Sitka Conservation Society
Sep 18 2014

Stand Up to Corporate Influence!

Sitkans hold a fake check made out to ConocoPhillips, BP, and Exxon at an SB 21 Rally on April 4, 2014.

This year’s primary election was one for the record books. Financial record books, that is. Over the last few months, Alaskans witnessed the most expensive primary campaign in state history. Where is all this money coming from? Corporations. And not just any corporations – some of the richest corporations on earth.

In order to secure their billion dollar tax break, oil companies contributed nearly $15 million to the Vote No (on Ballot Measure 1) campaign. According to campaign finance reports published by the state of Alaska, the top six contributors to the Vote No campaign were BP Exploration Alaska Inc. ($3,625,408), ExxonMobil ($3,606,132), ConocoPhillips Alaska ($2,541,584), ConocoPhillips ($1,471,077), Repsol ($729,432), and Chevron ($300,000). Less than 25 individual Alaskans contributed to the campaign. The Vote Yes campaign, on the other hand, received financial contributions from over 1,000 individual Alaskans.

The troubling statistics continue. Stockpiled with big oil money, the Vote No campaign spent $170 per vote. The Vote Yes campaign, which relied primarily on contributions from individual Alaskan donors, spent $8.

This is an example of corporations asserting undue influence in the political process. In a country that calls itself a democracy, corporations should never be allowed to pay their way into the political system. In Alaska, however, they are.

How do we stop corporations from dominating Alaska politics? We stand up to them. We use our individual and collective voices. We form coalitions and citizen movements that demand corporations to serve the public good, not the Gods of Profit.

Leading up to the primary election, the Sitka Conservation Society mobilized Alaskans across the state to take action on Ballot Measure 1. We made phone calls, knocked on doors, distributed lawn signs, and had meaningful conversations with community members about what’s at stake when corporations dominate our political system. Many Sitkans voiced their concerns about SB 21 via radio waves and newsprint. A giant thank you to Steve Paustian, Mary Beth Nelson, Cindy Litman, Libby Stortz, and Anthony Guevin for submitting Letters to the Editor about the importance of repealing the oil tax giveaway.

Our efforts paid off.  While the repeal failed statewide (52.5 percent of Alaskan voters voted No), Sitkans voted 3:1 in favor of the repeal. On Election day, some 1,315 Sitkans checked the “yes” box, compared to only 448 people who checked “no.” Every single precinct in the district voted in favor of the repeal.

What do these results reveal? They show us that we Alaskans are deeply divided on how we should manage our natural resources. They show us that thousands of Alaskans (90,150 to be exact) are willing to vote for oil company tax breaks, leaving less money for the state to fund public schools, hospitals, and necessary public services. But they also show us that thousands of Alaskans (nearly 82,000 voters) are deeply concerned about the excess role corporations play in the management of our natural resources.

The oil in our state ground belongs to the people of Alaska. We, the people of Alaska, must continue to mobilize against corporate oil giants that take our oil without investing in our state. Join us in our campaign to fight corporate influence and keep our natural resources in public hands.

To get involved or receive more information, email sophie@sitkawild.org or call 907-747-7509.

Corporate spending in Alaska’s 2014 primary reached record levels. The Vote No campaign spent $170 per vote, compared to the Vote Yes campaign which spent $8.

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 29 2014

Group Working to Save Yellow Cedar

As published in the Daily Sitka Sentinel on July 16, 2014

Local carver, Tommy Joseph, stands next to some of his yellow cedar carvings.

Four environmental groups have filed a petition to make the Alaskan yellow-cedar, an important tree to Tlingit carvers, an endangered species.

However, some petitioners believe that the protection might not be enough to save the species.

“It’s almost like we’re too late with the petition, but hopefully not,” said Kiersten Lippmann of Anchorage, who is with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The center, along with the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace and The Boat Company, an organization that runs charter tours through Southeast waters, submitted a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service last month asking for federal protection of yellow-cedar under the Endangered Species Act.

