Prince of Wales Island, Alaska: Bring back the salmon!

On Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, a coalition of conservation organizations, including The Wilderness Society, is working with partners to undo the damage caused by decades of clearcut logging in the Tongass National Forest—logging that had devastated the massive salmon runs on Prince of Wales Island’s Harris River.

Next week, after years of work, the U.S. Forest Service and conservation groups will celebrate the ongoing watershed restoration in the Harris River watershed on Prince of Wales Island.

From the 1960s through 1987, 4,669 acres of the Harris River watershed were subjected to clearcut logging, including nearly half of the riparian areas. Logging and road building changed how fallen trees shaped the waterways, and allowed sediment to choke nearby streams, kill fish and destroy wildlife habitat. In 2000, the Harris River, along with its main tributary, Fubar Creek, became a focal point for watershed restoration and a top restoration priority for the U.S. Forest Service and a coalition of conservation organizations who wanted to see this Prince of Wales Island river once again produce the massive salmon runs of its past.

Since then, 11 miles of stream bank have been stabilized, more than 500 acres of new forest growth has been thinned, and 350 whole trees and logs have been added to the stream channel to provide spawning and rearing habitat for salmon in Fubar Creek. Restoring salmon streams is of key importance because the Tongass, including Prince of Wales Island, is responsible for annually producing millions of fish that support a thriving commercial fishing industry, sport-fishing-related tourism, and important local subsistence fisheries.

Recently, salmon have been observed in parts of Fubar Creek that were not accessible to them before the restoration efforts began.

On Aug. 25, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Harris Sherman, will join U.S. Forest Service officials and their partners in the Alaska conservation community for a tour of the restoration site before an evening dinner and ceremony marking the achievements of this watershed restoration effort on Prince of Wales Island.

The Wilderness Society is a proud supporter of this restoration project. Its benefits will go beyond salmon as the U.S. Forest Service transitions the Tongass National Forest from boom-and-bust, old growth logging to a sustainable economic model based on restoration, fishing and tourism.

Thanks to the Harris River watershed restoration project, the salmon – and therefore the people – of Prince of Wales Island have a brighter future.