasonal flashboard dam operations and current water management practices may hinder or prevent successful downstream movement to the Sacramento River of young fall-run salmon spawned farther up in Auburn Ravine.

Local residents and fisheries scientists have over many years observed juveniles in addition to even smaller young-of-the-year fish and larger adult rainbow or steelhead trout in Auburn Ravine.

Fish and Wildlife studies again recently confirmed a number of young fish beginning the smolt transformation as they prepare to travel to the ocean and become steelhead. However, very few of these fish survive the journey.

While resident rainbow trout in a number of Central Valley rivers and streams are doing well, sea-run steelhead numbers have plummeted as have other resident and migratory fish from the Bay-Delta to the foothills.

Much of this has been attributed to drastic alteration of Sacramento-San Joaquin River, Bay-Delta flows and other stressors, with additional new long-term changes now being discussed that may have positive and decidedly negative impacts.

Resident rainbow and migratory steelhead trout form one interbreeding population and often share the same stream or river with access to the Pacific Ocean, with the ability to become resident or sea-run fish. Auburn Ravine and similar streams should be studied to clarify the relationship between, and potential mutual benefits to, healthy populations of resident rainbow and migratory steelhead trout that share rivers or streams,  i.e. how can each help the other?

We are early in our journey toward more fully understanding these remarkable fish, as well as other imperiled anadromous and resident fish that inhabit Auburn Ravine, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers, their tributaries, the Delta and San Francisco Bay.  With major alterations proposed to system water conveyance, governance, storage, in-stream flows, mitigation requirements and fishery management, it is vital that we become informed and speak up.

Some may work with local issues by joining and supporting one of the excellent local organizations, while others work individually and still others may choose to bravely wade into the massive plans for long-term, sweeping changes to how water from the north is moved to the south, new storage, groundwater management, etc.

There is no question that those of us in the foothills and greater Sacramento area have an amazing resource running through our communities and that these streams are part of a much larger system, all of which deserve our thoughtful stewardship.

We hope this introductory information has whetted your appetite for more and that you will support the local individuals and organizations fighting the good fight and consider giving a helping hand to regional organizations as well as the responsible agencies.

Never forget that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease,” as you pointedly remind your local, state and federal representatives that you support protection and restoration of all of our Northern California fisheries -from the headwaters to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, through the Delta to the Golden Gate and beyond.


Ronald Otto belongs to the Ophir Property Owners Association and Auburn Ravine Preservation Committee. Otto has lived for three decades with his family in Ophir where they have been active in protection and restoration of Auburn Ravine and other streams. A recently-retired orthodontist, he doesn’t mind getting up early to go fishing. Contact him at