Sitka Conservation Society
Apr 29 2014

Youth Eco-Challenge

2014 Earth Week wrapped up with the first annual Youth Eco Challenge. The event, hosted by the National Historical Park, had five teams engaged in various challenges that tested their living with the land skills as well as teamwork and communication.

Photo: James Poulson

The event began with a fire building task on the beach. Teams made a Leave No Trace fire below high tide using Usnea (old man’s beard), kindling, and 3 matches. They then worked as a team to guide blind folded members to the next task in a Trust Walk. At the Battlefield site, teams worked together to move a tent pole 10 feet using only their index fingers. They engaged in effective communication, teamwork, and patience.

At the Fort site, teams were sent on a scavenger hunt with their compasses to spell a four-letter word that was mapped out in the grass. One team member reflected on how he learned that it is easier when the whole team is working together and listening to each other.

Next, teams practiced bear safety as they walked down the path to find a bear hiding in the woods. The kids “got big” with each other and calmly talked to the bear. After successfully going around the bear, teams were ready to make a safe, weather proof shelter with items from their safety kit. One team even made a natural lean-to shelter with insulation!


The event wrapped up with a native plant identification game with Ranger Ryan Carpenter from the National Historical Park.

Ranger Ryan Carpenter

A very well deserved THANK YOU goes out to Jen Grocki, co coordinator for the Eco Challenge. Jen inspired the event and saw it through to fruition. Also, a thank you to Sea Mart for donating healthy snacks, Russell’s for their help with purchasing compasses and survival kits, Ryan Carpenter and the National Historical Park for hosting the event as well as adding a native education task, and AmeriCorps member Xaver and Kelly for helping with the event.

Apr 28 2014

2014 Parade of Species

Thanks to everyone who attended the 13th Annual Parade of Species!

The Parade of Species is an annual celebration of Earth Day organized by the Sitka Conservation Society.  Families are invited to dress up as their favorite plant or animal and swim, slither, fly, or trot through town.  Community partners offer games and activities after the parade and donate prizes for “Best Costume” contest winners.

SCS would especially like to thank the following organizations and individuals who donated their time and resources for the activities after the parade:

  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Troy Tydingco & Patrick Fowler
  • Park Service: Ryan Carpenter, Christina Neighbors, Kassy Eubank-Littlefield, Anne Lankenau, Andrea Willingham, Jasa Woods & Janet Drake
  • Kayaani Commission: Judi Lehman & Erin Rofkar
  • Forest Service: Marty Becker & Perry Edwards
  • Sitka Tribe of Alaska/Herring Festival: Jessica Gill & Melody Kingsley
  • Sitka Sound Science Center: Madison Kosma, Ashley Bolwerk, Michael Maufbach & Margot O’Connell
  • Kettleson Memorial Library: Tracy Turner
  • Cooperative Extension: Jasmine Shaw
  • Stream Team: Wendy Alderson, Amy Danielson, Nora Stewart, Al Madigan, & Levi Danielson
  • 4H: Mary Wood
  • Fish to Schools: Jess Acker
  • Harry Race: prize tokens to soda fountain
  • Botanika Organic Spa: delicious earth-friendly treats


Apr 21 2014

Adjustments to the Forest Service Budget are a Small Victory for our Forest, Fish and Community!

The Sitka Conservation Society and US Forest Service are working with community support and partner organizations to encourage a regional management transition across the Tongass National Forest. Our ultimate goal is that the management of our public lands reflects the collective interests and values of the region’s many stakeholders. We work tirelessly to ensure that our largest national forest remains healthy, vibrant and productive for generations to come. To achieve these long-term goals, we encourage a shift away from an unsustainable focus on old-growth timber harvesting to the stimulation of a diversified and resilient regional economy with responsible watershed management.

Part of a successful transition involves an active US Forest Service Fisheries and Watershed Program with strong community and partner support. Unfortunately, for the last several years federal funding, including those allocated for fisheries and watershed management in the Alaska region, have decreased around 5 to 10% annually. SCS strongly advocates for forest management and a Forest Service budget that recognizes the significance of salmon and other fish and wildlife across the Tongass.

