Stretching from the High Sierra to the Mojave Desert, California's rivers are of critical biological importance, forging major wildlife corridors and linking several ecological regions. These waterways and the riparian habitat they provide are home to dozens of endangered species.
But California’s rivers are also some of the most developed in the nation, collectively affected by more than 1,400 dams and thousands of miles of channels used for power generation, flood control, agriculture, and urban water supplies. Along with riverside deforestation and development, dams and diversions adversely impact water quality and destroy species’ habitat. This makes the state’s free-flowing rivers all the more important to preserve.
Thankfully, within California are more than a dozen federally protected wild and scenic rivers, and the Center is working to ensure that these rivers are fully protected from destructive activities. In 2001, we won a lawsuit halting cattle grazing in the corridor of the North Fork Eel River and compelling the Forest Service to protect and restore the river as required by law. In 2002, a lawsuit filed by the Center and allies spawned an agreement with the Los Padres National Forest to develop a comprehensive management plan for its wild and scenic rivers, including the protection of more than 80 miles of the Big Sur River, Sisquoc River, and Sespe Creek from numerous threats such as livestock grazing and oil and gas drilling. We also work to gain Endangered Species Act protections for California’s riparian habitat and river-dependent plants and animals, including the state’s native fish — nearly 70 percent of which are in decline, extinct, or of special concern to conservation biologists. So far, we’ve won critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker, the southern California steelhead trout, the California red-legged frog, and other California species threatened by poor river management.