Turtle Island Restoration Network Receives 2024 Impact Grant

The Woodard & Curran Foundation has awarded its annual $100,000 Impact Grant to Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), a California-based nonprofit that has been protecting threatened coastal species for more than 30 years. TIRN will apply this funding to the Lagunitas Watershed Resiliency Project, that aims to protect and enhance habitat for the endangered coho salmon.

The coho keystone

Biodiversity may be a hot topic in environmental circles today, however, the importance of variety in plant, animal, and fungal species is nothing new. Heterogeny — on both a local and a global scale — has long served as an indicator of ecological health. Furthermore, this diversity of life upholds our supply of food and medicine and even provides natural resiliency measures in the face of a changing climate.

Coho salmon are a keystone species — like the keystone in a stone bridge, they have a disproportionate impact on their environment. They balance pressure on both sides of the food chain to support a healthy arch of biodiversity. In praxis, the presence and health of coho populations affect everything from water quality in the creeks where they spawn to annual birth rates among orca whales.

The Foundation’s $100,000 Impact Grant is funding work to be accomplished by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), a program under TIRN that over the last 20-plus years has produced measurable gains through partnerships with state and federal agencies, local organizations, and landowners. TIRN-SPAWN outreach and education programs engage hundreds of people each year throughout the San Francisco Bay Area to learn about endangered Coho salmon and the urgency of saving this species through watershed restoration, native plant propagation, and riparian revegetation.


Sam Olney Technical Manager Environmental Remediation

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For this project, TIRN proposed utilizing simple structures made of woody debris to create jams in the stream channel that will help to rebuild natural instream and floodplain habitats. This natural, cost-effective approach can be completed almost entirely with the help of volunteers. Sometimes it’s the simple solutions that are the most innovative.

Sam Olney Vice President Woodard & Curran Foundation

Lagunitas Watershed Resiliency Project

Lagunitas Creek is the largest single run of the Central California Coastal Coho salmon whose population has dwindled to 10 percent of historic numbers, putting it at risk of extinction. The Devil’s Gulch Creek Sub-watershed, home to 25 percent of the adult Coho spawning population and critical to winter survival of the species, is deeply incised, exposed to bedrock, and depleted of wood. The overlay of climate change-related extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall and high winter flows, and warm, dry summers with persistent drought are exacerbating these conditions.

“We’ve done a lot of work across this watershed, but Devil’s Gulch is an area that hasn’t really been touched,” explains Ayano Hayes, Watershed Biologist for Turtle Island Research Network. “A lot of this watershed has been impacted by human development, especially along waterways, and Devil’s Gulch is a priority area for us to address limiting factors and improve resilience to disturbances like flood, drought, heatwaves, and wildfires.”

The Lagunitas Watershed Resiliency Project will improve critical spawning, winter and summer rearing, and out-migration smolt habitat by installing approximately 150 large woody debris structures across one mile of Devil’s Gulch Creek. These structures will consist of existing logs, downed trees, and other woody debris and will be built by pulling, dragging, winching, and toppling trees and logs into the channel. Additional wood debris and wooden posts will be driven into the channel to create dynamic jams capable of adapting to changes in sediment supply, stream velocity, and riparian vegetation. This low-tech process-based restoration concept will use only power equipment and hand tools and has been proven to be a cost-effective approach to improving instream and floodplain habitat. The work will be completed by volunteers.


The Devil’s Gulch Creek Sub-watershed is home to 25 percent of the adult Coho spawning population.

Areas of refuge are of particular importance for young salmon, which are particularly vulnerable to predators.

Lasting impacts

Introducing large wood structures into the Devil’s Gulch Creek sub-watershed will increase channel roughness to slow flows during heavy rains and create pools where fish can find refuge, conserve energy, and find food during even high-water events. These structures will constrict the channel, forcing scour and creating areas where cool water can persist long into summer, and critical for salmon survival during periods of drought. The structures further provide instream shelter and refuge from predation and improve insect habitat to increase prey for the Coho. The wood jams slow flows across floodplain areas, allowing salmonids access to low-velocity side channels with saturated soils, increasing the availability of prey. By reducing stream velocity, the PALS reduce stress on the channel bed, improving the survival rate of salmon eggs deposited in the stream gravels.

While this project may seem narrow in scope, it is ultimately about larger-scale ecological restoration, watershed management, and resiliency. Similar to the work we do in those fields, it will make a real impact toward protecting our water and environment for future generations.

The project will involve local communities in the San Francisco Bay Area by offering public meetings prior to and during project implementation, weekly and monthly volunteer opportunities, school programs to bring students to the restoration work sites, workshops for the growing trend of low-tech, process-based restoration, and public tours of the restoration sites for State Park visitors. The Woodard & Curran Foundation is really excited about the potential for our Bay Area-based donors to volunteer for TIRN during the implementation of this project.

TIRN anticipates substantial benefits from work at Devil’s Gulch, not only in improving habitat and range for endangered coho salmon, but also in overall riparian restoration. Ayano remarks that a close working relationship with the State Parks service and strong community and financial support provide the organization with the resources to make a greater impact. “I want to emphasize our appreciation to Woodard & Curran for the award that makes this possible,” she says.

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