Sitka Conservation Society
Feb 27 2014

Voices of the Tongass – Ellen and Spencer

This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Ellen, Spencer, and their cats. To hear their story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.

Ellen and Spencer are working on a canning project…for their cats. Here they are with Poncho, one of the lucky felines. Photo by Berett Wilber


Feb 20 2014

Voices of the Tongass – Steve Abbott

How many Alaskans do you know who came up for a summer job in their twenties and never left? This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Steve Abbott, who still thinks he’ll only be in the Tongass for a few more years…


Photo by Berett Wilber



Feb 19 2014

Sitka’s Voice Joins in Statewide Opposition to House Bill 77

Hundreds of people throughout the state have come out in opposition to House Bill 77, known also as the Silencing Alaskans Act.

The Sitka community joined in opposition to HB 77 this past Thursday as well. Around fifty people showed up to a meeting scheduled with Department of Natural Resources Representative Wyn Menefee to get a better understanding of the bill. Mr. Menefee was unable to attend due to snow but the meeting still continued.

Linda Behnken, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, helped frame the bill and answered questions posed.

“Is there anything in this bill that you like?” , moderator Eric Jordan read off a notecard given by a community member.

“If there are things that I like in this bill, I couldn’t point them out to you” said Behnken.” I do understand that DNR has interest in facilitating the permitting process so that there could be quicker decisions but I think they’ve gone way beyond that with this bill and that’s the message they need to hear from the people.”

That’s the message that was heard repeatedly at Thursday’s public discussion through the fourteen people that testified against the bill.

“Over 30 tribes have expressed opposition to HB 77 and Sitka Tribe is one of them,” said Michael Baines, Tribal Chairman of Sitka Tribe of Alaska.

“This bill attacks the basic constitutional guarantees of fish and wildlife protection. The public holds these resources in common yet [HB 77] gives priority to extractive interests that damage them,” said Matt Donohoe, board member of the Alaska Troller’s Association.

“I think a good example of things that happened when we didn’t have any kind of say about stuff was what the water used to look like when the pulp mill was operating”, said Kim Elliot, Alaska Department of Fishing & Game Advisory Council member. “We really have to think about what our future would look like if we didn’t have any rights to take care of the water upstream from our piece of property wherever that might be. People really deserve the right to question what the government is doing.”

Sitkans still want DNR to come to town and answer questions on HB 77, but this time it will be when we see the new amendments proposed on the bill. Right now behind closed doors, the Senate Rules Committee is proposing changes to the bill because of the hundreds of people that have outspoken against it. This reminds us that public participation IS in fact key to the way we manage our shared natural resources, and our rights as Alaskans.

For more information on House Bill 77, go to and join us in writing Governor Sean Parnell to let him know of your opposition to HB 77 and to the giveaway of your rights as an Alaskan.

Governor Sean Parnell

Alaska State Capitol Building

PO BOX 110001

Juneau, AK 99811-0001

(907) 465-3500

Feb 17 2014

Fish to Capital

When serving local seafood in our schools became a community health priority in the 2010 Sitka Health Summit, the Sitka Conservation Society recognized the opportunity to apply our mission to “support the development of sustainable communities.” Now all grades 2-12 in Sitka serve locally-harvested fish at least twice a month, reaching up to 1,500 students. In just three years over 4,000 pounds of fish have been donated to Sitka Schools from local seafood processors and fishermen.

Fish to Schools is a grassroots initiative that builds connections and community between local fishermen, seafood processors, schools, students, and families.  It’s a program that we would like to see replicated across the state—that’s why we created a resource guide and curriculum (available March 1st!). And that’s why I went to the Capital.

Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools is a state funded program that reimburses school districts for their Alaskan food purchases. This $3 million grant allows schools to purchase Alaskan seafood, meats, veggies, and grains that would otherwise be cost prohibitive to school districts. It also gives a boost to farmers and fishermen with stable, in-state markets.

Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools was introduced by Representative Stoltze and has been funded the last two years through the Capital Budget. I went to Juneau to advocate for this funding because it’s a way to ensure funding for local food purchases state-wide. Locally this means sustained funding for our Fish to Schools program.

I met with Senator Stedman, House Representative Kriess-Tomkins, and the Governor to tell them how valuable this grant has been for schools, food producers, and students around the state. I will continue my advocacy and ask you to join me. It is through your support that Fish to Schools exists in Sitka—let’s take that support and make this thing go state-wide!

