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The Yurok Tribe considers Blue Creek, a cold-water refuge, one of the most important Klamath River tributaries in terms of salmon population health.

On Aug. 19, the Yurok Tribe, Green Diamond Resource Co. and Western Rivers Conservancy will celebrate a 10-year effort to preserve and place into tribal ownership about 50,000 acres of forest surrounding four salmon sustaining streams, including Blue Creek.

“It is a good day for the Yurok people,” said tribal chairman Joseph L. James.

“On behalf of the Yurok Tribe, I would like to thank Green Diamond and Western Rivers for assisting us in the re-acquisition of a significant part of our ancestral territory, and putting us in a position to permanently protect the Blue Creek watershed, which is the crown jewel of the Klamath River.”

In 2006, the two organizations and the tribe formed a partnership designed to facilitate the transfer of the land to the tribe and conserve Blue Creek, the lifeline of the Klamath River. During this period, Green Diamond and Western Rivers Conservancy held the land while the Yurok Tribe and Western Rivers Conservancy pursued funds for its acquisition.

Financial support came from a variety of sources, including the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act, the New Market Tax Credits program, the Kendeda Fund, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Wyss Foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation/Acres for America and Walmart Stores, Inc., the Wildlife Conservation Board; California Coastal Conservancy, loans from the California State Water Quality Control Board and Indian Land Capital Co., and the sale of carbon offsets.

Green Diamond vice president and general manager Jason Carlson said, “We are very pleased to see the successful completion of this multi-phase, multi-year project that culminated with the transfer of the Blue Creek drainage. These lands provide the tribe a nearly continuous ownership that can be managed as a working forest and for the cultural resources that are vital to the Yurok people.”

“This is a historic and joyous moment,” said Western Rivers Conservancy president Sue Doroff. “The Yurok Tribe has been reunited with Blue Creek, and we have finally ensured that this all-important tributary of the Klamath River will forever remain a source of cold, clean water and a refuge for the incredible fish and wildlife that depend on it.”

In addition to Blue Creek, parcels in the Pecwan, Ke’pel and Weitchpec Creek drainages are included in the project. The latter three properties will become part of the tribe’s Community Forest.

The tribe plans to manage the lands to support native wildlife, in addition to the production of a wide variety of traditional foods and basket-weaving materials.

The tribe is restoring about 15,000 acres in Blue Creek into an old-growth forest and a salmon sanctuary.

Tribal officials said Blue Creek is one of the most important Klamath River tributaries, providing a critical thermal refuge area for migrating salmon, as well as forest habitat for sensitive wildlife species.

During the fall Chinook salmon run, they said, the water at the mouth of the creek can be 20 degrees cooler than the main stem of the river. In most years, thousands of fish, stressed by dam-warmed water temperatures, rest and recharge below Blue Creek in order to make it to the upriver spawning grounds in a healthy condition.

The officials said Yurok biologists, foresters and cultural experts are nearly finished with a comprehensive plan to create the salmon sanctuary. The long-term blueprint will guide restoration of the habitat for endangered species, including coho salmon, marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl and Humboldt marten, along with other culturally important fish and mammals such as chinook salmon, black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk.

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