Sitka Conservation Society
Jun 24 2014

First Wilderness Stewardship Trip of the Season a Success

Ten years ago, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act occurring this year, in 2014, the United States Forest Service launched what it termed the Ten Year Wilderness Challenge – an endeavor aimed at bringing to the over 400 wilderness areas under the Forest Service’s management a level of care needed to protect and preserve their wild character. As of 2009, the Sitka Conservation Society has been one of the organizations partnering with the Forest Service, specifically the Sitka Ranger District, to bring this goal to fruition.

Sunset view from the island on which we were camped.

This past week, I was lucky enough to find myself on the first Community Wilderness Stewardship trip of the season, traveling north to the Baird Islands. Bordered to the east by Slocum Arm and on the west by the Pacific Ocean, the Baird Islands are part of the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area, successfully designated wilderness in 1980 by the famed Alaska National Lands Conservation Act. And after spending four days in this area, it’s fairly easy to understand why the citizens of Sitka fought so hard to rescue this land from logging operations. Over the course of the trip we were awoken by whales in the morning, tailed by playful sea lions, protected from the elements by huge old-growth trees spreading their branches above us, and at all times were looking out on panoramic scenes of untouched mountain and open ocean. Nature, it would seem, is doing alright in Southeast Alaska.

The crew, from left to right, Frank Barnes, Paul Killian, Tracy Gagnon, and Mike Belitz, rest for lunch.

And it is; but we also found signs that the work of conservation is not yet over. On a few of the small islands in the chain, we discovered an invasive species of plant, possibly curly dock, which, without monitoring and control, could constitute a threat to the ecological health of Southeast’s native species. We also came upon lots of human trash, which, along with the potential harm it may have on the ecosystem, is also obviously an aesthetic affront. As well as doing general inventory on site use and monitoring for signs of permanent human presence, we therefore also spent a lot of our time picking up trash and pulling out plants.

One of my favorite moments from the trip happened in the midst of one such garbage pick-up. As I was, rubber gloves on and trash bag in hand, helping clean up the beach on which we were camped, Paul Killian, an individual at the crux of the partnership between SCS and the Forest Service, walked by me with a particularly heavy haul of trash. I made a comment about what a good load he had gotten, to which he smiled and said, “It’s not staying in my wilderness!” I liked the way that Paul had phrased that: “my wilderness.” It reminded me of a fact I often forget – although one that each time I remember amazes me no less – which is that by virtue of being American citizens, we are all shareholders in these vast and beautiful tracts of land. Our public lands, constituting about a third of the United States, are, in essence, land being held in trust for the American people – for us. It is land about which each of us is allowed to have and exercise a voice. There is thus something very personal about these public lands; and nowhere do I feel this more acutely than when I am actually out in the wild, enjoying and appreciating these areas. Herein, for me, lies one of the true values of experiencing wilderness: it turns the theoretical concept of conservation into a concrete and emotionally-driven desire to take good care of our earth.

A lookout onto the ocean from our campsite.

My first trip to the Alaskan woods and waters made me very excited for a summer of working with various peoples and places in Southeast as SCS’ wilderness intern. Being in the Baird Islands reminded me that even after an area obtains official wilderness designation, these lands remain in need of protection and voices to speak for them. Luckily, I also got to see firsthand that these places remain very much worthy of protection, and that there are people willing to lend their voices and hands to the continuing cause.

If you’re interested in volunteering for SCS, be sure to check out our site’s Wilderness Page. It has all the information on how you can get out and explore Southeast Alaska while making a difference and helping SCS promote the cause of conservation!

Jun 23 2014

Subsistence in Wilderness

The day we headed out from Hoonah was like most days in Southeast Alaska. Grey clouds diffused the light and an almost imperceptible rain left everything damp.  We were headed to the Inian Islands, a cluster of knobby isles on the western end of Icy Strait, just inside the entrance to Cross Sound.  Our trip held a dual mission: to conduct volunteer wilderness monitoring for the Forest Service and to gather traditional subsistence foods for the Hoonah locals on the trip: Owen James and Gordon Greenwald, our boat captains and wizened culture-bearers, two young men named Randy and Sam, and another adult volunteer, Kathy McCrobie.

The Inians along with two other large islands make up the Pleasant/Lemesurier/Inian Island Wilderness.  The PLI Wilderness is one of 19 areas within the Tongass National Forest designated as Wilderness, the highest form of protection public lands can receive. The islands are also historic gathering and hunting grounds of the Huna Tlingit, the native tribe who call this section of northern Southeast Alaska home.  Because the Inians are close to the open sea, they are rich with unique flora and fauna. A trip to these distant islands is an opportunity to collect delicacies not common in interior waters near Hoonah.  For instance, one of our subsistence targets was black seaweed, a species that thrives in the cold, wave washed intertidal zone of the outercoast, but is rarely found more than a few miles into the Southeast archipelago.

