The blue lines on topographic maps necessarily under-represent the complex movement of freshwater across floodplains, through wetlands and gravel bars. For a juvenile fish, the blue lines are experienced as a maze of currents, temperature, food and hiding places, while a migrating adult salmon wends its way along the blue lines of riffles and pools on its upstream push to find the perfect spawning area and its final resting spot. Instincts guide salmon to critical stream reaches where eggs will be laid and become the next generation.
If only our instincts could guide protection of the diversity of habitat, flows and temperature inherent in our healthy stream systems that support our wild salmon. Instead we must rely on science and the complex human systems we’ve created to manage and protect our salmon habitat.
Cook Inletkeeper has been contributing to salmon science for years by exploring small-scale temperature variation in Cook Inlet streams using thermal imagery. With this technology, we can identify where groundwater is bringing cold water into stream channels during the summer. These cold-water inflows will be critical for salmon to persist as streams continue to warm due to our changing climate. To ensure these groundwater connections are not inadvertently harmed because they have not been identified, Cook Inletkeeper is now in conversation with land managers to put thermal X’s on decisionmakers’ maps.
This type of proactive science to conservation requires a long view to prioritize strategic work and a bit of optimism that, with more knowledge about the complexity of our salmon habitat, Alaskans can avoid the mistakes made everywhere else where salmon once thrived.
Meanwhile, draft Environmental Impact Statement comment periods and public testimony on bad legislation fill up the calendar. Although there’s satisfaction in helping to stop or limit impacts from poor decision making, we know the finger-in-the-dike analogy too well. And with infrastructure money likely to pour into the state, poor decisions will now come with extra funding.
The balance between fighting for stronger regulations and oversight versus investing in community solutions and long-term research can be a daily challenge. At Cook Inletkeeper, we are committed to finding the right balance for the watershed and for supporters like you who share our vision. In the year ahead, we’ll continue to improve the maps that guide habitat protection, fight for public input on the use of our public resources and chart the future we want for Alaska.