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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".White sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in the United States.This vulnerability was demonstrated in March 1982 when a tank car of formaldehyde was vandalized in Ukiah.

Recent genetic studies on steelhead collected at 20 different sites both above and below passage barriers in the watershed found that despite the fact that 30 million hatchery trout were stocked in the river from 1911 to 1925, the steelhead remain of native and not hatchery stock.

Until recently, most reviews indicated that Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) were always scarce on the Russian River.

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.

Water transferred from the Eel River and released from Lake Mendocino flows through the Russian River channel to withdrawal points in Sonoma County.

Although this method of transport supports aquatic and riparian zone habitats, it is vulnerable to chemical contamination from transportation accidents where the river is in close proximity to highway 101 and Northwestern Pacific Railroad transportation corridors in locations like the canyon between Cloverdale and Hopland.These low numbers were the catalyst for the Russian River Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program, a recovery effort in which offspring from hatchery-reared adults are released into the river system.In 2011, biologists estimate that more than 190 adult coho may have returned to the Russian River watershed, beginning with early storms in October and peaking in December.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.The Russians called it the Slavyanka River, meaning "Slav River".

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