Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Mill Creek, touted as one of the most important salmon spawning tributaries of the Smith River will be the subject of a $93,887 study.

Del Norte County biologist Zach Larson is one of several local scientists who will use the funding to continue a 22-year-observation of the creeks salmonid populations.

Larson said without the grant from the California Department of Fish and Game, the studies would have ended an important long term view of the creek and its fish.

Looking at long-term studies can show you trends and can inform you of declining fish populations or increasing populations, Larson said.

The Mill Creek Watershed is enveloped by 25,000 acres of timber land owned by Stimson Lumber Company.

For nearly 10 years, Stimson has monitored the Mill Creek fish populations with its own funds.

And their data compliments a 22 consecutive year chinook salmon study, performed by Jim Waldvogel (Sea Grant Advisor of the University of California), Larson said.

A pending sale of Stimsons Mill Creek land to Save-the-Redwoods League threatened an end to the Stimson funded studies, spurring Larson to get fish and game monies to continue them.

Starting this February, Larson and his crew will begin a series of projects involved in the monitoring process.

Coho, steelhead, chinook and cutthroat salmon all use Mill Creek as spawning grounds.

All those that were born there and survived their journey to the ocean will return through the mouth of the Smith River, then up into the creek to spawn and die.

Larson will study representatives of each salmon type at each stage of their Mill Creek life cycle.

As adults head up stream, their populations will be estimated and some individuals will be chosen for measurements and taking scale samples for later DNA data.

Groups of spawning adults will also be tracked as they chose their spawning grounds. The scientists will then red flag the egg beds and record spawning maps of the creek.

In the spring, when the hatched eggs become fingerlings and begin their journey to the ocean, Larson will document how large the new population is along with data on their size and DNA samples.

Were actually taking some very important information. It will tell Fish and Game and other scientists comparing salmon creeks all over California of the productivity of the stream and give an overall view of the creek system, Larson said.

Many people have probably seen the mouth of Mill Creek without realizing it. The popular Jed Smith campground riverbank is directly across from where the creek empties into the Smith River.