louis martin
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Graham Gulch, Humbolt County----

Bill Matson stood at the top of the slide area at Graham Gulch and stared down into the creek below. "When they logged in this country--maybe eighty, ninety or a hundred year ago--they put logs in the creek to pull the logs down." By putting logs in creek bottoms, Matson explained, it made it easier to pull other logs over them.

Matson is a tall, grey-haired man with a patient voice. Until last year he was a Salmon fisherman. Now he works on restoration projects. He has a degree in biology and fisheries.

Matsons dogs preceded him down the steep, eroding hillside to the creek below. They plunged into the water.

The work on Graham Gulch is part of a 2.2 million dollar project funded by the federal government to aid fishermen in the Northwest and restore salmon habitat in creeks.

Down in the creek he pointed to the axe marks in a log that lay in the creek bed. Clearly this was not a recent project. The log was massive.

In addition to sliding hillsides, both sides of the creek are eroding into the creek during winter storms. A crew of salmon habitat restoration workers recently spent a week working on this area.

"What the crew did," said Matson, "is pull these logs out of the creek where they had been piled up in the creek bed, and they shored up this whole side of the creek on the left side." Logs from the creek have been stacked up against the bank and cabled together for stability.

Also Willow trees have been planted along both banks to provide stability to the soil when the roots spread out, and to break the fall of rain and lessen the effects of erosion. Willows were chosen partly for practical reasons. All it takes to grow a new tree is a 2-foot Willow stick pushed into the ground.

With cables running from log to log, the banks of the creek look something like a hospital patient in traction. The barren Willow sticks resemble the course facial hairs of someone who has not shaved for a week.

Matson is an experienced stream-walker. Walking upstream, he crossed from side to side, first stepping on a rock in the middle of the water, then on a fallen branch. He grew up in Fort Bragg, walking the Noyo river when there was no road that ran up its sides. His father was a fisherman, and his grandfather was a logger from Finland.

Upstream about twenty-five yards is a V where a tributary of Graham creek flows into it from a steep gorge on the right and the creek itself jogs to the left. There is a log across the left side of the junction point, and Matson pointed out the little water fall over the log. "Next year, after the flows, you'll see a little pool on this side of that log (the down-creek side), and behind it there will be more gravel for spawning," he said.

Wood, he said, also provides shade for fish and nutrients, but in this creek there is far too much.

A major goal of the project is to reduce sediment in the creek. Sediment occurs due to soil erosion and when logs are blown out during major storms, releasing sediment that has built up in back of them.

In back of the log there is gravel visible below the water. It is slightly impacted with sediment. He stirred the gravel with his hand and the water turned partly cloudy.

Downstream of the log there is a bar of gravel. It is clean looking. "This is great gravel here," said Matson. "The main thing is that it's not impacted, and when they lay their eggs that the eggs are able to drift down in between the rocks." Otherwise, he said, the eggs don't get the oxygen they need and die.

At the base of the tributary a small pool has formed, and it is almost entirely sediment. When stirred with the hand, it clouds up completely.

Matson is hopeful that some of the sediment seen in the creek bed now will be blown out with the Winter storms this year. "I think it is open now," he said, "but we need a flushing action of a good winter freshet to clean the excess stuff out and give access to the fish."

Matson is working with the Salmon Disaster Relief Restoration Program, which pays displaced salmon fisherman for doing restoration work on private lands. There are 26 projects spread over four counties: Sonoma, Mendocino, Humbolt, and Del Norte. Projects are funded for 1995 and 1996.

Graham creek is itself a tributary to Freshwater creek, which flows into Humbolt Bay. The gulch is one of the first areas logged in Humbolt county.



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