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Instream Restoration Riparian Restoration Fish Passage
Moose Creek Fish Passage Restoration Project   Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska
Primary Project Type: Instream Restoration
     Secondary Type: Fish Passage
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  Although there has been no quantifiable data relative to impacts of mining on th...  

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Primary Problem: Channel Alteration, Mining
     Secondary Problem: Natural Fish Passage Barriers
Main Restoration Action(s): Boulder weirs, Channel reconstruction, Grade control structures, Habitat enhancement, Large woody debris structures, Redirect flow into remnant channel, Riparian revegetation
Native Fish Focus: Chinook salmon, Coho Salmon, Pink salmon, Steelhead
Is this project part of a watershed scale restoration? No
Project Dates: June 2003 to July 2006
  Initial Monitoring: 2003
Restoration Implementation: May 2005 – July 2006
Follow-up Monitoring: 2007
Lead Agency:
     U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 7
Project Partners:
  Chickaloon Village
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries
National Fish Habitat Initiative
N C Machinery Co.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) (Five Star Grant Program)
Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (CWRP)
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Project Location: Moose Creek originates in the Talkeetna Mountains, and flows south into the Matanuska River between the towns of Palmer and Sutton, Alaska. It drains a 45 square-mile watershed, with a two-year recurrence interval of 850 cfs and a 1-year recurrence interval of 2800 cfs. Phase I of the project area centers on river mile 2.6 (upstream from the Glenn Highway Bridge), and Phase II of the project area is between river miles 2.0 and 2.3 (upstream from the Glenn Highway Bridge), accessed from Buffalo Mine Road off the Glenn Highway. To view a map of the project site, click here.
Project Description: People have inhabited the region around Moose Creek for thousands of years. Specifically, the Ahtna Athabascan/Dene people have lived in this area for generations. The Chickaloon Village people, who lived closest to Moose Creek, used a diversity of natural resources for food, medicine, tools, and fiber. The Chickaloon Tribe relied heavily on the salmon populations throughout the summer months; however, for the past 80 years, village members traveled great distances to harvest salmon because of the decline in salmon populations in the area.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that non-indigenous groups had any interest in the area at all. In the 1890s many people were moving to Alaska to find their riches in gold, both in the Matanuska-Susitna region and further north, along the Yukon River. It was at this time that local Native Americans informed several prospectors and trappers of the large coal deposits in the Matanuska River Valley, which extended from Moose Creek to the Chickaloon River (later termed the Matanuska Coal Field), including many exposed areas on Moose Creek.

From 1916 through 1983, coal mining was sporadic but continuous along Moose Creek. Early underground mining, followed by strip mining operations, severely altered more than 7 miles of Moose Creek. In the 1920s, a railroad spur was constructed up Moose Creek, from the railroad junction at the creek’s mouth to the foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains. When the rail line was upgraded to a standard-gauge rail, Moose Creek was re-routed, straightened and channelized, separating it from its floodplain (Figure 2). Such stream alterations resulted in degraded fish rearing and spawning habitat on the creek, as well as degraded adjacent wildlife riparian habitat for species such as bears and eagles. The stream alterations also resulted in three distinct waterfalls, which prevented salmon access to over five miles of stream and wetland complex. The upper waterfall, with a vertical drop of approximately 10 feet, was completely impassable to spawning salmon. The lower two waterfalls were partial barriers that only the strongest salmon could pass. The disturbance to Moose Creek also left the stream corridor, once covered by a forest of birch and white spruce, landscaped with unnatural berms, ditches, elevated roadways, and the railroad. Natural recovery of the mining and railroad scars was minimal as re-vegetation was only by early successional species, and some reaches of Moose Creek returned to their original channel location following high flood events.

Although there has been no quantifiable data relative to impacts of mining on the Moose Creek fishery, Chickaloon Tribe elders have spoken of abundant spawning activity in the creek by all five Alaskan salmon species, and enough abundance of fish to feed both tribal members and miners. By the early 2000s, coho or silver (Oncorhynchus kisutch) and chinook or king (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) salmon were only observed from the creek mouth upstream to river mile 2.7, where a 10-foot high waterfall had developed as a complete barrier to fish passage. In addition, there was substantial loss of habitat from rerouting and straightening Moose Creek
Project Goals: The goal of the Moose Creek Fish Passage Restoration Project was to restore wild salmon runs to the upper Moose Creek watershed and improve the quality and quantity of aquatic and riparian habitat available to fish and wildlife species.
Project Methods: Restoration of salmon runs to upper Moose Creek was accomplished by: 1) reconstructing two river reaches to bypass several waterfall barriers; 2) restoring channel connection to the adjacent floodplain — a connection which was lost when the stream was straightened; and 3) revegetating the riparian habitat along the reconstructed reaches. The project was completed in two phases. Phase I was completed the summer of 2005. It involved restoring Moose Creek to a stable dimension, pattern, and profile adjacent to the upper waterfall at Reach 3. Phase II was completed in summer of 2006. It involved restoring Moose Creek to a stable dimension, pattern, and profile adjacent to the lower waterfalls at Reach 5. In Both reaches, the channel re-alignment largely followed relic channel locations, although both the channel and floodplain were reconstructed throughout the new alignment. For more information on restoration methods used, click here.
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  Phase II restoration involved restoring approximately 1,350 lineal feet of Moose...  
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  In Phase II, in-stream structures were used for grade control and bank protectio...  
Monitoring Data and Collection Methods: Because the Moose Creek restoration project has just been completed, a detailed monitoring plan for the project is currently being written. When the plan is finalized, it will be referenced in this case history. Preliminary observations of fish passage in the new project area are as follows. The Chickaloon Village Traditional Council’s Environmental Protection Program conducted three fish surveys in 2004, prior to restoration actions. The surveys included: 1) a count of adult salmon seen during a foot survey in July, 2) a count of adult salmon seen during a foot survey in September, and 3) a count of juvenile salmon sampled with Gee (minnow) traps. No adult or juvenile salmon were observed or trapped above the falls. A total of 590 adult chinook salmon were counted below the falls in July. A total of 216 adult coho salmon were counted below the falls on September 26. Adult chinook carcasses were observed within a half mile of the falls in August 2003. Juvenile chinook and coho were found in Moose Creek about a quarter mile downstream of the falls. Adult chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) were seen in the lower mile of the creek in August 2004.

