Tongass NF, partners work together to restore salmon habitat

Kruzof Restoration 10




KRUZOF ISLAND, Alaska - “It’s all for the fish. We like the fish around here. So that’s why we’re doing this,” said Ariel Miller of family-owned and operated TM Construction in Sitka, Alaska. Miller is referring to the ongoing restoration of Shelikof Creek in the Sitka Ranger District of the Tongass National Forest. The Shelikof Restoration is a Forest Service project in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Sitka Conservation Society, and TM Construction.

TM Construction carried out the on-the-ground work of inserting wood debris back into the stream under contact with the Nature Conservancy (TNC), who was the lead partner and supporter of the project. Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) conducted surveys of stream conditions as part of the preparations for the project, recruited local volunteers to help with the efforts, and  documented the project as it progressed. The Forest Service provided expertise, coordinated planning for the project, and supervised the restoration work. Aaron Prussian and Marty Becker of the Sitka Ranger District (SRD) guided the work and emphasized the positive effects stream restoration would have on salmon habitat. 

Kruzof Island is best known for the iconic Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano, but the island also provides exceptional habitat for many Tongass creatures, including wild salmon. The restoration project is intended to aid juvenile salmon and fry survival in the area and to improve the resilience of the habitat.

In the past, people thought fallen trees and other debris in streams were harmful for salmon. But as it turns out, salmon use the pools created by debris in the streambed for spawning. Creating these pools is one big step toward creating self-sustaining salmon habitat in the Shelikof stream.

“Having these resting areas and rearing habitat is really going to increase the survivability of Coho populations,” said Marty Becker, the Watershed Programs Coordinator for the Sitka Ranger District. "You build their home, they will come."

Eventually, the pools in Shelikof Creek will be self-sustaining, providing lasting habitat for salmon.

Restoration of salmon habitat also has incredible economic value, particularly in Southeast Alaska. In a  presentation to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce, Sitka District Ranger, Perry Edwards, emphasized the return on investment for watershed restoration projects like Sheilikof Creek. Tongass salmon comprise twenty-five percent of the West Coast’s entire salmon harvest.

Kruzof Restoration 12Although the bulk of the restoration work on the Shelikof project was completed in the summer of 2016, some additional efforts will be undertaken by the Sitka Ranger District this summer. The District has plans for culverts that will allow fish passage beneath roads and hand placement of wood to further restore the spawning areas in the stream.

The Tongass NF is committed to habitat restoration and understands the vital importance of salmon to Southeast Alaska’s communities, ecosystems, and economies. Continued collaboration with communities and partners will help bring back salmon to impacted streams. 

Want to know more about the Shelikof restoration project and see for yourself how it was done? Watch this video produced by the Sitka Conservation Society: