Sitka Conservation Society
Jul 22 2014

Got a favorite fish recipe? Enter the Fish to Schools Recipe Contest!

Do you have a favorite fish recipe? Does your kid? Come share them with us!

A Fish to Schools lunch at Mt. Edgecumbe High School.

The Sitka Conservation Society is teaming up with the Sitka Seafood Festival to offer the first annual Fish to Schools Recipe Contest. The contest will take place on Saturday, August 2 at 4:30 p.m at the Main Tent on the Sheldon Jackson Campus.
Want to learn more about the contest? Here’s the basics:
The purpose of the contest is to collect kid-friendly, healthy fish recipes that can be used in local school lunches. Kids can be picky eaters, so if you have a kid-approved fish recipe, this is your time to shine! Winning recipes will be passed on to school district officials and will hopefully appear on school lunch trays in the fall. Prizes, including a Ludvig’s gift certificate, will also be distributed.
Interested? Here’s what you need to do to enter the contest:
1. Come up with a fish recipe that is both kid-friendly and healthy. To ensure that all entrees are nutritious and delicious, please stick to these basic guidelines:
  • Keep it low in fat and sodium
  • Bake the fish!
  • Don’t use any special appliances. These recipes will be replicated in local schools in big quantities, so don’t make it too complicated.
2. Prepare a few servings of your dish (enough for 15 people to nibble) and bring it to the Sitka Seafood Festival on Saturday, August 2. Dishes should be dropped off at 4:15 p.m. at the Main Tent on the SJ Campus.
3. Include a recipe with your dish and (if possible) a photo of you preparing it.
4. Sit back and relax…and wait for the judges to cast their ballots!
For more information and to register for the contest, please contact Sophie at sophie@sitkawild.org

SCS Board Member Spencer Severson shares a meal with a student at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School.

Coho with beach asparagus, served at a Fish to Schools lunch at Pacific High School.

 

 

 

Jul 21 2014

Tourism in the Tongass: The Mendenhall Glacier

Alaska hosted close to 2 million visitors between May 2013 and April 2014, shattering its previous annual visitor record by more than 5,000 people.  Not surprisingly, about 1.7 million of those visitors came in the summer months, but last winter did see a 4 percent increase in out-of-state visitation, according to statistics published by the Alaska Department of Commerce.

“Alaska is a worldwide recognized brand,” Dan Kirkwood, outreach director for the Alaska Wilderness League said. When people hear Alaska they think wilderness, adventure, landscapes, hiking and outdoor activities, he explained.  “The market demand is for the natural beauty and for this wilderness experience”

Here in Southeast Alaska, where 17 million acres of the region is the Tongass National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service is the most important player in determining how tourists and residents alike use and experience the wilderness.  The U.S. Forest Service governs everything from timber sales to hunting to recreation.

Tourists from all over the United States venture to Southeast Alaska to see and experience the beauty and vastness of America’s largest national forest.  The U.S. Forest Service provides important and meaningful ways for people to experience the Tongass and one of the most visitor-friendly places is just 12 miles from Juneau at the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center.

The Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center was built in 1961 and is the most visited attraction in the Tongass National Forest today, with tourists traveling from all across America for an amazing view of the river of ice.

The U.S. Forest Service built the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center in 1961.  It is the oldest Fores Service visitor’s center in the country and the most popular in Southeast Alaska today.   The glacier has retreated at an alarming rate in recent years.  Glaciers retreat when the ice melts at a faster rate than it is replaced every year.  While Mendenhall has been retreating since the mid-1700s, it has certainly sped up in recent years.  About 50 years ago, the glacier moved about 60 feet every year.  In 2011, the glacier retreated 437 feet!

Despite how far back the glacier has moved since the visitor’s center was built, the U.S. Forest Service has created a very visitor-friendly experience for people with varying degrees of outdoor experience.  Even closer and more astonishing views of the glacier are just a short walk up the path from the visitor’s center to Nugget Falls.  This short trail one of the most popular in Juneau.

The Mendenhall Glacier was named for Thomas Mendenhall, a former superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey. The original name of the glacier was Auke Glacier, named by John Muir in 1879 for Aak’w Kwaan of the Tlingit Indians.

While the Mendenhall is retreating, it is far from disappearing and he number of visitors to the glacier is continually increasing.  Statistics provided by the Alaska Wilderness League show that in 2011 tourism contributed $1 billion and provided more than 10,000 jobs in Southeast Alaska.   And the most popular city to visit in the Southeast is Juneau.

