Pacific Salmon Resiliency

Pacific Salmon Resiliency  

Current projects improving resiliency of Pacific salmon  

Stream Restoration  

BLM-managed public lands in the upper Yukon River portion of Alaska have been the focus of applied research and the application of new techniques regarding stream reclamation since 2013. Many stream reclamation focused demonstration projects have been implemented over the last ten years and serve as outdoor classrooms for agency staff, industry stakeholders, and the public. In addition, the BLM has developed several resources to improve project success across the region including the publication of an interagency Stream Design Guide and Stream Reclamation Basics brochure. Despite these successes, significant restoration opportunities remain across the BLM Restoration Landscapes and throughout the surrounding Norton Sound-Yukon-Kuskokwim region.  

With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, the BLM has been able to secure funding necessary to continue refining stream rehabilitation techniques while also improving riverscape health through targeted restoration work in the upper Yukon River region. Expanded work within other areas of the Gravel to Gravel Keystone Initiative region is also expected to begin in 2024. Details about these projects are included below.

A person in an orange reflective vest and white hard hat directs heavy equipment operator along stream bank.
Placing vegetation mats, as displayed here, creates "instant" streambanks along a newly constructed section of stream previously impacted from mining. BLM photo

Wade Creek Watershed 

Wade Creek is part of the Fortymile Wild and Scenic River and has a rich history of placer mining dating back to the mid-1800s. Evidence of current and historic placer mining in the watershed remains today. Numerous sections of the creek are located on closed federal claims. Decades later and after mining has long ceased, these areas remain in a degraded state.

The BLM funded habitat enhancement projects have been largely successful at refining stream reconstruction techniques and improving stream function yet one project failed during a high-water event three years after construction. Leveraging the knowledge learned from our project’s success and failures is a basic tenet of adaptive management – what we can do better next time. We continue our work to rehabilitated habitats on closed federal claims within the Wade Creek watershed. This not only benefits conditions within the wild and scenic river unit but also the local community and recreational users.

The degraded conditions along Wade Creek contribute to repeated closures and routine maintenance to the Taylor Highway. Improving stream functions within the watershed would reduce impacts to existing highway infrastructure – which can be seen at Mile Post 86 on the highway. Additionally, the Taylor Highway area receives significant visitation by tourists during the summer, yet it provides little outreach or wayside exhibits explaining the region’s rich mining history and how science is being used to restore stream health.    

Restoration efforts along Wade Creek are complex based on the pattern of existing (recorded) and closed federal mining claims and constraints imposed by the Taylor Highway which often bisects the valley bottom along its parallel route along the creek.

Over the next several years the BLM will be developing a strategic and stepwise approach to restoration. Reducing erosion and sediment inputs to the stream from historic mine tailings will be a near term focus. Long term efforts will focus on rehabilitating instream habitats and improving floodplain revegetation. The Taylor Highway parallels almost the full length of Wade Creek, so the BLM is beginning to collaborate with stakeholders on developing information kiosks to help tell the mining history of the area, as well as the challenges associated with restoring stream and floodplain conditions.

To date numerous sections of Wade Creek have been treated to improve habitat conditions, in 2024 efforts will be largely focused on planning and preparation for work in 2025 and beyond. Additionally, the BLM in collaboration with researchers from the University of Alaska will be implementing a monitoring program to assess the effectiveness of restoration.


A before and after image of habitat enhancement at Wade Creek. Photo on left shows large amounts of bare gravel where the photo on the right shows increased vegetation.
A before and after comparison of habitat enhancement at Wade Creek. The image on the left is before work began in 2017. The image on the right shows increased vegetation from habitat enhancement a year later. BLM photos
The two photos show the same creek. One photo shows the creek before restoration efforts, while the other photo shows the creek after restoration efforts.
Left Image: Pre-restoration image of Wade Creek with degraded instream and floodplain conditions. Right Image: Post restoration image of Wade Creek with a mix of pools and riffle habitats with vegetated stream banks and floodplain conditions.


Nome Creek Watershed 

Nome Creek is a popular grayling fishery in the area and a major tributary of Beaver Creek Wild and Scenic River. This area often sees high levels of visitation due to the nearby BLM designated campgrounds (Ophir Creek and Mt. Prindle).   

Like Wade Creek, Nome Creek has a rich history of placer mining. Located in the White Mountains National Recreation Area and in the headwaters of Beaver Creek National Wild and Scenic River, Nome Creek is the focus of several habitat improvement projects. Much of the past work is summarized in BLM Open File Report 113 (BLM 2007), which also includes recommendations for continued work to improve stream and floodplain functions. Much like Wade Creek, this project seeks to continue the stabilization of closed federal claims/abandoned mine lands in the watershed and address stream alignment issues which contribute to erosion of the Nome Creek Road and potential damage to the bridge. Unlike Wade Creek, Nome Creek is less complex with limited infrastructure in the valley and no remaining Federal mining claims.  

Initial work began in 2023 with over 1,000 feet of stream channel restored to enhance habitats for Arctic grayling using a combination of proven techniques as well as some experimental methods similar to Wade Creek. The project also involved channel realignment to reduce impacts to the road and bridge supports. Work in 2024 and beyond will involve restoration of both stream and floodplain conditions using a variety of methods. Like Wade Creek, the BLM in collaboration with researchers from the University of Alaska will be implementing a monitoring program to assess the effectiveness of restoration along the 8-miles of stream planned for treatment. 

