This expedition is part of Sitka Conservation Society’s Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. The Project, begun in 2009, is a partnership between SCS and the Tongass National Forest Service to collect base-line data on the ecological conditions and human impacts to designated Wilderness areas. The Tongass NF in Southeast Alaska is the nation’s largest National Forest totaling 17 million acres with almost 6 million acres of designated Wilderness Area (also the largest total Wilderness area of any National Forest). Almost all of this land is only accessible by boat or on foot. Because most Tongass Wilderness Areas are so difficult to access, Forest Service Wilderness rangers rarely, if ever, have the ability to monitor areas which require technical skills, lots of time, or difficult logistics for access. SCS augments and fills in the gaps in data by targeting these areas.
For the 2013 project, the SCS Wilderness crew will work with Craig and Thorne Bay Ranger Districts to conduct a monitoring expedition to a set of outercoast islands adjacent to Prince of Wales Island including Coronation Is., Warren Is., the Spanish Is., and the Maurelle Is.
Adam Andis, is the Communications Director for SCS. He has managed the Wilderness Stewardship Program since 2011. Andis first started paddling on a National Outdor Leadership School expedition in Prince William Sound. He guided kayak trips all over Southeast Alaska for Spirit Walker Expeditions before moving to Sitka to work for SCS. Andis is a Level 4 ACA Instructor, a Leave-No-Trace Master Educator, and Wilderness First Responder. He is also on the board of directors of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and has a passion for Wilderness preservation and protection.
Rob Avery, has been paddling since he was a teenager (and that was a long time ago!) racing sprint and marathon in Junior K1. Originally from the UK, Rob now lives in the Pacific Northwest where he manages distribution for Valley & North Shore kayaks. He is also the regional rep for Snap Dragon, Level Six and other fun paddlesports stuff under his Active Paddles business, and also runs Kayak Kraft coaching service. Rob is an ACA Level 5 Instructor, Level 4 BCU coach, 5 star BCU paddler, Wilderness First Responder, Leave-No-Trace Instructor and no stranger to Alaska where is has spend many windy and rainy days paddling in the SE, central, Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands.
Paul Norwood, was born and raised in Paris, and has lived in Alaska since 1999. He spent a few years fishing and working in canneries, then did odd jobs in the interior of the state. Finally, he went to Sitka where he studied liberal arts and Spanish at UAS and worked as a tour guide on wildlife watching cruises. He has been on the Sitka Mountain Rescue team for several years, completed a year of Americorps service at the Sitka Sound Science Center, did an internship with the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment and a stint on a trail crew in southern Patagonia, and participated with numerous organizations on small projects ranging from traditional gardening to mapping invasive species. Paul has Emergency Medical Technician certification.
Dates and Duration: We are planning 16 days for the trip (11 field days, 2 travel days, and 2 weather days). The trip will begin June 16th and the crew will return to Sitka on July 2nd.
Route: The crew will pack boats in the small fishing village of Port Alexander. The crux of the trip will be the 12.5 nm open-water crossing of Chatham Strait to Kuiu Island. From there, the crew will paddle south to Cape Decision and stay at the Cape Decision Lighthouse. On to the Spanish Island and Coronation Island where the crew will monitor recreation sites and record visitor use data, survey for invasive plants, conduct owl broadcast surveys, swab toads for fungal infections, and a litany of other research goals. From Coronation, the team will cross to Warren, then down to the Maurelles to meet up with Craig Ranger District staff and Youth Conservation Corps to help out in the field. Back at the final destination in Craig, the crew will lead a kayak skills and rescue class for the Ranger District staff and community members in Craig. The trip will wrap up with an adventure in ferry hopping from Craig to Ketchikan and finally back to Sitka.
Pre-trip: send kayaks to Port Alexander on mailboat
June 16: Fly in small plane to Port Alexander, cross Chatham Strait to Kuiu Island.
June 17: Paddle along Kuiu to The Spanish Islands and Coronation.
June 18: Survey Coronation I.
June 22: Paddle to Warren island and survey.
June 25: Paddle to Maurelle Island group.
