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!
Greg Killinger fell in love with Southeast Alaska when he volunteered with the US Forest Service in 1983. During that first summer, he worked in fisheries surveying dozens of streams on Baranof and Chichagof Islands and other places on the Northern Tongass. This first summer was enough to convince him that this was where he wanted to be. He spent his next 30 years on the Tongass doing great things for our public lands and the natural world. Greg grew up in western Oregon. He graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science. He went on to complete a master’s degree in Natural Resource Management. Greg married his wife Lisa Petro, a local Sitkan, in 1990.
We worked very close with Greg in his position as the Tongass lead staff officer for Fisheries, Wildlife, Watershed, Ecology, Soils, and Subsistence. Greg held that post and worked under the Forest Supervisor from the Sitka Forest Service office. In that position, he oversaw and helped with all the programs across the Tongass for fisheries and watersheds. Greg was a key partner and helped build important relationships between the Sitka Conservation Society and the Forest Service. With him, we worked together on salmon habitat restoration projects like the Sitkoh River Restoration, restoration projects on Kruzof Island, and many other salmon-related projects across the entire Tongass.
Our working relationship with Greg and his employees was so close that we even shared staff. In 2011, SCS and Greg developed a position we called the Tongass Salmon Forest Resident. SCS funded the position and they worked under Greg. The position’s goal was to “tell-the-story” of all the innovative and important programs that Greg managed on the Tongass that protected, enhanced, and restored salmon habitat. When SCS created the position, our goal was to shine the light on this great work. Greg put the spotlight on his staff and the partners that he worked with to make the Tongass’s Fisheries and Watershed programs successful. That was the kind of leader that he was: he never wanted to take credit but always wanted to empower others and build more leadership and capacity.
That initial project led to two similar positions in 2012 and 2013. Greg worked with SCS staff to make two beautiful short films that shared the story of important fisheries management programs. One, called “Restoring America’s Salmon Forest”, illustrated a project Greg helped orchestrate that improved the health of the Sitkoh River—a major salmon producer damaged by past logging. The other, “Subsistence in Southeast Alaska: The Tongass National Forest’s Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program”, showcases the importance of Tongass salmon for subsistence use. This film also highlights important joint fisheries projects that Greg’s program created with various Tribes across the Tongass. These programs continue to empower Native Alaskans to monitor important salmon runs across the region. Greg understood the importance of sharing the story of Tongass programs with the larger public. He was driven to showcase the importance of this forest in producing salmon and share how the Forest Service’s staff cares for salmon, fisheries, and wildlife habitat. These films—and the many additional products that came from these partnerships—were catalyzed by Greg. Despite his heavy involvement, few recognized it was he who made them happen. Again, that was just the type of leader he was. He empowered and inspired us as a key catalyst that made things happen but did so from the background, never seeking credit or recognition.
Greg was also a serious outdoorsman. He loved fishing for king salmon in the early summer and dip-netting for sockeye in July. He was a very accomplished alpine hunter whose passion was chasing after sheep in the Alaska interior. Greg did a number of epic hunts solo. He once shared the story of a solo mountain goat hunt that he did during a particularly dry summer. He became severely dehydrated high in the mountains. At one point he was crawling into a gorge looking for water while hallucinating because he had already been without water and under the sun for 2 days (in a rainforest!). He did get his goat in the end though.
That type of solo hunting in big mountains really characterized the kind of person Greg was– not macho and he didn’t do any of that to show-off or to be the guy that got the biggest trophy– rather, he did those hunts for the pure challenge and as the highest form of communing with the natural world of Alaska. Greg loved wildlife. He loved the land and the water and the oceans. He loved the ecosystems of Alaska and all the natural processes that tied them all together. Hunting for him was one of the many ways that he was part of those ecosystems and part of how he connected with the natural world.
