Sealaska Bill Privatizes 70,000 Acres of the Tongass

Terrible news for the Tongass this week: Around 70,000 acres of the Tongass are being turned over to Sealaska for development.

As Davey Lubin told the Sitka Sentinel this week, “I’m highly disappointed that our treasured, priceless public lands have been privatized. It’s a huge loss for the whole nation … What Theodore Roosevelt established as a national legacy, Lisa Murkowski has squandered.”

This week’s developments show that not even our National Forests are protected from corporate control. Congress and the American public need to give this issue more scrutiny. Read the article below to hear SCS Executive Director Andrew Thoms’s take on the Sealaska Lands Bill. The article below was printed in the Sitka Sentinel on Monday, December 15.


By SHANNON HAUGLAND, Sentinel Staff Writer

A bill transferring 70,000 acres of land from the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska Corp. passed Congress on Friday.


Rodman Bay (Photo provided by Sitka Conservation Society)

“It has taken seven years, but I’m proud to say that we finally completed the land conveyance for Southeast Alaska’s nearly 20,000 Native shareholders, and at the same time ensured that the region’s remaining timber mills have timber,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a news release, following the vote on Friday.

The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act was included in the bipartisan package of lands bills approved Friday as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It provides Sealaska with 70,075 acres to finalize the transfer of land owed to the Native shareholders under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

“Some 43 years after passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the federal government will finally finish paying the debt we owe Natives for the settlement of their aboriginal land claims,” Murkowski said in the announcement.

The land transfer includes more than 68,000 acres available for logging, including land in Rodman Bay and Sinitsin Cove near Sitka, as well as 1,009 acres for renewable energy resources and recreational tourism, and 490 acres of Native cemetery and historic sites.

The legislation also includes about 152,067 acres of old-growth timber in new conservation areas to protect salmon and wildlife habitat, Murkowski said. The bill goes next to the president for his signature.

Representatives of Sealaska Corp. were unavailable for comment.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Council Chairman Michael Baines said he was pleased by the news, which he ran across this weekend on Facebook.

“I’m 100 percent pleased, the council is pleased,” he said. He noted that the STA Tribal Council passed a resolution last week in support of the compromise legislation proposed by Murkowski.

Baines said he believes the legislation will be beneficial to tribal citizens.

“I hope it will mean an improved economic development for the corporation which will mean more dividends for the tribal citizens,” he said. “I hope it will mean jobs in Sitka but as far as I know there hasn’t been any jobs from the regional corporation.”

Asked whether he believes the land will be developed and logged any differently than in the past, Baines said, “I hope they’ve learned their lesson. They’ve done that before – and it’s taken decades to bring back more trees that they can log.”

Sitka Conservation Society Andrew Thoms said he was disappointed by the news.

“Anytime that public lands are given to a private corporation, it’s a loss for everyone,” he said. “It’s going to mean 70,000 acres of some of the best timber land in the Tongass put into Sealaska hands, and the old-growth stands they’ve been given are some of the best remaining stands of cedar left on the Tongass. The burden is on Sealaska now to do what’s best for the shareholders in the region.”

He called old-growth cedar a “cultural treasure of the peoples of the Pacific Northwest.”

“As Sealaska now owns those best stands of cedar, are they going to continue to foster that connection, or will it be exported to Asian markets?” Thoms said. “It’s about more than just (habitat). The cedar trees in those stands are thousands of years old, and they won’t grow back in our lifetime.”

He cited Rodman Bay, on the north end of Baranof Island (30 miles north of Sitka), and Sinitsin Cove on North Kruzof (25 miles northeast of Sitka) as two areas closest to Sitka that are identified as “economic development” lands in the transfer.

Clarice Johnson, a Sealaska shareholder, said she was opposed to the lands transfer as proposed. (Johnson works at the nonprofit SCS but specified that she was speaking only as a shareholder.)

“I think there are a number of shareholders who are supportive of receiving our full land selection but not the way it was put in the rider, and they don’t think it will be much benefit to the average shareholder,” she said. “Possibly because Sealaska has lost so much money, they’ll probably cut the land quickly; and a large portion of any natural resource development in regional corporation land will be shared with other regional corporations.”

She noted that this provision – calling for regional corporations to share profits – has made it possible for Sealaska to pay out dividends, since the local regional corporation has not been profitable in recent years. She added that she believes the main beneficiaries of the land transfer and development of the lands will end up being the corporation’s board and staff through salaries and other compensation.

Johnson said she believes one of many results of the transfer will be the inadequate protection of karsts in Southeast.

