Sitka Conservation Society
May 23 2014

Fish Need Trees, Too

SCS Board Member, Brendan Jones recently published an article in the New Your Times: “Fish Need Trees, too.” detailing the Forest Service’s poor management of resources in Southeast Alaska,  putting giant, ecologically destructive clear-cuts over protecting habitat for salmon–the backbone of the Southeat Alaskan economy.

Brendan writes:

This year, though, the fishing fleet in southeast Alaska will work under the shadow of an announcement by the United States Forest Service that it intends to approve the Big Thorne timber sale, which would allow the logging industry to harvest about 6,200 acres of remnant old-growth trees in Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest remaining temperate rain forest. It would be the most destructive old-growth cut in the forest in the past 20 years.

You can help.

Sign the Petition below: Tell Alaska’s senators to put pressure on the Forest Service to prioritize our salmon and stop support out-dated logging projects.

Write a Letter: Ask the Forest Service and Senators to make better decisions about our public lands and start judging success by counting the number of jobs and economic gains of salmon production rather than the number of board feet.

Donate: We are a small organization fighting to protect a very large forest.  We rely on our members and supporters.

Remind the Forest Service that Fish Need Trees, too!



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Your message will be delivered to Senators Begich and Muskowski, Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, Chief of the Forest Service Tm Tidwell, and Regional Forester Beth Pendleton.

Apr 21 2014

Adjustments to the Forest Service Budget are a Small Victory for our Forest, Fish and Community!

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.

The USFS Fisheries and Watershed Program works with partners to support restoration projects that return stability and health to damaged rivers and streams across the Southeast

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.

The Fisheries and Watershed Budget also supports monitoring programs, like the weir on Redoubt Lake, that protect healthy salmon returns each year

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!

Feb 15 2014

Protect West Chichagof

Designating land as Wilderness is the ultimate step to ensuring its protection in the long-term.  Wilderness designation protects critical habitat from mining, logging, and development while still allowing people to use the land for hunting, fishing, subsistence gathering, recreating, and even making a living from guiding and operating tours.

Wilderness was integral to SCS’s formation and we’ve maintained that commitment to Wilderness ever since.  You can see the whole story of SCS’s formation in the short documentary Echoes of the Tongass.  But the short story is that in the 1960s large, industrial pulp mills were clear-cutting huge swaths of the Tongass with no end in sight.  A small group formed in Sitka to fight the rampant logging surrounding their home.  They saw the recent passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as a way for them to protect at least some of the Tongass.  They drafted a proposal to designate the western third of Chichagof Island as Wilderness because of its diverse habitats, intact old-growth forests, and pristine wildlife habitats.  It took 13 years of effort, but in 1980, the West Chichagof Wilderness became the first citizen initiated wilderness in Alaska.

Original proposal for West Chichagof Wilderness

Through the politics of the designation process, the extractive interest groups for the timber and mining lobby managed to carve large sections of some of the best habitat out of the designated land.  Some of those excluded parcels like Ushk Bay and Poison Cove are currently being managed for logging.  As the Forest Service puts it, these areas are managed for “Intense Development” which means they “Manage the area for industrial wood production…and maximum long-term timber production.”

These areas were excluded because they are the best, most iconic old-growth rainforests in the world and provide habitat for important species like the coastal brown bear, Sitka deer, and pacific salmon.  Unfortunately, that also means that they are the areas where clear-cut logging is cheapest and easiest.

Area excluded from Wilderness proposal

Ushk Bay, currently managed for “industrial wood production”

Poison Cove, currently managed for “industrial wood production”

But, since the 60s, the pulp mills have closed their doors.  Nowadays, the timber industry only employs about 200 jobs.  Our economy in Southeast Alaska has shifted to tourism and fishing which employ 10,200 and 8,000 jobs and contribute almost $2 Billion to the economy annually.  Wilderness designation directly benefits tourism and fishing because it preserves both the habitat, which salmon need for spawning, and  viewsheds the tourists flock to Alaska to see.