Greg didn’t just challenge himself on Dall Sheep hunts in the Alaska Range. Greg took on enormous challenges in the work that he did and with the same calm and unassuming manner that he talked about his extreme outdoor exploits. One isn’t the type of leader that Greg exemplified or is responsible for the variety and complexity of programs that Greg oversaw on a whim. In fact, balancing all the issues and programs that Greg oversaw was more of a challenge than the hunts he loved so much. Protecting salmon habitat under pressure from development, finding the resources and coordinating the partners to restore critical salmon systems, bringing together extremely diverse interests to work together, and being responsible for defining the strategy for how our largest National Forest deals with Climate Change are just the tip of the iceberg of what Greg did in his day-to-day. In most likelihood, those extreme hunts for Greg were actually a simplification of life for him: a situation where the most logical rules of nature are paramount and where the most basic instinctual conflicts of man-vs-nature and man-vs-himself are played out amongst the most perfect and beautiful of our planet’s natural creation.
Greg died suddenly, unexpectedly, and in his prime. The one and only grace of his passing is the fact that it happened on a mountainside, in the arms of the beautiful forest he loved, and on one of the most spectacular spring days there ever was in Sitka. He enjoyed that last day to its fullest fishing for King Salmon in the morning, gardening, and then a trip up the mountain.
Greg’s unexpected passing left all of us who knew him shocked. We lost a mentor that we admired, a colleague that inspired us, and a friend that we could always count on. Greg came to the Tongass and when he left, he left it a better place. We will always remember him and we will always strive to be as good a person as he was.
Written by: Andrew Thoms, Bethany Goodrich, Jon Martin, Kitty Labounty; May 30th, 2014
Video and Slideshow by: Bethany Goodrich, Corrine Ferguson, Pat Heur and the great help of Lisa, Su Meredith and all who scanned photos, dug through the archives and even digitized slides to memorialize Greg
Note: Greg Killinger will be added to the Sitka Conservation Society’s Living Wilderness Celebration Board which honors the people who cherish and protect the wild and natural environment of the Tongass and have a passion for Wilderness. The above essay will be added to a book that tells the story of the people we honor and forever celebrate their lives and actions. In this way, we will continue to draw inspiration from Greg and all the others whose lives we celebrate.
In an effort to build community around Fish to Schools we’ve invited you to give a testimonial about the program. We’ve heard from the generous fishermen who donate to the program, to parents, to teachers, and students. The beauty in working with the schools is that everyone can be involved. Regardless of income, students can order the finest quality fish in the world, caught right here in the Sitka Sound. It’s environmentally and economically responsible. And it tastes really good.
This is the latest Fish to Schools promo we produced through KCAW, Raven Radio. I hope it puts a smile on your face. Alexandra was a wonderful interview, enjoy.
Click the link to listen: Alexandra PSA
The Alaska Way of Life 4-H is gearing up for Summer!!
Cloverbud Adventure: Tuesdays, 10 – 11:30am
4-H members will be able to explore various 4-H projects throughout the summer including hiking, intertidal life, plant identification, and much more! Open to grades K-3.
Cloverbud Gardening: Fridays, 9-10am
Kids will be able to get their hands dirty every week at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm while learning gardening techniques and skills. Open to grades K-3.
4-H Cooking: Wednesday, July 2, 9, 16 from 10:30am – 12:30pm
4-H members will be able to explore various cooking with wild greens, salmon, and garden harvest. Open to grades 3-6.
4-H Land and Sky: July 7-11 from 3-4:30pm
Partnering with the National Historical Park, 4-H will explore learning wild edible identification, bird behavior and migration, intertidal life, and macro invertebrates. Open to grades 4-8.
4-H Kayak Adventure: July 22-25 1:30-4pm
This club will incorporate classes on tides, tying knots, inter-tidal life, water safety, and kayaking. Open to grades 4 and above.
Register with Mary by calling 747-7509 or e-mailing email@example.com. I ask that 4-H members strive for 95% attendance if signing up for the activities. Our program is about building community as well as living with the land, which is achieved by attending each activity in the series. Please Register by May 31.
