The Sitka Conservation Society strives to blend sustainable community development with policy advocacy through projects and initiatives that demonstrate our ideals while building community and community assets. Along the way, we organize stakeholders to work together with a commonly shared vision. The ideal projects are those that bring people together working face-to-face/shoulder-to-shoulder to jointly and collaboratively build our community under a vision of sustainability. If we are not working with new and different partners, if we are not working toward institutionalizing our values within existing agencies, or if we are simply working within one closed group, we are not successful.
The Fish to Schools program is accomplishing all of the above as it organizes fishermen, integrates traditional Native cultural values around locally harvested fish in the school classrooms, teaches youth about fishing livelihoods and fisheries management by bringing community members into the classroom, and, above all, improves the school lunch program by finding creative and economically sustainable pathways to integrate locally produced food into the USDA school lunch program. The program works with all the schools in the local school districts, all the major fish processors, multiple fishermen, parents, youths, USDA staff, State of Alaska agency staff, and many more. Recently we won a statewide award which received national attention in the USDA Farm-to-Schools program.
Our hope is that this program will create closer connections between our community and the natural resources from the environment around us. Through its implementation, youth and stakeholders will gain an increased understanding of how we use and depend on the land and waters of the Tongass. With the fish on our plates at home and at school, we will, as a community, make better decisions on the management and future of those resources that we intimately depend on. Our hope is that in its actions the USDA, and the policy makers who direct it, will choose to focus on a more sustainable school lunch food system by using local sources for food. And, importantly, our school districts will teach children about local natural resources and the jobs and livelihoods in our community by using hands-on, real-world learning experiences.
In this way, SCS is working to build a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable community living within the splendor and beauty of the Tongass.
The Tongass produces more salmon than all other National Forests combined. These salmon are a keystone species in the temperate rainforest ecosystems and hundreds of species depend on them– including humans. Salmon have been a food source in Southeast Alaska for thousands of years and continue to be the backbone of the economy. The salmon from the Tongass are a sustainable resource that can continue to sustain communities, livelihoods, and ecosystems well into the future– if we manage the land and waters correctly. The Forest Service is at a critical cross-roads right now in its “transition” framework as it moves out of Industrial Old Growth Logging and into more diverse and sustainable ways to create benefits from National Forest lands and resources. Because the Tongass is America’s Salmon Forest, and because Salmon are so important to all of us, we encourage the Forest Service to shift resources into the Tongass Fisheries and Watershed program and work to protect and restore salmon habitat and our salmon fisheries.
You can help us protect Tongass Salmon by taking action: here
Background: The Alaska Congressional Delegation has introduced bills in the House and Senate that would take tens of thousands of acres of prime Tongass lands and privatize them by passing them over to the Sealaska Corporation. The Sitka Conservation Society opposes this legislation and sees it as a threat to the Tongass and to the ways that we use and depend on the lands and waters around us.
Beyond the over 80,000 acres of prime forest land that they are trying to take that will surely be clear-cut, they are trying to take land in ways that could be even more destructive. One of the worst aspects of the legislation is that it would give Sealaska the opportunity to select over 3600 acres of land in small parcels throughout the Tongass as in-holdings within the National Forest. We are already seeing what this means as Sealaska is working to privatize the important fishing site at Redoubt Lake. Here they can strategically select only 10 acres and virtually “control” the entire watershed. It is frightening what they could do if they had thousands more acres to select. We already know that they are planning on cherry-picking the best sites. Around Sitka, we already know that they want to select sites in all the sockeye producing watersheds and sites in important use areas like Jamboree Bay and Port Banks.
Most chilling is that Sealaska is mixing the issue of race and culture into their own corporate goals. They are cynically calling the 3600 acres “cultural sites.” While it is true that there are important sites that were used throughout history by Native Alaskans, they should not be privatized by a corporation with the mandate to make profit. They sites should stay in public hands, be protected by the Antiquities act, and be collaboratively managed by the clans who have the closest ties to them.
Further, sites that were important in the past because of their fish runs and hunting access are still important for the same reasons today. They should not be privatized. They should be honored by their continual traditional uses and their public ownership.
Take Action: You can take action by writing letters to Congress and to the Forest Service Chief telling them to oppose the Sealaska Legislation.
Please write to Chief Tidwell:Tom Tidwell Chief of USDA Forest Service US Forest Service
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Please also write you congressmen. If you live in Alaska, write to:
Washington, DC 20510 Email to staff: Bob_Weinstein@begich.senate.gov Representative Don Young
2314 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Make Management and Protection of Wild Alaska Salmon a Priority in the Tongass National Forest!
Background: 5 species of Pacific Salmon spawn in the Tongass National Forest. For thousands of years, those salmon have played a key role for the peoples and cultures that make their home on the Tongass. Today, the connections and traditions between communities and salmon is still one of the most important associations that we have with the natural environment of the Tongass.
