Sitka Conservation Society
Apr 09 2013

Take Action: Salmon, Water, Alaskans need your help

Salmon, water, and the Alaskans who depend on them need your help!

Background: Right now, the Alaska State Senate is debating whether or not they should make it more difficult for Alaskans to protect the water in their backyards for salmon habitat.  HB77, the In-Stream Water Reservations Bill, would convolute an already convoluted public process, eliminating the requirement for public comment periods.  It would also give the Department of Natural Resources Commissioner the authority to issue General Permits for industrial operations if the commissioner determines the project will not cause “significant or irreparable harm” to Alaskans and issue permits that would directly and negatively impact salmon habitat if the commissioner determines it is in the “best interest of Alaska.”

As a reminder, the Department of Natural Resources no longer values future generations—they eliminated “future generations” from their mission statement last year.

Additionally, HB77 intends to revoke certain rights from Alaskan individuals, organizations, and tribes, and gives the government of Alaska authority on whether or not salmon and water are as important as industrial development.  In other words, this bill protects Outside interests at the expense of local Alaskans.  For an example of DNR siding against Alaskans in favor of Outside interests, and why this bill is relevant to all Alaskans, click here.

Talking Points

  • Alaskans need more opportunities to preserve salmon and our unique way of life, not fewer
  • HB77 protects the right for Outside interests to take water out of salmon streams while making it more difficult for Alaskans to keep water in salmon streams
  • The bill gives DNR discretion to negatively impact salmon habitat if it is in the “Best Interest” of the State of Alaska
  • It eliminates the requirement for DNR to open public comment periods on “Best Interest Findings”
  • 95% of public testimony opposed HB77, including fishing organizations, Alaska Native Tribal councils, city councils, fishermen, hunters, and every day residents

Take Action: Time is running out on the Legislature.  To add your voice to this issue, act now!

Alaska’s fish and water need you to stand up and take action immediately.  There are two ways you can help: You can write a My Turn in the Juneau Empire, or you can contact the Alaska State Senate Coastal Caucus and let them know you oppose HB77, a bill that revokes certain rights from Alaskans, eliminates the requirement for public comment periods at DNR, and gives DNR discretion to impact salmon habitat for the benefit of Outside companies.

Senator.Bert.Stedman@akleg.gov   465-3873

Senator.Dennis.Egan@akleg.gov   465-4947

Senator.Peter.Miicciche@akleg.gov   465-2828

Senator.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov   465-4925

Senator.Donny.Olson@akleg.gov   465-3707

Mar 11 2013

Sealaska Continues to Pursue a “Constellation of In-holdings” Across important areas on the Tongass

Senator Lisa Murkowski has reintroduced the Sealaska Lands Legislation, with the new version of the bill containing five selections in the Sitka area, some of which are in crucial subsistence and recreation areas.

The Sitka-area selections are 15.7 acres at Kalinin Bay, 10.6 acres at North Arm, 9 acres at Fick Cove, 10.3 acres at Lake Eva,  and 13.5 acres at Deep Bay.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SITES BELOW

Background: Murkowski’s legislation, known as S.340, is the fourth version of the Sealaska Lands Legislation to be introduced in the last eight years.  Like the three previous versions, the primary focus of this Legislation is to allow the Sealaska Corporation to make land selections outside the boundaries it agreed upon following the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.  The Legislation would lead to the privatization of over 70,000 acres of the Tongass and grant Sealaska access to substantially more old growth forest than if it made its selections within the previously agreed upon boundaries.

In fairness to Murkowski and Sealaska, the latest version of the Legislation is a significant improvement on prior versions of the Legislation, with the addition of timber stream buffers, removal of proposed “Natives Futures” development sites from the Sitka area, and the inclusion of new provisions for subsistence access in cultural and historic sites.

Most of the development lands in the Legislation are on Prince of Wales Island, and all of the Sitka-area selections are deceptively-labeled “cemetery and historic” sites.  From the time the first version of the Legislation was introduced, the Sitka Conservation Society has held the position that we do not oppose Native management of important Native cultural and historic sites.  Our problem has been that from our experience and review of agency practices concerning previous historic site applications, including that at Redoubt Falls near Sitka, the law is so loosely interpreted by the federal agencies tasked with determining what qualifies as a cemetery/historical site that virtually anything can be considered “historic.”  Indeed, we have seen little evidence to the historic value of most of the sites selected by Sealaska.

