Sitka Conservation Society
Nov 23 2012

My Alaskan Experience: Nora McGinn

Nora McGinn is a Junior in the Environmental Studies program at Knox College in Illinois.



Five months ago I was one of thirteen undergraduate students from Knox College (located in Galesburg, IL) to travel north to Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest with the Sitka Conservation Society. This trip was the final component of a trimester- long course entitled “Alaska: Forest, Fisheries, and Politics of the Wilderness.’”Prior to our Alaskan adventure, our class spent ten weeks reading and writing about the history and policy of the land management practices in the Tongass National Forest. Once we got to Alaska we spent 15 days kayaking 100 miles along the beaches of the Tongass Forest. We finally reached False Island where we helped the United States Forest Service with restoration of key salmon habitats. After that we spent an additional week in Sitka learning and talking to local policy makers and stakeholders.  This unique experience gave my classmates and I a hands-on look at the complex ways nature, policy, and the public are inextricably intertwined.

When I was in the Tongass it became clear that it is one of the few remaining wild places in America. It is an ecosystem with a deep cultural significance, beauty, and wonder. During the time we spent in Sitka we were able to meet fisherman of the charter, commercial, and subsistence trades alike.  We were able to meet with community members and local politicians to see the importance salmon and the Tongass forest have on each of their daily lives and the community’s economy as a whole.  We were also fortunate enough to witness the amazing and significant work many individuals and advocacy groups are doing to see to it that there are lots of opportunities to use, enjoy, and care for the lands and waters of the Tongass.

Despite being over 3,000 miles away in Galesburg, IL, I wanted to continue to show my support for the prioritizing of watershed restoration and salmon habitats in the Tongass. I started talking to my classmates who had come to Alaska with me and we decided to talk to others who have never been there, and informed our peers about the Tongass and its salmon. It turns out that the message was pretty simple- we told students about the two-fold mission statement of the Forest Service:  (a.) to make sure that America’s forests and grasslands are in the healthiest condition they can be and (b.) to see to it that you have lots of opportunities to use, enjoy, and care for the lands and waters that sustain us all- and we told them about what we saw in the Tongass and the surrounding communities. The response was empowering. We soon held a Salmon Advocacy Party where admission was free aside from personal advocacy. Each student was asked to write a letter to the Chief of the Forest Service describing why the Tongass and particularly salmon habitat restoration was important to them. This event helped many students, who otherwise would not have been engaged by this particular environmental issue, become interested and engaged in advocating for the health of the Tongass and the surrounding community.


Nov 21 2012

The Sitka Conservation Society’s Wild Foods Potluck 2012

Join us at the SCS Annual Wild Foods Potluck

November 29th, 5:00-7:30 pm at Harrigan Centennial Hall

This free, community event gives everyone a chance to come together and share meals made with locally foraged food, from fish and wild game to seaweed, berries and other traditional subsistence foods. All folks are asked to bring in dishes that feature local wild foods, and if you can’t bring in a dish that features wild foods you can use a wild plant to garnish a dish made with store-bought foods. Doors open at 5 p.m. to bring in your dish, with dinner starting at 6:00 p.m. Non-alcoholic drinks will be provided.

This year’s theme will beRestoration in the Sitka Community Use Area where we will be sharing with you the hard work we’ve put in to the Tongass National Forest. There will be prizes awarded for the best dishes made in categories like:

-best entree/most wild

-best side

-best dessert

-most creative/artistic

-most filling (we have a lot of folks come to the Wild Foods potluck, so if you cook a big dish that can feed a lot of people, that would be very mindful and considerate and definitely worth rewarding!)

The doors open at 5:00 pm so you’ll have a chance to visit the community booths from the following groups:

  • Sitka Local Foods Network
  • Sitka Trailworks
  • Sitka Maritime Heritage Society
  • Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association
  • Alaska Way of Life 4-H Club
  • Forest Service
  • Sitka Cooperative Extension Service
  • SCS Fish to Schools
  • Wood Utilization Center


Look through photos of past years for inspiration, or view an article on the stories behind the dishes that were entered in the 2011 potluck.





