Wild steelhead depend on a diverse mosaic of habitats throughout their life-cycle
Steelhead habitats include intact watersheds with clean, stable spawning gravels, off-channel habitats and beaver ponds for juvenile overwintering, healthy estuaries and near shore habitats and productive coastal oceans for adult feeding migrations. Salmon and their habitats span thousands of miles, from the high elevation rivers of the Western Rockies to the North Pacific, forging a vital connection between the marine and terrestrial world, supporting the healthy ecosystems which in turn sustain them.
Human activities during the last century-and-a-half have altered these habitats dramatically, rendering them less able to support healthy runs of wild salmon. Logging, mining, and over-grazing have destabilized stream banks, caused increased sedimentation, and deprived rivers of vital large woody debris. Land clearing and urbanization has increased the flashiness of river hydrographs with more intense, destructive flooding, and more severe summer droughts. Draining of wetlands and beaver ponds, channelization and dyking have also taken a heavy toll, reducing the diversity of habitats and depriving juvenile salmon of critical rearing habitat. In many parts of salmon’s range urbanization, dredging and the construction of seawalls have displaced estuaries; critical nurseries habitat for juvenile salmon. In Puget Sound alone more than 80% of historic estuary habitat has been lost, and the San Francisco bay; once home to the second most prolific run of Chinook on the planet is listed among the most endangered ecosystems in the United States.
Yet salmon persist despite this tremendous loss of habitat. Threats to healthy freshwater and marine habitats remain, however in many places improved environmental regulation and hard work to protect and restore rivers and estuaries hold promise for a future that may be brighter for salmon and their habitat. With hard work we can continue to build on this momentum, protecting what remains and restoring watersheds that have been damaged, ensuring that healthy rivers sustain wild salmon and steelhead for generations to come.