New Southeast atlas identifies valuable habitat and threats

Sockeye salmon. (Photo by Katrina Mueller/USFWS)

(Photo by Katrina Mueller/USFWS)

Audubon Alaska recently released an atlas showing where the most valuable salmon streams and bird habitat are located in Southeast. It also identifies the biggest threats to those areas.

Spread across 200 pages, the ecological atlas of the region includes a lot more than maps. Melanie Smith, the director of conservation science for Audubon Alaska, said the organization wanted to create something both policymakers and regular people could use.

It follows in the footsteps of other atlases Audubon has released about the Arctic and Western Alaska. Smith said this latest Southeast edition is another comprehensive overview that helps provide context.

“What do we know about how this place works?” Smith said. “And why it matters and what types of considerations we should be thinking about when we’re thinking about a sustainable future in the Tongass?”

The atlas features bear viewing hotspots and birding locations. But also, what Audubon Alaska believes are human-caused dangers to these environments, like old growth clear cut logging.

Smith said what surprised her the most while putting the atlas together is how quickly the climate is changing.

“I’m sorry to say that Southeast Alaska is supposed to become a little bit of a wetter place,” she said.

The region has enjoyed a recent sunny streak. But Smith said — in the future — more rain could be in the forecast due to warming. Climate projections suggest a 2-degree temperature rise by the year 2050.

“Which also has implications for how productive salmon populations may be so there’s a chain of possible effects.”

Smith said less snow pack and more downpours could affect salmon laying eggs in nearby streams. But for now, the atlas shows where the fishing is ripe in Southeast. And she hopes to encourage readers to keep it that way.

You can learn more about the regional atlas on Thursday in Juneau. Audubon Alaska will be presenting at the University of Alaska Southeast student recreation center at 7 p.m.

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