“They are on the downward swing, very dramatically, so something needs to be done,” said Larry Edwards, of Sitka, an Alaska Forest Campaigner of Greenpeace.  “We’ll do whatever we can to help the process along.”

Yellow-cedars have been dying off for about 100 years, U.S. Forest Service research finds. There is now more than half-million acres of dead cedar forests. The preliminary conclusion is that climate change is the cause.

The research has shown that decreasing snowfall in the region is allowing the shallow roots of the trees to freeze, causing the trees to die.  Snow acts like a blanket and insulates the soil beneath, and also provides more water for the trees in the springtime when it melts.

Yellow-cedar trees can live to be more than 800 years old and are naturally very resistant to rot and disease.  These qualities make its wood ideal for use as a building material that will be exposed to water and Southeast Alaska’s rainy climate.

Its soft wood and fine grain make it a favorite wood for Native carvers.

“It’s not just a natural resource, but a cultural resource,” Janet Drake, a park ranger at the Sitka National Historic Park, said.  With no red cedar in the area, the yellow-cedar is a beautiful, local wood for people to use, she said.

Obtaining endangered species status for a plant or animal takes more than one and a half years if the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. meets all deadlines for acting on the petition.  Unfortunately, Lippmann said, usually those deadlines are not met on time.

And on top of that, the federal protection cannot stop the effects from climate change.  It would only live trees from being cut down.

At present the Aleutian holly fern is the only federally protected plant in Alaska, says the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While conservation groups spearhead the petition efforts, some local carvers worry about the classification of yellow-cedar as endangered.  Tlingit carvers Tommy Joseph and Robert Koffman, both of Sitka, voiced concerns about losing access to wood supplies if the petition should succeed.

 

Joseph said that he likes using yellow-cedar because of its durable qualities.   “It’s softer but it will outlast all the others,” he said.

Koffman, who also works at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, said the tight grain of yellow-cedar allows him to put more detail into his carvings.  He said it would be best if there is a clause allowing subsistence harvest of yellow-cedar in order to protect carvers’ livelihood.

“If it is a disappearing species there should be protections,” Koffman said, but added:  “I think a limited amount of wood should be made available to Native artists.”

Petitioners argue that the real enemy is commercial timber sales, not the amount used for carving.

“If you can at least limit logging, you can give the species a little bit of resilience in the face of climate change,” Lippmann said.

 

Jul 21 2014

Tourism in the Tongass: The Mendenhall Glacier

Alaska hosted close to 2 million visitors between May 2013 and April 2014, shattering its previous annual visitor record by more than 5,000 people.  Not surprisingly, about 1.7 million of those visitors came in the summer months, but last winter did see a 4 percent increase in out-of-state visitation, according to statistics published by the Alaska Department of Commerce.

“Alaska is a worldwide recognized brand,” Dan Kirkwood, outreach director for the Alaska Wilderness League said. When people hear Alaska they think wilderness, adventure, landscapes, hiking and outdoor activities, he explained.  “The market demand is for the natural beauty and for this wilderness experience”

Here in Southeast Alaska, where 17 million acres of the region is the Tongass National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service is the most important player in determining how tourists and residents alike use and experience the wilderness.  The U.S. Forest Service governs everything from timber sales to hunting to recreation.

Tourists from all over the United States venture to Southeast Alaska to see and experience the beauty and vastness of America’s largest national forest.  The U.S. Forest Service provides important and meaningful ways for people to experience the Tongass and one of the most visitor-friendly places is just 12 miles from Juneau at the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center.

The Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center was built in 1961 and is the most visited attraction in the Tongass National Forest today, with tourists traveling from all across America for an amazing view of the river of ice.

The U.S. Forest Service built the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center in 1961.  It is the oldest Fores Service visitor’s center in the country and the most popular in Southeast Alaska today.   The glacier has retreated at an alarming rate in recent years.  Glaciers retreat when the ice melts at a faster rate than it is replaced every year.  While Mendenhall has been retreating since the mid-1700s, it has certainly sped up in recent years.  About 50 years ago, the glacier moved about 60 feet every year.  In 2011, the glacier retreated 437 feet!