Take Action: Management of the Tongass National Forest is currently at a critical crossroads. As we begin to move beyond the ill-fated, industrial logging phase of Tongass Management, the region and the Forest Service is striving to define a new paradigm for Tongass Land Management. The decision makers who govern the Tongass need to hear from you now that management for Wild Alaska Salmon is the most important use of the Tongass National Forest.
You Can Help Now: by writing letters to Alaska State Senators, the Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, and the Alaska Regional Forester telling why Salmon are important for SE Alaska and how our dependence on the lands and the waters of the Tongass revolves around Salmon.
Here are some of the important points that you can highlight:
- Salmon are the backbone of the economy of SE Alaska
- The economic value and the jobs created by commercial harvest of Salmon is much greater than the economic value of the Timber industry—even though more money and resources are spent on the timber program ($30million) than salmon management and restoration ($1.5 Million).
- Salmon are important for both the local seafood industry, the SE Alaskan visitor industry, and rural communities who depend on subsistence fishing
- Subsistence harvest of salmon on the Tongass is one of the most important protein sources for SE Alaskans— outline how subsistence caught salmon are important for you
- Forest Service management of subsistence fisheries (such as Redoubt Lake) have enormous benefits for Sitka and other SE Alaskan Communities– expanding this program is critical
- Salmon Habitat Restoration Projects—such as the work being done in the Starrigavan Valley and Sitkoh River in Sitka—are the most important efforts currently being conducted by the Forest Service on the Tongass. This work should be continued and expanded.
- The success of Tongass Management should no longer be tied to “million-board feet of timber produced” but rather should be measured on the successful rehabilitation, enhancement, and continuance of Wild Salmon Runs on the Tongass
- Continued and expanded research and investigation on Alaskan Salmon is a huge priority to assess how we will manage salmon in the face of climate change
What to do: write a letter, send it out to decision makers, pass it along to SCS so we can help make all our voices heard, and continue to get involved.
Send Letters to (email is fine):
Washington, DC 20510 Email to staff: Bob_Weinstein@begich.senate.gov
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250 Email: Harris.Sherman@usda.gov Tom Tidwell Chief of USDA Forest Service US Forest Service
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Please send a copy to us at the Sitka Conservation Society offices at email@example.com. We will keep track of the letters that are received by decision makers and work on getting them delivered in person by a fisherman to decision makers in Washington, DC.
The Sitka Conservation Society is working hard during this Forest Service budget preparing season to advocate for a shift of Tongass funding from a disproportionate logging program to a focus that manages our largest National Forest for Salmon. It is high time that we made this shift because salmon are the lifeblood of our region for our ecosystems, our economy, and our way-of-life. Now is a critical time to write letters supporting the Tongass’s Fisheries and Watershed program and ensuring that the Forest Service is putting Tongass funding in the programs that benefit our wild, Alaska Salmon and the communities within the Tongass.
You can help by writing a letter, click here to Take Action.
In December, SCS was able to help Matt Lawrie, a local Sitka Troller, travel to Washington, DC to take copies of letters that Fishermen and community members wrote asking for a shift from Forest Service spending on Old Growth Clear-cutting in the Timber program to the Fisheries and Watershed program to restore and protect Tongass Salmon Habitat. Matt personally delivered the letters to Harris Sherman, the Undersecretary of Natural Resources, Senior Staff at the USDA Rural Development offices, staff from the President’s Management and Budget Office, and spoke personally with the Chief of the Forest Service and delivered the message on the importance of Tongass Salmon.
The meetings were frustrating because everyone acted like they agreed that funding needs to shift from Timber to Salmon, but everyone seemed to point the finger that someone else had to step up and demand the change was made. It seemed that some of the decision makers that were visited (The Forest Service Chief and the Undersecretary) were genuinely happy that commercial fishermen were visiting DC and speaking up on the budget because they are slowly recognizing the importance of the Tongass National Forest’s role in producing salmon and sustaining a sustainable fishery and sustainable livelihoods and that they agree that this shift needs to be made.
Officials were also glad that commercial fishermen and concerned community members were finally visiting because the timber lobby visits at least twice a year to keep the programs funded that log the Tongass!
We always knew that timber had a big lobby and it is likely why more money is going to cut down the Forests that salmon depend on than restoring the damage that pulp mill clear-cutting has done to the Tongass that needs fixing.
The fact that Matt and the other fishermen visited the same offices as timber shows us that we are doing the right thing. It was really good that young fishermen stand up and speak too because he represents a new generation on the Tongass that is looking ahead to the future and thinking about sustainable management of Tongass resources— the opposite of what we’ve had with clear-cut logging.
We are going to try to send more fishermen back to Washington in February to advocate for a Forest Service budget that focuses on Salmon and Watershed restoration. We want to take back at least 200 letters from fishermen in February. That would be 40 more letters than there are timber jobs in Southeast Alaska (160 timber jobs, over 4000 jobs related to Salmon).
You can help us by writing letters to the regional forester, the undersecretary of Natural Resources, our Alaskan Senators. Tele Aadsen did a really good blog post that outlines the issue calls fishermen to action. It is a great post to point people to for motivation: