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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!
Tell Senators Begich and Murkowski: Don't let the Forest Service Clear-Cut the Wilderness and Recreation Budget
On the day before Halloween, the US Forest Service announced they were going to reduce the already insufficient $1.1 million dollar Wilderness and Recreation budget for the entire Tongass National Forest by over half a million dollars.
This is “budgetary clear-cutting” with the Forest Service already proposing the closure of 12 cabins alongside a reduction in the staff positions responsible for maintaining trails, keeping cabins stocked and safe, and processing the permits for guides and tour operators.
Cabin closures and loss of Wilderness and Recreation staff overall signifies a lack of prioritization of the tourism and recreation industries here in the Tongass National Forest. The tourism industry alone racks in $1 Billion annually with thousands of visitors coming every year to experience the wilderness of Southeast Alaska.
The Forest Service is not fulfilling its promise of the Tongass Transition. The Transition is a framework the agency adopted in 2010 aimed at creating jobs in sectors like recreation and tourism while moving away from Southeast’s outdated timber management program. For instance, next year the Forest Service has estimates that just one timber sale will COST taxpayers $15.6 Million (that’s over 25 times the entire Wilderness and Rec budget). The Transition (were it to be enacted) would dictate that sustainable and profitable programs like Recreation and Wilderness would take precedence over such wasteful timber projects.
The Forest Service enacted the Transition three years ago. Now we want them to take action to save our recreation and tourism opportunities from these budgetary reductions. We need to support what sustains our livelihoods here in the Tongass rather than reduce them year after year.
Contact Senator Begich and Senator Murkowski. Ask them to encourage the Forest Service to take action on the Tongass Transition by reallocating their budgets to make Wilderness and Recreation a priority and to push for more federal funding for the Forest Service. Email, while important, are not as effective as written letters. If you would like help drafting a letter, contact SCS at email@example.com or call (907) 747-7509.
For Kari Paustian, one of the most important things about growing up in Southeast Alaska is the way that is has shaped what she considers valuable. To read about a value system based on the Tongass, read Kari’s story. To what she has to say, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
If you had seen Kari Paustian at her first dance recital, in her polka dotted tutu, you might not recognize her now. She is 21 years old, a senior in college, almost six feet tall. and has worked for the Forest Service Trail Crew for the past two years, hauling logs, sawing trees, and building bridges. However, if you listen to her describe her job, it’s clear that her tutu years have had their influence. “Me and my boss, and we went up to cut firewood with a cross-cut saw because you can’t use a chainsaw in wilderness areas. We took this beautiful saw up to this very isolated cabin – flew in by float plane. We spent two days cutting firewood. You move your whole body when you use a cross-cut saw. It’s almost like a dance – one person pulls and the other person pushes, and the only sound that you hear is the shh shh shh of the saw moving through the wood. And you can still hear the birdsong in the background.”
Kari can make chopping wood sound like a gift because for her, it is one. The opportunity to work with the Tongass is a way to take advantage of the skills that she learned from all of the physical activities she did as a kid, from ballet to cross country. And her relationship to the land is reciprocal: she’s majoring in environmental studies and is currently interning at the Sitka Conservation Society. When she thinks about her future, it’s with conservation in mind. Being out in the woods is something that is valuable enough to her that she is working on becoming valuable to the forest in return. “I think that any work If involve myself in here will be involved with the Tongass, with the ocean. I can’t imagine living here and working at a desk for 8 hours a day 5 days a week,” she says.
Kari feels that because she grew up in South East, her view of the land is different that most people’s – but just as important. “I think the true beauty in this place is in the details.There’s a sense of learning about plants by tasting them, instead of learning out of books. picking up a leaf and tasting it. The act of being out in the environment – feeling the bark in the trees, the rain falling on your face – it’s a very tactile life that we live here. Those really little details, those tiny creatures and plants are what makes this ecosystem run. They’re at the bottom of the food chain. It makes me feel blessed that I’ve had the time, enough years, to notice those things. and enough people to show me.”
Even if she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after graduation, one thing that she’s sure of is where she’ll do it “I’ve never been someplace that I’ve liked more than Sitka, and I’ve done a fair bit of traveling. If I were to raise a family, this would be -” she stops, and corrects herself – “This is the place I’d want to do that. It’s home.”
To hear Kari, click here: 19_LWL_KARI_PAUSTIAN
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 on Voices of the Tongass, Margot O’Connell gives us a look into the unique set of skills she has developed by growing up in the Tongass. To hear Margot’s story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
When we ask Margot O’Connell about her plans for the future, she tells us something we already know – something everyone who knows Margot knows about her: she loves books. “Growing up, books were sort of my entire universe,” she says, “and that’s still a big part of my life. I want to be a librarian. I’m going to go to grad school in a few years, I want to work in a library.” Honestly, we are inspired by her sense of direction and her long term goals. But when we ask Margot about what she’s doing now, she laughs out loud. “Well, growing up in Sitka you develop a weird skill set, so since 2008 I’ve been organizing and developing marine debris clean up on the outer coasts around Sitka. So kind of on accident I’ve become the marine debris coordinator for Sitka.”
So library school is waiting because after graduation Margot felt “a compulsion to come home.“ And although Margot is humble, it’s no accident that she has found herself involved with marine debris. She’s been helping with the program for the last six years, and is now in charge of everything from organizing clean-ups and estimating fuel costs to partnering with community art programs and applying for grants. Not to mention the actual business of going out on the F/V Cherokee for a week at time to record what they can find on the beach. “We can only get on the beach June – September because of the weather. We’ll take the Cherokee in, then a skiff, then a zodiac. We’ll see what’s there. We’ve expanded our mission to include tsunami tracking. So we’ll record what we find, including invasive species. And then we’ll actually remove all of the debris that we find on the beach.”
Margot has never thought of herself as a scientist, but part of marine debris involves picking up shifts at the Sitka Sound Science Center, and teaching visitors about the local aquarium. She’s surprised by how much she does know, even if it didn’t come to her out of a book. Margot says she’s learned through osmosis simply from growing up in Southeast. “The touch tanks we have [at the aquarium], they look like the tide pools we grew up playing in,” she says. “Growing up here you just have this deep ingrained, inherited knowledge about the landscape and the environment.” It’s knowledge that she has put to use through her position with the marine debris program. Since she started in 2008, the program has cleaned more than 70,000 pounds of refuse off the beaches of Southeast Alaska.
The program will miss her when she follows her passion for history and books to librarian school, but Margot is pretty sure she’ll be back. “I guess I always had two separate worlds,” she says. “I loved where I was living, loved my school, but I really like to be in this environment. I love to come home.”