Why Restoration? Fish. People. The Future.

Using a local workforce to complete local projects. ✔

Meeting goals of restoring fish habitat for now and future generations. ✔

Completion of a critical stream restoration in a priority watershed. ✔

Feelings of accomplishment and a sense of purpose. ✔✔

Yup, we definitely checked a lot of boxes in Ian Johnson’s “Why Community-based Forestry Is Important Checklist”! Lets put some of those items in the context of why they matter to Hoonah and how we are building towards a regional model of doing local work with local people.

A “Total Transformation”

Before and after – we see “full transformations” every day. Houses renovated, weight lost, and hair color switches are familiar changes in our daily lives and stories. These cases are often justified with a simple sentence, “a change was needed”. Sometimes a change is needed for streams too and their “total transformations” can create better habitat for fish, sustain communities, and result in a healthier, more resilient forest. In steps the process of stream restoration.

Our stream restoration is located in Spasski Valley. It’s a primary tributary to Spasski River and was logged over in the mid 1980s before protections from the Alaska Forest Practices Act mandated stream-side buffers. Since old growth was removed along the stream there were no large trees falling in for over 40 years. That causes the stream to degrade and requires us to step in. It takes a lot of work, logistics, and time to complete a stream restoration. As the local HNFP crew and local contractor completed our 2020 stream restoration in Spasski watershed it was exciting see the transformation happen before our eyes.

Map showing the stream restoration location and proximity to Hoonah

Let’s think about three core questions:

  1. What does this project mean for salmon?
  2. How does this project benefit Hoonah people?
  3. How does this project enhance our ability do work and how does the work effect our future generations?

If you read no further watch the video below!

Fish Benefit from Better Habitat

Salmon rely on “complex” environments. That just means they need trees, pools, riffles, boulders, bends, and other river features to be successful. When you take the wood out of a system for 40 years some of those key features, complexity, start to go away. Our project used two methods to put wood back into rivers. Coutlee and Sons, a local contractor, placed wood in the stream under the direction of Robert Gubernick. The wood was sourced from six different spots on the road system and using large machines to place the wood and dig it in ensured that it would not move during large flood events.

Bob Gubernick (Forest Service) and Samia Savell (NRCS) look on as Coutlee Sons move a log into position at the stream restoration.

Structures were also installed by our local Hoonah Native Forest Partnership crew. This is the third stream restoration they’ve completed. They use small winches, peaveys, shovels, and cable to bring trees to the creek. Using the trees the build structures they work methodically towards their outcomes. The hand tools are a useful for technique for areas where large machines cannot get to or where it is helpful to minimize disturbance along the river.

Large machines and hand tools have the same goals in mind that can benefit fish:

  1. Build structure and complexity so that young salmon and spawning salmon can thrive. Complexity makes more food and shelter for young salmon and protects spawning salmon from bears and predators.
  2. Hold gravel bars and make spawning habitat. Complexity helps hold smaller gravel which salmon need to spawn.
  3. Establish structures that will last 30 or 40 years so that the stream can continue to heal itself and trees can start falling in on their own.

“Fish and especially Salmon have always been a significant part of our local culture. The majority of locals including myself hope it stays this way for a long time. “

– Ricky Contreras, HNFP Crew Members, and Hoonah Citizen

The Hoonah native Forest Partnerhsip Crew (Phillip, Jeremy, Ricky, Joe, Ian) were joined by the Alaska Youth Stewards crew (Susan, Kelly, Leif, Ted, Arianna) to complete the hand tool restoration. Here they are using a hand winch to pull wood into the river.

People Need Fish

Our focus on stream restoration stems from a biological need and from community desire. In 2017, a community survey ranked stream restoration as a #1 priority out of 26 environmental issues. Stream restoration is more than creating habitat for fish – its about sustaining our communities and economy. Better habitat means more fish for community use and the SE Alaska fishing fleet.

After the restoration we hosted a community event to explain the restoration. Participants asked a ton of questions about the project and expressed their appreciation for the crews for completing the work.

“As a Hoonah community member, I’d often hear about how much more abundant or accessible our local resources were, how much more the land used to provide us. We can assume many things that caused these changes based on data we’ve been gathering. Changes ranging from logging, logging areas that could’ve been protected or many other changes we humans have brought upon our land. Things that are less often brought up about these changes and how it’s affected us are, what are we going to do about it? What can we do about it? Which resources are most important to us? “

– Ricky Contrerars, HNFP Crew Member, Hoonah Citizen

Future Work and Future Generations

A change is afoot in how Southeast Alaska communities think about the landscape and being stewards. The recently announced Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy is aimed at creating new opportunities through landscape management. The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership and other community forest initiatives are at the center of attention to guide what that may look like. Joe Comolli summarized how restoration can fit into this sustainability strategy.

“…why restoration?… I’d have to ask why not. If the money is there. If the opportunity is there for people to at least out in the woods working with their environment then we should seize the opportunity and everyone should do it”

Joe Comolli, HNFP Crew Member, Hoonah Citizen

It is amazing to think that the projects we are doing today is going to impact my grandchildren. 40 years is a long time from now and the trees we’ve put there now will last that long. Projects like these are needed to ensure our children and grandchildren inherit a landscape that can sustain their families. Stream restoration projects will be continuing in Hoonah. We hope to be working Humpback and Game Creek watersheds next year doing restoration. Coupled wit h those we’ll be enhancing habitat for deer and berries. We have to be forward thinking in repairing past damages so that we can help salmon maintain their populations and adapt in a warming, changing world.


Here’s a good cross section of those involved – but remember this only a small part of it! Represented here HIA, Sealaska, Forest Service, NRCS.

This project wasn’t possible without many people. It occurred on Huna Totem land and contract administration facilitated by them. Thank you especially to Clare Doig for shepherding paperwork through for permitting.

At the US Forest Service : Bob Gubernick, Neal Schoenfelder

At the NRCS : Samia Savell

At HIA : Ian Johnson, Phillip Sharclane, Joe Comolli, Ricky Contreras, Jeremy Johnson

At Sealaska : Intern Floyd Clark

Funding provided by the FWS Tribal Wildlife Grant and NRCS EQIP Program

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