Sitka Conservation Society
Aug 04 2014

Sitka Seafood Festival Celebrates Salmon in the Tongass

The fish head throwing competition was just one of the many games and competitions at the Sitka Seafood Festival on Saturday, August 5.

The last marathoner in the Sitka Cross Trail Classic ran confidently across the finish line as the Sitka Seafood Festival parade started to get underway on Saturday.  Floats spewing bubbles and candy made their way down Lincoln Street towards the Sheldon Jackson campus just before noon on August 5 as just one part of a weekend-long celebration of successful wild fisheries in the Tongass National Forest.

Floats traveled down Lincoln Street on a sunny and clear Saturday morning, just before the marketplace opened at the fourth annual Sitka Seafood Festival.

“It’s a celebration of how lucky we are,” Cherie Creek, a regular volunteer at the festival, said.  “We are a seaport and have tons of fisheries and fresh food.”

On Aug. 1 and 2, the community gathered for the fourth annual Sitka Seafood Festival.  The festival included a marathon, kids’ races, cooking demonstrations, food booths, festival games, a fish head toss and the parade.

While it is a community event, Creek said she enjoys having people from out of town join in the festival activities.  Her favorite event of the festival is the children’s crab races.

Food booths like this one, which served King salmon and crab legs, filled the marketplace. Hundreds filed into the marketplace after the parade to try different seafood treats.

The Sitka Seafood Festival is a great way to “show off to visitors how important seafood is to the Sitka community,” Lon Garrison, president of the Sitka School Board said.  He said he enjoys celebrating the well-managed and sustainable resource of the Tongass every year.

Garrison also participated in a new event at the festival this year: the Fish to Schools recipe contest.  He helped judge 8 different recipes provided by locals to find the new recipe to be used in local schools this fall.  The Fish to Schools program, initiated by the Sitka Conservation Society, brings locally caught fish into school cafeterias twice a month.

At an event new to the Sitka Seafood Festival this year, judges gathered to decide which local, kid-friendly recipe would be a part of the Fish to Schools program this fall. The Fish to Schools program brings locally caught fish to school lunches twice a month in Sitka and is now a state-funded program.

One in ten jobs in Sitka is related to the fishing industry and the Tongass National Forest provides 28 percent of all salmon produced in the state of Alaska, so the festival really does rejoice in local endeavors.  It’s something outsiders can’t help but take notice of.

“Everyone I’ve met has some kind of tie to fishing,” Ali Banks, a visiting Chicago chef said. “It really drives everything.”

Banks teaches in a recreational cooking school in Chicago and uses salmon from Sitka Salmon Shares in her classes.  She said she encourages her students to buy wild rather than farmed fish because there really is a difference in quality. She also writes basic and fun recipes for the Sitka Salmon Shares website, which distributes mostly in the Midwest.

Chicago chef Ali Banks taught a small crowd how to make homemade pesto for seared coho. She said many were surprised by her choice of recipe, but she wanted to bring a creative flair to a dish that people in Sitka eat all the time. In Chicago, eating fresh fish is a novelty, she said, so Chicagoans like to dress up their fish perhaps more than Sitkans would.

Traveling to Sitka for the seafood festival was a real treat for Banks.  She spent a few days in Sitka out on a boat fishing.  “I got the best Alaska has to offer,” she said. “I love knowing where my food comes from.”

Sitka, a community of 9,000, will continue to celebrate the success of the wild fisheries in the Tongass National Forest all summer long.

Jul 22 2014

Got a favorite fish recipe? Enter the Fish to Schools Recipe Contest!

Do you have a favorite fish recipe? Does your kid? Come share them with us!

A Fish to Schools lunch at Mt. Edgecumbe High School.

