Working for the recovery of the Eel River, its fisheries, and communities

Arcata, CA   |


Friends of the Eel River works for the recovery of the Wild & Scenic Eel River and its native fisheries, including three species of salmonids listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. An important step toward recovery for the Eel River is to remove the Potter Valley Project, two dams and a diversion tunnel in the headwaters that block salmonid access to the upper watershed and divert water through a mountain tunnel into the Russian River.

We use litigation and public education to address other potential watershed harms including impacts from cannabis cultivation, incomplete environmental impact reports, engaging with California's Water Rights permitting system, measuring and managing groundwater, and much more.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Alicia Hamann

Main address

PO Box 4945

Arcata, CA 95518 USA

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NTEE code info

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (C01)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Northwest California's Wild and Scenic Eel River drains several thousand square miles of some of the most remote, and most beautiful, landscapes on the West Coast. From its headwaters in the Yolla Bolly - Middle Eel Wilderness to the largely roadless Eel River Canyon and iconic redwood forests on the South Fork, the Eel River watershed is a nature lover's delight.

Today, this watershed offers an unmatched chance to rebuild the populations of
native salmon and steelhead that still survive in the river's five major tributaries. Over the past 150 years, dam building, industrial logging, overfishing, railroading, and poor land use practices have degraded much of the watershed, yet the salmon hang on.

The Eel River's fisheries are essential to the survival of the region's native peoples today, and recovered Eel River fisheries could again support economically significant commercial and recreational fishing if we can prevent their extinction now.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Removing Eel River Dams

A top goal is to decommission and remove at least one of PG&E’s two aging dams in the Eel River headwaters and drastically reduce and/or shift the water diversion to the Russian River. Scott Dam is 130 feet tall and has no fish passage, completely blocking salmonid access for 250 stream miles of high quality habitat. The smaller Van Arsdale Dam, which facilitates the diversion, is also problematic but does at least have adequate fish passage. In 2017, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission began the lengthy project relicensing process. In 2018, PG&E announced its intent to auction the project (known as the Potter Valley Project) off. And in 2019, PG&E announced it was withdrawing its license renewal application altogether. In order to achieve a decision to restore the Eel to a free-flowing state, we will:

Educate and engage the public and key influencers;

Coordinate with conservation, fishing, native, and other communities with common interests in securing Eel River fisheries recovery;

Engage in Rep. Huffman's stakeholders group and two technical working groups to build consensus and a plan for dam removal;

Participate in FERC proceedings to the extent useful and necessary;

Expose and spotlight the safety and financial liabilities prospective bidders would inherit; and

Pursue listings of Northern California summer steelhead under the California and federal Endangered Species Acts.

Population(s) Served

In Humboldt County, the heart of the Eel River and a major marijuana cultivation center, summer water diversions, sedimentation, and other impacts associated with large­-scale cultivation and development are harming water quality and fish. In 2018, FOER filed suit over Humboldt County’s failure to adequately protect our environment with its cannabis cultivation regulations. In 2019, we will:

Attempt to secure our proposed settlement agreement with Humboldt County;

Should negotiations fail, bring our case to court;

Monitor and engage with key state and local agencies to ensure state and local laws and regulations are implemented effectively; and

Support allies in Mendocino, Trinity, and Del Norte counties challenging ecologically insufficient cannabis cultivation regulations.

Population(s) Served

FOER has been watchdogging the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) for more than a decade, seeking to hold the agency accountable for its environmental disasters in the Eel River canyon and elsewhere. Sen. Mike McGuire's Great Redwood Trail Act (SB 1029), passed in 2018, is an exciting step toward dismantling this rogue entity and retaining a restored right-of-way for non-motorized transportation and recreation across 300 miles of rural, scenic northern California. FOER is well-positioned to help guide the transition phase and ensure a trail development plan also addresses the railroad’s legacy pollution. We will:

Support follow-up legislation and funding;

Continue to watchdog the NCRA and resolution of its environmental liabilities throughout the transition process;

Generate support for the Great Redwood Trail from allies and the general public;

Support the Great Redwood Trail Alliance;

Advise new trails and railbanking agency;

Work with the new Agency and the transition team to ensure that:

A viable plan is in place to remediate the environmental harms of the rail line; and

Trail development does not adversely impact public waters or wildlife.