Nov 20 2012

Salmon Capital: The Tongass National Forest

Sitka Conservation Society board member Richard Nelson spoke on salmon during Sitka Whalefest on the theme of “Cold Rivers to the Sea: Terrestrial Connections to our Northern Oceans.”  He spoke on the subject of one of the greatest manifestations of the connection between the terrestrial forests and the oceans:  our Wild Alaska Salmon. His eloquent words remind us of why we care so much about and treasure salmon so deeply.  Salmon are the backbone of the ecosystems of Southeast Alaska.  For all of us who live here, Salmon are an extremely important part of our lives.  Many of our jobs are directed related to salmon through fishing, processing, shipping, guiding, or managing salmon stocks.  All of us are connected to salmon as the food that we eat and prepare for our families. For the Sitka Conservation Society, it is obvious to us that the Tongass is a Salmon Forest and that salmon are one of the most important outputs from this forest.  For years we have fought against a timber industry that wanted more and more of the forest for clear-cutting and log export.  It is time to turn the page on the timber dominated discussions of the past.  Sure there is room for some logging.  But, the Tongass should no longer be seen as a timber resource to be cleared and moved on.  Rather, the Tongass should be managed with salmon as the priority, with the Forests left standing as the investment and the interest that it pays out every year being the salmon runs that feed our ecosystems, fisheries, and our families. Please help us protect Tongass salmon and help us make a new vision of Tongass management a reality.  We need you to write letters telling decision makers and land managers to make Tongass management for salmon and salmon protection a priority.  Here is an action alert that tells you how to write a letter:  here.  Or, if you need help, please feel free to visit or call our office (907-747-7509). You can read some letters that local fishermen wrote for inspiration:  here Thanks for your help and support.  Together we can ensure that are Wild Alaska Salmon are protected!

Nov 13 2012

Starrigavan Stream Team 2012

It’s November and the salmon eggs are all nestled in their gravel beds, but we can still dream of next year’s Blatchley Stream Team by watching this very cool video! Each May, over 100 Blatchley 7th Graders participate in Stream Team, where they help restore fish habitat and monitor stream health. This annual event is eagerly anticipated by the students as well as the organizers, which includes the US Forest Service, Sitka School District, Sitka Conservation Society, National Park Service, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, Corps of Engineers, and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Oct 29 2012

Starrigavan Creek Cabin

Starrigavan Creek Cabin

The Starrigavan Creek Cabin is not only the most popular cabin in the Tongass National Forest, it’s also a tangible example of how sustainable second growth timber harvest can be utilized. Who needs old growth harvests when such beautiful things can be built with sustainable second growth?

Even building the cabin was a learning experience! This beautiful cabin was constructed as a part of University of Alaska Southeast’s two-week log home building course. Check out a video about the building process here.

More important than being an example of the use of second growth timber, the Starrigavan Creek Cabin is a great place for family and friends to get out and explore the Starrigavan Recreation Area. There’s a reason this cabin is the more frequently used in all of the Tongass National Forests – great times and great memories to be made!

What are your favorite memories from time spent at the Starrigavan Creek Cabin?

Oct 15 2012

How do YOU think our forests and watersheds should be managed?

We want to know your thoughts and ideas about how our forests and watersheds should be managed!

Do you kayak in Silver Bay? Hike along Indian River? Hunt on Kruzof? These are the places you know and love: how do you want to see them managed? How do you think restoration and management should be prioritized?

Your input matters! The information we gather from this survey will help guide our work. Please fill out our short 5 minute survey online or using the insert in Friday’s issue of the Sitka Sentinel.  Paper surveys can be dropped off at the SCS office, 4J’s, the Highliner, or Kruz-off Espresso. Thanks!