Recent budget cuts to the recreation programs and the current management strategy of the U.S. Forest Service have made it very difficult for the agency to adjust to the growing demand of visitors in the area.  As tourism easily becomes the second most important industry for the Southeast Alaskan economy, behind sport and commercial fishing, the U.S. Forest Service is in the unique position to greatly impact how much this industry grows and contributes to the welfare of the region.

Travelers from all over the United States come to visit the very first visitor’s center built by the U.S. Forest Service.  Stars indicate where all of the following tourists traveled from.

Many tourists traveling through the Tongass do not know much about the nation’s largest national forest before they arrive.  But, through programs, films, exhibits, pamphlets, guides and talks provided by the U.S. Forest Service, visitors learn more and more about a forest that they can call their own.  After spending even just a short time there, they all agree it is beautiful and unlike any other forest they have ever seen.  Continue reading to meet some travelers from all over America and see what had to say about their trip to the Southeast.

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Sam Tortora from New York!

“We have never seen anything like this!  We don’t have this in New York,” the couple said of their first trip to Alaska.  Despite the pricey airfare, they both said they would come back.  ”It’s like being in Paradise!”

 

 

Meet Mary and Collette from Wisconsin! 

Mary is a former travel agent and has been to Alaska four times.  ”I just love Alaska,” she said.  ”It’s God’s country!”  Mary and Collette came in on a cruise to Juneau and spent their morning exploring the Mendenhall visitor’s center.

 

 

Meet Mike and Debbie from Oregon!

“I’m burnt out on the boat,” Mike said of his cruise experience.  ”I like being out.”  Mike and Debbie did not know much about the Tongass before they took a cruise to Alaska from Seattle, but they were enjoying what feels like countless views of glaciers and waterfalls.

 

 

Meet Lynnette and Teresa from Nebraska!

“This place is HUGE with all capital letters!” Lynnette said of the Tongass.  They have really enjoyed their trip to Alaska and are looking forward to the rest of their travels.

 

 

Meet Lynn and George from Florida!

Lynn and George have been to Alaska three times.  This time, they decided to travel more of the land and less of the sea and opted for independent travel, rather than a cruise ship.  They returned to Mendenhall Glacier to stay up to date and aware on the effects of climate change on the region they said.

 

 

Meet Peggy from Texas!

Peggy came in to Juneau on a cruise ship.  It’s her first time in Alaska and she described the Tongass as a “beautiful and huge ecosystem” unlike any she had ever seen before.

 

 

These are just a few faces of the thousands of visitors that venture to the Mendenhall Glacier this summer and there will be thousands more that will visit this public and pristine wilderness before the season is out.

Jul 18 2014

When you wish upon a star!

Volunteer geologist Kari Paustian accompanied the SCS cruisers on Sunday to offer her expertise about Kruzof.

There were XTRATUFS everywhere!  Though, a few souls did venture into the tide pools without them.  On a foggy and misty Sunday morning, some brave adventurers, sponsored by the Sitka Conservation Society, ventured to Kruzof to learn about intertidal species.  The shore was spotted with sea stars and there was quite a bit to learn about this wilderness that presents itself just a few hours every day.

Did you know there are 2,000 species of sea stars?

Not all live here in Southeast Alaska, but this region has the highest amount of diversity of these species.

Sea stars – sometimes referred to as starfish – are not actually fish.  They do not have gills, fins, or scales.  They pump nutrients through their body with salt water because they do not have blood.  They have at least 5 legs, but some have as many as 40!

This is a sunflower sea star. These guys can be up to 3 feet wide and weigh as much as 60 pounds. They feed on clams and crabs and can move pretty quickly through the water. Well, they are no cheetahs, but they get around.

The biggest predators of sea stars are other sea stars. When sea stars feel threatened, they have the ability to shed one of their legs (which they will regrow later) so that a predator might eat that leg and leave them alone.

We hope you enjoyed learning as much as we did!

