Five Questions About … Redwood Renewal, saving coho salmon in Muir Woods

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Parks Conservancy Public Information Coordinator Melissa De Gant helped visitors understand the scope of the Redwood Renewal project in Muir Woods.

In the fall of 2019, a special project launched at Muir Woods to help save endangered coho salmon. Redwood Renewal involves removing large boulders (“rip-rap”) from Redwood Creek and adding fallen trees and branches to create small pools for juvenile coho salmon to thrive. For more on the project, go to our article here.

Parks Conservancy Public Information Coordinators (PICs) guided visitors through the changes. Here’s what the project looked like for PICs Andres Vasquez, Melissa De Gant, and Aaron Rotman:

What’s it been like to watch the changes at Muir Woods?

Andres: It’s a rewarding experience. Watching the excavator go to work on the rip-rap was fun! There are sections of the creek and park that we haven’t seen since August, so it’s hard to imagine what these sections looked like before. But when we get to see the finished work, we know the changes will make Muir Woods a better place.

Melissa: It was pretty incredible. Being there when the first fish was removed, all the way until the last excavator was walked up Alice Eastwood was extremely rewarding.

What questions do you get the most?

Melissa: Just the basic “So what’re you doing here?” Often, that spirals into lengthy, rewarding discussions about the coho and the project. A lot of visitors didn’t even realize we had fish in the creek, so would ask about that and how the fish live here with the water being so low. We would explain how we were at the end of our dry season!

Aaron: Do salmon really come up here with this little water? That’s a really common question we get. A lot of people don’t realize the creek looks a lot different in the winter than in the summertime. They’re amazed when we tell them there are salmon in the creek year-round. It’s always fun to point out the little fish in the creek and tell people that those are coho salmon and steelhead trout. 

Andres: Outside of the project, visitors always want to know what the redwood burls are and what they do. They often get mistaken for birds’ nests.

What’s the most interesting question you’ve gotten?

Melissa: Someone asked about the different backgrounds of everyone involved in the project. She was interested in knowing the schooling and experience of the people working with the fish, the construction crew, and of the PICs. She said was curious to know because she was so intrigued by the project, and was wondering how she could get involved with a similar one.

Andres: One of the most memorable questions I received was from a woman asking us what we did with the data of the fish we collected during the electric fishing phase of the project. It was surprising because most people ask questions regarding what they are seeing happen in front of them. 

How have people reacted when you tell them about saving Coho salmon?

Aaron: Most visitors support restoring the creek to help the salmon. A lot of people are unsure about how diverting the creek and tearing it up with an excavator will help. When we explain the work restoring the creek to more natural conditions, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. It’s often met with comments about how “nature knows best.”

Andres: Many people are surprised to even hear we have fish in the creek, so they get very excited when we tell them about the coho. Salmon making their run upstream to spawn seems like a famous fact that most people know. So, their faces light up when we tell them they make their run in Redwood Creek here in Muir Woods.

What’s next for you?

Melissa: I will be transitioning from the Parks Conservancy to the NPS with an Interpretive Ranger position in the East Bay at the Eugene O’Neill Historic Site. Come see me there this winter! 

Aaron: I’ll be looking for other opportunities to take part in local conservation efforts. Regardless of where I end up, I’ll certainly be returning to Muir Woods to see how the salmon are doing.
 

Peter Hockaday joined the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in summer 2018 as Director of Editorial Content & Strategy.

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