In 2011, the Sitka Conservation Society partnered with Trout Unlimited and the US Forest Service to start a multi-year salmon habitat restoration project on the Sitkoh River using funds provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Sustainable Salmon Fund. The construction contract was awarded in 2011, but in-stream work began in spring of 2012 and continued into the summer of 2013.
Past logging and road-building practices compromised watershed function and salmon habitat in the Sitkoh River Valley. An analysis conducted by The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service identified the Sitkoh River as one of the seven highest priority watersheds for restoration on the Tongass National Forest. In public forums the community of Sitka has consistently stated that restoration in the Sitkoh area is a high priority, particularly for coho salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing habitat. The Trout Unlimited Alaska Program also identified the Sitkoh River as one of its 25 Restoration Priority areas.
This Joint Watershed Restoration Project restored two ecologically significant sections of the Sitkoh River. SCS plans to replicate these efforts in other areas with high ecological and stakeholder value.
This phase restored 1,800 feet of critical salmon rearing habitat. In this section of the river, the flow was diverted down an adjacent logging road. This made the channel shallow and wide with almost no pool habitat. The diverted river flowed through previously harvested areas that are covered with alder and lack the large conifers necessary to provide large woody debris to the stream, reducing the likelihood of natural salmon habitat creation. Had this area been left untreated, the diverted segment of the Sitkoh River would have continued to widen and to erode the unstable roadbed. This would have continued to impede fish passage at high and low flow periods, increase the risk of juvenile salmon mortality in the winter, and further degrade habitat downstream.
Phase one focused on restoring the Sitkoh River to its original stream channel location. Portions of the stream channel were reconstructed to create self-maintaining pools and riffles, to restore hydrologic function, and to inhibit future diversions to the road. Over time, this will allow new trees along the banks to grow large enough to serve as meaningful woody debris sources.
Phase two focused on a river section slightly downstream of Phase one. Previous loggers had harvested trees all the way down to the stream edge, removing future sources of large wood to the stream. To counter this, SCS and its partners added large wood structures to improve salmon spawning gravels, to create pool habitats, and to slow down the stream to reduce bank erosion. Phase two of this project was primarily funded by the US Forest Service.
Almost three months have already gone by since I started my internship with the Sitka Conservation Society, under the supervision of Scott Harris, the Conservation Science Directorat SCS. It is now the start of September and I cannot believe how fast time flies by when I am truly enjoying my eye-opening opportunity. It still feels as though only yesterday I landed in Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport. Nowadays waking up every morning to rhythmic pulses of the rain droplets and the fresh aroma of the soothing ocean breeze has become a part of my daily life.
Along with the overwhelming invasion of nature in my life, I also get a chance to spend the majority of my time here in the largest national forest in the United States at 17 million acres. The Tongass is one of the last few forests untouched by industrialization and remains as the largest temperate rainforest on earth. The forest encompasses part of the Northern Pacific coastal forests along with the Central and North Coast regions of British Columbia. Due to its vast size, the forest hosts a number of various types of trees: western red cedar, sitka spruce and western hemlock. The forest is also home to five species of salmon, brown and black bears, and Bald Eagles.
My days at Sitka are often filled with a variety of outdoor activities- all of which have constantly kept me marveling at the great nature I am surrounded by. From hiking up mountain trails to kayaking upstream against the swift tides, my internship projects have led me to explore different parts of the Tongass while having the opportunity to meet other biologists, conservationists, and interns. One of my projects involved monitoring a conservation and restoration project implemented by the U.S Forest Service (USFS) in the Starrigavan Recreational Area. I am conducting vegetation surveys in these forest gaps and collecting data from trail cams to monitor deer activity within the gaps for tagging purposes. The workers of the USFS cut oval forest gaps with anarea of 100 ft in diameter to mimic natural disturbances in the forest. The purpose of this is to encourage the growth of shrubs and ferns, which are another type of food sources for deer and bears. Starting since the 1950s, a significant percentage of the big trees (old growth) in the Tongass were logged and when the second generation of trees grew, they left little space for sunlight to reach to the ground. Thus, without these gaps, the growth of shrubs and ferns will decrease, thereby lowering the food sources for the deer, which may lead to a decline in the deer population in the future. Within the gaps, there are also deer enclosures to monitor how deer foraging affects vegetation growth.
