header image

Mission and Overview

Mission: The Russian River Wild Steelhead Society is an organization dedicated to the preservation, protection and enhancement of wild Russian River Steelhead and the Russian River watershed.

The Russian River Wild Steelhead Society (RRWSS) was founded on May 15th, 2009 by Frank Bertaina at a meeting of anglers and conservationists assembled to elect officers and establish a Board of Directors for this new organization. Frank loved the Russian River and had been a part of its fly fishing hey-day, a time when the Russian River was noted as having one of the most prolific runs of Steelhead in all of the Pacific Northwest.

Noting the drastic decline in the health of the Russian River watershed and alarmed by the critical drops in returning Steelhead and salmon populations each year, Frank wanted to do something to help restore what he had once experienced and cherished on his favorite river. This action would require a group of dedicated individuals who would undertake a focused effort toward the rehabilitation of the ecosystem.

As this dream began to take shape, Frank's goals were outlined in the Mission Statement for this new group - The Russian River Wild Steelhead Society is an organization dedicated to the preservation, protection and enhancement of wild Russian River Steelhead and the Russian River watershed. The Russian River Wild Steelhead Society immediately began fund-raising and seeking members while also taking steps to become a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. At the same time, they began soliciting other organizations working in the Russian River watershed in an effort to determine projects that might require sponsors or volunteer assistance. This led to communications with California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), all of which provided a valuable overview of watershed projects and possible areas for RRWSS involvement.

With the federal listing of Russian River Coho Salmon on the Endangered Species List, projects for tributary enhancement were already well underway. Main stem restoration and rehabilitation projects were lacking, however, and it was determined that this effort might be a suitable project for the RRWSS, as the sponsor organization for the first Russian River Large Woody Debris (LWD) program. As this possibility was explored, the RRWSS also began its first education program for the Russian River community with the launching of Steelhead in the Classroom programs to help educate area school children about the life cycle of the Steelhead and its important place in the river ecosystem.

Sadly, Frank Bertaina passed away on March 3, 2010, while the direction of the RRWSS and its projects were still in early development. Yet the group that he helped create has continued to pursue his dream and has formed valuable partnerships with other groups that share our goal. In our first major Russian River enhancement project, the RRWSS partnered with DFG and NMFS to sponsor the first (LWD) Program in the main stem of the Russian River, a lengthy process that required a year and a half to secure the necessary state and federal permits before the insertion of large redwood root wads into carefully selected sites along the main stem began this past summer.

With the first phase of this project complete, additional phases will be implemented over the next two years. At the same time, Steelhead in the Classroom is enjoying tremendous popularity and the RRWSS is adding more tanks and classrooms to this program. The Russian River Wild Steelhead Society continues to hold annual fund-raising events with its membership and the Russian River community and has pursued a number of local grants to help with additional funding of our programs. These efforts will continue as the scope of our actions increase.

Currently, with more federal attention being focused on the plight of the Steelhead in our watershed, new opportunities are opening with NMFS and the new California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to sponsor habitat restoration programs in the tributaries of the Russian River and to extend our main stem efforts for Steelhead even further. The Russian River Wild Steelhead Society has pledged itself to follow Frank's dream and to work toward the restoration, rehabilitation and enhancement of the Russian River and its magnificent Steelhead. We are optimistic that we can make a difference and that Frank's goals deserve our combined efforts and our focused attention. Through our combined efforts, we can all realize a new Russian River and a more vital wild Steelhead fishery.