This year the Wilderness Act is 50 years old and we think it is a perfect time to finish the job our founders began almost a half century ago to designate ALL of West Chichagof as Wilderness.  Please join us by sending a note of your support to our senators using the form below.

Ask Senators Begich and Murkowski to Fulfill Wilderness Designation in West Chichagof

Dear Senator,


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Jan 16 2014

Standing up for the Alaskan Voice

Fellow Supporter,

House Bill 77, or the “Silencing Alaskans’ Act,” is up for vote in the state senate this legislative term. The passage of this bill would cut Alaskans out of permitting decisions for any project on state lands, particularly projects that could destroy salmon habitat. The bill would give only the unelected Department of Natural Resources Commissioner power to approve permits without having to notify the public of potential impacts unless the impacts are deemed by the Commissioner as “significant and irreparable.” HB 77 also omits citizens, non-profits, and tribes from being able to apply for in-stream water flow reservations that protect fish and wildlife habitat, or be used for recreation and parks, navigation and transportation, and sanitation and water quality.

As of now, the average citizen can apply for an in stream water flow reservation to protect important salmon streams in their community. This will go away however if HB 77 is approved.

This is where you come in. If you are in Senator Stedman’s district, give him a call and let him know you appreciate him standing up for the voice of Alaskans by opposing HB 77. The Senator’s phone number is 907-465-3873.

Want to take it a step further? Get in touch with me and we’ll work together to represent Southeast’s disapproval of HB 77. The bill goes out on the Senate’s floor this session, so we gotta act fast. Call 907-747-7509 and ask for Ray.

Dec 11 2013

Stop “Clear-Cutting” Wilderness and Recreation budgets

Tell Senators Begich and Murkowski: Don't let the Forest Service Clear-Cut the Wilderness and Recreation Budget

Dear Senator,


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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 or call (907) 747-7509.

Sep 04 2013

The Salmon Forest


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

Aug 28 2013

Bar Hopping Rust Lake

The signing of the Wilderness Act of 1964 legally mandated the preservation of designated wilderness areas throughout the United States. Section 2 (c) elegantly defined wilderness to be “…an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man” as well as “…an area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” In regards to managing these wilderness areas, two contradictory phrases emerge from this definition: “untrammeled by man” and “natural conditions.” They may not seem to be inherently contradictory, but even with minimal human activity, over time the idea of “wild” and “natural” have begun to clash.

View from Rust Lake, Part of the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wildernes

In order for an area to be wild, it must be unfettered by human control and manipulation. Wilderness areas, however, are frequented by visitors whose visits, sometimes quite negatively, impact the area. As a result of all this human interaction with wilderness, native species, patterns and ecological processes change. So the question arises, in these circumstances, where the natural conditions of the wilderness have been unsuccessfully preserved, should people enter these areas and attempt to restore them to their natural condition?

Ecological restoration is defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration as an “intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability.” Thus, restoration with its innate quality will bring conservationists into wilderness areas, compromising the wild aspect of the wilderness. Still, if restoration is not pursued, the naturalness of the area may be further diminished, as native ecosystems degrade. So, herein lies the management dilemma for restoring wilderness—striking the balance between wild and natural. The vague definition of wilderness adds to the management conundrum, as what aspect of wilderness takes priority (being “wild” or “natural) is up for interpretation.

Self-timer group photo in a large cave found at Rust Lake

The Tongass, with 18 wilderness areas spanning 5,746,000 acres, presents a unique vignette of this dilemma. Recently, a group consisting of Scott Harris (SCS’s Conservation Science Director), Kitty Labounty (SCS board member and Botany Professor at University of Alaska Southeast), Jen McNew (Botany Intern) and myself ventured to Rust Lake, located in the West Chichigof Wilderness area, to take our stab at wilderness restoration. Our task was to locate and eradicate non-native dandelions (Taraxacum officnale).

A bee performing its ecological service as a pollinator on this native aster.

