Protecting our salmon and our human survival


A healthy watershed is a key reason for the high prices of Marin County homes. Indeed, the environment surrounding a given property is a less obvious amenity that translates into increased property value. Environmental protections and slowed development by past generations have contributed to the current demand for housing in our special part of the world.  

It’s time we valued our freshwater creeks—nature’s roads—for the value they bring in the long term. Biodiversity in our watershed is essential for many species and is essential for ultimate human survival. We must protect our watersheds, respecting the natural flows of water and the life they enable. Extinction is far more serious than anyone’s financial investment.

The cumulative effect of many small land disturbances near a stream can be devastating. Land-use restrictions to protect salmon streams have successfully been implemented elsewhere in California and around the United States. Marin’s failure to take permanent action is truly disturbing, considering that other counties and cities have enacted stream protection measures. The need to control development, to protect Marin’s salmon, has been well understood for decades. 

Marin officials have watched coho salmon populations drop by 70 percent since the 1960’s. In 2010, the nonprofit Salmon Protection and Watershed Network sued the county for its failure to protect salmon. Marin’s Superior Court imposed a ban on new development in San Geronimo Valley pending the adoption of an ordinance that had been promised since 1994. 

In June, almost two decades after the ordinance had been proposed, the Board of Supervisors had before it a draft stream protection ordinance ready for adoption. But when it came to a vote, supervisors lacked the political courage to protect the salmon. Instead, they chose to punt, appointing a subcommittee to make recommendations for revising the Countywide Plan once again. 

We can have development setbacks for coho and all the other species that don’t recognize our surveyed boundaries. Our creeks are roads for salmon, whose annual migrations are a marvel of nature. When my family lived on San Geronimo Creek, the sighting of salmon always lifted our spirits, connecting us to the natural world. I envision Marin’s creeks as wildlife corridors where aquatic and terrestrial critter alike would have their needs met. It’s time for us humans to see the bigger picture and begin limiting our development.

Private property rights should take a back seat to the needs of nature. As a working realtor, I’m still speaking up for the fish. I value their right to continue co-existing with us more highly than our right to expand real estate development. But will our supervisors do the same? Human activity, especially land development, has been the main cause of the collapse of the Lagunitas Creek salmon population, and sustaining the salmon requires rigorous protection along the entire length of the creek and its

As our planet undergoes a biodiversity crisis everywhere, 16,000 species are threatened with extinction, including 12 percent of birds, 23 percent of mammals and 32 percent of amphibians. Biologists are clear that humans are responsible for the declines we are witnessing. The aggregate effect of all our development continues to destroy the homes and habitat of wildlife, even when we as individuals take great care not to.

We should move quickly to enact a rigorous, enforceable ordinance to protect our salmon, or they will all be gone and the threats to human survival are not far behind. Let’s listen to the scientists over the protestations of property owners. Let’s heed the dire warnings; there has been enough delay already. 

I urge the county supervisors to exercise decisive leadership is reversing the tide that always seems to put private property rights ahead of nature’s rights. Salmon are the biological foundation—and keystone species—of our precious coastal ecosystems. Let’s hope the supervisors stem the tide of ecocide and side with the fish on this important issue.  


Bernie Stephan is an Inverness resident and the broker of Eco Realty. He co-hosts KWMR’s Post Carbon Radio and blogs at