The greatest risk to salmon and other freshwater fish arises as many small actions compound over time to degrade riparian habitat and water quality, change water flow and quantity, and block access to habitat. This steady loss of valuable habitat is the story behind declining and extinct wild fish in the rest of the country.
The Mat-Su is now vulnerable to that same process. The regions many lakes, rivers, streams and creeks are abundant with salmon and other fish; they are also desirable places to site homes and businesses. With it convenient location near Alaska's largest city and its wealth of recreational opportunities and extraordinary scenery, the Mat-Su is one of the fastest growing ares in the U.S. From 1990 to 2000, the basin grew at a rate of 49%--nearly four times the statewide growth rate of 13%. In 1990, the population was roughly 40,000. The Mat-Su Borough projects that before 2025 the population will top 100,000 people.
The population growth has placed a variety of demands on the Mat-Su. Along the road system, agricultural and open space areas are rapidly being converted to residential and recreational subdivisions, with accompanying commercial development. Moreover, the basin boasts mineral, timber, petroleum and other natural resources. As populations grow and resource demand soars, the potential impacts to fish habitat rises. Citizens, developers, and agencies are challenged to address issues of water quality, water quantity, and habitat degradation and fragmentation. Cooperative local actions are necessary now so that the Mat-Su develops responsibly--balancing economic growth with the fish habitat conservation necessary to maintain bountiful fish for future generations.
Alaskans love their salmon. In some areas of the Mat-Su, Alaskans inadvertently risk loving salmon habitat to death by trampling or removing important riparian habitat when fishing or improving lake and stream views. Local efforts to restore trampled vegetation and streambanks and to couple better fishing access with stream bank management are underway with great success. Residents are learning easy, everyday techniques for fish habitat conservation, from siting homes and other structures back from lakeshores and streambanks to avoiding ATV use in spawning streams. Education and outreach are vital to this effort.