Under the new Legislation, Sealaska has selected 76 “cemetery and historic” sites around Southeast Alaska.  For years we have said that the Tongass National Forest is large, but its greatest resources are concentrated in small areas like the mouths of streams and in safe anchorages.  Thus, some of the spots with the richest resources in the Tongass might only take up a few acres.  Many of Sealaska’s proposed cemetery/historic sites selections are small in terms of acres, but the effect of making these spots private inholdings can be very “large” such as when they are located at “choke points” of access or cover the entire mouth of a stream.  It might only takes two acres at the mouth of a stream to, in effect, control the whole stream.

SCS have told Senators Begich and Murkowski that we oppose the Sealaska Legislation, and we encourage you to do the same. SCS — Sealaska Murkowski letter to view the letter expressing our concerns.  Please contact them and explain how you and your family use and rely on the parcels selected in the Legislation.

SITKA-AREA SITES OF IMPORTANT CONCERNS

 The latest version of the Sealaska Lands Bill includes six cemetery and historic sites in the Sitka area.  While some of these sites may contain important cultural artifacts, at this time we have seen little evidence and we would like to see a lot more.  From past experience, most notably our work on Sealaska’s pending selection of Redoubt Falls near Sitka, the standards for what qualifies as “historic” are extremely broad.  Actual archeological evidence is not needed, and often sites are deemed historic by second hand oral accounts.  Furthermore, from our experience, the agencies tasked with enforcing these loose standards are generally unwilling to raise objections or apply the law to its full extent.

 As noted, we have been given little information about the historic significance of the Sitka-area sites.  About all we know is the site locations as listed here:

- Kalinin Bay Village (site 119).  This is a tourism spot and is used for hunting and fishing.  As recently as the 1960s, it was used as a fish camp, which included a store and diesel generating plant.

- Lake Eva Village (site 120).  This includes trail access.

- Deep Bay Village (site 181).  This area is widely used for hunting and fishing.  The 1975 field investigation found no evidence of occupation.

- North Arm Village (site 187).  This is a popular hunting, fishing and guided bear hunting location. The 1975 field investigation states: “This could possibly have been a village.”

- Fick Cove Village (site 185).  This is a popular hunting and subsistence area.  The 1975 field investigation revealed the ruins of two cabins which may have been trapper cabins.

Take Action: If you or your family use these sites, please contact Senators Begich and Murkowski and tell them you do not want to lose access to public lands.

Senator Begich

111 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

fax. (202) 224 – 2354

Toll-free line: (877) 501 – 6275

Email Senator Begich HERE

Senator Murkowski

Email Senator Murkowski HERE

 

Mar 11 2013

Kalinin Bay Site Selected in Latest Sealaska Bill

Sealaska Corporation selected the Kalinin Bay Village Site in the latest version of the Sealaska  bill.  The Kalinin Bay site is 15.7 acres, making it the 5th largest historic site selection in Southeast.  The popular Sea Lion Cove Trail begins at the head of Kalinin Bay and continues over to the west side of Kruzof Island.  It is not known what impacts there may be on trail access, if the Sealaska bill passes.

In earlier versions of the bill, Sealaska selected Kalinin Bay as an “enterprise site” which would have allowed tourism activities and created a Sealaska controlled  “access zone” in a fifteen mile radius of the site. Although Kalinan Bay has been selected under a different designation in the current bill, there may be allowances for tourism type activities.

For more information on the current Selalaska bill, and how you can help CLICK HERE.

 

 

 

Feb 18 2013

America’s Salmon Forest at the AK Forum Film Fest

SCS’s short documentary Restoring America’s Salmon Forest was selected to show at the Alaska Forum on the Environment Film Festival on Friday, February 8, 2013 in Anchorage.  The film focuses on a multi-agency effort to increase salmon returns on the Sitkoh River in Southeast Alaska’s Chichagof Island, by improving the spawning and rearing habitat and redirecting a river that was heavily damaged by logging operations in the 1970s.

In the heyday of the Southeast Alaska timber industry, little regard was paid to the needs of salmon. Streams were frequently blocked and diverted, with streams in 70 major watersheds remaining that way decades later. Salmon surpassed timber in economic importance in Southeast Alaska more than two decades ago, but only in the last few years has the Forest Service finally made a serious effort to repair damaged streams. Currently over 7,000 jobs in Southeast Alaska are tied to the fishing industry, compared to about 200 in the timber industry. The Forest Service spends about three times as much on timber related projects as fisheries and restoration projects each year on the Tongass.

