Salmon and trout struggling to navigate a series of man-made obstacles in Northern California's streams and rivers have Michael Love working for their cause.
The 1996 graduate of Humboldt State's Environmental Resources Engineering program and owner of Michael Love & Associates, an environmental engineering firm in Eureka, is one of the authors of the upcoming fourth edition of the California Salmonid Stream Habitat Restoration Manual. The manual serves as the scholarly bible for engineers, geologists and fish biologists working on projects that improve habitat and passage for salmonids, a family of fish that includes salmon and trout. It describes the technical approach to projects like road drainage culvert removal, erosion control and fish passage improvement.
Love's passion for improving the environment, especially waterways, was forged during his youth. He grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley where rivers and salmon are, for the most part, absent.
"The Valley is dusty and dry with lots of oil and agricultural development," Love recalls. "I was one of those Bakersfield surfers and I wanted to move somewhere green and near the ocean. I looked at all the schools from San Jose on up the coast and Humboldt State seemed like the best."
Love began at HSU as a biochemistry major, but switched to environmental engineering after being inspired by friends studying the discipline. Following graduation, he worked for the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Project at the Interagency Watershed Analysis Center at Dow's Prairie just minutes north of the HSU campus. While at the Watershed Analysis Center, Love collaborated with colleagues who sparked his interest in fish passage design. With hydrologist Michael Furniss and environmental engineer Susan Firor, Love wrote a software program called FishXing that assists engineers, geologists and biologists in the evaluation and design of road drainage culverts for fish passage. The software was first released in 1998 and is now in its third iteration.
"The software is kind of in a class by itself," Love says. "And now, the FishXing project has grown to be more than just the software. We are doing case studies of completed projects to learn from our peers and our mistakes and successes, and posting those on the Internet for download."
Love and his team work throughout California, often partnering with local engineering firms to take on larger projects. He says the most rewarding aspect is returning to a job site and experiencing the tangible results.
"I really enjoy going back to my projects and seeing the physical changes like improvements to the channel, watching the trees grow and seeing the fish making it upstream. It's definitely the best part of my work," Love says. "I do mostly small projects, so only two or three years later you can return and see the improvements already happening."
With people like Love working to restore habitat and increase fish populations, what's the outlook for salmon and trout in Northern California's waterways?
"The incremental steps we're doing by not degrading any more habitat and improving fish passage, allowing fish into creeks where they haven't been for a 100 years, is encouraging," he says. "If we could fix the Klamath River, I'd say we could do a lot better."