Sitka Conservation Society
Aug 21 2014

Salmon Stewardship on the Tongass: Twelvemile Creek

The Sitka Conservation Society is not only dedicated to protecting the natural environment of the Tongass National Forest, but also to supporting the health and sustainability of the communities that depend on the forest’s resources. As part of this mission, we partnered with local communities, the Tongass National Forest, and the National Forest Foundation to conduct a habitat restoration monitoring project on Twelvemile Creek on Prince of Wales Island.

This project has three key components; conducting the actual monitoring of fish ecology, engaging local school kids in hands-on activities in the creek, and training aspiring fisheries professionals from nearby communities.

Stream Team is a statewide citizen science initiative that brings students out of the classroom and into their backyard. This summer, students from Hydaburg, Craig and Klawock were able to participate. Corby Weyhmiller, a teacher in the community of Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, was instrumental in involving students in the hands-on activities. This past summer, kids worked alongside fisheries technicians and researchers at Twelvemile Creek. In addition to developing their math and science skills, the students learned about the background and history of forest management, salmon habitat, and restoration efforts on the Tongass National Forest.

Klawock students investigate and identify bugs on Twelvemile Creek.

Cherl Fecko has also been integral to the effort to engage local school students. Fecko is a retired Klawock school teacher and continues to work catalyzing environmental education initiatives on Prince of Wales. She said the hands-on experience is valuable for students in Southeast Alaska. “I think in this world of technology, what we’re really hoping is that kids don’t lose that connection to their outside world,” she said. “I mean, they are still using technology but I think it’s just so important to still get outdoors and connect with their environment.”

Steve McCurdy collects coho smolt for measurements and data collection on the Screwtrap on Twelvemile Creek.

The five species of Pacific salmon that inhabit the rivers and streams of the Tongass fuel the economy of Southeast Alaska and are an essential part this region’s culture. Past logging practices were detrimental to salmon habitats because surrounding trees and even those lying across stream beds were removed. Forest Service biologists and local conservationists later realized the woody debris in and along the rivers and streams had its purpose.  These logs create important habitat for salmon spawning when they are adults and provide cover for young salmon.  They also have important ecological functions that can be hard to predict. For example, the logs that lie across creeks like Twelvemile catch and trap dead salmon that are washed downstream, and help fuel the nutrient and food cycles of the aquatic ecosystem.

Kelly is one of three fish technician interns on Twelvmile Creek. She is learning about fish ecology and management from the field crew.

Over the years, the Sitka Conservation Society, the National Forest Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and our communities have worked in partnership to focus on restoration projects that can return these streams to their original condition. This summer, enthusiastic Stream Team students, high school interns, and teams of scientists were out in the waters, observing the habitats to find out what has worked well in the restoration process and what can be improved. This adaptive management testing, or post-restoration monitoring, is funded by the Forest Service, National Forest Foundation and members of the Sitka Conservation Society.

The work on Twelvemile Creek has helped more than just the returning coho salmon, however. The internship program has given high school students the chance to participate in the research and get on-the-job training and exposure to fisheries research. Upon completion of the internship, students may receive scholarships for the University of Alaska Southeast’s fisheries technician program.

The Sitka Conservation Society remains committed to not only the health of the fish in Twelvemile Creek, but its future stewards. Conservation Science Director Scott said, “It’s a long-term commitment to taking care of a stream, but this is not just any stream and these are not just any kids. Ideally they’ll end up getting jobs as fisheries biologists and fisheries technicians and natural resource managers.”

Founding by Congress in 1991, the National Forest Foundation works to conserve, restore, and enhance America’s 193-million-acre National Forest System. Through community-based strategies and public-private partnerships, the NFF helps enhance wildlife habitat, revitalizes wildfire-damaged landscapes, restores watersheds, and improves recreational resources for the benefit of all Americans.

The US Forest Service monitors steelhead trout on Twelvemile Creek.


Jul 18 2014

When you wish upon a star!

Volunteer geologist Kari Paustian accompanied the SCS cruisers on Sunday to offer her expertise about Kruzof.

There were XTRATUFS everywhere!  Though, a few souls did venture into the tide pools without them.  On a foggy and misty Sunday morning, some brave adventurers, sponsored by the Sitka Conservation Society, ventured to Kruzof to learn about intertidal species.  The shore was spotted with sea stars and there was quite a bit to learn about this wilderness that presents itself just a few hours every day.

Did you know there are 2,000 species of sea stars?

Not all live here in Southeast Alaska, but this region has the highest amount of diversity of these species.

