Salmon are a key piece of the culture and lifestyle in Hoonah, Alaska, and a healthy network of streams and tributaries provides a place for fish to breed and young to grow. Due to the expansive road network in North Chichagof Island there are many places were roads and streams intersect, which may alter the habitat in ways that do not benefit fish. For instance, culverts, if not installed correctly, can block sediment and fish passage. Roads with an incorrect design may erode, rut, or fail leading to sedimentation of the river. The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership (HNFP) is collecting data to assess the condition of road and stream crossings, evaluate the functioning condition of streams for fish-rearing habitat, and quantify the structure (i.e., pools, runs, riffles) of rivers as it pertains to salmon-rearing. The information collected by HNFP crews via road, proper functioning condition (PFC), and Tier II surveys will be used to help resource managers evaluate existing conditions. With these data, HNFP seeks to understand where land management actions could improve the quality of stream habitat for fish and other aquatic species that depend on properly functioning riparian areas. Analysis of the data will identify potential projects along roads, streams, and riparian areas to maximize resource potential (e.g., salmon production) while providing jobs and maintaining local lifestyles.

Road Surveys

In order to understand the condition of culverts and roads as they relate to fish habitat and river flow, crews have spent a lot of time of walking the roads of Game Creek and Spasski Watersheds as well as Westport. They are using Allegros (highly accurate GPS data collectors) to inventory culverts, ruts, erosion, and water on roads. In some cases, roads have not been surveyed in more than 10 years, and this comprehensive look at them provides valuable insight for land managers and land owners. Road surveys indicate where roads and streams interact and where these interactions result in plugged culverts, inhibited fish passage, and sediment sources. By identifying these locations and performing road maintenance to improve them, HNFP can start to maximize the extent of streams available to fish and minimize the amount of sediment impacting these habitats.

“Ecosystems at any temporal or spatial scale are in properly functioning condition when they are dynamic and resilient to perturbations to structure, composition, and processes of their biological or physical components.” (USDA Forest Service 1997)

PFC Surveys

Before looking at the methods of Properly Functioning Condition (PFC) surveys, it is important to define proper functioning condition. Properly functioning condition exists “when soil and water are conserved, and plants and animals can grow and reproduce and respond favorably to periodic disturbance” (Campbell and Bartos 2001). In short, a stream should be able to handle change or disturbance and provide for the animals that live in it. There are many reasons why PFC may not occur along a river. For instance, timber harvest along stream areas changes the age and size of trees that fall into streams. Large logs change sediment flow, can create pools, and supply cover for both fry and adult fish. The PFC assessments indicate where streams may be lacking large wood or resilient riparian areas which are important characteristics needed to accommodate flood flows and maintain valuable fish habitats.  By identifying these locations, we can propose projects to supplement the streams with large wood until riparian area trees are at an age and condition to fall into the streams to dissipate flood flows and support diverse habitats.

  • Running water on a road may degrade the condition of the road and lead to sedimentation in a river. Photo : Ian Johnson
  • A view from the top of Spasski Watershed. Photo : Ian Johnson
  • Crew member Charlie uses a clinometer to measure the gradient of a culvert. Photo : Ian Johnson
  • A culvert with blockage may cause eroision, block fish passage, or fail completely. Photo : Ian Johnson
  • Water on the road may cause road failure. Crews measure the length of water features on the road. Photo Credit : Ian Johnson
  • Donovan collects data with an Allegro 2 for the Road Surveys as part of the HNFP Photo : Ian Johnson

Tier II Surveys

Not all streams are made alike when it comes to rearing fish. High quality streams with ideal habitat will have higher survival of salmon fry (Paulsen and Fisher, 2001). Tier II surveys quantify metrics important to fish. In the HNFP study area, streams were selected if the PFC survey suggested the river was functioning at risk. The survey determines qualitative metrics on things like size of the rocks on the bed of the stream, number of pools per mile, depth of pools, and pieces of large wood. These metrics help to further evaluate existing condition and can be used to set objectives when doing stream restoration.

HNFP Road Survey progress to date. Each yellow dot represents a collected road feature. Crews have collected data in Eastport and Westport.

HNFP Road Survey progress to date. Each yellow dot represents a collected road feature. Crews have collected data in Eastport and Westport.

The Effect

The suite of hydrological and fish-habitat surveys being conducted will provide a powerful data-set for decision making. These quantitative survey methods have been proven effective in other study regions in the Pacific Northwest. To put them into context and provide comparison, Tier II survey metrics will be compared to a forest wide reference database containing over 350 streams (Tucker and Caouette, 2008) and will give managers the needed information to create effective management suggestions to improve habitat. The road survey data will not only aid in management decisions relating to fisheries, but can open a discussion on where road maintenance is needed to access important subsistence areas.  The analysis of these data will be conducted through the winter and presented to the residents of Hoonah in forums, one-on-one discussions, and through social median to ensure the community’s voice is heard and incorporated into the final land management plan.

Article written by : Ian Johnson - Hoonah Indian Association and Katherine Prussian - U.S. Forest Service

Literature

  • Campbell, Robert B., and Dale L. Bartos. "Aspen ecosystems: objectives for sustaining biodiversity." (2001).
  • Paulsen, Charles M., and Timothy R. Fisher. "Statistical relationship between parr-to-smolt survival of Snake River spring–summer Chinook salmon and indices of land use." Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 130.3 (2001): 347-358.
  • Tucker, Emil, J. Caouette, 2008. Statistical Analyses of Aquatic Habitat Variables in the Tongass National Forest. Unpublished report on file at USDA Forest Service, Tongass National Forest, Petersburg, Alaska
  • USDA Forest Service. 1997. Properly functioning condition: rapid assessment process (including the Properly Functioning Condition Assessment for the Utah High Plateaus and Mountain Section); September 8, 1997. Ogden, UT: Intermountain Region. 71 p

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