Friday, April 16, 2010

The Cook Inlet watershed is a spectacular ecosystem covering 47,000 square miles of Southcentral Alaska. Melting snow and ice from mount McKinley, the Chugach Mountains and the Aleutian Range drains into rivers such as the mighty Susitna, Matanuska and Kenai, which feed the productive waters of Cook Inlet.

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  • The watershed stretches 430 miles from its northernmost tip to its southernmost tip, and 220 miles from its easternmost reaches to its westernmost reaches.
  • Cook Inlet is 192 miles long.
  • 8,000 square miles is saltwater.
  • The watershed drains 39,000 square miles (about the size of the US State of Virginia).

The watershed encompasses Alaska's most diverse and unique ecosystems including the alpine tundra of the Denali wilderness, coastal rainforests of the southern Kenai Peninsula, and abundant wetlands of the Susitna, Kenai and Matanuska river deltas. Cook Inlet's marine environment has been noted by scientists as among the most productive ecosystems in the world.

  • All of Alaska's 9 terrestrial ecosystems are found within the watershed.
  • Cook Inlet contains over 346 islands and islets.
  • Cook Inlet's tidal exchanges are as large as 39 feet, resulting in currents up to 11 knots.
  • Cook inlet is one of the most seismically active regions in the world, including 4 active volcanoes.

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One of the highest concentrations of public lands in the nation is located within the watershed, including Denali, Katmai, Kenai Fjords and Lake Clark National Parks, Chugach National Forest, Kenai and Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuges, four state parks and sanctuaries, including the world famous McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, and seven Critical Habitat Areas. These productive habitats support a rich fabric of life, including brown and black bears, moose, caribou, migratory birds, wolves, humpback, beluga and killer whales, sea otters, sea lions and all five species of wild pacific salmon.

  • 36,000 square miles (92%) of the watershed is public land.

  • 7 national parks and wildlife refuges are found within the watershed.

  • 4 state parks including Alaska's only state park wilderness are in the watershed.

  • 7 state critical habitat areas are in Cook Inlet watershed.

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Approximately 400,000 people, nearly 2/3 of Alaska’s population, live in the watershed. Cook Inlet communities depend on the watershed’s healthy waters and habitats for their livelihoods. Alaska Native villages pursue a subsistence lifestyle that is centuries old, supplying up to 90% of the villagers’ diet. Cook Inlet represents one of the most productive fisheries in Alaska, in which five species of salmon, herring, scallops, halibut, and several other species of bottom fish are harvested. And each year, nearly one million visitors from around the world venture to Cook Inlet to relish its magnificent beauty.

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