Sitka Conservation Society
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:


Oct 30 2013

A Salmon Connection

Can you teach economics to kids? I wasn’t sure. I’ve been scratching my head at how to convey such an advanced topic to third graders. So what if money stays here or goes there? A dollar is a dollar to a kid and they are going to spend it on the next trendy thing, right? Probably, but Fish to Schools developed a lesson that teaches students that it does matter where money our goes.

We started with a game showing our connections to salmon. We have all seen salmon jumping in the ocean, swimming around the docks, fighting their way up Indian River, and returning  to all the streams and rivers of the Tongass National Forest. We can’t ignore their smell in the late summer air and for those who have been fishing, we can’t get enough. It’s fun to catch and delicious to eat.

After showing that we are all connected to salmon in some way, we dove deeper into the idea that our jobs are connected to salmon (in fact dependent on). To show this we handed every student a card with a picture of a profession: troller, seiner, seafood processor, grocery store clerk, boat repair man, gear store, teacher, doctor, etc. Students gathered in a circle and passed around a ball of yarn forming a web between the different professions. They identified who depended on them or who they depended on for their livelihood. Once every student and profession was connected to the web, students could visually see that each job affects the other. While it may have been obvious to many students that a seafood processor depends on a fisherman (and vice versa) it was much more abstract to show the connection between a teacher and salmon. This game provided a visual and taught students that our Sitka community is tied to salmon, that a healthy economy is dependent on healthy salmon.

After the lesson, a student in one of our classes couldn’t figure out how her mom’s job was connected to salmon. She went home to learn that her mom does daycare and takes care of fishermen’s children when they are out on the water. A connection reinforced!

19% of adults aged 16+ are directly involved in the fisheries as a commercial fisherman or seafood processor. Many, many more professions are indirectly connected, their businesses dependent on seafood. (

Beneficially impacting our local economy and community is one benefit of eating locally-caught salmon. Through the Fish to Schools “Stream to Plate “curriculum unit, students learned many more reasons why local is better. Check back soon for blog posts on our other lessons.

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

Sep 26 2013

Voices of the Tongass – John Straley

This week on Voices of the Tongass, John Straley talks about what it means to succeed in the Last Frontier, from building a career to building a family. To hear the show, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.

John Straley, hard at work in the Public Defender’s office. Photo by Berett Wilber

John Straley’s father could not have predicted that moving to the Last Frontier would turn his horse-shoeing son into an intellectual. “He always thought I was better suited to be running a chainsaw,” John says. “He was very proud when I became a writer, but he thought it was good that I had a back-up career as a laborer.” John’s father needn’t have worried. While John didn’t take the most traditional path to being one of Alaska’s most celebrated modern authors, he certainly took an effective one. “Being a horseshoer turns out to be a good motivation to be an intellectual. Your back motivates you to read books.” While it also might have helped that there weren’t many horses around, any way you look at it, he seems to have subverted his father’s expectations. From being a private eye to a youth conservation leader, there are few corners of the community that John has not have a presence in. And of course, his experience means has led to a life as no literary slouch: he has been published many times in many genres, serving as Alaska’s writer laureate between 2006 and 2008.

But, like any reputable laborer, John isn’t one to dwell on success. After almost forty years living in Alaska, he’s come to value his work not by the quantity of his audience, but by it’s quality. “I’ve been in a fancy hotel. And waited in the lobby for my driver and a Lincoln Town car to take me to a bookstore,” he says. “I didn’t make enough money that day to change anything. If I can give a reading at the library here, I’m happy. That’s as much audience as I need. if I can go to a friend’s house and read their kids to sleep, that’s as much as I need.”

And like his own father, John has learned to have his own expectations about being a father subverted. Attention to accurate description, necessary qualities for a writer and a poet, had some different effects when it came to fatherhood. He tells a story about teaching his son Finn some of the everyday joys of the Alaskan experience with his wife, Jan. “When we lived in Fairbanks,” he tells us, “she got a hand lens, and when a mosquito landed on Finn’s arm, she showed him what happens when a mosquito lands on him. Vividly. And when he steps outside the next day, and the screen door is just black with mosquitos, he starts screaming because the air is filled with monsters that suck his blood.” There is a significant pause while John reflects. “This was a mistake,” he admits.

But for any listener who has the opportunity to hear even a few of John’s stories, it’s impossible to believe that parenthood in Alaska was all tribulation – far from it. Near the end of his interview, John says something about the life he has built in the Alaska that rings true, even for those of us who have not spent nearly as much time in the wilderness as John has. “We’ve stayed here for now, jeez, almost 35 years or more,” he says. “It’s just become a fabulous part of our family.  It changed all the stories I’ve written, the poems I’ve written. I’m sixty years old. I’m just happy to be alive. I can’t imagine living any place else.”

