Nestled in a grassy clearing within Sitka National Historic Park, three musicians play Mozart to rapt listeners. The resonating classical music, reverberating amongst Tlingit totem poles and ancient rainforest, brings Sitkans and visitors alike to converge in this ocean-side park. Wooden salmon, each uniquely crafted and adorned by local artists, hang from trees near the path leading to the musicians.The Sitka Summer Music Festival is in full swing. This small, artistic community welcomes musicians like Zuill Bailey, artistic director of the festival, each summer to play in the forested landscape of Baranof Island. As Zuill says of Sitka, “It is of the earth. I feel like everything that’s done here is pure, and every time I come back here I feel the same way. It kind of recharges and reboots.” Perhaps there is no better way to renew one’s self than with exquisitely played music in this vibrant community situated within the vast and awe-inspiring Tongass National Forest.
Sitkoh River Restoration Begins!
The Sitkoh River Salmon Habitat Restoration Project got started last week. SCS staff, Trout Unlimited Alaska, local high school students, and other volunteers have been helping work at the site alongside contractors and Forest Service staff. On Wednesday June 13th, the crew hosted a fly-in visit by journalists, fishermen, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Habitat Division Director who took a tour of the project to see what was going on.
The visitor’s were thoroughly impressed. Randy Bates, Director of the ADFG Division of Habitat stated, “The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is happy to participate in a project like this that will restore high value fish habitat and restore the productive capacity of the original stream course.”
Wayne Owen, the Forest Service Alaska Director of Wildlife, Fisheries, Watersheds and Subsistence commented to the press during the visit that “Salmon are the lifeblood and economic base of Southeast Alaska. The Tongass is the fish basket of North American and Southeast Alaska produced a billion dollars in economic activity from the salmon produced on the Tongass.”
SCS applauds the efforts of the State of Alaska and the United States Forest Service in recognizing the role that the Tongass National Forest plays in providing and producing the salmon resource that is so important to the 32 salmon-dependent communities of SE Alaska. We hope that the Sitkoh River Restoration project is just the start of more efforts to put the watersheds that were damaged by historic logging back together so that they can return to full ecosystem functionality and produce all the salmon that they were once capable of.
I am climbing over old fallen logs, heavy moss and fungus-covered behemoths. The moss looks inviting, but I don’t know whether my next step will be a vertical plunge into a rotten piece of wood, or a nice solid step. My right hand is festering from devil’s club thorns, and I’m trying to prevent a hundredth whip to my face from a blueberry bush. So goes another day of surveying goshawks on Chichagof Island in the Tongass National Forest.
Bethay and I volunteered with the Forest Service’s survey of Queen Charlotte Goshawks on Chichagof island as part of their management efforts that will include thinning prescriptions to restore old growth habitat conditions. The Queen Charlotte goshawk is specific to this region, and is a subspecies of the Northern goshawk. We hiked through old-growth forest, prime habitat for goshawks, and got to know the beautiful (and powerful) forest we are here to protect.
I’ve spent some time in Alaska, but I have never experienced anything like hiking through the Tongass for hours on end. It is not easy! It required all of my faculties to not fall, or get scratched, poked, or slapped…and most of that happened anyway. I started to feel like the forest had a personality, a large being with idiosyncrasies I had to learn to respect and work around if I wanted to harmonize with it. Despite the bush-whacking, hiking through the forest was incredibly beautiful and rewarding, and it was enthralling to be surrounded by old-growth Tongass forest.
We hiked all day for three days, stopping frequently to make goshawk calls with a megaphone. We didn’t hear so much as a chirp in response for the majority of the survey. I was starting to wonder if this bird actually existed. On the third day, we were soaked from rain, and had almost gotten back to our truck to head home for some hot tea and a movie, but decided to make one last goshawk call. AND IT ANSWERED. Chelsea has years of experience with goshawk surveys, and told us that when a bird finally answers, it’s a rush. It made my jaw drop, and my heart race. “Call it again!” I yelped. It answered a second time, this time closer to us. I never thought I’d get so hyped up about hearing a bird! We skipped back to the truck in a state of euphoria.
The Queen Charlotte goshawk is an elusive and sensitive creature. It needs specific old-growth habitat in the Tongass to survive, and it is a species well worth surveying and protecting, as the Forest Service is doing. To the goshawk!
We’re married! I can’t believe it! Both Kate and I agree that we will someday look back on these last few weeks as the happiest in our lives.
We got hitched on June 2nd in Sonoma, CA. After two days collecting ourselves in Nor Cal, from one of the biggest events of our lives, we packed our truck and steered north to Alaska. This summer we are working with the Sitka Conservation Society in Sitka, AK. We couldn’t think of a better place to spend our first months together as a married pair.
Sitka is located on Baranof Island. To get there you have to either fly or take a ferry. Kate and I caught the ferry in Prince Rupert, BC on June 10th. The trip on the Alaska State Ferry was something that I had been looking forward to for a long time. For me, the ferry marked the beginning of our Alaskan adventures and one step closer to the wild North.
