Copper River Record
By Janelle Eklund
It was October 1. A clear blue sky and bright sun looked down on a cold crisp landscape. The 20 degree chill of the night stilled puddles and lakes in a layer of thin ice. Previous cold nights loosened the leaves on trees. When a fierce relentless wind blew for a couple days it released the leaves to their deathbed on the ground. There they will nourish the tree or bush it was born from, giving it life to continue the cycle.
My hiking companion and I donned rubber boots and warm clothes for an invigorating trek in the cool woods. Colorful leaves floated in suspended animation in frozen pockets of water where the light of the sun splashed them with golden hues. Ice shapes formed whitish wavy patterns. We moved through a well trodden icy wet four-wheeler trail anxious to meet higher dryer ground. After a couple of hours of wading through a drunken black spruce forest the aspen grove was a welcoming sight. The trail meandered through white barked stately trees, gnarly growths decorating some of their trunks. Above the trees a three-quarter moon hung in the blue sky like a genuine pearl.
Wind had released some aspen trees of their firm grip to the ground. Their trunks lay like benches on the forest floor. We took our seat on one in the sun where we basked in its light and had a bite to eat. It was the perfect setting to linger, nourish our bodies and souls, and contemplate where we were in that moment in time. The afternoon air was a little warmer on our return trek. The slightly frozen mossy tundra beneath our feet gave way just a little more as the diminished warmth of the sun tried its best to thaw the icy grip.
Fall days are lingering with nights in the 20°'s or 30°'s and days in the upper 30°'s to 40°'s. There was a slight inkling of snow with a dusting one morning in early October that vanished almost as soon as it appeared. My thoughts wandered to visions of planting something in the greenhouse - hah - not really warm enough but never the less these warm October days play with the mind! Actually, there is something green emerging from the bin - I think it's an onion! As the sun disappears earlier each day it brings the mind back to reality - very little light - very little growth. OK, too early for planting already!
Snow seems shy this year but today, October 16, we got our first real dump, even if it is heavy wet snow and part of it came down as rain. With a temperature of 32°F it can make for messy road conditions so be careful as we fall in winter - pun intended.
From my light to yours-
Copper River Record October 2015
By Robin Mayo
I am thigh-deep in a beaver swamp on a chilly September morning, glad for thick fleece under my chest waders. The arrow on the GPS pointed us here, to a waypoint we marked yesterday afternoon amidst the maze of ponds, channels, muskeg, and willow. A strip of orange surveyor’s tape helps locate a cord tied to the bushes on an overgrown beaver dam. We pull up the cord, and the wire mesh minnow trap at the end has to break through thin shards of ice as it surfaces.
A telltale vibration of the minnow trap is our first indication that something is alive inside. Many of our traps this morning have held juvenile dolly varden, immediately recognizable by their speckled backs. But in this trap we see a tiny flash of silver, and our hopes rise. We are hoping to find salmon fry in this previously unsampled location, the first step in the process of adding new waters to the State of Alaska Anadromous Waters Catalog.
For the past several years, WISE has been helping the Copper River Watershed Project (CRWP) with their “Salmon Blitz” program. With the help of grants from Wells Fargo via the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the North Pacific Research Board, we are exploring previously undocumented streams all over the Copper River Watershed, hoping to find baby salmon at home.
This location is near mile 64 of the Richardson Highway, a large spread of new and old beaver projects near the headwaters of the Little Tonsina River. The highest previous sample point is several miles downstream, so we are wading into new territory.
To choose sample sites for Salmon Blitz, the first step is the online State of Alaska Anadromous Waters Catalog, available to the public via the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website. Orange squares mark sampling extents, and we look for streams that have likely-looking habitat upstream which have not been sampled. Google Earth and ownership databases are consulted, owners or land managers are contacted for permission, and we try to find practical access to the site.
The fun begins when we explore the site on foot and start setting traps. Whenever possible, we bring along students or volunteers to expand the reach of this Citizen Science project. Operating with a permit from ADF&G, we bait the trap with salmon eggs which have been treated to avoid spreading disease. After soaking overnight, the traps are pulled and their occupants identified, measured, photographed, and released. We also collect observations and measurements of many different aspects of the habitat, and take photographs.
This fall’s Salmon Blitz activities identified juvenile coho salmon in two new locations: The beaver complex on the upper Little Tonsina, and Squirrel Creek above the pipeline crossing. Kenny Lake School middle school students accompanied us on the second exploration, bringing enthusiasm and great attitudes to a challenging piece of terrain. We scrambled through alder hells, willow thickets, and mazes of downed spruce trees, and wading in the creek was no easier, with slippery rocks and swift current. More data will be collected before the locations are submitted to ADF&G for inclusion in the statewide database.
Although we collect data on all life stages found, this study is focusing especially on what is called “rearing habitat,” the areas where the salmon fry live in the several years between hatching and migrating downstream to the ocean. As we study, we are learning that juvenile salmon travel widely throughout systems during their young lives, and rearing habitat can be very different from what we think of as spawning habitat. All of it reinforces our belief that “it takes a whole watershed to raise a salmon.”
Salmon Blitz will continue in 2016 with school field trips and volunteer opportunities all over the Copper River Watershed. Please contact WISE at 822-3575, or CRWP at 424-3334 if you would like to get involved.
Kenny Lake Middle School students take a width measurement on Squirrel Creek. CRWP Photo
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.