Tongass forest river damaged by logging declared restored

CELEBRATION: Fish now swim in pools engineered by experts.

August 25, 2011 

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 are 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.

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

When the multi-year project was started, one of the tributaries, locally called Fubar Creek, was so filled with sediment that water hadn't flowed in it for 13 years. The creek has been 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 helped in the project.

The Harris River and the now-named Beautiful 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 loggers had left in the rivers. At the time that was felt to be a good thing, but it made matters worse.

Part of the work on Beautiful 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.

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