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Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest

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Tags: exhibits, rainforest, wildlife, alaska

Created: 12/1/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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This week's blog post was contributed by photographer and author Amy Gulick. Her exhibit "Salmon in the Trees" is currently on display at the Nature Museum, just outside the "Rainforest Adventure" exhibit. You can learn more about her and her work by visiting her website.

As a nature photographer and writer, I am always on the lookout for interesting stories. One day, I read an article that talked about a remarkable connection between the salmon and forests of Southeast Alaska. It was such a bizarre concept that I knew I had to go to our nation’s largest state and tell this story. That was seven years ago, and I’m still telling this incredible story – through my book “Salmon in the Trees,” a traveling exhibit, two permanent exhibits in Alaska, a website, a YouTube video, and a Facebook page.

Man in Alaskan forest Dead salmon

People think the title of my book is a metaphor, but when I explain that there really are salmon in the trees I get a lot of quizzical looks. It goes something like this: salmon are born in freshwater streams and rivers, head out to the oceans to mature, and then return to their birth streams as adults to spawn the next generation. In Alaska’s Tongass National Forest there are close to 5,000 spawning streams, and every summer and fall millions of wild salmon provide a bounty of food for some of the world’s highest densities of both brown (grizzly) and black bears. The bears carry a lot of salmon away from the streams and into the forest. Over time, the nutrients from the bodies of the salmon decompose and the trees absorb them through their roots. Scientists have actually been able to trace a marine nitrogen – Nitrogen 15 – in trees near salmon streams that links directly back to the fish. It’s an unexpected and yet perfectly natural connection.

Once you understand this remarkable connection, you quickly see how everything is connected in the Tongass – the salmon, trees, bears, eagles, sea lions, killer whales, and people. It’s a glorious cycle of life that is still intact, and I want people to know how special it is. 

Amy Gulick

Amy Gulick
Photographer and Author

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