Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Initiative
Sockeye Salmon. Olga N. Vasik/iStockphoto.com
At A Glance
- Southwest Alaska is a 40-million-acre region that is the world’s largest spawning ground for wild salmon.
- Our Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Initiative is a a 10-year, multi-million dollar program to protect wild salmon and their habitat.
- Geographic remoteness no longer protects the region from rapid change and forces that have devastated wild salmon elsewhere are at work in here too.
- Since 1998, we've helped save more than 100,000 acres in the region.
When salmon flourish in southwestern Alaska, the benefits are far-reaching, says Glenn Elison, the Fund’s Alaska state director. “Salmon are the keystone of the region’s ecology, economy and culture,” he explains. “And if salmon are doing well, lots of other things thrive as well.”
With hundreds of pristine rivers, lakes and streams, the southwest Alaska region abounds with natural resources, diverse habitats, world-class recreation spots and a rich culture and history. Covering an area the size of Washington state, this 40-million- acre region supports a wide variety of fish and wildlife including wild salmon, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic char, grayling, lake trout and northern pike as well as brown bear, caribou, moose and myriad of migratory birds.
A Salmon Stronghold
Southwest Alaska is perhaps best known as the world’s greatest stronghold of wild salmon, with all five Pacific salmon species abundant and widespread. A key component of the ecosystem, salmon drive the region’s ecology, economy and culture. The region routinely produces total salmon runs that average 70 million and exceed 100 million in some years. A top travel destination for outdoor enthusiasts, thousands of tourists travel here each year for the world-class fishing opportunities and other nature-based adventures.
Southwest Alaska is at a crossroads. Geographic remoteness no longer protects the region from rapid change. Forces that have devastated wild salmon elsewhere around the world are now at work in Southwest Alaska. Private land development along rivers and lakes is the most pressing threat to salmon. Hundreds of private tracts, primarily Native allotments that until recently were used for hunting and fishing, are increasingly being converted to development.
Native village and regional corporations own extensive holdings in these areas, including large tracts often exceeding 100,000 acres. Collectively, private lands comprise about 4.55 million acres, or 11 percent, of the region. Over the next few years, protection of key habitats, a small percentage of these lands, will largely determine the long-term ecological health of Southwest Alaska.
The Fund’s Efforts
In order to safeguard this fragile region, the Fund, working in partnership with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Native corporations, and others launched the Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Initiative—a 10-year, multi-million dollar program to protect wild salmon and their habitat.
Specifically, the Moore Foundation grant allows the Fund to pursue landscape-scale conservation easements on major salmon systems in the region, while conserving Native allotments through acquisition or easement. The Moore Foundation grant also carries a significant pledge to obtain matching funding. Other individuals and businesses are stepping up to provide the needed match. For example, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation has contributed $450,000 for the program over the past few years.
The Fund has engaged recreational outdoor equipment retailers and manufacturers, other businesses as well as the public to raise funding and support. Lastly, we are working to strengthen the activities and membership of the local land trust and the Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership, a coalition of diverse interests and organizations working with the common goal of salmon habitat conservation.
By 2012, with our partners, we have protected more than 104,000 acres in 102 highly strategic transitions. For example, we’ve completed several wild salmon habitat conservation projects in the Wood-Tikchik State Park including more than 21,000 acres along the Agulowak River.