Web of Connection

Monitoring Sitkoh River restoration project

My title for the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is "Wild Salmon Conservation and Restoration Intern", and yet, outside of taking a couple of water samples, I have not directly worked with salmon or rivers. How is this possible? How can I spend a majority of my time in the forest while emphasizing in my title that my work is dedicated to conserving and restoring wild salmon? Well, many Sitkans know the answer. They will tell you that the salmon are in the trees. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Greater Sitka Arts Council and Sitka Summer Music Festival held an art event called "Salmon in the Trees." This slogan is wonderful because we too often forget that all of our actions are connected to ecosystems, and the salmon and the trees reminds us about how we do have this connection. So as the salmon are in the trees, my work for salmon takes me to the forest.

The mutualism between salmon and trees is fascinating. Old growth forests provide great habitat to salmon by providing shade to stabilize stream temperatures, while fallen trees and broken branches form pools giving shelter to salmon. The trees benefit from the salmon as well. This is because as salmon swim upstream, they take with them the prefect fertilizer package, filled with protein, fat, nitrogen and phosphorus. Bears, eagles, and other dispersers move salmon throughout the forest, fertilizing trees far from the stream. So not only are the salmon in the trees, but the trees need salmon.

Todd gaps appear to be working at promoting shrub growth

In this way, even though my work may not involve salmon conservation and restoration directly, this end is achieved by conserving and restoring the forest. Still, the projects I am working on go beyond the realm of just salmon and trees. As I was saying earlier, everything is interconnected. So although many of the conservation projects in the Tongass are focused on salmon or deer, our work affects the entire ecosystem.
I recently went on a collaborative trip between SCS and the U.S. Forest Service to monitor gaps cut in a second growth forest at Todd, near False Island. The purpose of this trip was to monitor gaps cleared in the 1990s in order to see if these small gaps, designed to mimic natural disturbances that occur in old growth forests, are actually providing forage vegetation to deer. From our work, it appears that the gaps are working great and providing deer with great forage vegetation. However, these gaps must influence other species besides deer and little is known about how these gaps affect other species.

Insect trap with rain cover

In an effort to learn more about the effects of gaps on ecosystems, we placed small pit-fall traps designed tocapture insects into three gaps recently cut at Starrigavan. The goal is to understand how these gaps affect insect diversity and abundance. This is just one small step examining how species other than deer andsalmon are affected by human interactions. We are all connected to nature just as nature is connected to us. In this ever-changing world, the challenge is to understand these connections, and SCS is committed to take on this challenge.

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