Coho, pink and chum salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout, and Dolly Varden char are benefiting from a recently completed restoration project on the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. Sitka black-tailed deer, wolves and black bears also stand to gain from habitat improvements in a watershed called Twelvemile Creek.
Twelvemile is located on Prince of Wales Island, near Ketchikan. During an era of large-scale logging in the 17-million-acre Tongass before modern timber regulations and laws were enacted, Twelvemile, like other easy-to-access river valleys, was hit hard by chainsaws and the construction of logging roads. Loggers downed old-growth trees right up to the banks, destroying important spawning and rearing habitat. Most large wood in Twelvemile prior to logging had decayed and flushed out of the creek, limiting the amount of pooling habitat salmon and trout need to survive and reproduce.
With very few big trees left along the banks to replace the lost wood, the Forest Service and partners prioritized Twelvemile Creek watershed as an area of the Tongass that would benefit from restoration efforts used previously to successfully improve habitat in watersheds including Harris River, Staney Creek, Sal Creek, and Snipe Creek.
The restoration project included thinning of young-growth tree stands to make the forest for accessible for wildlife. It also involved improving fish crossings and road conditions, and concluded with in-stream channel work in the summer of 2013.
Matthew Anderson, a district ranger on the Tongass, said the effort is definitely paying off.
“It was apparent during the 2013 hot, dry weather, when stream flows were critically low, that migrating salmon were utilizing pools developed with large wood additions during the 2012 restoration efforts,” said Anderson. “They were taking refuge there, and appeared to be crowding into these pools to survive the dry spell until flows increased and they could continue to migrate and spawn.”
The National Forest Foundation and The Nature Conservancy partnered with the Forest Service on the project.
The Tongass is the largest of the country’s 155 national forests. It produces 70 percent of all salmon that spawn and rear on national forest lands in the U.S.