Milt along the Sitka coastline.
The State Board of Fisheries (BoF) met this week to discuss fishery policies and regulations for Southeast and Yakutat finfish. Sound boring? It wasn’t! Herring policy debates were especially animated. This year, the conservation-minded proposals of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska butted up directly against commercial proposals submitted by the wryly named Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance. Every proposal had a counterproposal and every proposal had its champions. Faced with an array of options and with very little hard science to base decisions on, the Board of Fisheries opted to leave the sac-roe status quo intact, voting down every change put before them.
Was this a success story for industry? A success story for conservationists? A bitter pill to swallow for both sides? The continued decline of herring populations or their future recovery will answer that question. The clear success here is the Board of Fisheries process, which heavily emphasizes public participation and comment. Should we be genuinely excited about so much democracy in resource management? Absolutely!
How does the BoF Process Work?
The Board of Fisheries consists of seven members appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature. The governor’s appointees are chosen for their knowledge of fisheries and interest in public affairs, but with eye toward representing all interest groups (broadly broken into commercial, sport, and traditional). The BoF is advised by ADF&G scientists, but is not typically made of up scientists itself.
The strength of the BoF is the degree to which the Board’s meetings draw on public opinion. Comments and testimony were heavily solicited before and during the meeting. The real public process, though, is the “Committee of the Whole”. This was an opportunity for everyone present at the BoF meeting to reach a spontaneous agreement. No time limits, no set order, just discussion between proponents and opponents of each proposal. Unfortunately, unlike a round-table discussion where participants are speaking directly to each other, the open-room format with the Board as an audience seemed to inspire participants to perform for the Board. As salmon troller Eric Jordan pointed out, this part of the BoF is an opportunity for groups to avoid an arbitrary and often unwanted decision by the Board, but if participants don’t have the “fear of the seven dark angels...they have no incentive to come to an agreement.” With herring, this was especially apparent. Traditional and industry supporters upped their rhetoric and moved further apart on every proposal, each fearing compromise far more than the unknown of the Board’s decisions. Does this reflect a broken Board process? I think not. The need for real public input far outweighs the disappointment of watching increasing polarization between groups and with less emotionally-charged fisheries, the Committee of the Whole was productive.
After public orations and discussions, the Board deliberates and decides. Now, the public is the passive audience, and the Board restricts their questions to ADF&G staff members. Happily, Board members frequently cited written and oral public comment as well as the open discussions.
Why do we want this to be democratic?
It’s a reasonable question. Why would we want the ultimate decisions about herring fisheries to be made not by scientists, but by, in a worst case scenario, people who are blatantly biased non-experts, thinly disguised industry reps, random members of the public, and arbitrarily chosen government appointees?
First, in many ways natural resources like herring are public goods. Proper management of herring doesn't just benefit sac-roe seiners or roe-on kelp fishermen, it benefits the entire community. Properly managed, herring provide direct economic benefits to the fishermen who harvest them, indirect economic benefits to salmon fishermen, food for the marine ecosystem, a reason for whales to return to Sitka Sound and bring their entourage of tourists, cultural benefits for traditional users… the list is endless. Given this diversity of user groups, would anything other than the messy, publically accessible process of the BoF give adequate representation to all parties?
More importantly, there is no such thing as pure “science-based” resource management. Bias is endemic to the process. Even by calling herring a “resource”, we have introduced a bias toward harvesting and economic exploitation. By contrast, nobody talks about krill as a resource even though they occupy a similar trophic level to herring. After we decide to prosecute a herring fishery, we look to science to tell us how many herring are returning, what levels of harvest are sustainable, and why the population is fluctuating. Science cannot tell us whether seiners or gill-netters should have more of an opportunity to fish. Science does not inform the discussion about whether the cultural benefits of traditional roe on branch harvesting can be replaced by increased access to roe on kelp. Science has no opinion on the number of herring whales should be allocated given concerns of fishermen, nor can science quantify the full inspiration and ecological benefits of having a healthy whale population in Sitka Sound. Science, in short, tells us how much pie we have to manage and how many groups want a piece of said pie, but it says nothing about who “deserves” the largest slice. Resource management lies at the intersection of scientific knowledge and the needs and wants of interested user groups. Who has the right to judge between two groups, each of whom are asking for a larger allocation of herring? Only a collective, democratic body. In Alaska, only the Board of Fisheries.