Population(s) Served

Where we work

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Friends of the Eel River was founded in 1994 to free the Eel River and save its struggling salmon and steelhead runs. The organization grew to become a principled and effective advocate for the Eel River watershed and its fisheries and today is confronting these challenges through savvy advocacy and engagement strategies.

This is truly a critical time for the Eel River. We currently have before us a tangible opportunity to remove the dams. Efforts to develop a more ecologically viable cannabis industry and remedy the threats that a crumbling freight rail line poses to the Eel River canyon are also at important junctions. And despite the stressors and uncertainties of climate change, scientists generally agree that the Eel River holds perhaps the West's greatest promise for salmonid recovery - IF local populations can survive the next few years. Friends of the Eel River is thus advancing the following campaign priorities:

1. Removing the Eel River Dams;

2. Forging sustainable land use and cannabis cultivation regulations;

3. Protecting the Eel River Canyon from lawless railroad development; and

4. Advancing sustainable recreation and transportation opportunities for the Eel River watershed and North Coast region.

Friends of the Eel River is a principled organization, guided by science and using litigation and advocacy to accomplish major wins for this critical ecosystem. We are uniquely positioned to continue our record of success in recovering the wild and scenic Eel River, its fisheries, and communities. Friends of the Eel River began as a grassroots community organization, and continues to listen to our community and work in coordination with a variety of allies including regional Tribes, the commercial and recreational fishing industry, trail and transportation advocates, local businesses, state and federal wildlife agencies, and other conservation NGOs.

Our primary strategies fall under three categories: restoring fish access to the upper river, connecting communities and habitat, and protecting endangered species and water quality.

Restoring Fish Access to the Upper River: One of FOER’s primary objectives is to restore fish passage to the cold water refugia trapped behind two dams on the mainstem. The Potter Valley Project has blocked access to over 280 miles of prime steelhead spawning habitat for the last century. We are now pursuing our greatest opportunity to remove this archaic, unsafe infrastructure.

Connecting Communities and Habitat: Restoring access to aquatic habitat in the upper basin must be complemented by reconnecting habitat in the fragmented estuary. The seven-mile Eel River estuary has incredible potential, but we need to act fast to restore salt marshes as the rate of sea level rise in this region outpaces much of the rest of the globe. And of course, we can’t wait to see rural communities thrive when connected to each other and the landscape via the Great Redwood Trail.

Protecting Endangered Species and Water Quality: In 2021 FOER successfully listed Northern California summer steelhead as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. Our petition to list the species under the Federal ESA was denied in 2020, but we will resubmit with newly available data. We work with legislative partners to advance protective designations for habitat and ensure land management includes Tribes, and plans for addressing pressing issues like climate change and wildfire.

Friends of the Eel River (FOER) has developed a reputation for successful litigation and strategic advocacy securing critical wins for the Eel River watershed. Some of our recent major accomplishments include:

- North Coast Railroad Authority Legal Victory: For nearly a decade FOER was engaged in litigation with the NCRA challenging their claim that the agency was exempt from CEQA. In 2017 we won our case at the California Supreme Court, paving the way for Senator Mike McGuire’s bill kick-starting the Great Redwood Trail. FOER is now leading a diverse group of stakeholders to support the trail and ensure planning is ecologically sound and includes culturally appropriate interpretation.

- Humboldt County Cannabis Ordinance Settlement and Grant Program: In 2019 FOER reached a settlement agreement with Humboldt County in our CEQA case challenging their insufficient cannabis regulations. Our settlement requires the County to fund road and culvert repairs to reduce sediment pollution in the most sensitive salmonid habitats in the most active cannabis cultivation regions on the South Fork Eel. We now work with the County and state wildlife and water agency staff to evaluate and approve proposals for this program.

- Northern California Summer Steelhead Listed as Endangered: Northern California summer steelhead are now listed as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. We are continuing our efforts to secure a federal listing by funding additional research and working with experts to submit newly developed data.



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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


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Board of directors
as of 02/05/2024
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Michael Belchik

Yurok Tribe

Mike Belchik

Yurok Tribe

Drevet Hunt

National Resources Defense Council

Mark Lovelace

HDL Companies

Virginia Graziani


Elaine Astrue

Derek Shaw

Humboldt State University

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Not applicable
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No