While salmon are responsible for 10 times as many jobs in Southeast Alaska as timber, and are also an important food source and a critical part of our cultural identity, the Forest Service still puts timber over salmon in its budget priorities. Recent Forest Service budgets have dedicated in the range of $22 million a year to timber and road building, compared to less than $2 million a year to restoring salmon streams damaged by past logging, despite a $100 million backlog of restoration projects.

Logging damages watersheds by diverting streams, blocking fish passage, and eliminating crucial spawning and rearing habitat structures. Restoration increases salmon returns by removing debris, redirecting streams, stabilizing banks to prevent erosion, and even thinning dense second-growth forest. We believe it simply makes sense to go back and repair habitat if you are responsible for its damage.

TAKE ACTION:

Please contact your representatives in Washington to tell them the ways you depend on Tongass salmon, and tell them you support managing the Tongass for salmon and permanently protecting important salmon producing watersheds. Tell them it is time to redirect funds from the bloated timber budget to the salmon restoration budget, and finally transitioning away from the culture of old-growth timber to sustainable practices recognizing all resources and opportunities.

What to say:

Check out the talking points in this post for some ideas of what you might include in your letters or calls.

Contact:

Undersecretary Robert Bonnie
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Email: robert.bonnie@osec.usda.gov

Senator Lisa Murkowski
709 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

Email: karen_billups@energy.senate.gov

Senator Mark Begich
825C Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

Email: bob_weinstein@begich.senate.gov
If you have questions, contact the Sitka Conservation Society at 747-7509 or info@sitkawild.org

Produced by Bethany Goodrich, a summer staffer at the Sitka Conservation Society, “Restoring Alaska’s Salmon Forest” provides a brief look at how a restoration project looks on the ground and what such a project can accomplish in terms of salmon returns.
Jan 08 2013

Senator Begich Works to Protect Salmon and Fights GMO Salmon

The Sitka Conservation Society applauds the efforts of Senator Mark Begich to stop the Food and Drug Administration from allowing genetically modified salmon to be produced and sold to consumers.  Senator Begich has called out the FDA for its recent finding that genetically modified salmon will have  “no significant impact” on the environment or public health.

Like all Southeast Alaskans, Senator Begich understands very well the importance of salmon to our lives and livelihoods.  Senator Begich understands that Wild Salmon are critical to our economy, our way-of-life, and is a keystone component of Southeast Alaska’s terrestrial and marine environment.  Senator Begich has taken a stand to protect our Wild Alaska Salmon.

Thank you Senator Begich for protecting Salmon.

Senator Begich has asked his constituents to weigh in and tell the Food and Drug Administration that we don’t want Genetically Modified Salmon.   Please help him out by telling the FDA your feelings by following this link and following the “Comment Now” prompt:  http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FDA-2011-N-0899-0003

For an idea on how to comment, read SCS comments:  here

To read Senator Begich’s press release, click: here

To read an editorial on Genetically Modified Salmon by a former SCS employee, click: here

Dec 18 2012

SCS helps study invasive tunicates

Sitka Conservation Society has an established history of monitoring, education, and eradication of invasive species all the way from Yakutat to the Stikine River. This past week and for a week in November, SCS staff and volunteers helped organize and run two experiments in nearby Whiting Harbor.

The problem species is Didemnum vexillum, also known as “marine vomit,” or “rock snot.” It is probably from Japan, although by the time the species was discovered it had already established itself on enough continents that this guess can only be made by comparing different populations’ genetic diversity. The helpful species is a small snail known in Latin as Marsenina stearnsii. It lives on and appears to eat the invasive tunicate.

The invasive tunicate “Didemnum vexillum” is often called “marine vomit” in English. Two very cryptic, whitish snails can be seen feeding on this tunicate colony. They are known in Latin as “Marsenina stearnsii.”

First, SCS resident Erin Fulton and myself (SCS Americorps volunteer Paul Norwood) got permission to cross the airport runway at night during an extremely low tide. We calculated that 31.5% of the low intertidal zone was colonized by the invasive species, and after surveying twenty square meters in more detail, we got more data on snail densities.

SCS resident Erin Fulton evaluates percent cover of Tunicates in the intertidal zone

We also collected enough Marsenina stearnsii snails and tunicate colonies to set up the predator experiment the next day.

This is what the snail Marsenina stearnsii looks like up-close, when it is traveling with its eye tentacles deployed.

The next day, Patrick Fowler from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, myself, and Jasmine Shaw from UAF’s Cooperative extension service, went back to Whiting Harbor by boat  to collect data on a genetic compatibility study for San Francisco State University, measured the samples, installed environmental data loggers, set up a predator study, and collected fecal pellets from snails that were captured the previous night.

