Environmental group says Tongass culverts inadequate

Posted: Friday, May 05, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Southeast Alaska environmental group has criticized culvert crossings of streams in the Tongass National Forest, saying they are inadequate to ensure passage of juvenile salmon and trout.

A Forest Service official said the agency has been aware of the problem for a few years and is now taking steps to replace some culverts.

The Forest Service's annual monitoring report on the Tongass Land Management Plan says that only 47 percent of culverts across salmon streams and 17 percent of culverts across trout streams are ''assumed to meet passage standards'' for juvenile fish.

A third of the 265 culverts on salmon streams and 70 percent of the 546 culverts on trout streams were assumed not to meet those standards, and the rest require more analysis.

''This report shows in black and white that Forest Service road crossings are hurting Southeast fish runs,'' said Sarah Keeney, water quality organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

The basic problem is pipe size, according to Larry Meshew, an ecology officer with the Forest Service. Smaller pipes create greater water velocity and make it harder for juvenile fish to swim upstream, he said.

Only three years ago, when the Tongass plan was revised, did the Forest Service start taking juvenile fish into account when designing culverts, Meshew said. Since then, new culverts meet the standards and an inventory of substandard culverts is under way, he said.

Even the culverts out of compliance would likely pose a problem for young fish only every other year, Meshew said.

The Forest Service has $400,000 this year for culvert replacement, Meshew said. He estimated between 30 and 50 could be replaced with that money. Salmon stream crossings are the highest priority, he said.

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