NOAA 2004-R152
Contact: Jim Milbury

NOAA News Releases 2004
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration entered into a settlement agreement with a local rancher to help protect steelhead listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce

The agreement was reached between NOAA Fisheries and James Soper, the operator of Hedgpeth Ranch, after an estimated 34 threatened Northern California juvenile steelhead were killed in House Creek, a tributary of Gualala River, in May of 2002.

An investigating team from NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement, California Department of Fish and Game, and biologists from NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources in Santa Rosa, determined the steelhead mortality occurred when a tractor was employed to remove woody debris from behind two flashboard dams on the ranch’s property. The tractor made numerous passes through House Creek, thereby damaging the streambed and killing young-of-the-year steelhead fry in the tractor’s path. (

Soper has taken full responsibility for the ESA violation, and has agreed to allow NOAA Fisheries to remove the two flashboard dams in House Creek, which have been in place for decades. Removal of the dams should greatly improve the habitat for steelhead there.

“Mr. Soper’s cooperation in reaching this settlement will go a long way towards preventing the future loss of steelhead in the area, as well as enhancing the habitat of steelhead in House Creek,” said Amanda Wheeland, enforcement attorney for NOAA Fisheries.

The removal of the dams will be completed once public funds have been obtained. The settlement also includes a $150,000 penalty, which will be suspended provided Soper does not commit a future violation of the ESA within the next 10 years. The settlement is in lieu of a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Flashboard dams or “seasonal dams” have been used by many communities, farmers and others to create an upstream lake for recreational activities such as boating, swimming, irrigation and livestock watering. However, because seasonal dams alter the natural flow of small rivers and streams and create artificial barriers to fish passage, they can seriously harm salmon and steelhead and the habitat upon which they depend. Each year hundreds and possibly thousands of these structures are erected throughout Northern California’s watersheds. There is an ongoing effort by NOAA Fisheries, CDFG, and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office to remove all illegal seasonal dams from salmon and steelhead streams in Sonoma County.

NOAA Fisheries special agents can be contacted either through an anonymous tip line (1-800-853-1964) or through the State of California’s CalTip (1-888-334-2258) to report construction or utilization of a summer dam in an illegal manner.

NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement and conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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