Chena River Chinook Salmon Study

Unraveling the mysteries of Yukon River king salmon production on its most popular roadside sub-drainage.

Chena River Chinook Salmon Study header image


Principal Investigators

Dr. Mark S. Wipfli

Mark Wipfli is an aquatic ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks that specializes in stream food webs and stream-riparian interactions. Key research areas include understanding the importance of terrestrial-aquatic linkages for salmonid fishes, invertebrate drift, energy flow, linkages between fishless headwaters and downstream fish habitats, and ocean-freshwater linkages through marine-derived nutrients delivered via anadromous fishes. He has over 20 years of experience studying freshwater food webs, most of it in Alaska and the Columbia River Basin of the Pacific Northwest.

Matt Evenson

Matt EvensonMatt Evenson is the Research Coordinator for the Region III Sport Fish Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. Matt is a UAF alumnus and has worked for Sport Fish Division in Fairbanks since 1985. During this tenure, Matt has worked extensively throughout Interior and western Alaska conducting population assessments of resident and anadromous fish species. From 1989-1997 he served as principal investigator for Chena River Chinook salmon enumeration projects which involved estimating returns of adult salmon using mark-recapture and counting tower techniques. Currently Matt is a co chairman of the department’s escapement goal committee that is tasked with recommending salmon spawning escapement goals for the Chena River and other Alaskan river systems that support spawning populations of Pacific salmon. Matt will serve as the department’s liaison with the University investigators on this project and will assist with coordinating logistics and will provide input on project design.

(late) Dr. Nicholas Hughes

Nick Hughes was a leader in the field of stream salmonid ecology, particularly drift-feeding stream fish like juvenile Chinook salmon. He had more than 20 years of experience working in interior Alaska and has worked extensively on salmonid ecology in New Zealand. He was responsible for developing a variety of models that are now in use around the world, including models to predict food intake, distribution, and abundance of drift-feeding fish.  Nick passed away in March, and we all miss him greatly.  (For more, see UAF School of Fisheries Memorial Webpage for Nick Hughes.)

Graduate Students

Emily Benson

Emily Benson is a M.S. student in the Biology and Wildlife Department. She graduated from Colgate University in May 2006 with a B.A. in neuroscience. Before moving to Alaska to attend UAF in the summer of 2007, she worked as an intern at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory. Her graduate studies focus on how environmental variation in the Chena relates to primary production, community respiration, and benthic macroinvertebrates in the river. In her spare time, Emily enjoys cross-country skiing or biking with her dog, Marcy, depending on the season.

Laura Gutierrez

Laura Gutierrez is a M.S. student in the Biology and Wildlife Department. Laura graduated in May 2005 from Tufts University with a B.S. in Biology. She has worked as a field technician on several research projects including: the consequences of willow hybridization for plant-herbivore interactions; the exchange of carbon in sub-arctic tundra; and also on quantifying wildfire disturbance and severity. Her graduate project will examine the importance of terrestrial invertebrates as prey for juvenile Chinook salmon in the Chena River.

Jason Neuswanger

jason-neuswanger.jpgJason Neuswanger is a Ph.D. student in biology. He has a B.A. in mathematics from Cornell, where he focused on mathematical ecology. He runs a popular fly fishing and aquatic entomology website, On the Chena, he’s trying to understand the details of juvenile Chinook habitat use well enough to develop a process-based model that explains the major patterns in their distribution and abundance. Specific topics include the distribution of resources within groups of fish, predator avoidance behavior and use of cover, and the modeling of flow and invertebrate drift.

Megan Perry

Megan Perry is a M.S. biology student in the Department of Biology and Wildlife. She graduated in 2007 with a B.A. in biology and a minor in environmental studies from the University of Minnesota Duluth. For her graduate research she is investigating how food abundance and water temperature interact to influence growth rate, energy reserves and marine survival of juvenile Chinook salmon. In her free time, Megan enjoys mushing with her ever-growing dog team.

Other Participants

Sam Decker

Sam Decker is a graduate student who started working on the Chena a year or two before this project started. Her work on spawning adult Chinook salmon has been valuable to our study of juveniles.

Elizabeth (Bessie) Green

Bessie, a graduate student in Mark Wipfli’s lab, is in the process of finishing her own M.S. research studying the effects of logging on invertebrates and trout in small mountain streams.  She graduated in 2001 with a B.S. in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology and a B.A. in the Plan II Liberal Arts Honors Program from the University of Texas-Austin.  She joined the Chena project as a research assistant in May 2008 to investigate patterns in invertebrate drift, the primary source of food for juvenile chinook.

James Savereide

James Savereide is a research biologist with ADF&G Region III Sport Fish Division in Fairbanks. He has worked with salmon and resident species throughout the interior and northwest Alaska since 1996. He graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and a M.S. in Fisheries. His graduate work focused on developing and age-structured assessment model to estimate the abundance of returning salmon. He is the principal investigator on Chinook, sockeye, coho, and steelhead radiotelemetry research in the Copper River drainage. James will serve as another Fish and Game liaison to assist with logistics and input on project design.

Other Other Participants


Porter is a leading expert in the fetching of tennis balls. His research interests also include waterfowl migration trajectories and airborne woody debris.


Taiga is very fluffy, and she likes to play with pinecones.  The research applications of these aptitudes are unclear.  However, she is very cute.