The Sitka Conservation Society is teaming up with the Sitka Seafood Festival to offer the first annual Fish to Schools Recipe Contest. The contest will take place on Saturday, August 2 at 4:30 p.m at the Main Tent on the Sheldon Jackson Campus.
Want to learn more about the contest? Here’s the basics:
The purpose of the contest is to collect kid-friendly, healthy fish recipes that can be used in local school lunches. Kids can be picky eaters, so if you have a kid-approved fish recipe, this is your time to shine! Winning recipes will be passed on to school district officials and will hopefully appear on school lunch trays in the fall. Prizes, including a Ludvig’s gift certificate, will also be distributed.
Interested? Here’s what you need to do to enter the contest:
1. Come up with a fish recipe that is both kid-friendly and healthy. To ensure that all entrees are nutritious and delicious, please stick to these basic guidelines:
  • Keep it low in fat and sodium
  • Bake the fish!
  • Don’t use any special appliances. These recipes will be replicated in local schools in big quantities, so don’t make it too complicated.
2. Prepare a few servings of your dish (enough for 15 people to nibble) and bring it to the Sitka Seafood Festival on Saturday, August 2. Dishes should be dropped off at 4:15 p.m. at the Main Tent on the SJ Campus.
3. Include a recipe with your dish and (if possible) a photo of you preparing it.
4. Sit back and relax…and wait for the judges to cast their ballots!
For more information and to register for the contest, please contact Sophie at sophie@sitkawild.org

SCS Board Member Spencer Severson shares a meal with a student at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School.

Coho with beach asparagus, served at a Fish to Schools lunch at Pacific High School.

 

 

 

Jul 21 2014

Tourism in the Tongass: The Mendenhall Glacier

Alaska hosted close to 2 million visitors between May 2013 and April 2014, shattering its previous annual visitor record by more than 5,000 people.  Not surprisingly, about 1.7 million of those visitors came in the summer months, but last winter did see a 4 percent increase in out-of-state visitation, according to statistics published by the Alaska Department of Commerce.

“Alaska is a worldwide recognized brand,” Dan Kirkwood, outreach director for the Alaska Wilderness League said. When people hear Alaska they think wilderness, adventure, landscapes, hiking and outdoor activities, he explained.  “The market demand is for the natural beauty and for this wilderness experience”

Here in Southeast Alaska, where 17 million acres of the region is the Tongass National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service is the most important player in determining how tourists and residents alike use and experience the wilderness.  The U.S. Forest Service governs everything from timber sales to hunting to recreation.

Tourists from all over the United States venture to Southeast Alaska to see and experience the beauty and vastness of America’s largest national forest.  The U.S. Forest Service provides important and meaningful ways for people to experience the Tongass and one of the most visitor-friendly places is just 12 miles from Juneau at the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center.

The Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center was built in 1961 and is the most visited attraction in the Tongass National Forest today, with tourists traveling from all across America for an amazing view of the river of ice.

The U.S. Forest Service built the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center in 1961.  It is the oldest Fores Service visitor’s center in the country and the most popular in Southeast Alaska today.   The glacier has retreated at an alarming rate in recent years.  Glaciers retreat when the ice melts at a faster rate than it is replaced every year.  While Mendenhall has been retreating since the mid-1700s, it has certainly sped up in recent years.  About 50 years ago, the glacier moved about 60 feet every year.  In 2011, the glacier retreated 437 feet!

Despite how far back the glacier has moved since the visitor’s center was built, the U.S. Forest Service has created a very visitor-friendly experience for people with varying degrees of outdoor experience.  Even closer and more astonishing views of the glacier are just a short walk up the path from the visitor’s center to Nugget Falls.  This short trail one of the most popular in Juneau.

The Mendenhall Glacier was named for Thomas Mendenhall, a former superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey. The original name of the glacier was Auke Glacier, named by John Muir in 1879 for Aak’w Kwaan of the Tlingit Indians.

While the Mendenhall is retreating, it is far from disappearing and he number of visitors to the glacier is continually increasing.  Statistics provided by the Alaska Wilderness League show that in 2011 tourism contributed $1 billion and provided more than 10,000 jobs in Southeast Alaska.   And the most popular city to visit in the Southeast is Juneau.

Recent budget cuts to the recreation programs and the current management strategy of the U.S. Forest Service have made it very difficult for the agency to adjust to the growing demand of visitors in the area.  As tourism easily becomes the second most important industry for the Southeast Alaskan economy, behind sport and commercial fishing, the U.S. Forest Service is in the unique position to greatly impact how much this industry grows and contributes to the welfare of the region.

