Mat-Su mapping study doubles borough stream miles

A new study found 50,000 miles worth of streams in the Matanuska and Susitna valleys, or enough to encircle the world with room to spare, and 28,000 more miles than previously thought.

Critically, the maps identify previously unknown salmon-spawning grounds. With more accurate information, authorities can make more informed habitat conservation decisions. In particular, wildlife managers now have better information about where to install culverts, as well as better flood management information.

The mapping project cost $330,000, but spread between state and federal agencies and non-profits, undercutting the typical mapping project expense by a third.

“The Mat-Su is the fastest growing area in the state by a large margin,” said Larry Engel of Palmer, a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist and member of the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission. “How do you conserve habitat if you don’t know where it is? You have to identify where your streams are and that’s what The Nature Conservancy’s new stream map does for the Mat-Su.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mat-Su Borough, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the U.S. Geological Survey contributed to the total cost.

The Alaska Hydrography Technical Working Group oversaw the project. The group, which oversees all such projects, is comprised of technicians from state and federal agencies including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the University of Alaska.

Alaska’s maps are behind the times, technologically speaking. Adding the latest methods gives planners a host of new information for borough matters, including storm water discharge permitting process and installation of habitat-saving culverts. In the valley, new information is crucial for managing woodlands alongside Alaska’s highest-growth area.

The official National Hydrography Dataset, part of the USGS National Map, has already incorporated the new stream lines. USGS will release a set of revised 7.5-minute series topographic maps featuring the updated stream lines later this year.

A similar project is already being planned for the Kenai River area, in part because of the cost savings the project’s collaborative model implements.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

MelissaMat-Su mapping study doubles borough stream miles