2014 Earth Week wrapped up with the first annual Youth Eco Challenge. The event, hosted by the National Historical Park, had five teams engaged in various challenges that tested their living with the land skills as well as teamwork and communication.
The event began with a fire building task on the beach. Teams made a Leave No Trace fire below high tide using Usnea (old man’s beard), kindling, and 3 matches. They then worked as a team to guide blind folded members to the next task in a Trust Walk. At the Battlefield site, teams worked together to move a tent pole 10 feet using only their index fingers. They engaged in effective communication, teamwork, and patience.
At the Fort site, teams were sent on a scavenger hunt with their compasses to spell a four-letter word that was mapped out in the grass. One team member reflected on how he learned that it is easier when the whole team is working together and listening to each other.
Next, teams practiced bear safety as they walked down the path to find a bear hiding in the woods. The kids “got big” with each other and calmly talked to the bear. After successfully going around the bear, teams were ready to make a safe, weather proof shelter with items from their safety kit. One team even made a natural lean-to shelter with insulation!
The event wrapped up with a native plant identification game with Ranger Ryan Carpenter from the National Historical Park.
A very well deserved THANK YOU goes out to Jen Grocki, co coordinator for the Eco Challenge. Jen inspired the event and saw it through to fruition. Also, a thank you to Sea Mart for donating healthy snacks, Russell’s for their help with purchasing compasses and survival kits, Ryan Carpenter and the National Historical Park for hosting the event as well as adding a native education task, and AmeriCorps member Xaver and Kelly for helping with the event.
Thanks to everyone who attended the 13th Annual Parade of Species!
The Parade of Species is an annual celebration of Earth Day organized by the Sitka Conservation Society. Families are invited to dress up as their favorite plant or animal and swim, slither, fly, or trot through town. Community partners offer games and activities after the parade and donate prizes for “Best Costume” contest winners.
SCS would especially like to thank the following organizations and individuals who donated their time and resources for the activities after the parade:
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Troy Tydingco & Patrick Fowler
- Park Service: Ryan Carpenter, Christina Neighbors, Kassy Eubank-Littlefield, Anne Lankenau, Andrea Willingham, Jasa Woods & Janet Drake
- Kayaani Commission: Judi Lehman & Erin Rofkar
- Forest Service: Marty Becker & Perry Edwards
- Sitka Tribe of Alaska/Herring Festival: Jessica Gill & Melody Kingsley
- Sitka Sound Science Center: Madison Kosma, Ashley Bolwerk, Michael Maufbach & Margot O’Connell
- Kettleson Memorial Library: Tracy Turner
- Cooperative Extension: Jasmine Shaw
- Stream Team: Wendy Alderson, Amy Danielson, Nora Stewart, Al Madigan, & Levi Danielson
- 4H: Mary Wood
- Fish to Schools: Jess Acker
- Harry Race: prize tokens to soda fountain
- Botanika Organic Spa: delicious earth-friendly treats
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today was the first day that Baranof Elementary participated in the Fish to Schools lunch program by dishing out local fish for interested students. Kids from kindergarten and first grade can choose between bringing a lunch from home or being served the school lunch. Today, a record number of students signed up for local fish! Over 150 student school lunches were served; that is 45 more than on an average non-fish lunch day! Kids were grinning and exclaiming “It’s better than popsicles”, “It’s better than ice cream” and my personal favorite- “It’s better than anything!”
The Sitka Conservation Society visited and helped offer sample tastes for students who brought a lunch but still wanted to try the local coho meal. We helped present certificates to the ‘winning’ classrooms that had the highest number of students choose fish for lunch: 13 students from two kindergarten and two first grade classes. Congratulations to the four lucky classrooms: Ms. Fredrickson’s and Ms. Hedrick’s kindergarten classes and Ms. Christianson’s and Ms. William’s first grade classes. These students will share May’s fish lunch with a visiting commercial fisherman!
