“I love how Fred’s Creek comes into focus.” My dad is talking about the way the blurred contours of Kruzof Island have shifted into misty green coastline, and, as we motor into the anchorage, the warm honey timber of the cabin appears out of the trees. It’s the Fourth of July and my dad, our dog, and I are pulling up to the beach, ready to relax around a campfire with our plethora of nose flutes and a cooler full of black cod collars.
Over the years I’ve found that it’s not just the shore that comes into focus when we pack up the boat and head out of town for the weekend. There is a clarity that comes with camping in Southeast Alaska. A repeated realization; remembering again and again why we live here. It’s probably different for everybody, but for me it’s the ability to walk out my door and into the heart of the Tongass whenever I feel like it. There are so many mountains I haven’t climbed yet, and miles of water left to travel. Every day holds that celebrated promise of adventure. There is something about Southeast Alaska that gets to me, and it’s not just the wilderness; I think it’s the people. It’s amazing what a little isolation and rainforest can do for a community. I feel so lucky to share my love of this place with a whole 14 miles of small town hospitality and charm. That “love thy neighbor” goodwill I’ve grown up with also comes into focus when we get to Fred’s Creek. Later, my stomach full of black cod collars grilled over the campfire, I’ll begin to think of it as “cabin culture.”
Cabin culture, unlike the better known “cabin fever,” does not have me itching to get out and gallop full speed into the nearest wide open alpine. Cabin culture is what keeps us grounded. It is the silent nod of freshly chopped wood piled next to the stove. It is the knowing smile of the cabin floor swept clean of sand and the sticky table wiped down and tidily tucked over its benches. It is the conspiratorial wink of a new rope swing tied up to replace a retired buoy. Cabin culture is our shared respect for the next boat load of escapees that will land on this beach and eat dinner around this fire. It’s our quiet understanding of our common love of living with the land here in Southeast Alaska, and I think it deserves to be recognized every once in a while.
As my dad pulls off the beach to tie our boat to the buoy, a full and brilliant rainbow breaks out, stretching from one end of Sitka Sound to the other. It hangs above the water where a few minutes earlier we had driven through a sheet of rain. Now, drying out under the warm sunshine of a textbook suckerhole, I lift my camera and bring the moment into focus.
My title for the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is “Wild Salmon Conservation and Restoration Intern”, and yet, outside of taking a couple of water samples, I have not directly worked with salmon or rivers. How is this possible? How can I spend a majority of my time in the forest while emphasizing in my title that my work is dedicated to conserving and restoring wild salmon? Well, many Sitkans know the answer. They will tell you that the salmon are in the trees. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Greater Sitka Arts Council and Sitka Summer Music Festival held an art event called “Salmon in the Trees.” This slogan is wonderful because we too often forget that all of our actions are connected to ecosystems, and the salmon and the trees reminds us about how we do have this connection. So as the salmon are in the trees, my work for salmon takes me to the forest.
The mutualism between salmon and trees is fascinating. Old growth forests provide great habitat to salmon by providing shade to stabilize stream temperatures, while fallen trees and broken branches form pools giving shelter to salmon. The trees benefit from the salmon as well. This is because as salmon swim upstream, they take with them the prefect fertilizer package, filled with protein, fat, nitrogen and phosphorus. Bears, eagles, and other dispersers move salmon throughout the forest, fertilizing trees far from the stream. So not only are the salmon in the trees, but the trees need salmon.
I recently went on a collaborative trip between SCS and the U.S. Forest Service to monitor gaps cut in a second growth forest at Todd, near False Island. The purpose of this trip was to monitor gaps cleared in the 1990s in order to see if these small gaps, designed to mimic natural disturbances that occur in old growth forests, are actually providing forage vegetation to deer. From our work, it appears that the gaps are working great and providing deer with great forage vegetation. However, these gaps must influence other species besides deer and little is known about how these gaps affect other species.
Every summer the Sitka Conservation Society lures a handful of unsuspecting, environmentally minded, intrepid folk into the Tongass. They come from all over the world, hoping to experience Alaska. Little do they know that upon arrival they will be introduced to a wilderness so vast they could not hope to grasp it in one summer, and a town so welcoming that they will be taken into stranger’s homes and offered homemade rhubarb crisp. This summer our media interns are a mix of local and imported young people who love storytelling and adventure.