June 26: Meet the Craig Wilderness Rangers and Youth Conservation Corps in the Maurelles to help with projects
June 27: Survey Maurelle Islands
June 28: Paddle to Craig
June 29: Teach kayak skills and rescue training for Craig community.
June 30: Catch InnerIsland ferry to Ketchikan
July 1: catch Alaska Marine Ferry to Sitka.
July 2: Return to Sitka, compile data, sort and clean gear, then drink some cold beers
For more information, please contact Andis at email@example.com or (907) 747-7509.
This past week, I checked an usual piece of luggage with me on the plane down to Albuquerque: a box of frozen Marten, Ermine, and River Otter skulls, femurs, and intestinal parasites. I was delivering my parcel to Steve O. MacDonald and Dr. Joe Cook (who literally wrote the book on Alaskan mammals) and Jonathan Dunnum, the collections manager at the University of New Mexico Museum of Southwest Biology as part of the ISLES (Island Surveys to Locate Endemic Species) project. ISLES is attempting to create a Tongass-wide catalog of mammal species to use in future research. SCS has been collecting vole in alpine areas of Chichagof and Baranof Island for the past 3 years as part of the Wilderness Project. But it’s not just scientists and researchers who are involved.
“Trappers and hunters are clearly stakeholders in the maintenance of sustainably harvestable wildlife populations in SE Alaska and typically have the best local knowledgeable about the animals they are interested in.”
ISLES relies on trappers and hunters to do what they do best and provide specimens of furbearers and big game animals to help create an archive of mammal species throughout Southeast Alaska. The samples will be included with non-game species collected by biologists and field crews, in the archive at the University of New Mexico and will be a valuable resource for management by providing a baseline of for future studies. Check out the ISLES site to learn more about the project and to learn how you can help by collecting and contributing samples.
ISLES is a progressive type of project because it recognizes the need to involve the folks who are actually on the ground. Its a new breed of conservation biology that we are likely to see a lot more of in the future if budgets for agencies and funds for research grants decrease. Budget realities are one impetus for projects like this, but it is also just common sense. The hunters, trappers, fishermen and women, recreationists, and other folks who spend countless hours in the field already have a more intuitive understanding of the environment and the most familiarity with conditions in the field. These folks are also those with the most invested in research that promotes conservation of the very resources they rely on.
If you would like to collect specimens for the ISLES Project contact:Jon Martin Assistant Professor of Biology
Department of Natural Sciences
University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka
1332 Seward St. Sitka, AK 99835
All of us at SCS are excited about this hybridization of science and in situ, on-the-ground data collection. Soon, we will be compiling all of the citizen science initiatives that Sitkans can take part in on our Citizen Science page. Be sure to check back as we populate that page to see how you can get involved.
US Forest Service
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
US Fish and Wildlife Service
University of Alaska Southeast
Sitka High School
Sitka Conservation Society
Lake Benzeman is located approximately 35 miles SE of Sitka by boat in the South Baranof Wilderness Area. Botanist Jonathan Goff, SCS member Diana Saverin, and volunteer Paul Killian made the trip down late on a Friday afternoon. The following morning they broke down their tents, inflated their packrafts, and set out to paddle to the opposite side of the lake. For the next several days, they paddled and hiked this remote part of Baranof Island as they surveyed and inventoried everything from rare and sensitive plants to recreation sites. On their last morning, they got an early start and hiked to the alpine where they surveyed for mountain goats. The fog was thick and lingering. After a couple hours they decided to head back down to pack up camp and prepare to be picked up by float plane.
Click on the links below to learn more.
Background: The US Forest Service has adopted the Tongass Transition Framework, a program intended to shift forest management away from the out-dated and ill-fated old growth logging paradigm toward management that support multiple uses of the forest, including recreation, restoration, subsistence, and second-growth management. This is an encouraging recognition of the region’s important natural resources, but the figures don’t match the Forest Service’s transition plan. Check out the figures here.