Despite how far back the glacier has moved since the visitor’s center was built, the U.S. Forest Service has created a very visitor-friendly experience for people with varying degrees of outdoor experience.  Even closer and more astonishing views of the glacier are just a short walk up the path from the visitor’s center to Nugget Falls.  This short trail one of the most popular in Juneau.

The Mendenhall Glacier was named for Thomas Mendenhall, a former superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey. The original name of the glacier was Auke Glacier, named by John Muir in 1879 for Aak’w Kwaan of the Tlingit Indians.

While the Mendenhall is retreating, it is far from disappearing and he number of visitors to the glacier is continually increasing.  Statistics provided by the Alaska Wilderness League show that in 2011 tourism contributed $1 billion and provided more than 10,000 jobs in Southeast Alaska.   And the most popular city to visit in the Southeast is Juneau.

Recent budget cuts to the recreation programs and the current management strategy of the U.S. Forest Service have made it very difficult for the agency to adjust to the growing demand of visitors in the area.  As tourism easily becomes the second most important industry for the Southeast Alaskan economy, behind sport and commercial fishing, the U.S. Forest Service is in the unique position to greatly impact how much this industry grows and contributes to the welfare of the region.

Travelers from all over the United States come to visit the very first visitor’s center built by the U.S. Forest Service.  Stars indicate where all of the following tourists traveled from.

Many tourists traveling through the Tongass do not know much about the nation’s largest national forest before they arrive.  But, through programs, films, exhibits, pamphlets, guides and talks provided by the U.S. Forest Service, visitors learn more and more about a forest that they can call their own.  After spending even just a short time there, they all agree it is beautiful and unlike any other forest they have ever seen.  Continue reading to meet some travelers from all over America and see what had to say about their trip to the Southeast.

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Sam Tortora from New York!

“We have never seen anything like this!  We don’t have this in New York,” the couple said of their first trip to Alaska.  Despite the pricey airfare, they both said they would come back.  ”It’s like being in Paradise!”

 

 

Meet Mary and Collette from Wisconsin! 

Mary is a former travel agent and has been to Alaska four times.  ”I just love Alaska,” she said.  ”It’s God’s country!”  Mary and Collette came in on a cruise to Juneau and spent their morning exploring the Mendenhall visitor’s center.

 

 

Meet Mike and Debbie from Oregon!

“I’m burnt out on the boat,” Mike said of his cruise experience.  ”I like being out.”  Mike and Debbie did not know much about the Tongass before they took a cruise to Alaska from Seattle, but they were enjoying what feels like countless views of glaciers and waterfalls.

 

 

Meet Lynnette and Teresa from Nebraska!

“This place is HUGE with all capital letters!” Lynnette said of the Tongass.  They have really enjoyed their trip to Alaska and are looking forward to the rest of their travels.

 

 

Meet Lynn and George from Florida!

Lynn and George have been to Alaska three times.  This time, they decided to travel more of the land and less of the sea and opted for independent travel, rather than a cruise ship.  They returned to Mendenhall Glacier to stay up to date and aware on the effects of climate change on the region they said.

 

 

Meet Peggy from Texas!

Peggy came in to Juneau on a cruise ship.  It’s her first time in Alaska and she described the Tongass as a “beautiful and huge ecosystem” unlike any she had ever seen before.

 

 

These are just a few faces of the thousands of visitors that venture to the Mendenhall Glacier this summer and there will be thousands more that will visit this public and pristine wilderness before the season is out.

Nov 03 2013

Our Offices get an Energy Upgrade!

The Old Harbor Books Building in Sitka where SCS’s offices are located, received an energy audit by participating in the Alaska Energy Authority’s Commercial Building Energy Audit Program. This video series follows the building’s audit, energy upgrades and expectations.  Visit the Commercial Energy Audit program webpage for more information.

Video 1 of 5 provides background to the Old Harbor Books building and the community of Sitka about improving the efficiency of an old building. This is a collaborative project of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sitka Conservation Society.

