Although we often associate our National Forests with trees and silviculturalists, BY FAR, the most valuable resource that the Tongass National Forest provides is in the production of all 5 species of wild Pacific salmon. Managing salmon habitat and the fish populations within the forest is one of the key roles of National Forest Service staff in Alaska. The Tongass National Forest is the largest National Forest in the United States. Its 17 million acres is home to 32 communities that use and very much depend on the resources that this forest provides.
On this National Forest, fisheries and watershed staff are probably the most critical positions on the entire Forest and are responsible for the keystone species in the temperate rainforest ecosystem—Salmon–a $1 Billion per year commercial fishery that serves up delicious salmon to people around the nation and the world, not to mention subsistence harvests that feed thousands of rural community members in Alaska. These staff also carry the legacy of thousands of years of sustainable management on their shoulders.
Like nothing else, salmon have shaped the cultures and the lifestyle of the peoples and communities of Southeast Alaska. The Tlingit and Haida people who have called the Tongass home for thousands of years, have learned and adapted to the natural cycles of salmon. Deeply held cultural beliefs have formed unique practices for “taking care of” and ensuring the continuance of salmon runs. As documented by Anthropologist Thomas Thornton in his book, Being and Place Among the Tlingit, “the head’s of localized clan house groups, known as yitsati, keeper of the house, were charged with coordinating the harvest and management of resource areas” like the sockeye salmon streams and other important salmon runs.
The staff of the Fisheries and Watershed program has integrated Alaska Native organizations, individuals, and beliefs into salmon and fisheries management programs on the Tongass and have hired talented Alaska Native individuals as staff in the USDA National Forest Service. Through the efforts of the Fisheries and Watershed program and its staff, a variety of formal agreements, joint programs, and multi-party projects that manage and protect our valuable salmon resources have been developed. The programs on the Tongass are case-studies for the rest of the world where lands and resources are owned by the public while being managed through the collaborative efforts of professional resource managers in government agencies, local peoples with intimate place-based knowledge, and involve multi-party stakeholders who use and depend on the resource.
The Tongass is America’s Salmon Rainforest and the Forest Service’s Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program is a stellar example of how we manage a National Forest to produce and provide salmon for people across the entire country as well as the people who call this forest their home.
One of the things that struck me instantly when I moved to Sitka was the number of jarred foods I saw on people’s shelves. I moved up from Oregon where canning foods was either considered “trendy” or outdated–it was a lost art. But here, it’s an art that is practiced every year. In fact, according to the 2013 Sitka Food Assessment, 77% of Sitkans preserved or processed food in the last 12 months.
1 in every 3 Sitkans jar up food every year! And while that is an impressive number, it’s one we want to increase. In the case of an emergency shelf-stable foods are incredibly important. Canning foods is a way to build our individual and community food resiliency.
And it’s another way to connect to the Tongass. Knowing the seasons through food harvest forms a relationship to the natural world, a dependency even. It’s sustenance and subsistence—it’s a way of life. Many foragers even have secret spots for berries, wild greens, or mushrooms. There’s a sense of ownership for these treasured places and they invite stewardship.
Every year hundreds of pounds of berries hang off their branches and freezer bags are filled with future muffins, smoothies, and pies in mind. And while these gems are absolutely delicious frozen, they are quite yummy canned into jams, jellies, syrups, and juice.
The Sitka Conservation Society offered a food preservation class this winter, turning frozen huckleberries into jam, jelly, and fruit leather. If you’re interested in a canning class, call the Sitka Conservation Society at 747.7509 or email email@example.com. If we get enough interest we’d be happy to organize another class for our members!
Photo Credit: Christine Davenport
The WildFoods Potluck is our annual celebration of all things harvested, hunted, fished, grown, and gathered. The Tongass National Forest and especially the Sitka Community Use Area are rich and abundant places to support our thriving subsistence communities.
Thank you to all our members and friends who came out to celebrate with us this year! And remember, it’s never too early to start planning your dishes for next year!
The winning dishes from the 2013 Best Dish competition will be posted shortly, so be sure to check back in!
Want to see photos of the event? Check out the albums on Facebook:
On October 24, all across the nation, people were participating in Food Day, a national celebration of affordable, healthy, and sustainable food. The Sitka Conservation Society joined with a Fish to Schools local coho salmon lunch at KGH, BMS, SHS, and PHS. SCS partnered with the Sitka School District’s Live Well Physical Activity and Nutrition Program to coordinate an after school program healthy snack activity with smoked salmon, kale, and local carrots.
We wanted to join the national effort to celebrate local foods building our community here in Sitka. We have the benefit of this subsistence lifestyle full of forest and beach greens, fish, and deer all of which are sustainable food system choices. At SCS we strive to support and build a sustainable community by implementing programs that initiate change such as Fish to Schools and the Sitka Food Hub. I challenge the community to start talking about food, where it comes from, and engage with friends and family to bring back our connection to the food with which we nourish our bodies.