For example, the Forest Service still spends over $22 million a year on logging and road building, but only $6 million on recreation and tourism and $8 million on restoration and watershed. Our fishing industry relies on healthy watersheds and restoring damaged salmon stream. Our tourism industry relies on recreational facilities and wildplaces for visitors to get the Alaska experience. It just so happens that these are also the two biggest industries in Southeast, together supporting over 15,000 jobs and providing just under $2 BILLION to the local economy. Logging on the other hand only supports 200 jobs.
Take Action: Please ask the Forest Service to follow through with their Transition Framework and put their money where their mouth is. Write to the Undersecretary of Natural Resources, Harris Sherman.
Contact:Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell U.S. Dept. of Agriculture 1400 Independence Ave. S.W. Washington, D.C. 20250
Please also send a copy to SCS at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can hand-deliver all of your letters to the Undersecretary himself in Washington, DC.
Some key point to include in your letter:
- Tourism and fishing are the two largest economic drivers in Southeast Alaska.
- Logging and road building cost tax payers $22.1M annually, while the Forest Service only spends $6.1 M annually on tourism and $8.1M annually on fisheries and watershed management. BUT, the timber industry only supports 200 jobs— tourism supports 10,200 and fishing supports 7,200.
- The Forest Service has adopted the Tongass Transition Framework, a program to transition from timber harvesting in roadless areas and old-growth forests to long-term stewardship contracts and young growth management. This is an encouraging recognition of the need to protect the region’s natural resources and fundamental economic drivers: tourism and fishing, BUT the Forest Service needs to reflect this transition in their budget.
- Be sure to include your personal connection to the Tongass, it’s forests and natural resources.
- Also, be sure to include how you rely on the Tongass—for subsistence, recreation, business, etc.
Example: Here’s an example letter I wrote. Feel free to use this as a template:Your Address Here Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell U.S. Dept. of Agriculture 1400 Independence Ave. S.W. Washington, D.C. 20250 Dear Chief Tidwell: I am writing out of concern for my home. I live in Sitka, Alaska, a small fishing community in Southeast Alaska surrounded by the Tongass National Forest. Our entire economy revolves around our natural resources. I have been a guide for many years with a sea kayak tourism company. When my clients, or really anyone, come up to see Alaska they want to see three things: bears, forests, and salmon. Luckily for me as a guide, if you find one of them, you’ll find the others. For instance, if you find a salmon stream, you’d better be on the look-out for a bear; if you want to find a good salmon stream, go to the healthiest, oldest forest; and if you want to find a stand of big healthy trees, follow the salmon and bears. Just as the bears, salmon, and tress are connected, so too are our industries: tourism, fishing, and timber. In Sitka, we’ve already seen that poor logging practices kill our fishing industry by destroying the spawning-streams, the birthplaces of our salmon populations. Without standing forests and salmon fishing, tourism wanes in response. Recently, though, we have also seen that if all of these industries are balanced, our communities benefit as a whole. Small-scale logging, responsible fishing, and eco-friendly tourism have been growing at increasing rates and are the model for a new future for the Tongass. In Southeast, we are trying to build a sustainable future, and we are succeeding. My concern for my home stems from your agency’s spending priorities. Like any healthy and productive systems, our economy and your budget need to be proportionate and well-balanced. So, why does your agency spend just $6.1 million on recreation and tourism and $8.1 million on fisheries, but about $25 million annually on timber and road-building? That is certainly not a balance, and considering that fishing is our largest industry and tourism is the second in line, it is nowhere near proportionate. As the Forest Service, you say that your job is “caring for the land and serving people.” To care for the land and serve people in Southeast (and anyone who values these wild places) please redistribute your budget priorities to reflect the real situation on the Tongass. Imagine if we invested $25 million in salmon habitat restoration and recreation instead of timber. In four years, we will have completed all of the restoration projects needed on the Tongass. Compare that to the 50 years it will take at current rates. Speaking for all of us in Southeast Alaska, we cannot wait 50 years. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely: Adam Andis
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.
Ricky Sablan is a law enforcement ranger with the Sitka National Historical Park. He joined the SCS Wilderness crew on a Community Wilderness Stewardship Project expedition to South Baranof Wilderness in the summer of 2012. Be sure to check out his videos from the trip below.