This recent trip was the second time that Kitty had been to Rust Lake this summer. The dandelion population was present but not overwhelmingly so. During our three days at Rust Lake we pulled over 1,000 dandelions from gravel bars along the Rust Lake stream. One thousand plants may seem like a lot, but it is likely that your backyard has over 100 individual dandelion plants. Still, dandelions are well adapted to distribute hundreds of seeds great distances and are capable of outcompeting the native plants at Rust Lake. This is why we were motivated to manage the population. That being said, the native flora, including monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) and alpine bog swertia (Swertia perennis), currently appear unharmed. Thus, with two trips per year to Rust Lake to pull dandelions, the native ecosystem will likely flourish.

Rust Lake offers another possible wilderness restoration project, because it has a “tap” for a hydroelectric plant that used to provide power to the historic Chichagof mine. The hydroelectric plant and mine are both inoperative, but the tap continues to function, significantly lowering the Lake’s water level below its natural level. In fact, the water level is so low that our floatplane pilot remarked that landing in Rust Lake is “always an experiment.” Plugging this spigot appears to be a straightforward project that would not be too difficult, but go a long way in restoring Rust Lake to its natural condition. This brings me back to my original point, what takes priority? Restoring the lake to its natural condition? Or keeping it “untrammeled” by human activity?

Our float plane departing Rust Lake after we landed

The majority of my knowledge stems from learning about and working to restore highly degraded environments. Here in Southeast Alaska, I have spent the bulk of my time monitoring restoration of forests and streams in areas that were once clear-cut. The idea of restoring wilderness vastly differs from these kinds of restoration projects. These areas are not completely degraded by the interruptions of humans. These areas are the last stronghold of what once covered the earth—natural and unhampered ecosystems. The unique habitats found at Rust Lake include many magnificent sub-alpine wildflowers that must be protected from weed invasion. Wilderness areas are the last refuge for countless species and ecosystems and in order to best protect these areas, managers must work to find that balance between wild and natural. The fact that these areas are so extraordinarily sparse is exactly why I think we should cautiously pursue wilderness restoration.

Jul 01 2013

Sealaska Corporation Lands Bill Moving Quickly Through Congress

The Sealaska Lands Legislation has passed out of committee in both the House and Senate, and could go before the full House and Senate for approval as early as sometime in July.  If approved, the Legislation would privatize over 70,000 acres of the Tongass, including parcels near Sitka at Kalinin Bay, Lake Eva, Fick Cove, and North Arm.

The Sealaska Legislation has been introduced three prior times, and has previously passed out of the House but has never before been subject to a vote by the full Senate.  All indications are that the current version of the Bill will reach a Senate vote, and so it is critical to reach out to members of Congress explaining why the Bill would be bad for us in Sitka and bad for Southeast Alaska as a whole.

The current House and Senate versions of the Bill are wildly different, with the Senate version (S.340) being considered a compromise containing fewer inholdings, provisions for public access for fishing, and expanded stream buffers in some timber selections.  That said, the Senate Bill would still transfer 70,000 acres of the Tongass to a private corporation and would lead to clear-cutting some of the largest and oldest trees remaining on the Tongass.  Should both the House and Senate versions pass they would go a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions.  Sealaska has publically said it would prefer legislation enacted that is more like the House version than the Senate version, so we can only imagine what its lobbyists are telling members of Congress.

Letters, emails, and phone calls from Southeast Alaska residents have made a difference in keeping prior versions of the Sealaska Legislation from passing, but none of that outreach will have an impact on members of Congress when they take up the Legislation once again.  They need to hear from us again and be reminded that the Tongass is a National Forest that belongs to everyone and that we in Southeast Alaska depend on this public forest for our livelihoods and our ways of life.