Patrick Fowler from ADF&G and Jasmine Shaw from UAF Cooperative Extension service help score Tunicate fusion, set up a predator experiment, and collect snail samples.

On Monday morning, I arranged with the University of Alaska Southeast to use their lab, and examined the snails’ fecal pellets (also known as “snail turds” in scientific parlance).

In a drop of water on this 1″ wide microscope slide are seven fecal pellets of marine snails found feeding on invasive tunicates. The objective of this particular experiment is to prove that the snails feed on the invasive tunicate, and to establish their natural density and their impact.

Almost all the samples showed evidence that the snails had been feeding on invasive tunicates, which is very encouraging for the study. If the current experiment shows equally positive results, it is possible that our little snails will one day be used for invasive species control all up-and-down the West coast

Most of the fecal pellets were loaded with these microscopic “spicules,” which are a defensive feature of the invasive tunicate.

.

 

Oct 08 2012

Richard Nelson on Salmon Subsistence

Listen to Salmon Subsistence on Richard Nelson’s Encounters

Subsistence fishing has always been a way of life in rural Alaska.  Thanks to the foresight of the generation of Alaskans that achieved statehood and wrote our great constitution, the right of subsistence for all people, regardless of ethnicity, has been preserved across Alaska.  Alaska Natives have been able to continue the way of life they have lead for 10,000 years, just as the pioneers who settled in this state were allowed to continue living off the land and the resources it provided, and new-comers to the state have been able to live off the land like those who came before them.

The subsistence way of life and traditional subsistence practices are threatened by the privatization of key subsistence areas and resources.  One of the most threatened places is Redoubt Falls near Sitka, where Alaskans harvest sockeye and coho salmon to fill their freezers and feed their families throughout the long winter.  To really understand how important subsistence is to Alaskans and the Alaskan way of life – and to understand why we need to fight to preserve these rights – listen to the segment from Richard Nelson‘s radio program “Encounters” in which he fishes for sockeye at Redoubt Falls.

Sep 05 2012

Redoubt: A Tongass Gem

Bethany and I recently spent five days volunteering at the Forest Service-managed weir at Redoubt lake in the Tongass National Forest. Located just twelve miles from the city of Sitka, Redoubt falls is one of Sitka’s most important subsistence fisheries, especially for sockeye. Locals dipnet and cast for salmon to stock their freezers and cupboards with the rich red flesh of this iconic fish. In past years, Redoubt has provided up to 60% of the total sockeye subsistence harvest in the Sitka Management Area (US Forest Service, 2011).

Redoubt lake is unique because it is one of the largest meromictic lakes in North America, which means its top layer is freshwater, and there are several hundred feet of saltwater on the bottom layer of the lake. The two layers don’t mix, and the lake is about 900 feet deep at its deepest. The Forest Service maintains a weir system to count and record the fish entering the lake, and coordinates with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to make management decisions based on the data collected each season.

Subsistence harvest defines life in rural Alaska, and Sitka is no exception. In July when the sockeye are running, Redoubt is the buzz of local conversation and activity. Employees and volunteers at Redoubt work hard to maintain the health and sustainability of this salmon run, serving the general public by caring for the most important resource of Southeast Alaska.

Redoubt lake is long and narrow, protected on all sides by mountains and cliffs in a glacial valley. Salmon swim from the weir at the falls up to the northern tip of the lake, spawning in a clear stream that originates in a pristine lake in the mountains. The Forest Service runs a mark and recapture study of sockeye returning to the stream, which entails occasionally snorkelling the stream to survey marked and unmarked sockeye. Bethany and I donned warm and buoyant drysuits to snorkel in the clear, cold water with stunningly red sockeye. When they pass through the weir, sockeye are silver-scaled and relatively normal-looking salmon. The physical transformation they undergo between the weir and their spawning stream is spectacular. The sockeye we swam with had bright scarlet bodies and a defined and unwieldy hump on their backs. Olive green heads ended in sharply hooked noses dripping with snarling teeth. They nipped and bit at one another, fighting to reproduce as a final dance before laying and fertilizing their eggs for future runs.

Redoubt lake is one of the most important public spaces in Sitka for people to fish and recreate. It is a community gathering place for Sitkans in the Tongass National Forest, and it is vital that this place remain public for this tradition to continue. Currently there is pressure from Sealaska to privatize Redoubt, potentially excluding many people from this vital public fishery and gem of the Tongass. The public service done by the Forest Service at Redoubt is highly valued, and a reminder of the incredible importance of keeping salmon, our most valued economic and cultural resource, accessible to all. Redoubt has been identified as one of the T77, or top 77 fish-producing watersheds in the Tongass. It’s awe-inspiring beauty and vital habitat is absolutely deserving of this designation.