I would like to thank Americorps Volunteer Lauren Havens and Ryan Kauffman with the Live Well program for all their work in this year’s Food Day in Sitka. Also thanks to Kristi Coltharp and the 21st Century Learning Program, the Sitka Local Food Network Fellowship Farm, and anyone else who helped to make this years Food Day in Sitka a success!
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H wrapped up a fall foraging and wild edibles series in October. 4H is a positive youth development program throughout the nation that challenges youth to engage their head, heart, hands, and health for themselves and the community in which they live. We spent the month learning, gathering, and working with wild edibles in the Tongass National Forest. Subsistence truly is the Alaska way-of-life here in Sitka. The 4Hers learned how to preserve foods by canning jelly and making fruit leather. We concluded the series with a distribution of gifts to give back to our community members.
Rose hips are the bright red fruit of the wild rose, or Rosa rugosia, which are abundant in Sitka. Many of them grow in town, providing beautiful color to the lawns of many homes. The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H club learned how to harvest the fruit and preserve it into jelly and fruit leather. The kids had fun mashing the rose hips in a food mill to create a puree for the fruit leather and squeezing them in cheese cloth for the jelly.
Kitty LaBounty, UAS biology professor and mycologist, was a special guest on the 4H mushroom hunt in September. In the forest, we found puffballs, winter chanterelles, and various russulas. The kids experienced the Tongass with a new perspective and learned about the interdependence of the forest ecosystem: how the fungi work with the plants in decomposition and forest diversity. We got up close and personal with the mushrooms by creating spore prints on paper by setting the cap down overnight. The print reflects the shape of the gills, folds, spines, or pores, which helps to identify the mushroom. We used a fixative to set the spore prints in order to make Thank You cards for those who helped us with our series. The 4Hers were able to practice creativity with the print: one 4Her made a person out of the spores!
Our last challenge was in the muskeg to search for Lingonberries. The small waxy-leaf plants are found on the dry mounds of the muskeg and grow far and few between. They can blossom in clusters as big as 5 berries, but in our experience those are rare. It takes patience to find these little berries and the 4Hers seemed to be up to the test after the mushrooms hunt! The day was very cold and rainy, but they were successful at finding berries. Lingonberries are very popular in our fellow arctic polar region of Scandinavia for sauce and jam!
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4Hers are learning by doing and giving back to the community that supports them here in Sitka. The more they know about the Tongass, the more appreciation they will have for the Alaska way-of-life. They embraced the process from Tongass to the table, and share with their friends what they now know about living with the land here in Sitka. They are excited to be able to identify the plants in the muskeg, forest, and urban settings, and make food from what they find. It was also heartening to see their enthusiasm for giving to community members at the Sitka Pioneer’s Home and those who helped make this series possible.
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H club is currently engaged in an outdoor survival series!
Richard Nelsonand Hank Lentfer will be featured at the next Natural History Seminar series presentation titled “Chasing Wild Sounds” December 5th, 7:30pm at UAS. Nelson and Lentfer will discuss their project “Voices of Glacier Bay National Park”, an effort to create a library documenting natural sounds from the park, including everything from the subtle scratches of a crab claws on sand grains to the reverberating trumpets of humpback whales echoing across the bay.
If you have questions, please contact Kitty LaBounty at 747-9432 firstname.lastname@example.org
Funding for the seminar series is provided by a grant to the Sitka Sound Science Center by the Sitka Permanent Charitable Trust and by the University of Alaska Southeast.
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 email@example.com to coordinate a time slot.
Following is a link to the work we did last year:
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 living, community, spirituality/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.
The “why” of Fish to Schools has had clear goals from the beginning: connecting students to their local food system, learning traditions, and understanding the impact of their food choices on the body, economy, and environment. The “how” has been a creative process. Serving locally is one component of the program, but equally important is our education program that makes the connections between stream, ocean, forest, food, and community.
We were back in the classroom this year offering our “Stream to Plate” curriculum that focuses on the human connection to fish. How are fish caught? Where do they come from? Why should we care? Who depends on them and how? What do I do with them? These are just a few of the questions we answer through a series of hands-on games and activities.
Students began by learning about the salmon lifecycle and its interconnection to other plants and animals. By building a salmon web, students saw that a number of species depend on salmon—everything from orcas, to brown bears, to people, to the tall trees of the Tongass. They learned how to manage a sustainable fishery by creating rules and regulations, allowing each user group (subsistence, sport, and commercial) to meet their needs while ensuring enough fish remain to reproduce. They learned that fish is an important local food source (and has been for time immemorial) but also important for our economy, providing a number of local jobs. (Read more here.)
Students also learned how to handle fish–how to catch fish both traditionally and commercially, how to gut and fillet fish, how to make a super secret salmon brine for smoked salmon, and how to cook salmon with Chef Collete Nelson of Ludvigs Bistro. Each step is another connection made and another reason to care.
The Stream to Plate Curriculum will be available through our website in early 2014. Check back for its release!
Photo Credit: Adam Taylor