Sea stars – sometimes referred to as starfish – are not actually fish.  They do not have gills, fins, or scales.  They pump nutrients through their body with salt water because they do not have blood.  They have at least 5 legs, but some have as many as 40!

This is a sunflower sea star. These guys can be up to 3 feet wide and weigh as much as 60 pounds. They feed on clams and crabs and can move pretty quickly through the water. Well, they are no cheetahs, but they get around.

The biggest predators of sea stars are other sea stars. When sea stars feel threatened, they have the ability to shed one of their legs (which they will regrow later) so that a predator might eat that leg and leave them alone.

We hope you enjoyed learning as much as we did!

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.

Nov 18 2013

Bird Banders Presentation

This week, Gwen Baluss will be in town to band juncos, chickadees, and sparrows again, and we could use your help! This effort is part of a long-term study to better understand the winter movements of these species. Last year we banded 97 birds and monitored them all winter long with your help.

If you are interested in helping band birds, or just see how it’s done, there are several opportunities!

TUES, 19 Nov, 730pm, UAS room 106, bird-banding presentation and intro for banding assistants and interested folks

Wed, Thu, Fri (20-22 Nov), morning and evenings, help us band birds! Email to coordinate a time slot.

Following is a link to the work we did last year:


Nov 11 2013

Lake Suloia Wilderness Trip

In early October two high school students, Sitka Sound Science Center educator Ashley Bolwerk, and I traveled to Lake Suloia on Chichagof Island. This trip was part of the Community Wilderness Stewardship Project funded by the National Forest Foundation and the Sitka Conservation Society Living Wilderness Fund in order to gather baseline data on wilderness areas in the Tongass National Forest. Flying in a Beaver for the first time, I was able to see Southeast Alaska from a new perspective. As you fly from island to island, one can get lost in the sight of the Tongass from above. I was amazed at the beauty of Lake Suloia, peaking through the valley as we approached Chichagof Island. Upon landing, I realized my mistake of wearing hiking boots instead of Xtratufs. Fortunately, Ashley was able to give me a lift from the Beaver floats to shore.



Within our first hour, we had something to record for the Wilderness Stewardship Project: our first plane. We could not see it due to the low clouds, but it seemed fairly close. We went on a hike around the lake to look for beaver traps that were previously dropped off by a high school teacher but never set. Although unsuccessful, we became lovers of the muskegs and masters at dodging Devil’s Club. There were many signs of black tailed deer: tracks, scat, and trails that went under logs far too low for us to follow. We saw some small black birds with white wing tips on the lake, too far away to identify without binoculars. We were able to harvest Lingonberries and cranberries in the muskeg along with Labrador tea.

This particular trip provided for opportunities to explore and share my experience as the Living with the Land Jesuit Volunteer at SCS. I have learned about subsistence harvest of fish, game and wild plants upon which the Southeast community depends.  I have gathered abundant wild edibles in the forest and muskeg to make fruit leather, jam, and other tasty treats. The area around Lake Suloia was no exception to the availability of these foods to support this Alaska way-of-life. I was able to teach the students on the trip how to identify cranberries, Lingonberries, crowberreis, bunchberries, and Labrador tea, which are all found in the muskeg. We also had a lesson on the Leave No Trace (LNT) wilderness ethics, which guide an explorer to travel with intention in the wilderness. It is an important practice to live by in the wilderness.

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest values of simple livingcommunityspirituality/reflection, and justice were very present on this trip into the wilderness. Although I thought we were living in luxury with a wood stove and outhouse in the forest service cabin, it was still a lesson in simple living! We talked about how little we need to survive in the wilderness: warm layers, rain gear, and Xtratufs take care of the basic need to stay warm in this coastal temperate rainforest. It excites me how simple living ignites creativity and shared talents. We were able to share a common space to build community without the distractions of technology and excess: a space for songs, games, and philosophical discussions. Taking time to reflect on your life, where you place value and priorities, seems to come naturally when you gaze across an alpine lake glimmering with a rainbow.

Jul 12 2013

Field Science Opportunities!

Join us in the field to collect ecological monitoring data and learn about our projects! SCS is part of the Southeast Alaska Long-term Monitoring Network, which integrates citizen science with long-term monitoring of the environment. There are multiple opportunities to join SCS on our field projects this summer. Check this link to learn more.

May 30 2013

Wilderness Volunteers Needed

Interested in volunteering with the Community Wilderness Stewardship Project?  This year we’ll have a number of opportunities for you to get into the field with SCS staff and USFS Wilderness Rangers to help collect monitoring data, remove invasive weeds, and enjoy our amazing Wilderness areas.

