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The Copper River Program

Copper River, AK
Click to see a map of the Copper River watershed.


The Copper River

Within the Copper River ecosystem, salmon are the sustainable "natural capital" that are the key to local economies. Each year 2–3 million sockeye, Chinook, and Coho salmon return to the system, with over half being harvested by the commercial gillnet fishery at the mouth. The fishery averages $20 million/year in direct revenue to over 500 fishing permit holders, and another $20 million in processing and other secondary economic benefits. Subsistence and sport fishermen on the upper river harvest over 200,000 salmon each year, with values estimated at between $3 and $5 million, a critical contribution to the upriver economy and culture. 

The Copper River Program seeks to maintain the long-term systemic resilience of the Copper River watershed, supporting wild salmon, diverse human communities, and a vibrant, well-branded wild salmon economy. By supporting innovative management strategies for wild salmon and the habitat they depend on, we can continue to provide sustainable natural capital for Copper River communities and the State of Alaska.

Developing a Common Ground Stewardship Program:
Facilitating inclusion of stakeholders in fishery management

Ecotrust is developing a “common ground” stewardship program for the Copper River watershed to assure adequate protection and long-term resilience of wild salmon freshwater habitats through a collaborative process that brings agency managers, Alaska Natives, scientists, non-governmental organizations, and community leaders together. In this process, Ecotrust identifies valuable opportunities and facilitates the inclusion of stakeholders in the long-term management of the Copper River watershed through collaboration and coordination.

Supporting Regional Research and Education Efforts: Providing GIS and other mapping services

Ecotrust assists local organizations, such as the Copper River Watershed Project, the Prince William Sound Science Center, and the Willow Creek Water Consortium, with their spatial data and mapping needs for use in map-guides, informational pamphlets, educational signage, websites, and reports.

Providing Opportunities for Information Exchange:
Building relationships and informing decision makers

Ecotrust encourages sharing of information between regional stakeholders, including Alaska Native communities and entities, public agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other institutions.  We sponsor the bi-annual Copper River Strategy Group meetings, a gathering of regional stakeholders to exchange information focused on issues related to salmon and salmon habitat, water and in-stream flow reservations, and development-associated impacts within the watershed. Ecotrust is also developing the Copper River Knowledge System (CRKS), a web-based spatial data portal to facilitate the exchange of information about the biophysical environment and socioeconomics of the Copper River watershed. CRKS was originally developed by Ecotrust in 2004, and CRKSv2.0, will be released in mid-2011.

Conducting Innovative Scientific and Social Science Research:
Protecting wild salmon and their freshwater habitats

Ecotrust is currently working with the U.S. Forest Service and other partners to build a model for Chinook spawning and rearing habitats in the Copper River watershed. This model will help direct field research to appropriate stream reaches and assist managers in prioritizing restoration and management actions. This type of modeling is broadly applicable and will inform future research on the ecological impacts of climate change in Alaskan river systems. Ecotrust, in partnership with State of Alaska and HDR (an independent consultant), is also evaluating the validity of the subsistence salmon harvest reports on the Copper River. The results of this project will identify potential sources of error in the processes used in monitoring the inriver salmon harvests.

Advancing Watershed Conservation: 
Securing water rights for sustaining healthy fish habitat

Ecotrust is working with the State and Federal government to ensure that streams and rivers within the Copper River watershed will always have quantities of water sufficient to support migrating, spawning, and rearing salmon, regardless of future industrial or residential development. We are gathering data in support of state instream flow reservation applications for fish and wildlife habitat on rivers and streams in the Copper River watershed, and are lending assistance to agencies and other organizations in filing these applications. We are also bringing federal and state land management agencies together to prioritize and coordinate stream monitoring and application submission efforts within the watershed.


Axoim Consulting and Design
Copper River Consulting
Copper River Watershed Project
Cordova District Fishermen United
Ducks Unlimited
Earth Systems Institute
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation – Wild Salmon Ecosystems Initiative
HDR Incorporated
Hicks Tribal Support Services (HTSS)
Information Insights
Institute for Social and Economic Research
National Park Service, Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Native Village of Cheesh’na
Native Village of Eyak
Native Village of Gakona
Native Village of Kluti-Kaah
North Cape Fishery Consulting
North Pacific Research Board
Pacific Coast Joint Venture – Alaska
Prince William Sound Science Center
State of Alaska, Dept. of Fish & Game – Commercial Fisheries | Sport Fish Division | Subsistence Division
State of the Salmon
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Subsistence Management
U.S. Forest Service – Chugach National Forest | Cordova Ranger District | Pacific NW Research Station
U.S. Geological Survey, Woods Hole Coastal & Marine Science Center
Wild Salmon Center
Willow Creek Water Consortium

Our Work

Copper River Salmon Workshop Series

Copper River Knowledge System

Copper River Strategy Group


Learn More

Copper River Science Symposium 2011 program booklet (2mb pdf)

Download CRSS2011 presentations in PDF and audio format via our FTP (1.3Gb of PDFs and mp3s)

Listen to… Stories of Resilience: The Past, Present and Future of the Copper River (.mp3 4:58 ea)
1: Ahtna Management
2: Laura Hancock
3: ATVs
4: Chickaloon
5: Live With Salmon
6: Water Quality
7: Water Quality 2
8: Genetics
9: Culverts
10: Hatcheries
11: Harvest Management
12: What Salmon Give
13: Myth Busting

Native Village of Eyak celebrates Mummy Island land donation 12/22/09

Ecotrust in the Copper: The First Ten Years

Katalla Map: Private Resource Lands of the Eastern Copper River Delta (1.7mb pdf)

Trans-Alaska Pipeline Spill Scenario map: Hypothetical oil spill scenario in mid-August at TAPS crossing of the Tazlina River (7.2mb pdf)

Threats and Concerns for Salmon Habitat map (4.3mb pdf)

Berg Lakes Parcels Strategic Land Acquisition (373kb pdf)


Edward Backus
Vice President,
PO Box 2330
Newport, OR 97365
tel: 541.265.8508
cell: 503.939.5500
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