WASILLA — The fifth annual Mat-Su salmon habitat symposium, themed “Science and Policy,” wrapped up Thursday afternoon with a presentation on salmon distribution and habitat use in Northern Cook Inlet, the Knik Arm, and areas in and around Big Lake.

Other presentations during the two-day symposium focused on land use and population expansion planning and economic valuation around the Mat-Su Valley; groundwater flow mapping, the effects of runoff waters on streamflows, and wetlands classification and mapping; stream and fish passage restoration; and climate change and invasive species concerns.

One of the highlights of the symposium Wednesday afternoon involved awarding Corrine Smith from The Nature Conservancy — and a founding member of the Mat-Su Salmon Partnership — the Scientific Achievement Award from the National Fish Habitat Action Plan program for her years of commitment.

“I couldn’t have received this award without all of the efforts and work the scientists and concerned persons at this symposium have performed over the years. This award recognizes your work as well,” she said as she accepted the engraved plaque.

Sandwiched around the formal presentations, a poster session addressed such diverse topics as Great Land Trust conservation easements, habitat variables and their effect on backpack electrofishing sampling efficiency, and a Little Susitna River salmon recovery plan. An open discussion group session included topics like looking at off-road motorized recreation and salmon, balancing salmon populations with large-scale resource developments like coal mines, and the importance of overwintering habitat for juvenile salmon.

The theme of backing up public policy with science was set in the opening remarks and keynote address. Frankie Barker, a Mat-Su Borough recreational planner and one of the symposium’s organizers, emphasized concerns about the depressed status of salmon stocks in the borough.

Warren Keogh, a Mat-Su Borough Assembly member, commented on the contrast between historical writings where area rivers were described as “teaming with fish,” to the current severe restrictions on sportfishing for lack of returning salmon.

“One of the top five issues the borough assembly has identified for state funding requests this year includes salmon and salmon habitat work,” he said.

Keogh concluded his remarks by expressing concerns about the effects of hydro and coal development on salmon stocks.

“We need to be aware that protecting water rights and in-stream water flows is crucial to the health and stability of our salmon resources,” he said.

Bob Lackey, a professor of fisheries science and adjunct professor of political science at Oregon State University, was the keynote speaker. He reviewed the history of the major salmon population areas around the world and how man has influenced them over time. He detailed how, as human populations grew in the salmon areas, salmon populations declined. He explained how historically the needs and wants of society have been bad for salmon and that this trend will continue because man and salmon are competitors for the same space and resources, namely, land area and water.

Lackey explained why man’s alterations of natural habitat to suit his own purposes are detrimental to salmon; alterations like dams for electrical power generation, taking water from streams to irrigate agricultural crops, and wetlands reclamation for housing and shopping malls.

Lackey was careful to state that selecting one alternative over another (i.e., power generation verses salmon habitat preservation) was neither good nor bad.

“The science presented to policymakers for their consideration in making decisions needs to be neutral in advocating a final selection of action. The credibility of the science depends on this neutral position,” he said.

He said society makes choices for what they need or want and public policy is developed accordingly.

Anyone interested in hearing the keynote address can find it on KSKA’s website and the address will be broadcast on the radio in two to three weeks. Check the website or listen to the radio for promos to learn the day and time.

Some of the presentations appealed to those with a scientific background and technical focus. Others were more oriented toward practical applications and real-world interests and concerns.

Howard Delo is a retired fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Leave him a message by emailing sports@frontiersman.com.

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