Below are the trips and dates with spots available for volunteers.  To volunteer, fill out the forms and safety information here, and email them to and


Slocum Arm- 6 days – July 8-July 14 – 2 volunteers

Volunteers will be travelling to Slocum Arm in West Chichagof Wilderness Area to help researchers monitor plots for the Yellow-Cedar study by Stanford University.  The crew will be transported by charter boat to Slocum Arm, then access field plot by kayak.


Slocum Arm – 5 days – July 14-July18 –  2 volunteers

Volunteers will be travelling to Slocum Arm in West Chichagof Wilderness Area to help researchers monitor plots for the Yellow-Cedar study by Stanford University.  The crew will be transported by charter boat to Slocum Arm, then access field plot by kayak.  This trip will trade-out with the previous trip on July 14th.


Port Banks/Whale Bay- 5 days – July12-July16 – 2 volunteers

After boating from Sitka to Whale Bay, the crew will off-load with gear and packrafts. After hiking to Plotnikof Lake, the crew will packraft to the end of the lake, portage to Davidoff Lake and paddle to the end of the lake, then reverse the trip back to salt water.  Volunteers will assist SCS staff and collect ecological and visitor use data. At the end of the trip, volunteers will fly back to Sitka by float plane.


Red Bluff Bay- 8 days – July 21-July 28 – 2 volunteers

Red Bluff Bay on the eastern side of South Baranof Wilderness Area is a spectacular destination. The SCS crew will spend 8 days camping in the bay and traveling by kayak and foot to monitor base-line ecological conditions and visitor use before flying back to Sitka by float plane.


Red Bluff Bay- 7 days – July 28-August 3 – 2 volunteers

Red Bluff Bay on the eastern side of South Baranof Wilderness Area is a spectacular destination. The SCS crew will spend 8 days camping in the bay and traveling by kayak and foot to monitor base-line ecological conditions and visitor use before flying back to Sitka by float plane.  This trip will trade-out with the previous trip on August 3.


Taigud Islands – 7 days – August 11-August 17 – 3 volunteers

Volunteers will paddle from Sitka to the Taiguds and surrounding islands to assist SCS Wilderness staff monitor recreational sites and collect beach debris for future pick-up. The crew will then paddle back to Sitka.  *Note: These dates are not yet firm and may be subject to change.


Apr 23 2013

Science Sharing Night Monday, April 29th, 7:00 pm, UAS

Want to learn more about the genetics of Alaska yellow cedar or intertidal beetles, marine mammal bioacoustics, winter song bird hangouts, the effects of forest thinning on deer habitat, and stream chemistry?

The Second Annual Sitka Science Sharing Night from 7-8:30 p.m. on Monday, April 29, at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus Room 229 will highlight the work by several student scientists from Sitka schools, including projects conducted through the Science Mentoring program. During the past school year, these students have been active stewards of our local forest, freshwater and marine ecosystems by developing and conducting their own research studies.

The Sitka Science Sharing Night gives these students a chance to share with the general public about their projects. It will be set up just like a poster session at a scientific conference, and the students will be available to share their work and answer questions.

This event features students from Sitka High School, Mt. Edgecumbe High School, Blatchley Middle School, and Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. Student projects are funded by the Sitka Charitable Trust, the National Forest Foundation, and the Bio-Prep Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The Sitka Science Sharing Night is a joint project of the Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Sound Science Center, UAS Sitka Campus, Sitka School District, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School. For more information, contact Kitty LaBounty at 738-0174 or Scott Harris at

Apr 16 2013

Gavan Forest: The Natural History

Check out this in-depth natural history of the Gavan Forest in Sitka, put together by naturalist Richard Carstensen.  Download the report HERE.

Feb 08 2013

Expedition: Outer Island Survey

This expedition is part of Sitka Conservation Society’s Community Wilderness Stewardship Project.  The Project, begun in 2009, is a partnership between SCS and the Tongass National Forest Service to collect base-line data on the ecological conditions and human impacts to designated Wilderness areas.  The Tongass NF in Southeast Alaska is the nation’s largest National Forest totaling 17 million acres with almost 6 million acres of designated Wilderness Area (also the largest total Wilderness area of any National Forest).  Almost all of this land is only accessible by boat or on foot.  Because most Tongass Wilderness Areas are so difficult to access, Forest Service Wilderness rangers rarely, if ever, have the ability to monitor areas which require technical skills, lots of time, or difficult logistics for access.  SCS augments and fills in the gaps in data by targeting these areas.