Walking onto a boat called “The Gust”, we loaded up our kayaks and supplies in preparation for an adventure. I looked backwards to see the orange transport ships from the cruises ship pass by as we set our courses to the open waters. Light grey clouds painted the sky, but the rain was holding back. Off in the distance, a hump back whale shot a burst of air from his blowhole and I realized I was no longer in man’s world.
I was to spend the next five days in the South Baranof Wilderness with three strangers I had only met a few days ago during briefing. Ray Friedlander an intern with the SCS, Jonathan Goff our botanist, and team leader Adam Andis were to be my new friends as we headed into the wild. Our plan was to be dropped off in Whale Bay with a satellite phone, an emergency SPOT gps tracker, and a USFS radio linking us to the rest of the world. Our goal was to assist the USFS in collecting data reports and observations in preserving the wilderness in Whale Bay.
Some hours had past as we came to rest upon a nice bay located near Port Banks. We unloaded all our gear and the kayaks on the shore and watched as The Gust slowly faded away off in the distance. We took our first paddle down to Port Banks and began taking notes of all the planes, jets, and boats that we observed and heard in the wilderness. As we paddled to shore, we observed an old recreational site where people had left some old trash. We packed up the trash and headed back to camp to burn what we could.
It was our duty to take notes on the conditions of these old sites and for the next few days we would paddle up the large arm of whale bay visiting recreational site to recreational site and writing down our observations on the human impacts of the area. Jonathan would collect samples of invasive plants and he would educate us what types of plants were edible and native to the area.
As the days past by, we quickly became immersed into a majestic routine paddling for miles soaking up the wilderness and all it has to offer. Safety was always considered a priority, but having fun was a mandatory part of the trip that we embraced. Taking a dip in the cold clear water felt refreshing after a long paddle on a hot summer day. We had the experience of watching nature at its finest as a brown bear had caught a salmon that was running up one of the creeks. Otters would crack shells on their bellies while a doe and her fawn walked to the shore to observe our brightly colored kayaks pass them by. No need for television, computers, or cellphones to entertain our minds, the wilderness in God’s great country was all we needed. The volunteer experience with the Sitka Conservation Society was something
I’ll always remember.
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.
We sat quietly in the colony struggling not to make noise for fear of scaring the birds. It was about ten o’clock at night and the sun was still setting. To the west the sun sank over the horizon and the last few flickers of light colored the approaching clouds. To our east and south the full moon rose in a brilliant orange, promising to illuminate our night’s work. The scene was dreamlike, surreal.
Part of what makes Saint Lazaria so unique is its somewhat unusual land use designation. The island of Saint Lazaria is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Homer, AK. It is also a designated Wilderness Area protected under the National Wilderness Preservation System. This multi-level protection has kept the island in pristine condition.
My work with SCS brought me to Saint Lazaria to learn about Alexis Will and the research she is conducting on the island. Will is a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she is working towards her Masters’ of Science in Biology and Wildlife. For her thesis she is trying to determine the diets and foraging grounds of Rhinocerous Auklets (i.e., Cerorhinca monocerata). Will believes that by better understanding this species’ diet and foraging grounds, we will better understand how these birds may adapt to an increasingly variable environment.
Will’s research is also part of a bigger study. In recent years the population of five key groundfish species in the Gulf of Alaska have been significantly lower than in previous years. This is particularly alarming as these five fish species are all commercially important to the state. To determine what is causing this decline, the North Pacific Research Board is currently in the process of conducting a Gulf of Alaska-wide study. Their goal is to better understand the causes for these declining populations.
So how does Will’s research fit in to this bigger project?
Here’s the thing. Rhinocerous Auclets feed on the same fish that the five groundfish species feed on. If Alexis can determine where and how much fish the Saint Lazaria Rhinocerous Auclets are eating, then we will have a better picture of the food base in the Gulf, at least, theoretically. With better information on the health of the food base in the Gulf, the state of Alaska will have better science with which to base their fishing quotas. It’s cool research and I was glad to have the opportunity to learn more about it.
