Hannah Hutton is the storyteller this week on Voices of the Tongass. To listen to her episode, scroll to the bottom of this post. Be sure to admire the very tall girl and very small pony on your way.
Last week, after much anticipation, SCS was able to get the Young Growth bike shelter installed at the Sitka Sound Science Center. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, we encourage you to do so. It’s the product of multiple community partnerships and hard work. This summer SCS produced a video about the bike shelter and it features time lapse footage of the shelter going up and an interview with Randy Hughey, the instructor at Sitka High who designed the shelter along with local craftsman Dan Sheehan.
To celebrate, we will be holding a small dedication celebration on Tuesday, January 28th, at 3:00 PM. If you are interested in a bike ride, meet up at Totem Square at 2:45 for a quick ride down to the shelter. We will be thanking people who have helped along the way and have some light refreshments.
We can’t thank all of these great people enough for their help with this project!
National Forest Foundation, CCLS program
Randy Hughey and Dan Sheehan
Sitka Sound Science Center
Chris Pearson and Coastal Excavation
City of Sitka Parks and Recreation
Mike Litman – Precision Boatworks
US Forest Service
Good Faith Lumber
Keith Landers H & L salvage
Baranof Island Brewing Company
SCS members, staff, interns and volunteers
This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Dylan Hitchcock Lopez. To listen to the episode, scroll to the bottom of this post. For more on the influence place has had in Dylan’s life, keep reading.
Photo by Berett Wilber
Dylan Hitchcock Lopez grew up fishing off the coast of Baranof Island, and has since lived all over, including Fairbanks, Homer, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wales. Yet, like the salmon he fished for as a kid, he returns every summer, to work with his family and reconnect with the place that he thinks of as his home: Sitka, Alaska.
For Dylan, there’s a simple answer to why he keeps coming back, an answer that looms in the back of the minds of many Alaskans who grew up on boats and trails: geography. “It’s a lot more important to me than to people from other places,” he says. “The places I lived after Alaska – everything was really small, safe, controlled. Here, the community is so small relative to the mountains and oceans and everything around it. Your idea of place becomes dominated by habitat and ecosystems rather than by man made structures, like it would be anywhere else.”
But he also acknowledges that Alaska is far from perfect. His experiences all over the state exposed to him to realities that many Alaskans prefer to avoid, deferring to the beautiful landscape to represent the state instead. But for Dylan, it’s important to think about Alaska from a macroscopic perspective. “We’re a kind of screwed up state on that level,” he says, “Here, where we have basically an insignificant amount of people and a vast amount of natural resources – if we had a more intelligent way of investing our resources Alaska could be so far ahead of the rest of the country, and yet we’re a little behind. We have some really frightening statistics.” Domestic violence, alcohol and drug problems, depression, suicide rates…these are problems that many young Alaskans hear about or experience every day, but as Dylan puts it, “It’s such a big place and there are so few of us that it’s easy to ignore these problems that are staring us in the face.”
And yet, he keeps coming back to Alaska. “Having that sense of truly caring about a place not just intellectually” – he stops himself, to clarify. “I might identify with America on an intellectual sense, but I don’t identify with it in a personal sense. It’s just a concept, it’s too big, it’s just words. When I think about being from Alaska, I have feelings, memories – those statistics I mention earlier make me feel sad and angry in a way that is not entirely rational.”
But they’re also not something that scares him. On the contrary: “The fact that we have so many problems is more of an impetus to want to come back,” he says. ”It’s the only place I have a personal connection to, that I really care about in that sense. I don’t think you ever care about a place like you care about the place you grew up.”
So does he have Alaska in his permanent plans? When I ask, he ducks his head and gives us an answer that resonates all too well. “I used to say absolutely not,” he tells me, “and every year I lean more towards probably. It’s a pretty hard place to leave.”
This week Voices of the Tongass brings us a poem by Berett Wilber entitled Whale Watching. To hear the poem read aloud by the author, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Photo by Berett Wilber
House Bill 77, or the “Silencing Alaskans’ Act,” is up for vote in the state senate this legislative term. The passage of this bill would cut Alaskans out of permitting decisions for any project on state lands, particularly projects that could destroy salmon habitat. The bill would give only the unelected Department of Natural Resources Commissioner power to approve permits without having to notify the public of potential impacts unless the impacts are deemed by the Commissioner as “significant and irreparable.” HB 77 also omits citizens, non-profits, and tribes from being able to apply for in-stream water flow reservations that protect fish and wildlife habitat, or be used for recreation and parks, navigation and transportation, and sanitation and water quality.
As of now, the average citizen can apply for an in stream water flow reservation to protect important salmon streams in their community. This will go away however if HB 77 is approved.
This is where you come in. If you are in Senator Stedman’s district, give him a call and let him know you appreciate him standing up for the voice of Alaskans by opposing HB 77. The Senator’s phone number is 907-465-3873.
