The Mattole Watershed

The Mattole Watershed

The Mattole watershed encompasses 304 square miles within the northern California Coast Mountains, some of the most rugged and geologically active land in California. The Mattole River flows completely un-dammed for 62 miles fed by over 74 tributary streams, from northern Mendocino County to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean, 10 miles south of Cape Mendocino.

The Mattole River

The river and its tributaries provide important habitat for three salmonid fish species: steelhead trout, Coho (silver) salmon and Chinook (king) salmon.

The Mattole River is in an extremely geologically active and unstable watershed that is choked with sediment, which reduces its capacity to support fish and other aquatic organisms. Before wide scale timber harvesting, erosion occurred slowly over thousands of years, and the river could transport sediment at a rate roughly equal to the input of new sediment.

From the 1940s to the 1970s, intensive timber harvest and other land use changes created hundreds of miles of poorly built roads. Combined with the floods of 1955 and 1964, many deep pools that used to exist in the river filled in, and the river channel became flatter and wider.

These changes have redefined the geomorphology of the river. In response, the Council initiated the Good Roads, Clear Creeks Program in 2001 to assist landowners with sediment reduction. Based on the recommendations in the Council’s 1989 report “Elements of Recovery,” this was an important strategy for assisting the river’s return to its pre-timber harvest condition. After many years of working to reduce sediment loading into the river, we estimate that 2 million cubic yards of sediment have been prevented from reaching streams. Our current focus is on restoring native ecosystems (grasslands, riparian, oak woodlands), sustainable management of working lands (forests, grasslands), collecting and disseminating information about Mattole watershed processes, and supporting the community through education and outreach.

About the MRC

The Mattole Restoration Council is one of North America’s oldest community-led watershed restoration organizations. Established in 1983, the Council’s primary mission is to understand, restore and conserve the ecosystems of the Mattole River watershed, with attention to threatened coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead. The Council works to further our objectives and purpose via “The restoration of natural systems in the Mattole River watershed and their maintenance at sustainable levels of health and productivity.” You can check out the various programs under the MRC to see a breakdown of the many ways we interact with the local environment and community.

We are a non-profit, 501c3 that works with hundreds of private landowners, resource management agencies, and other local conservation and education organizations such as the Mattole Salmon Group, Sanctuary Forest, and Friends of the Lost Coast. These four groups work together to support the Mattole Watershed and King Range National Conservation Area as the King Range Alliance.


We look forward to a Mattole has healthy, self-sustaining, productive forests, meadows, and streams, with abundant native fish and wildlife populations. We envision a community that draws its sustenance from and lives in harmony with the environment. We seek to understand processes of natural healing and enhance them using best land practices in harmony with the local environment. We seek to enhance the exchange of knowledge among all community members towards that goal. We look forward to a time in the Mattole watershed when “restoration” will no longer be needed.


The objectives and purpose of the Mattole Restoration Council are the restoration of natural systems in the Mattole River Watershed and their maintenance at sustainable levels of health and productivity, especially in regards to forests, fisheries, soil, and other plant and animal communities. The Mattole Restoration Council will pursue this goal by:

  • undertaking work in watershed rehabilitation and salmon enhancement in the context of watershed‐wide planning processes;
  • actively seeking affiliation with other groups in the Mattole watershed that share similar goals;
  • pursuing the education and involvement of watershed residents and landholders in the process of watershed recovery, maintenance and preservation of natural systems, and sustainable harvest techniques;
  • conducting research and encouraging the development of land‐use techniques and cultural and economic activities which further the sustained productivity of the resource base in the Mattole watershed;
  • entering into cooperative undertakings with private land owners and with federal, state, and county agencies toward the achievement of our goals;
  • encouraging the development of regional and watershed‐based self‐reliance through creative, productive and interdependent human relationships with the Mattole watershed;
  • advising individuals, agencies, and corporate entities whose activities might impact the health and productivity of the Mattole watershed; and
  • cooperating and communicating with community‐based groups with similar goals in other watersheds.


In the late 1970s, residents of the Mattole Valley noticed a large decline in the numbers of returning salmon. Investigation led to the discovery that the salmon spawning habitat was being impacted by sediment. In 1978, residents within the Mattole River basin began proactive restoration efforts aimed at increasing salmon numbers.

After these efforts failed to produce the desired results, it quickly became apparent that salmon do not live just in streams, they live in watersheds. In order to save the native salmon runs, residents would need to care for the whole system. This led to the formation of the Mattole Watershed Salmon Support Group (MWSSG) in 1980, as well as groups focused on smaller parts of the watershed. In 1983, the Mattole Restoration Council was founded by more than 30 Mattolians who gathered under the shade of the Council Madrone near Ettersburg. Its original intention was to provide support for the restoration of the Mattole River watershed, and bring together the various groups working on this effort under one community-based umbrella.

The Mattole Watershed Salmon Support Group evolved into the Mattole Salmon Group, which works directly with salmon and streams, while the Mattole Restoration Council assumed the work of public outreach and upslope restoration. The Salmon Group, the Restoration Council, and the Whitethorn-based land trust Sanctuary Forest often collaborate under the banner of the Mattole River and Range Partnership.

Since its inception, the Mattole Restoration Council has been at the forefront of community based watershed restoration. The activities of the Council have been featured in numerous articles, books, and videos on ecological restoration, both locally and internationally. The story of the Mattole restoration movement is known as the first community-based restoration effort in the state of California.

Today, the Mattole Restoration Council is actively working on riparian planting, grasslands restoration, sustainable forest management, public outreach, ecological education in the local public schools, water conservation, and hazardous fuels reduction.