Save Southern Steelhead from Extinction

The evidence is undeniable: Southern California steelhead teeter on the brink of extinction. Historically, tens of thousands of Southern steelhead swam through Southern California rivers and streams. Today, it’s rare to see them in double digits, thanks to habitat loss, fragmentation, and the encroachment of urbanization. 

Southern California steelhead serve as crucial indicators of watershed health and river ecosystem integrity. Their loss would affect every other species — plant, animal, and human. Listing these fish as endangered would promote conservation actions which will benefit not only the steelhead but humans as well. For example, improving aging infrastructure would reduce the risk of flooding and increase public safety. Holistic watershed restoration would enforce and build strong relationships throughout the community.

Our friends at CalTrout are sending a letter to the Fish and Game Commission urging them to list the Southern California steelhead as endangered under California’s Endangered Species Act. Please sign the letter by April 4 to show your support →

Photo credit: Mark H. Capelli

To: California Fish and Game Commission
From: [Your Name]

President Silva and Commissioners:

As a concerned California resident, I write to you today to express my full support for designating the Southern California steelhead as endangered under California’s Endangered Species Act.

Southern steelhead are an iconic native species, but without further protections we risk losing them forever. That’s not a California I want to live in. Do you? You must act immediately to put in place all precautions to prevent this species from total loss.

Recent research tells us that Southern steelhead populations are in danger of extinction within the next 25 to 50 years, if current trends persist. Since their listing as an endangered species in 1997 under the federal Endangered Species Act, Southern steelhead numbers have continued to decline to precariously low levels. In the past 25 years, only 177 adult Southern steelhead were documented in their native range! Allowing this species to disappear is not acceptable, and more protections are essential.

These fish play a key role in our ecosystems, and they can give us crucial information about the greater health of the watersheds they swim in (and that our communities rely upon). We can look to them for clues on how California must work to address bigger problems in our southern rivers and streams, watersheds that provide countless societal and economic benefits for the entire state. I believe that we prosper when rivers and waterways in key locations are thriving, and in many of these places there is work to be done.

These fish may also play a role in providing resiliency for ecosystems further north along the coast. Southern steelhead are uniquely adapted to Southern California’s warmer Mediterranean climate. As climate change continues to increase water temperatures and alter flow regimes along the entire West Coast, Southern steelhead could be critical to the long-term resiliency of their northern relatives.

For all these reasons, I wholeheartedly support California Trout’s recommendation that Southern California steelhead be listed as endangered in all waterways within historic range below natural or man-made barriers. CalTrout chose this delineation thoughtfully, so that fishing and continued management for rainbow trout, the freshwater form of this amazing species, would still be possible above these barriers.

It’s not too late to save the Southern California steelhead species from blinking out – but if you don’t act urgently, we may very well miss our chance. Please make protection of these amazing and important fish a conservation priority by listing them as endangered under the state’s Endangered Species Act.


A Concerned California Resident