Jul 18 2014

Why do salmon jump? Exploring the Medvejie Hatchery in Southeast Alaska

Fishing season is in full swing here in Southeast Alaska.  The docks of Sitka are buzzing with fishermen anxiously awaiting every available opener to go out and get the next big catch!
Here in Southeast Alaska, fish are a part of every day life.  One in 10 jobs in Sitka is directly related to the fishing industry.  But, salmon is important for subsistence and recreation in the Tongass National Forest as well.  The Tongass produces 28 percent of Alaskan salmon.  Salmon hatcheries play an important role in mitigating disease among salmon and ensuring salmon populations can meet the economic and cultural demands of the region.
The Medvejie hatchery in Southeast Alaska is a short boat ride away from Sitka and it produces chum, Chinook (King) and coho salmon, by the millions.

Baby cohos are kept in tanks until they are released in fresh water streams in the Tongass.

Hatcheries support wild populations of salmon, they do not replace them.  Housing salmon for just their early months, the fish are released into fresh water streams that lead straight to the ocean. The ones that survive the fishing season, return home to the hatchery to spawn (lay eggs) and then die.  Salmon traditionally return to the stream they were born to spawn.
The stream at the Medvejie hatchery is fondly referred to by workers as the “Spawnoma Canal.”  After the salmon come up, hatchery workers release eggs and sperm into a bag to fertilize them and then they preserve the meat to be sent to fish processing plants.  Outside of hatcheries, the dead fish are eaten by bears and eagles and their carcasses help fertilize the surrounding soil.
Medvejie, like all hatcheries, has a way of marking all of their fish so they can keep track of how many make it back to the hatchery and how many are caught in the wild. By changing the temperatures of the boxes where eggs are kept, a barcode is created on every fish’s eardrum. They also tag each fish with a number (usually on its face).

More baby cohos being shown to tourists at the hatchery.

So, why do they jump? Well, no one really knows.  Some say jumping helps loosen the eggs before it’s time to spawn.  Some research shows that salmon jump in response to pressure and stress.  Others just believe the fish are having fun. You know, the #yolo mentality! There are a lot of theories and explanations floating around, but no salmon has ever answered the question for us, so we may never know for sure.

Sitka Conservation Society employees feel the baby salmon nipping at their fingers inside the Medvejie hatchery.

Jul 14 2014

Painting the Wilderness: Report on the Forest Service’s Annual Artist Trip

This past week, I, along with SCS co-workers Paul Killian and Tracy Gagnon, had the privilege of introducing Ray Geier, a talented artist from Boulder, Colorado, and a recipient of one of the Forest Service’s annual artist residencies, to Southeast Alaska. Our destination was South Baranof, designated wilderness in 1980 under ANILCA, where we spent five days paddling from Shamrock Bay to the Rakof Islands. Along the way we monitored the land for human use and disturbance, kept track of boat and plane traffic for Forest Service management purposes, and disassembled an illegal tent platform. Greeted at our first campsite by a brown bear, our time spent out in the field also found us no stranger to wildlife. Not a day – or barely even an hour – went by in which we didn’t come across a sea otter, seal, or sea lion breaking the surface of the water in front of us. Thus, despite the fairly constant rain that hammered us for most of the trip, the splendor of the place was not lost on us. As Ray, frequently to be seen with colored pencil or paintbrush in hand, had to say: “It’s even more beautiful than I thought it would be.”

This residency with the Alaskan Voices of the Wilderness Program was Ray’s first visit to the state, so although a newcomer to Sitka myself, I tried over the course of the trip to communicate as much about the history of the land as I could. We discussed logging and the pulp mills, and SCS and ANILCA, and talked more generally about the allure of this landscape and the unique relationship between the Alaskan state and the American wild. It was while telling Ray the specific story of South Baranof though, and its particular path to wilderness designation, that I was struck by how fitting a place it is to hold the artist-in-residency trip; and that is because South Baranof provides the perfect example that you don’t have to be a conservationist by trade to care for the earth or embrace an environmental ethic. Neither the project of a non-profit nor the goal of a group of “greenies,” the proposal for the protection of this area actually came from the Sitka Chamber of Commerce. For this reason, I think that South Baranof has an important story to tell, which is that regardless of whether you’re an artist or a government employee or anything in between, there’s a role you can play in the preservation of our planet and public lands. Environmental stewardship can emanate from anywhere; caring for the Earth is not reserved exclusively for the environmentalist.

The brown bear we encountered at our first campsite.

