We foster partnerships and inspire Southeast Alaskans to steward their watersheds and support communities through participatory projects, research, and learning.

Field Notes - September 2023

Updates from SAWC after another summer in the field.

Partnering for Salmon, Indigenous-Led Stewardship, and the Sustainability Strategy 

Rob Cadmus, Executive Director

A group of over 40 practitioners and experts gathered on Prince of Wales island to tour historic large wood restoration sites to build capacity for current and future projects. Thanks to all of our partners for getting work done across the region.

Emails have gone unanswered. Zoom meetings missed. Mail unopened and piled on a desk…a desk with numerous other paper piles of unknown origin or destination. Why? 

In Shorty Creek on Kuiu Island, the Keex' Kwaan Community Forest Partnership crew were hauling trees into the creek using winches, pulleys, and hard work. Working alongside SAWC and USFS, the team built 6 structures restoring fish habitat and stream function. (PC: Lee House).

Over the field season of 2023, the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) has been so busy doing the real work, we just didn’t have time for anything else. 

We have been in the field, conducting hands-on stream and watershed restoration projects in partnership with communities and tribes: hand tool and heavy equipment stream restoration projects, riparian thinning, watershed assessment, planting native vegetation in disturbed areas, and much more. 

Our small but effective team has jumped from one community to the next, covering an impressive number of projects and partnerships. Our waders are worn and leaky, our camping gear soaking wet, our hands are blistered, but the salmon are happy, and our partners are empowered.

Hundreds of millions of adult salmon return to Southeast Alaska each year to spawn. These fish support subsistence, sport, and commercial fisheries annually worth $1 billion. Returning fish also have great ecological and cultural importance. While most watersheds in the region are relatively intact and support healthy fish and wildlife populations, many have been impacted by industrial scale timber harvest and land development.

Recently, tribal and community-based watershed stewardship programs have been created to address these concerns: Hoonah Native Forest Partnership (HNFP), Ketchikan Indian Community Natural Resource Crew, Klawock Indigenous Stewards Forest Partnership (KISPF), Yakutat Salmon Partners, and Keex' Kwaan Community Forest Partnership (KKCFP). With financial and technical assistance from non-profit organizations, like SAWC, and agencies, these programs have developed Tribal stewardship crews that conduct on-the-ground watershed actions. 

Crew from the USFS, Klawock Indigenous Stewards Forest Partnership and SAWC after finishing up a remote stream restoration project on Kosciusko Island. The crew used handtools to restore fish habitat and natural stream processes at Buggy Creek.

This work directly supports the Tongass National Forest’s Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy to support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve natural resources in Southeast Alaska. The projects don’t just benefit the fish; we are sharing capacity, exchanging knowledge, and supporting tribal and community leaders that will make the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy a reality in the long term.

The Klawock Indigenous Stewards Forest Partnership and Shaan Seet, Inc. work alongside SAWC to conduct stream restoration at Halfmile Creek in Hollis.

The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership, Kootznoowoo, Inc. and the Forest Service teamed up to employ and train Angoon community members to conduct watershed stewardship. In this photo, the HNFP, National Forest Foundation, and the USFS travel to Cube Cove to plan restoration work.  

The 2023 Ketchikan Indian Community watershed stewardship crew worked alongside SAWC and the Forest Service to restore salmon habitat on Revillagigedo Island last summer. Left to right: crew leader Clarence Peele with Jalen Dow, Arthur Williams, and Dorian Dundus.

Kuiu Summer Camp: South Fork Skanâxheen Restoration 

Kelsey Dean, Watershed Scientist

It was a busy summer on Kuiu Island with USFS Petersburg Ranger District and SAWC joining forces to restore fish habitat at South Fork Skanâxheen. Historic logging and road building in the watershed had limited the number of trees available to naturally fall in and create healthy fish habitat. Throughout the month of July, 150 trees were added to a half mile section of stream and 11 acres of floodplain and 1000 cubic yards of road material was removed. These actions will help to maintain pools, create spawning gravel, and improve floodplain condition for years to come. 

The Keex' Kwaan Community Forest Partnership worked along side SAWC and the US Forest Service to restore fish habitat using hand tools at nearby Shorty Creek. The crew also took actions to protect soils and encourage vegetation to regrow at the Skanâxheen restoration site.