Click here to learn more about the Tongass77 and what you can do to help protect our salmon forest!

 

 

Sep 02 2012

The Summer of the Bear: A snapshot of climate change in Southeast Alaska

PHOTO BY BERETT WILBER

Standing on top of one of the Pyramid mountains, gloved hands stuffed into my orange raincoat, I look out over a sea of pink and yellow clouds as the sun sets on the low evening ceiling that settles over Sitka Sound. Alaska is not always the easiest place to call home, but moments like these make me forget the rain and cold. They fill me with awe that presses out against my ribs, bringing up a line from a James Wright poem, A Blessing: “Suddenly I realize that if I stepped out of my body I would break into blossom.”

When the sun shines in my hometown, Sitka, I know I am in the most beautiful place on earth. Sitka is a bustling rural metropolis hugging twenty miles of shoreline on Baranof Island, in Southeast Alaska. The southeast “panhandle,” sandwiched between British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska, is made up of eleven hundred islands called the Alexander Archipelago. Baranof is one of the largest, reaching one-hundred miles long and thirty miles across at its widest point. Like almost all of the other large islands, Baranof is covered in mountains and has year-round ice fields at high elevations.  

Southeast Alaska is in the Tongass National Forest. Just shy of seventeen million acres, the Tongass is the largest national forest in the country, and is part of the largest area of temperate rainforest on the planet. Temperate rainforest is a very specific and interesting ecosystem,  defined by high annual precipitation, mild climate, and tree populations that do not require fire to regenerate.

Fifty degrees and overcast with a seventy percent chance of rain could be the forecast any day of the year in Sitka. Sitka gets about eighty seven inches of rain per year, and there are other towns, both north and south of us, that get up to one hundred-fifty inches annually. Rainfall varies throughout the region due to mountains and wind patterns.

Climate also varies throughout Southeast, but in general it is pretty mild. The ocean keeps the islands cool and wet in the summer, and warm and wet in the winter. Air temperatures range between forty and sixty degrees fahrenheit in the summer and twenty to forty degrees in the winter. Warm Japanese ocean currents keep the water around forty-five to fifty-five degrees, depending on the season.

Finally, temperate rainforests have little to no forest fires. In some places, like California, fire is part of the life cycle of the forest that allows plants to regenerate and be productive. In Southeast Alaska, wind is the change agent that keeps the forest going. In October and November, our stormiest months, straight winds of up to eighty or ninety miles per hour sweep through Southeast, taking out power lines, keeping people off the water, and blowing down trees. When trees get knocked over, the canopy opens up, allowing young trees to grow and providing light to the ground cover plants. The fallen trees themselves become “nursery logs,” providing nutrients to new trees and plants.

While Southeast is not the dramatic icy tundra that many people imagine when they think of Alaska, its majestic mountainous islands make it beautiful in its own way. The mountains are one of my favorite features of the islands, and they have an interesting history. The islands did not all form in the same way, but are the result of a few different geological processes that gathered together over millions of years. At one point, the whole area was covered by glaciers, resulting in the topography we see today.

The Alexander Archipelago is made up of three different types of islands called Wrangellia, Stikine, and Alexander. Two-hundred and twenty million years ago, all three “terranes” were scattered off-shore, separate from each other. The Stikine terrane, made up of volcanic flow, paleozoic sedimentary rocks, and marine sandstone, probably started out as a chain of volcanic islands much like Hawaii. As the plates shifted 200 million years ago, the chain collided with ancient North America at what is now British Columbia. Wrangellia also started as a volcanic chain, but these islands sank below the surface and became a shallow reef covered by marine shale. After a while a rift in the ocean floor produced a large amount of volcanic basalt that covered the reef. Later still, copper was deposited on Wrangellia, and that is why today, the Wrangell mountains have copper deposits. The Alexander terrane, distinguished by its marble and limestone, joined up with Wrangellia off shore in the Middle Jurassic period. Together they made a subterrane that collided with the North American plate in a region of subduction. The collision caused metamorphic and igneous rocks to be formed, and the was begining of the region’s mountains. Over the next 200 million years the land continued to shift, with rocks being added, and some rocks breaking off, forming the archipelago. Today the mountains are still growing, possibly rebounding from ancient glaciation or as a result of continued subduction. [2]

