Sacramento River Preservation Trust
Flowing from near Mt. Shasta to the San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento is California’s biggest and most impressive river.
The Sacramento River is also an invaluable resource, generating millions of dollars each year for our state’s economy. The river’s salmon fishery alone generates over $30 million annually.
Back in John Muir’s day, when he compared the river’s lush vegetation to tropical jungles, the Sacramento supported 500,000 acres of riparian habitat and associated oak woodland. Today, that habitat is somewhere in the range of 10,000-15,000 acres.
The Sacramento River was well on its way to becoming a canal, not unlike the Los Angeles River, when the Sacramento River Preservation Trust was created in 1984.
“We were born of a lawsuit,” explained John Merz, the trust’s longtime director and now chair of its board of directors. “We ended up suing the state of California over a proposal to riprap every outside bend between Chico and Red Bluff, which we thought was a very bad idea.”
Over the years, the Sacramento River Preservation Trust has remained active in the area of environmental education and advocacy. It sponsors a regular State of the River conference, the next one scheduled for this fall in Red Bluff. It also organizes tours and float trips. The trust works with a number of other agencies, political entities and watershed conservancies.
“The main purpose of the trust is to protect the natural values of the Sacramento River and her environs,” Merz continued. “What that is translated to, of course, is a lot of monitoring of both public and private projects relative to their potential impacts on the river.”
Traditionally that has entailed reading lots of environmental documents and being involved in a number of comprehensive planning programs, Merz explained.
One such program is the Sacramento River Conservation Area, create in 1986 by the passage of Senate Bill 1086. SB1086 works to ensure that riparian habitat management addresses both the dynamics of riparian ecosystems as well as the realities of local agricultural issues.
Merz says that “paper-pushing” is just one aspect of the trust’s activities. It’s also very supportive of land acquisition and land protection activities, including the formation of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge.
Thanks to these activities, Merz believes the degradation of the river’s riparian habitat has stopped and its health has actually now started moving back the other direction. But even he admits that it’s hard to judge the degree of environmental change, saying that the trust’s 17-year history amounts to a “speck” in time.
“You can have trees growing out there on the riverbank, but a tree does not a ecosystem make. It’s not just the one tree. You have to have some complexity for the system to really be viable. We’ve got a long way to go before we can truly say that we’ve established something here that has some stability to it in the long term.”
Merz believes most people in the area recognize the value of the Sacramento River, and how the river to a significant degree helps to define who we are and how we do things. The trust still needs to be on constant guard, though, he says.
“There are forces at play, many outside our area, that have other plans for the river, and we need to be aware of them.”
As a regional group based in Chico, the Sacramento River Preservation Trust relies on membership for its support.
“We’re a dues-paying membership organization on purpose,” Merz declares. “We’ve not ever relied on governmental grants to run our operation. The whole purpose of our membership is provide us with the flexibility and the relative financial security to make the tough calls without worrying about the consequences.”
Individuals interested in learning more about the trust can contact its office or watch for the upcoming launch of its sacrivertrust.org Web site.