As we hunker down during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s natural to feel cooped up, isolated, and nostalgic for “normal” life. These are difficult, uncertain times. At the Sitka Conservation Society, we want to support you in new worlds of living, working, and learning.
That’s why we’ve released The Salmon Forest for free viewing, with everyone from families to globe-trotters to fishermen to daydreamers in mind.
The Salmon Forest celebrates what hasn’t changed during the outbreak: the incredible lands and waters of Southeast Alaska, and the salmon’s return to their home streams.
About the Film
The Salmon Forest is a 30-minute documentary film that explores the connection between wild salmon and life in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States.The film follows Alaskan salmon on their epic migration from the streams of the forest to the ocean and back, revealing the various lives they impact along the way. Pull in a huge catch with commercial fishermen, explore the breathtaking landscapes that draw in millions, watch as a mother bear lunges into a stream to feed her cubs, visit a native Tlingit community to better understand salmon’s cultural significance, and meet the people who work day and night to ensure this public resource is protected for generations to come.
Filmed in stunning high definition, The Salmon Forest highlights one of the last healthy homes for salmon on Earth, and provokes a deeper understanding of this complex and beautiful ecosystem. Ultimately, this film celebrates the unique role public lands play in salmon production and reminds us that proper management is vital to sustain the future of commercial fisheries, subsistence, recreation, and our forests.
This film was made in partnership between Sitka Conservation Society, the U.S. Forest Service, and Wild Agency to share the interdependence of the Tongass National Forest, wild Pacific salmon, and the communities of Southeast Alaska.
Continue the Entertainment!
With parents and families in mind, we’ve made a Fin-Tastic Activity Packet that contains a coloring page and worksheets. Learn more about the life cycle of a salmon, create your own food web, and see how salmon are an important part of the Southeast Alaskan way of life in these activities that are fun for the whole family!
Salmon in the Trees
Salmon are the lifeblood of the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass boasts over 15,000 miles of salmon rivers and streams and over 123,000 acres of lakes and ponds that support salmon.
Salmon are born from eggs nestled in streambeds, and they grow up in these waters, too. When they begin to reach maturity, the young salmon travel down to the ocean. In those boundless, churning waters, they become adults and grow to their full size.
That’s not the end of their journey. To reproduce, they must make a dramatic journey home, past orcas and seals, nets, rocks, and bears’ strong paws. Salmon’s bodies change in many ways when they return to freshwater: one, they become brilliantly colorful. It’s a sign that they’re ready to lay and fertilize eggs. It’s also a sign that their lives are almost at an end. This return to their birthplaces brings life, nutrients, and color to the Tongass.
Hungry bears fish in the streams for spawning salmon to feed themselves and their cubs. When the bears catch their prey, they bring the salmon carcasses into the forest, where the leftovers decompose and fertilize the trees! In tree growth rings, scientists find biological evidence of salmon.
In exchange for the bounty of nutrients that the adult salmon bring, trees help salmon survive: they hold the salmon streams together with their roots and shade the waters to keep them cool. Ancient trees fall into the streams, creating pools that are critical refuges for young salmon.
It’s not just bears and trees who need salmon. Over 50 different animals rely on salmon in Southeast Alaska, from eagles to humans, plus countless insects and microscopic creatures.
The Value of Salmon
Salmon are a treasured food source in Southeast Alaska. Across rural Southeast Alaska, residents use an average of 75 pounds of salmon per person each year! Nearly 90% of rural households here use salmon. For Southeast Alaskans, salmon represent more than food: they represent a way of life that is tied to the land. This is true for none more than the Indigenous peoples of the region, the Tlingit, the Haida, and the Tsimshian, who have stewarded salmon runs since time immemorial. Salmon are a traditional food that supports cultural renewal, as we see in the Kake Culture Camp in the film. Salmon are invaluable here, and they deserve utmost protection.
Salmon are valuable beyond Southeast Alaska, too. Commercial salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska supports a global economy and food chain and employs 15% of Southeast Alaskans, more than any other private sector. This wouldn’t be possible without healthy Tongass lands and waters, which contribute 75% of the salmon commercially harvested offshore.
Conserving Salmon in Southeast
At the Sitka Conservation Society, we advocate for Alaskans, for salmon, and for the Tongass National Forest here in Southeast Alaska. We encourage the protection of critical salmon habitat, support small businesses and economic development, and promote sustainable harvest in commercial fisheries. Working and organizing with partners locally, regionally, and across the state, we advocate for land management policies on the Tongass that protect wild salmon habitat and our way of life.
We partner with state and federal agencies, tribes, cities, community artists, and more to celebrate and conserve the Tongass while building resilient communities. As a founding member of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, we have the opportunity to work with diverse partners across the region towards the common goals. We are striving for cultural, ecological, and economic prosperity for our families, communities and region.
We are also helping empower young people to lead and thrive on a local, state, federal, and global scale. By sharing intergenerational knowledge, instilling values of conservation, teaching essential skills including hunting, fishing, gathering and gardening, and providing programming that fosters leadership, civic engagement, and environmental advocacy, we are preparing youth for the challenges of the future. These goals are achieved through our 4-H Alaska-Way-of-Life program, supporting high school civic engagement, and the Sitka School District and local educational institutions.
Right now, our work is focused on supporting our community during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Tongass National Forest prioritizes management of salmon as a critical resource for Southeast Alaskans and the lands we live on. To name a few ways:
- The Forest supports local stewardship through participation in initiatives such as the Keex’ Kwaan Community Forest Partnership and the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership. These partnerships collaboratively manage the surrounding lands and provide local jobs, food security, and cultural renewal.
- The Forest monitors subsistence salmon fisheries in partnership with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and local entities such as the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Organized Village of Kake. This work conserves salmon populations by informing the State’s subsistence catch limits and whether the fisheries are opened for commercial harvest. Read about the monitoring program at Redoubt Lake.
- Every summer, crews across the Forest conduct restoration to remedy the impacts of historical logging and road-building practices. Now, road building and timber harvest on the Tongass require intensive, rigorous surveying of possible impacts to fish habitat and hydrology. Watch our video about a stream restoration project on Kruzof Island.
It’s not just organizations that help conserve salmon. Residents and visitors do, too. Whether you’re sport fishing for salmon with a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, taking pictures at a Tongass bear viewing site with a local guide, or teaching your children how to use a smokehouse, you’re sustaining our salmon forest. Thank you!
Not in Southeast? You can still help us protect the Tongass.
Donate and become a member of the Sitka Conservation Society today to protect the Tongass and support the building of sustainable communities here in Southeast Alaska.
Consider supporting the Living Wilderness Fund, an endowment that honors the legacy of our founders and promotes the continued protection of our treasured wilderness. In conserving wilderness areas, we ensure that the forests of the Tongass continue to provide salmon, clean water, fresh air, and our Southeast Alaska way of life.
Learn more about our founders in Echoes of the Tongass, another film from the makers of The Salmon Forest.
Looking to learn more about traditional foods?
Salmon are one of many important fish in Southeast Alaska. Watch "Yáa at wooné," created by the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, to immerse yourself in the relationships between our lands and waters, traditional ways of life, and herring.