American Salmon Forest Partnership-Ensuring a Salmon-Filled Future

The Tongass is often referred to as America’s Salmon Forest because the entire ecosystem depends on salmon in one way or another. Salmon can be traced all the way to the trees, and the cycle runs full circle. Animals that feed on salmon drag the carcasses into forest, effectively applying thousands of pounds of organic fertilizer to the trees. Without trees to shade the streams and provide underwater structure, salmon would not have proper habitat to mature and later spawn. Salmon DNA can be found within the trees, there is no other place like the Tongass. In order to conserve the Tongass’ rich biodiversity, Trout Unlimited worked with various groups, stakeholders, and the US Forest Service to create the Tongass 77.  

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The 77 watersheds were chosen based on their outstanding salmon habitat and economic value. These watersheds were selected for protection so that their main use can be fish production as opposed to logging, mining, and other types of development. Once the 77 watersheds were chosen, the Forest Service made the selected watersheds off limits to old growth logging. On top of this, the initiative addresses problems such as red pipes, which are fish passage areas that have been deemed as impassable for fish. Red pipes could be anything from improperly sized culverts or steep gradients. Many restoration projects have occurred within the 77 to ensure future success for salmon. Salmon are already facing many problems in the ocean, so it is imperative to make sure that they have proper spawning and maturing habitat.  

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I have been lucky enough to spend more than a week in the Tongass National Forest, and this place is truly incredible. I have stood among trees that have been around for hundreds of years as well as fresh clear cuts. This has inspired me to work toward protecting such a unique ecosystem. Learning about the Tongass and being able to catch some of the fish that spawn in its streams has made this forest incredibly special to me, and my time in the Tongass has given me a new respect for organizations like Trout Unlimited. We must take action to protect our watersheds to ensure that salmon can return each year and keep the Tongass alive.  

-Anthony Ortiz 

 

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Tatoosh School

Alaska has a way of fashioning some incredible people. One of my favorite experiences in Prince of Wales was learning about the Tatoosh School, a collegiate level field school located in southern Southeast Alaska. This non-profit was founded in 2011 by Erin Steinkruger and Dr. Peter Chaillé who have a passion for the outdoors and environmental policy and wanted to create an outdoor learning experience for college students across the country. The grand landscapes, abundant resources, extreme biodiversity, and local experts offer the best hands on classroom to connect aquatic and terrestrial ecology with policy and the surrounding communities.  

Their program offers 3 credit-packed courses during the summer months that can range anywhere from 2 to 10 weeks long depending on which courses they take. One class focuses on the principals of tidal ecology, another on the connections of aquatic and terrestrial ecology, and the third on stewardship of salmon rivers. All the while the students are spending as much time as possible outside at riparian project sites, kayaking to managed and unmanaged landscapes, camping and fishing, building small group communication skills, decision making, finding patterns, talking to local fisherman, checking water levels, and having critical discussions about natural resource management, stem exclusion, and other issues facing Alaska.  

I really connected with these two because their teaching style exemplifies my own philosophy of education, such that incorporating hands on learning and having valuable group discussions is one of the best methods for teaching. These students will use their experiences throughout their careers and personal lives making positive impacts everywhere they go. I was deeply inspired to see them create such a life changing program from the ground up, and I strive to be a teacher that promotes critical thinking and hands on exploration in the same way. Programs like this will make the future better for salmon, our environment, and the world as a whole and I highly encourage that students get involved as much as possible. 

-Kylie Hogan 

Source: Tatoosh School: Field Learning in Southeast Alaska  

Staney Creek Projects

The Staney Creek region of Prince of Wales Island holds 139,000 acres of Tongass National Forest wilderness. This temperate rainforest is the largest national forest in the country and holds a unique biodiversity rich with fish, terrestrial wildlife, and forest vegetation. It also serves as means for tourist recreation, subsistence for the resource dependent communities nearby, and a commercial harvesting industry that fuels the local, state, and national economy.  In 2004 the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) partnered with the Tongass Nature Conservancy (TNC) to stabilize Staney Creek habitats from past logging projects. Together, their efforts will save one of the most productive watersheds in southeast Alaska.  

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The goals of the Staney Creek projects are to enhance ecological conditions and maintain a functioning freshwater and terrestrial ecosystem. To make this happen, USFS and TNC use a resource management assessment for the Staney watershed that covers key resource sectors including terrestrial and aquatic habitat, subsistence, timber supply, and economics. If certain areas within the assessment are deficient, the team will collect data and implement an appropriate action plan that would stabilize the ecosystem over time. By improving the project areas through continued management, enhancement, and restoration, we can attain a balanced ecosystem, recover the production of natural resources upon which people subsist, and increase the economic benefits from a sustainable and collaboratively managed landscape such as this. 