South Fork Skanâxheen: Excavator places large tree into the stream to improve fish habitat. (PC: Lee House).

Heath Whitacre, USFS Hydrologist, goes over plans at South Fork Skanâxheen (PC: Lee House). 

Projects funded through SAWC’s In-Lieu Fee Compensatory Mitigation Instrument and Petersburg/Wrangell/Kake RAC. Special thanks to Lee House for joining and documenting all the work.

Check out more great photos:


Stream Gauges for Salmon Life Cycle Modelling

Rebecca Bellmore, Science Director

SAWC is working with several partners to expand hydrological monitoring in the region. The new data, in conjunction with data from the stream temperature monitoring network, will help inform salmon life cycle modeling. The streams with new gages range from small, low-gradient creeks to large, snow-fed rivers, and the new data will help us characterize place-based impacts of future climate change scenarios on salmon runs. An interactive version of the model is available here, and it can be adjusted to reflect conditions in specific streams.

Forest Service hydrologist Emil Tucker measures the water depth at a new gauge in a tributary to Staney Creek on Prince of Wales Island.

Metlakatla Indian Community - Department of Fish and Wildlife and SAWC crews characterize the cross section and sediment composition near the new stream gage in Moss Point Creek on Annette Island.

Ketchikan Area Partnership Helps Heal the Land...

John Hudson, Restoration Biologist

Historic logging on the Tongass National Forest damaged salmon streams, altered wildlife habitat, and helped non-native plants invade once-pristine lands. This summer the Ketchikan Indian Community’s (KIC) watershed stewardship crew and SAWC worked with USFS staff to restore watershed health on logged public lands on Revilla Island. Partners used hand tools to cut down select young-growth trees, dragged trees to the stream using gas-powered winches, and dug trenches to anchor the trees in stream banks in the Margaret Creek and Ward Creek watersheds. At Margaret Creek, the KIC crew helped control invasive reed canary grass, which can grow dense enough to alter stream channels. Elsewhere in the area, the crew thinned trees from overly dense young growth stands to improve habitat for deer and other wildlife. Nearer to Ketchikan, partnership members placed nearly 20 trees - donated by the Cape Fox Corporation - into a tributary of Ward Creek to enhance habitat for char, trout, and salmon. More work is planned for the partnership next year. 

Forest Service and KIC staff prep a log before dragging it into upper Margaret Creek to improve salmon habitat last June.

...and Improve Urban Water Quality

Rebecca Bellmore, Science Director

Ketchikan Indian Community and SAWC have been monitoring water quality, assessing riparian condition, and conducting outreach as part of a concerted effort to document and reduce bacteria pollution in Ketchikan.

Ketchikan’s riparian areas range from highly developed in some areas to largely unmodified farther upstream. In some areas, building foundations function as creek banks, while upper reaches feature natural large woody log jams created by trees that fell in from the surrounding undisturbed forest, creating wonderful habitat for resident fish.

At Right: KIC Natural Resources Department’s Iphigenia Arvanitis records information in Field Maps during an assessment of riparian conditions in Carlanna Creek.

In the Yakutat Trenches

Kelsey Dean, Watershed Scientist

Hava Rohloff (YTT), Nicole Hebel (YTT), and Galen Davitt (USFS) dig a trench to anchor a log in the streambank. 

To improve fish habitat in Tawah Towers, the USFS, Yakutat Tlingit Tribe (YTT), The City of Yakutat, and SAWC spent several days in late July adding large wood to Tawah Towers Creek to improve fish habitat, and it involved DIGGING. Historic World War II roads had channelized water, creating a straight and simple stream with limited pools and places to hide for fish.

The team added over 20 logs and rootwads to the stream to create good, diverse fish habitat

Green Stormwater Infrastructure around SEAK

John Hudson, Restoration Biologist and Kelsey Dean, Watershed Scientist

With each rain and snowmelt event, a cocktail of harmful urban pollutants from roads and parking lots makes its way through conventional stormwater systems into Jordan Creek. SAWC is working with the City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to design and build green stormwater infrastructure to treat or trap these pollutants. Our latest project in Juneau is a wet biofiltration swale in a green space next to the Juneau airport.

