The Pacific Northwest region (Region 4*) extends from Cook Inlet on the south coast of Alaska through coastal Alaska, British Columbia (BC), Washington and Oregon to northern California. The important waterfowl habitats tend to be similar estuarine, riverine and forested wetland landforms throughout. However, the intensity of land use and future threats to waterfowl conservation are extremely different between, for example, the wilderness of Alaska and the urbanized Fraser River Delta. Strategic plans for this region have been prepared in three sections: Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.
Pacific Northwest: Cook Inlet / South Coastal Alaska
Cook Inlet (28,000 km2) composed of the lower Matanuska-Susitna River valley into the Inlet and the coastal southeast panhandle of Alaska (61,000 km2) make up the 1,600 km arc of these regions. Both regions are characterized by high annual precipitation in a maritime climate. One-half of Alaska’s human population lives in the Cook Inlet-Anchorage bowl, with an additional 15% of the population living in the Southeast. The regions are heavily forested, with black, white, and sitka spruce and western hemlock as the climax needleleaf communities. Broadleaf forests are found along floodplain river and riparian drainages. More than half of the wetlands are forested or bog communities. Lakes in the upland areas cover some 10% of the terrain. Scrub and bog wetlands and wet forb and sedge vegetation dominate open areas. Thousands of small coastal wetland marshes occur along the shoreline and large wetland expanses exist at the Susitna Flats, Copper and Stikine Deltas, and the Yakutat forelands. Periodic tectonic uplift has altered the sub-tidal mudflats to marsh and mixed forests. Glaciation has been the major force in creating present-day landforms in the Copper and Stikine basins. The Copper River basin is the sixth largest basin in Alaska with an area of 62,000 km2. These regions include more than 40,000 km of tidal shoreline.
These regions provide nesting and molting habitat for the world’s population of dusky Canada and tule white-fronted geese, most Vancouver Canada geese, more than 40% of all trumpeter swans, and substantial numbers of mallards, mergansers, and other ducks. Large rafts of sea ducks (scoters, mergansers, harlequin ducks) and mallards and Vancouver Canada geese winter in bays or estuaries of the regions. Over 10 million waterfowl and 10 million shorebirds utilize the Yakutat, Stikine, Tsiu, Copper and Susitna Flats in spring migration. The breeding area of the tule white-fronted goose was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Redoubt. Dusky Canada goose habitat was modified by an earthquake in 1964 that shifted the hydrology and plant succession within the Copper River Delta.
Large tracts of these regions are in public ownership. The two largest National Forests (NF) in the U.S. are found here in the Tongass (6,883,000 ha) and the Chugach (5,263,160 ha) NF, which includes the 283,400 ha Copper River Delta. Other protected areas include Kenai NWR, Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjord NPs, and BLM’s forelands of the Bering Glacier. Alaska Department of Fish and Game is responsible for large tracts of land in the southeast, including Susitna Flats, Palmer Hay Flats, Potter’s Marsh, and Tsiu Flats.
Some 80% of the people of Alaska live within the coastal arc of Anchorage to Ketchikan. Industry in the region consists of oil and gas production, commercial fishing, logging, mining, and minor agriculture. The only extensive threat to waterfowl would come from contamination of the estuarine habitat. There have been waterfowl kills from the grounding of the Exxon Valdez, oil pollution in Cook Inlet, and pulp mill effluent in Sitka and Ketchikan. By 1986, over 133,600 ha had been logged on the Tongass NF. This resulted in some 5,600 km of roads, of which 2,703 km impacted wetlands, for a direct degradation of 810 ha (USFWS). Protection and riparian restoration in existing harvested areas is critical in the Copper, Susitna, Tsiu, and Stikine Deltas. The Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound demonstrated the impact of one serious marine accident. If coastal storms or tides bring the toxins into the estuaries, a major portion of our continent’s waterbirds could be threatened.
*Region 4 - NABCI Bird Conservation Region 4 ( Alaska only – Region 4 for Yukon and SE Alaska is covered in Western Boreal Forest, Bird Conservation Region 6.)