And this comes as very good news, because in recent decades – at a time when the environment has become one of the forefront social, scientific, and political issues of the day – people’s willingness to identify as an environmentalist has plummeted. In 1999, the last time that the national Gallup poll asked whether people considered themselves “environmentalists,” only 50% of respondents answered yes. Yet a related survey conducted only a few months later found 83% of respondents, a considerably larger number of individuals, “willing to agree with the goals of the environmental movement.” So what accounts for this disjunct?

According to a number of social scientific studies, many people’s hesitance to self-identity as an “environmentalist,” even while agreeing with the term’s associated values, stems from the negative connotations that people believe come attached with the word. For many, the term conjures up images of tree-hugging hippies, implies privileging ecology over the economy, or suggests subscription to a larger (and liberal) agenda. I myself have encountered friends and acquaintances wary of using the term for all of the above, among other, reasons. Which is why I like the story of South Baranof. It’s a story of an environmentalism differently defined – a story of many different types of people who over the years have worked to protect the land. As a matter of fact, the first people to press for restrained logging and preservation of the Southeast’s forests were not hippies, but hunters! Thus, from its Chamber of Commerce creators up through its current artist, among other, stewards, the individuals responsible for the creation and conservation of South Baranof have shown that “environmentalist” doesn’t have to be a restrictive or totalizing term. Caring for the Earth can come in different forms.

The American author and environmental activist Edward Abbey once advised his readers to “be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast, a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of your lives for pleasure and adventure.” As we continue to face growing environmental threats in the 21st century, I think the sentiment captured by Abbey’s statement is an important one: which is that caring for the earth doesn’t need to be your full time job in order to practice good stewardship. Being green doesn’t necessarily require engaging in extreme action, merely exercising a conscious ethic. So there is good news for the 66% of Americans who in 2014, in this year’s Gallup survey, admitted to worrying about the environment, which is that you can be an “environmentalist” and something else – be it an artist, or a hunter, or a town employee, or whatever job you currently hold. As the success story of South Baranof attests to, stewardship springs from many sources. You don’t have to be an “environmentalist” by trade to effect change and get the job done.

One of Ray’s paintings from the trip.

If you’re interested in learning more about or applying to a Voices of the Wilderness Alaska Artist Residency, be sure to check out the link on the Forest Service’s website. And if you’re still looking to get outdoors this summer, be sure to check out some of the opportunities provided by the Sitka Conservation Society at our wilderness page here. The artist trip may be over, but there are many more ahead! We’d love to have you involved.

Jul 09 2014

Thoughts on Tlingit Canoes and Old-Growth Trees

Protecting old-growth forest is no longer a revolutionary idea. As we continue to discover ways that old-growth habitat are critical to salmon, birds, Sitka deer and numerous other species, people are making the connection between protecting these areas and the wildlife that we depend on. Leaving old-growth habitat intact is a no-brainer for Southeast Alaskans who depend on the forest  as the place where they forage, hunt and fish. But we can’t ignore the fact that we use wood on a daily basis. Can these needs coexist?

One way that the Sitka Conservation Society is exploring this question is by looking at ways that Southeast Alaskans have selectively and sustainably harvested old growth trees throughout time. Immediately, we turn to the ways that Tlingit Alaska Native peoples have harvested the trees. In contrast to the ways that the forests were used in the 20thcentury when they were liquidated and exported as commodities, Alaska Natives used craftsmanship to carve useful and meaningful objects that were often imbued with their values and ideals. And they did it while understanding and maintaining the character and quality of the tree.

Take for instance Tlingit canoes. While their southern neighbors, the Haida, are more well-known for their highly prized red cedar canoes, over centuries, the Yakutat Tlingit developed ways to carve spruce into a variety of forms, each serving a different purpose. There was a forked bow canoe for otter hunting, a village canoe, which held 18 to 20 people, and even a two person seal-hunting canoe, which they covered in white cloth to disguise it as a floating iceberg. Their canoes could survive coming ashore on rocky surf or scraping the bottom of a shallow river. They paddled in streams, rivers, estuaries and the open waters of southeast Alaska.

Drawing from Frederica De Laguna’s “Under Mount Saint Elias: The History and Culture of the Yakutat Tlingit” Part 1. Page 333.

Equally as masterful was the way the Yakutat Tlingit steered their canoes through unexpected terrain. Lieutenant Frederick Gustavus Schwatk agreed. He wrote prolifically about traveling throughout the Tongass. After being welcomed on a canoe, he described how the Yakutat people delicately maneuvered a large canoe across a dam. In a 1886 New York Times article, he wrote “… . I never knew a canoe would stand so much..” After being carved, the Tlingit took great care of their canoes, covering them with damp clothes and lathering them with seal oil.