 

Luckily, one of the projects they’ve been working on was completed just before we arrived to POW, and they were super excited to show it to us. The 2-week project involved the removal of an undersized stream culvert and replacing it with a bridge. This allows the stream to flow at a natural pace and create suitable habitat for fish to hold, whereas before the culvert was essentially turning the stream into a firehose and was blasting everything out on the other side. If the stream bedrock gets blown out and large woody debris cannot hold its place, the salmon that are returning from the sea will not be able to reach their spawning beds. To improve this passage, fisheries and wildlife biologists hand-picked rocks to line the edges of the stream, secured in large woody debris to reduce the total energy of the system, and planted grass seed to help filter sediment from the water. As we stood admiring their work, spunky little fry swam around their new deep wooded pools with bliss. We were so inspired and ready to see more projects. 

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We followed the lead biologists deeper into the woods to check out a long term monitoring project of management indicator species happening on a tiny tributary of Staney Creek. Here we saw how they used 20 minnow traps to gather salmon fry and collect data. First they bait the minnow traps spread across a 120 meter stretch with salmon eggs to attract the fry. The traps sit for 90 minutes at a time and are reset 3 times a day. They measure, weigh, and record the species of each individual fry before returning them back to their homes.  Other management practices here included habitat surveys to count pools, riffles, and large woody debris, cross section surveys to measure width to depth ratio in which they compare to unmanaged streams, and placing rocks along riparian zones to reduce erosion and sedimentation. By keeping records of species growth and increasing complexity to the Staney Creek habitats, we can ensure a strong future for our fishy friends. 

-Kylie Hogan 

 

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Logging and Crucial Habitat in the Tongass

I was blown away by the natural beauty on Prince of Wales Island immediately. Within minutes of departing the ferry we saw an ecosystem unlike any that we had previously seen, a temperate rainforest. We stopped at a lookout to soak in the view and I noticed huge, clear cut patches on hillsides in the distance. The bare patches were signs of newer logging, but it has occurred on Prince of Wales since the mid 1900’s. Many communities in Prince of Wales started as logging camps, so it is still deeply engrained within the island’s community. 

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Almost all the logging that has occurred on Prince of Wales (and all the logging in the past) was old growth logging. The largest, oldest trees were cut due to their high commercial value. In the past, there were very few regulations on logging, which led to old growth trees being harvested all the way to river and stream banks. This is illegal today, but the island is still facing the effects from logging up to watershed banks.  

 We learned the importance of riparian zones on the Russian river; large trees and vegetation keep the bank from eroding. Woody debris creates awesome salmon habitat that allows fry to mature before they venture to the ocean. If there is not sufficient habitat for fry, they will not be able to go to the ocean to later return and spawn. The entire temperate rainforest would feel immediate effects if a salmon runs were to disappear, which is why the forest service and other organizations such as The Nature Conservancy have worked to stabilize conditions in watersheds by bringing in new woody structures.  

Cutting trees that have been in the ecosystem for hundreds of years has had an impact on the ecosystem, but at the same time logging has put food on the table for many families. This has created a divide between community members who depend on logging for a source of income and those who believe that forests should be managed to create and conserve habitat for salmon. When conversations about the damaging effects of clear-cut logging take place, we can potentially find a way to responsibly utilize the island’s natural resources while keeping future generations of public land users in mind.  

-Anthony Ortiz

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Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy

Teaching young adults about the significance of salmon conservation is one of the best methods to ensure our fishy friends’ existence in the future. Corporations and non-profit organizations in Alaska have teamed up to make sure that this effort goes full send. The Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy is a free salmon and river education program created in 2008 by Trout Unlimited Alaska, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, and the Bureau of Land Management. Together they established an amazing opportunity for local youth to become passionate leaders in their communities, and to gain the knowledge and skills related to salmon and river sustainability in which they can use to pursue rewarding careers fighting for the watersheds around them. 

The Academy began as a 4 day program with 9 local village students, but now offers a week long course with almost double the numbers of participants! During this week, local biology, ecology, and fishing experts teach students about salmon and river ecology including the life cycles and morphology of fish and the bugs they eat, necessary habitat requirements, riparian zone benefits and repair, and safe management practices of salmon. Other specialists provide direction to help the students become strong leaders, conservation problem solvers, and native wildlife advocates by lining them up with projects they can get involved in. To add to the fun, they get to tie flies and fly fish all week while learning valuable fishing skills related to tying knots, casting methods, hook extraction and finding careers in the salmon industry. 

