Work got under way in the Tongass National Forest this summer to repair a key salmon-producing river as part of a collaborative project by the Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Sitka Conservation Society.The Sitkoh River, on Chichagof Island, used to produce prolific volumes of pink, chum and Coho salmon, along with steelhead, Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout. Although still productive, Sitkoh’s fish habitat suffered heavy impacts from logging that took place mostly in the 1970s. The timber harvesting removed old growth trees along the river which had held the banks in place and provided wood debris for pool habitat.
The partners raised $318,000 to fix the problems, including re-routing a 1,800-section of river that currently runs down an old logging road due to erosion. In the first video below, Forest Service hydrologist Marty Becker explains some of what’s happening on the river this summer.
Over the course of the next month, Aqua Terra Restoration – which contracted with the Forest Service to do the restoration project – will return the river to its original channel, stabilize old logging roads nearby, remove artificial barriers to fish passage, and thin hundreds of acres of thick young-growth trees to improve watershed health and wildlife habitat.
But before any of the major river re-routing work began, a group of conservation interns and local high school students studying ecology spent time in mid-June trapping juvenile salmon. They caught nearly 700 fish in metal traps and relocated them to another stretch of the river so that they wouldn’t be harmed by the heavy equipment or the temporary water diversion process. Ray Friedlander, a recent University of California, Berkeley, graduate and summer intern for Sitka Conservation Society, was among the fish trapping crew.
Watch a story about the Sitkoh project produced by KATH-TV, the NBC affiliate station in Juneau, or read about it in the Juneau Empire and Capital City Weekly.
The Sitkoh River project is one of several large-scale restoration efforts the Forest Service is conducting in the Tongass National Forest this summer. Others are taking place or are in the works at12 Mile Creek on Prince of Wales Island (POW) near the town of Hollis, at Staney Creek and Luck Lake on POW, and at Saginaw River and Kennel Creek near the predominantly Alaska Native villages of Kake and Hoonah.
“Restoring salmon habitat is a key component of the economic transition on the Tongass that the Forest Service supports,” said Beth Pendelton, Alaska Regional Forester.
The agency announced in May 2010 that would move away from old-growth logging and into young-growth timber management, restoration of degraded salmon habitat, and job creation in emerging and established industries such as ocean products, visitor services, and renewable energy.
Trout Unlimited is actively partnering with the Forest Service to accelerate the pace of the transition and to ensure that critical salmon habitat restoration and conservation are priorities.
Trout Unlimited is working to gain permanent, watershed-level conservation measures for some of the best salmon and trout habitat in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest that remains open to development. The Tongass 77 campaign is about making salmon and trout a priority in some of America’s most pristine but threatened watersheds. TU interviewed some Alaska commercial and sport fishermen about why they support the Tongass 77 and will be publishing their responses in a series of blog posts over the summer. Here’s the first installment in the series.
NAME: Brad Elfers
LOCATION: Juneau, Alaska
OCCUPATION: Owner, Alaska Fly Fishing Goods
Q: What’s your connection to fishing and the Tongass?
A: I have been sport fishing, guiding and spending time in the Tongass for almost twenty years. I started out as a fly fishing guide and was lucky enough to get to fly all over northern Southeast Alaska and see this amazing forest from the air and then land and explore it on foot. Every day was a new exploration. There is truly nowhere else like it left in the world. As soon as you step foot in the forest, you know you are no longer the top creature in the food chain. It is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience. For the last fourteen years, I have owned and operated a fly fishing shop in Juneau. Helping people get out and explore the Tongass and experience for themselves how special this place is.
Q: Why do you support the Tongass 77 proposal?
A: I grew up in the Puget Sound region. As a kid I used to listen to the old timers talk about days gone by and how great the salmon and trout fishing in the area used to be. By that time, the fishing was a shadow of what it had been. There was a real profound sense of loss in their voices and I always wished — even as a young kid — that I could have seen the area the way it had been – in its full glory; streams full of salmon and trout, bears, deer and wildlife all tuned into these runs. It must have been amazing. Nobody wanted to lose all those things. But without watershed-scale protection, little by little, resource development, housing sprawl, over fishing, and a host of other urban issues, chipped away at wild salmon and trout. If we are serious about keeping wild salmon and trout in Southeast Alaska, we have to plan for it.
Q: Why is now the right time to introduce and work towards passage of Tongass 77 legislation?
A: Now is the time because we can’t afford to wait. These watersheds are still in pristine condition. It is way easier to preserve an intact watershed than to try to fix a broken one.
Q: Why do you think people in the Lower 48 should care about this?
A: I think people know deep down in their hearts, that this is our last chance. If we don’t protect the Tongass, there are no more temperate coastal rainforests in North America. You look at Northern California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and we have always looked north for areas that are still functioning and pristine. Plus, in an era when sustainable industries are the goal, there is no more sustainable resource than wild salmon and trout that return every year.
Q: What do you plan to do to see that the Tongass 77 legislation is passed?
A: I think awareness is huge. Making sure that a broad range of people from all over the U.S. know about the Tongass 77 and why we need it. Most of us don’t have a grasp on all the land-use designations and what is and isn’t allowed on these lands. But if you care about this area and seeing it continue to be productive in perpetuity, then supporting the Tongass 77 is the best first step.