Monitoring of fish re-colonization of upper Moose Creek after implementation of the fish passage restoration project was conducted during the peak salmon run, yet when water was low enough for safe wading and clear enough to allow observations. In 2005, a chinook salmon count was conducted but a coho salmon count was not conducted due to sustained high water flows. For both 2005 and 2006, it is possible that the peak of the chinook salmon run was missed by a week or so. Results are provided in Table 1. (35 kb PDF).
Was this project effective and how was this determined? Phase I of the Moose Creek Fish Passage Restoration Project was designed to re-establish the original, meandering stream channel around a complete waterfall barrier on Moose Creek caused by historic railroad activities. By restoring the original (pre-railroad development) creek alignment, the stream channel completely bypasses the largest waterfall and provides adult fish passage to extensive spawning and rearing habitats upstream. In late July 2005, after Phase I restoration construction was complete, over 200 adult chinook salmon were observed above the previously impassable waterfall barrier. Chinook salmon were spawning in the newly created restoration channel. In late September and early October 2005, several adult coho salmon were seen migrating through the restoration project toward upstream spawning habitats. In early September, after Phase II restoration was complete, coho salmon were observed above the impassable barrier. Monitoring of the project will continue to document progress toward the goal of reviving the local salmon subsistence harvest on Moose Creek for members of the Chickaloon Tribe, and to document changes to the newly constructed channel and success of riparian area re-vegetation.
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  In August 2006, Moose Creek experienced an estimated 50- to 100-year flood event...  
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  The role of woody debris jams in South Central Alaska is just beginning to be un...  
Confounding Effects/Additional Information: In August, 2006, Moose Creek experienced an estimated 50-100 year flood event, which was about 1.5 months after Phase II restoration. Fortunately, both phases survived the flood, although lateral channel migration did occur and structures were taken out by the flood. Moose creek, in general, experienced a large amount of channel migration and large wood debris generation, which significantly changed the character of the river and it's location within the floodplain in many places.

In Phase I, all J-hook vanes were taken out or buried by the flood and the downstream channel restoration migrated 50-60 feet, which made a higher radius of curvature to the channel. The J-hook vanes, which were installed mainly for habitat enhancement as well as bank protection, expected to last for the first few years after restoration. Although the downstream portion of the Phase I channel migrated, the upper part of Phase I aggraded with a large sediment wedge from upstream. As a result, the bankfull bench was observed to be at half the thalweg elevation. Much of the willow plantings that were not taken out by the channel migration survived on the bankfull bench. The side channel ponds partially filled, but some pool area was retained. Even with such changes, project managers believe the reach is now able to handle another flood of this magnitude, and the gravel bars that developed have increased the variability of flows — facilitating adult and juvenile movement upstream.

Phase II restoration survived the flood event quite well. Project managers contribute this, in part, to the wider floodplain, lower stream slope, and higher radius of curvature in the constructed channel. Channel migration did not occur; however, in two areas about 5 feet of bank eroded away. Willows and other plantings did not have time to be established; however, the roughness of the floodplain and amount of woody debris basically kept the topsoil intact. Two J-hook vanes were taken away by the flood, but all other structures survived, especially the woody debris jams. The side channel opening was filled with sediment and became completely plugged.

The role of woody debris jams in South Central Alaska is just beginning to be understood, and the debris jams constructed in Phase II correlated well with natural jams that formed from the flood. Prior to the flood, no debris jams were observed during creek surveys — leading project managers to postulate that an event of this magnitude may not have happened since the railroad had altered the creek. Project managers now have an example of how natural debris jams in Alaska can be imitated as well as formed from a flood event in the same creek.
Project Specs (all specs are estimates):
  Overall Estimated Cost:
For more information on this project contact:
  Jessica Dryden, Chickaloon Village Environmental Protection Program, Email:
Mary Price, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Email:
This information was collected by: Kristin Keith
Project last updated on: 1/2/2007

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Updated: February 16, 2007
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