Video 2 of 5 tells about the Alaska Commercial Building Energy Audit Program and Brian McNitt, the building manager’s decision to apply for the program. Certified Energy Auditor Andy Baker explains how the building is benchmarked and what data is contained in the report. This is a collaborative project of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sitka Conservation Society.

Video 3 of 5 explains what the certified energy auditor, Andy Baker, recommended for the Old Harbor Books Building. Andy also explains what information is offered in a Level II ASHRAE audit. This is a collaborative project of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sitka Conservation Society.

Video 4 of 5 provides an explanation from the building manager, Brian McNitt, of what recommendations they tackled right away and which ones they will be working on in the near future. This is a collaborative project of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sitka Conservation Society.

In the final video, the Old Harbor Books building manager provides his experience in the Alaska Energy Authority’s Commercial Building Energy Audit Program. Learn more about energy efficiency programs for commercial and residential buildings and how you and your community can benefit by using less energy: akenergyauthority.org/efficiencyaudits.html?

 

Oct 25 2013

Tongass Building

There are countless reasons to ‘buy local’ ranging from defining and maintaining local character to strengthening the community to stimulating local entrepreneurship and keeping money in the community.  In a community like Sitka that can, more often than not, present a suite of challenges, primarily, a limited capacity to produce certain goods and commodities that other communities have easy access to. Not only are we limited by capacity, we are physically isolated and rely heavily on a barge system to provide us with many of the building blocks of an autonomous economy.

Roof in progress

The solution is simple, build a local economy around the materials you have, wood. As part of the transition framework, the USFS is diverting away from ‘big timber’ and devoted to diversifying forest product economics. This includes a Land Management plan that moves towards small scale, sustainable timber harvesting within roaded, young growth areas. SCS has worked to highlight this transition through community projects that demonstrate young growth and local wood as viable building materials. This shift in Tongass management opens Sitka up to develop a local workforce centered on our assets and ensures that we will capture the economic value of our resources within the local economy. The harvesting, processing and installation of local materials leads to jobs throughout the SE. This type of economy results in not just more jobs, but enhanced social capital in our communities, healthier buildings and the beginning of a robust building supply chain. Local materials means less CO2 emissions tied up in transport and less money leaving our community.

Jamal Floate (left) discussing the project

Today, more and more architects and builders are choosing local, sustainably harvested, produced or recycled materials. Enter Jamal Floate, local entrepreneur, builder and owner of Renaissance Construction. Despite the many challenges faced here in Sitka, he is buying and building local. He constructs projects with energy efficiency in mind and uses local, sustainably harvested wood products. His current project is a private home here in Sitka.  The external and support components consist of wood products sustainably harvested and milled in Wrangell. Floate hopes to use locally harvested and milled Sitka Red Alder from False Island for interior finish work. If he does, the alder can be kilned and processed right here in Sitka by Todd Miller.

Floate is equally committed to energy concerns, not only are the bulk of the construction materials locally and sustainably produced; the house will be highly energy efficient.  That starts with the design and size, the building footprint is only 780 square feet, and the finished square footage will be around 1000 square feet.  Despite the modest foot print, the house will include a great room with vaulted ceilings, a large loft bedroom and master bath,  guest bedroom, second bathroom, kitchen, utility room and covered outdoor deck.  This is due in part to the materials, as well as the building envelope, technology and design techniques. The design incorporates a radiant floor heating system that is more conductive than other types of radiant heat, and will run off of water from the home’s water heater.  The house will also have a zero clearance wood-burning stove, providing exceptional heating capacity and improving indoor air quality.

Floate maintains that this construction model can be replicated in Sitka, and the cost per square foot is no more expensive than traditionally produced homes made with imported building materials. The combination of design and materials will result in a healthier house  and distinct character.  It starts with a paradigm shift, that spaces can be smaller and with more thoughtful design and planning they can be unique and efficient.  This model is linking local businesses and strengthening the community. The possibilities are endless and could result in other opportunities in the retrofitting and renovating sectors of construction as well.