“There is no protection compared to the U.S. Forest Service,” she said.

Johnson said that although only two “economic development” land selections are near Sitka there are others she believes are designated as “historic sites” including Kalinin Bay. She said the 15-acre site is the fifth largest historic site in the land selection.

Johnson said she’s concerned about what may happen at this location. “They can’t log, and they can’t mine there, but they can develop it,” she said.

Davey Lubin, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., five times in the last six years to testify against the Sealaska lands bill, said he was “highly disappointed” with the news.

“I’m highly disappointed that our treasured, priceless public lands have been privatized,” he said. “It’s a huge loss for the whole nation … What Theodore Roosevelt established as a national legacy, Lisa Murkowski has squandered.”

The Sealaska lands bill is separate from legislation to transfer 11 acres near Redoubt Lake to Sealaska, which is now in the hands of the Bureau of Land Management, Baines said.

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How to add events (with prices)

This tutorial will walk you through setting up simple events, with special emphasis on setting-up ticket sales.

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Living With the Land Radio Episode 12: What's Your Wilderness?

In this episode of “Living with the Land,” SCS’s Tracy Gagnon takes her recording equipment into the Wilderness! When she isn’t paddling 18 miles straight or desperately trying to keep the mic dry, she speaks with visiting artist Ray Geier, and SCS Staff members Paul Killian and Edie Leghorn about their own relationship with wilderness. Listen to this weeks episode to hear more!

What’s your Wilderness?

Living with the Land is a 12 part radio series exploring stories of place in Sitka. It is produced by the Sitka Conservation Society in collaboration with Raven Radio. You can also hear the episodes every Sunday at 10:27am on KCAW, just before Living Planet.


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4-H Explores Sitka’s Ecosystems at Night


Hydrologist K.K. Prussian from the U.S. Forest Service taught 4-Hers of the importance and process of stream measurements during a rainy night hike.

The sun sets before 4pm during a Sitkan Winter. This fact leads to most after-school activities being held indoors. During November and December, the Sitka Spruce Tips 4-H Club enjoyed nature after dark as they learned of Sitka’s plant diversity, hydrology, and soil.

Before we started each hike, 4-H members were reminded of the safety tips necessary for our adventure: group behavior, bear awareness and visibility. 

On our first hike the 4-Hers learned that having a healthy ecosystem is dependent on having a variety of plants and animals. During the second night hike 4-H members learned of soil properties from U.S. Forest Service Soil Scientist, Jacquie Foss, by getting their hands dirty and discussing color and texture. The last hike focused on stream measurements such as velocity, turbidity, and temperature.  The kids made theories on what different measurements could mean for fish and stream health. The 4-H Club was lucky to have a soil scientist and hydrologist explore with us and learn of their careers and the soil and water around us.


The 4-H club had a blast learning of different soil textures with Soil Scientist Jacquie Foss from the Forest Service.

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Meaning of Wild Film Screening


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Toxic Shellfish: How Can We Reclaim Our Beaches?

SCS is not involved with this project, but we are excited to highlight the exciting science our neighbors at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska are starting. We wish them sunny skies and toxin-free plankton samples!

HAB_blog1.jpgNo Southeast Alaskan wild foods potluck would be complete without butter clams, blue mussels, or geoducks harvested from along our local beaches. Unfortunately, the fear of picking up shellfish contaminated with paralyzing or brain-damaging toxins, such as those found in a “red tide”, is enough to make most shellfish aficionados stick to the grocery stores. Luckily, subsistence and recreational shellfish harvesters got their first helping of good news this week at the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) conference organized and hosted by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Starting next week, seven tribes from Southeast Alaska will begin collecting and analyzing plankton samples from local beaches to use as an early warning system for toxic plankton bloom events. Within a few years, this species monitoring will be accompanied by direct testing of shellfish samples in the Sitka Tribe’s new lab. The end goal, although a few years away, is for subsistence Southeast harvesters to have the up to date information necessary to make an informed decision about the risks of harvesting on a given beach. At stake? An abundant, local, delicious, and currently underutilized source of protein. Let the testing begin!