Until the early 20th century when Alaska Natives turned to skiffs with on-board motors for hunting and fishing, canoes made from old-growth wood were critical to the Tlingit lifestyle in southeast. And with the Alaskan coastline being longer than any of the other states’ combined, paddling is and always has been one of the most intimate ways to navigate our unpredictable waters. With craftsmanship, care and respect of the old- growth dug-out, the Tlingit perfected the art of floating through Southeast.

Keep an eye out as we explore the way that canoe-building in southeast demonstrates a sustainable use of our crucial old-growth trees.

Jul 09 2014

Hanging out with Captain Hook

“Even a rainy day in Sitka is better than a good day at work!” both Denise (right) and Maureen (left) agreed on their first and only day here in town.

Denise and Maureen have been friends for 15 years.  They both participate in the same women’s group in Fort Collins, Colorado and love to travel.  In the past, their adventures have taken them to India and Thailand.  But, this summer, they set their sights on Alaska and they are already planning their return.

On their only day in Sitka, Denise and Maureen headed out on a Gallant Adventures wildlife tour with Paul Davis.  Paul has lived in Sitka for about 15 years and enjoys leading wildlife tours on his boat around the islands of the Southeast.
As we headed out on the rainy Tuesday morning, Paul told Denise and Maureen he has only had one tour where his guests did not see any whales.  Lucky for the two of them, they were not the second tour to have that unfortunate fate.

Humpback whale named Hook.

This is Hook.  Paul named this humpback four years ago when he first saw it because of the hooked nature of its dorsal fin.  The whale, Paul estimates, is more than 40 feet long and weighs about 35 tons.  Captain Hook is actually an adult female whale.

Hook begins to dive.

And down she goes!

But, the wildlife tour didn’t end there.  Denise and Maureen had already seen grizzlies near Mt. McKinley on their driving tour up north, but they were pretty excited to come across this guy near Redoubt Bay as the salmon were coming in.

Caught this bear looking for salmon near Redoubt Bay.

The tour also included some sitings of otters,

A mom and pup on the left see another sea otter come up on the right.

rhinoceros auklets,

Rhinoceros auklets have horns on the edges of their beaks and white feathers under their eyes.

and sea stars.

Purple and pink sea stars dot the tide lines of the islands.

Even as the rain poured down and the two jostled around on the bumpy sea, they both agreed, “A rainy day in Sitka is better than a good day at work!”
Jul 08 2014

Conserving Alaskan Waters: Monitoring for Invasive European Green Crabs

It was a fine cloudy morning with a touch of fresh breeze on June 11th; just another typical morning here in Sitka. My supervisor, Conservation Science Director for the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS), Scott Harris arrived at the Forest Service Bunk house (where I live) at 6:45 a.m. to pick me up. All I was told is that we will be setting traps to look for an invasive crab species that could potentially reach the waters of Alaska. I was super excited since I am not at all familiar with trapping crabs. On our way, we stopped to pick up Bethany Goodrich, SCS’s Tongass Policy and Communications Resident. Our first stop was at the Sitka Sound Science Center and Taylor White, the aquarium manager, greeted us.  We loaded small containers with dead herring fish as bait before placing these containers into the six crab pots.

At 7:30 am in the morning, members of the Sitka Conservation Society and Sitka Sound Science Center were already busy, loading the boat with crab pots, and getting ready to take off to Sitka Sound to monitor the waters of the invasive crab species, the European Green Crab. As SCS’s Salmon Conservation Intern, I was eager to learn about the methods of monitoring invasive species in Alaska.

Scott prepares to plunge the first anchor into the water.

Currently, the European Green Crab is not known to occur in Alaska, but are currently found as far north as British Columbia. European Green Crabs first entered the United States in the mid 1800’s, coming by sailing ship to the Cape Cod region.Since then, the crabs have become well adapted to the environment and flourish in the waters of United States.  However, with the increase in numbers, European Green Crabs have created negative impacts on local commercial and personal fishing and caused habitat disturbance thus affecting other native species.  These crabs heavily prey on tubeworms, juvenile claims and juvenile crabs. In recent years, with the increase in the European crab population, there has been a strong decline in the populations of young oysters and other smaller native shore crabs. With its increasing population European Green Crabs have the potential to outcompete the native Dungeness crab for food and habitat. Thus, our mission of setting up the crab pots is to capture and halt the invasive European Green Crabs as early as possible in their invasion.

