The Sitka Conservation Society and US Forest Service are working with community support and partner organizations to encourage a regional management transition across the Tongass National Forest. Our ultimate goal is that the management of our public lands reflects the collective interests and values of the region’s many stakeholders. We work tirelessly to ensure that our largest national forest remains healthy, vibrant and productive for generations to come. To achieve these long-term goals, we encourage a shift away from an unsustainable focus on old-growth timber harvesting to the stimulation of a diversified and resilient regional economy with responsible watershed management.
Part of a successful transition involves an active US Forest Service Fisheries and Watershed Program with strong community and partner support. Unfortunately, for the last several years federal funding, including those allocated for fisheries and watershed management in the Alaska region, have decreased around 5 to 10% annually. SCS strongly advocates for forest management and a Forest Service budget that recognizes the significance of salmon and other fish and wildlife across the Tongass.
We are excited that this year, the Fisheries and Watershed budget in the Alaska region has been boosted by about 15%! This means that several important programs and projects that were on the back burner due to insufficient funding, can now move forward.
I sat down with Greg Killinger, Fish, Watershed, and Soils Program Manager on the Tongass who was very excited about these budget changes. “After several years of declining funding, it is great to see an increase in funds available to get important fisheries, wildlife and watershed work done on the Tongass with our communities in Southeast Alaska.”
The types of projects and programs the Fisheries and Watershed sector supports include the stabilization, maintenance and restoration of damaged fish and wildlife habitat, the replacement or removal of unnecessary culverts that currently obstruct fish movement, and the support of monitoring projects that protect and secure a stable future for our natural resources. Major project work is planned on Kuiu Island, Prince of Wales Island and our neighbor in Sitka – Kruzof Island.
We continue to encourage adjustments to the region’s budget and changes to management scope and strategy that support a healthier future for our forest, fish, and communities. Thank you to the Forest Service for taking this initial step in the right direction! Cheers to this small victory, now go get outside and enjoy the brilliant and healthy landscape we are so fortunate to call home!
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:
The Secure Rural Schools Act (previously referred to as “timber receipts”) has provided approximately $100,000 for a group of volunteer Sitkans (the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee or RAC) to decide how the funds will be spent on the Sitka Ranger District.
Projects proposal may be submitted by federal, state, local, or tribal governments; non-profit organizations, landowners, and even private entities. The projects must benefit the National Forest System. The current round of funding proposals are due by APRIL 30, 2014. Projects ideas are limited only by your imagination, projects may include: road and trail maintenance, buoy and cabin maintenance, ATV trail brushing, wildlife habitat restoration, fish habitat restoration, invasive species management among other much needed projects.
Click here to learn more about the program and how to prepare a proposal.
Community driven projects ensure that the US Forest Service understands the priorities of the community in order to better shape their management activities, as well as influencing the distribution of funds throughout the Sitka Ranger District. For more information or assistance, contact Marjorie Hennessy, Coordinator for the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group at email@example.com or 747-7509.
For more information on the RAC you can attend the meeting of the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee on June 6, 4pm, at the Sitka Ranger District (remember current RAC proposals are due April 30!). Community involvement in public lands management planning is a valuable opportunity for the public to have a say in how our lands are cared for!
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.
Sitka is alive with activity! The herring have returned to our waters to spawn. Fish, fishermen, whales, birds and sea lions are crowding our oceans and coasts and the streets are starting to smell fishy.
Check out this little video SCS helped produce with Ben Hamilton that showcases our deliciously fresh fisheries-from stream to plate!
It’s here! Hot-off-the-press is the Fish to Schools Resource Guide and Stream to Plate Curriculum! Fish to Schools, a program that gets local seafood into schools, began as a grassroots, community initiative in the fall of 2010. Sitka is one of the first districts in the state to serve local seafood through the National School Lunch Program and has become a leader in the State of Alaska to get local foods into schools. In the last three years, the number of schools interested in serving local seafood has increased ten-fold. And it makes sense—this is a program that not only addresses child nutrition but also food justice, community sustainability, and conservation.
In an effort to support regional and state-wide efforts to serve local foods in schools, the Sitka Conservation Society developed a “how-to” guide to serving fish in schools. Using Sitka as a case study it outlines procurement and processing strategies, legalities, tips, and recipes. Also included are case studies from around the state that offer tips and suggestions based on the success of their programs.