Alex Crook flew to Alaska straight from Cambodia, where he has spent the past 10 months working as a photojournalist and freelance photographer. So far he has accomplished his subsistence goals by catching his first King and making his first salmonberry pie. Alex’s other goals include using photography to give a face to the alternative energy movement in Southeast Alaska. (photo by Gleb Mikhalev)
Berett Wilber grew up fishing with her family and photographing her Southeast Alaska home. Berett’s focus this summer will be collecting stories from locals about the places they love. She’s interested in how the people of Southeast benefit from conservation in the Tongass. (photo by Gleb Mikhalev)
Caitlin Woolsey, another lifelong Sitkan, is excited to be back on the trails. She hopes to spend the summer hiking and writing stories that illustrate the importance of a well-preserved Tongass in the lives of Sitkans and Alaskans in general. (photo by Alex Crook)
Gleb Mikhalev has lived all over, from the midwest, to Russia, British Columbia, and New York City, and he says Sitkans are some of the most welcoming people he’s ever met. Last summer Gleb crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a 32 ft. steel sailboat. This summer he’s found his way to the Pacific, and hopes to spend the summer getting to know the people of Southeast Alaska. (photo by Alex Crook)
Kari Paustian was born and raised in Sitka and has spent the last few summers working on the Forest Service Trail Crew. This summer she will be the SCS liaison with the Forest Service, managing projects and writing stories on restoration in the Tongass. (photo by Alex Crook)
Lione Clare, another Sitkan, joins the intern team as a photographer. She has loved growing up in Sitka, and feels lucky to have had the opportunity to explore and get to know her environment. She wants to work to conserve the Tongass by documenting the beauty that she sees all around her and sharing it with others. (photo by Ray Pfortner)
By the end of the summer, the interns hope to cover a variety of stories, from subsistence living on Prince of Wales to the Blue Lake Dam construction here in Sitka. Stay tuned for this team’s photos, stories, and films about living with the land and building community here in the Tongass.
As you may recall from a previous post by Ray, a bike shelter is being built locally, using Tongass wood and will be landing at the Sitka Sound Science Center soon. I say landing, because it has been constructed at Sitka High School and will actually be transported courtesy of a sizeable fork lift and truck, thanks to S&S contractors, and placed at its final home.
The shelter is a beautiful timber framed structure made of young growth Sitka spruce and old growth red cedar. Timber framing is a traditional style of building that uses non-dimensional lumber, that is, no 2”x4”s or other standard timber sizes are used in the construction of the frame. Instead, timber framed construction uses large, squared timbers and relies on carefully designed and fitted joints using wooden pegs to hold the frame in place. Not only is the bike shelter a much needed asset, it is charming in its execution thanks to the vision of Randy Hughey and newly transplanted Dan Sheehan. Randy, who has just retired after 30 years, has been running the Sitka High Construction and Industrial Arts courses, and Dan is an experienced timber framer. The two partnered up for this project and have since poured countless hours of their personal time into the construction of the shelter along with the help of SHS students and local volunteers.
The shelter will temporarily have four U-shape racks, until the final rack is designed and installed. Mike Litman, of Precision Boatworks, will be designing the racks for the shelter. The structure joins a growing network of bike shelters around Sitka, including one being built for Pacific High School by Pat Hughes (UAS) and Pacific High students. This shelter will serve as a demonstration project, highlighting the importance of local products, local craftsmanship and knowledge, the strength of community and contributing to local economy. SCS was able to fund this project through the Community Capacity and Land Stewardship (CCLS) program with the National Forest Foundation (NFF). The goal is to share local knowledge, connect local processors with local builders, and influence resource managers to make decisions on the Tongass that benefit local communities. A sustainably managed forest will support a more resilient community.
Look for the Shelter to arrive later this summer!
Special thanks to the ‘Village’ that made it possible:
SHS Contruction Students
Lisa Busch, Lon Garrison and the SSSC
Mike Litman, Precision Boatworks
Parks and Recreation, City and Borough of Sitka
Mel Cooke & Bill Thompson
National Forest Foundation, CCLS program
The Sitka Community
The Sealaska Lands Legislation has passed out of committee in both the House and Senate, and could go before the full House and Senate for approval as early as sometime in July. If approved, the Legislation would privatize over 70,000 acres of the Tongass, including parcels near Sitka at Kalinin Bay, Lake Eva, Fick Cove, and North Arm.
The Sealaska Legislation has been introduced three prior times, and has previously passed out of the House but has never before been subject to a vote by the full Senate. All indications are that the current version of the Bill will reach a Senate vote, and so it is critical to reach out to members of Congress explaining why the Bill would be bad for us in Sitka and bad for Southeast Alaska as a whole.
The current House and Senate versions of the Bill are wildly different, with the Senate version (S.340) being considered a compromise containing fewer inholdings, provisions for public access for fishing, and expanded stream buffers in some timber selections. That said, the Senate Bill would still transfer 70,000 acres of the Tongass to a private corporation and would lead to clear-cutting some of the largest and oldest trees remaining on the Tongass. Should both the House and Senate versions pass they would go a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions. Sealaska has publically said it would prefer legislation enacted that is more like the House version than the Senate version, so we can only imagine what its lobbyists are telling members of Congress.
Letters, emails, and phone calls from Southeast Alaska residents have made a difference in keeping prior versions of the Sealaska Legislation from passing, but none of that outreach will have an impact on members of Congress when they take up the Legislation once again. They need to hear from us again and be reminded that the Tongass is a National Forest that belongs to everyone and that we in Southeast Alaska depend on this public forest for our livelihoods and our ways of life.