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Southeast Alaska Estuaries Initiative Moving Into High Gear

Will Patric : Jan 19.2016

The Southeast Alaska Estuaries Initiative is a collaboration of Rivers Without Borders, Dr. Daniel Schindler with the University of Washington School of Fisheries and Aquatic Science, and the Natural Capital Project.  It’s foremost a vision of Sam Skaggs of Juneau.  His Skaggs Foundation has been a long time backer of Alaska conservation efforts.  Sam recognized that a wealth of knowledge about southeast Alaska’s estuary system is now available, based on extensive survey, research, and GIS work in recent years.  But this accumulation of estuaries knowledge is doing little to advance conservation, and thus the idea of our Initiative.  Its goal is to determine monetary values of Tongass estuaries through a range of products and uses integral to the estuaries and to highlight those values. Salmon of course is an obvious example. But what about other commercial and sport fisheries?  Shell fish? Tourism? Subsistence harvesting? Whale and wildlife watching? Etc.

We know SE Alaska’s estuary system is largely intact and one of the most productive in North America if not the world.  Being able to credibly assign specific numbers to this value will help us build conservation interest in a tangible way Alaskans can appreciate.  And of course the timing is crucial since the estuaries are still in such great shape but the threat of upstream development that would feed into them is growing. As Rivers Without Borders and our tribal/First Nation, commercial fishing, community, and NGO partners spotlight potential upstream watershed development threats, additional focus on the downstream estuaries and their value to Alaska will help us tell a more complete transboundary story and cultivate conservation interest where it can make a difference.

Part one of our Initiative is about research and numbers crunching, melding ecological and economic data. The second part will be storytelling, bringing new attention to a thriving, bountiful ecosystem. Sam likes to say, only partially joking, that if we do our job the Tongass National Forest will be renamed the Tongass National Forest and Estuary.

If you would like to learn more about who is involved in the Southeast Alaska Estuary Initiative, and what we are trying to do, please contact us.

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