The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is a founding partner and coordinator of the Sitka “Fish to Schools” program. Our mission is to deepen youth understanding of local seafood resources by integrating locally-caught seafood into the school lunch program, introducing stream to plate curricula, and fostering a connection to the local fishing culture. Fish to Schools celebrates the ecological, economic, and cultural significance of this unique resource. Having access to delicious local seafood reminds us all how lucky we are to be Alaskans! Learn more by visiting:
Parade of the Species, Friday, April 25th, Meet at 2:30
The 13th Annual Parade of the Species will be held on Friday, April 25th. Parade participants are invited to dress as their favorite animal or plant and gallop, slither, swim, or fly with us. We will meet in Totem Square at 2:30 and parade down Lincoln Street to Centennial Hall at 3:00 pm. Prizes will be awarded for Best Use of Recycled Material, Most Realistic, and Best Local Plant/Animal.
There will be a number of community organizations with hands-on Earth Day inspired activities for the whole family from 3:00-4:30 at Harrigan Centennial Hall.
For a full list of Earth Week community events, go here. Earth Week Events For more information contact Mary at SCS offices -747-7509.
For inspiration, check out all the wonderful costumes from the 2013 Parade of the Species.
Post- parade Activities for Kids
Friday, April 25th, 3:00 – 4:30 pm
There will be a number of community organizations with hands-on Earth Day inspired activities for the whole family at Harrigan Centennial Hall following the parade. All the activities are kid friendly, free and open to the public.
Participating organizations this year include:
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game
- National Park Service
- Forest Service
- Sitka Tribes of Alaska
- Sitka Sound Science Center
- Kettleson Library
- Cooperative Extension
I am serving as the Living with the Land and Building Community JV/AmeriCorps member at the Sitka Conservation Society. I mostly serve the youth in Sitka, leading the Alaska Way-of-Life project 4-H club, and volunteering with the Fish to Schools program and Stream Team. Every day is different at SCS which keeps life fun and interesting! I am able to get outside with youth almost every day sharing the importance of our place and our ability to live with the land. My hope is that the youth I serve gain a value of stewardship that will last a lifetime.
The programs I offer through SCS are unique to life in Southeast Alaska. We live in a special place where snow-capped mountains meet the sea, where it rains over 100 inches each year, and where people have a strong sense of community with each other and the land. The 4-H members are engaging in experiential education to get outside, explore the world around them, and learn about how they can live with the land.
The 4-H motto of “learning by doing” is very much part of my role here. I am walking with the youth, learning the “Alaska way of life” with them every day. We are able to explore the world around us through genuine curiosity. I do not always have answers, not growing up in Alaska myself, but that is what a strong community is about: finding the answers together. I have been able to improve my sense of belonging in Sitka and lean on community members to share their knowledge of “Living with the Land” with the 4-H members I serve. We have pulled in stream ecologists, and mammal and fisheries biologists to learn more about brown bears, whales, herring, birds, and salmon. Living with the land and building community really is the Alaska way of life in Sitka.
In the fall, I did a series of classes that focused on outdoor safety and survival. We talked about water purification, shelter building, first aid, staying warm, and what to bring with you in a day pack. Many of the 4-H members went home and made their own safety kits which they now bring with them to 4-H hikes so they are prepared for wilderness adventure. A 4-H parent told me, “this is a very important series; chances are this class will save someone’s life.” The wilderness is our backyard here in Sitka. Exposing youth to outdoor skills at a young age will keep them safe while they explore the natural environment around us.
I am serving in the Tongass National Forest, a coastal temperate rainforest, the largest national forest in the United States. The future of the Tongass is in our hands to protect for generations of people and wildlife to come. This is one of the most magical places I have ever been to, which I now am able to call home. It is through wild places that we are able to connect to the true beauty of the world and find ourselves. We are able to see how life is interconnected here, how the salmon thrive because of the trees, and the trees are nourished by the salmon. It always comes back to how we can be stewards of our natural environment and live with the land and learn from the land.