Drought-Like Conditions Creating Issues For Salmon, Wildfires

Alaska has endured a summer that the Last Frontier usually doesn’t experience. It’s been hot and dry, and salmon have been affected to the point that rising water temperatures are believed to be the culprit in fish die-off scenarios in multiple rivers (we’ll have a full report in our September issue.

Here’s the Washington Post with more:

Just about every temperature record has fallen in a state that’s running 6.2 degrees above normal since June. Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday all hit 77 degrees in Anchorage, setting record high temperatures for the date, compared with the average high, which is 65 degrees. …

The balmy weather sounds nice in theory, but for Alaskans watching their landscape melt and burn, it’s anything but. Nearly 2.5 million acres have burned in more than 600 wildfires this year in Alaska. This is not yet a record for the season, but according to Thoman, the 1991-2010 median-to-date is 681,000 acres.

Now it appears that several regions throughout the state are in full-fledged drought mode. And as Alaska Journal of Commerce says, salmon are being affected:

Shallower lakes and rivers across Southcentral and Southeast Alaska were the first to heat up. In the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, lakes like Larsen and Judd, where the Alaska Department of Fish and Game operates weirs for sockeye salmon, reached 80 degrees. The Kuskokwim River in western Alaska registered water temperatures about 10 degrees greater than normal, likely contributing to a reported salmon die-off as the fish headed upstream.

On the lower Kenai Peninsula, the Anchor River hit its warmest temperature on record on July 7: 73 degrees. It’s dropped since then to about 66.2 degrees, but the spike was troubling, said Sue Mauger, a scientist with Homer-based conservation nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper. The lack of rain has contributed to the temperature increases too.

“I think (the snow) melted out fast,” she said. “It takes a really long time for that volume of water (after a rain event) to warm up again … a rain event can be really significant in these streams.”