The Sitka School District took the lead by passing a resolution to support “multi-year” funding of Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools. Let’s join them and advocate for a program that revolutionizes school lunches and catalyzes local food production. Please sign this letter and tell Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins you support state funding for local foods in schools.

Ask Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins to support sustained funding for Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools

Dear Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins,

I am writing to express my support for sustained funding of Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools–a program that supports Sitka’s very own Fish to Schools program.

Fish to Schools is a program that connects fishermen, seafood processors, school food service, the school district, and students. It’s a program that gets local fish on lunch trays while building local foods security, creating access to these foods, and connecting youth to their food source. Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools takes it one step further–now we can support our local economy by paying our fishermen and seafood processors while creating new, stable markets for their fish to stay in-state, support more jobs for our fleet, and provide more Alaskan foods for Alaskans.

Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools supports Southeast Communities. Sustained funding ensures Alaska children eat Alaskan foods. It’s a small state investment that benefits many sectors or our community. I thank you for your support in having this program continue through sustained funding.

Thank you Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins.


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Feb 15 2014

Protect West Chichagof

Designating land as Wilderness is the ultimate step to ensuring its protection in the long-term.  Wilderness designation protects critical habitat from mining, logging, and development while still allowing people to use the land for hunting, fishing, subsistence gathering, recreating, and even making a living from guiding and operating tours.

Wilderness was integral to SCS’s formation and we’ve maintained that commitment to Wilderness ever since.  You can see the whole story of SCS’s formation in the short documentary Echoes of the Tongass.  But the short story is that in the 1960s large, industrial pulp mills were clear-cutting huge swaths of the Tongass with no end in sight.  A small group formed in Sitka to fight the rampant logging surrounding their home.  They saw the recent passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as a way for them to protect at least some of the Tongass.  They drafted a proposal to designate the western third of Chichagof Island as Wilderness because of its diverse habitats, intact old-growth forests, and pristine wildlife habitats.  It took 13 years of effort, but in 1980, the West Chichagof Wilderness became the first citizen initiated wilderness in Alaska.

Original proposal for West Chichagof Wilderness

Through the politics of the designation process, the extractive interest groups for the timber and mining lobby managed to carve large sections of some of the best habitat out of the designated land.  Some of those excluded parcels like Ushk Bay and Poison Cove are currently being managed for logging.  As the Forest Service puts it, these areas are managed for “Intense Development” which means they “Manage the area for industrial wood production…and maximum long-term timber production.”

These areas were excluded because they are the best, most iconic old-growth rainforests in the world and provide habitat for important species like the coastal brown bear, Sitka deer, and pacific salmon.  Unfortunately, that also means that they are the areas where clear-cut logging is cheapest and easiest.

Area excluded from Wilderness proposal

Ushk Bay, currently managed for “industrial wood production”

Poison Cove, currently managed for “industrial wood production”

But, since the 60s, the pulp mills have closed their doors.  Nowadays, the timber industry only employs about 200 jobs.  Our economy in Southeast Alaska has shifted to tourism and fishing which employ 10,200 and 8,000 jobs and contribute almost $2 Billion to the economy annually.  Wilderness designation directly benefits tourism and fishing because it preserves both the habitat, which salmon need for spawning, and  viewsheds the tourists flock to Alaska to see.

This year the Wilderness Act is 50 years old and we think it is a perfect time to finish the job our founders began almost a half century ago to designate ALL of West Chichagof as Wilderness.  Please join us by sending a note of your support to our senators using the form below.

Ask Senators Begich and Murkowski to Fulfill Wilderness Designation in West Chichagof

Dear Senator,


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Feb 14 2014

Voices of the Tongass – Kathryn Medinger

This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from an Alaskan with an interesting perspective on place. Kathryn Medinger was born and raised in Alaska, but hasn’t always lived in the Tongass. To hear her story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.

Kathryn Medinger

Photo by Berett Wilber

Kathryn Medinger is not originally from the Tongass. Her family moved from Bethel to Sitka when she was thirteen, and to her it felt like moving to a big city. She had to adjust to paved roads, cell phones, and a lot more people. Another change to get used to was the dramatically different landscape, and the ability to be active outdoors year-round. The long cold winters of Bethel were the foundation for Kathryn’s basketball career, which she has continued into college.

