Surveying salmon streams on the Tongass National Forest is no easy task – it involves lugging heavy survey gear, tripods, marking stakes, and other gear through dense young growth forests and wading up to our hips in frigid water. Last month, Scott Harris, Watershed Program Manager for the Sitka Conservation Society, worked with the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew to survey recently completed restoration work on the Sitkoh River. After three days of survey work, Watershed Crew Supervisor Calvin Washington mentioned “this is a great project, I want to continue seeing what happens here…”.
Restoring habitat is a worthy ideal, but restoring our connection to the land and inspiring a sense of long-term stewardship is equally, if not more, important. Calvin is the crew leader of the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew. His crew joined SCS’s Restoration Coordinator Scott Harris and Groundtruthing leader Bob Christensen recently to survey the Sitkoh River.
The Sitka Conservation Society developed a restoration partnership with Trout Unlimited, the Sitka Ranger District, and the Sustainable Salmon Fund to restore a section of Sitkoh River that was flowing down an old logging road. The construction phase is now complete and the longer-term effort of monitoring the effectiveness of the project has begun. This is where the Angoon Crew comes in. None of the three crew members had ever been to Sitkoh River, also called L’ukheenak’u (Coho Salmon Little Creek) by the people of Angoon. Our crew conducted habitat assessments, surveyed the completed restoration project, and just became familiar with the landscape. Rivers are dynamic, and this crew will return next summer to continue monitoring work and see what has changed. Soon they may even claim to be the new stewards of Sitkoh River!
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.
If you like walking beaches, learning about natural history, and want to contribute to marine conservation, this volunteer program is for you.
The COASST Program will be conducting training in Sitka on September 15. No experience is needed, only enthusiasm, to become a citizen scientist and learn the arcane skill of identifying beached birds!
I have been involved with COASST for over 5 years. My family and I have adopted our favorite beach on Kruzof Island and we walk the beach several times each year looking for beached birds. The value of this effort is to establish a “baseline”, or what is normal, for birds to die and wash up on beaches. If we ever experience an oil spill, climate change, a change in the marine environment, or other environmental disaster we can then measure the actual impact on bird populations. COASST has an extensive network all along the west coast of North America.
Not only does our family get to collect valuable information, we also become intimately familiar with the natural history and seasonal changes on a place that is important to us, and we get to nurture a long-term commitment to the health of our local environment. It’s also lots of fun!
Check out COASST at http://depts.washington.edu/coasst/
On May 1, students from the Science Mentor Program, Sitka High Field Science Class, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School shared their research with the community. Nearly 50 people attended. Standing room only! Students projects included research in microbial fungal communities in young growth forests, vegetation mapping to target wildlife habitat restoration prescriptions, whale acoustics and more! Through these annual programs, Sitka youth are engaging in ecological research, resource management, and are learning to become active stewards of our local environment.
Each May in Starrigavan Valley, nearly 100 7th Graders from Blatchley Middle School in Sitka spend a couple days doing hands-on stream restoration and monitoring. In the classroom, the students learn about watershed ecology and salmon habitat. Then they hit the field and help professional watershed managers actually install in-stream wood structures to rebuild fish habitat. They also monitor water quality and changes is stream structure. This project has a slew of partners that includes the Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Ranger District, Sitka School District, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and others.
The future of the Tongass National Forest will be intimately tied to how engaged our communities are in its sustainable management. The Science Mentor Program involves Sitka youth in hands-on scientific research that explores important ecological questions regarding forest restoration. Listen to the Raven Radio story about how Sitka High student Justine Webb and UAS professor Kitty LaBounty are using genetic lab techniques to examine soil fungal communities in young growth forests. Check out the story at the link below.
Past logging practices, now disallowed, in the Sitkoh River watershed damaged important spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steehead trout. For the past 12 years, the river has been flowing down an old logging road. Two years ago, SCS formed a partnership with the US Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, and the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund to restore 1.25 miles of the river. Work will start this summer.
This week, SCS and US Forest Service staff are presenting at the Community-Based Watershed Management Symposium in Juneau. We are using the Sitkoh project as an example of how working together can increase the ability to restore more watersheds and ensure healthy fisheries for all Alaskans.
To learn more about the Sitkoh River Restortaion, click here
At SCS, we know that getting people outside and participating in the stewardship of our environment is the single best way to realize our vision of a sustainable community living within the Tongass National Forest. Last summer, SCS, the Sitka Ranger District, and Sitka High School established a long-term monitoring study that will evaluate the efforts made to restore deer habitat in young growth forests in Peril Strait. Students built four “deer exclosures” to support this study. The exclosures will allow us to study the plant growth that occurs without being browsed upon by deer. Students will revisit these study sites each year. Through this project, students are being active participants in ecological restoration and gaining valuable insight in what it takes to be good stewards of our backyard!
Check out a cool Google Earth tour and photos of the section of Sitkoh River to be restored! The Sitka Conservation Society is partnering with the Tongass National Forest, Trout Unlimited, and the Alaska Dept. of Fish an Game to restore salmon habitat on a section of Sitkoh River that was damaged by past logging practices. The construction contract has been awarded and we are on-track for completing this work in the Summer of 2012. CLICK HERE FOR THE TOUR!
Winter doesn’t slow down field science in Sitka! The four Sitka High School students and their mentors in the Science Mentor Program are in the full swing of their projects. In the photo at left, Justine is measuring tree diameters to quantify the forest stand where she is collecting soil samples. She will then conduct genetic analyses of microbial fungal communities in the soil. Sarah and Tahnee are mapping habitat types that are critical for deer overwintering survival in Starrigavan Valley. And Spencer is learning statistical tests for calculating fish stocks. Follow our progress on the blog