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Flowing out of the mountains surrounding the Native community of Kake, Gunnuk Creek meanders through this seaside town and on into Keku Strait. The creek provides fresh water for the municipality and the water supply for the Gunnuk Creek salmon hatchery. The hatchery salmon that return in the thousands every year provide a ready source of protein for the many black bears that fish the waterway. A village steeped in Native tradition and pride, the people live in harmony with the bears as they frequent the area during salmon runs. Gunnuk Creek watershed is a vital source of subsistence for the people of Kake, provides habitat for wildlife, and is a place of rich scenic beauty near the village.
During the past 30 years Gunnuk Creek and its tributaries have been at the center of a conflict between timber harvest and watershed protection. The Native village for-profit corporation, Kake Tribal, owns valuable timber within the community’s watershed. In response to public concern logging in the 1980’s was halted after causing heavy sedimentation, loss of thermal buffering, and increasing runoff with a consequent drop in recoverable water volume. Although the Kake Tribal Corporation expressed no intention of renewed logging within the watershed, permanent protection of the watershed could not be ensured.
In 1995, the people of Kake petitioned Congress to preserve the Gunnuk Creek Watershed by providing for a land transfer between Kake Tribal Corporation, owner of the watershed, the State of Alaska, and the US Forest Service. Under the agreement, aided by federal legislation, land within the watershed was conveyed to the municipality of Kake. Subsequently, conservation easements were attached to the City of Kake land and the remaining Kake Tribal Corporation land within the watershed to protect the integrity of the creek.