“I remember my dream was always to play at our high school [in Bethel] – it was a huge deal. Everyone would go to the games. Growing up I remember that’s all I wanted to do… I always wanted to be a Bethel Warrior.” Kathryn wasn’t the only kid to become skilled in an indoor sport. “There’s people from Bethel who go to Division I schools for wrestling because that’s how much they do it. My high school crush is going to the U of M for wrestling.” Kathryn left Bethel before she was old enough to play a home game with the warriors, but she stuck with basketball and eventually her dream came true. “I finally got to play on that court – Sitka traveled to Bethel. And I remember the Sitka kids having trouble adjusting – to not having a cell phone, the cold, dressing up.”

While the environment of Kathryn’s hometown is hugely different from the Tongass, it does have the characteristic small-town charm of communities in Southeast. “I remember finally getting to play at home… The coach shook my hand and said ‘Welcome home,’ even though I didn’t remember him – Lara [my sister] played for him, they knew my parents. [The announcer] gave a shout out to my parents, welcomed me home even though I didn’t live there anymore.”


Feb 12 2014

The Meaning of Wild, March 9th in Sitka

SCS will present the Sitka premiere of The Meaning of Wild Sunday, March 9, 2014 from 6-8pm at the Sitka Performing Arts Center.  Tickets $7 available at Old Harbor Books (2/14/2014). Free for kids 10 and under.

The film will be accompanied by a selection of wilderness-themed short films,  a photography exhibit and silent auction, and door prizes.


The Films:

Meaning of Wild (25:00)

Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography

The Meaning of Wild takes viewers on a journey through one of our nation’s most wild and pristine landscapes – The Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska.  The film follows wildlife cameraman Ben Hamilton as he travels by boat, plane, kayak and foot to capture and share the true value of Wilderness.   Along the journey Ben encounters bears, calving glaciers, ancient forest, and harsh seas but it’s the characters he meets along the way that bring true insight to his mission. The film highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. Ultimately The Meaning of Wild celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates.  Visit the Meaning of Wild website.

Background: Sitka Conservation Society has been partnering with the USDA Forest Service for over 5 years to monitor and steward Wilderness areas in the Tongass.  Part of SCS’s mission is to educate and inspire community members to take care of their local public lands through projects like the Meaning of Wild.

This film was made possible through support from the Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, and the contributions of over 100 community members all of whom we would like to thank for making this film a reality.

Big Bear Country (26:11)

Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography

Follow wildlife biologist Jon Martin, big game guide Kevin Johnson, conservationist Andrew Thoms and filmmaker Ben Hamilton as they travel by foot and packraft through the rich habitats of West Chichagof Wilderness.  The team seeks out the coastal brown bear, a keystone species, to unravel the importance of protecting large tracks of intact habitat for wildlife population.  Their journey takes them through the Lisianski-Hoonah Sound corridor, an area proposed but ultimately removed from the original citizen-intiated Wilderness proposal and a prime wildlife area, and over the Goulding Lakes, within the Wilderness boundary.  Prepare yourself—you’re about to enter into Big Bear Country.

Running Wild (4:00)

Film by Alexander Crook

Getting out into wilderness, feeling the moss underfoot, legs pumping uphill, breathing clean air, and taking a minute to reflect at the top of a climb—these are the things that inspire backcountry trailrunner Nick Ponzetti to travel to designated Wilderness areas.  Follow Nick on a run through the heart of Wilderness to find out how his love of running has inspired a passion for protecting wild places.

Tongass Wilderness, Our Wilderness (1:06)

Film by Adam Andis

This short film, shot in South Baranof Wilderness area shows how designated Wilderness is integral to us all.




The Wilderness of Southeast Alaska

Photos by Adam Andis

Photographer Adam Andis has been exploring the remote Wilderness areas of Southeast Alaska for the past 8 years as a private kayak guide and manager of the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project.  This collection of photos includes 24 images depicting the raw beauty of 14 Wilderness Areas in the Tongass.  Prints will be available to purchase through silent auction at the event with a portion of the proceeds being donated to SCS.


Door Prizes:

Attendees can enter their ticket stubs into a drawing for a number of great door prizes donated by local businesses including:

2 REI Flash Packs from REI Anchorage

Coupon for Whale Watching tour from Aquatic Alaska Adventures

Gifts from Sound Sailing

2 copies of The Meaning of Wild DVD


Feb 07 2014

Alaska Way-of-Life 4H

Want to get involved with 4H? 4H is a positive youth development program to get youth civically engaged and apply leadership skills at a young age.

