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The authors found historic information dating to 1881 suggesting the presence of an ancestral population, and their genetic analysis found the Chinook both above and below barriers to fish passage to be of native, and not hatchery stock.
In 2001 the Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) had dwindled to less than four returning spawners per year.
Historically it is interesting as one of two Northern California coastal rivers mentioned in the early nineteenth century by Russian explorer K. Khlebnikov as hosting sturgeon, presumably White sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), along with the Pajaro River. Kuskov had sent two baidarkas to the Slavianka River to catch sturgeon, and they returned today with ten fish..largest one exceeding two arshins (4.67 feet) long".
The high valleys were eroded into rocky canyons for ten miles north of Cloverdale and for five miles east of Cloverdale.
After establishing a connection to Clear Lake, the Russian River was beheaded from Clear Lake by a slide (at Cow Mountain, east of Ukiah). Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and his expedition may have made it as far north as the Russian River in November 1542, before storms forced them to turn back south towards Monterey.
This vulnerability was demonstrated in March 1982 when a tank car of formaldehyde was vandalized in Ukiah.
Emergency response personnel were able to clean up approximately half of the 21,000 US gallons (79,000 l) spilled, and a fortuitous combination of Lake Mendocino reservoir inventory and late winter storms helped flush the remainder through the river and into the ocean before local water storage inventories were exhausted.
However, in 2007, the Sonoma County Water Agency completed a comprehensive re-evaluation of historical records, coupled with a 5-year monitoring program using underwater cameras at two fish ladders just north of Forestville.