Do you care about the future of the Tongass National Forest? Do you want to learn more about tiny houses? Or ocean acidification?
Join the staff and board of the Sitka Conservation Society for an evening filled with great food, conversation, and idea sharing. The We Love the Tongass Gathering will take place on Sunday, February 15 from 4-6 pm at Swan Lake Senior Center (402 Lake Street). Staff and board of the Sitka Conservation Society will discuss tiny homes, local wood, climate change, 4-H programming, and Tongass timber sales. Bring your ideas about how to promote sustainable communities in Southeast Alaska. Let your voice be heard!
This annual meeting is free and open to the public. For more information call SCS at 747-7509 or email@example.com
As you may know towards the end of 2014 the federal government passed the Sealaska Lands Bill, a small measure attached to the much larger National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation transfered public ownership of nearly 70,000 acres of the Tongass from the Forest Service to the private Sealaska Corporation. The land selection finalizes the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the 1971 legislation that transferred ownership to the Regional Native Corporations.
In order to inform the Sitka Community SCS wanted to share the locations and sizes of the various land claims across the Tongass. Some of the larger areas that have been signed over include portions of Kosciusko Island and Tuxekan Island, plus on Prince of Wales sections of Polk, Mckenzie and Keete Inlets. Closer to home there are parcels of land near Sitka at Kalinin Bay, Lake Eva, Fick Cove, and North Arm.
Maps showing the location and size of the various areas that were transferred to the Sealaska Corporation can be accessed on a Forest Service website here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r10/home/?cid=STELPRD3824925
SCS would like to congratulate the Sitka Tribe of Alaska for their success with the Federal Subsistence Board! For more good news about STA, read our previous blog post here.
Herring making the swim to Sitka Sound this season have a new place to spawn safely: the federal waters around Makhnati Island. The Federal Subsistence Board approved FP15-17, submitted by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, at their January 21-23 Anchorage meeting. The proposal closes ~800 acres of federal waters to commercial herring harvesters, although traditional and sport harvesters will still be welcome. But this isn’t a story of sport and subsistence desires trumping the sac-roe industry’s concerns - this new protected area is good news for everyone from fishermen to roe-on-kelp enthusiasts to the fish themselves. Think a win-win-win is impossible? Think again!
How could the exclusion of one group of herring harvesters from Makhnati Island possibly benefit everyone? Let’s start with the herring. Like other forage fish, herring are one of the primary pathways for energy stored in phyto- and zooplankton to nourish our favorite marine predators such as salmon. According to coastal archeologist Iain McKechnie, “They are the central node of the marine ecosystem. They aren’t the base, they aren’t the top, but they are the thing through which everything else flows.” Herring’s critical role in northern Pacific waters was quantified by the Canada Department of Oceans and Fisheries, who calculated that herring make up 62% of the diet of Chinook salmon, 68% of Coho's, 71% of lingcod's, and 32% of harbor seal's. Their impact isn’t limited to the waterline either. In British Columbia, coastal black bears, wolves, and shorebirds feed on herring eggs every spring.
With everyone in agreement that herring are a cornerstone of marine and coastal food webs, you might think we would know everything there is to know about their populations and survival rates from year to year. Unfortunately, that is far from the case. Forage fish are characterized by high reproductive rates, transient populations, and high susceptibility to both top-down population forcing (e.g., too many predators) and bottom-up forcing (e.g., not enough plankton). From a management perspective, that means we have high levels of uncertainty about the number of returning herring from year to year. The Makhnati Island protected area will serve as a buffer against inaccurate stock assessments by providing a small refuge for herring to spawn relatively unmolested.