Our 4H Adventure Series starts February 18!! This series will be Tuesdays through May from 4:15 – 5:45pm for ages 8 to 13. Skills we will explore are: map and compass navigation, using survival kits, GPS and geocaching, fire building, shelters, knots, water purification, Leave No Trace Wilderness ethics, bear awareness, and other skills to prepare for an overnight trip!

New 4H members are encouraged to join! Please share with friends who may be interested.

Attendees must be 4H members. Please complete the registration forms before the 18th. Copies are available at the Sitka Conservation Society.

Registration is open for this series by e-mailing Mary or Tracy or by calling SCS at 747-7509.

Get outside and explore!


Feb 06 2014

A 4H 2013 in Review

The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H club had a full year of getting youth outside, civically engaged, and exploring the Tongass National Forest. In 2013, young Sitkans explored the Tongass by foot and kayak, and gave back to community elders. 4H is a prime example of how SCS is meeting its goal to educate people to be better stewards of the Tongass and to live in a sustainable relationship with the natural world.

Out of our network of over 70 families, 46 active 4H members in Sitka explored the Tongass forest in 2013. They learned how to identify and process wild edibles: spruce tips, Lingonberries, Huckleberries, Labrador tea, mushrooms, and rose hips. We made jams, jellies and fruit leather that were donated to elders at the Pioneers Home to give back to the community. A night hiking series stretched the members to explore the night and use their sense of smell, hearing, and sight with a new focus. In addition to hiking club, summer programs included gardening club, kayak club and a fishing clinic. The youth cultivated and harvested vegetables in the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, learned the basics of kayaking safety and technique and paddled the Sitka Sound, and learned how to make a lure and tie it to a fishing pole. The year rounded out with an outdoor survival series educating youth how to be prepared and stay safe for outdoor adventures in the Tongass.

4H is open to youth ages 5 to 18. 2014 marks the adoption of the national 4H community club structure. There will be monthly meetings with all the project clubs, such as Alaska Way-of-Life and Baking, leadership opportunities, and public speaking. Want to get involved in 4H? The Alaska Way-of-Life project is going strong with the Living with the Land Naturalist series on Fridays and gearing up with a new Adventure Series starting February 18 for ages 8-13. Check out the SCS events calendar for specific dates and times. We are always open to new members curious to explore the Tongass and learn with us! Contact Mary at 747-7509 or

Get inspired by getting a snapshot of what we did in 2013!

Feb 05 2014

Seeking Summer Wilderness Intern

The Sitka Conservation Society is seeking an applicant to support the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. The Wilderness Intern will assist SCS’s Wilderness Project manager to coordinate and lead monitoring expeditions during the 2014 summer field season.

If interested, please review the position description below and submit a resume and cover letter to Adam Andis at


Position Title: SCS Wilderness Project Internship


Host Organizations: Sitka Conservation Society

Location: Sitka, Alaska

Duration: 14 weeks, starting in May 2014. Specific start and end dates to be determined by intern and SCS

Compensation: $ 4664 plus travel

Benefits: Intern will receive no health or dental benefits. Intern is responsible for housing. SCS will provide appropriate training for fieldwork in Southeast Alaska.

Organization: The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is a grassroots, membership-based organization dedicated to the conservation of the Tongass Temperate Rainforest and the protection of Sitka’s quality of life. We have been active in Sitka, Alaska for over 45 years as a dynamic and concerned group of citizens who have an invested interest in their surrounding natural environment and the future well-being of their community. We are based in the small coastal town of Sitka, Alaska, located on the rugged outer west coast of Baranof Island. Surrounded by the towering trees of the Tongass National Rainforest, the community has successfully transformed from an industrial past and the closure of a local pulp mill to a new economy featuring a diversity of employers and small businesses.

Background: The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is the nation’s largest National Forest totaling 17 million acres with almost 6 million acres of designated Wilderness Area (also the largest total Wilderness area of any National Forest). The Sitka Ranger District alone encompasses over 1.6 million acres of countless islands, glaciated peaks and old growth forests. In 2009, SCS partnered with the Sitka Ranger District (SRD) to ensure the two Wilderness areas near Sitka (the West Chichagof Yakobi and South Baranof Wilderness Areas) meet a minimum management standard by conducting stewardship and monitoring activities and recruiting volunteers. We will be continuing this project into its fifth year and extending the project to ranger districts throughout the Tongass National Forest.



