Summer Project Will Restore Critical Salmon Habitat in Tongass National Forest
Fishermen’s News, July 2012
By Margaret Bauman
A multi-year salmon habitat restoration project on the Sitkoh River in Southeast Alaska gets under way this summer, with reconnection of high value salmon spawning and rearing habitat damaged by commercial logging in the 1970s.
Phase one of the project on Chichagof Island, about 12 miles west of Angoon, will restore some 1,800 feet of critical salmon rearing habitat in the Sitkoh River watershed, an important salmon spawning area, which also attracts steelhead, Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout.
This first phase, which is scheduled to run through July, is a cooperative effort of the Sitka Conservation Society, which is providing staff, Trout Unlimited, the US Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
This phase will restore the river to its original stream channel and create engi- neered structures to stabilize the stream course and minimize diversion to allow for riparian trees to grow large and serve as future sources of woody debris. Phase two will restore downstream large wood habitat structures in Sitkoh River and stabilize the bank by installing engineered logjams.
“We feel that given how important salmon are to the economy, anything that can be done to restore habitat is an investment in the economy of the region,” said Paula Dobbyn, a spokeswoman for Trout Unlimited. The Tongass produces on average 28 percent of Alaska’s annual salmon catch, and restoration of the watershed will also create jobs, she said.
The 17.3 million acre Tongass National Forest is also the subject of another environ- mental campaign to have the 77 top producing watersheds within the national forest managed primarily for fish and wildlife values, said Mark Kaelke, Southeast Alaska project director for Trout Unlimited.
TU also is seeking a land use designation 2 under the Tongass Timber Reform Act, a designation that would have the area managed primarily for fish and wildlife values and exclude commercial logging. The designation would allow for activities such as development of hydroelectric dams, some roads, and habitat restoration, plus hunting and fishing, recreational and sub- sistence use, Kaelke said.
The 77 watersheds lie with a total of 1.9 million acres of the Tongass. Within them, there are about 1,200 miles of anadromous streams. Currently only about 35 percent of the salo and trout spawning and rearing habitat in the Tongass is protected at the watershed scale. The rest remains open to development activities which the conserva- tion groups feel could harm fish.
“It appears we would increase the amount of protection for Tongass salmon by about 22 percent,” Kaelke said. “We see this as a way of assuring these fisheries resources and jobs and the revenues these resources bring to this region,” he said.
The Sitkoh River watershed, which also supports populations of Sitka black-tailed deer and brown bear, has been damaged by past timber harvests and road projects, mostly in the 1970s.
A recent analysis by The Nature Con- servancy and US Forest Service identified the Stikoh River as one of the seven highest priority watersheds for restoration within the Tongass. The analysis considered the amount of salmon habitat, miles of roads and acres of harvest, and proximity to sources of labor. Trout Unlimited also has identified the Sitkoh as one of its 25 restoration priority areas.
The project is being funded with $185,000 from the Forest Service, $108,000 from the Sustainable Salmon Fund administered through the state fisheries agency, $25,000 from Trout Unlimited, and staffing by the Sitka Conservation Society.