October 18, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 42

Presenter connects fish, forest

Alaska poet John Haines said the land gets into everything. Amy Gulick’s message is that in Southeast Alaska, salmon get into everything and most notably the region’s giant trees.

Gulick, a Washington-state based writer and nature photographer, didn’t come up with that notion. She read about it in a scientific article describing “the upstream flow of marine nutrients in a terrestrial environment.”

But the idea took hold of her. “Even as dry as the article was, the connection between salmon and trees was very real to me,” she said in an interview. It inspired her to write about the phenomenon.

She has since taken presentations about the salmon-tree connection throughout the Lower 48 and Southeast Alaska. On Wednesday in Haines, she spoke to sophomore science students at Haines High School.

Zach Lambert, 15, said the connection was news to him. “I never really thought about it like that,” Lambert said. “I thought it was pretty cool.”

The region’s high numbers of brown and black are critical to the equation, Gulick said, dragging fish away from rivers, depositing them at the root systems of vegetation. “One bear can carry 40 fish from a stream in eught hours. That adds up to a lot of salmon in the forest.”

Many different factors, including soil composition and drainage, influence tree growth, Gulick said, but along the Panhandle’s 4,000 salmon streams, trees grow faster and bigger than elsewhere, she said.

Up to 70 percent of the nitrogen in streamside trees and foliage is of ocean origin, she said.

Gulick partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to make presentations in six Southeast communities last year. Resident Carol Tuynman helped organize her visit here after meeting Gulick in June 2011.

Besides book-signings, a Sheldon Museum photo exhibit opening and other events late this week, Tuynman said residents can “live the salmon in the trees story” during a hike Saturday with Gulick and Pam Randles of the Takshanuk Watershed Council along the Chilkoot River. A fee will benefit the Chilkoot Bear Foundation.

Gulick said she was somewhat apprehensive about making her presentations in Southeast towns where commercial logging was a dominant part of the economy, but she’s has been surprised.

“The reception I’ve gotten has been fantastic. It was completely unfounded,” she said.

Her presentations “don’t go into anything controversial,” she said. “The story of logging in the Tongass has been told so many times. I didn’t want to say what was wrong with the Tongass. I wanted to say what was right.”

Her message, she said, is one of celebration of an ecosystem that’s still largely intact, and the rich life it provides for people here.