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Officials celebrate restoration of Tongass salmon habitat

Posted: August 25, 2011 - 9:46pm

ANCHORAGE — A celebration was held Thursday to mark the restoration of a river in the Tongass National Forest that was once renowned for producing salmon and trout but was damaged decades ago by the effects of clear-cut logging.

The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service were partners in the multi-year project to repair damage done to the Harris River and its tributaries on Prince of Wales Island. Salmon now swimming in pools engineered by restoration experts.

“When you see salmon in a restored pool on Harris River, you’re seeing the benefits of watershed restoration firsthand,” said Randy Hagenstein, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Alaska.

“It’s a celebration of the various partnerships that have all come together to help improve salmon habitat on the Harris River and its tributaries, and to show what can happen when different parties can come together and bring their expertise and resources to help create local jobs, improve salmon habitat and build sustainable fisheries for the future,” he said following the ceremony.

The daylong celebration in Craig included a roster of events, including a performance by the Klawock Heenya Tlingit Indian Dancers

When the multi-year project was started, one of those tributaries, locally called Fubar Creek, was so filled with sediment that water hadn’t flowed in it for 13 years.

The conversancy wants the creek to be officially renamed from its military acronym to gandlaay haanaa, a Haida name meaning Beautiful Creek.

Work on the Harris included restoring more than 11 miles of salmon streams, improving fish passage and reducing erosion on more than eight miles of roads. More than 400 acres of forest also were restored by thinning trees and enhancing local trails, according to Trout Unlimited, which help in the project.

“We’re encouraged that the Forest Service is starting to make salmon habitat restoration and protection a priority in the Tongass,” said Paula Dobbyn, spokeswoman for Trout Unlimited in Alaska. “Despite the number of salmon watersheds that have suffered damage from years of old growth logging, we still got healthy and abundant salmon runs in Southeast Alaska, for the most part, but it’s not something we can take for granted.”

“It’s great that the Harris River and Fubar Creek have been restored to their near natural condition and that the fish are coming back,” she said told The Associated Press by cellphone after the ceremony. “But there are many other important salmon rivers in the Tongass that need repair, and some 65 percent of high value salmon watersheds in the Tongass are still unprotected from development. The Forest Service can do better.”

The Harris River and Fubar Creek were damaged by logging practices now forbidden, which included cutting trees right down to the water’s edge and leaving the rivers, streams and creeks vulnerable to erosion. Sometimes, loggers would drive excavators right down the middle of river channels and drag logs through the channel.

The Harris and its 19,000-acre watershed were chosen for restoration because the river once provided the best salmon and trout-rearing habitat in the Tongass. Loggers clear-cut to the river’s edge on both sides. That allowed sediment to run down the mountain slopes and clog the rivers, streams and creeks.

To make matters worse, some areas were cleaned of debris. That meant removing the wood and debris that had been left in the rivers by loggers. At the time that was felt to be a good thing, but it made matters worse.

Part of the work on Fubar Creek entailed putting logs back in the creek to form deep pools for fish. Log jams also were placed in the creek to create small waterfalls.

Trout Unlimited says more restoration projects are in the works. The conservation group says the Tongass produces about 30 percent of the salmon caught on the West Coast.

“Investing in watershed restoration is essential for the communities in southeast Alaska for salmon, and for the economy,” said Harris Sherman, USDA’s undersecretary for conservation and the environment. “I’m impressed by the unusual level of commitment and collaboration in the Tongass. It’s an example of what can happen elsewhere in the United States.”

KODIAK — An Alaska state biologist says this year’s pink salmon fishery around Kodiak Island has varied dramatically from one side of the island to the other. Fish and Game Management Biologist James Jackson says fish have been sparse on the west side and abundant on the east side.

The preseason prediction was for a harvest of 30 million pink salmon, but Jackson says fishermen will be lucky if the total harvest hits 17 million. Based on historic run timing, Jackson tells KMXT the pink season is about 90 percent over.

Through Tuesday, the total pink salmon harvest was about 15.25 million, with the East and Northeast Kodiak district accounting for more than half the total.

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