Huxley Professor Studying Salmon-Habitat Restoration in Sweden
Retrieving a stream-flow meter from under a few feet of Swedish ice is nobody's idea of a good time.
Retrieving a stream-flow meter from under a few feet of Swedish ice is nobody's idea of a good time.Like much of the Pacific Northwest, Sweden's extraction of its timber resources has been a boon for its economy, but has imperiled many of its native fish populations because of habitat loss; reversing the environmental damage on these key watersheds caused by more than a hundred years of intensive logging is the goal of a research project involving Western Washington University assistant professor James Helfield.
Helfield began working on the project on the Vindel and Pite rivers in Northern Sweden in 2002 as a postdoctoral researcher. He left Sweden in June 2005 to join the faculty at WWU's Huxley College of the Environment, but has continued to crunch the data obtained by more than two years of field work, and will return in September 2008 to continue the project.
"Before the development of roads, Sweden's timber industry relied on rivers and streams to float raw logs from the forest to mills on the coast. To facilitate log driving, the Swedes altered their rivers significantly by removing large boulders and woody debris, lining the banks with stone and wood structures and, in some cases, digging entirely new, straight channels - and none of these things are good for salmon," he said.
This "channelization" of the rivers caused a loss of biodiversity in the fish and aquatic insect communities that live in the streams, as well as in the riparian plant communities that border the waterways. All these factors resulted in a long-term drop in numbers in two signal species, the Atlantic salmon and Sweden's sea-run brown trout.
The project, funded by the European Union and carried out by Sweden's Umea University in conjunction with a number of local watershed groups, aims to restore the stream channels to their native state and improve habitat, and in doing so boost the fish populations to levels that would support a more viable commercial and recreational fishery.
Helfield said the habitat-restoration work he has done in Sweden has many parallels to restoration projects in the Pacific Northwest, both in terms of goals and results.
"It's very relatable to what many groups such as NSEA (the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association) are doing locally. Typically, restoration projects are funded to do the initial work, but funding is usually scarce for monitoring after the work has been completed. The great thing about the work in Sweden is that we have that monitoring aspect in place as well, so we're able to look at various techniques and see how effective they are, which is information that local groups might find useful," he said. "Conversely, there has been a lot of great work on stream ecology and salmon habitat dynamics done here in the Pacific Northwest, and we've been able to apply some of that experience and expertise to restoring the Swedish rivers."