In addition to this guide is the “Stream to Plate” curriculum, a unit of seven lessons that connect salmon to the classroom. The lessons address the ecological significance and human relationship to salmon. These lessons have been trialed and refined the last three years with third graders at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. Chris Bryner, teacher and collaborator on the salmon unit said, “The Fish to Schools curriculum connects my classroom to the community. Students not only learn about a resource relevant to their daily lives, but come away with an understanding that learning happens inside and outside of school.”
We’ve been working on this guide since the inception of our program, tucking away tips and pieces information that have been particularly useful to get Fish to Schools up and running. I hope it inspires and supports your efforts to get local foods in schools.
Thank you to all the funders who have made this possible: SEARHC Community Transformation Grant, Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program, Alaska Farm to School, and the Crossett Foundation. And thank you to all of the countless volunteer hours the community of Sitka has put in to make this possible!
We are very excited to announce that The Meaning of Wild has been accepted to the DC Environmental Film Festival!
Please join us for the event March 20th at 6:30pm at the Yates Auditorium (address below).
Washington, D.C. Premiere The Meaning of Wild is a documentary film that takes viewers on a journey through one of our nation’s most wild and pristine landscapes – The Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The film follows wildlife cameraman Ben Hamilton as he travels by boat, plane, kayak and foot to capture and share the true value of Wilderness. Along the journey Ben encounters bears, calving glaciers, ancient forest, and harsh seas but it’s the characters he meets along the way that bring true insight to his mission. Filmed in stunning HD,The Meaning of Wild, highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. Ultimately The Meaning of Wild celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates.
Shown with YOSEMITE: A GATHERING OF SPIRIT (Ken Burns)
Background: Sitka Conservation Society has been partnering with the USDA Forest Service for over 5 years to monitor and steward Wilderness areas in the Tongass. Part of SCS’s mission is to educate and inspire community members to take care of their local public lands through projects like the Meaning of Wild.
This film was made possible through support from the Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, and the contributions of over 100 community members all of whom we would like to thank for making this film a reality.
FREE. No reservations required.
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C St., NW
(Metro: Farragut West)
Hundreds of people throughout the state have come out in opposition to House Bill 77, known also as the Silencing Alaskans Act.
The Sitka community joined in opposition to HB 77 this past Thursday as well. Around fifty people showed up to a meeting scheduled with Department of Natural Resources Representative Wyn Menefee to get a better understanding of the bill. Mr. Menefee was unable to attend due to snow but the meeting still continued.
Linda Behnken, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, helped frame the bill and answered questions posed.
“Is there anything in this bill that you like?” , moderator Eric Jordan read off a notecard given by a community member.
“If there are things that I like in this bill, I couldn’t point them out to you” said Behnken.” I do understand that DNR has interest in facilitating the permitting process so that there could be quicker decisions but I think they’ve gone way beyond that with this bill and that’s the message they need to hear from the people.”
That’s the message that was heard repeatedly at Thursday’s public discussion through the fourteen people that testified against the bill.
“Over 30 tribes have expressed opposition to HB 77 and Sitka Tribe is one of them,” said Michael Baines, Tribal Chairman of Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
“This bill attacks the basic constitutional guarantees of fish and wildlife protection. The public holds these resources in common yet [HB 77] gives priority to extractive interests that damage them,” said Matt Donohoe, board member of the Alaska Troller’s Association.
“I think a good example of things that happened when we didn’t have any kind of say about stuff was what the water used to look like when the pulp mill was operating”, said Kim Elliot, Alaska Department of Fishing & Game Advisory Council member. “We really have to think about what our future would look like if we didn’t have any rights to take care of the water upstream from our piece of property wherever that might be. People really deserve the right to question what the government is doing.”
Sitkans still want DNR to come to town and answer questions on HB 77, but this time it will be when we see the new amendments proposed on the bill. Right now behind closed doors, the Senate Rules Committee is proposing changes to the bill because of the hundreds of people that have outspoken against it. This reminds us that public participation IS in fact key to the way we manage our shared natural resources, and our rights as Alaskans.
For more information on House Bill 77, go to www.standforsalmon.org and join us in writing Governor Sean Parnell to let him know of your opposition to HB 77 and to the giveaway of your rights as an Alaskan.
Governor Sean Parnell
Alaska State Capitol Building
PO BOX 110001
Juneau, AK 99811-0001