Since I was a kid there’s been something pulling me to this landscape. It’s hard to explain why I’m drawn here, to a place that we perceive as cold, wet, and generally unwelcoming. But for me, and maybe you too, there’s a desire to find something here, achieve something, a metaphysical search of sorts. Anyways, I’m still searching.
I couldn’t have been happier to arrive in Sitka on June 12. It’s been 5 years since I last lived here, but nothing seems to have changed much… at least in town. We haven’t yet had the chance to escape into the mountains. We plan to take our first hike later this afternoon. I can’t wait to step into the forest and introduce Kate to the Tongass, and the Tongass to Kate. I wonder if it has changed as much as I have? I guess there’s only one way to find out…
As citizens across the country watch the antics of the 112th Congress, we are all left wondering, “where is the leadership we need to take on the challenges we are facing in the world? When are we going to take care of our environment? When are we going to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy? When are we going to invest in local economies rather than giving massive subsidies and tax-breaks to global corporations? When is Congress going to actually put aside partisan differences and do something meaningful?”
It surely isn’t happening right now. In fact, the House of Representatives just introduced a bill that shows the worst of Congress and it could have huge implications on SE Alaska and critical public lands across the country. They have cynically named the bill the “Conservation and Economic Growth Act.” It should probably be called, “The- Worst Bills For The Environment in Congress Wrapped Into One Act of 2012.” The bill is a lands omnibus bill and pulls together some of the worst bills currently in Congress. It includes such cynically titled acts such as the “Grazing Improvement Act of 2012” which allow grazing to continue on lands where cows shouldn’t even be roaming and puts grazing permits outside of environment review. It also includes the beautifully named “Preserve Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Act” which sounds good, but in reality is meant to open miles of critical beach habitat for piping plovers to ATVs, Dune Buggies, and other off road vehicles. Good luck plovers!
For Southeast Alaska, this bill is awful because our Representative Don Young has inserted the Sealaska Legislation which would privatize close to 100,000 acres of ecologically critical Tongass Lands. The version of the bill that Representative Young has introduced is much worse than the bad version of the bill being debated in the Senate. This version would create an even more widespread pox of in-holdings throughout the Sitka Community Use Area in areas that Sitkans routinely use and enjoy. If this bill passes, the nightmare we are facing with the corporate privatization of Redoubt Lake Falls is just the beginning.
If you dislike these developments as much as us, please take action. We don’t think that calls to Representative Young will help (you can try, his number is 202-225-5765). However, his goal seems to be to privatize and give away as much of the Tongass as possible. If you are in the lower 48, you should call your Congress members and tell them that HR2578 is awful and they should not support it. If you are in Alaska, please consider writing a letter to the editor letting everyone else in the community know how bad this bill is and that its introduction is a travesty (give us a call if you want some ideas or help).
As we watch our Congress and elected leaders flounder, we are reminded that in a democracy, we share responsibility and need to take action to create the society and the environment we want. Voicing concerns over the misdirection of Congress, especially on bills like this one, is one way we can engage and make change.
Here is a link to a letter that SCS submitted opposing the legislation: here
Here is a link to a Radio Story on the legislation: here
Here is a link to a copy of the legislation: here
Sitka Conservation Society will hold a Community Salmon Bake fundraiser on Thursday, July 19th at 6pm at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Tickets cost $20 per person ($15 for children 12 and under). Dinner will begin around 6:30 and feature local salmon, delicious sides, and local rhubarb sundaes! Door prizes will be given away. Funds raised support salmon education and outreach programming at SCS. Tickets will be on sale at Old Harbor Books at 20l Lincoln Street.
It is getting to be that time of the year when Sitkans begin to digtheir dipnets out of the shed and get them ready for the return of Sockeye at Redoubt Lake. Luckily, it is still in public hands this year and we can still fish there. We hope that will be the case forever and it will be in public hands and have public access. Here’s some background on this issue. Read more →
One of my favorite aspects of Southeast Alaska is that it is total water world. There are endless islands and bays and inlets, teeming with life and energy and just begging to be explored. We had the opportunity to go out on a wilderness cruise with Pauli Davis, owner of Gallant Adventures, and explore some of the islands just off of Sitka on a warm, pleasant evening. He skiffed us over to St. Lazaria Island, which is a National Wildlife Refuge and a nesting bird colony. St. Lazaria is rugged and cliff-lined, and provides habitat for bald eagles, peregrine falcons, cormorants, and many other species of birds.
Pauli nosed us into a cave of cormorants, from which Mt. Edgecumbe was perfectly visible. We edged up to some rafts of sea otters, the mothers and pups eyeing us as we moseyed closer to them. At one point we needled into a tiny little lagoon-like inlet on a small island I do not know the name of. Sunset, glassy calm, thick silence, and crystal clear water amounted to an absolutely ethereal experience. I tilted my head downwards and gazed at the bottom, spotting creatures of the intertidal zone. The water was so clear I just wanted to drink it, or swim in it, or be it. Someone pointed out an old Tlingit path on the beach, reminding us that we were certainly not the first people here, though it felt like it.
Pauli is an incredibly knowledgeable guide, with a passion for sharing his practice-earned perspectives. He knows Sitka’s waters and its creatures. If you’re in Sitka and are looking for an authentic, professional guide of local waters and wildlife, he’s your man!