As people gathered for the unveiling of the new name–Gaandlaay Haanaa– spawning pink and chum salmon splashed upstream in the creek nearby.
After six years, Harris River and important tributaries are restored. And that’s good news to many: the salmon that rely on healthy habitat in this watershed sustain Native and rural residents of Prince of Wales Island; fully functioning habitat is a foundation for a sustainable and thriving commercial fishery; and a restored river attracts recreational anglers.
Logging practices in past decades allowed trees to be cut along streamsides in this watershed in the Tongass National Forest. Over time, erosion and even landslides sent mud and sediment into Harris River and its tributaries. One tributary filled with the muddy debris of a landslide, forcing the stream to abandon its native course. The stream was so damaged that for many years the stream was known by an unfortunate military acronym: Fubar Creek.
But change has come to Harris River and this tributary stream. The creek now flows through its original streambed and the signs of past landslides are gone. And the old name is no more. The Hydaburg Cooperative Association, led by the late Hydaburg elder Viola Burgess, chose a new Haida name for the creek: Gaandlaay Haanaa, meaning Beautiful River.
Celebrating a Partnership
A proclamation signed in 2011 at a renaming ceremony by tribal representatives from the villages of Craig, Kasaan, Klawock, and Hydaburg, as well as U.S.D.A. Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman and Regional Forester Beth Pendleton gave the creek its new Haida name—signaling a new beginning. As signatories gathered at a table in the forest, spawning pink and chum salmon splashed upstream in the creek nearby.
“The ceremony was a poignant moment for all of us who have worked together to restore these streams. This restoration work has brought jobs to Prince of Wales Island and it brings a lasting legacy for future generations of people who love and depend on this salmon resource,” said Randy Hagenstein, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska.
Benefits for Salmon and People
The Tongass National Forest reaches across 17 million acres of Southeast Alaska—an area the size of West Virginia. While the Tongass is known for its tremendous old-growth forests, it could also be considered a “salmon forest,” and here’s why. It’s a place where salmon—known by scientists as a “keystone” species—are food for the diversity and abundance of wildlife for which the Tongass is famous: bears, eagles, wolves, otters, and waterfowl. And of course, the value of wild salmon to the traditional subsistence way of life for Native and rural residents is simply beyond measure.
The salmon streams of the Tongass also produce:
Salmon economics are equally compelling: