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California’s Chinook Salmon Are in Danger. Rice Fields Just Might Be Their Salvation



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Snow geese erupt against a blue sky trimmed with fresh, white clouds. The air is so clear you can see for miles, east to the distant peaks of the Sierra Nevada and west to the gentle slopes of the Coast Ranges. But Carson Jeffres and Jacob Katz are less interested in the view above them than the one at their feet. Standing knee-deep in a flooded field at Knaggs Ranch, a rice farm near Sacramento, they peer into a floating cage made of PVC pipe and mesh and prepare to check on its unusual inhabitants.
Jeffres opens the top of the cage and dips in a small net. When he pulls it out, a pair of plump fish, each the size of a pinky finger, wriggle inside. These are young Chinook salmon—a species imperiled in California. He holds up his catch for Katz to admire.
The two men are fish ecologists—Jeffres at the University of California, Davis, and Katz at the conservation-based non-profit California Trout—and they are testing a wild idea. To help save the Chinook, they are using rice fields as winter nurseries for young salmon migrating from their natal streams to the ocean.

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