Essay by Jed McBeen
Photos by Jed and Joanie McBeen
This essay is part of an ongoing blog series on the Tongass National Forest, featuring the healthy & productive waters of the "Tongass 77."
Nearly all of the streams in the upper portion of Tenakee Inlet from are in essentially pristine condition. There has been some relatively minor (by modern standards) logging in a couple of the drainage's but not enough to significantly degrade the pristine character of these riparian ecosystems. In contrast to systems that have been extensively logged, virtually all of these streams are remarkable in their ability to produce large numbers of pink, chum and coho Salmon, even in hot dry summers. Most of them also provide habitat for small numbers of wild steelhead and large numbers of Dolly Varden.
These areas also support health populations of brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer and numerous species of smaller mammals as well as countless numbers of birds that are all dependent on a healthy intact ecosystem. These intact watersheds maintain higher flows and cooler temperatures than similar systems that have been heavily logged, especially in a warmer-than-normal summer. It is these two characteristics that allow these streams to produce large numbers of fish even when heavily logged systems are experiencing severe die-offs. This is why it is imperative to protect these pristine watersheds so that they may continue to be as productive as they now are.
A few years ago while I was guiding some clients for salmon on one of our local steams, we encountered 3 or 4 year-old brown bear fishing for salmon. Ordinarily, when we encountered a bear like this, we would simply wait for a bit while the bear caught a fish and then wandered off a ways to eat it so we could continue up the stream. However this bear would pounce on a fish, hold it for a few seconds and then let it go. He did this over and over for several minutes and I finally exclaimed, “Well I’ll be dammed, he is doing catch and release, just like us.” I finally shooed him away and we continued fishing up the stream.
I think it goes without saying that fishing in an unspoiled area such as this is truly something special. I know that when I am fishing in many places in the “lower 48” I can’t help but wonder how fantastic it must have been before the dams and the roads and the logging. I consider myself lucky to live in this relatively unspoiled place and that is why I am so passionate about protecting what little is left.
For more than three decades, local conservation organizations and several individuals in Tenakee have waged many legal and administrative battles with the Forest Service in an effort to keep these areas from being degraded by large-scale logging operations. Trout Unlimited has entered the arena with the Tongass 77 proposal which includes much of Tenakee Inlet. We hope this effort will result in the conservation of these areas for their outstanding fish and wildlife values as well as for the benefit and enjoyment of generations to come.