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Tongass Recognized For Environmental Stewardship

March 03, 2004
Wednesday - 1:00 pm

The Tongass National Forest recently earned national recognition for outstanding environmental stewardship.

The Sitka Ranger District garnered the Forest Service's national 2003 Rise to the Future award in the Collaborative Aquatic Resource Stewardship category for its Redoubt Lake Restoration and Management Program.

The 3,200-acre Redoubt Lake is located about 12 miles south of Sitka. The lake supports Dolly Varden char, cutthroat trout, steelhead, sockeye, coho, pink and chum salmon.

"Caring for the land and serving people is what we do and this is a terrific example of Tongass National Forest employees exemplifying that mission," said Forrest Cole, Tongass National Forest supervisor. "This recognition is the result of ecological sustainability in action. It is a great example of how we continually work to enhance the health, productivity and diversity of the Tongass through a collaborative process."

"So much of what is publicized about the Tongass is focused on timber harvests," said Ken Coffin, fisheries biologist for the Sitka Ranger District. "We do so much more as stewards of the Tongass. I hope national recognition of this project will help people also associate the Tongass National Forest with fisheries management and make people aware that we have an active and engaged fisheries program on the Tongass."

The national recognition reaches beyond the Sitka Ranger District to the many people and agencies involved in the achievement at Redoubt.

During the past year, members of the district worked with the Redoubt Lake Sockeye Salmon Task Force, comprised of representatives from tribal, state, and other agencies, and members of the public to develop a sockeye salmon management plan for Redoubt. This is one of the first management plans of its kind in Southeast Alaska developed to regulate a complex fishery used extensively by subsistence and sport fishers and some commercial fishers.

The Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee gave birth to the Redoubt success story when it created the Redoubt Lake Sockeye Salmon Task Force in March 2002.

The advisory committee charged the task force with developing a management plan for Redoubt Lake sockeye salmon fisheries using a consensus-group approach with representatives from all fisheries that harvest Redoubt sockeye. The committee unanimously endorsed the plan and the Alaska Board of Fisheries gave the management plan their stamp of approval.

"This plan provides clear direction for management of the sockeye fishery," said Bob Chadwick, Sport Fish Management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "The plan provides framework for the public to understand management of the Redoubt sockeye fisheries and a way to anticipate management actions."

Jack Lorrigan, Sitka Tribe biologist and a member of the Redoubt Lake Sockeye Salmon Task Force, said this is the first sockeye management program for subsistence use and he's impressed with the cooperating effort involved.

"Everybody state, federal, local community members and tribal members all worked together to develop a local management plan," said Lorrigan. "The Sitka community is the role model for collaborative management in Alaska."

Coffin also was impressed.

"In a very short time, subsistence, sport, and commercial fishing interests collaboratively developed this plan, and came to consensus on the final plan," said Coffin. "In my experience it doesn't get any better than this when it comes to the management of our natural resources."

The new plan sets harvest and geographical limits for each user group based on sockeye numbers, and is updated at established times during the sockeye return period.

"The Redoubt Bay and Lake sockeye salmon management plan provides an escapement-based plan to help maintain the viability of the sockeye salmon resource," said Terry Suminski, Subsistence Fisheries biologist for the Sitka and Hoonah Ranger Districts. "It provides a clear subsistence preference, and provides guidance for the allocation of sockeye between user groups at Redoubt. The plan helps users know what to expect from managers and understand why actions are taken during the fishing season."

According to Forest Service officials, the plan worked to near perfection in its first management season, providing more opportunities for all users as adult sockeye escapement numbers increased to about 70,000 in 2003.

Sockeye, or red, salmon are highly valued in Alaska as a food source and cultural harvest activity due to their long history as a favorite fish for smoking, canning and eating fresh. Redoubt Lake is one of the largest subsistence sockeye salmon providers in southeast Alaska. Sitka residents, fishermen from other subsistence communities and other Sitka visitors rely heavily on Redoubt to harvest sockeye, and this use is increasing. A healthy sockeye population at Redoubt Lake helps prevent depletion of other smaller sockeye runs in the Sitka area.

During 2003, Forest Service employees, Student Conservation Association volunteers and members of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game worked on site. The project work included operating a weir to count adult sockeye salmon returning to the lake, collecting age, weight and length data from sockeye and coho salmon,
estimating subsistence and sport fishing harvest, applying fertilizer to the lake, and collecting water samples for limnological and biological monitoring.

The Forest Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game have been applying fertilizer to Redoubt Lake during most summer growing seasons since 1984 as part of a long-term effort to restore the sockeye run from recent escapement levels of less than 1,000 adults to higher levels of up to 50,000-plus adults annually.

"Nutrient enrichment boosts the production of phytoplankton and associated zooplankton, the primary food source for juvenile sockeye rearing in the lake," Lorrigan explained. "The Forest Service measures temperature, salinity, turbidity, total nitrogen and phosphorous, phytoplankton and zooplankton density monthly to determine the fertilization effectiveness."

Monitoring the sockeye escapement also allowed several in-season regulatory changes outlined in the management plan. On July 15, 2003, sport fishing limits were increased from 4 to 6 fish daily, and subsistence limits were raised from 10 to 25 fish daily. For the first time in more than a decade, there was a commercial fishing opening targeting Redoubt sockeye salmon.

"I think the numbers really speak for themselves," said Devon Green, biological technician for the Sitka Ranger District. "Redoubt is obviously an extremely important subsistence and sport fishing resource. As the one in charge of field operations for the Redoubt project, I have spent a large amount of time at Redoubt Lake interacting with a lot of the subsistence and sport fishers at the lake. It is amazing to me the concern for the resource that people have shown over the years. I have constantly fielded questions about the status of the sockeye run, our enhancement efforts, etc. Even when it became necessary to close Redoubt to one or all user groups, people were very understanding, and supported what was necessary to help maintain or improve sockeye escapement in future years."

In a given year, Redoubt can produce over half of the total subsistence sockeye harvest for the Sitka area. Between 1974-1983, Redoubt provided an average 230 subsistence harvested sockeye per year. Between 1984-1999 Redoubt provided an average 2,290 subsistence harvested sockeye per year.

Brian Massey, Redoubt Lake Sockeye Salmon Task Force chairman and chairman of the Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said the success of the plan is important to users for various reasons.

"For the subsistence user it ensures a continuing customary and traditional harvest," said Massey. "For the personal user it allows a person who lives in the area to continue to harvest a food source that they depend on. For the commercial user it allows access to a new resource under certain conditions. For the resource managers it gives clear guidelines, triggers and timelines. The most important success is the protection of the resource."

In 1987 the chief of the Forest Service introduced the "Rise to the Future" initiative to recognize the importance of fisheries on the National Forests. With support from the fishing public, Forest Service budgets dedicated to improving fish habitat increased dramatically. From 1986 to 1993 the number of fishery biologists in the Forest Service increased from 110 to 290. With more fishery biologists on staff, and budgets to support their work, the Forest Service created a wave of fish habitat improvements that continues today. The Forest Service began giving Rise to the Future awards in recognition of superior achievement in the fisheries program in 1988.


Source of News:

U.S. Forest Service - Tongass National Forest
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