However, what intrigued me most about Saint Lazaria was my experience in the Rhino colony. The Rhinoceros Auklet colony is located at the edge of a very steep and menacing cliff. Below the cliff we could see the commercial salmon fleet at anchor, protected in the lee of the island. As the Rhinos arrived at their nest to feed their chicks, the commercial trolling fleet sat below bracing for the approaching gale, and in the distance the lights of Sitka illuminated the night sky. As I sat in the darkabsorbing the night’s activities, I was reminded of the simple fact that we are ALL part of this global ecosystem.
Anyone that tells you there is a trail between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait because “it’s on the map,” has never been there on foot. This is because there is no trail there! An SCS Wilderness Groundtruthing team recently explored that area on the Tongass and confirmed that the only trails available are the ones made by deer and bear.
The purpose of this expedition was to look at habitat connectivity and bear use. Members of the expedition were wildlife biologist Jon Martin, mountain goat hunting guide and outdoorsman Kevin Johnson, photographer Ben Hamilton, and SCS Executive Director Andrew Thoms.
SCS is interested in this landscape because of the protections given to these areas. The land between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait is protected as LUD II – a Congressional roadless designation status meant to protect “the area’s wildland characteristics.” The lands between Lisianski Strait and Goulding Harbor are part of the West Chichagof-Yacobi Wilderness where management is to “provide opportunities for solitude where humans are visitors.” Management language aside, the most important thing about these areas is that they are large, contiguous protected areas where an entire watershed from the high-ridges to the estuaries is left in its natural condition. This means that these watersheds are able to function with no impact from roads, logging, mining, or other human activities.
What this looks like on the ground is a pristine habitat teaming with bears, deer, and rivers and lakes filled with salmon and trout. There are also many surprises: on this trip, we found a native species of lamprey spawning in a river creek that no one in the group has ever seen before (and the group had over 60 years of experience on the Tongass). We also found fishing holes where trout bit on every cast, back-pools in river tributaries filled with Coho Smolts, forests with peaceful glens and thorny devil’s club thickets, and pristine lakes surrounded by towering mountains.
If any place should be protected on the Tongass, it is these watersheds. The Lisianski River is a salmon and trout power-house and produces ample salmon for bears that live in the estuary and trollers that fish the outside waters. One can’t help but feel grateful walking along the river and through the forests here, thankful that someone had the foresight to set this place aside. Clear-cutting logging wild places like these provides paltry returns in comparison to the salmon they produce and all the other life they sustain.
These watersheds that we walked through are success stories and teach us how the temperate rainforest environment works in its natural unaltered state and how much value they produce following their own rhythms. The actions taken in the past to set these areas aside give us pause to think about what we should be doing today to invest in our future and protect ecosystems that are similarly important ecologically.
Scientists have identified over 77 other watersheds across the Tongass that produce massive amounts of salmon and have ecological characteristics that need to be protected. Some of these watersheds are slated to be logged by the Forest Service. Even worse, pending Sealaska legislation could result in some of these watersheds being privatized, sacrificing protection for salmon streams and spawning habitat. With your help and involvement, SCS is working to protect those watersheds and landscapes so that we can ensure the consideration of long-term health and resource benefits from these watersheds over the short-term gains of logging, road-building, or privatization. It is our responsibility that we make the right choices and that future generations are grateful for what we leave them to explore and benefit from.
If you want to be part of SCS’s work to protect lands and waters of the Tongass, please contact us and we’ll tell you how you can help. If you are inspired, write a letter to our senators and tell them to protect salmon on the Tongass and manage it for Salmon: here
Join us as we cruise north to the the West Chichagof Wilderness Area. We’ll travel through Salisbury Sound to Fish Bay and Suloia Bay. Guest speakers will include SCS Wilderness Coordinator, Adam Andis and Darrin Kelley, USFS Wilderness Ranger.
Tickets are $35 and can be purchased with cash or check at Old Harbor Books located at 201 Lincoln Street. Boarding will begin at 12:45 pm at the Crescent Harbor Loading Dock. Hot beverages are complimentary and binoculars are available to use. You are welcome to bring your own snacks.
These cruises are heavily discounted due to a generous non-profit rate donated by Allen Marine. There are no additional discounts for babies, children or seniors.