From the peaks of the mountains to where streams meander across the landscape, my weekly duty takes me to a stream that flows through the community of Sitka. Once a week I would ride my bike down to Indian River to collect water samples from the river. According to the protocol, I would filter the water from the river and pour them into two sampling bottles. The Sitka Conservation Society is a part of SALMoN (Southeast Alaska Long-term Monitoring Network) and participates in the Global Rivers Observatory (GRO). GRO documents water chemistry from rivers around the world in order to understand long-term ecological changes to freshwater ecosystems. To document the water chemistry, GRO analyzes nutrient concentrations, dissolved organic carbon, and the isotope ratio of strontium. Local streams such as Indian River will be studied alongside the great rivers such as Amazon, Yangtze and others. The program started when Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink, a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and one of the founders of GRO was a Scientist in Residence at the Sitka Sound Science Center.
My days often began with journeys packed with wilderness adventures. I went on a five day camping trip to West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness which is located about 55 miles away from Sitka and it takes around 3 hours to get there by boat. This trip by far is the longest period of time that I've been out camping. The purpose of this project is to install temperature loggers into five different streams in order to monitor the health and the quality of the stream waters. To arrive at some of these streams, we had to bushwhack through the forest while making noises to alert the bears. Some trails were challenging and tedious with rugged and slippery mud-covered grounds but they were all fun. Once we've reached the streams, we conducted a variety of analyses such as installing temperature loggers and recording the stream width. We also measured the flow of the streams and noted down the dissolved oxygen levels. While performing these tasks, it was fascinating to see thousands of salmon fish swimming up these streams, their silvery scales reflecting the sunlight underneath the clear water. The end of each day was an even bigger adventure for me since we would move from one campsite to the next. Before the sun sets, we would spend about 30 minutes, cruising around the ocean in our boat, searching for a safe spot to camp. We camped on different parts of the forest each night and got to explore the wonders of the old growth wilderness in the dark, quiet night.
From sampling streams, my internship has also taken me to Redoubt Lake, a unique meromictic lake where its top layer is freshwater with several hundred feet of saltwater on the bottom layer of the lake.Going to Redoubt was a whole new experience unlike anything before at Sitka. Not only was it the longest camp trip, it was also riveting to be at Redoubt Lake where I had a chance to work with the Forest Service. Located about 12 miles from the city of Sitka, Redoubt Lake plays an important role in the subsistence fisheries for the people of Sitka. The Forest Service maintains a weir system to count and record the fish entering whereafter the Alaska Department of Fish & Game makesmanagement decisions based on the data collected each season. Once the fish pass through the weir, they head up to the northern tip of the lake and travel up streams to spawn. Through out the process, I witnessed the physical transformation of these iconic fish. Their bodies become bright red and the male sockeyes' heads morphed into sharply hooked noses with gawking teeth. They nipped and bit at one another, fighting to reproduce for the first and the last time, before they lie lifeless beneath the streams. It definitely was a biological process worth observing.With large amount of ocean surrounding the island comes the freshest seafood. The most important resource of Southeast Alaska is salmon. There are five different types of salmon here: king, sockeye, coho, chum and pink salmon. Here, salmon is fished for industrial purposes and plays a major role in sustainable fishing as well. Out of the five different types of Salmon, I have already tried three of them, which are King, Sockeye and Pink. The two that I haven't tasted yet are Coho and Chum. Most people here prefer the King and I have to agree with them on that. I also got a chance to try deer meat, which tasted like beef but leaves a trace of gamey palate in your mouth.
Despite the nature explorations that were required for work, I also had a chance to enjoy the beautiful picturesque landscape of Alaska. The town of Sitka is small with a population of 9000 people, yet it is lively and vibrant with esthetically decorated small vendor shops. Sitka is surrounded by the sounds of clashing waves and mountains varying in heights. During my leisure time from work, I went on hikes on the mountains with friends and enjoyed stunning landscapes from the peaks of the mountains. Along the way, I met other interns and co-workers who were passionate about conserving the natural beauty that the Tongass has to offer.
On the 28thof August, I completed my internship with the Sitka Conservation Society and had the opportunity to gain hands on conservation experience that I have longed for. Within the past three months, I learned so much about the importance of conservation methods, and my internship gave me a chance to work with land managers who are working on making important conservation decisions. I learned new research and conservation approaches and methods as well as the importance of social outreach to the community for our conservation works. Overall, this internship has given me invaluable knowledge and taught me to have even more respect for the beautiful wilderness and the natural wonders of the earth. This was truly an eye opening experience and certainly, one that I will never forget.
