Amy Gulick spent two years paddling and trekking among the bears, misty islands, and salmon streams to photograph her book "Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska's Tongass Rain Forest."
Take-out food! In the Tongass National Forest, bears are responsible for moving great quantities of salmon into the forest. Researchers say that one bear might carry 40 fish from a stream in 8 hours. The nutrients from the bodies of the fish filter down into the soil, and the trees absorb them through their roots. Scientists have traced a particular form of marine nitrogen in trees near salmon streams back to the fish.
Story last updated at 9/21/2011 - 1:12 pm
JUNEAU - When people hear the title to nature photographer Amy Gulick's book, "Salmon in the Trees," they don't take it quite as literally as she means. It's not meant as, "Boy, there are a lot of fish in and around Southeast Alaska!" but rather the actual transporting of tons of salmon - rotting carcasses or leavings of bears - into the Tongass, adding nitrogen to the vibrant forests near spawning streams.
"People think it's a metaphor," Gulick said. "They are just blown away after learning about that connection. How much more meaningful can you get?"
Gulick's accompaniment to her book on the stunning ecosystem in the Tongass National Rainforest, a photographic exhibit and presentation that has been brought to several communities across Southeast Alaska this year, will be finishing up in the capital city on Sept. 27. The tour, which has been to Sitka, Yakutat, Ketchikan, Wrangell and Craig, is running in conjunction with the International Year of Forests (IYF) celebration. The United Nations named 2011 the IYF to help get the word out about conservation efforts and forest management issues across the planet.
Gulick's tour was made possible by collaboration between several groups, including the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation, Alaska Wilderness League, and book publisher Braided River.
"It's been an incredible partnership," she said.
Gulick also partnered with several notable contributors from the region, including Juneau naturalist Richard Carstensen, Ketchikan's Ray Troll, Sitkan author John Straley, and Sealaska Heritage Institute President Dr. Rosita Worl. The book, basically a love letter to Southeast Alaska, took Gulick two years of trekking around, communing with the wildlife, geography, and its human counterparts.
When first starting up the project, Gulick was warned that she would be viewed as an outsider, not only by the bears, but by the citizens. But she found the opposite to be true. Everyone she asked to contribute to the book got on board immediately. Everywhere she went, people transported her and fed her.
"Alaskans are nicer than anybody in the Lower 48," she said.
The Pacific Northwest has always held an allure to Gulick, who traveled out west from Chicago with her family when she was younger. She's now lived in the region for over two decades, and currently has her digs in North Bend, Wash., a former logging town turned bedroom community of Seattle, with Ferraris parked next to beat pickup trucks. The town is popularly known as the setting of the seminal television series "Twin Peaks."
"David Lynch knew what he was doing when he picked it," Gulick said.
Gulick spotted some locations that would be ripe for filming during her visits to communities across Southeast over the past summer.
"Wrangell is the perfect movie set," she said.
While there is definitely a message of environmental responsibility to Gulick's work, she aimed to create a positive image of the things going right in the Tongass, rather than just focusing on all of the difficulties and endless debates about how best to direct Southeast Alaska's future.
"I liken it to being in the middle of this incredible concert, so much life and activity going on," she said. "You have front row seats for the greatest show on Earth."
Although she's had many adventures in Southeast, from behind the lens, Gulick never wanted her project to be about her. She thinks the focus should be on the Tongass, its people and its wildlife. But at the end of the day, she realized that, like the salmon in the trees, to some degree she had integrated herself into the ecosystem.
"It's been quite the journey for me," she said. "For the first time in my life, I am part of a community."
"Salmon in the Trees" exhibit will open on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (350 Whittier Street), with the reception and libations starting at 5:30 p.m., followed by a presentation by Gulick at 7 p.m. The exhibit will be on display until Oct. 27. For more information, go online at www.salmoninthetrees.org.
Richard Radford may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.