Travelers from all over the United States come to visit the very first visitor’s center built by the U.S. Forest Service.  Stars indicate where all of the following tourists traveled from.

Many tourists traveling through the Tongass do not know much about the nation’s largest national forest before they arrive.  But, through programs, films, exhibits, pamphlets, guides and talks provided by the U.S. Forest Service, visitors learn more and more about a forest that they can call their own.  After spending even just a short time there, they all agree it is beautiful and unlike any other forest they have ever seen.  Continue reading to meet some travelers from all over America and see what had to say about their trip to the Southeast.

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Sam Tortora from New York!

“We have never seen anything like this!  We don’t have this in New York,” the couple said of their first trip to Alaska.  Despite the pricey airfare, they both said they would come back.  ”It’s like being in Paradise!”

 

 

Meet Mary and Collette from Wisconsin! 

Mary is a former travel agent and has been to Alaska four times.  ”I just love Alaska,” she said.  ”It’s God’s country!”  Mary and Collette came in on a cruise to Juneau and spent their morning exploring the Mendenhall visitor’s center.

 

 

Meet Mike and Debbie from Oregon!

“I’m burnt out on the boat,” Mike said of his cruise experience.  ”I like being out.”  Mike and Debbie did not know much about the Tongass before they took a cruise to Alaska from Seattle, but they were enjoying what feels like countless views of glaciers and waterfalls.

 

 

Meet Lynnette and Teresa from Nebraska!

“This place is HUGE with all capital letters!” Lynnette said of the Tongass.  They have really enjoyed their trip to Alaska and are looking forward to the rest of their travels.

 

 

Meet Lynn and George from Florida!

Lynn and George have been to Alaska three times.  This time, they decided to travel more of the land and less of the sea and opted for independent travel, rather than a cruise ship.  They returned to Mendenhall Glacier to stay up to date and aware on the effects of climate change on the region they said.

 

 

Meet Peggy from Texas!

Peggy came in to Juneau on a cruise ship.  It’s her first time in Alaska and she described the Tongass as a “beautiful and huge ecosystem” unlike any she had ever seen before.

 

 

These are just a few faces of the thousands of visitors that venture to the Mendenhall Glacier this summer and there will be thousands more that will visit this public and pristine wilderness before the season is out.

Jul 18 2014

Why do salmon jump? Exploring the Medvejie Hatchery in Southeast Alaska

Fishing season is in full swing here in Southeast Alaska.  The docks of Sitka are buzzing with fishermen anxiously awaiting every available opener to go out and get the next big catch!
Here in Southeast Alaska, fish are a part of every day life.  One in 10 jobs in Sitka is directly related to the fishing industry.  But, salmon is important for subsistence and recreation in the Tongass National Forest as well.  The Tongass produces 28 percent of Alaskan salmon.  Salmon hatcheries play an important role in mitigating disease among salmon and ensuring salmon populations can meet the economic and cultural demands of the region.
The Medvejie hatchery in Southeast Alaska is a short boat ride away from Sitka and it produces chum, Chinook (King) and coho salmon, by the millions.

Baby cohos are kept in tanks until they are released in fresh water streams in the Tongass.

Hatcheries support wild populations of salmon, they do not replace them.  Housing salmon for just their early months, the fish are released into fresh water streams that lead straight to the ocean. The ones that survive the fishing season, return home to the hatchery to spawn (lay eggs) and then die.  Salmon traditionally return to the stream they were born to spawn.
The stream at the Medvejie hatchery is fondly referred to by workers as the “Spawnoma Canal.”  After the salmon come up, hatchery workers release eggs and sperm into a bag to fertilize them and then they preserve the meat to be sent to fish processing plants.  Outside of hatcheries, the dead fish are eaten by bears and eagles and their carcasses help fertilize the surrounding soil.
Medvejie, like all hatcheries, has a way of marking all of their fish so they can keep track of how many make it back to the hatchery and how many are caught in the wild. By changing the temperatures of the boxes where eggs are kept, a barcode is created on every fish’s eardrum. They also tag each fish with a number (usually on its face).

More baby cohos being shown to tourists at the hatchery.

