CHEER plans march on Sacramento

Herman Garcia =

A Gilroy-based environmental group says that for nearly two years, revised state regulations have thwarted its efforts to rescue steelhead trout in the Pajaro Valley watershed.

Frustrated that the state agencies charged with preserving federal protected fish have effectively ended his group’s fish-rescue efforts, Gilroy’s Herman Garcia said he will be leading a 150-mile walk from Gilroy to Sacramento next month to draw attention to the issue.

“Steelhead trout are dying during this dry-back season in our own waterways,” said Garcia. He is the founder and director of CHEER—Coastal Habitat Education and Environmental Restoration, which for two decades has monitored the creeks of the vast Pajaro River watershed for trash and polluters and built fish ladders for steelhead spawning. The species is an andranamous fish, which means it lives its life in Monterey Bay, then travels up rivers like the Pajaro and its feeder streams each spring to spawn.

When hot dry summer weather traps the steelhead fingerlings in tepid pools, Garcia for years has rescued them, moving them to free-flowing water.

The purpose of the march, said Garcia, is to change the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife regulations and policies regarding Steelhead Trout rescue-and-restoration permits for volunteer like CHEER. CHEER historically has received permits allowing its volunteers to rescue the federally protected steelhead trout.

In 2016, Fish and Wildlife suspended the rescue permits across the state for non-governmental organizations, unless they are accompanied by a state-certified biologist.

“CHEER in partnership with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries service single-handedly saved our fisheries and water quality—we were on a road to recovery,” said Garcia.

“The state is denying our efforts with burdensome regulations.”

Garcia said he collected about 2,000 signatures on a petition supporting the march at last month’s Gilroy Garlic Festival. For more information, go to cheercentral.org.

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