In Mediterranean-climate regions of California and southern Oregon, juvenile salmon depend on groundwater aquifers to sustain their tributary habitats through the dry summers. Along California’s North Coast streams, private property regimes on land have created commons tragedies in groundwater and salmon fisheries, both classic examples of commons that are often governed collectively and sustainably by their users. Understanding the linkages between salmon and groundwater is one major focus of salmon recovery and climate change adaptation planning in central California and increasingly throughout the Pacific Northwest. In this paper, I use extended field interviews and participant-observation in field ecology campaigns and regulatory forums to explore how, in one water-scarce, salmon-bearing watershed on California’s central coast, collaborators are synthesizing agency and landowner data on groundwater and salmon management. I focus on three projects undertaken by citizen scientists in collaboration with me and Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District staff: salmonid censuses, mapping of wet and dry stream reaches and well monitoring. I find that collaborative research initiated by local residents and agency personnel has, in some cases, created a new sense of ecological possibility in the region. I also consider some limitations of this collaborations, namely the lack of engagement with indigenous Pomo and Miwok tribal members, with the Confederated Tribes of Graton Rancheria and with farmworkers and other marginalized residents, and suggest strategies for deepening environmental justice commitments in future collaborative work.
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