Oct 03 2012

Angoon Watershed Crew reconnects with the Sitkoh River

Surveying Sitkoh River

Surveying salmon streams on the Tongass National Forest is no easy task – it involves lugging heavy survey gear, tripods, marking stakes, and other gear through dense young growth forests and wading up to our hips in frigid water.  Last month, Scott Harris, Watershed Program Manager for the Sitka Conservation Society, worked with the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew to survey recently completed restoration work on the Sitkoh River. After three days of survey work, Watershed Crew Supervisor Calvin Washington mentioned “this is a great project, I want to continue seeing what happens here…”.

Albert Howard, ACA Watershed Crew, measures pool habitat for rearing salmon

Restoring habitat is a worthy ideal, but restoring our connection to the land and inspiring a sense of long-term stewardship is equally, if not more, important. Calvin is the crew leader of the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew. His crew joined SCS’s Restoration Coordinator Scott Harris and Groundtruthing leader Bob Christensen recently to survey the Sitkoh River.

The Sitka Conservation Society developed a restoration partnership with Trout Unlimited, the Sitka Ranger District, and the Sustainable Salmon Fund to restore a section of Sitkoh River that was flowing down an old logging road. The construction phase is now complete and the longer-term effort of monitoring the effectiveness of the project has begun. This is where the Angoon Crew comes in. None of the three crew members had ever been to Sitkoh River, also called L’ukheenak’u (Coho Salmon Little Creek) by the people of Angoon. Our crew conducted habitat assessments, surveyed the completed restoration project, and just became familiar with the landscape. Rivers are dynamic, and this crew will return next summer to continue monitoring work and see what has changed. Soon they may even claim to be the new stewards of Sitkoh River!

SCS and ACA Watershed Crew at Sitkoh River


Sep 21 2012

Meet the Staff

Click here to hear Natalia, Ray, and Courtney on Raven Radio’s Morning Interview

Sitka Conservation Society staffers Natalia Povelite (Tongass salmon organizer), Ray Friedlander (Tongass forest organizer), and Courtney Bobsin (Jesuit Volunteer, Fish-to-Schools) discuss their respective projects, and why they chose to work in Sitka.

Sep 07 2012

Restoring Forests on Kruzof Island

Kruzof island is a defining characteristic of the landscape of Sitka. This diverse and wild island is home to the emblematic profile of Mt. Edgecumbe volcano, mountains and craters, thousands of acres of muskeg, and a wild and rugged coastline. It is one of the Tongass National Forest’s most impressive landscapes, as well as one of the most appreciated and utilized by hunters, fishermen, ATV users and hikers. In an effort to repair damage from past logging, the US Forest Service is in the preliminary stages of an extensive and important restoration project on this well-loved island.

The Forest Service maintains four recreational cabins on Kruzof that allow people to access and enjoy the beauty and wonder of the island. Locals often skiff over on weekends to camp or stay in cabins, hike Mt. Edgecumbe, and walk sandy beaches. The central part of Kruzof is particularly important to Alaska ATV Tours, a locally run business. On these tours, visitors drive old logging roads to view bears, Sitka black-tail deer, and to experience a wild landscape and coastline unparalleled in the U.S.  Many local Sitkans depend on Kruzof for hunting and fishing subsistence resources, and value the island highly as a place to live off of the wild bounty of the Tongass.

Our relationship with Kruzof has not always been as ideal as it is now. Many of the most majestic forest stands on the island were clear-cut for timber by the U.S. Forest Service, the agency responsible for managing the Tongass. Areas that were once old-growth forest are now in various stages of second-growth, with alder creating the predominant canopy. Some stands are in the stem-exclusion stage (sometimes referred to as dog-hair forest), where trees are close together and spindly, with branches protruding in all directions. It is a far cry from the open, mossy, complexity of old-growth Tongass forest and does not provide superb habitat for wildlife like the original forest. Simply walking through this second-growth forest is a difficult endeavor, and a reminder of the responsibility we have to restore the Tongass.

