Corridor at city's back door offers refuge for wildlife

Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2000

Juneau's geographical isolation is more than just a problem for people.

It's also hard on animals, particularly wolves, said Richard Carstensen, a naturalist with the Discovery Foundation and one of the co-authors of ``The Nature of Southeast Alaska.''

A corridor that provides cover is particularly important to animals, such as wolves and wolverines, which must travel long distances to find enough prey to feed themselves.

Carstensen believes many animals don't like traveling over the exposed icefield that stretches some 15 miles behind Juneau, and so many animals probably avoid it.

As the population of Juneau has grown, the path has narrowed for animals traveling from Taku Inlet, about 12 miles south of downtown, to Berners Bay, about 35 miles to the north.

The only option animals have other than the Juneau Icefield is a very narrow corridor of land that runs between the Mendenhall Valley housing subdivisions and the Mendenhall Glacier.

How the shrinking corridor behind Juneau has affected wolf populations is unclear because such studies are expensive and have not been done, according to Carstensen.

``We are such a coastal-oriented culture that we often don't have a clue as to what is going on behind us,'' he said. ``We don't know how our community influences the movement of these animals.''

Another area of major importance to animals, such as bear, moose and wolves, is Carlson Creek Valley. The valley, a major watershed east of Juneau, starts behind Salmon Creek Dam and extends to Sunny Cove on Taku Inlet.

``Bears and wolves have a refuge back there,'' naturalist Greg Streveler said.

The basin is filled mostly with alders and thick brush, with spectacular rapids as the creek leaves the upper basin. There are also numerous beaver dams and armies of insects.

Carlson Creek is the reason Juneau still has an abundance of wildlife, according to Streveler.

``Critters prefer lowlands, but people in Juneau have taken over the coastal areas and the animals have moved up to valleys,'' Streveler said.

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