Direction and Purpose:

In this position you will be expected to assist in organizing the logistics of field trips. Trips can range from just a few nights to three weeks. Backcountry field logistics include float plane and boat transport to and from field sites; kayaking, backpacking, and packrafting on location; camping and living in bear country; field communications via satellite phone, VHF radio, and SPOT transmitters. You will be co-leading trips with SCS Staff. Depending on experience, you may have the opportunity to lead short trips of volunteers on your own.

Working with SCS Staff, this intern position will assist in the following duties:

  • ·collection of field data
  • ·coordinating logistics and volunteers for field surveys
  • ·plan and conduct outreach activities including preparing presentation and sharing materials on Wilderness and Leave No Trace with outfitters/guides and other Forest users.
  • prepare and submit an intern summary report and portfolio of all produced materials, and other compiled outputs to the Forest Service and SCS before conclusion of the residency, including digital photos of your work experience and recreational activities in Alaska. Reports are crucial means for SCS to report on the project’s success.


  • ·Graduate or currently enrolled in Recreation Management, Outdoor Education, Environmental Studies or other related environmental field
  • ·Current Wilderness First Responder certification (by start date of position)
  • ·Outdoor skills including Leave-no-Trace camping, multi-day backpacking
  • Sea kayaking skills and experience
  • ·Ability to work in a team while also independently problem-solve in sometimes difficult field conditions.
  • ·Ability to communicate effectively and present issues to the lay-public in a way that is educational, inspirational, and lasting

The ideal candidate will also have:

  • ·Experience living or working in Southeast Alaska
  • ·Pertinent work experience
  • ·Outdoor leadership experience such as NOLS or Outward Bound
  • ·Ability to work under challenging field conditions that require flexibility and a positive attitude
  • ·Proven attention to detail including field data collection
  • ·Experience camping in bear country
  • ·Advanced sea-kayaking skills including surf zone and ability to perform rolls and rescues
  • Sea kayak certification from American Canoe Association or British Canoe Union


Fiscal Support: SCS will provide a stipend of $4,664 for this 14 week position. SCS will also provide up to $1,000 to cover the lowest cost airfare from the resident’s current location to Sitka. Airfare will be reimbursed upon submittal of receipts to SCS.



With respect to agency/organization policy and safety, intern agrees to:

  • ·Adhere to the policies and direction of SCS, including safety-related requirements and training, including those related to remote travel and field work.
  • ·Work closely with the SCS Wilderness Project Coordinator to update him/her on accomplishments and ensure that any questions, concerns or needs are addressed.
  • ·Be a good representative of SCS at all times during your internship.
  • ·Arrange course credits with your university if applicable.

With respect to general logistics, resident agrees to:

  • Seek lowest possible round trip airfare or ferry trip and book as soon as possible and before May 1st, working in conjunction with SCS whenever possible;
  • Provide SCS with travel itinerary as soon as flight is booked and before arriving in Alaska. Please email itinerary to Adam Andis at
  • Reimburse SCS for the cost of travel if you leave the intern position before the end of your assignment.
  • Have fun and enjoy the experience in Sitka!


Timeline (Approximate)

May 20-June 1: SCS and Forest Service trainings; get oriented and set up in offices; begin researching and getting up-to-speed on background info (Outfitter/Guide Use Areas, patterns of use on the Tongass National Forest (subsistence, commercial fishing, guided, recreation), Wilderness Character monitoring, Wilderness issues).

June 4 – August 17: Participate in field trips and assist in coordinating future trips, contact Outfitter and Guides to distribute educational materials, assist SCS in other Wilderness stewardship activities.

By August 20-24: Prepare final report including any outreach or media products, trip reports, and written summary of experience to SCS. Work with Wilderness Project Coordinator on final reports.




To apply please submit a cover letter and resume that includes relevant skills and experiences including documentation of trips in remote settings to Adam Andis:

Application will close March 31, 2014.


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Keep up to date on all of the issues. Check out "The Southeaster" Blog.

  • Hungry for Huckleberry Pie, Venison Stew, or Fresh Greens? Come to the Wild Foods Potluck Nov. 2!
  • Stand Up to Corporate Influence!
  • Kayaking Kootznoowoo: Report on SCS’s Final Wilderness Trip
  • Encouraging Local Natural Resource Stewardship on the Tongass: Kennel Creek
  • Teaching the Alaska way of Life: 4-H in Sitka
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