While past timber management decisions have been near-sighted in scope, we now have the chance to be more informed and thoughtful stewards of this rare temperate rainforest. Carefully planned thinning treatments are one possible restoration method that helps accelerate the regrowth of the forest back to old-growth conditions. By thinning some of the trees in these dense stands, more sunlight reaches the forest understory and improves habitat for vital subsistence resources.

Kruzof is a treasured place that people of diverse backgrounds and interests love and appreciate. As the land manager of Kruzof, the Forest Service has both a responsibility and an opportunity to improve its landscape for community members and wildlife. Management of such an important place must be done with great care and consideration to all who use this incredible landscape.

Because the landscape is valuable for many different reasons like recreation, salmon production, subsistence and timber potential, the best way to manage the landscape is through an approach that aims to figure out how to integrate management activities that seek to balance and benefit all these uses.  In the Forest Service, this is being called “Integrated Resource Management.”  For an Integrated Resource Management Plan to succeed, the multiple local interest groups invested in Kruzof must work together to figure out how to balance uses and figure out what is appropriate and will work.  They must work together to develop the most communally valuable plans for restoration.

The Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group is actively working to bring together different community voices on this project. SCSG recently organized a visit to Kruzof with several community members, discussing and visualizing future possible uses for the island, and the meaning of restoration and ecological maintenance. Such visits are important in determining which areas are most ecologically and socially important, and how best to acknowledge and repair past damage done by clearcut logging. Conservation is a constant effort to find the best and most sustainable ways for people live among our natural environments. The planning stages of the Kruzof restoration project are a valuable time to think about how we can envision the most sustainable, wild, and beneficial Kruzof for years to come.

The collaborative work between the Forest Service and the Sitka community is a chance to be resourceful, sustainable, and thoughtful in developing our relationships with Kruzof.The second-growth forest on Kruzof is poor wildlife habitat and needs to be repaired.  Salmon habitat is impaired and needs work to return to its full potential. Recreational infrastructure on the island is important to the community and to local businesses. Management activities in such a communally important area must be imagined and carried through with the combined perspective, foresight, and resourcefulness of Sitka as a community. This project is new, and the learning process is ours to share as we envision and shape Kruzof for many future generations. All community members have a stake in shaping the future of Kruzof, and we can work together to create the healthiest future for ourselves and for the Tongass.  


Sep 04 2012

Sitka, AK – Where Theory Meets Practice

In July of 2012, thirteen undergraduate students from Knox College embarked on a 15-day wilderness expedition into the wilds of Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.  The trip was part of a semester long course entitled “Alaska: Forest, Fisheries, and the Politics of Wilderness”.  The course entailed an in-depth study of the history of natural resource management in Southeast Alaska.  The first part of the course took place on the Knox College campus in Galesburg, IL with a thorough exploration of the literature regarding natural resource extraction in Southeast Alaska.  This classroom based study of Alaskan resource management was complimented with a 15-day field expedition to the region the following summer.  This was the “hands on” component to what they had learned in the classroom.

The students arrived in Sitka, Alaska on June 27th, 2012.  After a few days of preparation they embarked on a 100 mile kayaking expedition guided by Latitude Adventures, a local kayak guiding operation.  For many of these students, this was their first experience camping, not to mention their first experiences in the great Alaskan wilderness.  After ten days on the water, exploring the intertidal zone, watching bears, eagles, and whales; the students arrive at False Island on Chichagof Island.  There the students then spent five days working side by side with the United States Forest Service restoring salmon streams that had been degraded by industrial logging.  They also had the opportunity to participate in a variety of scientific surveys aimed at understanding the complexities of young growth forests.

This expedition was so unique because it allowed the students to experience the places that they had learned about in the classroom, first hand.  For many, this was a trip of a lifetime.

Opportunities like Knox College’s course are available for colleges and universities throughout the nation.  It is the goal of the Sitka Conservation Society and the Sitka Sound Science Center to connect courses like these with our local assets.  We can connect you and your students with our local experts, guides, interpreters, and organizations to facilitate your course’s Alaskan education.



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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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