BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Through the Sikes Act, enacted in 1960, over 300 military installations work alongside the FWS to promote conservation. Beale Lake happens to be a unique location and is scheduled to receive upgrades by 2020.
“We are really excited about this project because we’ve wanted to do it for quite a while and it’s a long-term project,” Tamara Gallentine, 9th Civil Engineer Squadron natural and cultural resources program manager said. “It’s a benefit to endangered species, and that is our main goal under the Sikes Act, so we’ve partnered with the FWS.”
The Department of Defense owns approximately 25 million acres, making it one of the largest land owners in the U.S. The CES and the FWS work together on conservation projects so Airmen can continue training to stay mission ready without disrupting the natural habitat.
“I think it’s important that we are taking something that was done historically and letting it flow naturally. The dam was built in 1942 when it was Camp Beale and owned by the Army,” Tamara said. “I think it’s a wonderful project, and it’s a huge collaboration. We are doing something that benefits the base and the species.”
The lake is being drained to observe the streamflow and sample the lake’s sediment. In doing so, the teams will be able to better understand how to sustain and support the salmon and steelhead migrations and see if other modifications are needed after removing the dam.
“We did a study out here and looked at things that can be done to improve salmon and steelhead migration and restore wildlife habitat on the base,” Mark Gard, FWS biologist, said. “The Base has a great opportunity to improve fish passage with this project.”
It took several days to open the dam’s gates and draw down the lake. As it emptied out, FWS biologists began plotting GPS coordinates throughout the lake where sediment samples were taken for further research. Additionally, Air Force biologists rescued stranded wildlife, including fish and turtles.
“There are three main things we are looking at: the volume of sediment; any contaminants in the sediment, like mercury; and the cultural resources within the inundation area of the lake,” Mark said. “We look forward to receiving the results of our tests and planning the next steps on this major habitat restoration project with Beale Air Force Base.”
The overall goal is to remove the dam and the current fish ladder, which was too small for the fish to pass naturally. In the coming months, the project managers hope to turn the lake into a fully functioning river allowing the habitat to improve and fish to return to the creek upstream of the dam.
Other portions of the project are removing an upstream migration barrier in Dry Creek downstream of the base, adding rocks in the upper portion of the lake to allow fish to pass the waterfall at the upstream end of the lake, and adding gravel to Dry Creek upstream of the lake for spawning habitat.
As the teams complete their assessments, a copy will be available for review to the public. As the year goes on, multiple assessments will be conducted allowing for a future of continued partnership and helping an endangered species.
For more information on the endangered species in your area go to https://www.fws.gov/endangered.