Listen to the show: 9_LWL_JOHN_STRALEY

Sep 12 2013

Voices of the Tongass – Taylor White

This week’s show takes us under the breaking waves for a night dive with Taylor White. To hear more about Taylor’s relationship with the ocean, read on. To hear her episode of Voices of the Tongass, scroll to the bottom of this post.

photo by Berett Wilber

Taylor White is 22 years old and she shares her office with a killer whale skeleton. She is the Aquarium Manager at the Sitka Sound Science Center. Whether it’s describing a night dive off the coast of Baranof Island or a kayak trip launched from her front yard, Taylor talks about the ocean like it’s a member of her family. It has drawn Taylor back each year to dive and snorkel her way into a job. “Leaving the ocean made me realize how much I wanted it in my life,” she says about her four years spent studying marine biology in the frustratingly landlocked Eastern Washington.

“I always wonder about how I would be if I grew up in a suburb,” Taylor says. She wouldn’t call herself a hard core crazy outdoors person, but because nature is literally at her doorstep it has become an integral part of her life. “I think any place where you grow up shapes who you are.” More specifically, Taylor feels that growing up in Sitka, Alaska, has grounded her and given meaning to the way she lives her life. “I’m appreciative for the perspective that Alaska gives you…you’re more a part of it, and more a part of the natural process than you would be in other places…Those sorts of experiences that don’t happen in other places.” Like the summer her friend got attacked by a bear while biking. “They make you stop and think about the place in the wider picture….it just makes you think more.”

When Taylor thinks about her four years in Washington, she remembers feeling pressed to meet deadlines and “living life not necessarily day by day.” One of Taylor’s favorite things is landing in Sitka on the narrow runway that juts out into the water. Her first stop in town is at Sandy Beach, where she loves to run into the water, no matter the season. “When I come back here it’s kind of nice to just stop and find my place again, instead of getting wound up with what I might call less of living and more of just doing.” She adds, here I think I live with more of a purpose and I understand better where I belong in my community, and in my surroundings, and that’s because of all those experiences of growing up and going away and coming back.”

If the play bar doesn’t pop up below, try clicking the link.


Sep 11 2013

Tendering and Tongass Transition Advocacy Take Two

Tenders may only fulfill one or a few parts of the salmon commodity chain yet their hard labor and work ethic is what keeps our fishermen fishing and eventually our plates full of fish. To keep fishermen fishing, yet another amenity often provided by tenders is conversation.

This is where my role as a community organizer came in.

There are all sorts of approaches to packing Coho bellies with ice–I got a little ridiculous and acrobatic. 

While on the tender boats, I both worked as a crew member, and an organizer. While working on the tender boats, I talked with fishermen and deckhands about the US Forest Service’s Tongass Transition and how the transition should be focused on protecting the salmon they depend on.

It is very important that fishermen and tender operators voice their concerns with the people and agencies responsible for managing our Tongass National Forest because the salmon these fishermen depend on come directly from the Tongass. Salmon fishing accounts for over 7,000 jobs, hundreds of millions in revenue, and are a sent out as food to people from all over the country.

A Sitka fishermen offloads his catch to the Shoreline Scow in Pelican, AK. 

It wasn’t surprising thing I found that most fishermen catching salmon had not heard about the Tongass Transition because the Forest Service is still only focusing on timber.

The very Coho that I helped process spent anywhere from one to five years in the rivers, streams, tributaries, sloughs, and back-pools of Tongass watersheds. Now here they were:  supporting the livelihoods of these fishermen while generating thousands of jobs in our Southeast economy by the many hands that catch, weigh, stuff, and ship these fish all over the world.

Rows and rows of Coho with ice-stuffed bellies are lined up in totes that can hold from 1,000-1,500 pounds of fish and ice.

It is the Forest Service’s job to manage the Tongass, our forest and resources, in a way that reflects the people of Southeast Alaska’s priorities.  If you look at the economic stats and use common sense, Salmon is the most sustainable and valuable resource that the Tongass produces.

After discussing the Tongass Transition with the large number of fishermen I worked with this summer, they want the Forest Service to start implementing the Transition, and make sure that salmon are a big focus of the Forest Service’s work. They have written messages to the Forest Service that include “I have been trolling in SE for the last 9 years and will for many more to come. Every salmon is important to me. It is my livelihood so every fish counts.”  They are telling the Forest Service to prioritize restoring salmon habitat damaged by historic logging as the main focus of the Transition.

As my friend Kai on the Shoreline scow said about fishermen and deckhands respectively, “You slice um, we ice ‘um,” we Sitkans, fishermen, and users of the Tongass can say to our Forest Service respectively, “you manage ‘um, we live off of ‘um.”

