Working in Alaska’s Mat-Su for a Wild Salmon Future

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The Nature Conservancy’s Corinne Smith Wins National Award

People and salmon can continue to co-exist here if we provide what fish require for survival.

If you’re a wild salmon, life requires a few necessities. You need basics such as clean and abundant water, and streams with deep, safe pools. It’s best if trees and shrubs are left to shade the water. And in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Basin, it would be comforting to know that Corinne Smith of The Nature Conservancy has got your back.

Smith coordinates the Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership in its efforts to safeguard salmon habitat in the Mat-Su, a largely rural region that in recent years has faced changes such as urban sprawl.

“We know what salmon need, and the partnership is intent on ensuring it’s all in place. People and salmon can continue to co-exist here if we provide what fish require for survival. But ultimately it’s up to all of us to keep salmon habitat from unraveling like it has in the lower 48,” she says.

Smith’s leadership recently earned her an honor awarded by the National Fish Habitat Partnership. It bestows its Scientific Achievement Award annually to honor outstanding achievement in the use of science to improve fish habitat conservation.

“Corinne has done so much for habitat conservation and scientific research not only in the Mat-Su Basin, but all of Alaska,” says Kelly Hepler, the National Fish Habitat Partnership’s board chairman.

    Under Smith’s leadership, the diverse membership of the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership has grown to 49 entities. This membership is united by a clear purpose: Ensure thriving fish and healthy communities can co-exist. The partnership promotes a collaborative approach – not regulation – to secure healthy habitat for future generations.

Overall, the partnership focuses on solutions to these potential threats to salmon habitat:

  •     Impervious surfaces (such as roads) and storm water run-off
  •     Septic systems and wastewater
  •     Alteration of streamside forests
  •     Filling of wetlands
  •     Culverts that block fish passage
  •     Loss or alteration of water flow or volume
  •     Loss of estuaries and near shore habitat
  •     Invasive northern pike

Its programs include the annual Mat-Su Salmon Science and Conservation Symposium, a first-of-its-kind forum for the local community. The symposium brings together people who are concerned about the fate of wild salmon in the Mat-Su, including elected officials, scientists, tribal leaders, and local businesses. The partnership also published an innovative Mat-Su salmon habitat atlas, which compiles key information about habitat health such as stream temperatures, water quality, invasive species, and culverts that impede fish passage.

While coordinating the partnership’s programs across the Mat-Su, Smith – who has formal training in engineering and environmental science – has also donned rubber boots to lead the Conservancy’s own projects to replace fish-blocking culverts on tributaries of the Little Susitna River.

Most recently, Smith has led the Conservancy’s Mat-Su program as it begins to research the value of what might be called “nature’s services” – such as clean water, fertile soil, and flood control. In this work, she enlisted the analytical might of the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research and the research firm Earth Economics.

By asking questions about the true value of the services an intact ecosystem provides to those who live in the Mat-Su, the research can help the community understand the value of nature’s benefits. In a region valued for its forests, streams, and rural character, Smith’s work helps to underscore the tremendous economic value of these benefits which are too often appreciated only upon their loss.
Learn More:
Website of the Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership
Salmon Watersheds in the Ma-Su Basin: Map Atlas to Prioritize Conservation
Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership Members
Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
Alaska Center for the Environment
Alaska Outdoor Council
Alaska Pacific University
Alaska Railroad Corporation
AlaskaChem Engineering
Alaskans for Palmer Hay Flats
Aquatic Restoration & Research Institute
Bureau of Land Management
Butte Area Residents Civic Organization
Chickaloon Village Traditional Council
City of Palmer
ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc.
Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association
Cook Inletkeeper
Environmental Protection Agency
Envision Mat-Su
Fishtale River Guides
Glacier Ridge Properties
Great Land Trust
HDR Alaska, Inc.
Knik River Watershed Group
Matanuska River Watershed Coalition
Matanuska-Susitna Borough
Mat-Su Anglers
Mat-Su Conservation Services
Montana Creek Campground
National Marine Fisheries Service
National Park Service
Native Village of Eklutna
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Palmer Soil and Water Conservation District
Pioneer Reserve
Sierra Club
The Conservation Fund
The Nature Conservancy
The Wildlifers
Three Parameters Plus, Inc.
United Fishermen of Alaska
Upper Susitna Soil & Water Conservation District
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Forest Service
Wasilla Soil and Water Conservation District

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Dustin Solberg
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