Alaska BHA Partners with Stream Watch Program to Mitigate Bank Erosion on the Famed Russian River

Of the many things that I remember wanting as a young kid, but not among the few that I never obtained, living in Alaska was in the top two. Early in my military career and after garnering support from my wife in 2012, I re-enlisted in the US Army specifically for a duty station in Alaska. As I drove the Alaska Highway into Southcentral Alaska, I remember thinking “God help me if I ever take this for granted.” As any younger Service Member should, I had another list: achievements - all the peaks to climb, game to pursue, fish to catch…

The first place that I fished in Alaska was the Russian River; a world-famous salmon stream that flows into the Kenai River - an even more famous salmon river. I had never seen so many people lined up and casting their rods in synchronicity in pursuit of “Russian River Reds.” I sought a place for a more isolated location to fail but attempt to learn fishing techniques commonly used for Salmon in Alaska and failed for hours. Eventually, I failed enough to engage an older angler about his technique because I had observed him release no less than ten fish. He told me about weighing the line and distance from the hook – where to cast and where to retrieve. He also told me that he had been fishing that river for over 50 years to be as proficient as he seemed.

If you don't know, anglers love to talk - just not about their secret spots - another thing that I love about this specific outdoor community.Both banks of the Russian River are managed by the US Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service and both agencies do their best to maintain the land similarly to prevent confusion on land access.

This year, through the Alaska Chapter BHA and the Armed Forces Initiative I had the opportunity to participate in a bank erosion prevention project in collaboration with the US Forest Service and their Stream Watch Volunteer program. We placed barriers and fencing around sensitive sites along the most utilized portions of the river. Stream Watch focuses on protecting the habitat on the Kenai Peninsula for future generations of Anglers. Program managers showed our volunteer group photos of the river from the 1980s where the stream was widening considerably due to loose soils and heavy use.

Widening streams result in higher water temperatures, more predation, and a much more inhospitable salmon spawn and growth environment for salmon; ultimately failed salmon runs. There was little vegetation along bank paths - just mud pits.

Today, those muddy pits from the 1980s are full of trees, flora, and fauna with a well-maintained path, fencing, and signage to encourage overwhelming compliance. The Russian River has undergone a truly incredible recovery, and I consider myself privileged and blessed to participate in the project and see all that goes into maintaining this aspect of our public lands.

This year, my tenth year in Alaska, I introduced my three Alaskan children to this tributary. I showed them the fencing that our group placed and reinforced conservation principles of why we should use trails to not damage vegetation older than they are – from the alpine to the valleys. My children met an incredible run of Salmon (and even caught one or two) that did not seem to have an end - and possibly the most fish that I have ever seen. I can seldom match the joy that I receive from watching my family do the things that I love most in a managed, but still very wild place. I would like to thank the US Forest Service for taking on the risk of partnering with a new organization for this project and extend those thanks to other organizations who continue to participate or manage in these projects to keep our wild places wild for future generations to enjoy. -Marc Duval AFI Alaska, South Central AK.

To get involved with future events and projects with the Alaska Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and our Armed Forces program visit our Alaska Events page.

About Marc Duval