The Inian Islands are the perfect spot to collect black seaweed, a species that thrives in the cold, wave washed intertidal zone of the outercoast, but is rarely found more than a few miles into the Southeast archipelago.

The two students on the trip, Randy and Sam, collect seaweed which will be dried once they return to Hoonah.

It is easy to see why the Inian Islands have become a prime destination for recreation and tourism, as well as subsistence.


The outside waters can be a harsh place in the summer and downright inhospitable in the winter.  Although the Huna Tlingit are seasoned open ocean travelers and motorized skiffs make the 40-mile journey from the village of Hoonah to the islands much more manageable than a Tlingit canoe, it is still a sizable trip for locals. The same factors—difficult access and a short season—also make it difficult for the Forest Service Wilderness Rangers who are headquartered in Hoonah, to access these areas that they are tasked with managing and protecting.

On the first day of our trip we arrived at the Inian Islands after a few hours of skiffing over unusually calm waters.  Our first stop was at lowtide on a rocky beach, the perfect habitat for Black Katy chitons, one of the traditional foods commonly called Gumboots which we hoped to return with.

Black Katy chiton (Katharina tunicata) is a traditional food, commonly called Gumboots.

Owen instructs the students on the art of Gumboot hunting.

After the Gumboots have been collected, they are typically canned for preservation and storage.

Gumboots live in the intertidal zone, and are particularly susceptible to contamination from development and timber harvest. Wilderness designation ensures that these fragile ecosystems and the subsistence foods within will be protected in perpetuity.

The beach also looked like it could be a prime camping area, so while the rest of the crew flipped rocks and pried unsuspecting chitons from their hiding spots, I headed up the beach to look for recreational impacts.  Monitoring impacts from visitors is one of the tasks the Forest Service has asked us to assist with.  Wilderness areas are intended to preserve nature in its wildest state, but trash, campfire rings, and other signs of previous visitors detract from the wild character of these places.  Also, once a site has been impacted, the trend is a downward slope to a trashed site.  To prevent cumulative impact, we check known campsites and cleanup and naturalize any human traces we find.  Fortunately, this site was in the same condition it’s probably been in since it was uncovered by the glacier, so I spent some time flipping rocks and adding to the gumboots collection.
As the tide neared its apex, Gordon pointed out a small rock island set apart from the larger Inian Islands.  For generations, this rock had been the prize destination for Huna families.  Set far from land and too small to support trees, the rock is the perfect nesting ground for seabirds like gulls and cormorants and we had timed our trip perfectly to harvest the new eggs.  As we approached the rock in skiffs, Gordon and Owen explained the protocol: as the swell surges, we run the skiff up to the rock, one person jumps off, and he pulls the bow away before the swell drops the boat onto the shore, then reset and try again for the next person.  Before they maneuvered the skiffs toward the rock, they carefully taught the boys the traditional method to appropriately harvest the eggs. If done in an ecologically responsible way, these practices will be able to continue forever.  (Learn more about the regulation regarding egg collection by Alaskan Natives).

For generations, this small rock island within the Inian Islands has been a prize destination for Huna families seeking sea gull eggs.

As we approached the rock in skiffs, Gordon and Owen explained the protocol: as the swell surges, we run the skiff up to the rock, one person jumps off, and he pulls the bow away before the swell drops the boat onto the shore, then reset and try again for the next person.  Once on the rocks, Gordon instructed Sam and Randy to only take eggs from nests with multiple eggs, always leaving one behind.

“As we approached the rock in skiffs, Gordon and Owen explained the protocol: as the swell surges, we run the skiff up to the rock, one person jumps off, and he pulls the bow away before the swell drops the boat onto the shore, then reset and try again for the next person.”

Sam was the first to make the jump.  The birds immediately erupted in a cacophony of squawks and feathers. Randy and I traded apprehensive glances.  I made an excuse that I needed to pack my camera gear in drybags before I could jump…really I just wanted one more chance to see how it was done.  Randy landed an impressive leap, despite receiving a bootfull of water.  I followed him up the rock.  As a non-Native, without subsistence rights to the eggs, my job was to enjoy the view.  Blankets of birds flapped above us.  The few green tufts of grass made a stark contrast to the guano-bleached stone and the blue-grey sky and water.  It took no time for Sam and Randy to collect plenty of eggs to share with family and elders back in Hoonah.  With concentration, steady boat handling, and good timing, we all made it safely back aboard the skiffs.

“Blankets of birds flapped above us. The few green tufts of grass made a stark contrast to the guano-bleached stone and the blue-grey sky and water. It took no time for Sam and Randy to collect plenty of eggs to share with family and elders back in Hoonah.”

“I was impressed with the way Owen and Gordon pointed out new landmarks to the two young men. Every remark about a headland or bay included not only geographical references, but also historical, cultural, and subsistence context.”

As the day went on, I was impressed with the way Owen and Gordon pointed out new landmarks to the two young men.  Every remark about a headland or bay included not only geographical references, but also historical, cultural, and subsistence context.