View across the soon to be kitchen and great room

Jun 04 2013

Conservation in the Classroom

Did you build your own water filters out of cotton balls and coffee filters, make homemade rainwater catchment systems, or simulate oil rigs with sand and straws when you were in third grade? Neither did I. Third graders in Chris Bryner’s class got to embark on a journey to learn all about water conservation in and around the Tongass over the course of the last few months through a project called Conservation in the Classroom. This new program, created by myself and Chris Bryner, aimed to teach kids everything about water conservation and how it relates to their lives. Throughout two months, I taught lessons on how water conservation relates to things like pollution, waste, energy, water filtration, and more.

Chris’s classroom is unique in that he uses the model of project based learning. This non traditional and adaptive teaching style gave me the freedom to let kids learn by building and being creative instead of talking at them. They learned how hydropower works by building their own water wheel. They compared this to oil rigs as they created their own ocean with layers of sugar and sand to represent oil and the ocean floor. They saw as they pulled the “oil” out of the water with a straw, the “ocean floor” was disturbed. Instead of me telling them, they got to create the simulation on their own. They could see how hydropower is a clean source of energy and understand how our Blue Lake Dam works.

We talked about the importance of protecting watersheds, which is a huge concept for third graders! Kids crumpled up paper to create miniature mountain peaks. I sprayed water on all of the peaks and they watched it trickle down to create this big watershed. We did the same thing with food dye and saw how far it could travel if you dump a pollutant at the top of a mountain. The kids watched it happen in front of their eyes instead of being told what might happen. After that, the kids asked f we could have a trash pick up day to remove all the garbage from Cutthroat Creek to stop it from spreading.

Sitka Conservation Society’s advocates for protecting the Tongass and promoting ecological resiliency. By teaching third graders why conservation matters, they will have a better understanding of why the Tongass is worth protecting. Through these projects and others that the kids created, we all learned how even though water is abundant here, it relates and impacts other things in the Tongass and should be monitored and protected.

After exploring these things, the kids got to break up into groups and focus on a final project they were most interested in. One group investigated the benefits and drawbacks of the Blue Lake Dam Expansion Project. They went on a tour of the facility, interviewed key people from the project, and talked to Sitkans about what they thought. Another group wanted to know how to proper filter water. They did a Skype interview with a woman who builds filters for families in Africa. The kids were creative, inquisitive, and had incredible results. Conservation in the Classroom was a terrific collaboration between SCS and Chris Bryner’s class. Students walked away with a better understanding of their landscape and how to protect it.

Apr 23 2013

“Do the Math” Film Screening – Thurs. April 25th

In honor of Earth Week, the Sitka Conservation Society invites folks to a screening of “Do the Math,” a thought provoking and action motivating film about the battle between the fossil fuel industry and our future as a species.  This film showing is free and open to the public.

Thursday, April 25th, 7:30 pm

Larkspur Cafe
Watch the trailer: http://350.org/math
Event details: http://act.350.org/event/do_the_math_movie_attend/4088

Mar 12 2013

SCS Recommends: This Old Window Workshop ~ March 17th

Jan 22 2013

Climate Change on the top of President Obama’s “To-Do” List

In his inauguration speech yesterday, President Obama made clear the key issues that are of the most concern and importance going into his second term in office. Of those handful of issues, addressing the threat of climate change was arguably the most important – both to the President, and to our planet. After so many years of stagnant, and often non-existent, discussions and attempts at creating policies to address climate change, President Obama made it quite clear that this inactivity will not continue. Addressing climate change is not just something we “must” do, it is something we “will” do.

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgement of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

Now, more than ever, we need to keep vigilant in our efforts to make sure that our Senators Begich and Murkowski know that climate change policy should be at the top of their “to do” lists as well.  Writing a letter, sending an email, making a call –  all are important actions that everyone can and should do to make sure our representatives in Washington DC know what their constituents value and want to see addressed in this new term.  It only takes a few minutes, and we already have a page set up to get you started.

 

If you missed the President’s speech, you can read a transcript here

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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
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