The USFS Fisheries and Watershed Program works with partners to support restoration projects that return stability and health to damaged rivers and streams across the Southeast

We are excited that this year, the Fisheries and Watershed budget in the Alaska region has been boosted by about 15%! This means that several important programs and projects that were on the back burner due to insufficient funding, can now move forward.

I sat down with Greg Killinger, Fish, Watershed, and Soils Program Manager on the Tongass who was very excited about these budget changes. “After several years of declining funding, it is great to see an increase in funds available to get important fisheries, wildlife and watershed work done on the Tongass with our communities in Southeast Alaska.”

The types of projects and programs the Fisheries and Watershed sector supports include the stabilization, maintenance and restoration of damaged fish and wildlife habitat, the replacement or removal of unnecessary culverts that currently obstruct fish movement, and the support of monitoring projects that protect and secure a stable future for our natural resources. Major project work is planned on Kuiu Island, Prince of Wales Island and our neighbor in Sitka – Kruzof Island.

The Fisheries and Watershed Budget also supports monitoring programs, like the weir on Redoubt Lake, that protect healthy salmon returns each year

We continue to encourage adjustments to the region’s budget and changes to management scope and strategy that support a healthier future for our forest, fish, and communities. Thank you to the Forest Service for taking this initial step in the right direction! Cheers to this small victory, now go get outside and enjoy the brilliant and healthy landscape we are so fortunate to call home!

Apr 17 2014

Karta River: Classroom in the Wilderness

Think back to those boring days during school, when you would tune out the teacher’s voice, stare out the window, and daydream about being outside. Well, if you were a student at Craig High School, no dreaming would be necessary.

Students load up and batten down for the skiff ride to Karta River Wilderness on Prince of Wales Island.

For the past few years, Wilderness Rangers with the Forest Service have been working with classes at Craig High School to develop monitoring projects that get kids out, into the field, doing real research in designated Wilderness Areas.

The curriculum is part of the Marine Biology class and Alaska Natural History class in alternate years. Students design monitoring projects, using data from previous years. Projects include phenology studies of False Hellebore, measuring fork lengths of salmon smolt, testing amphibians for Chytrid fungus, camera trapping large mammals, and any other indicator students plan into a study. Along with the research, the students learn about the management of designated Wilderness areas and work through the process of applying for research permits. The goal is that by the end of the semester, the students will have all of the practical experience needed to conduct professional field research—and hopefully open doors to new careers and develop an appreciation of Wilderness along the way.

Designated in 1990, the Karta is one of the more recent additions to the national Wilderness preservation system.

The defining feature of the Wilderness is the 5-mile long Karta River that drains Karta Lake.

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the class through the magic of video-teleconferencing. Stanford PhD candidate Lauren Oakes and I talked to the students about our work and answered questions. This year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the class in the field for two consecutive days.

Getting to the Karta Wilderness, like most Wilderness Areas in Southeast, is not an easy task. We drove from Craig to Hollis on the eastern side of Price of Wales Island. There, we met the students at the dock, donned floatcoats, and loaded up in the Forest Service skiff after a safety briefing. The skiff ride to the Karta River takes about 40 minutes.

The crew of students from Craig High School arrives at the beach and prepares to hike into their test plots.

The drainage of a beaver pond adjacent to the river, a popular spot for the students’ study plots.

On the beach, teacher Ashley Hutton gave succinct instructions to the students, “This is your project, you know what to do, you are the researchers, so now it’s up to you.” She also made the valuable point, “We’re in a Wilderness area. If your equipment breaks, that’s just part of doing field research–you’ll just have to roll with it and adjust your project as needed.” With that, the students took off to collect the requisite data, set overnight traps, and explore.