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Source: Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy 

These programs are important because they stress the value of educating our youth and public about conservation matters. These individuals will grow up supporting local non-profits like Trout Unlimited Alaska and investing in local business to fuel the economy. Leading brands in the fly fishing industry including Simms and Orvis have also donated gear and clothes for the Academy to utilize. In addition, this program teaches them lifelong skills that will help keep families close, as the industry supplies sport fishing jobs and guiding opportunities for families to work together. Thanks to the efforts of Nelli Williams of Trout Unlimited Alaska and many others, the traditions revolving around the river and harvesting wild salmon can carry on. 

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Source: Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy

As a biology and education student about to begin my student teaching semester, I feel so thankful for the opportunity to learn about an incredible program such as this. I am deeply inspired by the joint efforts of the community working together in support of the youth, and it gives me drive to be a better teacher for my students as well. In the future I hope to make a difference for these young leaders by sharing part of my story as to how science and fishing changed my life. In my classroom I plan to promote conservation and use these experiences to encourage as many students as possible to get involved in something they care about. By learning about conservation issues, practicing sustainable fishing management, and sharing what has been learned with family and friends, the wild salmon populations in Alaska can thrive and give back to all those who worked hard to protect it, and more. 

-Kylie Hogan 

Source: Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy 

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Salmon Legislation

 

Even during the days of kings, and certainly before that, salmon legislation has been a key step to a mindful stewardship of nature's bountiful fish. Salmon legislation has also been an underlying motif of this trip, as it has resurfaced in many conversations and acts as a safety net to keep these fish thriving. King Richard the First (Lionheart) implemented an ordinance into the English code stating that for salmon passage... "There must be left in all weirs a gap of such size that a 3-year old pig might turn around in it without touching its snout or tail." Due to the preemptive thoughts of leaders like this, we now have support systems in place to protect the native salmon populations.  

 Sustainable commercial fishing efforts in Alaska have made great strides to protect these species, but there is still more that needs to be done to ensure these fish are not lost. At the forefront of this endeavor is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game with the responsibility to create regulations and promote stewardship of fish for the people. For any meaningful results to their legislation, it is important they have a strong connection and coordination with the local fishermen. Shannon Carroll of Alaska Marine Conservation Council representative got down to the nitty gritty, leaving us with a major take away. Each season, an estimated 50% of the salmon populations are allowed to pass from the oceans to the rivers while the other 50% are there for taking by the commercial fishing market.  

 Amid our many adventures, the 5 Rivers Odyssey team had the pleasure of meeting with former Alaska State Senate President Rick Halford whom delivered a heart-felt speech at the Trout Unlimited Alaska Headquarters. Rick, formerly a stalwart voice for industry expansion in Alaska, has adapted his views over time on long term environmental impacts influencing supply. He is now a voice for responsible development and has pegged the Pebble Mine project as a short-term win for a select few and a long-term loss for the Alaskan community both environmentally and economically.    

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Similarly, the Eklutna Dam removal project has been a collaborative success spearheaded by The Conservation Corporation (TCC) in conjunction with the native Eklutna shareholders and TU at the front lines. To gain a deeper insight about the project, we were connected with Bradford Meiklejohn, Alaska State Director of TCC, to discuss the Eklutna Dam removal project from his point of view. Brad was inspired to remove the dam when watching the documentary Damnation, which advocates for dam removal. With this spark fresh in his mind, the Eklutna Dam removal project took off with local zeal. This project is the epitome of 'think globally act locally'. Now that the dam is removed, the challenge lies in restoring the flows of the Eklutna River to pre-dam flow levels. As an avid float boater himself, he would like to one day float the Eklutna River when the cubic feet per second (CFS) of water entering the Eklutna River is increased and a close to traditional riparian zone is reestablished. This project also makes the Eklutna Lake accessible to anadromous fish whom were once thwarted on their journey upstream. Finally, increased flows would also reconnect the estranged Kokanee (a land-locked sockeye salmon) of the Eklutna Lake to the ocean once more. 

Rising to that challenge, TCC has consulted a team of hydrologists and fisheries biologists that include some TU staff, which have successfully surveyed the area and are now engaged in discussions with the Anchorage Water and Waste Water Utility (AWWU) to determine the appropriate amount of water flow needed through the Eklutna River. To help raise awareness, conservationist and film maker Ryan Peterson is composing a documentary on the Eklutna Dam removal site, so be on the look-out for it!  

Fortunately, there are many ways you can get involved both directly and indirectly in salmon legislation. First, you can Vote with Your Fork, meaning opt to eat wild caught salmon instead of hatchery raised. When you do this, not only will your taste buds thank you, but so will the small business owners and native villages that are fishing in remote places with high operating costs for quality wild salmon. Second, you may donate to non for profit organizations such as TU or The Conservation Corporation and make a difference on the front lines of legislation and documentation. Third, reach out and/or volunteer with a community of like-minded individuals to gather support. Finally, call your representatives!  Your representatives were elected to embody the collective voice of the people, so by giving them a call, sending an email, or even just waving to them on the street makes a big impact on the message they deliver when in session guiding the legislation of our country.   