That night, while we ate chowder made with local salmon, smoked octopus and cockles, I reflected on the education Randy and Sam had inherited on this trip.  I have no doubt that they were more interested in learning about hunting spots, edible shellfish, and traditional stories than they were about the Wilderness land designation of their home.  But, I would like to think that by relating the cultural values and subsistence practices of the Inian Islands along with the Wilderness values that will continue to protect this place for those practices, they have a better chance of retaining a favorable perspective of public lands, too.

In the end, the idea and values of Wilderness are stories, stories that must be repeated and retold to maintain their relevance.  Gordon and Owen have endeavored to pass those stories to Hoonah youth.  My esteem and thanks goes out to them for including the value of respect for public lands in the stories they tell.

Jun 13 2014

SCS Summer Cruises Take Off With a Look at Wilderness

On Tuesday night, June 10, just over 40 people gathered at Crescent Harbor to embark on a three hour boat cruise that travelled out of Sitka Sound, all the way to West Crawfish Inlet and back. Fresh off the plane from Boston, MA, I was lucky enough to be one of those participants, and had my first real introduction to the Alaskan landscape that I will be working with closely this summer as SCS’s Wilderness Intern. We were exploring by boat the South Baranoff Wilderness Area, one of the nineteen wilderness areas that is managed by the United States Forest Service within the Tongass Forest of Southeast Alaska. The cruise, the first of four trips being sponsored by SCS over the course of the summer, had as its educational theme the concept and land designation of “wilderness,” in honor of this year’s 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. A landmark moment in American history, this act, signed into law in 1964 by President Johnson after almost unanimous Congressional approval, officially recognized as important the designation and legal protection of places “without permanent improvements or human habitation” (Wilderness Act of 1964, Section 2 c. “Definition of Wilderness). Wilderness was meant to be a place where nature reigned and humans remained solely as visitors.

The visitors on this week’s boat tour certainly got a taste of wilderness’ wonders, catching sight over the duration of the trip of sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles, and sweeping old-growth forests of western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and Alaskan yellow cedar. About halfway through we even caught a glimpse of one of the brown bears for which Sitka, and Southeast Alaska in general, is so famous. In some ways, the boat cruise, and the natural beauty being appreciated from its decks, thus functioned as a celebration of the past – a celebration of the 50 years of committed stewardship that has kept such pristine places intact, and preserved them for the enjoyment of future generations and those who have yet to behold the natural splendor of Alaska.

Cruise participants look on at a brown bear from the deck of the boat.

But even as it commemorated past achievements, the tour also served as a stark reminder that the battle for the protection of wild places is not yet over. As of only a few months ago, a Department of the Army permit was issued for work in the waters of Crawfish Inlet – the very inlet to which our cruise had come. The permit will allow the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (NSRAA) to moor structures and store net pens in the inlet, which stands to interfere with the current use of these woods and waters for subsistence, recreation, and tourism operations. The land’s “outstanding opportunities for solitude,” one of the quintessential pillars and promises of wilderness areas, will no doubt also be negatively affected by the presence and operation of these large, metal enclosures.

Fish are a fundamental part of the Southeast’s ecosystem, economy, and identity. And as such, they are a vitally important and valuable resource. But in a landscape that has so much to offer, we must be careful not to manage one resource – fish – at the expense of another – wilderness. The boat cruise, filled to capacity Tuesday night, stands as a testimony to how many people put value in the existence of these wild waters and forests of Alaska. Which is good news – because even 50 years out from the designation of the Wilderness Act, there clearly remain many natural and wild landscapes still in need of defense.

Information on the other boat cruises being offered by SCS this summer can be found on our website. And for a glimpse of even more Alaskan wilderness, be sure to check out The Meaning of Wild, a 30-minute documentary that brings you deep into some of the most remote areas of the Tongass. Interested in getting out there yourself? Head to SCS’s Wilderness page where you can learn about opportunities to volunteer for the Sitka Conservation Society and explore remote and beautiful places all while making a difference!

Jun 10 2014

Understanding the Tongass Transition

Understanding ‘The Tongass Transition’: What It Means for Our Backyard

Maybe you’ve seen or heard some of these terms being thrown around our website, news publications, in conversations or radio pieces: the Tongass Transition, the Tongass Land Management Plan, Second Growth, Young Growth, Old Growth, Tongass Advisory Committee. Maybe not.

Either way, lets look at what the Tongass Transition means for our public lands and how it will impact our 17 million acre backyard. Lets dissect some of this jargon.