I helped two groups of students, one pair collecting stream quality data (dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, and macro invertebrate surveys) and one pair testing amphibian populations for the problematic Chytrid fungus. While they conducted their tests, I asked them what they planned to do after highschool. The answers varied: diesel mechanic, fisheries biologist, Armed Forces. Thinking back to myself at that age (vacillating between aspirations to be a college professor or punk-rock drummer depending on the day), I realize that these students will likely change their future plans wildly in coming years. But the experiences they’ve gained from this class—appreciation and understanding of Wilderness, practical and marketable research skills, resiliency when things don’t go quite as planned—will grant them more options, more realistic expectations, and more perspective toward whatever paths their future holds.

Two students collect data on water quality in the Karta River.

Students not only gain experience from hands-on practice, but also by teaming up with professionals. Here, a team of students works with Sarah Brandy, a fisheries biologist with the Forest Service.

The data the students collect will inform real-world research. This student swab a rough skinned newt. The sample will be sent to a lab at Indiana University and will help map the spread of a deadly amphibian disease, Chytrid fungus, across the continent.

The Rough-skinned newt is one of only a handful of amphibians that can survive as far north as Southeast Alaska.

These students had no problem finding newts in the outlet to the beaver pond.

Students check minnow traps set by the previous day’s group to study salmon smolt.

Once the students finished collecting data, they had the opportunity to enjoy the Wilderness setting.

An “unofficial” aquatic vertebrate survey…

The community of Craig, Alaska.


SCS’s involvement in Wilderness stewardship, including the Craig HS class, is made possible thorough a grant from the National Forest Foundation.  Founded by Congress in 1991, the National Forest Foundation works to conserve, restore and enhance America’s 193-million-acre National Forest System.

Apr 17 2014

Baranof Elementary has their first Fish to Schools Lunch!

Today was the first day that Baranof Elementary participated in the Fish to Schools lunch program by dishing out local fish for interested students. Kids from kindergarten and first grade can choose between bringing a lunch from home or being served the school lunch. Today, a record number of students signed up for local fish! Over 150 student school lunches were served; that is 45 more than on an average non-fish lunch day! Kids were grinning and exclaiming “It’s better than popsicles”, “It’s better than ice cream” and my personal favorite- “It’s better than anything!”

The Sitka Conservation Society visited and helped offer sample tastes for students who brought a lunch but still wanted to try the local coho meal. We helped present certificates to the ‘winning’ classrooms that had the highest number of students choose fish for lunch: 13 students from two kindergarten and two first grade classes. Congratulations to the four lucky classrooms: Ms. Fredrickson’s and Ms. Hedrick’s kindergarten classes and Ms. Christianson’s and Ms. William’s first grade classes. These students will share May’s fish lunch with a visiting commercial fisherman!

The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is a founding partner and coordinator of the Sitka “Fish to Schools” program. Our mission is to deepen youth understanding of local seafood resources by integrating locally-caught seafood into the school lunch program, introducing stream to plate curricula, and fostering a connection to the local fishing culture. Fish to Schools celebrates the ecological, economic, and cultural significance of this unique resource. Having access to delicious local seafood reminds us all how lucky we are to be Alaskans!  Learn more by visiting:

Apr 14 2014

Rural Advisory Committee Funds Available

The Secure Rural Schools Act (previously referred to as “timber receipts”) has provided approximately $100,000 for a group of volunteer Sitkans (the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee or RAC) to decide how the funds will be spent on the Sitka Ranger District.

Projects proposal may be submitted by federal, state, local, or tribal governments; non-profit organizations, landowners, and even private entities. The projects must benefit the National Forest System. The current round of funding proposals are due by APRIL 30, 2014. Projects ideas are limited only by your imagination, projects may include: road and trail maintenance, buoy and cabin maintenance, ATV trail brushing, wildlife habitat restoration, fish habitat restoration, invasive species management among other much needed projects.

Click here to learn more about the program and how to prepare a proposal.

Community driven projects ensure that the US Forest Service understands the priorities of the community in order to better shape their management activities, as well as influencing the distribution of funds throughout the Sitka Ranger District. For more information or assistance, contact Marjorie Hennessy, Coordinator for the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group at or 747-7509.

