Important Bird Areas

Stikine River Delta

Alaska

The Stikine River is the largest mainland river bisecting the Coast Mountains that link Southeast Alaska to the interior of Canada. A trans-boundary river, the Stikine is of international importance for resident and migratory wildlife and fisheries. The Stikine?s silt laden waters have created an extensive delta including 11,000 hectares of freshwater and tidal wetlands. A unique ecosystem has developed as a result of this corridor between interior habitats and the extensive estuarine delta, leading to a mixture of both interior and coastal fauna rich in diversity.

The Stikine is a dynamic and powerful river that ends in a complex system of braided channels, wetlands, islands, mud and grass flats that comprises one of the largest coastal marshes in the Pacific northwest. Habitats of the Stikine Delta are diverse, and they support a great variety and abundance of birds year round, and during critical stages of their migrations. Habitats range from estuarine mud and grass flats, to willow and alder brush, to riparian cottonwood and spruce forests further upriver.

The mud flats are an important stopover in spring for multitudes of migrating shorebirds. As many as 3,000,000 shorebirds stop to refuel on invertebrates in late April and early May. Around the same time of year, eulachon (a kind of smelt) move into the lower river to spawn, attracting Bald Eagles and other predators. During this time, the Delta supports the second highest concentration of Bald Eagles in North America.

The grass flats and tidal sloughs are important refueling stops in spring and fall for geese, ducks, and Sandhill Cranes migrating to and from their wintering grounds, as far away as Central and South America, and nesting grounds, in the Arctic tundra.

Ornithological Summary

The Stikine River Delta is the most important waterfowl resting and foraging area along the coast of Southeast Alaska south of the Copper River. It is used both in the spring and fall migrations. The Delta is an important stopover in spring for millions of migrating shorebirds, and is potentially a critical spring stopover for the arctic nesting Wrangel Island population of Lesser Snow Goose. Bald Eagles drawn to spawning smelt in the spring gather in one of the largest concentration of these birds known in the world (second only to the Chilkat River).

The area is heavily used in the fall by thousands of geese and waterfowl, including Sandhill Cranes, Lesser Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans. Ducks most commonly found on the Delta include Mallard, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, and Green-winged Teal. Other species using the area include Northern Shoveler, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, scoters, and mergansers.

resting and foraging area along the coast of Southeast Alaska south of the Copper River. It is used both in the spring and fall migrations. The Delta is an important stopover in spring for millions of migrating shorebirds, and is potentially a critical spring stopover for the arctic nesting Wrangel Island population of Lesser Snow Goose. Bald Eagles drawn to spawning smelt in the spring gather in one of the largest concentration of these birds known in the world (second only to the Chilkat River).

The area is heavily used in the fall by thousands of geese and waterfowl, including Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans. Ducks most commonly found on the Delta include Mallard, Pintail, American Wigeon, and Green-winged Teal. Other species using the area include Northern Shoveler, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, scoters, and mergansers.

The US Forest Service is currently seeking recognition for the Stikine River Delta under the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) program.

Conservation Issues

Most of the threats listed below are relatively minor because they are not necessarily imminent. In particular, there are several potential management activities that are periodically proposed then dropped, including prescribed burning, dredging, roads, and hydro-electric dams. Mining operations upstream in Canada are potentially the largest threats to the area, though environmental impacts identified in the development of these operations have been minimal. Given the history of mining in North America, however, and the tendency for mining companies to abandon sites with grave environmental problems once most profits have been realized, future environmental impacts from these developments could well be greater than expected. Aircraft and boats are common in the area and their impact on birds is largely unknown. Potential effects of disease and habitat succession are impossible to predict at this time.

Ownership

Approx. 26,117 ha belong to the state in the form of submerged tidelands, ocean floor, and river bed - although this is still a topic of debate in the court system. Approximately 451 ha of upland belongs to the state or are held by private individuals. A further 12,851 ha are managed by the Forest Service as a wilderness.

Habitat

Accurate habitat mapping is not currently available for the area. Currently available habitat information is described in terms of commercial timber value, therefore, descriptions of the habitats most important for birds on the Stikine Delta are limited to categories such as ?non-forested? or ?water?. Due to the lack of adequate detail in existing habitat maps, habitats that are likely to occur in the area are listed without percentages.

Land Use

Any given location on the Stikine River Delta may support several different land uses. The Stikine River Delta has long been part of a commercial and recreational travel corridor into interior British Columbia, navigable up to the town of Telegraph, BC, approximately 160 miles from Wrangell. The river was traditionally used by the native Tlingits of the area as a trading route to the Talhtans of the interior. The main channels of the river, including those going through the mud flats, receive substantial commercial, government, and private boat traffic. Some parts of the flats and Dry Straits receive very little boat traffic due to hazardous boating conditions. Commercial and recreational fishermen use the waters of the delta and just beyond to harvest salmon, Dungeness crab, and halibut. Waterfowl hunters use the grassy flats of Farm, Sergief, and Dry Islands, as well as the Mallard Slough area of the mainland for fall waterfowl hunting. Further upstream are some favorite moose hunting sites. There are a few public and private recreational cabins in the area. Upland portions of this area receive far less human disturbance, however, mostly in the form of hunters.