Defining the Tongass National Forest: Where the Transition is Taking Place

Southeast Alaska is broken into private land, state land, native corporation property and many small, rural communities. The Tongass National Forest encompasses the great majority of land and includes forest, alpine, mountains, coastline, , glaciers, estuaries, rivers and streams. These lands are managed very differently compared with national parks like Glacier Bay. While both are ‘public lands’, National Forests are managed for multiple uses. You can fish here, hunt, camp, log timber, harvest mushrooms, and start a business based on the extraction or admiration of, natural resources. That being said, you can’t just do whatever you want in National Forests. These public lands are managed for ecological integrity and public use by the US Forest Service. Our 17 million acre backyard is chopped up into different subsections with differing land use designations that determine where timber can be extracted, where wilderness is maintained, where ‘modifications’ can occur and what types of projects and interventions can happen here.

The Tongass Transition Framework refers to a shift in management of these public lands. In 2011, the framework was first announced by leaders in the Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that houses the United States Forest Service. The goal of the management shift being to transition focus from old growth clear cutting to young growth management and a more holistic approach to governing these lands that integrates all non-timber harvest economic values that the Tongass generates. To understand the significance of this from an ecological standpoint let’s visit the forest.

Old Growth, Second Growth, Young Growth : A Very Brief Ecology

The differences between ‘old-growth’ and ‘young-growth’ are important and a little background in forest succession will help you see why. First off, the term ‘stand’ is often used to describe a tract of forest with similar characteristics. The characteristics of our old-growth stands include mature, ancient trees, represented primarily by Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and Alaska Yellow Cedar. Of these trees, the Alaska Yellow Cedar are especially ancient: some may be as old as 3000 years. When these trees were saplings, the Ancient Egyptian empire was just coming to a close. So it’s no surprise that it takes time for a forest to show old growth characteristics- hence ‘old’ growth.

These stands are critical for wildlife who depend on the specific characteristics of this forest structure.  For example, during harsh winters Sitka Black Tailed Deer depend on the lush understory and protection from snowpack that the old-growth canopy provides. Also, old-growth stands that are adjacent to salmon rivers facilitate fish production. When standing, these trees regulate stream temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and their ancient roots prevent erosion of stream banks. When they die and crash into the water, their trunks and root wads create pools and make habitat for salmon to spawn and smolts to rest from rushing currents. These forest stands are ecologically important for sustaining healthy populations of wildlife, regulating clean water, fresh air, sequestering carbon etc. These stands are also economically significant and currently represent the bulk focus of timber harvesting on the Tongass.

When large expanses of old-growth stands are clear-cut, the characteristics of the forest are dramatically altered. As the trees begin to grow back in unison, they pack together densely in competition for sunlight. The top canopies of these even aged trees close and overlap so tightly that plants thriving on the forest floor (e.g. forbs, berry bushes, ferns, and shrubs) don’t receive sunlight and eventually die. Wildlife (and humans) struggle to navigate through the dense trees and slash (woody material left behind during the harvest that clutters the forest floor). Although not worthless, these stands are considerably less valuable for wildlife due to an eventual lack of understory plants for forage and the limits to motion the forest structure creates. These trees have often been called second-growth because they are the ‘second’ group of trees established in an area, after the initial clearcut. They are more accurately called young-growth because they can be cut again and again and a ’third’ and ‘fourth’ growth of trees would follow. If you hike off the trails in Southeast Alaska, the difference between stands is intuitive: you can take a nice stroll through old growth, you need to bushwack through early second growth. Thinning second-growth stands, or removing a percentage of the trees, can help wildlife while providing timber. This is the timber source the Transition intends to move to.

Why Do We Need A Transition?

A healthy forest landscape includes a mixture of forest stands in varying stages of succession. Disturbances happen naturally (think landslide and blowdown) and forest succession is an inevitable process. The ecological issues lie in the extent and sheer magnitude of past clearcuts that left behind an unnatural mosaic of forest succession and salmon streams devoid of large trees. Over the course of 60 years the Forest Service and private native corporations sold and harvested  almost 1 millions acres of our rainforest. We crushed the majority of this wood into dissolving pulp and barged it, and eventually the economic stimulation it brought, away. This has left behind vast acreage of second growth, impaired landscapes and streams and, rural communities that desperately need sustainable economic stimulation.

Image showing a mosaic of trees in varying stages of sucession

The reasons for the Transition however, extend beyond ecological needs. The reasons are vast and also social, economic, political, ideological. Unsustainable timber liquidation is a story retold across the globe- the world is running out of ancient trees and old-growth forests. We want to protect our remaining stands because healthy ecosystems provide clean water, air, atmosphere and energy. We also want to protect old-growth forests so our children can inherit these spectacular landscapes. We want to recreate here and we need healthy wildlife populations to continue to hunt deer, harvest plants and fish. We want to maintain our national heritage and the quality of life in Southeast Alaska we cherish. Old growth is a big part of a healthy environment and healthy communities. Practically and economically, a continued sole dependence on old-growth lumber can not be sustained long-term. Although wood is technically a ‘renewable’ resource, without careful management and patience, 300 year old spruce and hemlock trees can not realistically support industry if the harvest of these trees is not done with silvicultural tenets in mind like sustained yield, appropriate harvest scale for regeneration and rotation, and long term stand management and planning.

