What is a Watershed?
A watershed is the drainage basin of a river or stream. All precipitation, whether rain or snow, that falls in the basin 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 area of land together.
The Takshanuk Watersheds
There are three drainage basins 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 Mount Ripinsky, 3920, Iron Mountain, and Mount Tukgaho are part of the Takshanuk Mountains. You can see the Takshanuk Ridge on your right when driving north up the Haines Highway. These three watersheds cover an area of about 2000 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. 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 sustain living creatures dependent on water--not only aquatic plants and animals but 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 and Sawmill Creeks. These two small sub-basins are where most Haines residents live and work. Because of this concentrated local development, these creeks need restoration and stewardship to improve degraded habitat and maintain migratory fish passage. Aside from providing restoration planning and implementation, TWC 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 waters.
The Takshanuk's Landscape and History
Geological history plays an immense role in the present day biology of the area. As recently as 9,000 years ago most of the Haines Borough was buried under massive sheets of ice. Pyramid Island, the Chilkoot River corridor below the lake, and the spit at Taiyasanka Harbor are all terminal moraines left by the most recent glacial advance. The steep slopes of local mountains and their myriad avalanche chutes speak of their relative youth and instability. The summertime melting of glaciers sends massive amounts of sediment and mineral nutrients downstream, enriching the productivity of local habitats.
Salmon are the key species in the ecological dynamics of our watersheds. Salmon are anadromous, which means they hatch from eggs laid in fresh water, and then migrate to salt water where they spend most of their lives. At maturity they return to their freshwater birth streams to spawn, thereby continuing the cycle. The adults of all five species of Pacific salmon--king, sockeye, coho, chum and pink--die after spawning. In so doing they bring large amounts of nutrients from the ocean 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 in turn the forest benefits from the influx of nutrients brought by the salmon runs. For this reason the Takshanuk Watershed Council focuses its attention on the well-being of our salmon.
The biological richness of the local streams and forests made possible the social richness of thousands of years of 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 shown to salmon and other wildlife by the first residents of the area contributed to the survival of all--human, salmon, bear, eagle and raven.
A look at the Haines commercial fishing fleet, visitors in the local campgrounds, and the sometimes crowded sport fishing spots confirms that salmon still support the local economy. Those who come to see eagles and bears are dependent on healthy salmon runs as well. The 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.