In 2011, SCS began the Sitka Salmon Tours program. The goal of the tours was to give visitors a salmon's eye view from the forests where the salmon are born, to the ocean, the fisher and processor, and finally to our plates. We've discontinued the Salmon Tours for 2013. Instead, we have distilled all of the great facts, stories, and natural history from the tours into this manual, "Sitka: A Tongass Salmon Town." Now anyone can be an expert on wild Tongass Salmon. We hope that Sitka residents, guides, and naturalist will use this guide to share the miracle of salmon that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to this place each year.
Printed guides are available at the Sitka Conservation Society office. If you'd like us to mail you a copy, send a request to [email protected] Bulk copies are available for purchase at-cost (about $0.80 per copy).
Download a copy of the manual HERE.
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:[email protected] Senator Lisa Murkowski 709 Hart Senate Building Washington, DC 20510 Email: [email protected] Senator Mark Begich 825C Hart Senate Building Washington, DC 20510 Email: [email protected] If you have questions, contact the Sitka Conservation Society at 747-7509 or [email protected]
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.
[wpcol_2third id="" class="" style=""]Five months ago I was one of thirteen undergraduate students from Knox College (located in Galesburg, IL) to travel north to Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest with the Sitka Conservation Society. This trip was the final component of a trimester- long course entitled "Alaska: Forest, Fisheries, and Politics of the Wilderness.'"Prior to our Alaskan adventure, our class spent ten weeks reading and writing about the history and policy of the land management practices in the Tongass National Forest. Once we got to Alaska we spent 15 days kayaking 100 miles along the beaches of the Tongass Forest. We finally reached False Island where we helped the United States Forest Service with restoration of key salmon habitats. After that we spent an additional week in Sitka learning and talking to local policy makers and stakeholders. This unique experience gave my classmates and I a hands-on look at the complex ways nature, policy, and the public are inextricably intertwined.
When I was in the Tongass it became clear that it is one of the few remaining wild places in America. It is an ecosystem with a deep cultural significance, beauty, and wonder. During the time we spent in Sitka we were able to meet fisherman of the charter, commercial, and subsistence trades alike. We were able to meet with community members and local politicians to see the importance salmon and the Tongass forest have on each of their daily lives and the community's economy as a whole. We were also fortunate enough to witness the amazing and significant work many individuals and advocacy groups are doing to see to it that there are lots of opportunities to use, enjoy, and care for the lands and waters of the Tongass.
Despite being over 3,000 miles away in Galesburg, IL, I wanted to continue to show my support for the prioritizing of watershed restoration and salmon habitats in the Tongass. I started talking to my classmates who had come to Alaska with me and we decided to talk to others who have never been there, and informed our peers about the Tongass and its salmon. It turns out that the message was pretty simple- we told students about the two-fold mission statement of the Forest Service: (a.) to make sure that America's forests and grasslands are in the healthiest condition they can be and (b.) to see to it that you have lots of opportunities to use, enjoy, and care for the lands and waters that sustain us all- and we told them about what we saw in the Tongass and the surrounding communities. The response was empowering. We soon held a Salmon Advocacy Party where admission was free aside from personal advocacy. Each student was asked to write a letter to the Chief of the Forest Service describing why the Tongass and particularly salmon habitat restoration was important to them. This event helped many students, who otherwise would not have been engaged by this particular environmental issue, become interested and engaged in advocating for the health of the Tongass and the surrounding community.
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Surveying salmon streams on the Tongass National Forest is no easy task - it involves lugging heavy survey gear, tripods, marking stakes, and other gear through dense young growth forests and wading up to our hips in frigid water. Last month, Scott Harris, Watershed Program Manager for the Sitka Conservation Society, worked with the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew to survey recently completed restoration work on the Sitkoh River. After three days of survey work, Watershed Crew Supervisor Calvin Washington mentioned "this is a great project, I want to continue seeing what happens here…".
Restoring habitat is a worthy ideal, but restoring our connection to the land and inspiring a sense of long-term stewardship is equally, if not more, important. Calvin is the crew leader of the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew. His crew joined SCS's Restoration Coordinator Scott Harris and Groundtruthing leader Bob Christensen recently to survey the Sitkoh River.