The Alexander Archipelago is defined by its deep channels and steep mountainous islands. The channels, like Chatham Strait, often mark fault lines between chunks of islands. Their depth, and the dramatic contrast with the mountains, is a result of ancient glaciation. At the height of the ice age, Southeast Alaska was covered in thick glaciers that scoured the islands down to bedrock. The only exposed habitat, called refugia, were small areas of coastline and rocky nunataks that stuck up above the ice at high elevations. Both types of refugia were islands of rock in a sea of ice, and supported life, including mountain goats and bears that still inhabit the islands today [9]. When the glaciers melted, the channels flooded and the tops of the mountains became islands. Looking across Baranof Island on a clear day, you can pick out the sharp rocky peaks that must have survived above the ice, as well as the rounded mountains that were scoured down and made smooth by the heavy ice. There is a lake south of town, Blue Lake, where the deepest point is actually below sea level, probably because the valley was once hollowed out by ice.

It used to be believed that the islands were totally inhospitable during the ice age (Wisconsin glaciation), and all flora and fauna populations arrived and spread in the past 10,000 years [5]. However, because of fossil findings, we are now fairly confident that refugia supported life during the ice age. Sea level was about 300 feet lower, and the coastline was lifted in response to the pressing down of the ice. This created the coastal refugia where plants and animals survived. These areas existed on islands we still see today, but it also connected some landforms that are now separated by water. Fossils of black and brown bears have been found in caves along the coast, dating back to the time of the ice age. Arctic fox, caribou, and ring seal bones have also been found in coastal caves, which leads scientists to believe Southeast Alaska used to look a lot like Northwestern Alaska does today. No polar bear remains have been found, but ring seals are their main food supply, so it would make sense that they would have been in the area as well. [5]

During the ice age, species were isolated and then they distributed in different directions when the ice melted. In this way species variation developed. Coastal brown bears and grizzly bears are the two main subspecies of brown bears, but depending on who you talk to there are up to ninety subspecies. Coastal brown bear DNA is surprisingly close to polar bear DNA. Baranof Island had some coastal refugia during the ice age, and today the coastal brown bears on the island are their own subspecies [7]. Brown bears live on islands in the northern part of the archipelago, while black bears inhabit southern islands. After the ice age black bears spread south and inland, and the interior bears are now a distinct subspecies separated from the coastal bears, but by studying their lineage we can trace their movement and separation over time [10].

Southeast Alaska is not biodiverse, but it very diverse in the sense that there are many different ecosystems that exist closely with each other and form complex relationships. There are old growth forests, muskeg, alpine, coastal estuaries and more habitats that are home to many of the same flora and fauna. Because the same species exist throughout the ecosystems, the connections between animals and their environment can be seen, and sometimes they are surprising. The relationships between species and habitats also accentuate the impact of global warming in the Tongass.

The warming of the earth is a global phenomenon that disrupts localized ecosystems around the world. According to a study done by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Alaska’s seasonal average temperatures have increased by as much as 5.6°F from 1949 to 1998. In Southeast Alaska, the temperature in the Tongass has gone up by 1.5-3°F in this time. The most warming was seen in winter and spring, and the only cooling was recorded in the fall [3]. The impact of climate change in Southeast Alaska is clear, but it can pop up in unexpected ways.

For example, let’s look at salmon. There are five types of Pacific salmon that spawn in streams throughout the Tongass. Around Sitka, there are a few pink salmon streams, a king salmon hatchery, and a great sockeye run at Lake Redoubt which is just a boat ride away. When salmon spawn in late summer, they return to the same river where they hatched, and swim up all the way to about the same spot where their parents spawned before. If they are not caught by fishermen or bears or impeded in some other way, they bury their eggs under the gravel in a hole called a redd, and then they die.  The eggs have to survive in the streambed through winter, and in the spring the baby salmon hatch and grow until they are ready to swim out into the ocean. They live in the open ocean for one to seven years, depending on the species, and then they return again to their original stream to continue the life cycle. Global warming, however, is bad news for salmon populations.
Because of global warming, the temperature of the streams has been increasing, and precipitation patterns have been changing. In the past few years Southeast Alaska has experienced periods of drought that are believed to have affected whole generations of salmon. A study done for the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, in 2009, looks at cases of poor pink salmon returns and their correlation to changes in climate. The pink salmon returning in 2006, which would have been eggs in the run of 2004, saw unpredicted low returns. According to the study, “Drought conditions and high stream temperatures in the late summer and fall of 2004 may have contributed to the poor year-class strength of pink salmon.” The drought conditions in late summer would have meant less water in the streams, making it difficult for salmon to swim up river. The warmer water may also have presented a challenge to the eggs that were laid.  They concluded that “poor marine survival as well as adverse freshwater conditions affected the 2006 returns.” [8]

