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Linking landscape attributes to salmon and decision-making in the southern Kenai Lowlands, Alaska, USA

Coowe M. Walker, Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; Alaska Center for Conservation Science, University of Alaska Anchorage
Dennis F Whigham, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
I. Syverine Bentz, Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; Alaska Center for Conservation Science, University of Alaska Anchorage
Jacob M Argueta, Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; Alaska Center for Conservation Science, University of Alaska Anchorage
Ryan S King, Department of Biology, Baylor University
Mark C. Rains, School of Geosciences, University of South Florida
Charles A Simenstad, University of Washington
Chris Guo, Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; Alaska Center for Conservation Science, University of Alaska Anchorage
Steven J. Baird, Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; Alaska Center for Conservation Science, University of Alaska Anchorage
Conrad J Field, Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; Alaska Center for Conservation Science, University of Alaska Anchorage

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-11798-260101

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Abstract

While Pacific salmon are economically and culturally important worldwide, Alaska, USA is one of the few remaining places on earth where sustainable management of salmon is possible, even in the face of wide-ranging threats, including overharvesting and the impacts of climate change. A continuing challenge that we face is to understand the ecological processes that result in sustainable salmon populations and report that science to stakeholders in a way that promotes decision-making to avoid the destruction of salmon populations that has occurred in most areas of the lower 48 states. To address this challenge, our studies in the southern Kenai Lowlands of Alaska are designed to understand the ecological linkages between the landscape and salmon-bearing streams. Our focus on headwater streams that are essential habitat for juveniles of several salmonids demonstrates multiple connections between uplands, wetlands, and the headwater streams. These ecological linkages have been mapped across the watersheds of the southern Kenai Lowlands and used to create spatial tools for communicating with stakeholders who are making land-use decisions that affect salmon-supporting habitats. We present how the main findings of our research, i.e., the influence of alders, peatlands, and groundwater flows on riparian and headwater streams, were incorporated into a spatial tool that was used in case studies with user groups and in outreach efforts. We include evidence that these efforts to engage with stakeholders are resulting in attitudinal shifts as well as on-the-ground changes in peoples’ decision-making.

Key words

Alaska; communities; conservation; salmon; sustainability; watersheds

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087