The Bureau of Land Management issued an emergency order banning off-highway vehicle use on 160 acres of public land known as the Yuba Goldfields to protect habitat of spawning Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead.
The order comes after the federal agency received reports and photos of people riding quads into the river where threatened fish spawn.
"They were driving right into the river, right over the spawning 'reds,'" said BLM wildlife biologist Peggy Cranston. "Reds" are gravel areas in the river bed where salmon and steelhead lay their eggs.
The federal agency didn't hold a public hearing before calling the order, frustrating some OHV users who regularly ride in the area.
"We had to move quickly to protect the fish. We didn't have time to wait," said John Scull of the BLM's Folsom Field Office.
The Yuba Goldfields are located 8 miles west of Marysville on the Yuba River. The area gets its name from the numerous steep piles of gravel washed down from upstream hydraulic mining during the 1870's and 1880's.
This year, salmon have returned in record low numbers to Central Valley rivers, including the Yuba, bewildering anglers and biologists. The Yuba River salmons' ancestral spawning grounds were blocked when Englebright Dam was built in the early 1900s.
After reviewing preliminary data, it appears this year's fall run of Chinook salmon will be less than 10 percent of returns seen in the last few years, said Jason Rainey, executive director for the South Yuba River Citizens League. The group has been talking with the BLM for more than a year about the issue.
"We're well aware of the impacts OHV use has been having on spawning grounds. We witnessed it ourselves," Rainey said.
The BLM is mandated by law to protect critical habitat for species listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, Scull said.
The Yuba River's spring Chinook and steelhead populations are listed as threatened under the act. Fall run Chinook salmon are a species of concern by state and federal agencies, Rainey said.
"We don't want to do anything to mess up their reproductive cycle," Scull said.
The closure of OHV riding along the river corridor could be made permanent in the future but decisions won't be made without following a public process, Scull said.
The BLM manages approximately 470 acres accessible from Hammonton Road. Officials will post signs notifying visitors of the 160 acres closed to riding, Cranston said.
Lake of the Pines resident Ron Harris regularly rides in the area and fears that public federal lands open to OHV use are becoming increasingly scarce and could put heavier impacts on those that remain.
"It's just a shame they're taking more and more away," Harris said.
For more information, contact the Folsom Field Office at (916) 985-4474.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion. com or call 477-4231.