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American River Stories

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As we continue to recognize the role and history of Native Americans, my home holds another larger story of yesterday and a story of today. 

I live in Fair Oaks, a small suburban community of Sacramento. We are the land of two rivers-Lower American and Sacramento. The other story of  this place is the discovery of gold in the American River some 40 miles west into the Sierra Nevada foothills. Mining extended throughout our region and we can still see evidence of mining as we walk alongside Lower American  river today. One of our River communities is called “Gold River.” No story of this place is complete without reference to the population boom that followed and the widespread impacts of mining.   

Our second story is salmon spawning. Salmon begin their life cycle in the Lower American River and return home to spawn. Over the past several years, we have seen abundant years and more sparse years. The trend is fewer and fewer salmon every year. I know this to be true because I witness this spawning event every year and have documented it in blogs on my website. Blogs that later became a book of my observations “Mornings on Fair Oaks Bridge, Watching Wildlife on the Lower American River.” In 2019, we watched groups of salmon swim up the river at a specific narrow and shallow area sitting between the shore and an island in the middle of the river. They swim, they jump, they spawn. In 45 minutes, we saw dozens of them. In fall 2020 I led guided walks along the river. I anxiously awaited for the salmon to arrive in October and November. They did come. Not where I was expecting. So little rain left the narrow and shallow spawning area a sea of dry pebbles- no water in the narrow area. The run was more than a month late because water temperatures were too warm. When salmon arrived, the run was small and short. They swam up the other side of the island that is far wider and deeper. They traveled to a different area to spawn. I never saw any spawn.   

When usually a dozen fishermen line the river in both sides of Fair Oaks bridge from September through October 31 (end of season) I saw only 4 on any day. I saw no salmon jumping at the bridge. No pictures of proud fishermen catching salmon.   

This is the story of our place now—the river remains low, in drought, and our fall
salmon run may be even lower again.  

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