For more information on the RAC you can attend the meeting of the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee on June 6, 4pm, at the Sitka Ranger District (remember current RAC proposals are due April 30!). Community involvement in public lands management planning is a valuable opportunity for the public to have a say in how our lands are cared for!

Apr 08 2014

13th Annual Parade of the Species – Friday, April 25th

 Parade of the Species, Friday, April 25th, Meet at 2:30

The 13th Annual Parade of the Species will be held on Friday, April 25th.  Parade participants are invited to dress as their favorite animal or plant and gallop, slither, swim, or fly with us. We will meet in Totem Square at 2:30 and parade down Lincoln Street to Centennial Hall at 3:00 pm. Prizes will be awarded for Best Use of Recycled Material, Most Realistic, and Best Local Plant/Animal.

There will be a number of community organizations with hands-on Earth Day inspired activities for the whole family from 3:00-4:30 at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

For a full list of Earth Week community events, go here.  Earth Week Events  For more information contact Mary at SCS offices -747-7509.

For inspiration, check out all the wonderful costumes from the 2013 Parade of the Species.

Post- parade Activities for Kids

Friday, April 25th, 3:00 – 4:30 pm


Two young scientists at the 2013 Earth Week event for kids.

There will be a number of community organizations with hands-on Earth Day inspired activities for the whole family at Harrigan Centennial Hall following the parade.  All the activities are kid friendly, free and open to the public.

Participating organizations this year include:

  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game
  • National Park Service
  • Forest Service
  • Sitka Tribes of Alaska
  • Sitka Sound Science Center
  • Kettleson Library
  • Cooperative Extension
Apr 03 2014

Voices of the Tongass – Karen Johnson

SCS had the opportunity to catch up with F/V Cloud Nine this week and we were humbled by these wonderful people. Karen Johnson, long time crew member on the Cloud Nine, was asked what fishing meant to her and this is what she had to say.

“I started fishing when I was 6. There are different kinds of fishermen as there are with any type of job, I suppose. My perception of fishing is I love it – I love the life, I love the ocean, I love the excitement, I love the peacefulness, I love the hard work.I can be seasick, look up, and still be amazed by my surroundings. I can be working hard, dead-tired, and still take in what’s around me.

It’s beautiful out there. It’s part of living here I guess, never getting tired of seeing the amazing things that go on around us every day, even if it’s just a daily morning walk at Totem park. There’s always something to notice.

Our family fished together for a long time and I’m thankful for that and for the fact that my brother and I still get to fish together some. Our bond to the ocean, the coast, the inside passage is very strong and commercial fishing gave us a better opportunity to experience it on a wider scale than some might get. You can think of commercial fishing as a way to make money, as a job, but to some – it is so much more.”

We can’t thank you guys enough for what you do!

Apr 03 2014

Voices of the Tongass – Harvey Kitka

SCS had the opportunity to sit down with Harvey Kitka and talk about what living with the land means to him. Listening to him tell stories of his family, harvesting, and respect for the land and animals was absolutely mesmerizing.

“My family has been here for countless generations. My grandfather was Coho, and my grandmother was Kaagwaantaan, so I’m Kaagwaantaan. I carry stories from my grandfather and father.

Everything from the ground up we have respect for. A lot of native art has eyes on it and the reason they did that is because everything had something living in it. It showed our respect for the living. Everything has a purpose from what we are told. The trees when we cut those down there was a ceremony for that. We figured when we were hunting and had good fortune, the animals gave themselves to us and we thanked them for it. So we always thank the salmon and things.

We hope this hasn’t changed. We try to teach our kids. We tell them everything is about respect. My grandfather always said you never make fun of your food. You don’t play with your food. It’s about respect. It is one of the things you pass onto your kids. Some of our earliest stories go back to this.

Food is our life. You take what’s there, you take care of it, and it will take care of you. That’s our whole philosophy.”

Thank you for everything you do, Harvey!

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

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