The Tongass National Forest is valuable for more than old growth timber clear-cutting: it’s the source of near limitless value to both residents and visitors, if used sustainably.
Energy production, recreation, tourism, hunting, fishing, education and subsistence resources all rely on the continued health of the Tongass in order to continue bringing thousands of dollars and hundreds of jobs to Sitka. As Sitka continues to grow, physically and economically, it’s essential that we recognize the wide swath of valuable assets present in and around Sitka.
Southeast Alaska offers a cornucopia of possibilities for making a living from (and living off of) the land, rivers and sea. Wilderness areas offer adventure and solitude rarely matched elsewhere in the US, large tracts of remote and robust ecosystems provide habitat for large populations of deer, bear, mountain goat, and more, world class salmon fisheries provides the best wild salmon and some of the best sport-fishing,
The Tongass National Forest, and Sitka, are more than just tourist destinations, more than just timber value, more than just salmon fishing: the sum is greater than its parts. If we plan future expansion and development with all these invaluable assets in mind, Sitka has the potential to grow more prosperous, and more sustainable.
Over the last several weeks, Fish to Schools has been teaching 7th graders at Blatchley Middle School about salmon’s journey from the stream to our plates. The students learned about salmon management, gutting and filleting salmon, how local processors operate, how to smoke salmon, and more. After learning this process, the students had incredible things to say about the local fish lunches they eat at school. Listen and read what these insightful students said:
“I like it because it takes amazing, it’s fresh, and it comes from our local fishermen that spend time and
“I like it because it’s healthy and it’s nice that the fishermen do this for our school”
“It tastes really really good, and it’s a good chance for people to try new things”
“I eat it because it’s a way of saying thank you to the fishermen who catch the fish”
“Because it’s healthy and good for you, and you feel good after you eat it”
“It supports our economy and it tastes good”
Senator Lisa Murkowski has reintroduced the Sealaska Lands Legislation, with the new version of the bill containing five selections in the Sitka area, some of which are in crucial subsistence and recreation areas.
The Sitka-area selections are 15.7 acres at Kalinin Bay, 10.6 acres at North Arm, 9 acres at Fick Cove, 10.3 acres at Lake Eva, and 13.5 acres at Deep Bay.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SITES BELOW
Background: Murkowski’s legislation, known as S.340, is the fourth version of the Sealaska Lands Legislation to be introduced in the last eight years. Like the three previous versions, the primary focus of this Legislation is to allow the Sealaska Corporation to make land selections outside the boundaries it agreed upon following the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Legislation would lead to the privatization of over 70,000 acres of the Tongass and grant Sealaska access to substantially more old growth forest than if it made its selections within the previously agreed upon boundaries.
In fairness to Murkowski and Sealaska, the latest version of the Legislation is a significant improvement on prior versions of the Legislation, with the addition of timber stream buffers, removal of proposed “Natives Futures” development sites from the Sitka area, and the inclusion of new provisions for subsistence access in cultural and historic sites.
Most of the development lands in the Legislation are on Prince of Wales Island, and all of the Sitka-area selections are deceptively-labeled “cemetery and historic” sites. From the time the first version of the Legislation was introduced, the Sitka Conservation Society has held the position that we do not oppose Native management of important Native cultural and historic sites. Our problem has been that from our experience and review of agency practices concerning previous historic site applications, including that at Redoubt Falls near Sitka, the law is so loosely interpreted by the federal agencies tasked with determining what qualifies as a cemetery/historical site that virtually anything can be considered “historic.” Indeed, we have seen little evidence to the historic value of most of the sites selected by Sealaska.
Under the new Legislation, Sealaska has selected 76 “cemetery and historic” sites around Southeast Alaska. For years we have said that the Tongass National Forest is large, but its greatest resources are concentrated in small areas like the mouths of streams and in safe anchorages. Thus, some of the spots with the richest resources in the Tongass might only take up a few acres. Many of Sealaska’s proposed cemetery/historic sites selections are small in terms of acres, but the effect of making these spots private inholdings can be very “large” such as when they are located at “choke points” of access or cover the entire mouth of a stream. It might only takes two acres at the mouth of a stream to, in effect, control the whole stream.