If you haven’t already done so, type up a quick email to Chief of the Forest Service Tom Tidwell asking him to implement the Tongass Transition and to focus management effort on salmon for the benefit of the fishermen, the multitude of jobs created by the fishing industry (such as our beloved tender operators), and the delicious taste of salmon for super.  It takes 5 minutes, yet helps keep the people who depend on the Tongass.

The chief’s email is, and if you need more information for your email, click here. You just gotta clearly state “Implement the Tongass Transition and move beyond Old Grown timber harvest, Chief Tidwell.”

Sep 05 2013

“You slice ‘um, we ice ‘um”: a mix of tendering and Tongass Transition advocacy in Southeast

Over the course of the summer, I had a chance to talk to a huge number of fishermen, but our conversations did not happen just at the harbors, docks, or in Sitka’s Pbar. Instead, they occurred on tenders.

Tenders are a very important component of Southeast Alaska’s fishing industry and serve fishing boats that are far from their home harbors.

Robby Bruce stands in front of his tender the  “Ginny C”, which was serving gill netters in Deep Inlet, Sitka, AK.

Either stationary like the Shoreline Scow by Pelican or mobile like Sitka’s Ginny C or Deer Harbor II, tenders serve our fishermen with paychecks, ice, and at times with rare amenities like hot showers and right-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. The job of tender boats is to unload the catch from fishing boats on the fishing grounds.  On the tender boats, the fishermen’s catch gets sorted, weighed, iced up, and packed away in a matter of minutes. During those minutes, there is a lot of physical and mental endurance by people who are typically behind the scenes in the fishing industry.

As a community organizer, I saw working on tenders as not only a way to reach out to fishermen about the Tongass Transition during the busy fishing season, but also as a way to get some sort of experience in the lifestyle and hard work that most people in Southeast commit to in order to make their living.

Picture the King salmon opening in July, which is one of the busiest times for salmon trollers and consequently for the tenders. A typical day for tender deckhands begins at 6 or 7 in the morning with greetings from fishermen that have been waiting to sell their fish since 3 am. There is not just one boat waiting to offload, but a line of 5 boats with more lingering close by. The hydraulics are turned on, the crane is in motion, and bags of fish are hauled one at a time from the fishermen’s boat to a tray on the tender where the deckhands sort the fish for quality and weight.

            The skipper and a deckhand aboard the Shoreline Scow around Pelican, AK sort Cohos to be weighed.

Once weighed these often heavy and large fish are grasped by the gills and neck, one in each hand, by deckhands that then simultaneously toss both fish into a tote with a repetition that fills the tote with layers of fish and ice in a matter of seconds. These deckhands have to be quick, to operate under pressure, to persevere with numb hands and hungry bellies as each fishermen offloads thousands of pounds of their livelihood onboard in the hopes to catch more in the next few days.

 With troll caught Coho aboard, deckhands of the Ginny C and myself removed the ice from salmon bellies, weighed the fish, placed them in totes, and then stuffed their bellies again with ice.

After working on their feet for hours, moving around totes of around 1000 pounds of fish and ice, breaking apart new totes of ice with metal shovels, tossing around 12 pound fish with sore muscles and wrists, stuffing salmon bellies with ice, and then scrubbing the whole operation down with bleach, Joy soap, and water, the deckhands yawn themselves to bed around 2 am, quite possibly still covered in fish slime.  Then they will sleep for 4 or 5 hours, wake up, and do it all over again.

 The Shoreline in Pelican, AK has been a woman-run operation for decades, and I was fortunate to join them for a few days and share in their hard, hard work, which helps our fishermen keep fishing.

Stay tuned! I will be posting a blog piece focused on the advocacy work I did on tenders entitled “You slay ‘um, we weigh ‘um”: a mix of tendering and Tongass Transition advocacy in Southeast Take Two. A big thank you to KaiLea Wallin who coined the two slogans I have used as titles for these blog pieces.

Sep 05 2013

Voices of the Tongass – Tory O’Connell

This week’s episode of Voices of the Tongass takes us deep under the surface of our coastal waters. To hear Tory O’Connell share stories from her underwater research career, scroll to the bottom of this post and click the play bar. To read more about why Tory chose to make her life in Alaska, read on.

Tory O’Connell’s perspective on the ocean is usually reserved, well, for fish. Though she was raised in New Jersey, she first came to Alaska in 1978 to work on a bowhead whale survey in the Chukchi Sea. Her first gig in Sitka was working as a diver biologist for a rockfish survey earning $100 a month. It was the very beginning of the commercial rockfish fishery in Alaska, and Tory’s life was about to become seriously entwined with one of Alaska’s most colorful vertebrates.

