Protecting Habitat in the Bristol Bay Headwaters

Private Land Conservation:

The Nature Conservancy works with willing landowners to identify and conserve important habitat. Healthy riparian habitat, in particular, is essential for salmon to thrive. The Conservancy has already been at work in the region for several years, assisting in establishing both the Nushagak/Mulchatna and Wood/Tikchik Land Trust and Nushagak-Mulchatna Watershed Council. The Conservancy also protected key private inholdings  within public lands at places like Lower Talarik Creek. Now,  the Conservancy is working with Native villages and the landowners of individual Native allotments to explore protection for important riparian habitat along the lower Nushagak River and its tributaries--the location of much of the private land in the watershed.

The Anadromous Waters Catalog

The strongest and most comprehensive protections for salmon in Alaska come from the Anadromous Fish Act, but if a salmon stream has not been catalogued in the Anadromous Waters Catalog, those protections do not apply. Because field surveys are very costly and much of Alaska is extremely remote, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) estimates that roughly 50% of Alaska's water bodies have not been catalogued.

The Conservancy is working in partnership with ADF&G to

  1. Develop remote sensing techniques and modeling approaches to predict the presence of salmon in a watershed. Such a predictive model will initiate important protections for salmon under the Forest Practices act and other statutes, and prioritize the catalog effort.
  2. Generate funding to complete field surveys of high priority areas, such as the headwater region of the Nushagak River watershed.
Instream Flow Reservation

Changes in water flow and quantity have been a key factor in the destruction of salmon runs in the lower 48 states where dams have disrupted water flow and created significant barriers to fish passage and withdrawals of water for agriculture and industry have reduce flow and raised water temperatures. Alaska has forward-looking instream flow laws that allow the reservation of water in a lake or stream to protect fish. However, it is expensive and time consuming to establish such instream flow reservations. The Conservancy is taking two approaches to instream flow reservations:

  1. Automatic reservation for fish and wildlife.  An automatic reservation of a percentage of the flow is currently in place for streams and lakes in Alaska where water is requested for export out of a river basin (i.e. water sold as bottled water). This automatic reservation does not apply for other out of stream water allocations. Working with ADF&G, the Conservancy is exploring the possibility of automatically reserving an ecologically determined base level instream flow for salmon and other fish.
  2. Filing instream flow reservations on specific reaches of salmon-rich watersheds that are likely to be at strong risk over the next decade or two. For example, the Conservancy is working with the Nushagak Mulchatna Watershed Council to file an instream flow reservation on the North Fork of the Koktuli River, the South Fork of the Koktuli River, Upper Talarik Creek, among other waterways, in the upper Nushagak watershed. These streams are likely to be affected if large-scale mining proposed for the region were to proceed.

Applications for instream flow on the following streams are pending:

Kaskanak Creek

Mulchatna River

North Fork of the Koktuli River

South Fork of the Koktuli River

Stuyahok River

Upper Talarik Creek



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