Local Students Wade Streams in the Tongass to Learn Skills in Fisheries: Twelvemile Creek

Written by Joel Markis, University of Alaska Southeaset

Earlier this spring the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS), US Forest Service (USFS), and University of Alaska Southeast Fisheries Technology Program (Fish Tech), with funding from the National Forest Foundation, collaborated to put on a fisheries technician boot camp on Prince of Wales Island. High School students from around Prince of Wales joined fisheries experts at the Twelvemile Creek restoration and monitoring site operated by SCS and the USFS. Students received hands-on training in fish capture, fish identification, and tagged juvenile salmon out-migrating to the ocean. Students received both college and high school credit for the experience.


Hands on educational opportunities like these would not be possible without the collaborative efforts of federal, state, and nonprofit organizations. Cooperative projects require additional logistics and planning but are valuable at exposing students to potential careers or academic pathways. Participating students were:

  • Tamar Theurer- Port Protection
  • Mitchell England- Klawock
  • Madilyn Willard- Thorne Bay
  • Jimmy Harris- Thorne Bay

At least two of the students enrolled in the course are planning on continuing their education by attending UAS and taking fisheries classes this fall.

Tamar Theurer was one of the interns this season. She is 17 years old and lives in Port Protection on Prince of Wales Island

I learned how to clip adipose fins and I learned how to identify different types of salmon and other fish. I learned more about the environment and habitats of fish and birds and oh, I also learned my trees! Some of them at least,” says Theurer. “I’m actually wanting to go into fisheries so not only will I have knowledge of how to do these things, but I can also use this experience on my resume.”


Tamar Theurer, from Port Protection, learns how to set up a fyke net for monitoring fish abundance on the Tongass National Forest.

The Twelvemile Creek project within Tongass National Forest is an ongoing fisheries monitoring project to assess the effectiveness of a stream restoration that took place in 2012 & 2013. The original restoration work was completed in parternship between The Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service and National Forest Foundation. This work was done to return the Twelvemile system to a more natural state after less restrictive large scale logging practices of the 1960’s and 70’s removed 92% of the riparian, stream bank forest and vegetation. The salmon returns appear to be healthy and robust in the Twelvemile stream system. Salmon restoration sites provide an amazing living laboratory for turning students on to careers in science. The US Forest Service sees the project on Twelvemile as an excellent opportunity for not only partaking in restoration science, but also in community engagement.

Mark Fox is a Fisheries Biologist on the Tongass National Forest, Prince of Wales.

It is important to engage local communities in the watershed restoration and monitoring efforts being done on public lands by the Forest Service and partners. In my mind, there is no better way than to work with students as a means to engage the rest of the community,” Fox says. “We provide a positive learning experience to local students with various natural resource professionals that help develop interest in future careers in the woods.


UAS Fish Tech Professor Joel Markis teaches the basics of setting up a fyke net.

The ongoing Tongass Transition calls for more restoration projects like Twelvemile Creek. The Tongass National Forest is a salmon powerhouse, producing an average of 28% of Alaska’s annual commercial salmon catch.  The US Forest Service has identified a priority list of streams awaiting restoration and information and data coming from monitoring projects like Twelvemile help inform future restoration work.

The Sitka Conservation Society, USFS, and UAS Fish Tech program are planning on expanding these types of educational opportunities to both secondary and post-secondary students in additional communities throughout the state. This program was funded by the National Forest Foundation's Treasured Landscapes Program and the project partners.

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