For the 2013 project, the SCS Wilderness crew will work with Craig and Thorne Bay Ranger Districts to conduct a monitoring expedition to a set of outercoast islands adjacent to Prince of Wales Island including Coronation Is., Warren Is., the Spanish Is., and the Maurelle Is.

The Team:

Adam Andis, is the Communications Director for SCS.  He has managed the Wilderness Stewardship Program since 2011.  Andis first started paddling on a National Outdor Leadership School expedition in Prince William Sound.  He guided kayak trips all over Southeast Alaska for Spirit Walker Expeditions before moving to Sitka to work for SCS.  Andis is a Level 4 ACA Instructor, a Leave-No-Trace Master Educator, and Wilderness First Responder.  He is also on the board of directors of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and has a passion for Wilderness preservation and protection.


Rob Avery, has been paddling since he was a teenager (and that was a long time ago!) racing sprint and marathon in Junior K1. Originally from the UK, Rob now lives in the Pacific Northwest where he manages distribution for Valley & North Shore kayaks.  He is also the regional rep for Snap Dragon, Level Six and other fun paddlesports stuff under his Active Paddles business, and also runs Kayak Kraft coaching service.  Rob is an ACA Level 5 Instructor, Level 4 BCU coach, 5 star BCU paddler, Wilderness First Responder, Leave-No-Trace Instructor and no stranger to Alaska where is has spend many windy and rainy days paddling in the SE, central, Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands.

Cris Lewis,





Paul Norwood, was born and raised in Paris, and has lived in Alaska since 1999.  He spent a few years fishing and working in canneries, then did odd jobs in the interior of the state. Finally, he went to Sitka where he studied liberal arts and Spanish at UAS and worked as a tour guide on wildlife watching cruises. He has been on the Sitka Mountain Rescue team for several years, completed a year of Americorps service at the Sitka Sound Science Center, did an internship with the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment and a stint on a trail crew in southern Patagonia, and participated with numerous organizations on small projects ranging from traditional gardening to mapping invasive species.  Paul has Emergency Medical Technician certification.

Dates and Duration:  We are planning 16 days for the trip (11 field days, 2 travel days, and 2 weather days).  The trip will begin June 16th and the crew will return to Sitka on July 2nd.

Overview map of Southeast Alaska

Route:  The crew will pack boats in the small fishing village of Port Alexander.  The crux of the trip will be the 12.5 nm open-water crossing of Chatham Strait to Kuiu Island.  From there, the crew will paddle south to Cape Decision and stay at the Cape Decision Lighthouse.  On to the Spanish Island and Coronation Island where the crew will monitor recreation sites and record visitor use data, survey for invasive plants, conduct owl broadcast surveys, swab toads for fungal infections, and a litany of other research goals.  From Coronation, the team will cross to Warren, then down to the Maurelles to meet up with Craig Ranger District staff and Youth Conservation Corps to help out in the field.  Back at the final destination in Craig, the crew will lead a kayak skills and rescue class for the Ranger District staff and community members in Craig.  The trip will wrap up with an adventure in ferry hopping from Craig to Ketchikan and finally back to Sitka.


Route map, distance between dots are indicated.


Pre-trip: send kayaks to Port Alexander on mailboat

June 16: Fly in small plane to Port Alexander, cross Chatham Strait to Kuiu Island.

June 17: Paddle along Kuiu to The Spanish Islands and Coronation.

June 18: Survey Coronation I.

June 22: Paddle to Warren island and survey.

June 25: Paddle to Maurelle Island group.

Place names

June 26: Meet the Craig Wilderness Rangers and Youth Conservation Corps in the Maurelles to help with projects

June 27: Survey Maurelle Islands

June 28: Paddle to Craig

June 29: Teach kayak skills and rescue training for Craig community.

June 30: Catch InnerIsland ferry to Ketchikan

July 1: catch Alaska Marine Ferry to Sitka.

Red dots indicate potential camps for each day

July 2: Return to Sitka, compile data, sort and clean gear, then drink some cold beers



For more information, please contact Andis at or (907) 747-7509.

Follow Us
Get Updates
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Newsletter and updates

Take Action Now
Take Action

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

  • Hungry for Huckleberry Pie, Venison Stew, or Fresh Greens? Come to the Wild Foods Potluck Nov. 2!
  • Stand Up to Corporate Influence!
  • Kayaking Kootznoowoo: Report on SCS’s Final Wilderness Trip
  • Encouraging Local Natural Resource Stewardship on the Tongass: Kennel Creek
  • Teaching the Alaska way of Life: 4-H in Sitka
Get Involved
Get Involved