Ten years ago, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act occurring this year, in 2014, the United States Forest Service launched what it termed the Ten Year Wilderness Challenge – an endeavor aimed at bringing to the over 400 wilderness areas under the Forest Service’s management a level of care needed to protect and preserve their wild character. As of 2009, the Sitka Conservation Society has been one of the organizations partnering with the Forest Service, specifically the Sitka Ranger District, to bring this goal to fruition.
This past week, I was lucky enough to find myself on the first Community Wilderness Stewardship trip of the season, traveling north to the Baird Islands. Bordered to the east by Slocum Arm and on the west by the Pacific Ocean, the Baird Islands are part of the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area, successfully designated wilderness in 1980 by the famed Alaska National Lands Conservation Act. And after spending four days in this area, it’s fairly easy to understand why the citizens of Sitka fought so hard to rescue this land from logging operations. Over the course of the trip we were awoken by whales in the morning, tailed by playful sea lions, protected from the elements by huge old-growth trees spreading their branches above us, and at all times were looking out on panoramic scenes of untouched mountain and open ocean. Nature, it would seem, is doing alright in Southeast Alaska.
And it is; but we also found signs that the work of conservation is not yet over. On a few of the small islands in the chain, we discovered an invasive species of plant, possibly curly dock, which, without monitoring and control, could constitute a threat to the ecological health of Southeast’s native species. We also came upon lots of human trash, which, along with the potential harm it may have on the ecosystem, is also obviously an aesthetic affront. As well as doing general inventory on site use and monitoring for signs of permanent human presence, we therefore also spent a lot of our time picking up trash and pulling out plants.
One of my favorite moments from the trip happened in the midst of one such garbage pick-up. As I was, rubber gloves on and trash bag in hand, helping clean up the beach on which we were camped, Paul Killian, an individual at the crux of the partnership between SCS and the Forest Service, walked by me with a particularly heavy haul of trash. I made a comment about what a good load he had gotten, to which he smiled and said, “It’s not staying in my wilderness!” I liked the way that Paul had phrased that: “my wilderness.” It reminded me of a fact I often forget – although one that each time I remember amazes me no less – which is that by virtue of being American citizens, we are all shareholders in these vast and beautiful tracts of land. Our public lands, constituting about a third of the United States, are, in essence, land being held in trust for the American people – for us. It is land about which each of us is allowed to have and exercise a voice. There is thus something very personal about these public lands; and nowhere do I feel this more acutely than when I am actually out in the wild, enjoying and appreciating these areas. Herein, for me, lies one of the true values of experiencing wilderness: it turns the theoretical concept of conservation into a concrete and emotionally-driven desire to take good care of our earth.
My first trip to the Alaskan woods and waters made me very excited for a summer of working with various peoples and places in Southeast as SCS’ wilderness intern. Being in the Baird Islands reminded me that even after an area obtains official wilderness designation, these lands remain in need of protection and voices to speak for them. Luckily, I also got to see firsthand that these places remain very much worthy of protection, and that there are people willing to lend their voices and hands to the continuing cause.
If you’re interested in volunteering for SCS, be sure to check out our site’s Wilderness Page. It has all the information on how you can get out and explore Southeast Alaska while making a difference and helping SCS promote the cause of conservation!
On Tuesday night, June 10, just over 40 people gathered at Crescent Harbor to embark on a three hour boat cruise that travelled out of Sitka Sound, all the way to West Crawfish Inlet and back. Fresh off the plane from Boston, MA, I was lucky enough to be one of those participants, and had my first real introduction to the Alaskan landscape that I will be working with closely this summer as SCS’s Wilderness Intern. We were exploring by boat the South Baranoff Wilderness Area, one of the nineteen wilderness areas that is managed by the United States Forest Service within the Tongass Forest of Southeast Alaska. The cruise, the first of four trips being sponsored by SCS over the course of the summer, had as its educational theme the concept and land designation of “wilderness,” in honor of this year’s 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. A landmark moment in American history, this act, signed into law in 1964 by President Johnson after almost unanimous Congressional approval, officially recognized as important the designation and legal protection of places “without permanent improvements or human habitation” (Wilderness Act of 1964, Section 2 c. “Definition of Wilderness). Wilderness was meant to be a place where nature reigned and humans remained solely as visitors.
The visitors on this week’s boat tour certainly got a taste of wilderness’ wonders, catching sight over the duration of the trip of sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles, and sweeping old-growth forests of western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and Alaskan yellow cedar. About halfway through we even caught a glimpse of one of the brown bears for which Sitka, and Southeast Alaska in general, is so famous. In some ways, the boat cruise, and the natural beauty being appreciated from its decks, thus functioned as a celebration of the past – a celebration of the 50 years of committed stewardship that has kept such pristine places intact, and preserved them for the enjoyment of future generations and those who have yet to behold the natural splendor of Alaska.
