Critical Tongass Salmon Habitat Gets First Aid

Work got under way in Alaska's Tongass National Forest this summer to repair a key salmon-producing river as part of a collaborative project by the Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Sitka Conservation Society.

The Sitkoh River, on Chichagof  Island, used to produce prolific volumes of pink, chum and Coho salmon, along with steelhead, Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout. Although still productive, Sitkoh’s fish habitat suffered heavy impacts from logging that took place mostly in the 1970s. The timber harvesting removed old growth trees along the river which had held the banks in place and provided wood debris for pool habitat.

The partners raised $318,000 to fix the problems, including re-routing a 1,800-section of river that currently runs down an old logging road due to erosion. Forest Service hydrologist Marty Becker explains some of what’s happening on the river this summer.

Over the course of the next month, Aqua Terra Restoration – which contracted with the Forest Service to do the restoration project – will return the river to its original channel, stabilize old logging roads nearby, remove artificial barriers to fish passage, and thin hundreds of acres of thick young-growth trees to improve watershed health and wildlife habitat.

But before any of the major river re-routing work began, a group of conservation interns and local high school students studying ecology spent time in mid-June trapping juvenile salmon. They caught nearly 700 fish in metal traps and relocated them to another stretch of the river so that they wouldn’t be harmed by the heavy equipment or the temporary water diversion process. Ray Friedlander, a recent University of California, Berkeley, graduate and summer intern for Sitka Conservation Society, was among the fish trapping crew.

Here’s some B-roll of the project shot during a media tour in June.

Watch a story about the Sitkoh project produced by KATH-TV, the NBC affiliate station in Juneau, or read about it in the Juneau Empire and Capital City Weekly.

The Sitkoh River project is one of several large-scale restoration efforts the Forest Service is conducting in the Tongass National Forest this summer. Others are taking place or are in the works at12 Mile Creek on Prince of Wales Island (POW) near the town of Hollis, at Staney Creek and Luck Lake on POW, and at Saginaw River and Kennel Creek near the predominantly Alaska Native villages of Kake and Hoonah.

“Restoring salmon habitat is a key component of the economic transition on the Tongass that the Forest Service supports,” said Beth Pendelton, Alaska Regional Forester.

The agency announced in May 2010 that would move away from old-growth logging and into young-growth timber management, restoration of degraded salmon habitat, and job creation in emerging and established industries such as ocean products, visitor services, and renewable energy.

Trout Unlimited is actively partnering with the Forest Service to accelerate the pace of the transition and to ensure that critical salmon habitat restoration and conservation are priorities.




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