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From Gravel Pits to Salmon Habitat

Sediment trench across confined active floodplain of the Russian River, adjacent to abandoned floodplain gravel pits.

Additional Information and Links

Habitat Restoration: An Economic Engine
NOAA Habitat Blueprint
NOAA Fisheries Habitat Portal
Office of Habitat Conservation
Salmon Habitat
Five Fish Desperate for Healthy Habitat



September 6, 2012

River restoration isn’t the only technique to help rebuild fish populations. 
That’s why California is looking at an innovative method: reclaiming abandoned gravel pits as habitat for salmon.

In the past, the focus has been on restoring river habitat through barrier removals and enhancing in-stream habitat. But we’re taking a more holistic approach, understanding that salmon use different—but equally important—types of habitat throughout the life cycle.

Abandoned gravel pits exist all over the world. In British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, they have started to “reclaim” them as niche habitat for salmon. In Oregon, we’re already seeing success with this technique. We reconnected former gravel pits to the river as off-channel habitat, and we’ve already observed more Chinook salmon there than we’ve seen in decades.

NOAA, along with the state of California and other partners, is now studying whether this technique could work in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. By removing levees, reshaping banks, and re-contouring the river bottom, we would reconnect more than 350 acres of habitat. This would help restore the natural processes that will allow for the creation of habitat.

And the benefits of this technique don’t just end with salmon. Abandoned gravel pits are seen as a liability worldwide, and this could be a template for returning them to productive habitat. The restored areas would also provide new recreational areas for hiking and fishing.

Reclaiming Abandoned Gravel Pits

Left: Sampling vessel on the larger of the four abandoned
gravel pits, 
taking water and sediment samples with a vibro coring rig. Right: Backhoe trenching sediment profiles from the surface to the stagnant water in one of the abandoned pits.