We are lucky in the Tongass because we still have considerable areas of virtually untouched forest, healthy salmon habitat and a variety of natural resources that, if managed carefully, can sustain diverse and vibrant economies in Southeast Alaska long term. We still have time to make this work and exploring uses for second growth is a good start.

The Big Picture: What is the Transition Really About

While a wholesale halt to all old-growth harvesting is both unrealistic and unnecessary, changes to our timber policy are integral. We need policies that value this globally rare commodity for what it really is: precious. We need to harvest carefully, selectively and manufacture and utilize this lumber in a way that maximizes stable jobs in the Southeast, respects the resource, and uses it responsibly.

Simultaneously, we need to, in the words of a local miller,  “Stick our heads in the young growth and see what is there’’. How can we utilize this timber source, improve habitat for wildlife, create jobs, innovate and make markets for this wood? Young growth trees have not been packing on the growth rings and woody layers for hundreds of years like old-growth trees so the characteristics of the wood differs from ancient spruce and hemlock. However, there are plenty of valuable uses for these wood products and the Sitka Conservation Society has already spearheaded a number of successful projects that demonstrate the value of young-growth.

Recreation and Tourism support over 8,000 jobs in the region and contribute just under 1 billion annually to the Southeast’s economy. One in ten jobs in Southeast Alaska are supported by salmon produced from the Tongass National Forest.

The agency is also transitioning from a narrow focus on timber to the reality that the Tongass National Forest provides ample resources beyond wood. How can we maintain these other resources and stimulate additional economic opportunity around them? In the words of the same miller, “If we depend on just fishing, just mining or just timber- we are going to deplete one or the other.”

So the Tongass Transition is not just about pursuing smaller trees and leaving the old ones behind, its about establishing a more balanced and holistic management regime that values this land and its residents long term

. Investigating the best use of, and sustained management of our timber resources is part of it. Rebuilding the health of habitat damaged by past logging is part. Understanding how these resources will be impacted by climate change and preparing is a piece. Recognizing the significance of recreation and tourism to our economy is a big chunk of it too.

The Transition in Practice: The Tongass Advisory Committee

Accomplishing this transition is no easy task. Southeast Alaska is a unique place where a single agency is responsible for the vast majority of land in a region that depends on the natural resources it provides. We need a healthy and stable supply of natural resources for our economy, our subsistence, for clean water, fresh air and energy production. We need our forest to keep producing salmon, the key economic driver and cultural lifeblood in the region, and we need to protect all of this from overharvest and climate change. That is certainly not an easy task and a massive amount of responsibility for an agency with limited resources. To the great benefit of all, the Forest Service has been strengthening its capacity for collaboration and partnership building and this is where our final terms enter the story- the ‘TAC’ and ‘TLMP’.

The members of the TAC were selected and announced in May. The ‘Tongass Advisory Committee’ is an official Federal Advisory Committee that includes conservationists, industry representatives, native interests, and other stakeholder leaders. The team of fifteen will participate in a series of meetings and discussions led by a professional and highly experienced facilitator and mediator. In 2015, the group will provide guidance to the Forest Service, make recommendations, and propose alternatives to amend the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP). TLMP is basically a constitution for how our 17 million acre backyard should be managed. It is a dynamic document that needs to be amended and updated when our values, economies, and resources shift. With respect to timber specifically, this document outlines where and how lumber can be harvested, how forest stands are ‘upkept’, thinned and managed for future harvesting and what regulations and rules must be upheld to protect wildlife. TLMP is the ‘go-to’ document for forest management and adjustments and amendments to the plan will have lasting and important impacts on our forest.

The Sitka Conservation Society is pleased that our executive director, Andrew Thoms, will be standing on the TAC committee and providing support and guidance alongside a variety of stakeholders.  

SCS is working in the field, on the forest and in rural communities to flesh out our vision, inform our objectives and prepare recommendations for TAC. We will continue to share our findings, our vision and seek input from our community so that we can best represent our collective vision.

So again, what is the Transition?

Simply put, the Tongass Transition is about maximizing local benefits to our communities while minimizing negative impacts to the ecological integrity of the forest we depend on and love.

The Transition is about responsibility and caring for a landscape that can provide resources while maintaining its full compliment of ecological diversity- something that is increasingly rare across the globe. The Transition is a refusal to repeat history. The Transition is about being proactive rather than reactive and TAC and the future amendment process is about giving voice back to variety stakeholders who love and depend on our 17-million acre backyard.

Follow along with SCS as we work in the forest and with communities to realize the Tongass Transition. Let us know your thoughts and input and reach out to us by email [] or shout out to our twitter account and show us how you enjoy the Tongass or tell us how you want to see America’s largest national forest managed: @sitka_wild . .
May 27 2014

SCS Summer Boat Cruises

Celebrating Wilderness 

Tuesday, June 10
5:30 – 8:30 pm
$40 per person
Join SCS and the USFS as we cruise to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Learn how SCS advocates for the protection of pristine habitats and how the USFS manages the resources of the Tongass National Forest.