Three years later, in 2009, Sitka experienced a warm dry summer that caused concern among locals that we would have another poor fishing season down the road [6]. I remember that summer because it was “the summer of the bear.” The early returning pink salmon (salmon who come from parents who returned early in the season will also return early) came late and couldn’t run upstream when they normally do because of the poor stream conditions. The bears (coastal brown bears) were not aware of the change in schedule, so they came down off the mountains in August just like they always do, expecting to gorge on salmon. Instead there were no salmon, and no berries either because of the dry weather. Grumpy and hungry, more bears than usual found their way into town. A mother with four cubs caused quite a lot of excitement around Sitka. Outside of town we saw bears everywhere. It was the summer of the bear.
The returns in 2011 (the generation of eggs from the 2009 run) were not poor at all, if you look at the pink salmon harvest data recorded by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game [1]. However, the same data reveals that every return of the 2004 salmon descendants has been poor (2006, 2008, 2010). It is probably only a matter of time before climate strikes again and debilitates another batch of salmon.

Salmon are full of nutrients that bears store to make it through the winter, and the same nutrients support the terrestrial ecosystem in the Tongass. In Southeast Alaska there are over 5,000 salmon streams. Because there are so many streams, “47% of the forested area within the Tongass falls within 0.5km of a salmon stream and over 90% within 5km” [4]. Research is still being done on the effect of salmon derived nutrients in the Tongass. So far, we know that salmon bring in nitrogen, phosphorus, lipids, ammonia, and other nutrients that are consumed and distributed through many different pathways [4]. Studies have been done to try and trace salmon-derived nitrogen (15N) and carbon (13C) isotope distribution in the Tongass, but it is a challenging study. It is almost impossible to trace the phosphorus, but that doesn’t mean it is any less important. The problem is that we still don’t really know how salmon derived nutrients are used by in terrestrial ecosystems in the Tongass, but there is no doubt that they are there. At this point it is hard to know how the forest will be impacted if salmon populations continue to decline, but it is undeniable that, like so much of the world, these systems are intertwined with each other.

I would like to think that if everyone could wake up in the morning and see what I see outside my front door, more people would be passionate about conservation. Our social habits that are detrimental to the environment would be easier to change, because if you can love a place, you will want to make sure it is always there. That’s how I feel about Sitka, but I’m lucky. I grew up in a place where you can’t avoid the smell of spawning salmon, and bear sightings are small town gossip. The mountains are literally right outside my door; I don’t even have to get in a car, I can just climb to the top, eating blueberries along the way. I’m lucky that I can love my place first hand, when so many people don’t get the chance to develop a personal connection with the natural world. Even if you aren’t from a place, or have never even been to it, you can still fall in love with the mystery and beauty of a wilderness. More importantly, you can share your passion with others and spread appreciation for our planet. While Southeast Alaska is an isolated place of intricate connections, it serves to remind us that the entire earth is made up of a vast web of interacting ecosystems. When human impact disrupts one part of the system, effects radiate out in a chain of related reactions. If the whole world found its mountain sunset, real or imagined, maybe that would be enough to tip the scales of conservation and balance our delicate ecosystems for another few hundred years.

 

Sources:
[1]  ”2012 Alaska Department of Fish and Game Southeast Alaska Pink Salmon Harvest Forecast. .” Alaska Department of Fish and Game. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Jun 2012. <http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/fishing/PDFs/commercial/2012_se_pink_salmon_harvest_forecast.pdf>.

[2] Connor, Cathy. ” Geology of Southeast Alaska: With Special Emphasis on the Last 30,000 Years.” . Raptor Research News, n.d. Web. 6 Jun 2012. <http://raptors.hancockwildlife.org/BEIA/PAGES/Section-7.pdf>.

[3] “Evidence of Climate Change in Alaska.” Climate Change. N.p., 2009. Web. 5 Jun 2012. <http://alaska.fws.gov/climate/inak.htm>.

[4] Gende, Scott M. , Richard T. Edwards, Mary F. Willson, and Mark S. Wipfli. “Pacific Salmon in Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems.” Evergreen State College. Ebsco Publishing, 2002. Web. 5 Jun 2012. <http://academic.evergreen.edu/curricular/ftts/downloads/gende.pdf>.

