By Mark Hedges
Ukiah Daily Journal
November 1, 2001

In these days of worsening news, it's nice to note some local successes for the environment undertaken by an alliance of the Mendocino Redwood Company, the Department of Fish and Game and the California Conservation Corps.

This alliance has resulted in five projects either completed or being done on Ackerman Creek, which flows along the Masonite Road amidst timberland owned by the MRC.

One of these is called the "Five Mile Ackerman Creek Project an impressively thorough improvement to a spot on Ackerman Creek that has long been considered a problem area for steelhead salmon.

MRC hydrologist Chris Surfleet described the site's trouble as being due to an undersized culvert over which the Masonite Road traverses. "It was hard for steelhead to get through it to spawn, and it also caused a lot of sediment to back up behind the road," Surfleet said.

The culvert, a relic of the original construction of the Masonite Road in the 1950s, is now gone. A new bridge stands in its place, and the creek below it has been, reshaped with rocks and soil to emulate a natural stream channel, replete with manmade "weirs," or pools steelhead use to make their way up to their ancient spawning grounds.

"The barrier there was one we had identified on a number of surveys," said Gary Flosi, of the Department of Fish and Game. "Not only has this project improved fish'access, it has recovered over a mile of stream channel and increased riparian habitat for steelhead. It's a terrific project. Until recently we didn't have enough money in our restoration project. We're really happy to have that one finally completed.''

All together, the five restoration projects of Ackerman Creek have cost over $400,000, and were funded by the Mendocino Redwood Company and grant funds from the California Department of Fish and Game.

The California Conservation Corps camp in Ukiah provided tree planting to promote stream shade for cooler temperatures and fence building to keep out livestock from the restoration site.

"This wouldn't have been possible without their help," Surfleet said of the CCC and the Department of Fish and Game. A recreated flood-plain stretches out before the bridge, with a stream channel contoured in the center of it. Along its banks, willow sticks have been placed in holes that reach to the water table. "As long as they're wet, they'll resprout," Surfleet explained. Later in the winter, other types of trees will be planted as well.

Theron Brown, MRC roads manager, supervised the roadwork. "This has been one of the larger projects that I have had to work on MRC lands," Brown said. "It's very rewarding to improve the habitat of a stream and modernize our road network."

Flosi called the project "a great example of private industry working with department folks to solve a real significant problem that we identified a long time ago."

Other things being done on Ackerman Creek include another bridge and weirs replacing a culvert eight miles up Masonite Road, a smaller bridge and several larger new culverts to improve drainage and erosion, the planting of trees along 3,000 feet of Ackerman tributary Alder Creek, and more.

Mark Covelia of the California Conservation Corps spoke of the work they have been doing on Ackerman with MRC. "It's a good experience for corps members to work on," Covelia said. Covelia explained how corps members pull the ends of downed logs into the creek so when a heavy flow from winter rains arrives, it creates a vortex and digs out a pool that gives fish a place to hide and stay coot in the summer. "MRC has always been real cooperative and helpful, giving us access to their land to put in these log structures, build weirs and help the fisheries" Covella said. The CCC is a youth training and development program for 18- to 23-year-olds. "We get people from all over the state into the program," Covella explained. "Many come from inner cities. It's' their first experience getting out in the woods - it's kind of an adventure, and it kind of changes their attitude towards saving the environment."