Less than 50 miles northeast of Chico, California, begins the 93-mile Butte Creek – a tributary of the Sacramento River. It is named after Butte County, which was in turn named for the nearby volcanic plateaus, or “buttes,” and travels through a massive canyon on its way southwest to the Sacramento Valley.
As a watershed, it drains about 800 square miles, both for agricultural and residential use. The upper watershed is dominated by forests, while the lower watershed is primarily agricultural.
Gold Rush Roots
Even now, gold panning and sluicing is practiced at the creek, a testament to its historical role as an often dredged location during the Gold Rush. As miners began to settle along the creek, they called their community “Butte Mills” and eventually “Dogtown” after every household was sold a puppy for the price of a pinch of gold dust.
Anadromous Fish Restoration
In recent years, populations of Chinook salmon and steelhead have dwindled, so projects have been implemented to increase their numbers. Passage barriers like dams have been removed, fish screens installed and flows altered to restore populations of both Chinook salmon and steelhead.
Spring-run Chinook salmon have regained healthy, sustainable numbers within Butte Creek, making it a conservation stronghold for the species, which is listed as threatened under the state and federal endangered species acts. Steelhead and fall-run Chinook salmon are threatened and a species of concern (respectively) at the national scale.
Sediment, bacteria and flooding are sometimes concerns along the creek, but are usually seasonal. The Butte Creek Watershed Management Strategy, organized in 2000, has several objectives to attempt to mitigate these and further improve Chinook salmon populations.