“There’s a little two person submersible called the Delta. It’s this little yellow submarine, and originally in 1985, I was aware that there was this program called The National Undersea Program, and we were trying to figure out how many Yelloweye Rockfish there were. It was hard because they live in rocky habitats and deep water – normally you would just troll, but that doesn’t work in rocky habits. And you can’t tag them because rockfish have a swim bladder that inflates at the surface. So I got this idea to use the submersible. We wrote a grant and it surprised everyone when we got it.” And so, Tory  began to use the Delta to dive down and count Yelloweye Rockfish.

Flash forward to the present. Sitting in Tory’s office at the Sitka Sound Science Center, her innovation and success no longer seem surprising. Tory is one of the premiere marine experts on the bottomfish of the Pacific. She has traveled all over the world talking about how to record and sample hard-to-find species in hard-to-access habitats, and racked up more than 600 dives in the Delta submersible, from California to Alaska. And though she has been SCUBA diving in almost every place she has ever been to, she says that the diving here at home is hard to beat. “Sitka, the outer coast of Southeast Alaska, has some of the best scuba diving in the world,” Tory says, adding that while the water is not very warm, the visibility in deep water can be up to a hundred feet.

And there’s more connecting Tory to this place than the time she’s spent underwater. When we asked Tory how living in Alaska has changed who she is today, her response was that raising her two daughters in Sitka has had the most impact on her. “It’s hard to figure out what’s because of Sitka. I think I have become a better person because my children are such great people…I think this will always be home to them.”

Because Tory grew up on the east coast, she can see how growing up in Sitka has been a different experience for her two daughters. “Popping tar bubbles with your feet in the summer in New Jersey. That I miss. And I miss downpours, thunder and lighting, I miss that in the summer and fall. Real bread, I miss real bread…fireflies. But on the other hand you get phosphorescence. And [Margot and Chandler’s] experience has been pretty rich here…I can’t imagine my life without Sitka.”

Tory isn’t the only one who feels like her life is intertwined with Southeast Alaska. Many Alaskans found their way here in their early twenties, like Tory, and came up with ways to stay. Tory started out as a research assistant making barely enough to get by, and in a few short years she was the point person running the Rockfish survey project. For Tory, Alaska was and is a place where she could make opportunities for herself, and literally choose her own adventure.

How have you shaped your life in Alaska? How has Alaska shaped you?


Sep 04 2013

The Salmon Forest


 Alaska’s coho fisheries and the Tongass National Forest are closely related. Shot in Sitka over the fishing season of 2013 by Berett Wilber, this photo essay illustrates how conservation and restoration matter  to local fisherman, and why it should matter to you.

Aug 29 2013

Guest Post: From the Waters of Alaska to the Cornfields of the Midwest

By. Nora McGinn, Sitka Salmon Shares Organizer

The author with a Sitka Salmon Shares member

The Sitka Salmon Shares office sits on Main Street in Galesburg, Illinois, approximately 3,000 miles from the Tongass National Forest and the communities of Southeast Alaska. Despite this distance, we share a commitment to the salmon, fishermen and public lands that make up the Tongass National Forest.

As we at Sitka Salmon Shares navigate connecting socially and environmentally conscious consumers in the Midwest with small boat fishermen in Sitka and Juneau we have continued to return to the story of the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass poses a particularly compelling connection for many people out here in the Midwest.

In the conversations I’ve had and the advocacy letters I’ve read I have learned that, as proud Midwesterners, our members understand they need to support their fellow citizens and public lands beyond their regional borders. They identify with the inextricable connection between place, culture and livelihood. They can relate to the fine balance between stewardship and reliance on resources. And just as they enjoy supporting their local farms, dairies and breweries, they appreciate supporting their fisherman, who although not as local is just as fundamental to their food system.

Sitka Salmon Share members at a letter writing event

But, for most of our members, their growing reverence for the Tongass National Forest comes down to something much simpler: the taste and quality of the wild salmon we deliver to their doorstep during the summer months. They know that the bountiful streams and rivers of the Tongass National Forest reared their wild salmon. They understand that the delicious and nourishing salmon that ends up on their dinner tables had a long journey — a journey that connects them to their fishermen and to the Tongass as a whole.

When Midwesterners join Sitka Salmon Shares, we help them become aware of the Tongass National Forest as a national treasure. And for these reasons, they feel a responsibility to safeguard it for both those that rely on the Tongass for their livelihood locally, and for folks like them, thousands of miles away, fortunate enough to share in its bounty.

Therefore our members in Minnesota have been writing to Senator Al Franken, our members in Wisconsin have been communicating with Senator Tammy Baldwin, and our members in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana have been contacting the Chief of the Forest Service Tom Tidwell in order to advocate for the Tongass and the Tongass Transition. They all write to share their hopes for a healthy, sustainable future in the Tongass by prioritizing funding for watershed restoration, caring for salmon habitat and making sure fisheries remain strong so that communities, near and far, can thrive.

Sitka Salmon Shares members tell us why they love WILD salmon from the TONGASS

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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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