  Mac's Fun Fact:   

80% of Anchorage, AK potable water comes from Eklutna Lake.  

  Links to check out:         

Eklutna Dam Removal Project:  

http://www.eklutnainc.com/eklutna-dam-project/  

Stand For Salmon:   

https://www.standforsalmon.org/  

Save Bistol Bay:  

http://www.savebristolbay.org/  

-McCarthy Kessler  

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Running on Empty

 

We were running on empty; 3 hours of sleep and 3 cups of coffee for breakfast were all that were keeping me from collapsing on the rocky tundra. My arms burned and my hands were cramping, but we finally made it. With a shrug of relief I set down the two buckets filled with white fuel and food and took the duffel off of my back. I leaned against one of the buckets and before I could catch my breath Chuck, our guide for the week, was yelling, “Hurry up, we have at least 4 more trips!”  I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. We had to carry all of our gear for the 8 day float across the tundra to the river and I was already exhausted. How were we going to be able to carry all of our gear when one trip was a half mile?  

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Somehow, we made it to the end of the portage. We thought that was the end of the work, but it was only the beginning. We pumped up the rafts and organized our gear and were immediately faced with challenges on the raft. Chuck decided to take us through a narrow back channel with low flows to get to the main river so we did not have to carry gear any farther, but it meant sliding our rafts over many obstacles including beaver dams and bushes. This may sound like a terrible time to some, but it made the entire trip that much sweeter for me. Once we carried our rafts over all of the obstacles and made it to the main channel of the river, I was filled with joy. Immediately, we saw the subtle ripples resulting from salmon and grayling rising to insects skirting across the surface of the water. Our hard work had paid off. This was the first time I had truly set my eyes on the Koktuli River, and I would not have been as amazed if we could have reached the river from a parking lot. Overcoming many of the challenges that we faced also gave me a new perspective on the challenges that salmon face. We had the privilege of taking two flights to get to our put-in on the Koktuli, while the salmon make an enormous journey from the open ocean, swimming hundreds of miles upstream back to their birth place to spawn. Before the float trip, I saw firsthand how salmon brought the people together. Now, I got to see how the salmon contributed to the environment. We ran into salmon carcasses on the river that had been eaten by bears. Those carcasses were now filled with insects that would later feed the salmon fry in the river. The same fry (as well as salmon eggs) sustained very healthy populations of dolly varden, rainbow trout, and grayling. The entire ecosystem revolves around the salmon, and it was truly incredible to come into contact with salmon on their journey.    

-Anthony Ortiz

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Bristol Bay Native Corporation

 In 1867, during Andrew Johnson’s incumbency as President of The United States of America and the rule of Tsar Alexander the II of the Russian empire, the USA purchased land from Russia that is now known as the state of Alaska. Though globally this was viewed as progress, to the local natives it meant their lands would be encroached upon by a new nation. 

In 1971, during the Nixon administration, The Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), spear headed by Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, was signed into law and with it a new domestic oil industry was born, bringing about The Trans America Pipeline System (TAPS) one of Alaska’s greatest assets. With the revenue generation, rights came into question.  This lead to a definition for native land patents and the establishment of the Native Corporations creating 12 land based corporations. Native Corporations are holding companies which invest in municipal and utility subsidiaries set up with a share system for members of their respective corporation. In order to possess shares, one must have been granted shares upon the formation of the native corporation or gifted shares by a family member. Each Native Corporation is a for profit company that pays dividends out to the shareholders.  In the case of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), dividends are paid out quarterly. Above and beyond capital investment, the Native Corporations serve the native community connecting shareholders with conservation efforts, heritage lessons, access to scholarships, as well as employment opportunities.  

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Source: https://www.bbnc.net/

Daniel Cheyette, the BBNC’s esquire, hosted a presentation for us originally composed for a student research group from Brown University. Dan advised about the importance of BBNC to the community structure and that diversification is the focus. This can be seen in the investment BBNC has made into guide lodges and air transportation. We then heard from Chad, a native intern working at BBNC who is also a shareholder and student at The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). Recently, he has been working on transferring land patent data into Esrie Arc GIS maps. We also talked to Casey Sifsof, a shareholder at BBNC currently directing the Bristol Bay Native Place Names project which tells the unique stories of their community members. We are grateful for the opportunity and extend our thanks to Nelli Williams of Trout Unlimited Alaska (TUA) for coordinating the meeting. 

Mac’s Fun Fact:  

When polled, 80% of BBNC shareholders oppose the Pebble Mine development. 

-McCarthy Kessler