But even as it commemorated past achievements, the tour also served as a stark reminder that the battle for the protection of wild places is not yet over. As of only a few months ago, a Department of the Army permit was issued for work in the waters of Crawfish Inlet – the very inlet to which our cruise had come. The permit will allow the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (NSRAA) to moor structures and store net pens in the inlet, which stands to interfere with the current use of these woods and waters for subsistence, recreation, and tourism operations. The land’s “outstanding opportunities for solitude,” one of the quintessential pillars and promises of wilderness areas, will no doubt also be negatively affected by the presence and operation of these large, metal enclosures.
Fish are a fundamental part of the Southeast’s ecosystem, economy, and identity. And as such, they are a vitally important and valuable resource. But in a landscape that has so much to offer, we must be careful not to manage one resource – fish – at the expense of another – wilderness. The boat cruise, filled to capacity Tuesday night, stands as a testimony to how many people put value in the existence of these wild waters and forests of Alaska. Which is good news – because even 50 years out from the designation of the Wilderness Act, there clearly remain many natural and wild landscapes still in need of defense.
Information on the other boat cruises being offered by SCS this summer can be found on our website. And for a glimpse of even more Alaskan wilderness, be sure to check out The Meaning of Wild, a 30-minute documentary that brings you deep into some of the most remote areas of the Tongass. Interested in getting out there yourself? Head to SCS’s Wilderness page where you can learn about opportunities to volunteer for the Sitka Conservation Society and explore remote and beautiful places all while making a difference!
Sunday, March 10th, Kettleson Library
Get your hiking boots and sneakers ready and plan your next trip on Sitka’s trails. Carin Farley from the National Park Service and Deborah Lyons from Sitka Trail Works will be sharing the latest work on the Sitka trail system.Learn more about the efforts of various agencies, non-profits, and volunteers to create a world class trail system in Sitka. This is a good chance to learn about how you can get involved and help as Sitka continues to work to complete our trail plan.
Bring your unwanted outdoor gear to the Sitka Gear Swap at Kettleson Library from 3:00 to 4:30 pm, before the Trails of Sitka Talk.There will be tables set up, both inside and outside of library, to display your gear.
Wednesday, February 27th, 7:00 pm, UAS
In Northwest British Columbia there are currently 21 projects either active or in the later stages of exploration. Some of these projects are open pit mines that rival the size of the proposed Pebble Mine. The fisheries on the Stikine, Unuk, and Taku Rivers are threatened. Guy Archibald from Southeast Alaska Conservation Council will talk about the proposed mines and their widespread implications for Southeast Alaska’s fishing industry.
There will also be a casual meet and greet with Guy Archibald at the Brewery February 28th from 5-6pm to discuss these issues.
Learn more here
For visual inspiration, watch Sacred Headwaters:
Natalia Ruppert, Seismologist, Alaska Earthquake Information Center, GI UAF
- Tuesday, January 29
- UAS Room 229
The Queen Charlotte fault is a strike-slip fault that marks the boundary between two tectonic plates: the Pacific Plate to the southwest and the North American Plate to the northeast. This fault has previously ruptured in major earthquakes, including a magnitude 8.1 on August 22, 1949; a magnitude 7.6 on July 30, 1972; and the recent magnitude 7.7 earthquake that occurred on October 28, 2012 off Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. On January 5, 2013, a magnitude 7.5 event was located near the northern end of the 1949 rupture but south of the 1972 event; i.e., it most likely occurred in the remaining rupture gap. This presentation will discuss characteristics of each of these earthquakes and how they are related to the tectonics of the Queen Charlotte fault.
This program is free and open to the public. It is sponsored with the generous support of the US Forest Service, UAS Sitka Campus and the Sitka Conservation Society.
If you have any questions, please contact Kitty LaBounty at 747-9432
5:00pm (note time change)
Kettleson Memorial Library, Sitka
Adam Andis from the Sitka Conservation Society leads the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. The project seeks to involve the community to monitor on-the-ground conditions in local Wilderness Areas. In the summer of 2011, the SCS Wilderness Crew spent countless hours bushwhacking in the field, including pioneering a new route across Baranof Island.
The route paralleled the southern boundary of South Baranof Wilderness Area and followed two watersheds from sea to source. To cover the terrain, the team used packrafts, lightweight backpacking techniques, and lots of chocolate.
Come learn a little bit more about your local Wilderness areas and join in the expedition Across the Island!