Want to take it a step further? Get in touch with me and we’ll work together to represent Southeast’s disapproval of HB 77. The bill goes out on the Senate’s floor this session, so we gotta act fast. Call 907-747-7509 and ask for Ray.
Last week on Voices of the Tongass we heard from Tully Mcloughlin who is relatively new to Southeast Alaska. To hear how he has been affected by his new second home, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Photo by Berett Wilber
This week, Voices of the Tongass brings us salty stories from Adrienne Wilber. To hear this week’s show, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post. For more stories, keep reading.
Photo by Berett Wilber
Adrienne Wilber was born and raised in Southeast Alaska. Whether it was turning over rocks on a beach or deciding she would rather have a skiff than a pony, Adrienne has always had a connection to the ocean. She started commercial fishing with her dad at age ten, and kept it up every summer for over a decade. Even after she went to college in a land locked state, she graduated with a degree in geology. She was still studying oceans – only now they were fossilized ones. “From an early age being expose to a tidal environment – gaining food and profit from the ocean – has made me feel like the ocean is a really important part of my life. I look at the character traits that I admire in myself and I attribute them to growing up every summer on the back of a fishing boat. I feel like that’s where I learned to work hard. Enthusiasm for hard work. I’m no longer trying to catch as much fish as possible in one trip, I’m trying to broaden the minds of middle school and high school students. But now the idea of working hard in a crew is still there.”
Because of course Adrienne’s relationship with the ocean didn’t end after college: it just transplanted her to warmer waters. She currently works as a deckhand and marine science instructor on the SSV Tole Mour in the Channel Islands, which at 160 feet is the largest active tall ship on the West Coast. But even despite the move, she still feels like values that she developed because of her relationship to the the environment of Alaska are a big part of who she is.
So much in fact, that her coworkers in California are always asking if she’ll move back to her homestate. “People ask me this all the time. I take a lot of pride in being from Alaska and sharing how great it is with people who aren’t from here. Truthfully, I can hardly imagine settling down anywhere… But I don’t know where I would live if it wasn’t Alaska…If you grew up in the Sitka School District, you remember getting into your survival suite and floating around in the harbor for the 7 steps of survival. Building shelters of ferns and bracken. And when I describe this to people outside I get head-shakes, wide eyed looks, and, ‘What? I want to grow up in Alaska!’ and I think that’s an example of the richness that this place can bring to people, whether they’re little kids or returning college students or people who have fished and just decided to stay. And I feel pretty lucky to spend a lot of my time here.”
Although we often associate our National Forests with trees and silviculturalists, BY FAR, the most valuable resource that the Tongass National Forest provides is in the production of all 5 species of wild Pacific salmon. Managing salmon habitat and the fish populations within the forest is one of the key roles of National Forest Service staff in Alaska. The Tongass National Forest is the largest National Forest in the United States. Its 17 million acres is home to 32 communities that use and very much depend on the resources that this forest provides.
On this National Forest, fisheries and watershed staff are probably the most critical positions on the entire Forest and are responsible for the keystone species in the temperate rainforest ecosystem—Salmon–a $1 Billion per year commercial fishery that serves up delicious salmon to people around the nation and the world, not to mention subsistence harvests that feed thousands of rural community members in Alaska. These staff also carry the legacy of thousands of years of sustainable management on their shoulders.
Like nothing else, salmon have shaped the cultures and the lifestyle of the peoples and communities of Southeast Alaska. The Tlingit and Haida people who have called the Tongass home for thousands of years, have learned and adapted to the natural cycles of salmon. Deeply held cultural beliefs have formed unique practices for “taking care of” and ensuring the continuance of salmon runs. As documented by Anthropologist Thomas Thornton in his book, Being and Place Among the Tlingit, “the head’s of localized clan house groups, known as yitsati, keeper of the house, were charged with coordinating the harvest and management of resource areas” like the sockeye salmon streams and other important salmon runs.
The staff of the Fisheries and Watershed program has integrated Alaska Native organizations, individuals, and beliefs into salmon and fisheries management programs on the Tongass and have hired talented Alaska Native individuals as staff in the USDA National Forest Service. Through the efforts of the Fisheries and Watershed program and its staff, a variety of formal agreements, joint programs, and multi-party projects that manage and protect our valuable salmon resources have been developed. The programs on the Tongass are case-studies for the rest of the world where lands and resources are owned by the public while being managed through the collaborative efforts of professional resource managers in government agencies, local peoples with intimate place-based knowledge, and involve multi-party stakeholders who use and depend on the resource.
The Tongass is America’s Salmon Rainforest and the Forest Service’s Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program is a stellar example of how we manage a National Forest to produce and provide salmon for people across the entire country as well as the people who call this forest their home.