Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fisheries Society Says Susitna Dam Threatens Alaska’s Wild Salmon

Members of the American Fisheries Society say Alaska’s proposed Susitna Dam project, already axed by Gov. Bill Walker, in the face of declining oil revenues, would be bad news for fisheries and aquatic ecosystems in the state’s Susitna River Basin.

“With the recent decline in the price of fossil fuels, and the increased value of fish and other ecosystem services provided by the Susitna River, the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydropower project is both economically and environmentally untenable,” the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society said in a letter in early March to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“The Division hopes that the FERC and Alaska Legislature consider the consequences that this project will create for the fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems of the Susitna River Basin,” said Hilda Sexauer, president of the Western Division of AFS.

A copy of Sexauer’s letter to FERC was released in mid-March by the Susitna River Coalition, a grassroots organization in Talkeetna, AK, working to halt the Susitna dam project.

The letter adds to a growing body of evidence that highlights the inherent risks and unexpected consequences of the project, said Mike Wood, board president of the coalition. Wood said he hoped the letter would aid the governor and the Alaska Legislature in coming to the right decision, “which is to put this project back on the shelf it’s been on these past 30 years.”

AFS is the world’s oldest and largest scientific and professional organization whose mission is to advance sound science, promote professional development and disseminate science-based fisheries information. The Western Division, the largest of four geographic subdivisions of the society, represents 3,500 fisheries professionals, including Alaskans.

“Additionally, the Division recommends that carefully designed, robust and statistically defensible sampling be conducted and critically reviewed by the subject matter experts, should further studies be completed prior to project approval,” she told FERC. “Following this protocol will ensure the validity of data collected, allowing for precise analysis and modeling of the environmental consequences.”

Sexauer said that the society also intends to provide more formal, technical comments in response to the Alaska Energy Authority’s initial study report on the Susitna dam project.

The Susitna River Basin is home to all five species of Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, burbot, Arctic char and lake trout. The Susitna River is also home to Alaska’s fourth largest Chinook salmon population and second largest recreational Chinook salmon fishery.

Sexauer’s letter to FERC is online at

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