The Sitka Conservation Society developed a restoration partnership with Trout Unlimited, the Sitka Ranger District, and the Sustainable Salmon Fund to restore a section of Sitkoh River that was flowing down an old logging road. The construction phase is now complete and the longer-term effort of monitoring the effectiveness of the project has begun. This is where the Angoon Crew comes in. None of the three crew members had ever been to Sitkoh River, also called L'ukheenak'u (Coho Salmon Little Creek) by the people of Angoon. Our crew conducted habitat assessments, surveyed the completed restoration project, and just became familiar with the landscape. Rivers are dynamic, and this crew will return next summer to continue monitoring work and see what has changed. Soon they may even claim to be the new stewards of Sitkoh River!
[tentblogger-vimeo 48769359]In July of 2012, thirteen undergraduate students from Knox College embarked on a 15-day wilderness expedition into the wilds of Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The trip was part of a semester long course entitled "Alaska: Forest, Fisheries, and the Politics of Wilderness". The course entailed an in-depth study of the history of natural resource management in Southeast Alaska. The first part of the course took place on the Knox College campus in Galesburg, IL with a thorough exploration of the literature regarding natural resource extraction in Southeast Alaska. This classroom based study of Alaskan resource management was complimented with a 15-day field expedition to the region the following summer. This was the "hands on" component to what they had learned in the classroom.
The students arrived in Sitka, Alaska on June 27th, 2012. After a few days of preparation they embarked on a 100 mile kayaking expedition guided by Latitude Adventures, a local kayak guiding operation. For many of these students, this was their first experience camping, not to mention their first experiences in the great Alaskan wilderness. After ten days on the water, exploring the intertidal zone, watching bears, eagles, and whales; the students arrive at False Island on Chichagof Island. There the students then spent five days working side by side with the United States Forest Service restoring salmon streams that had been degraded by industrial logging. They also had the opportunity to participate in a variety of scientific surveys aimed at understanding the complexities of young growth forests.
This expedition was so unique because it allowed the students to experience the places that they had learned about in the classroom, first hand. For many, this was a trip of a lifetime.
Opportunities like Knox College's course are available for colleges and universities throughout the nation. It is the goal of the Sitka Conservation Society and the Sitka Sound Science Center to connect courses like these with our local assets. We can connect you and your students with our local experts, guides, interpreters, and organizations to facilitate your course's Alaskan education.
[doptg id="25"]Much has changed at Sitkoh Lake since the late 1970's. What was once an epicenter for industrial logging is now a center of activity for forest and watershed restoration. During the summer of 2012, the Sitka District of the United States Forest Service (USFS) went into the Sitkoh Lake Watershed to restore tributary streams and repair some of the damage that was caused by industrial logging. This logging occurred at a time when we didn't understand the value of the yearly returns of salmon compared to the short-term gains of clear-cut logging.
In the late 1970's the area around Sitkoh Lake was heavily logged and many roads were constructed in close proximity to the nearby streams. Unfortunately, the resulting degradation in wildlife and stream habitat made survival more difficult for the area's Sockeye, Coho, Pink, and Chum salmon. To rectify this issue, the Sitka Ranger District of the USFS has invested resources to restore and monitor these important streams.
Rivers and streams in old growth forest naturally have large logs and other root masses that create ideal habitat for juvenile salmon that spend the first years of their lives in this slow moving, deep water. These natural structures help to create deep pools, oxygenate the water, and provide cover from predators. When the area around a stream is heavily logged, the natural material that can create this salmon habitat is lost. As a result the stream becomes straighter, shallower and less ideal for juvenile salmon.
To fix this problem the crew from the US Forest Service installed a number of man-made structures called "upstream V's" that replicate these natural structures. These upstream V's help channel the stream's flow and create deeper, slower moving water ideal for juvenile salmon. However, these are temporary fixes that will hold the stream bank together until the trees along the stream grow large enough to naturally create this habitat diversity for spawning salmon.
This project in the Sitkoh Lake Watershed is important because these salmon runs help support many of our local communities. Many commercial seine and troll fishermen depend on these fish for their livelihoods. These runs also support our local subsistence fishery that so many residents depend upon for their sustenance. Considering these qualities, it's fair to say that these streams are the lifeblood for the nearby communities of Angoon and Sitka.
Forest Service projects like this that "manage the Tongass for Salmon" are extremely important investments in both the ecosystems of the Tongass as well as the economy of Southeast Alaska. But this project is just a start. There are still hundreds of miles of salmon streams that have been impacted by historic clear-cut logging that still need restoration.
SCS is working to make sure that this project is only the beginning of a long-term focus of Tongass management that focuses on our Wild Alaska Salmon Resource.
[tentblogger-vimeo 45955527]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.