Little Nome Creek before and after restoration
Left Image: Lower Nome Creek section prior to realignment and restoration. Extensive bank erosion and limited pool habitat dominated this section of stream. Right Image: Lower Nome Creek section after realignment to improve flow through the bridge span and improve the quality of pool habitats and bank stability.
Two photos of Upper Nome Creek showing before and after restoration efforts.
Left Image: Upper section of Nome Creek prior to realignment and restoration. Shallow and braided stream conditions with limited habitat for Arctic grayling. Right Image: Upper section of Nome Creek after realignment and restoration. Increased pool abundance and large rocks to improve resting and feeding habitat for grayling.


Harrison Creek Watershed 

The Harrison Creek project would continue restoration of approximately 10-miles of placer-mined stream channel on abandoned mine lands within the watershed in the Steese National Conservation Area. Harrison Creek, a major tributary to Birch Creek National Wild and Scenic River, was extensively placer-mined for gold starting in the late 1890s. These mined areas were abandoned without adequate reclamation.

In 2001, BLM initiated restoration efforts in the Harrison Creek watershed but were only able to complete restoration work on 1.5 miles of stream due to limited funding. The 2016 Steese Resource Management Plan specifically identified Harrison Creek as a High Priority Restoration Watershed noting that biological and physical processes and functions do not reflect natural conditions because of past and long-term human-caused land disturbances. This project would continue restoration efforts on closed federal claims in this high value watershed and would begin in 2024 with an assessment of conditions and the development of a restoration treatment strategy.  

Two people hold a chinook salmon to assess age, sex and length of fish.
BLM staff assessing age, sex and length of salmon. BLM photo

Eastern Interior Invasive Species Management 

We'll be conducting comprehensive invasive species inventories in the Steese National Conservation Area, White Mountains National Recreation Area, Fortymile Wild and Scenic River Corridor, and adjacent BLM-managed public lands. The focus of the invasive species management will be on Beaver Creek, Birch Creek-Ikeenjik,* and Fortymile* wild and scenic rivers’ corridors (including upstream areas which may serve as sources of seeds and other plant propagating organisms), as well as roads, trail systems, and mined lands. We’ll prioritize necessary near-term treatment and control of discovered infestations. The discovered infestations inventory will serve as a basis to develop an invasive species management plan for each planning area (White Mountains NRA, Steese NCA, and Fortymile WSR), as recommended in the resource management documents for these areas. This project would be conducted through a multi-year cooperative agreement.   

Salmon River Watershed

The Salmon River drainage has been mined nearly continuously since 1927. Hand mining operations began in the shallow gravels of Clara, Squirrel, Fox Gulch, and Platinum Creeks in 1927. In 1933, an Anchorage prospector, Walter Culver, obtained leases and options on most of the mining claims in the area, and turned them over to the Northland Development Company and Olson & Company from Flat-Iditarod, Alaska. In 1934 the Northland Development Company shipped into Goodnews Bay a dragline excavator, trestle sluice box, caterpillar tractor and the rest of the equipment and supplies necessary to set up a complete and self-sufficient modern mining camp.  

Early in 1935 the Goodnews Bay Mining Company was incorporated, consolidating and acquiring title to over 150 claims. Platinum developed as a "company town," with a store, water, and electricity supplied by the mine. Exploratory drilling indicated deep reserves of platinum, that were too deep for the dragline, so a dredge was purchased in 1937 (Figure 2), this new method of extraction allowed the mining of considerably more ground. The digging ladder of the dredge carried a line of 94 buckets, each with an 8 cubic-foot capacity. The dredge was capable of digging fifty feet below the water level to reach the platinum-bearing gravel lying on the bedrock. 

Tailings were discharged from the dredge by a 140-foot long stacker. Use of the stacker allowed for the formation of formidable tailing piles up to 70 feet in height. The dragline and the dredge worked together to access deep gravels. The dragline was used to remove the overburden to permit the dredge to reach bedrock. Later during World War II when most gold mining operations were shut down the platinum mined at the Goodnews Bay Mining Company was listed as critical and the mine was one of the few that continued to operate through the war. 

The Goodnews Bay platinum mine produced about 650,000 ounces of platinum. The dredge and dragline produced a total of about 44 million cubic yards of tailings and waste rock. The magnitude of this volume of rock is difficult to comprehend. The 44 million cubic yards of tailings would cover the area of a football field over 27,000 feet deep, exceeding the vertical height of Denali! 

All five species of Pacific Salmon have been documented in the Salmon River. However, since the Salmon River watershed is covered with tailings, migratory fish access to six tributaries has been seasonally limited and, in some cases, blocked altogether. According to the USGS National Hydrography Dataset (NHD), the drainage network is made up of 59 miles of streams. Currently, during the summer months fish only have access to approximately 7 miles of stream habitat. 

In collaboration with partners, the BLM and FWS are planning a multi-year effort starting in 2024 to close key data gaps necessary to develop and implement a restoration plan that improves watershed conditions and provides salmon and other fish species full access to spawning and rearing habitats in the watershed. 


*Selected as official Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) Restoration Landscapes