What is a watershed?


What is a watershed?

A watershed is the drainage basin of a river or stream.  All the precipitation, whether rain or snow, that falls in the basin eventually drains downstream and collects in larger and larger watercourses.  Tiny brooks join to form streams, these combine to become creeks and these drain together into rivers.  A watershed is actually an area of land from which water drains into a single river.  Water ties this tract of land together.

The Takshanuk Watersheds

There are three drainages included in the Takshanuk Watershed Council’s area of operations: the Chilkat, Chilkoot and Ferebee.  The name for the council comes from the Takshanuk Mountains, the high ridge which divides the Chilkoot and Chilkat valleys. Peaks like Mt. Ripinsky, 3920, Iron Mountain and Mt. Tukgaho are part of the Takshanuk Mountains.  You can see the Takshanuk Ridge when driving up the Haines Highway out of Haines.  These three watersheds cover over 1,500 square miles.

Within this vast area exists a wide variety of landscapes and habitat types- everything from glacial ice to dense forest to wide expanses of wetland and bog.  For instance, a drop of rain landing high up on the southwest side of Mount Ripinsky will travel over rock, through forest, and the settled area of the Haines townsite before emptying into the Chilkat River via Sawmill Creek.  Along the way it will help sustain living creatures dependent on water- not only aquatic plants and animals but us landlubbers as well.  It will absorb both natural and man-made compounds as it travels downhill before joining with the Chilkat River near Jones Point on its way to the Pacific Ocean.

Some of our watershed work focuses on restoration projects in "urban" streams like Holgate Creek and Sawmill Creek.  These small sub-basins are part of the larger Portage Cove or Chilkat River watersheds where most Haines locals live and work.  Because of this concentrated local development, small creeks like Holgate and Sawmill need restoration to improve degraded habitat and fish passage.  Aside from providing restoration planning and implementation, Takshanuk works to inform residents about their local watersheds, plans annual clean-up events and provides technical assistance to landowners working on stewardship of the area's creeks.

The Takshanuk's Landscape History

The geological history of the area plays an immense role in the present day biology of the area.  As recently as 9,000 years ago most of Haines Borough was still under massive sheets of ice.  For example; Pyramid Island, the Chilkoot River corridor below the lake, and the spit at Taiyasanka Harbor all are terminal moraines of the most recent glacial advance.  The steep slopes of local mountains and their myriad avalanche chutes speak of their relative youth and instability.  The yearly melting of glaciers washes massive amounts of sediments and nutrients downstream, enriching the productivity of local habitat. 

Salmon are the key species in the dynamics of the watersheds of our area.  Salmon are anadromous- they hatch in fresh water, move to salt water sometime later where they do the bulk of their growing.  As they reach maturity they return to their freshwater birth streams to spawn, thereby continuing the cycle.  The adults of all five species of local salmon- king, sockeye, coho, chum and pink- die following spawning.  In so doing they make a huge contribution of ocean grown nutrients to the terrestrial system.  Scavengers and predators such as brown and black bears, bald eagles, ravens and gulls transport salmon carcasses into adjacent forest land, greatly enriching it.  Thus are the fates of forest and fish mingled- the salmon need healthy forest streams in which to breed and the forest benefit greatly by having large salmon runs in the watershed.  For this reason Takshanuk Watershed Council focuses attention on the well-being of our salmon.

The biological richness of the local streams and forest made possible the social richness reflected in thousands of years of development of the Tlingit culture.  The yearly tide of salmon and eulachon ensured the well-being of the village and allowed a cultural flowering reflected in expert carvings and weavings of the Chilkat and Chilkoot Valleys.  The respect showed to salmon and wildlife by the first residents of the area ensured the survival of all- human, salmon, bear, eagle and raven.

A look at the Haines Small Boat Harbor, local campgrounds, and sport fishing spots confirms that salmon still support the local economy to a large degree.  Those who come to see eagles and bears are dependent on healthy salmon runs as well.  Takshanuk Watershed Council is dedicated to maintaining the salmon runs that are so vital to the local economy.  Despite the importance of salmon to so many in our area there is much we don’t know about these fish and their needs.  Basic research on salmon habitat will tell us much about how to care for these vitally important fish.

Find out what's around you in the Takshanuk Natural History Database or  add your own observations.  Learn more about specific Takshanuk research projects at the Research Summaries page.