May 10 2013

Sealaska: Fact over Fiction


Private Property signs on Sealaska Corporation lands

(photo from the Sealaska Shareholder’s Underground)

In a recent Letter to the Editor in the Sitka Sentinel, the President and CEO of Sealaska Corporation attempted to waylay our fears that the public would not be allowed on lands transferred to the corporation’s private ownership by the Sealaska Bill.  He also stated that Sealaska does “not post ‘No Trespassing  in any form on [Sealaska Corp.] lands,” and goes on to state that “Sealaska stands on its history, having allowed access to its lands for responsible use.”

Update: See our full response, published May 10th in the Sitka Sentinel at the bottom of the post.

The mission of the Sitka Conservation Society is to protect the public lands of the Tongass National Forest.  As public lands, they belong to all Americans as National Patrimony.  Although lands in public hands are not always managed how we want, the process exists for citizens to have their voices heard and give input on how the lands are managed.  Most importantly, public access is guaranteed and not restricted in anyway.  If important sites on the Tongass like Redoubt Lake are privatized and owned by Sealaska Corporation, they are no longer part of all our national patrimony and the public does not have a say in how they are managed.  Sealaska Corporation says that they will allow “unprecedented access.”  Whatever that is, it is nothing compared to current access on these lands that all of us currently own as American citizens.

Our greatest fears concerning the potential in-holding parcels that the Sealaska Corporation wants to own is not what may happen in the next few years, but what will happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now.  We understand that Sealaska will make many promises now when they want support for their legislation.  But we can’t predict what future Sealaska Corporate boards might decide to do with the land and who may or may-not be allowed to use them.  These fears are what unsettles us the most about the Sealaska legislation.

Below is the current Sealaska policy for access to its lands which clearly states access is per their discretion:

(Click here to download the entire report.)

Letter to the Editor, published in the Sitka Sentinel May 10th, 2013.

Dear Editor:
Recently the Sealaska Corporation’s President and Corporate Executive Officer (CEO), Chris McNeil called out the Sitka Conservation Society in a letter to the editor and called us out for causing “anxiety, anger, and opposition” to Sealaska’s actions. I would respond to Mr. McNeil that we are not causing this reaction, we are responding to it as it is what most of us in the community feel when we think of public lands like Redoubt Falls, Port Banks, Jamboree Bay, Kalinin Bay, and places in Hoonah Sound being taking out of public hands and put into corporate ownership.
We did put graphics with cartoon police tape over a photo of SItkans subsistence dip-net fishing at Redoubt falls. They can be seen on our website at These graphics represent our greatest fears: that a place that all of us use and depend on, and that is owned by all Americans (native and non-native), will have limitations put on it under private ownership or will be managed in a way where members of the public have no voice or input.
Our fears come from past Sealaska actions. We also put photos on our website of Sealaska logging on Dall Island and around Hoonah; and we linked to the story of Hoonah residents who asked that logging not be so extensive and target their treasured places but were logged anyway. The case in those areas is that the corporate mandate to make a profit superseded what community members wanted. We are scared of what corporate management of these important places around Sitka will mean on-the-ground and we will continue to speak out to protect our public lands.
Mr. McNeil Jr. paints the issue as native vs. non-native and accuses SCS of wanting to “put natives in a box.” For us, the issue is about distrust of corporations without public accountability, not ethnicity. Mr. McNeil has an annual compensation package that is far greater than the entire SCS budget. He is flanked by lawyers who can write legal language and policy that we cannot begin to understand the implications of. Even in their different versions of the House and Senate legislation, the access policy is very different, confusing, and ultimately subject to Sealaska’s whims. As SCS, we are speaking out against a corporation owning the public lands where publicly owned resources are concentrated on the Tongass.
Sealaska’s legislation is not good for Sitka if it means that more places like Redoubt Falls could be taken out of public hands and transferred to a corporation.
Andrew Thoms



Apr 12 2013

Sealaska Bill: A Threat to Public Lands

Take action to protect your public lands HERE.

The following letter was submitted to the Sitka Sentinel by SCS.