The Jordan Creek stormwater swale in August 2023 and after a flood event in September 2023. All of this stormwater would have flowed directly into Jordan Creek. Now the swale helps filter sediment and pollutants before stormwater reaches the creek.

A rain garden, a vegetated depression that collects and filters stormwater runoff, was installed next to Wrangell's Playground Creek in September 2022. A year later, the rain garden is looking good, thanks to help from our partners. Last August, the Wrangell Cooperative Association and USFS joined SAWC to plant additional native vegetation in the rain garden to improve its ability to filter pollutants from stormwater runoff.

Over 50 plants were added to the garden! 

Volunteers in Wrangell helped with the 2023 planting event to add more vegetation and filtering power to the garden.

Introducing: Happy Fish

Khrystl Brouillette, GIS and Communications Specialist

Much of our and our partner's restoration work focuses on fish habitat. That's why we partnered with the Southeast Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership to bring Happy Fish to Alaska!

Happy Fish is an international symbol created by the World Fish Migration Day organization to bring awareness to the importance of free flowing rivers to migratory fish. We know all too well in Southeast Alaska how important unimpeded fish passage is - Happy Fish is our newest tool to communicate this to a larger audience.

Happy Fish will be in Alaska for 1 year. After that, it will migrate to the next host organization.

Do you have a project that needs a visit from Happy Fish? Email khrystl@sawcak.org to get scheduled!

Participants at the Large Wood Restoration Workshop on Prince of Wales Island pose for a group photo with Happy Fish on its inaugural journey. This three day workshop brought partners from Tribes, NGOS, and government agencies to learn from each other and experts on the latest and greatest techniques for large wood restoration. Thanks to the USDA (Samia Savell, Sheila Jacobson, and K.K. Prussian) for hosting an informative and team building week!

Coming soon to a culvert near you...

Kelsey Dean, Watershed Scientist

Unrestricted fish passage is making its way around Southeast Alaska! 


Sockeye and other fish will soon have easier access to 1.5 miles of habitat in Threemile Creek, Klawock. AK Department of Transportation and partners have received funding to replace two perched culverts that are inhibiting fish movement upstream. This project has been in the making for years and will provide fish access to more habitat on one the most productive sockeye salmon spawning stream in the Klawock Lake Watershed. Kudos to all the folks that have helped make this happen!  

USFWS staff pose with Happy Fish in front of the soon-to-be-removed Threemile Creek culvert in Klawock, Alaska. From left to right: Devan Fitzpatrick, Tim Ericson, Jess Straub, and Heather Hanson.

But that's not all!


Metlakatla Indian Community has received $1.7 million dollars in funding from Federal Highways and US Fish and Wildlife Service Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address fish passage at 6 culverts by replacing or removing them across Annette Island. These projects will allow fish to move freely throughout the streams, creating resilient, healthy fish populations. 

At right: SAWC staff visit the collapsed Graveyard Creek Culvert in Metlakatla.

Invasive Knotweed in Juneau: Then and Now

John Hudson, Restoration Biologist

Up until 2010, Alaska’s most invasive non-native plant, knotweed, could be found at hundreds of sites on the Juneau road system. Thanks to SAWC and others, knotweed has been getting harder and harder to find with each passing year in Alaska’s capital city. 

Juneau’s knotweed variety, Bohemian knotweed, invades yards, roadsides, stream corridors, beach fringes, and meadows. Capable of sending underground rhizomes tens of feet vertically and horizontally, knotweed readily outcompetes neighboring native plants - plants that support pollinators, shade salmon streams, and produce berries for human gatherers. 

Controlling knotweed by hand-pulling plants only works for small infestations and requires several years. Tarping over an infestation is extremely labor and material intensive and is not practical for large infestations. Plus, plants continue to pop up around the tarp edges. Herbicide is highly effective, but full control can take 5 or more years. Over the last 6 years, SAWC has partnered with hundreds of Juneau landowners to control knotweed with the precise application of herbicide overseen by a state-certified pesticide applicator. Check out some before-after photos to see how it’s working.

A knotweed infestation before and after multiple years of herbicide treatment near Twin Lakes Park in Juneau.

A knotweed infestation before and after multiple years of herbicide treatment near 2-mile Glacier Highway in Juneau.

A knotweed infestation before and after multiple herbicide treatments next to Gastineau Channel in Juneau.

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