“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” – US Congress 1964
What is wilderness? It was described legally, albeit vaguely, by Congress in 1964 with the passing of the Wilderness Act. However, it remains something deeply personal, is experienced in a multitude of ways and is not always clearly defined amongst its supporters and defenders. I attempted to define wilderness for myself as I joined one of SCS’ wilderness crews this summer, spending eight days at Red Bluff Bay. While we were there enjoying and exploring, taking full advantage of the opportunity the trip afforded us, we were also conducting Wilderness Monitoring and outreach. Wilderness Monitoring is required by the Wilderness Act, that is, managing agencies (US Forest Service) are responsible for monitoring designated wilderness areas and preserving the ‘wilderness character’. Therein lies the conundrum, how do you monitor something that is not truly defined in the wilderness act? Additionally, both the wilderness character and individual experience are further muddied by the fact that wilderness areas may be adjacent to areas not subject to the same restrictions as a designated wilderness area.
Such is the case with Red Bluff Bay. While the land is part of the wilderness preservation system, managed by the US Forest Service, the bay itself is ocean waters. The Forest Service has no jurisdiction over ocean waters therefore; the bay isn’t bound by preserving the same wilderness character as its land based neighbor. So, how do you define a wilderness, or is it really reduced to a matter of boundaries? Due to its remote location, Red Bluff Bay is most often accessed by boat and sometimes float plane. If it weren’t for the bay and the access it provides to boaters and planes, the number of visits it receives annually would likely be reduced.
We were there, primarily, to monitor wilderness solitude, which entailed counting boats and planes and encounters with other visitors. Given our task, it should be noted that our crew arrived there by floatplane and left by boat. We relieved a few crew members from the previous week and joined the camp that was established on the edge of the Northside of the bay, halfway between the entrance at Chatham Strait and the estuary in the west. We spent our days exploring the landscapes around us including the bluffs that give the bay its name, Falls Lake, an old abandoned cannery site, and the estuary nestled quaintly in the western portion of the bay. Our first night we kayaked into the estuary to explore a little and once back there found nine sail boats and two yachts anchored up for the night. Two more yachts anchored just offshore from our campsite, one of the captains telling us they didn’t want to crowd the other boats. On another day we saw the entrance of the bay brimming with activity as a sailboat parade trickled out, replaced by new yachts and small cruise ships motoring in and jockeying for prime spots in the estuary and near the falls. There were the daily salmon surveys conducted aerially by ADF&G planes and commercial fishing boats that occasionally anchored up for the night, flooding our campsite with light. The busiest day had two yachts coming in along with a small cruise ship (towing a skiff) and a float plane landing all within a few hundred yards of one another. We had spent a quiet evening, just the four of us, paddling around the falls a few days ago, tonight the waters would be filled with kayakers from the cruise ship on a post dinner excursion.
While all of this activity disrupted the quiet or gave the impression that you weren’t far from civilization, I still felt a sense of wilderness. I still felt awe struck and grateful for the experience, even if it came with a little traffic and noise. The people that we met were always friendly, and they certainly thought they were experiencing the wilderness. We had our fair share of wildlife encounters too. I found myself mesmerized, sometimes terrified, by bears and sea lions. Whenever we were hiking or kayaking, I found the landscape to be ‘untrammeled by man’ and felt a sense of peace and solitude, along with a dash of anxiety. But that is what makes defining wilderness so difficult. My perception is likely drastically different from those on the yacht, or the cruise ships, or other members of our crew. One person may need a cabin easily accessible by road or a semi-quiet spot in an estuary to feel they are enjoying something wild, while another may need to find themselves truly lost, engulfed by remote spaces that are rarely visited, if ever, by a human being. It’s these differences that make wilderness so attractive; it is subject to context and open to interpretation. For me, it’s a place (where cell phones don’t work!), a habitat description, a technical classification and a feeling. It’s a place where I can connect and feel lost, even if only for a short time between boat visits and salmon surveys.
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is the largest species of Spruce and takes its name from our community; Sitka, Alaska. Sitka spruce is prized worldwide for a high strength-to-weight ratio and unique characteristics. Its uses have ranged from seagoing canoes to ceremonial masks to housing structures for the Native communities of Southeast Alaska. In the more recent past it was used to manufacture a multitude of items such as ladders, building frames, paddles and windmill slats. Its light weight, combined with strength, that makes it so versatile have also made it the gold standard in the construction of instruments and wooden airplanes. Its resiliency and feathery weight led to it being used for wing structures and the fuselage of early airplanes. Sitka spruce also possesses a highly uniform fiber structure, leading to high quality sound resonance. This means it is sought out for use as sound boards in high end pianos, guitars and other instruments.
The rich and diverse history of the Sitka spruce is so important to remember. It wasn’t long ago that vast stands were liquidated and entire watersheds became massive clear-cut wastelands. The trees were ground into industrial dissolving pulp and exported to foreign markets as a commodity product. That was the past. Earlier this month, USDA Secretary Vilsack outlined the future: he reaffirmed his commitment to conserving the remaining old growth temperate rainforests on the Tongass National Forest. He stated that this will be accomplished with a transition out of old growth and to the harvesting of second growth timber. Old growth will only be used for small scale, specialty value-added uses— like musical instruments. With a renewed focus on creating a sustainable forest industry, and providing jobs and opportunities in Southeast Alaska, the plight of the Sitka spruce may well be coming full circle.
Enter the Sitka Summer Music Festival, currently in its 42nd year. The Festival now supports events in Anchorage and Fairbanks, but Sitka is where it began and is the home of the festival. World renowned classical musicians trek to Sitka every summer for the festival with their cellos and violins, adding to the forest’s own beautiful repertoire of sounds. The festival’s location in Sitka, in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, also allows musicians to connect with the original source of their craft and instruments. One of this summer’s featured musicians is pianist Natasha Paremski who plays in Sitka on Steinway pianos that feature a Sitka Spruce soundboard. Natasha took time out of her trip to visit with SCS media intern Gleb Mikhalev and describes her connections to Sitka and the forest.
Link to the video: https://vimeo.com/70652583
Alaska Conservation Foundation supported intern Alex Crook created this video that tells the story of SCS’s 2nd growth bike shelter project.
On July 3rd, 2013, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced a commitment to conserving the remaining old growth temperate rainforests on the Tongass National Forest. He stated that this will be accomplished by transitioning timber harvest out of old growth harvest and shift to 2nd growth forest resources. This announcement comes on the heels of announcements by President Obama regarding the need to take action on climate change and to conserve, restore, and protect forest resources as a carbon bank to mitigate climate change. The Sitka Conservation Society applauds this announcement and feels that the time is past due for conserving what remains of our globally rare temperate rainforest, old-growth ecosystems.
As part of the Sitka Conservation Society’s efforts, we have partnered with the Forest Service, PNW Research Labs, Sitka High School, local carpenters and millers, the National Forest Foundation, and many more, to determine effective and sustainable applications of Tongass 2nd growth resources that promotes conservation of the Tongass while also providing opportunities to use Tongass wood products. With support from the National Forest Foundation’s Community Capacity and Land Stewardship Program, SCS has initiated projects with local partners that build community assets using locally milled timber products. These projects promote sustainable harvesting of second growth timber and micro timber sales that support small, local mills. SCS tries to design projects that provide vocational opportunities for the harvest, milling, processing, and utilization of these local timber products. One such project partnered with the local high school construction course to build a bike shelter. The shelter serves as a demonstration project that will be set up in a highly visible location and educate Sitkans and visitors on the story of the Tongass and second growth timber.
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
SCS has extended the application deadline for an exciting opportunity, the Entrepreneurial Capacity Development and Local Business Catalyst position. We are seeking a highly motivated, self-starter to work as a local business catalyst in Sitka, Alaska. This catalyst will work with community partners and identify local entrepreneurial needs and opportunities. The candidate’s main focus will be to develop programs that stimulate and empower the community and establish projects that focus on living and buying locally. Click here for a full position description and details on how to apply!
SCS was recently awarded another Community Capacity and Land Stewardship (CCLS) Grant from the National Forest Foundation. The CCLS grant focuses on the use of local, young growth timber and habitat restoration. This grant will sustain and further develop the capacity-building momentum generated from last year’s grant. One of the components of the previous grant was to provide local, young growth timber to the Sitka High School industrial arts classes. Students were provided with red alder for building bed side tables, as well as Sitka spruce to construct a bike shelter. The bike shelter will be finalized this summer and placed at the Sitka Sound Science Center.
Through the current grant, SCS will continue to promote regional young growth markets, incentivize forest restoration and further the Transition Framework by creating an educational opportunity for local youth that focuses on young growth timber for structural and building applications. Currently, SCS will work with a local miller to process local red alder. Red alder has been historically considered a ‘weed species’, however due to its abundance it is quickly becoming valued for use in specialty wood products, cabinetry, furniture and architectural millwork such as wainscoting or molding. SCS is encouraging regional industry integration by building relationships between producers and users. The red alder will become part of the Allen Auditorium renovation project on the Sheldon Jackson campus. This partnership will also allow for SCS to sponsor several local high school students to work under the supervision of local builder Pete Weiland on the renovation project this summer. Students will be given the opportunity to spend approximately one month working on the Auditorium renovation project and will be partnered with a college mentor. The wood will be provided to the renovation project to produce an installation and demonstration project that highlights red alder as a viable material. SCS is now accepting applications from local high school students who are interested in participating in this project. Applications are due by July 1 and can be emailed to email@example.com .
“You’re going to want to burn two and then mark it 13.5,” Judi says to her workshop buddy Linda. Linda carefully measures across a piece of hemlock harvested from Starrigavan Valley and marks it with a pencil. She pulls out the tape measure and goes over it again (measure twice and cut once!) as Judi confirms the pencil lines and arrows. Judi grabs the ‘worm saw’ (a powered skillsaw) and starts ripping the board as Linda holds it down and observes.
After a piece of wood drops to the floor, both women carefully inspect the cut, running their fingers along the edge then nodding in approval. It’s not perfect but pretty close. “We can fix that when we sand it,” Linda says.
We’ve come a long way from our first workshop class when we built our saw horses, making sure to pad the top of them with ‘sacrificial’ wood. The sacrificial wood being scrap that we don’t mind chipping, cutting and scarring as a result of our novice woodworking abilities. Our first class began with instructions from Marcel LaPerriere, local craftsman and owner of Southeast Cedar Homes. He gave us the basic DOs and DON’Ts of the wood shop as we eyed the unfamiliar gadgets and tools that surrounded us. The next few meetings we learned how to use tools, how to change drill bits and saw blades and the difference between crosscut and plane cut. Despite our rapidly growing repertoire of skills and vocabulary, we were still short on confidence, often having to encourage one another to take the helm when it was time to start up a saw. Now, class participants are confidently using saws, drill presses, and are continually awestruck all while being steeped in the delicious smell of fresh cut wood. Our class is small (eight participants) but maxes out the space in the wood shop. It is also a diverse group of women ranging from an opera singer to a retired teacher to a Sheldon Jackson summer camp organizer proficient in Chinese.
In April SCS and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp partnered to offer a ‘Women in Carpentry Workshop’. The workshop, a brain child of SCS board member Judi Lehman, and she thought it would tie in nicely with our young growth projects that were funded by the NFF Community Capacity and Land Stewardship program. The course provides locally harvested wood, tools, supplies and instruction from SCS board President Marcel LaPerriere. The product of the class is quite simple: six wooden benches to be placed at the Allen Auditorium on the SJ campus. The goal, however, is much more involved. SCS wanted to showcase young growth timber, contribute to the production of a local wood product and shed light on the quality and usefulness of young-growth timber. This class takes it one step further by providing an opportunity for women who had little to no experience with wood working to learn new skills and create something for the community.
One class member, Kenley, described why she decided to take the course: “I signed up because I really wanted to learn how to use power tools and wanted to gain skills for volunteering and life projects. I’ve learned so much already! The vocabulary and skills are foreign to me and I’ve reveled in learning the names of tools, techniques, and processes. I have a much deeper respect for how buildings are constructed and how wood objects are made. I’ve learned a lot about trees and wood and really appreciate Marcel’s dedication and patience in teaching this awesome class”. We aren’t quite ready to start building our dream homes, but we are learning and having fun along the way. For now, I just wish I could wield a planer or skillsaw fluidly and one handed like Marcel!