Transplanted trees will protect Steep Creek's sockeyes from silt

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2002

Where tourists tramped, trees will grow, and nearby salmon eggs will breathe easier.

Boy Scouts, the U.S. Forest Service and adult volunteers planted spruce trees Saturday along eroded banks of Steep Creek near Mendenhall Lake to keep the salmon stream from silting up.

Tourists, making their way from a trail to the now-abandoned beaver pond and the creek, have worn away big patches of the mossy ground. The Forest Service has put up fences. But fine silt from the bare spots flows into the pond and stream, coating sockeye salmon eggs and preventing them from getting enough oxygen and nutrients, said Pete Schneider, fish biologist for the Juneau Ranger District.

Adult sockeye returning to spawn swim up Mendenhall River, enter the lake and then the beaver pond and the creek in early to mid-July. Although most of the reds spawn in the creek in August, some lay their eggs in the pond's gravel, Schneider said.

The Forest Service put up about 500 feet of fence near the pond and creek where it abuts a trail, but the agency would rather use spiky spruce trees as a barrier to humans.

Spruce "are sharp and pointy. They work great as a natural fence," Schneider said.

It's hard work digging up the trees and transplanting them as well, as 10 Boy Scouts discovered Saturday. Even through the young trees they pried from the ground 10 to 20 yards from the creek had only about a foot of roots in the soil, the Scouts had to hack at the earth with axes and shovels to free the trees.

"You're going to have to get a shovel and dig under that," Scout Daniel Pratt, 16, advised two Scouts who were taking turns with a mattock.

Chris Russell, 12, leaned down and wiped some dirt away from the trough they were creating around the two-foot-high spruce.

"They should have bought trees," Russell suggested.

"Why buy them when they can get them for free?" Pratt asked. "We're Boy Scouts. That's what we do."

The 10 Scouts, age 11 to 16, were from Troop Six, which is sponsored by Chapel by the Lake. They earned hours toward community-service requirements for the next rank up, or for some merit badges.

The tree project "is a great opportunity for us because Scouts tries to emphasize community service and conservation. There's a lot of emphasis on no-trace camping and things like that," said Scoutmaster Ron Josephson.

"To participate in a conservation project where the boys can see tangible results is good," he added.

Meanwhile, Pratt had leveraged the shovel blade under the clump of tree roots as Russell hacked at the ground with a mattock, and they dislodged the tree, about as big as what Charlie Brown would expect for Christmas.

Eric Daugherty, 11, and Pratt lifted the tree up and Pratt cradled it and carried it to the stream bank.

Jeanne Josephson, a master gardener and Ron's wife, mixed organic soil with peat moss to create a bed for the transplants.

"They're growing out of the same stuff we're putting them into, but we're giving them a little extra oompah," she said. "The beauty of this is we're not changing the environment."

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