[5] Heaton, Timothy. “Mammal Fossils.” University of South Dakota. N.p., 2002. Web. 7 May 2012. <http://orgs.usd.edu/esci/alaska/mammals.html>.

[6] Schwing, Emily. “Drought Could Mean Decline in Pink Salmon.” KCAW. Raven Radio, 2009. Web. 5 Jun 2012. <http://www.kcaw.org/2009/07/24/drought-could-mean-decline-in-pink-salmon/>.

[7] Waits, Lisette, Sandra Talbot, R.H. Ward, and G.F. Shields. “Conservation Biology.” jstor. Society for Conservation Biology, April 1998. Web. 6 Jun 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2387511?seq=6>.

[8] Wertheimer, A.C., J.A. Orsi, E.A. Fergusson, and M.V. Sturdevant.  2009.  Forecasting
Pink Salmon Harvest in Southeast Alaska from Juvenile Salmon Abundance and Associated
Environmental Parameters: 2008 Returns and 2009 Forecast. NPAFC Doc. 1202.  19 pp.
(Available at http://www.npafc.org).

[9] Woodford, Riley. “Alaska Black Bears and the Ice Age Newcomers to the Interior but Long in Southeast.” Alaska Department of Fish and Game. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Jun 2012. <http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=509&issue_id=98>.

[10] Woodford, Riley. “Uncovering mysteries: New research reveals much about life, history of Baranof Island goats.” Juneau Empire. Alaska Fish and Wildlife News, 26 November 2010. Web. 6 Jun 2012. <http://juneauempire.com/stories/112610/out_741885388.shtml>.

Aug 06 2012

Restoring America’s Salmon Forest

What comes to mind when you hear the term conservation? Petitions, polar bears, politicians, researchers? David Attenborough? Did heavy equipment tearing up a rainforest floor come to mind? Unlikely. Nestled deep within our earth’s largest temperate rainforest- conservation takes unique form.

This summer, the Sitkoh River Restoration Project mobilized a team of heavy equipment operators on the Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The US Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, Sitka Conservation Society and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game raised $318,000 and hired Aqua Terra Restoration to repair critical salmon spawning habitat damaged by clearcut logging in the 1970s. Logging adjacent to the river banks left the Sitkoh without adequate erosion control and the fallen timber salmon need. Dump trucks, chainsaws, and excavators converted blueprints and years of planning into wooden structures and a redirected riverbed that will return healthy fish habitat and stability to this damaged system.

Salmon habitat restoration is relatively new to the Tongass and constitutes a key part of the Forest Service’s transition from old-growth logging to young-growth management, forest restoration, and investment in other industries-such as fishing and tourism. Across the forest, similar river and stream restoration projects are in various stages or have been completed with great success. Multiyear, complex, and dependent on powerful partnerships this rich form of salmon habitat restoration is by no means easy. However, in a land where salmon are lifeblood to both ecosystems and residents, protection of this critical resource is absolutely vital.

Habitat restoration benefits fish, fish-dependent ecosystems, and fish-dependent economies. It also provides career opportunities to skilled ecologists and equipment operators passionate about safeguarding our environment- people who prefer hardhats to suits, the company of bears to water cooler gossip and all in all want to build something good for our earth as opposed to something that’s only good for industry.

There are over 70 damaged salmon-producing watersheds on the Tongass and the Forest Service estimates $100 million dollars are needed to repair them. Salmon and trout alone contribute more than $1 billion to Southeast Alaska’s economy and employ some 7,300 people. It is critical that salmon become the top management priority of our country’s largest national forest; managing for salmon employs restoration workers on the ground, benefits local subsistence and the fishing industry, and conserves salmon-dependent rainforest ecosystems.

The Tongass is one of the last remaining forests with healthy and abundant wild salmon runs. Making this species the Tongass’ top priority makes sense for the ecosystem, the economy and anyone who loves to catch, eat or simply view wild salmon.

Follow Us
Get Updates
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Newsletter and updates


Take Action Now
Take Action

Blog
Keep up to date on all of the issues. Check out "The Southeaster" Blog.

  • Hungry for Huckleberry Pie, Venison Stew, or Fresh Greens? Come to the Wild Foods Potluck Nov. 2!
  • Stand Up to Corporate Influence!
  • Kayaking Kootznoowoo: Report on SCS’s Final Wilderness Trip
  • Encouraging Local Natural Resource Stewardship on the Tongass: Kennel Creek
  • Teaching the Alaska way of Life: 4-H in Sitka
Get Involved
Get Involved