Dear Editor:

The current version of the Sealaska legislation is scheduled for a hearing on April 25th in the Senate Public Lands Subcommittee.  This Sealaska bill is a threat to the public lands of the Tongass and to the ways that Sitkans use the Tongass.  This legislation would transfer lands on the Tongass to Sealaska that are outside of the original boxes where they were allowed to select lands.   The legislation would affect us in Sitka because the corporation is asking for in-holdings throughout the Sitka Ranger District that are some of the most valuable areas for access and use.  The bill would allow the corporation to select in-holdings in North-Arm/Hoonah Sound, Kalinin Bay, Fick Cove, Lake Eva, Wrangell Island off Biorka, Port Banks, and many others.   On Prince of Wales Island, the corporation has  cherry-picked the lands that have the highest concentration of the remaining economically valuable cedar trees, the oldest and fastest growing second growth, and the timber stands that have the most investment made by taxpayer dollars in roads, culverts, and forest thinning.

The in-holding selections might seem familiar topic.  The corporation is selecting them in the same process they are using for Redoubt Lake.  It is claiming that fishing access areas are eligible for selection under authorities that were meant for cemeteries.  In the case of Redoubt Lake that means that one of the most important sites for public use and subsistence on the Sitka Ranger District could be privatized and owned by a corporation that has a for-profit mandate and is run by a board of directors that has created its own closed circle of power (remember when Sitkans tried to get elected to that board).  The CEO of Sealaska came to Sitka a few weeks ago and made many promises about public access.  That all sounded good, but how long is he going to be around?  None of the agreements they proposed are legally binding.  What happens when their board of directors decides that they don’t want to allow everyone to fish there anymore?  What happens when they decide that they “are obliged to make profit for their shareholders” and the best way to do that could be to capitalize on the asset of Redoubt Lake and build a lodge on the island between the two falls?  Promises made today don’t necessarily stand the test of time when lands are not in public hands and are not managed by a publically accountable entity.

For all of the above reasons, SCS will be telling members of the  Senate Public Lands Subcommittee that the Sealaska Legislation is not good for the Tongass and not good for Southeast Alaska.  Information on how to contact members of that committee can be found on the SCS website:

                                                  Andrew Thoms

                                                  Executive Director

                                                  Sitka Conservation Society


Update: Sealaska Corporation’s CEO recently issued a response to the above editorial.  He also complained about the photos below.  He called them “unethical,” “mysterious,” “misinformation.”

Of course our photos of Redoubt Falls with no trespassing signs are fabricated, that is because (thankfully) this area is still in public hands where everyone, including Sealaska shareholders, have equal rights to utilize this place.  The photos we didn’t need to fabricate are the images of Sealaska Corp’s logging practices on land they currently own on Dall Island.  (Watch this Google Earth tour to see for yourself.*)  But don’t take our word for it; take a look at the short video Hoonah’s Legacy, showing the massive clearcuts logged by Sealaska Corp that scarred that community’s landscape.  Or, visit the Sealaska Shareholders Underground’s Facebook page to hear about shareholders who disagree with the Corporation, but who have so far been suppressed by Sealaska and prevented from allowing any new voices onto the Sealaska board of directors.

Based on history and the facts, it is hard to see how allowing a profit-driven corporation like Sealaska to take away public lands from Alaskans would be “good for Sitkans, the Tongass and for Southeast Alaska.”  If you agree, please consider writing a Letter to the Editor of your local paper and share this information with your friends and community.

* This is a Google Earth tour (.kmz file).  You must have Google Earth installed on your computer to view the tour.

Please encourage your friends and relatives living in states listed below to call their Senator.

Key Senate Public Lands Subcommittee Members:

Oregon- Senator Ron Wyden (202) 224-5244

Washington- Senator Maria Cantwell (202) 224-3441

Michigan- Senator Debbie Stabenow  (202)224-4822

Colorado- Senator Mark Udall (202) 224-5941

New Mexico- Senator Mark Heinrich (202) 224-5521

Minnesota- Senator Al Franken (202) 224-5641




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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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