Shortly after we finished placing the bait, we headed towards Scott’s boat, Alacrity and placed the baits while waiting for Lynn Wilber, a PHD student from the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom. Once Lynn showed up, we headed out to the sea. As we headed out to sea, the panorama before me reminded me of the scenes from the discovery channel’s series “Deadliest Catch”, except for the fact that the water that we were in was a lot calmer.

We went out to where the water depth was about 30 ft and Scott plunged the first metal anchor that was attached to a marker buoy into the water. Attached to the buoy was a long heavy rope line and on that line we attached the crab pots using metal clippers. Each crab pot has to be 5-arm length apart from the other. One by one, we deployed the crab pots in to the water and at the end of the line, we attached another anchor with a marker buoy attached to it.

One of the sea stars we encountered.

The next day, around the same time, we headed out to the sea to see if we had captured any European crabs in our crab pots. Keeping with the protocol, we had left the traps for the whole 24 hours. As we pulled in each trap, we discovered a bunch of sea stars, 1 rockfish and a male and a female Kelp Greenling and luckily no European Green Crabs. As part of the protocol, we also measured the salinity of the water because this is an area where the freshwater from Indian River fuse with the ocean and thus the salinity can fluctuate from time to time. Another reason for measuring the salinity is that the European Green Crabs are known to be tolerant of freshwater. Thus it is important to monitor the water chemistry, to determine if it is suitable environment for European Green Crabs to become established.

This process of monitoring happens every month in an effort by the staff of Sitka Conservation Society and Sitka Sound Science Center to protect that valuable native species of Alaska and to stop the invasion of the European Crab species as soon as possible. Forests, streams and the ocean all combine to provide a favorable habitat for salmon. To keep our fisheries healthy, we must continue to monitor and implement restoration projects in all of these three areas.

Jul 04 2014

Falling in love in Sitka

by Sarah Stockdale

I am in a land of light. Alaska is alive in the summer, and in southeast, the rainforest is abundant with green foliage. As part of the Alaska Conservation Foundation Summer internship program, I have been blessed with the opportunity to spend three months here in Sitka as a media and storytelling intern with SCS. And in the three weeks since I arrived here, I’ve found Alaskans themselves to be not unlike the native flora and fauna that surround them in the summer. They take advantage of their daylight hours, knowing that winter will bring plenty of time for hibernation. The fisherwomen from whom I rent sleep only three hours a night, especially when they’re on their boat and alert for King salmon snapping at the line. Karen Schmidt, an attorney who hosted me in Anchorage for the ACF intern orientation, was the same way. She worked tirelessly during the day, but was still happy to spend the late evening down at the beach until midnight, treasuring every last glimpse of light that bounced across the Cook Inlet mudflats.

Sunset at Cook Inlet. Photo credit: Sarah Stockdale

As part of the Alaska Conservation Foundation internship program, I attended a weeklong orientation in Anchorage before heading off to my internship placement site. There, I met with young folks interning with conservation organizations across the state. We heard from conservation leaders on a variety of topics, from organizing to Alaskan history and GIS. While in Sitka, it’s easy to feel like one of only a handful of groups concerned with issues of conservation. In Anchorage, however, I was able to experience the interconnectedness of all the conservation movements across this enormous state. We certainly need one another.

In my first three weeks in Sitka, I’ve been able to sit back and breath in the Tongass, orienting myself to the sites, smells and culture. And when I look around me I see… green!!! For a New Mexican like me, you can’t imagine my awe at the density of life that the rain brings to this unique and hidden corner of the world. As one of the Alaska native speakers commented during the orientation, it’s less like subsistence out here, and more like abundance. And the Tongass is certainly abundant. Food prices may be high, but looking around, I see nourishment on ever corner from the salmonberry bushes to king salmon coming into the harbor on trollers.

I couldn’t feel further away from the suburban desert where I grew up. Yet it’s clear to me that maintaining and protecting the future of these natural resources is an issue that is not just important to Alaskans. With almost 80% of wild-caught salmon in North America coming from Alaskan fishermen, campaigns like the fight to protect Bristol Bay impact people all over the United States. Recently, New Mexico senator and congressman Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich spoke out against the Pebble mine. People are concerned, even down south.