Besides the herring, the other obvious beneficiaries of the Makhnati Island closure are the traditional and sport herring harvesters. Traditional egg harvesters in particular should be excited since subsistence harvesters have only met their herring egg needs 50% of the time in recent years. Happily, Makhnati Island area is easily accessible to all Sitka residents. Sport fishermen will also benefit from decreased competition with commercial boats.
The real surprise is that the Makhnati Island commercial closure could be good news even for the sac-roe industry. Marine protected areas have been established by politicians from all political stripes, such as George W. Bush’s creation of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in 2009 or President Obama’s expansion of that reserve in 2014. Part of the goal of those marine reserves is increase overall fish populations in waters open to fishermen. Sound far fetched? It’s worked before. The yellow tang population was crashing in Hawaii in 2000, prompting officials to close 35% of the available waters around the Big Island to tang harvesters. Only ten years later and with no reduction in closure areas, 70,000 more tang per year were being exported and the value of the fishery had increased from $745,000 to $1.27 million. Not a bad precedent for the herring industry to look to!
What's next for herring?
If you’re as excited about the potential positive effects of the Makhnati Island closure as we are, be sure to follow the happenings at the State Board of Fisheries at the end of February! Find the herring proposals here and submit your written or online comments to the Board by February 9th.
Sitka Conservation Society and Sitka Native Education Program teach Sitka’s youth how to respect and process deer
The Sitka Conservation Society’s Alaska Way of Life 4-H program (SCS) and Sitka Native Education Program (SNEP) partnered this January to teach Sitka’s youth how to process one of Sitka’s local bounties: deer. The children from the 4-H program and SNEP Culture Class learned from Chuck Miller (SNEP Youth Program Coordinator) as he removed the hide from the animal and taught much more than just how to butcher a deer.
Miller shared with students what the customary traditional practices of deer processing entail. The first thing he pointed out was that the head of the deer was missing. Chuck explained that the brain of the deer could be mixed with urine and used to tan the hides long ago. Chuck said,
“It is important to not waste, and it is disrespectful to the animal to say ‘eww’ or ‘that’s gross’ because that animal gave up its life for you, so you can live.”
The children were certainly not squeamish. No ‘ew’s resounded from the audience of eager and fascinated onlookers. The children learned that the hoofs could be boiled down and used for rattling sticks to dance with. The hide was removed carefully, and the kids discovered that it could be used for clothing or drums. The children eagerly peered over each other to get a look at the heart, liver, and stomach. Chuck explained that the tendons are so strong that they have been used for battle armor, dream catchers, and to latch many things together.
The class also discussed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations and the importance of limitations on does for protecting fawns to conserve the population.
Miller shared with students how to respect the animal by properly processing the meat, as well as by not wasting parts of the deer. He then explained how respecting the animal transfers to respect for the community; the first deer you get for the year should never be kept to yourself.
“You give it away to somebody who is a widow, an elder, or both. You want to make sure you take care of people in the community who cannot hunt for themselves and our elders.” One of the boys in the group whispered to his friend “I’ll give it to my grandma”.
The class was able see the deer processing steps all the way from removing the hide to wrapping the meat in freezer paper. The kids shared stories of their own deer hunting experiences and favorite recipes as they packaged the meat. Students were enthralled and walked away with both a practical understanding of the deer butchering process as well as a stronger respect for this treasured resource.
The Sitka Conservation Society looks forward to partnering with the Sitka Native Education Program in the future to teach Sitka’s youth how to live with the land and build community.
Chuck Miller shows a captive audience the importance of respecting the animal and native traditions through the sacred process of butchering a deer.
Students were enthused to see the steps of proper deer processing all the way from removing the hide to wrapping the meat in freezer paper while learning values of respect and community.
Here is an example of the code needed to install a related posts feed at the bottom of a content page. There is also a tutorial for the install. The production code (below) is what you should copy and paste into the page template.Read more
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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.
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!
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.
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.