HAB_blog2.jpgMany of us have heard of phytoplankton, but not many of us have a working knowledge of the different species or why they might be dangerous. Phytoplankton, or microscopic marine plants, are the world’s most important primary producers and are responsible for at least half of the global annual oxygen production. Microscopic oxygen-emitters floating through our oceans may sound like a dream come true, but phytoplankton are also capable of producing some of the world’s deadliest toxins. The HAB conference was introduced to Alaska’s three main phytoplankton villains: the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia and the dinoflagellates Dinophysis and Alexandrium. Pseudo-nitzschia produces domoic acid, a poison that targets brain cells and leads to permanent short-term memory loss known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP). Dinophysis is the most benign of Alaska’s toxic plankton and merely induces “food-poisoning on steroids”, or Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP). Alexandrium, the most well-known and feared species, produces saxitoxins that inhibit nerve function. This leads to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) and, occasionally, to death. Saxitoxins are so potent that they have been weaponized by the U.S. military and are classified under Schedule 1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Toxins classified as chemical weapons are terrifying, but plankton are hardly alone among organisms in their ability to produce deadly poisons. The reason planktonic toxins in particular get so much attention is the ease with which they make their way into the human food chain. Plankton are filtered indiscriminately out of the water by shellfish. In a bloom situation, when one plankton species multiplies especially rapidly, any toxins produced can quickly accumulate to lethal levels in all of our favorite mussels, clams, scallops, and even in crustaceans. Humans are not the only species affected by high toxin concentrations in our seafood; sea lions and whales are known to have died from ASP while sea otters in areas with frequent Alexandrium blooms have learned to taste and spit out shellfish with high saxitoxin concentrations.

HAB_blog5.jpgAll this terrifying information from was almost enough to turn me off mussels forever. Thankfully the goal of the HAB conference was not to terrify the tribes in attendance, but rather to empower them to test their own beaches and ultimately to predict risk. That risk is real – in May of 2011, for example, thirteen people in Ketchikan and Metlakatla were admitted to the hospital with symptoms of PSP. But there is hope: in contrast to Southeast Alaska, where recreational shellfish harvesters are playing Russian roulette every time they eat a clam, Washington State has established a highly effective system of early monitoring and shellfish testing throughout Puget Sound. The HAB conference heard from Dr. Vera Trainer (NOAA) and Dr. Jerry Borchert (Washington Department of Health) about how they have coordinated a crew of volunteers and amateurs to make one of the most impressive, comprehensive, and up to date risk maps for the public to use.

Under the tutelage of NOAA scientists Dr. Trainer, Dr. Steve Morton, and Dr. Jennifer Maucher, the HAB conference attendees learned how to collect a plankton sample at a local beach (the primary site for the Sitka Tribe will be at Starrigavan), how to prepare a slide of that sample, and finally how to interpret and identify the organisms present under a microscope. As the attendees ogled at their water samples, they learned to measure the relative abundance of a species. They also learned how to collect and upload our data to a shared website so that all seven tribes involved in this project can see the results of the others. The goal of this plankton monitoring is to use plankton abundances to predict whether there will be a toxicity spike in shellfish in the immediate future.

HAB_blog6.jpgThe Sitka Tribe’s program is modeled after Washington State’s, but the Washington program does have some important differences. First, Washington testers enjoy funding and support from the state’s Department of Health, support that shellfish testers in Alaska will not receive. That support means the Washington DOH can certify beaches as safe or close them to harvesting at any time. The Tribe will have no such authority. No one will be certifying beaches as definitively safe, nor will they be closing beaches that are deemed unsafe. It will be up to us as consumers to pay attention to the Tribe’s data. Secondly, Washington’s program currently consists of both weekly sampling of plankton and of direct testing of shellfish toxin levels. For now, the Alaska program will just consist of plankton sampling, with direct, weekly shellfish testing possibly a year or two away.

HAB_blog7.jpgSo if the beaches won’t be certified, and no one is going to be testing the clams I want to eat next week, and I’m not a member of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, why should I be excited about this HAB conference as a casual harvester? Because this is the first step to what may in the not-too-distant future grow into a Washington-style risk-assessment program. Because coordination between seven far-flung communities in Southeast Alaska will likely give us some surprising insights on plankton movements and habits, and possibly on local currents. Because watching private citizens collect and interpret valuable scientific data may eventually spur the state to get involved. And because waiting a few years to know that your local shellfish are safe is definitely worth it when the alternative is to risk paralysis and suffocation, permanent brain damage, or (best case) horrible food poisoning. In short, we should all be excited because this is the first step anyone in Southeast Alaska has taken to reclaiming some personal ownership of a local food resource. Bravo and smooth sailing to the Sitka Tribe of Alaska!

