Shelikof Creek, Alaska

The Iris Meadows watershed is located on Kruzof Island near Sitka in southeast Alaska. Shelikof Creek, a tributary to Iris Creek, is the largest river on the island. The watershed supports three species of anadromous salmon – Coho, pink, and chum; as well as resident and anadromous forms of coastal cutthroat and rainbow/steelhead trout, and Dolly Varden char. Brown bears and Sitka black-tailed deer are important terrestrial species. In the 1960s, Kruzof Island was impacted by large-scale timber harvest and associated road construction. Trees lining the banks of Iris Creek and Shelikof Creek were removed, long segments of the stream were “cleaned” of wood and converted to corridors to haul equipment upstream into the forest and logs downstream to the ocean. As a result, Shelikof Creek became a wide and shallow stream lacking the complex habitat critical to salmonid growth and survival.

Restoring fish habitat in the Iris Meadows watershed was identified as a high priority by the Tongass National Forest through the US Forest Service Watershed Condition Framework, as well as the people of Sitka in a community-wide survey conducted by the Sitka Conservation Society. A watershed restoration plan was completed in 2013, identifying a suite of restoration projects to restore watershed function and improve aquatic and terrestrial habitat conditions. Projects were planned and designed in an interdisciplinary context utilizing expertise from fish and wildlife biologists, hydrologists, soil scientists, engineers, and foresters. The watershed was nominated as a Priority Watershed for restoration by the Tongass National Forest in 2014. Restoration began in 2014 and will be completed in 2018. Sustained commitment and support from a broad spectrum of public, private, and non-governmental partners and the community of Sitka have been instrumental in the success of this major restoration effort.

Measurable outcomes to date include:

• Restored 2.5 miles of productive salmonid lower mainstem Shelikof Creek through the installation of over 450 logs with heavy machinery and helicopters at 50 sites. These log structures have already created 43 new pools and improved channel function and overall resiliency, critical for coho salmon and other salmonid species.
• Replaced two culverts blocking anadromous fish passage, restoring over a mile of previously inaccessible spawning and rearing habitat through the installation of new stream simulation design culverts.
• Completed 1.5 miles of motorized trail rehabilitation to improve drainage and reduce sedimentation to stream/fish habitat.
• Thinned over one hundred acres of riparian forest and installed large wood in Iris Creek tributaries to accelerate the long-term recovery of in-stream habitat and stream processes dependent on large wood.

Purpose of the project:
The Shelikof and Iris Creek restoration projects focused on reducing erosion from roads, eliminating anadromous fish barriers at roads, promoting natural in-stream and floodplain processes, improving aquatic habitat complexity and diversity through large wood supplementation, reducing bank erosion, reducing stream diversion potential, and improving wildlife habitat.

Human Interest/Community Benefit:
This project benefits the community of Sitka through employment opportunities and ultimately an improved abundance of valued resources that are important to meet their social and cultural needs. Community members were consulted to provide status updates and to seek input on program objectives. Local contractors and businesses contributed to the success of this project. A local contractor was hired by The Nature Conservancy for the stream restoration and culvert replacement work. The contractor’s crew included his two children, ages 14 and 20. They noted how rewarding the work was, given their reliance on fish.

Project Timeline:
Riparian forest thinning and placement of large wood in Iris Creek tributaries began in 2014 and continued in 2015. Shelikof Creek restoration, road maintenance, and culvert replacement were completed in 2016. Riparian forest thinning and placement of large wood in Iris Creek tributaries continue in 2017 and 2018. All essential restoration will be completed in 2018.

Economic Calculator results:
Use of the NFHAP Economic Impact Calculator suggests that the combined federal and partner investment of $1.1 million in Iris Meadows restoration supported 18.7 jobs, generating $1.86 million in total sales, $1.13 million in value added and $949,000 in income.

Partners played a key role in garnering public support, providing funding, technical review, and innovative media coverage for the Shelikof Creek, Iris Meadows restoration. The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) helped coordinate public meetings for area use and project development, applied and received grants (State of Alaska-Sustainable Salmon Fund and Trout Unlimited) for direct project funding and provided volunteers for surveys and pre-implementation monitoring. The Pacific Northwest Research Station provided key scientific advice during the planning stages of the riparian restoration effort and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologists (Divisions of Sport Fish and Habitat) spent time assisting with project design and consultation for the in-stream project. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) also played a major role contributing substantial financial and story development resources for the large-scale restoration effort through grants and additional partnerships from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Forest Foundation. The State of Alaska also supported salmon habitat restoration activities through an Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund grant. Additional partner-hosted information includes:

• Sitka Conservation Society developed a project video
• The Nature Conservancy featured Shelikof Creek restoration on page 5 of their Alaska Annual Report 2016 (page 5)
• The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition contributed resources to monitoring efforts and developed a restoration video for the project
The Southeast Alaska Long-Term Monitoring Network (SALMoN) hosts project monitoring reports and photos.

2017 Waters to Watch