And while a lot of people have a stake in the future of these lands, the people in southeast who have the time and energy to work on these issues are few. This is both overwhelming and deeply hopeful. It reminds me of the way a friend from Southern Colorado once described ranch culture. On a ranch, everyone’s help is needed. Nobody is turned away and everyone’s contribution is welcome. When there is a job to be done, you need all the hands you can get. Southeast Alaska feels similar to me. Every person’s energy adds to the greater goal. It’s nice to feel that you can really make a difference.

Co-worker Mary Wood and I got to take the Trak Kayaks out on Mendenhall lake when we were in Juneau this weekend. Later, we explored the ice caves on the side of the glacier. Unlike difficult to access arctic glaciers, Mendenhall is just outside of Juneau. Thousands of visitors every year come to see it, and are able to see how it is receding. Folks who grew up in southeast remember that it used to jut out all the way to the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center not so long ago. Photo Credit: Freddie Muñoz of SEACC.

As a Media and Storytelling Intern, my job is to capture the ways that people in Sitka live in relationship with their natural environment. By sharing these stories, SCS hopes to connect people with their own sense of place in the Tongass, and their personal reasons for contributing to the fight to protect it from abusive extraction practices. There is certainly no shortage of stories here in Sitka. Every person I have spoken with has a relationship with the rhythms of the rainforest, whether through fishing, hunting, foraging, hiking, wood-work, etc. From artists, students, carvers, fishermen, elders to avid gardener, everyone has an appreciation for their home. And I’m falling in love more quickly than I’d imagined.

Laurie Adams, collecting duck eggs at Down-to-Earth You-Pick Garden. Laurie taught me that slug-eating ducks are essential to having a successful garden in the Tongass.

While my job here is to inspire others to recognize the singularity of the Tongass and the importance of protecting it, I’m not surprised to find that I’m the one being inspired. As the intern coordinator for ACF, Claire Pywell, commented: people come to Alaska for the landscape, but they stay for the people. And I’m starting to believe her.

Jul 03 2014

Tommy Joseph says Tlingit carving is personal and a true art

Tommy Joseph is a Tlingit master carver in Sitka.  He teaches and carves what he is commissioned to do and what he feels inspired to create.

His apprentice, Kristina Cranston, says of him: “I think (Tommy) could recall probably where each tree came for probably if not most, all of his jobs. This tree came from this, and the other half of it went to this job. And so it becomes personal. It’s like when you go into a grocery store and you see all these fruits and vegetables, you’re really just getting the final product. You don’t  know where it was planted and who grew it and how it was harvested and cared for and transported. Whereas with his trees he’s usually part of most of the process and knows where it comes from…And I think when you have that experience it’s not a commodity, it’s really the entire process, this whole cycle. And the end result is this beautiful totem pole, and usually somebody really happy.”

Continue reading to see some of Tommy’s work and how it relates to the community!

Tommy Joseph, Tlingit master carver, has been teaching woodcarving for about 15 years to university students, teenagers at camps and to local citizens. The shed to the right of the shop is a heated, well-lit place for his students to come learn and practice.

Right inside the back door of the shop, a bowl rests on a tree stump. Tommy explained that he intends everything he makes to serve a purpose. This bowl will be sealed with oil so that it may hold any kind of food without staining the wood.

Tommy created this armor based on armor he has seen in different Alaskan museums. He wants his next museum trip to be to the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

“Carving gives a frame for some of our cultural values to come forward,” Kristina Cranston explained. Kristina is an apprentice in Tommy’s shop and believes carving brings people together and provides a sense of community and commitment for students and local people. The orca tooth necklace Kristina wears was a Valentine’s Day gift from Tommy.

“I’m in love with the human face and the human experience,” Kristina said of her work in Tommy’s shop. Despite a terrible injury early in her carving practices, she now has an apprenticeship where she is learning to make masks.

Tommy and other Tlingit carvers do not just make spoons they make art. He explained that the off-season (the winter) is a perfect time to add color and designs to his pieces.

Tourists from cruise ships often visit Tommy’s shop during the week to see his work and learn about Tlingit carving of old growth cedars. The shop stays open seven days a week if cruise ships will be docked.

Tommy travels to other islands in the southeast to find the red cedar he will use for a totem pole project. Sometimes it takes as long as a year for the wood to arrive after he has selected the tree. This project rests outside of his shop.

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