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Changing the Face of Affordable Housing

tiny_house1.jpgThe term ‘affordable housing’ sometimes has a stigma associated with it. Depending on who you ask, It also means multiple things to various people. When we say affordable housing, we mean a rental or permanent home that may be rented or purchased by an individual or family with a living wage. There are multiple, creative housing types for increasing the amount of affordable housing in Sitka. The most desirable approach would be one with a triple bottom line ethic, not just highlighting the social justice issue of affordability, but also encouraging economic growth of local builders and suppliers, and reducing the carbon footprint of our homes. This means not only saving energy through design, but locally sourcing materials and decreasing our reliance on barged products for construction.

tiny_house2.jpgThe tiny house movement is a design and social movement centered on living small and simply, and is one solution to affordable housing. Sitka is surrounded by federal and state private lands, so as a community, it is faced with a conundrum. How to encourage growth and promote sustainable development with literally no room to grow? The simple solution is going smaller and denser. Density is a valuable tool, allowing a municipality to control growth and develop districts. In many communities where space isn’t an issue, it is used to preserve open space and agricultural lands outside of a community. In a place like Sitka, it is necessary to allow for sustainable growth and affordable housing options which lead to mixed-income and diverse communities. The tiny house is the symbol of living with less and in a smaller space, as opposed to recent trends of maximizing square footage. Tiny houses add environmental value to homes and set a new standard. While it may not be for everyone, tiny house living can contribute to a greater environmental ethic in more ways than one. In addition to the tiny home or microhome style houses, another planning and development tool for affordable housing that is gaining momentum is the Community Land Trust. The SCDC (Sitka Community Development Corporation) has established the Sitka Community Land Trust, an entity that maintains ownership of a lot or parcel, to ensure the house or residence remains affordable. The local land trust is currently working on its first project, the Lillian Drive house.

tiny_houe3.jpegWhen rethinking housing options, a heavy focus on the triple bottom line and sustainability broadens the scope of the issue to include local energy needs and costs. This means transforming the face of not only affordable housing, but community development, which has become a significant force in the national sustainability movement. Given our location, Sitka is heavily reliant on imported materials, food and fuel. All of which are associated with rapidly rising costs. However, with planning, deliberate design, innovative amenities and import substitution, Sitka’s housing model can be redefined. This new way of thinking about housing may generate community awareness and lead to more local jobs along with providing new, innovative housing options.

tiny_house4.jpgSitka and its efforts have been fortunate enough to catch the attention of the State of Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED). The DCCED worked with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) to conduct a case study on Sitka and the Land Trust’s Lillian Drive project. The CCHRC prepared a full report that addressed design elements, energy efficient construction methods, housing features and components, and local timber materials. They also prepared concept designs that illustrate how these elements may be incorporated into the design and planning of a home with goals of maximizing space, building in energy efficiency, and sourcing local materials to reduce the overall carbon footprint of a house.

As Sitka’s housing needs grow and change, SCS is hoping to see more projects that embrace at least one of these key features: affordability, energy efficient, locally sourced and produced. SCS is especially interested in the use of local materials as our community explores these various housing models. We will be partnering with UAS and SItka High School on projects this spring. SCS hopes that pilot projects can help change perceptions and lead to more community development that focuses on a paradigm shift and diversifies our local, affordable housing stock.

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Banding Songbirds With Gwen Baluss: a Closer Look at Our Tiny Feathered Neighbors


Visiting Forest Service Wildlife Technician, Gwen Baluss carefully loosens the tie of a little sac and slowly reaches in. Delicately grasping the fragile creature within, she reveals the dark eyed junco to a resounding “AWE” echoing across the classroom as students pile on top of one another to get a closer look.

For the third year in a row, Baluss has returned to Sitka  to continue studying and teaching the community about bird ecology. While juncos and other songbirds may frequent our feeders and whistle familiar songs during our afternoon strolls, there is still ample mystery to these birds. Scientists and land managers know relatively little about their range, distribution and migration ecology for one. Secondly, very few of us have been lucky enough to encounter our skittish feathered friends up close.  As one of the participants ruefully commented, “The closest I’ve ever been to one of these birds has been sweeping away the unfortunate remains the cat dragged in.” “Don’t worry,” she facetiously reassured the bird banding team, “This will be my last cat.”



Last week, Blatchley middle school students, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary classes, Sitka High students and the Sitka Conservation Society’s (SCS) 4-H program experienced a more pleasant close encounter with our beloved song birds. In the frosted garden behind Blatchley Middle school, Baluss and Scott Harris, the Conservation Science Director with the Sitka Conservation Society carefully and delicately untangle tiny trapped birds from the mist nets. Baluss bands their legs and the team begin taking measurements. Gwen’s enthusiasm for these often overlooked natural wonders peaks as she explains to wide-eyed students how the sheen of a junco’s eyes changes with age from gray to red, how males boast darker plumage atop their heads and how a surprising diversity between individual juncos exists if you just take the time to look carefully. Captivated students edge closer as she starts blowing tenderly on the bird’s belly to reveal yellow fat deposits visible beneath their paper-thin skin. The classroom is fully engaged.



