Watch CBS News

California drought could push species to extinction

Overfishing and habitat destruction have pushed the coho salmon to the brink of extinction in California, but the state’s severe drought is the greatest threat to their survival
California drought threatens coho salmon with extinction 02:11

DAVENPORT, Calif. -- Along the California coast, coho salmon that swim upstream to lay their eggs could not have better friends than wildlife biologists Charlotte and Jon Ambrose.

The married couple has spent years working to keep salmon from going extinct in California. Overfishing and habitat destruction pushed the coho to the brink. But now the state's severe drought is the final threat.

Jon Ambrose CBS News
 "The population is so low now that when these natural events happen, that could be what tips them over the edge into extinction," said Jon Ambrose.

"We should be seeing nests of eggs here in the gravel," said Charlotte Ambrose.

 A nearly dry creek has been an essential part of the struggle to save the salmon. 

"Scott Creek is what we call our ground zero," said Jon.

The creek runs beside a hatchery that raises and releases about 40,000 fish each year. Even in a good year, only about 400 of those -- just 1 percent -- survive to return to lay their eggs.

"If you look at all these rocky outcropping, the fish has to swim over each and every one of those," Jon said.

There is so little water this year that the creek stops before reaching the ocean. CBS News
 Obstacles begin miles away at the ocean, where what should be a rushing river meets the sea. "We should be seeing fish coming in and fish going out," said Jon sadly.

Instead, there is so little water this year that the creek stops before reaching the ocean.  Salmon trying to return to the creek to lay their eggs have nowhere to go.

"The situation is dire. The drought makes it more dire, but it is not hopeless," said Charlotte.

What hope there is comes from the hatchery that each year keeps some salmon to harvest their eggs.  That precious supply protected behind the locked door of an incubator provides one more chance to keep the species alive.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.