Secrets of a Winter Salmon Stream

By Liz McKenzie, Producer Encounters Online

Eighteen months ago, Encounters received support from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund to make two radio programs about salmon and to produce companion online materials.

At that point, the assignment seemed pretty straightforward. No big deal. But what happened is another story entirely.

Host Richard Nelson and I researched our topic, talked with scientists, resource managers, commercial and subsistence fisherman. We watched the throngs of salmon spawning in our rivers and streams. And we spent one frigid winter morning filming Secrets of a Winter Salmon Stream where there was no visible evidence of salmon at all.

And in the process, we became completely enthralled by salmon—arguably the most important wild species of our time.

Alaska’s wild salmon are a flat-out miracle. They are one of the earth’s most extraordinary sustainable and renewable resources. They nourish our bodies, enrich our cultural traditions, and sustain our economies. Also, studies along the entire North Pacific coast have shown that salmon are crucial to the health of living communities in the ocean, in fresh water and on the land.

We also learned about the loss of salmon runs due to overfishing and habitat loss almost everywhere except Alaska, which makes us feel lucky… and cautious about taking care of these amazing fish.

So many stories can be told about salmon that we just couldn’t stop working, even after our original tasks had been completed. After a year and a half, Richard and I feel that we’ve only scratched the surface.

What began as two radio programs and some web pages has grown into four salmon radio shows, five online stories, three videos, a TedX talk and a lecture given by Richard in November to a standing room only audience at Sitka WhaleFest. You can find all of these (except the TedX talk) on Encounters Online.

We hope that Encounters listeners (and readers) will also fall in love with Alaska’s wild salmon. And that all us will work together, to ensure that salmon remain a sustainable, renewable, wild treasure—by making carefully considered decisions which affect salmon habitat and numbers, and by always putting salmon first.

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Encounters is a weekly natural history adventure that takes listeners deep into the northern wilds (and occasionally the Australian outback). The program airs on Public Radio stations around Alaska and the Lower 48. It’s hosted by writer-naturalist Richard Nelson and longtime NPR reporter Elizabeth Arnold.

Each episode evokes the sounds and feelings of the natural world, as we explore the tundra and forest, drift near calving glaciers, trek remote ridges, and watch animals ranging from brown bears and humpback whales to bald eagles and hummingbirds. Along the way, we delve into the insights of science, the wisdom of native traditions, and the richness of our wild heritage.