Monday, July 23, 2012


For three to four short months each year, Alaska teems with life, and the inhabitants, whether human or other species, take full advantage of the richness before them. 

We both had mixed feelings prior to coming to Alaska about the exemptions in the Wilderness Act and other public lands management rules and regulations that allowed Alaskans to use motorized vehicles, nets, etc. to move into pristine land and catch food for their families (a process that is called subsistence).  For example, a family of four can harvest up to 160 salmon a day in some areas and in other areas, there are no limits at all.

As we have traveled, we have come to understand that the vastness of the area and the rare travel by any means outside of the few road corridors result in little impact on the millions of acres of land.  In addition, the sheer quantity of some types of prey species has been a source of subsistence hunting and fishing for people and other predators for millennium. 

An example was in the inlet near Valdez, Alaska.  We drove in at low tide and were caught off guard at the over 100 ravens we saw on the tidal flats gorging themselves with salmon.  As we drew nearer, we realized that the large birds were not ravens, but bald eagles of every age group (young ones have little white) surrounded by gulls of a variety of species.  In the narrow channel next to them, we watched dozens of sea lion heads bob up and down as they occasionally grabbed a pink salmon, called humpies by locals, as the schools swam over and around them.  The water seemed a bit rough until we realized that what looked like rapids in the sea with water boiling over low black rocks were actually fish….tens of thousands of the more than a million pink salmon heading toward the fish ladders of the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery. Down the beach, a grizzly mother with her four, strong cubs enjoyed each day’s delights as well. 

To our excitement, every fishing pole along the shore seemed bent with the weight of salmon as RV’s crowded the road.  We hurried to join folks, snagging salmon coming down ocean currents toward fresh water.  Locals prefer the richer, red flesh of the Sockeye (reds) and Coho (silvers) that arrive later in the season, but we found the flaky pinks tasty too. 

As we have come up through the different highways, we have stopped at many First Nation villages, interpretive centers, and special sites.  In all, they talk about the importance of the salmon to their culture, their winter food stocks, and to the animals such as eagles and grizzlies.   We have looked at river traps and drying shacks and come to understand that this gift from the sea means survival in a place where winter temperatures make our native city of Gunnison look balmy in January.

The seasons are challenging, but the brief period of abundance allows existence for those able to gather and store the wealth of plant and animal life each summer.

(Pictures of Pink Salmon, a family fishing for subsistence, and a very wet Bald Eagle)

Posted in Valdez, Alaska.

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