This is a guest post by Bonnie Loshbaugh about her reflections on SCS’s Tongass Salmon Forest Residency. This unique position was a partnership with the Sitka Ranger District and was tasked with telling the story of the Forest Service’s work restoring salmon habitat in the Tongass.
Be sure to check out the fantastic slide show of Bonnie’s photos at the bottom of this post.
I arrived in Sitka in May, after the herring opener had ended and before the salmon season had really gotten fired up, for a six month stint as the Tongass Salmon Forest Resident. The position, a collaboration between the Sitka Conservation Society, The Wilderness Society, and the Forest Service, was a new venture for everyone. For the Forest Service, it was one of the tentative steps the agency is taking towards a transition from a timber-only to a multi-resource management approach for the Tongass National Forest. For the Sitka Conservation Society and The Wilderness Society, it was part of a long term shift by environmental organizations towards collaborating rather than fighting with the Forest Service in Southeast Alaska. For me, a newly minted master of marine affairs, the residency was an opportunity to position myself at the crossroads of public policy and science, practice my science writing abilities, to return to my home state, and—I’ll be honest—to eat a lot of fish.
In Sitka, I got a room in the Forest Service bunkhouse and started a crash course in island life, Forest Service safety training, NGO-agency collaboration, and NGO-NGO collaboration, with a refresher on small town Alaska. Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula, I already knew a great deal about salmon as food. Now I started learning about salmon as an economic driver, natural resource, cultural underpinning, keystone species in the coastal temperate rainforest, and salmon as the life work and primary focus of many of the people I had the honor of working with during my time in Sitka.
During the summer field season, I went with the fisheries and watershed staff on quick projects—a day trip by boat to Nakwasina to help add large wood to a salmon stream—and long projects—and eight day stint at a remote camp on Tenakee Inlet with a crew using explosives to decommission an old logging road. Although I was mainly in Sitka, I also visited Prince of Wales Island and the restoration sites at the Harris River and worked up a briefing sheet that was used during USDA Undersecretary Harris Sherman’s visit to the same sites. By the fall, I had a large amount of information and photos which I worked up into several brochures for the Forest Service, and also a Tongass Salmon Factsheet, and a longer Factbook.
My main contacts at the Forest Service were Greg Killinger, the Fisheries Watershed and Soils Staff Officer for the Tongass, and Jon Martin, the Tongass Transition Framework Coordinator, both of whom made the connections for me to work with and ask questions of the top fisheries folk on the Tongass, as well the rank and file staff on the ground carrying out restoration and research work. The residency gave me a chance to learn about salmon on the Tongass, and to immediately turn that information around for public distribution. Along the way, it also allowed me to see how a federal agency works, a particularly enlightening experience since I have mainly worked for non-profits in the past. While collaboration is not always the easy way, the joint creation of the Tongass Salmon Forest Residency is a recognition that it is the best way to manage our resources, and I hope to see, and participate in, many more such collaborations in the future.
Nov 2011. On an autumn Saturday afternoon, a group of kids gathered around a deer hanging in the Sitka Sound Science Center barn. At first they stood a few feet back, taking the deer in slowly with curious gazes. They got more comfortable as Jack Lorrigan, the father of one of the children, began to explain how to skin the deer and butcher it into choice cuts of meat. Over the next two hours, Jack, the Subsistence Biologist with the Forest Service, demonstrated the various cuts and allowed kids and parents alike to wield the knife. Jack also shared stories of how he learned to hunt from his mother, carrying on indigenous traditions, and he offered important ecological considerations from his work as a subsistence biologist. Andrew Thoms, executive director at the Sitka Conservation Society, helped Jack teach the lesson. Andrew shot the deer along with Joel Martin and Paulie Davis on Kruzof Island about 10 miles from Sitka.
For the people of Sitka, Alaska, subsistence hunting and gathering is an important part of life. The Tongass National Forest that surrounds Sitka provides many of these resources. SCS works to protect the resources of the Tongass as well as helping pass along the conservation skills and values that will allow us to live as part of this landscape forever. The Alaska-way-of-life 4H club is part of the ways that Sitka youth are learning about their environment and being part of the community.
We will follow the deer from forest to plate in the month of February. Members will learn how to tan hides from Ed Gray at his local tannery and will can deer stew for future enjoyment of this local food source.
Note: In following with time-honored subsistence traditions passed down from peoples who have occupied this landscape for millennia, at least half of the deer meat from this activity was shared with neighbors, friends and elders.
Background: The Alaska Congressional Delegation has introduced bills in the House and Senate that would take tens of thousands of acres of prime Tongass lands and privatize them by passing them over to the Sealaska Corporation. The Sitka Conservation Society opposes this legislation and sees it as a threat to the Tongass and to the ways that we use and depend on the lands and waters around us.
Beyond the over 80,000 acres of prime forest land that they are trying to take that will surely be clear-cut, they are trying to take land in ways that could be even more destructive. One of the worst aspects of the legislation is that it would give Sealaska the opportunity to select over 3600 acres of land in small parcels throughout the Tongass as in-holdings within the National Forest. We are already seeing what this means as Sealaska is working to privatize the important fishing site at Redoubt Lake. Here they can strategically select only 10 acres and virtually “control” the entire watershed. It is frightening what they could do if they had thousands more acres to select. We already know that they are planning on cherry-picking the best sites. Around Sitka, we already know that they want to select sites in all the sockeye producing watersheds and sites in important use areas like Jamboree Bay and Port Banks.
Most chilling is that Sealaska is mixing the issue of race and culture into their own corporate goals. They are cynically calling the 3600 acres “cultural sites.” While it is true that there are important sites that were used throughout history by Native Alaskans, they should not be privatized by a corporation with the mandate to make profit. They sites should stay in public hands, be protected by the Antiquities act, and be collaboratively managed by the clans who have the closest ties to them.
Further, sites that were important in the past because of their fish runs and hunting access are still important for the same reasons today. They should not be privatized. They should be honored by their continual traditional uses and their public ownership.
Take Action: You can take action by writing letters to Congress and to the Forest Service Chief telling them to oppose the Sealaska Legislation.
Please write to Chief Tidwell:Tom Tidwell Chief of USDA Forest Service US Forest Service
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Please also write you congressmen. If you live in Alaska, write to:
Washington, DC 20510 Email to staff: Bob_Weinstein@begich.senate.gov Representative Don Young
2314 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
The City and Borough of Sitka partnered with the Sitka Conservation Society in yet another attempt to encourage electric users to decrease their electric consumption. The pair collaborated to develop a rebate program that will allow hundreds of local residents to upgrade old appliances to new Energy Star appliances.
The Energy Star Rebate Program currently has $100,000 in funding from the City Electric Department and will allow Sitka electric users to qualify for a rebate after upgrading to one of the five Energy Star appliances identified as the primary energy-suckers in the home. The appliances covered under the rebate program include refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, hot water heaters, and ground or air-source heat pumps. The rebates are designed to give maximum value to the customer and incentives to upgrade by offering up to $1,500 towards an Energy Star air or ground-source heat pumps. The application process involves simply acquiring a rebate form available at the Electric Department or online, filling out the basic product information, disposal of the old appliance, and returning the form with proof of disposal and purchase to the Electric Department. City employees will process and verify your request for a rebate and will send a check to the mailing address no more than 60 days after it’s submission.
Although the Assembly passed the ordinance to start this program after the second reading on January 24, 2012, the program will officially be open to the public in late February.
For more information on the Energy Star Rebate Program visit: http://cityofsitka.com/government/departments/electric/index.html