Typically, each spring members of Casa Grande High School?s United Anglers group find between 40 and 60 chinook salmon in the portion of the Petaluma River near Payran Street to raise and then release.

The fish are wandering strays that have made their way up the Petaluma River in search of something, but got lost.

?But this year, we only found three of them,? said Tom Furrer, the wildlife biology teacher at Casa Grande, as well as coordinator of the Adobe Creek Restoration Project. ?The fall run didn?t exist, and the spring run isn?t there, either.

?This could soon become another animal on the endangered species list, and some difficult decisions will need to be made if it is going to survive.?

Federal government researchers have predicted that only 58,000 chinook salmon will reach the Sacramento area and its tributaries to spawn this year, compared with 800,000 in 2002. This rapid decline in the salmon population could result in economic losses of $290 million and the loss of 4,200 jobs, said the governors of California, Oregon and Washington.

Furrer says that the decline is due to several reasons, but largely can be attributed to water vital to the Sacramento River Delta and San Francisco Bay ecosystems being pumped to cities and farms in Southern California.

?California?s water policy needs to change because too much water is being sent down south, and the animal doesn?t have a safe place to breed,? he said. ?Also, most chinook salmon come from hatcheries, and have difficulty surviving because of the way the food chain has been affected: They starve, because they don?t have enough to eat.?

And true to their spirit, the students in Furrer?s United Anglers group want to do something to address the situation.

The students will be spending all summer feeding, cleaning and otherwise maintaining salmon at the Feather River State Fish Hatchery and the Tiburon Salmon Institute.

?The kids want to make a difference,? Furrer said. ?They can?t tolerate society?s apathy: They are frustrated with it, and want to do something about it.?

After growing up in Petaluma, Furrer returned in 1981 to teach at Casa Grande. Two years later, he formed the United Anglers, and since then it has worked to conserve a fish habitat on Adobe Creek and raised $1.5 million, to create, develop and maintain a fish hatchery, among other things.

When the hatchery opened on April 25, 1993, members of United Anglers held a banner that read, ?Together We Stand. Together We Dream. Together We Will Change the World.?

?Each year, our students raise 25,000 to 50,000 fish, and then cut them loose in October,? Furrer said. ?This is a drop in the bucket compared to some other places that raise millions of fish, but to me, it?s not about the numbers: It?s about demonstrating to kids how to care about the fish.

?And this hands-on experience gives the kids a 10- to 15-year advance over many others going into the field.?

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)