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THORNE BAY - Katherine Prussian knows a thing or two about water. She spent much of her childhood stomping through mud puddles in Ketchikan, one of the wettest communities in Southeast Alaska, with rainfall averaging 150 inches a year. Today, as a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service in the Tongass, she spends much of her time studying water - how and where it flows, and if it flows at all.
Thorne Bay hydrologist studies water flow in the Tongass 081711 NEWS 3 Excerpt from "Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska's Tongass Rain Forest" THORNE BAY - Katherine Prussian knows a thing or two about water. She spent much of her childhood stomping through mud puddles in Ketchikan, one of the wettest communities in Southeast Alaska, with rainfall averaging 150 inches a year. Today, as a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service in the Tongass, she spends much of her time studying water - how and where it flows, and if it flows at all.

Photo By Amy Gulick

Katherine Prussian, a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service, spends much of her time studying water - how and where it flows, and if it flows at all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Story last updated at 8/17/2011 - 12:50 pm

Thorne Bay hydrologist studies water flow in the Tongass

THORNE BAY - Katherine Prussian knows a thing or two about water. She spent much of her childhood stomping through mud puddles in Ketchikan, one of the wettest communities in Southeast Alaska, with rainfall averaging 150 inches a year. Today, as a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service in the Tongass, she spends much of her time studying water - how and where it flows, and if it flows at all.

Prussian, 36, lives and works on Prince of Wales Island, the third-largest island in the country and a three-hour ferry ride from Ketchikan. North Prince of Wales is the most biologically productive region in the Tongass and nearly every waterway on the island does or once did support salmon and/or trout. But in the last half century, many fish streams have been damaged by logging and road-building activities. Close to a third of north Prince of Wales' productive old-growth forests have been cut, and more than 2500 miles of roads (most originally built for logging) crisscross the island. But where some see devastation from the past, Prussian sees hope for the future.

"Because there has been a lot of timber harvest and road building, there are a lot of opportunities for restoration," she says. "It's a prime time to establish a restoration economy - put people back to work with a different type of forest management."

A good example of this new economy at work is Fubar Creek in the Harris River watershed. The creek historically supported four species of salmon as well as steelhead trout. But landslides in the valley and the cumulative impacts of three decades of timber harvest degraded the creek's fish habitat. Prussian spent almost three years doing site surveys, hydraulic modeling, flow and discharge measurements, and aerial photo interpretation to determine how to restore the creek.

"Restoration is kind of a new thing in this area," she says. "The Lower 48 has been doing restoration for quite a while, and we've been able to learn from past problems and do a higher level of design so we can have more successful projects."

The thorough design time paid off. Prussian hired a crew and they restored the creek to its historical path. Less than two weeks after the project's completion, six hundred adult salmon returned to the stream's main channel. Time will tell if steelhead trout, a species sensitive to disturbance, will make a comeback.

"It's a win-win situation. We're improving habitat and providing jobs," Prussian says. "My hope for the future of the Tongass is that we are able to sustain the forest ecosystems and keep the local communities prospering."

When she's not working with water, she's playing on it. She kayaks and explores beaches with her husband and two small children, and she enjoys the summer feasts of fresh-caught fish, crab, and shrimp.

"The bounty of the sea and forest - that's what I love about living here," she says.

Amy Gulick's award-winning book "Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska's Tongass Rain Forest" was published by Braided River in 2010. A photography exhibit associated with the book is currently touring Southeast Alaska in celebration of the 2011 International Year of Forests. The exhibit will open in Craig August 25 in conjunction with the Prince of Wales Restoration Celebration. Gulick will give a presentation following a dinner, awards ceremony, and performance by the Klawock Heenya Dancers. The festivities begin at 5 p.m. at the Craig High School. For more information, visit www.salmoninthetrees.org or www.myalaskaforests.com.