Birds of Sitka Sound

Tuesday, July 8
5:30 – 8:30 pm
$40 per person
Join local naturalists as we explore the Sitka Sound through the lens of the resident and migratory birds of the Tongass National Forest. Learn how the Sitka Conservation Society advocates for pristine habitats to be protected for these diverse local species.

Intertidal life of Kruzof Island

Sunday, July 13
8 am to 12:30pm 
$55 per person
On one of the lowest tides of the summer, we will set sail early to try to find the critters of the inter tidal zone on Kruzof Island. The Allen Marine vessel will drop us off so we can explore up close and personal with marine creatures accompanied by a local biologist. Learn the importance of this micro-ecosystem, its connection to our Tongass National Forest, and how SCS supports our public lands for recreation.

Sedge Meadows and Salmon of Nakwasina Passage

Sunday, July 27
1 – 4 pm
$40 per person
Join SCS Executive Director, Andrew Thoms, and SCS board member / UAS Professor, Kitty LaBounty on board an Allen Marine vessel to sail through the Sitka Sound and surrounding area.

Salmon of Sitka Sound

Tuesday, August 19
5 – 8 pm
Join us on our final boat cruise of the season as we travel the Sitka Sound exploring the life of a salmon. Sitka Sound Science Center’s Aquaculture Director, Lon Garrison, will be on board to guide us through salmon’s importance in the Tongass National Forest.

More information on boat cruises to come this summer! Keep checking this page for more opportunities to get out to sea! Summer Boat Cruise tickets are available at Old Harbor Books two weeks prior to the event. Due to vessel regulations, space is limited and each person requires a ticket (children, adults, and seniors are all $40). The purchase of tickets must be cash or check (Sitka Conservation Society) only. For more information, please contact SCS at 747-7509 or email Mary,


Tour Details

Boarding begins at 5:15pm from the Crescent Harbor Loading Dock.
Hot drinks are complimentary.
Binoculars are available on board.
Snacks can be purchased or you can bring your own.
May 23 2014

Wilderness Volunteers Needed: Summer 2014

Interested in volunteering with the Community Wilderness Stewardship Project?  This year we’ll have a number of opportunities for you to get into the field with SCS staff and USFS Wilderness Rangers to help collect monitoring data, remove invasive weeds, and enjoy our amazing Wilderness areas.

Below are the trips and dates with spots available for volunteers.  To volunteer, fill out the forms and safety information here, and email them to and


Baird Islands – 5 days – June 16 to June 20 – 1 volunteer

Have you ever wanted to explore the wilds of West Chichagof?  SCS is looking for one volunteer to accompany an expedition to the Baird Islands in West Chichagof Wilderness.  The volunteer will assist SCS and Forest Service staff monitory visitor use, conduct invasive plant surveys, and act as a volunteer Wilderness Ranger. Logistics for the trip will include skiff travel to and from the Baird Islands and kayaking and camping while in the field.


Cordova Bay – 6 days – June 24 to June 29* – 1-2 volunteers

*Final dates still to be determined.
Cordova Bay on Prince of Wales Island is inside of the South Prince of Wales Wilderness Area.  For this expedition, SCS staff and volunteers will be dropped off in the bay by float plane with folding kayaks.  After assembling the kayaks, the crew will survey the bay for invasive plants and monitor visitor use patterns.  Return to Sitka will be by float plane.


White Sulfur – 8 days – July 15 to July 22nd – 4-5 volunteers

In partnership with the Sitka Ranger District Trail Maintenance crew, volunteers will travel to White Sulfur hotsprings, a popular destination in West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness area.  Task will include assisting with trail work, recording visitor use, and inventorying and naturalizing campsites.  Travel to and from the field site will be by boat.


Rakof Islands – 5days – July 7 to July 11 – 1 volunteer

Each summer the Tongass National Forest select Artists in Residence to join Wilderness Rangers in the field.  Volunteers on this trip will join USFS Rangers and the Artist in Residence in the Rakof Islands of South Baranof Wilderness area.  The crew will be transported by boat to the field site and continue by kayak before a boat trip back to Sitka.


Slocum Arm – 7 days – Jul 22 to July 29 – 2 volunteers

Working with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and SCS, volunteers will travel to West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area to install long-term stream monitoring stations.  The crew will be transported to and from the field site by boat and then use kayaks to access monitoring sites.


Other trips throughout the summer.

As the summer progresses, we will be developing a number of other expeditions with exciting volunteer opportunities.  Stay up to date on all of the announcements by signing up for our e-newsletter.

May 13 2014

Sail West Chichagof and support SCS

Chichagof Island – the name alone can quicken the pulse of anybody from Sitka.

Home to the 265,000 acre West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness, it has a coastline only 8 miles shorter than all of the Hawaiian Islands together!

