Working Together in the Tongass National Forest

A team of researchers wades a stream on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska carrying measuring sticks and notepads. Dr. Doug Martin, a fisheries scientist from University of Washington, writes down five under the category “large woody debris.” He has been wading through Election Stream and 17 other streams for 20 years for one of the most comprehensive studies of timber practices in the western United States.

"I'm pleased with how many people are engaged with the study,” said Martin. “So far, our research has been utilized not just by Sealaska but by the state of Alaska, other timberland owners, agencies and other scientists.”

In 1992, Sealaska began investing in science to inform management of its 290,000-acre land base. The goal of the research was to ensure salmon habitat and water quality were healthy on Sealaska’s lands and to share data with stakeholders. As a result, a highly collaborative study was initiated. With the help of Martin and his team, Sealaska now has comprehensive data from 18 different rivers and streams on Sealaska lands. The same data will provide information to state and federal entities.

“People tend to talk about land in terms of personal experience,” said Brian Kleinhenz, a Sealaska forester and Natural Resources Department manager. “Sealaska is interested is looking at its lands in a consistent way, and that’s why it’s so critical that we continue ongoing scientific research in a collaborative way. This broader view benefits all those who use the forest for its rich bounty.”

This forest and fish monitoring and research project was launched in response to the revised Alaska Forest Resources and Practices Act (FRPA) in the early 1990s, to understand the effectiveness of the revised law and the impact of timber harvest practices. Twenty years later, the research demonstrates what we’ve always known: the streams are intact and thriving.

“The results of the project demonstrate the current forest regulations are effective in maintaining fish habitat following timber harvest,” said Jim Eleazer, forest resources program manager at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Martin is not the only one who continues to see healthy salmon spawning in Southeast Alaska.  All of us in the Tongass National Forest are interested in what his team saw on the ground. Both the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are collaborators of the study, along with the FRPA Effectiveness Monitoring Working Group. Other contributors include local and national entities, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, United States Forest Service, Alaska Forest Association and other Alaska Native corporations.

We are grateful for the highly collaborative team of researchers and partners that contributed to examining our lands. Sealaska knows that we can’t go it alone — habitat protection is important to everyone who calls the Alaska rainforest home.

“Multiple collaborators are important for a project such as this that has impacts for many landowners and agencies. People that are affected should have a voice in the project. This project has value for Alaska Native lands, the Southeast State Forest, and the Tongass National Forest,” said Eleazer.

Despite all of the economic factors — the 2008 crash, streamlining budgets at Sealaska, and declining revenues from timber harvesting — Sealaska stood firm in supporting research of our lands.  “It is a Native value to intimately know and take care of our lands,” said Anthony Mallott Sealaska President and CEO. “We see investing in research as a key part of us utilizing and managing our lands for generations to come. It’s our responsibility and an ever growing responsibility within the natural resource industry.”

Martin hosted a tour of his work in 2012 on Prince of Wales Island.  View collection of images .

About Doug Martin, Ph.D.

Dr. Doug Martin led the charge on examining salmon streams and habitats in Southeast for almost 20 years. Sealaska relies on him and his team of highly trained scientists who know the Tongass to provide an unbiased evaluation. Martin is trained as a fisheries scientist and aquatic ecologist and is the principal of his own research firm, Martin Environmental. In addition to his research practice, he is an affiliate professor at the University of Washington, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

“I hope this project will lead to improved forest stewardship in Southeast Alaska and be of value to researchers across the country long into the future," said Martin.

Quick Facts: Riparian Management Evaluation in Coastal Working Forests

  • Study began in 1992
  • Studied 18 different salmon streams in Southeast Alaska to evaluate the impact of timber practices
  • Almost all of the sites are on Sealaska’s lands
  • Funded by Sealaska and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources as a cooperative effort under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, State and Private Forestry Program
  • Collaborators and contributors include:
    • Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
    • Alaska Department of Fish and Game
    • Forest Resources and Practices Act Effectiveness Monitoring Working Group
    • United States Forest Service
    • Alaska Forest Association
    • Alaska Native corporations
    • University of Washington, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

Read more on the Alaska Forest Resources and Practices Act

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