Wild Border Watersheds

WATERSHED: Alsek-Tatshenshini

The Alsek River and its main tributary, the Tatshenshini, are among the wildest rivers in North America. Located where the boundaries of British Columbia, Alaska and the Yukon converge, the Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers flow through exceptionally diverse terrain, from glacial headwaters through subarctic tundra and spectacular mountain landscapes to enter the Pacific Ocean near Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. All five species of Pacific salmon thrive in the rivers, and the watershed supports a globally important grizzly bear population, along with healthy populations of wolves, moose, dall's sheep, mountain goats, woodland caribou, peregrine falcons, bald eagles and trumpeter swans. The watershed is the only place where the rare silver-blue glacier bear subspecies of black bear occurs in Canada.

Photo Credit: Chris Rhodes

WATERSHED: Chilkat

The Chilkat watershed is a large glacial river system draining 1,400 square miles from the Chilkat glacier in British Columbia to a delta near Haines, Alaska. Chilkat means “salmon storehouse” in the Tlingit language, and true to its name the Chilkat watershed sustains high value rearing and spawning areas for all five species of Pacific salmon. Wild salmon spawning and rearing takes place primarily in Alaska, where late salmon runs from October to February attract thousands of bald eagles. Unusual upwellings in the river keep the Chilkat ice free longer than other rivers in the region, allowing eagles access to its salmon bounty. The world’s largest concentration of bald eagles is located in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, designated as a State critical habitat area covering 48,000 acres of river bottomland of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers.

Photo Credit: George Figdor

WATERSHED: Iskut-Stikine

The transboundary Iskut-Stikine watershed is one of North America’s largest and most intact wild salmon systems. The Stikine, meaning ‘The Great River’ in the Tlingit language, courses through a diverse range of climates and geography: from the wildlife rich Sacred Headwaters in British Columbia’s Spatsizi Plateau, the river flows through the spectacular Stikine canyon, described by John Muir as a "Yosemite 100 miles long", to a massive estuary of critical importance for migratory birds near Wrangell, Alaska. The largest tributary of the Stikine, the Iskut River, flows from Kluachon Lake near Iskut, B.C., to its confluence with the lower Stikine River near the U.S./Canada border.  At nearly 52,000 square kilometers/20,000 square miles, the watershed is larger than Switzerland. In Canada, the Iskut-Stikine watershed is the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation. The lower Stikine River and estuary is the traditional territory of the Tlingit people in Alaska. 

Photo Credit: Rivers Without Borders

WATERSHED: Nass

The Nass River watershed is one of the most important salmon watersheds on the Pacific Coast of North America. Known as the “River of Abundance”, in reference to its large runs of salmon and eulachon, the Nass flows 380 km/240 miles from the Coast Mountains to Portland Inlet, along the way absorbing the flow of its major tributaries, the Bell-Irving, Meziadin, and Cranberry Rivers. The majority of the Nass watershed is in the traditional territory of the Nisga’a First Nation, which signed the first modern day Treaty settlement in British Columbia in 2000. Gitanyow, Skii Km Lax Ha, and the Tahltan First Nation also have portions of their traditional territory within the watershed, which supports highly productive commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries.

Photo Credit: Paul Colangelo

WATERSHED: Taku

The Taku is the largest totally intact watershed on the Pacific coast of North America, and is the wild heart of the British Columbia – Alaska transboundary region. Most of the 19,254 square km watershed lies in British Columbia, with its array of headwaters sprawled across the northwest corner of the province. These remote and little known tributaries come together to form the main stem Taku, which pours across the Alaska border before emptying into the Pacific near Juneau. Relative to conservation potential, the Taku is unsurpassed, being completely intact and virtually pristine. As wild salmon stocks decline elsewhere, the Taku’s exceptional habitat hosts robust populations of all five Pacific salmon species. The Taku is the number one salmon producing river for southeast Alaska, and one of Canada’s biggest salmon systems. Wolves, grizzly and black bears, wolverine, and lynx also live out their natural predator-prey cycles within the watershed, along with globally significant populations of moose, mountain goats, sheep, and Woodland caribou. As climate change stresses intensify, the Taku watershed is sufficiently vast, interconnected, and diverse - with all its native flora and fauna present and thriving - to be a perfect biological refugia.

Photo Credit: Chris Miller

WATERSHED: Unuk

The remote, little known and spectacular Unuk River watershed is an internationally significant wilderness ecosystem. Though relatively small, at 80 miles/130 km long and draining some 2,500 square kilometres, it packs a wallop: the Unuk River has the largest runs of King (Chinook) salmon in southern Southeast Alaska, along with significant runs of pink, chum, sockeye and coho salmon. The upper watershed is within the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation, as well as the territory of Skii Km Lax Ha, while the lower watershed is in Tlingit traditional territory on the U.S. side of the border. The Unuk River flows into Burroughs Bay, in close proximity to Ketchikan, Alaska, and is extremely important for subsistence and commercial fisheries.

Photo Credit: Stephen Zopf

WATERSHED: Whiting

The Whiting is a litte known wild and remote watershed in the British Columbia - Alaska transboundary region. Entirely roadless, it is a small watershed, in transboundary terms, nestled in glacial terrain between the Iskut-Stikine and Taku watersheds. The Whiting River is 64km/40 miles long, flowing from B.C. southwest into Stephen’s Passage southeast of Juneau, Alaska. Both the Tahltan and Taku River Tlingit First Nations consider the entire Canadian portion of the Whiting to be within their traditional territory. Despite its ruggedness and small size, the Whiting hosts at least six biogeoclimatic subzones, and is home to all five species of Pacific salmon, cutthroat trout, black and grizzly bears, mountain goats, moose and bald eagles, among other species.

Photo Credit: Paul Morrison