Shee Kaax (Chichagof Island) is the fifth largest island in the United States and the 109th largest island in the world, (In case you were wondering, the island of Bali is number 108) with a coastline that measures 742 miles long. It is 2080 square miles. It’s big AND wild – and you need to see it.

SCS is delighted to once again team up with SCS members Blain and Monique Anderson of Sound Sailing to offer members a once-in-a-lifetime trip to experience (and help protect) this island from the comfort and excitement of a big and beautiful sailboat.

SCS members now have the opportunity for an unbelievable adventure AND can support the Sitka Conservation Society at the same time.  When you book a trip to West Chichagof on the S/V Bob, Sound Sailing will donate a portion of the fare to SCS to help fight for Wilderness protection for this critical wildlife habitat.

 Highlights from the last two summers included watching and photographing Alaskan brown bears as they fished for salmon in the streams and on the beaches, experiencing whales breaching and hearing them trumpet their thundering songs.

Ben Hamilton shoots footage for The Meaning of Wild aboard the S/V Bob.

We had Dall’s porpoise fire across our bows and play with us on crystal waters. We hoisted white sails through Inian Pass and rode the powerful currents to George Island where we hiked the abandoned WW2 fortifications and peered at the open Pacific from towering cliffs.  We photographed elfin orchids and visited unique quaint Elfin Cove – a boardwalk fishing village with a great story. We hiked the primordial forests and kayaked through pristine waters.

Capt. Blain told us, “SCS members are more than welcome aboard any trip we run this summer, including Juneau to Glacier Bay, Haines to Juneau, Sitka to Petersburg, and many other trips. Active members are eligible for a 10% discount on any trip we sail”. When asked “Why SCS members? “, Blain stated, “We enjoy hanging out and exploring with them. They love to explore, hike, and kayak, and can be easily entertained in a muskeg.”

“Seriously, we want to give back to SCS for their strong advocacy of wild places in Southeast Alaska, and as a company dependant on unspoiled and intact landscapes and ecosystems, we strongly support the mission of SCS,” said Blain.

All of their trips feature our Alaskan Wilderness Areas on Chichagof, Admiralty, and Baranof islands as well as mainland and lesser known island Wilderness Areas. These incredible trips culminate in the end-of-the-season outer coast trip. This “round Chichagof” trip lets SCS members have the opportunity for an unbelievable adventure AND supports the Sitka Conservation Society at the same time. Blain and Monique have offered to make a sizeable donation of the proceeds from this trip!

Their sailboat – S/V BOB – is a 50-foot sloop with 4 large queen-sized berths that  sleeps 6, plus the two Andersons, very comfortably. They carry all the trappings to make any trip amazing, including shrimp and crab pots, fishing poles for salmon and halibut, kayaks to explore the quiet bays and anchorages, and a well-appointed galley with meals and beverages customized to your requests.

Both Blain and Monique are great cooks, and they specialize in artfully prepared freshly caught seafood dishes and homemade desserts. Special diets are no problem for them, and they can happily adjust ingredients to accommodate nearly any food preferences.

For more information on Sound Sailing, the boats, or the other trip offerings this season, please check out, or call Capt. Blain at (907) 887-9446. But call soon, trips are quickly filling up.

Apr 17 2014

Karta River: Classroom in the Wilderness

Think back to those boring days during school, when you would tune out the teacher’s voice, stare out the window, and daydream about being outside. Well, if you were a student at Craig High School, no dreaming would be necessary.

Students load up and batten down for the skiff ride to Karta River Wilderness on Prince of Wales Island.

For the past few years, Wilderness Rangers with the Forest Service have been working with classes at Craig High School to develop monitoring projects that get kids out, into the field, doing real research in designated Wilderness Areas.

The curriculum is part of the Marine Biology class and Alaska Natural History class in alternate years. Students design monitoring projects, using data from previous years. Projects include phenology studies of False Hellebore, measuring fork lengths of salmon smolt, testing amphibians for Chytrid fungus, camera trapping large mammals, and any other indicator students plan into a study. Along with the research, the students learn about the management of designated Wilderness areas and work through the process of applying for research permits. The goal is that by the end of the semester, the students will have all of the practical experience needed to conduct professional field research—and hopefully open doors to new careers and develop an appreciation of Wilderness along the way.

Designated in 1990, the Karta is one of the more recent additions to the national Wilderness preservation system.

The defining feature of the Wilderness is the 5-mile long Karta River that drains Karta Lake.

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the class through the magic of video-teleconferencing. Stanford PhD candidate Lauren Oakes and I talked to the students about our work and answered questions. This year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the class in the field for two consecutive days.

Getting to the Karta Wilderness, like most Wilderness Areas in Southeast, is not an easy task. We drove from Craig to Hollis on the eastern side of Price of Wales Island. There, we met the students at the dock, donned floatcoats, and loaded up in the Forest Service skiff after a safety briefing. The skiff ride to the Karta River takes about 40 minutes.

The crew of students from Craig High School arrives at the beach and prepares to hike into their test plots.

