Healthy forests are vital to trout and salmon, and, by extension, to the anglers who pursue them. Trees stabilize riverbanks and limit erosion which can smother eggs or otherwise muck up cold, clean waters essential for spawning and rearing. Forests provide shade and shelter from sun, wind, heat and other natural events that can impact habitat. And when they naturally wither and die, or get blown down in storms, logs and big branches of fallen trees wind up in fish-bearing streams, creating structure and cover important to trout and salmon. Many spawning adult fish need calm eddies and pools in which to lay their eggs, and young fish need the same environment to hatch and grow. Healthy forested watersheds provide the right recipe.
Striking the right balance between human activities and forest conservation is a delicate dance. But in many places where Trout Unlimited works, we successfully partner with agencies, individuals, businesses, non-profits, tribes and others with a vested interest in fish to protect and restore forests that are essential to fish. In Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, for example, TU completed an award-winning restoration project on the Sitkoh River, once a key producer of pink and Coho salmon, steelhead and Dolly Varden. The river had lost much of its fish habitat when old-school logging allowed timber harvest down to the banks – a no-go for fish and a practice that, thankfully, is no longer permitted. Thanks to a successful partnership involving TU, the Forest Service, and others, the Sitkoh is now producing fish again at rate that is expected to return the river to its formerly healthy, pre-logging condition.
Restoring forests for fish can involve taking out blocked culverts, putting logs back into rivers, re-engineering pools and thinning young-growth in formerly logged stands. TU does this kind of work while at the same time advocating for the protection of fully functioning ecosystems that remain open to development activities that can harm fish. Obviously it’s much smarter to prevent damage in the first place. But where fish habitat has been lost, TU actively seeks out and works with partners to see that forest restoration occurs. It’s proactive conservation that most people rally behind, even groups who are sometimes traditionally at odds.