Southeast Alaska offers diverse opportunities for scientific inquiry and exploration just a few yards from the school door. With the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest as our backyard, children here grow up immersed in this outstanding landscape.  Experiences like Gwen’s visit, encourage our youth to approach exploring the environment from an academic or potentially career-driven perspective. Students continue to steward this project throughout the year. In the past, a Sitka High School student Naquioa Bautista, working with the Science Mentor Program coordinated by SCS, based her science fair project on studying the banded bird’s movement. From Naquoia’s study, we learned that Sitka’s winter juncos do not stray very far from their banding sites. On the back wall of Ms. Dick’s 6th grade science classroom, a modern twist on the infamous ‘wanted poster’ is displayed, showing each tagged bird and their band color combination. Students, families and all of Sitka’s residents are encouraged to keep a lookout for tagged birds on their feeders or fluttering about on the trails (please report sightings here).




This week, a few lucky students were given a particularly memorable experience. After a bit of fumbling, the student’s tiny hands encapsulated the virtually weightless fragile feathered mess, their tiny heartbeat pumping against the student’s palm. After taking a knee, the top hand would slowly lift and in an instant burst of energy, the birds would return to the trees of our backyards leaving only tiny soft floating feathers in the air and grins of admiration across each onlooker’s face.


This project is supported by the University of Alaska Southeast’s Natural History Seminar Series, the Sitka Charitable Trust, the Sitka Conservation Society and UAS Biology professor Kitty LaBounty. Gwen Baluss is a biologist with the US Forest Service in the Juneau Ranger District and a member of Juneau’s Audobon Society. Please report any banded bird sightings to or report to the Southeast Alaska Long-term Monitoring Network (SALMoN) . To learn more about Sitka’s 4-H program including how to enroll visit our 4-H page.




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Applelooza 2014

applepalooza_a.jpgTwo weeks ago, youth volunteers from 4-H harvested apples that were grown as a result of one of the initiatives from the 2010 Sitka Health Summit. Volunteers and their parents came together once again to decorate fabric for mason jars and to cook applesauce. The aptly-named event, Applooza, was hosted by the Sitka Kitch at the First Presbyterian Church. Sitka Conservation Society, in conjunction with the Sitka Food Co-Op and the Sitka Local Foods Network, supported and promoted this event. SCS staff members Mary Wood and Sarah Komisar encouraged the engagement of youth volunteers, providing the 4H participants with an opportunity to make a valuable contribution to our community while educating them about the importance of local food production and consumption. The beautifully-decorated jars of applesauce were donated to the Swan Lake Senior Center and the Salvation Army.

applepalooza_b.jpgTo increase the future capacity for successful food projects like Applooza, SCS will be sponsoring the planting of additional apple trees in Sitka. Please join us for our ‘Apple a Day’ apple tree workshop next week. Our Yale Fellow, Michelle Huang, has been working with Jud Kirkness to plan the event. Jud will be on hand to present everything you need to know about apple trees. We will have ordering instructions on hand and encourage everyone to order a tree. We have a goal of increasing the number of apple trees in Sitka by 15 this year! SCS will also be ordering an apple tree for the Pacific High school campus.

This is something SCS, Sitka Kitch, Sitka Local Foods Network and the Sitka Food Co-op would like to see become an annual event. Special thanks to all the Sitkans who supported this event through donations of jars, time, knowledge and offered up their apple trees for harvesting, including the trees at KCAW.


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Living With the Land Radio Episode 7: Lori Adams and the You-Pick Garden

Having grown up on a farm in Oregon, Lori Adams couldn’t help but get her hands in the soil when she moved to Sitka back in the 1980s. She started “Down to Earth You-Pick garden,” where Sitkans go to pick their own, locally-grown vegetables. In this episode of “Living with the Land,” Lori tells us about her garden, her ducks and her favorite customers!

Lori Adams and the You-Pick Garden

Living with the Land is a 12 part radio series exploring stories of place in Sitka. It is produced by the Sitka Conservation Society in collaboration with Raven Radio. You can also hear the episodes every Sunday at 10:27am on KCAW, just before Living Planet.


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