The drainage of a beaver pond adjacent to the river, a popular spot for the students’ study plots.

On the beach, teacher Ashley Hutton gave succinct instructions to the students, “This is your project, you know what to do, you are the researchers, so now it’s up to you.” She also made the valuable point, “We’re in a Wilderness area. If your equipment breaks, that’s just part of doing field research–you’ll just have to roll with it and adjust your project as needed.” With that, the students took off to collect the requisite data, set overnight traps, and explore.

I helped two groups of students, one pair collecting stream quality data (dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, and macro invertebrate surveys) and one pair testing amphibian populations for the problematic Chytrid fungus. While they conducted their tests, I asked them what they planned to do after highschool. The answers varied: diesel mechanic, fisheries biologist, Armed Forces. Thinking back to myself at that age (vacillating between aspirations to be a college professor or punk-rock drummer depending on the day), I realize that these students will likely change their future plans wildly in coming years. But the experiences they’ve gained from this class—appreciation and understanding of Wilderness, practical and marketable research skills, resiliency when things don’t go quite as planned—will grant them more options, more realistic expectations, and more perspective toward whatever paths their future holds.

Two students collect data on water quality in the Karta River.

Students not only gain experience from hands-on practice, but also by teaming up with professionals. Here, a team of students works with Sarah Brandy, a fisheries biologist with the Forest Service.

The data the students collect will inform real-world research. This student swab a rough skinned newt. The sample will be sent to a lab at Indiana University and will help map the spread of a deadly amphibian disease, Chytrid fungus, across the continent.

The Rough-skinned newt is one of only a handful of amphibians that can survive as far north as Southeast Alaska.

These students had no problem finding newts in the outlet to the beaver pond.

Students check minnow traps set by the previous day’s group to study salmon smolt.

Once the students finished collecting data, they had the opportunity to enjoy the Wilderness setting.

An “unofficial” aquatic vertebrate survey…

The community of Craig, Alaska.


SCS’s involvement in Wilderness stewardship, including the Craig HS class, is made possible thorough a grant from the National Forest Foundation.  Founded by Congress in 1991, the National Forest Foundation works to conserve, restore and enhance America’s 193-million-acre National Forest System.

Apr 14 2014

Rural Advisory Committee Funds Available

The Secure Rural Schools Act (previously referred to as “timber receipts”) has provided approximately $100,000 for a group of volunteer Sitkans (the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee or RAC) to decide how the funds will be spent on the Sitka Ranger District.

Projects proposal may be submitted by federal, state, local, or tribal governments; non-profit organizations, landowners, and even private entities. The projects must benefit the National Forest System. The current round of funding proposals are due by APRIL 30, 2014. Projects ideas are limited only by your imagination, projects may include: road and trail maintenance, buoy and cabin maintenance, ATV trail brushing, wildlife habitat restoration, fish habitat restoration, invasive species management among other much needed projects.

Click here to learn more about the program and how to prepare a proposal.

Community driven projects ensure that the US Forest Service understands the priorities of the community in order to better shape their management activities, as well as influencing the distribution of funds throughout the Sitka Ranger District. For more information or assistance, contact Marjorie Hennessy, Coordinator for the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group at or 747-7509.

For more information on the RAC you can attend the meeting of the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee on June 6, 4pm, at the Sitka Ranger District (remember current RAC proposals are due April 30!). Community involvement in public lands management planning is a valuable opportunity for the public to have a say in how our lands are cared for!

Mar 04 2014

DC Environmental Film Festival

We are very excited to announce that The Meaning of Wild has been accepted to the DC Environmental Film Festival!

Please join us for the event March 20th at 6:30pm at the Yates Auditorium (address below).

Washington, D.C. Premiere The Meaning of Wild is a documentary film that takes viewers on a journey through one of our nation’s most wild and pristine landscapes – The Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The film follows wildlife cameraman Ben Hamilton as he travels by boat, plane, kayak and foot to capture and share the true value of Wilderness. Along the journey Ben encounters bears, calving glaciers, ancient forest, and harsh seas but it’s the characters he meets along the way that bring true insight to his mission. Filmed in stunning HD,The Meaning of Wild, highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. Ultimately The Meaning of Wild celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates.

Introduced by Peggy O’Dell, Deputy Director for Operations, National Park Service. Discussion with filmmakers Ben Hamilton and J.J. Kelley follows screening.


Background: Sitka Conservation Society has been partnering with the USDA Forest Service for over 5 years to monitor and steward Wilderness areas in the Tongass.  Part of SCS’s mission is to educate and inspire community members to take care of their local public lands through projects like the Meaning of Wild.

This film was made possible through support from the Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, and the contributions of over 100 community members all of whom we would like to thank for making this film a reality.

Ticket/Reservation Info:

FREE. No reservations required.

U.S. Department of the Interior
Yates Auditorium
1849 C St., NW
(Metro: Farragut West)

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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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