Under the clear, cold rocky areas of mountain rivers lives the Shasta crayfish - an endangered species endemic to California, locked in a head-to-head battle with a competing crayfish. As part of the new Pit 1 Hydroelectric operating license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, PG&E has been working with a host of partners, including federal and state agencies and academic experts, to save the declining species.
The Shasta crayfish is the only remaining crayfish species native solely to California. It was once found throughout portions of the Pit River and Fall River, as well as Hat Creek, in Shasta County. Today, the crayfish are limited to much smaller and more isolated stream sections of these watersheds. Without immediate recovery efforts, the future for the estimated 5,000 remaining native crayfish looks bleak.
The primary threat has been the introduction and expansion of a faster growing, more aggressive, non-native predator and competitor, the signal crayfish. Twice the size, the signal crayfish have quickly become more dominant, outcompeting the Shasta crayfish for both food and space. Additionally, the species is threatened by habitat fragmentation and disturbances due to land use.
Determined to help protect the Shasta crayfish, PG&E is a member of a formal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Recovery Team. The team includes: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Spring Rivers Foundation and academia. Taking a practical and creative approach, the team has embarked on several innovative, collaborative efforts.
Environmental Services Consultant Rhonda Shiffman has been the PG&E co-lead on the Recovery Team for the past several years. "It has been a fantastic process to work with all of these stakeholders and collaborate on first-of-its-kind, experimental solutions to stop the population decline," she said.
The team recently achieved an important milestone by constructing a crayfish migration barrier in the upper Fall River - essentially blocking the signal crayfish from invading Shasta crayfish habitat. Working in collaboration with a private landowner, the team pioneered a custom barrier that stretches across the stream channel and is sealed to the underlying bedrock.
Other innovative projects PG&E is supporting in the area include restoring habitat for the species at Sucker Springs Creek and Rock Creek above the Crystal Lake State Fish Hatchery. Among other support at Sucker Springs, PG&E provided the heavy machinery to help remove older weirs (small dams) and clear the way for more effective barriers.
Mike Spainhour, Generation Supervisor for the Pit 1 Hydroelectric Project, said the collaborative effort reflects PG&E’s overall values. “We all live in the community where we work and want to be good environmental stewards for ourselves and the generations to come. This partnership was a great opportunity for PG&E to give back to the environment and the community in a meaningful way.”
Shiffman explained that the goal in this recovery effort is to reverse the decline of the species and neutralize the associated threats. As for the crayfish barriers, the team’s efforts have already been successful. "Success is measured by the collaborative efforts of everyone involved and knowing that we’re working to make a real difference," she explained.
Maria J. Ellis, Ph.D, a leading expert with Spring Rivers Ecological Sciences and a key partner of PG&E agreed. "The Shasta crayfish is an important species, that is critically endangered. PG&E has played a vital role in building momentum for species recovery actions. We applaud PG&E and all of the project partners for their dedication and teamwork. Our hope is that our combined efforts will not only prevent further decline, but potentially lead to the recovery of the Shasta crayfish."