Autumn embraces the Chilkat Watershed with a splendor unique to this northern corridor, an area that bridges the lush Tongass rainforest and the crisp subarctic Interior. Birch and cottonwood leaves flash golden above the milky turquoise of the Chilkat River, while highbush cranberries ripen red, hanging heavy on their stems. Black and brown bears make their way up and down the mountainsides, choosing between the sweet abundance of blueberries, and the nourishing, oily salmon that fill the rivers. Subsistence hunters practice moose calls, our Canadian neighbors fish for coho salmon, mushroom baskets spill over, and kitchen windows fog with pressure canner steam.
Fall and early winter put the Chilkat Watershed’s unique character on display. A combination of hydrogeological factors including deep gravel layers beneath the riverbeds, warm water percolating up through those layers, and a fast, narrow channel pinched between two opposing alluvial fans, results in a river system that never fully freezes, even as winter temperatures drop lower than the Tongass’ temperate marine climate.
Coho and chum salmon advance up the river system, on their final journey home to spawn. Bald eagles migrate from around the region, their numbers increasing by the day, into the thousands. Because the river system never fully freezes, chum and coho will continue up the Chilkat long after runs across Southeast have ended — salmon can be found in the river almost year-round.
But despite this spectacular ecological abundance, the Chilkat is Southeast Alaska’s least protected watershed.
The proposed Palmer Mine threatens the Chilkat with heavy metals and acid mine drainage. Aggressive timber sales, a proposed ore terminal, and highway construction make the watershed even more vulnerable. SEACC updates our Chilkat Action Page as issues change and solutions arise, so you can always find the most timely, effective ways to help protect the Chilkat Watershed at the Chilkat Action Page.
Shannon Donahue is SEACC’s Upper Lynn Canal Organizer