SCS have told Senators Begich and Murkowski that we oppose the Sealaska Legislation, and we encourage you to do the same. SCS — Sealaska Murkowski letter to view the letter expressing our concerns. Please contact them and explain how you and your family use and rely on the parcels selected in the Legislation.
SITKA-AREA SITES OF IMPORTANT CONCERNS
The latest version of the Sealaska Lands Bill includes six cemetery and historic sites in the Sitka area. While some of these sites may contain important cultural artifacts, at this time we have seen little evidence and we would like to see a lot more. From past experience, most notably our work on Sealaska’s pending selection of Redoubt Falls near Sitka, the standards for what qualifies as “historic” are extremely broad. Actual archeological evidence is not needed, and often sites are deemed historic by second hand oral accounts. Furthermore, from our experience, the agencies tasked with enforcing these loose standards are generally unwilling to raise objections or apply the law to its full extent.
As noted, we have been given little information about the historic significance of the Sitka-area sites. About all we know is the site locations as listed here:
- Kalinin Bay Village (site 119). This is a tourism spot and is used for hunting and fishing. As recently as the 1960s, it was used as a fish camp, which included a store and diesel generating plant.
- Lake Eva Village (site 120). This includes trail access.
- Deep Bay Village (site 181). This area is widely used for hunting and fishing. The 1975 field investigation found no evidence of occupation.
- North Arm Village (site 187). This is a popular hunting, fishing and guided bear hunting location. The 1975 field investigation states: “This could possibly have been a village.”
- Fick Cove Village (site 185). This is a popular hunting and subsistence area. The 1975 field investigation revealed the ruins of two cabins which may have been trapper cabins.
Take Action: If you or your family use these sites, please contact Senators Begich and Murkowski and tell them you do not want to lose access to public lands.
111 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
fax. (202) 224 – 2354
Toll-free line: (877) 501 – 6275
Email Senator Begich HERE
Email Senator Murkowski HERE
Sealaska Corporation selected the Kalinin Bay Village Site in the latest version of the Sealaska bill. The Kalinin Bay site is 15.7 acres, making it the 5th largest historic site selection in Southeast. The popular Sea Lion Cove Trail begins at the head of Kalinin Bay and continues over to the west side of Kruzof Island. It is not known what impacts there may be on trail access, if the Sealaska bill passes.
In earlier versions of the bill, Sealaska selected Kalinin Bay as an “enterprise site” which would have allowed tourism activities and created a Sealaska controlled “access zone” in a fifteen mile radius of the site. Although Kalinan Bay has been selected under a different designation in the current bill, there may be allowances for tourism type activities.
For more information on the current Selalaska bill, and how you can help CLICK HERE.
A harvest of around 300,000 board feet off the False Island road system near Sitkoh Bay and Chicagof Road System is being proposed by the Forest Service, but it is not just the sale that is being offered—this proposal is also offering up a new approach on harvesting timberand managing the Tongass to benefit people and our forests on a local scale.
Last summer, right as the Sitkoh restoration project was underway, I met the Forest Service staff responsible for laying out the three small False Island Timber sales. These sales, which ended up bearing the names the Ray, RayRay, and High Road timber sales, are a relatively new forest management approach for the Tongass because they are designed with small mills in mind, select trees of high quality and value, and incorporate collaboration with community organizations and stakeholders.
Incorporated within this planning are future sales that offer second growth spruce and alder, which is the timber of the future on the Tongass. The Sitka Conservation Society sees sales like this as apart of the Forest Service’s commitment to implementing their 2010 Transition Framework. Focusing on small timber sales will increase local capacity for working and building with local wood while turning away from export oriented resource extraction. A focus like this catalyzes the Tongass National Forest’s transition from a history of unsustainable actions towards a more sustainable future.
This sale is just a start. It is not enough in itself. There is still much to be done and there are still many timber sales being offered that are part of the old way of doing things. The Forest Service needs to move faster in their transition and begin investing in the programs and activities that are prioritized by the public, bring value to the region, and don’t have negative environmental consequences.
Below are the comments that SCS submitted on this timber sale.
Here is a link to an article I wrote about my summer experience on False Island with the Forest Service timber crew: