Surveying salmon streams on the Tongass National Forest is no easy task – it involves lugging heavy survey gear, tripods, marking stakes, and other gear through dense young growth forests and wading up to our hips in frigid water. Last month, Scott Harris, Watershed Program Manager for the Sitka Conservation Society, worked with the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew to survey recently completed restoration work on the Sitkoh River. After three days of survey work, Watershed Crew Supervisor Calvin Washington mentioned “this is a great project, I want to continue seeing what happens here…”.
Restoring habitat is a worthy ideal, but restoring our connection to the land and inspiring a sense of long-term stewardship is equally, if not more, important. Calvin is the crew leader of the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew. His crew joined SCS’s Restoration Coordinator Scott Harris and Groundtruthing leader Bob Christensen recently to survey the Sitkoh River.
The Sitka Conservation Society developed a restoration partnership with Trout Unlimited, the Sitka Ranger District, and the Sustainable Salmon Fund to restore a section of Sitkoh River that was flowing down an old logging road. The construction phase is now complete and the longer-term effort of monitoring the effectiveness of the project has begun. This is where the Angoon Crew comes in. None of the three crew members had ever been to Sitkoh River, also called L’ukheenak’u (Coho Salmon Little Creek) by the people of Angoon. Our crew conducted habitat assessments, surveyed the completed restoration project, and just became familiar with the landscape. Rivers are dynamic, and this crew will return next summer to continue monitoring work and see what has changed. Soon they may even claim to be the new stewards of Sitkoh River!
On May 1, students from the Science Mentor Program, Sitka High Field Science Class, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School shared their research with the community. Nearly 50 people attended. Standing room only! Students projects included research in microbial fungal communities in young growth forests, vegetation mapping to target wildlife habitat restoration prescriptions, whale acoustics and more! Through these annual programs, Sitka youth are engaging in ecological research, resource management, and are learning to become active stewards of our local environment.
Each May in Starrigavan Valley, nearly 100 7th Graders from Blatchley Middle School in Sitka spend a couple days doing hands-on stream restoration and monitoring. In the classroom, the students learn about watershed ecology and salmon habitat. Then they hit the field and help professional watershed managers actually install in-stream wood structures to rebuild fish habitat. They also monitor water quality and changes is stream structure. This project has a slew of partners that includes the Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Ranger District, Sitka School District, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and others.
The future of the Tongass National Forest will be intimately tied to how engaged our communities are in its sustainable management. The Science Mentor Program involves Sitka youth in hands-on scientific research that explores important ecological questions regarding forest restoration. Listen to the Raven Radio story about how Sitka High student Justine Webb and UAS professor Kitty LaBounty are using genetic lab techniques to examine soil fungal communities in young growth forests. Check out the story at the link below.
Past logging practices, now disallowed, in the Sitkoh River watershed damaged important spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steehead trout. For the past 12 years, the river has been flowing down an old logging road. Two years ago, SCS formed a partnership with the US Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, and the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund to restore 1.25 miles of the river. Work will start this summer.
This week, SCS and US Forest Service staff are presenting at the Community-Based Watershed Management Symposium in Juneau. We are using the Sitkoh project as an example of how working together can increase the ability to restore more watersheds and ensure healthy fisheries for all Alaskans.
To learn more about the Sitkoh River Restortaion, click here
At SCS, we know that getting people outside and participating in the stewardship of our environment is the single best way to realize our vision of a sustainable community living within the Tongass National Forest. Last summer, SCS, the Sitka Ranger District, and Sitka High School established a long-term monitoring study that will evaluate the efforts made to restore deer habitat in young growth forests in Peril Strait. Students built four “deer exclosures” to support this study. The exclosures will allow us to study the plant growth that occurs without being browsed upon by deer. Students will revisit these study sites each year. Through this project, students are being active participants in ecological restoration and gaining valuable insight in what it takes to be good stewards of our backyard!
Check out a cool Google Earth tour and photos of the section of Sitkoh River to be restored! The Sitka Conservation Society is partnering with the Tongass National Forest, Trout Unlimited, and the Alaska Dept. of Fish an Game to restore salmon habitat on a section of Sitkoh River that was damaged by past logging practices. The construction contract has been awarded and we are on-track for completing this work in the Summer of 2012. CLICK HERE FOR THE TOUR!
Winter doesn’t slow down field science in Sitka! The four Sitka High School students and their mentors in the Science Mentor Program are in the full swing of their projects. In the photo at left, Justine is measuring tree diameters to quantify the forest stand where she is collecting soil samples. She will then conduct genetic analyses of microbial fungal communities in the soil. Sarah and Tahnee are mapping habitat types that are critical for deer overwintering survival in Starrigavan Valley. And Spencer is learning statistical tests for calculating fish stocks. Follow our progress on the blog
This winter, students from Sitka High’s Field Science Class worked with the Sitka Ranger District to target wildlife habitat restoration activities. We mapped occurrences of Vaccinium species (Blueberry) and other deer forage plants in young growth forests. We then used data analysis and mapping technologies to identify potential locations where the Forest Service can create canopy gaps. Gaps provide more light to the forest floor and encourage the growth of plants deer eat to survive snowy winters.
Four Sitka High students were recently selected to participate in the Science Mentor Program. This program pairs students with professional mentors to conduct ecological field studies. From left to right: Program Coordinators Scott Harris, Ashley Bolwerk, and Kent Bovee, Tahnee Curran will be work with Wildlife Biologist Chris Leeseberg at the US Forest Service, Spencer Combs will be working with Fisheries Biologist Troy Tydingco at the AK Dept. of Fish and Game, Justine Webb will be working with Botanist Kitty LaBounty at the University of Alaska Southeast, and Sarah Rasmussen-Rehkops will also be working with Chris Leesburg. The program is funded by the Sitka Conservation Society and the Secure Rural Schools Act.