"In order to ensure a bright future for the Tongass National Forest, we must see the salmon forest through the trees."
“We should create a hashtag for this assignment,” said Taylor Rees, the freelance producer who traveled with Travis Rummel of Felt Soul Media and me on a 10-day trip into Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. We were there documenting the deep connection between people and salmon on Prince of Wales Island, and the efforts that are taking place to ensure that connection can continue for generations to come.
“How about #salmonforest?” Travis suggested. Salmon forest. It was the perfect tag for our assignment — salmon is king in this region, and salmon needs forest to survive.
Alaska’s Prince of Wales (POW) Island was considered Ground Zero for Alaska’s timber industry at a time when the rules were different — as a result, many thousands of acres now await restoration. Healthy forests help keep rivers and streams healthy, which help keep the salmon population strong and the fishery sustainable for subsistence, commercial and recreational fishing.
During our time on POW, we worked with the Haida Tribe in Hydaburg to tell their story of how they rely on salmon for food all year long, and are conducting fish surveys to help get their streams protected under Alaska state law. We also documented the U.S. Forest Service’s efforts to restore vital salmon habitat by putting trees and other woody debris back into rivers, and we visited Good Faith Lumber Company, a new partner for the Conservancy in an effort to move sawmills and the timber industry toward young growth timber and develop new markets for second-generation wood.
The trip was a wildly successful on-the-ground shoot, but I was still missing the ‘big picture’ shot.
We weren’t able to schedule a fly-over during the assignment, but it just so happened that I was able to take front seat (next to the pilot) on the commercial flight back to mainland Ketchikan from the Tlingit village of Klawock on POW. It was an early morning flight, and the conditions were perfect for aerial photography. I started out shooting like a tourist, but when the sun broke free from the clouds and turned a beautiful landscape into a stunning landscape, I quickly jumped into photographer mode and started making the most of the opportunity to show the bigger picture of this story.
To make this image, I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at f/8, 1/50th of a second at ISO 100.
In order to ensure a bright future for the Tongass National Forest, we must see the salmon forest through the trees.
Erika Nortemann is the Senior Manager of Photography at The Nature Conservancy.