So, why do they jump? Well, no one really knows.  Some say jumping helps loosen the eggs before it’s time to spawn.  Some research shows that salmon jump in response to pressure and stress.  Others just believe the fish are having fun. You know, the #yolo mentality! There are a lot of theories and explanations floating around, but no salmon has ever answered the question for us, so we may never know for sure.

Sitka Conservation Society employees feel the baby salmon nipping at their fingers inside the Medvejie hatchery.

Jun 23 2014

Investigating a Responsible Timber Industry on the Tongass: A Conservationist’s Perspective (1 of 6 part series)

The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) formed almost fifty years ago when citizens banded together to take grassroots action to protect the natural environment of Southeast Alaska. Massive clearcuts were threatening our quality of life and the ecological integrity of our forests. Startlingly, the majority of these huge stands of temperate rainforest spruce and hemlock was being pulverized into pulp- hardly the best use of our globally rare and awe-inspiring trees. The pulp days brought transient economic stimulation and left behind clearcuts, impaired forest systems and rural communities desperate for sustainable economic stimulation and a more responsible timber industry.

The Sitka Conservation Society is investigating a sustainable timber future for Southeast Alaska. To do this, we must step beyond conventional conservation norms and engage actively and sincerely with timber operations across the Tongass.

Compared to the pulp behemoths of yesterday, the current logging scene on the Tongass is almost unrecognizable. Because the most economical, highest quality, and easiest to access trees have been cut, today’s timber industry is much smaller in size and scope. Tongass lumber is being used for products beyond pulp such as soundboards for guitars, dimensional lumber, shingles, and furniture.

The work of the Sitka Conservation Society is also changing. We work in a new atmosphere on the Tongass, where stakeholders prioritize the forging of collaborative partnerships to tackle regional challenges and capitalize on regional opportunity.

The need to promote a land management regime that represents sustainability, rather than the ‘boom-and-bust’ mentality of the past, in recognized as critical to the long-term prosperity of communities in Southeast Alaska. The composition of our forest is also changing. Clearcut areas are becoming commercially viable young-growth stands while old-growth forests become increasingly rare in the region and across the globe. The Tongass announced its Transition Framework in 2011, with the intent of moving forest management from an unsustainable and myopic focus on old-growth harvest to young-growth management and a more holistic approach to governing the Tongass.

Contrasting views of old-growth forest (top) and second-growth forest stand (below). To better understand the ecological significance of differing forest stands check out our ‘Understanding the Tongass Transition’ page

Andrew Thoms, executive director for SCS, has been named a member of the Tongass Federal Advisory Committee and SCS staff are busy meeting community members, recording interests, ground truthing timber harvests, and digging deeper and wider to understand timber on the Tongass. We intend to use these experiences, insight, values, and ideals to help inform the Tongass Advisory Committee process as it shapes future Tongass management. Our guiding question is simple:

How can we maximize local benefits to our communities here in the Southeast while minimizing negative impacts to the ecological integrity of the forest we depend on and love. How do we ensure long-term ecological integrity and renewable resource returns?

Easy enough, right? Wrong. Answering this question is no easy task. The stakeholders are many, the ways of achieving this are endless and the goal itself is a spectrum. As daunting a course this is, we are dedicated to the cause.

To ground our vision as conservationists, it is necessary to step beyond conventional norms and walk among the lumberjacks and millers for a while. How is old-growth lumber being used, processed and manufactured on the Tongass today?  We grabbed our field notebooks, left our insulated and cozy home of Sitka, hopped on a Harris Airplane and flew to Prince of Wales Island (POW)  where the action is.

Prince of Wales Island: Where the action is

Unlike Sitka and much of Southeast Alaska, POW is criss-crossed with roads, old logging roads to be specific. The network of asphalt connects the towns of POW as it winds through old-growth stands, clear cuts, over rivers, along estuaries, through valleys, and over mountain passes. Our travel guide was Michael Kampnich, the Field Representative for The Nature Conservancy on Prince of Wales. Kampnich arrived to Alaska in the 1980’s to log. He found a home in the area and never left. Kampnich has built a relationship with a few of the mills here on POW. Michael has a high regard for the effort it takes to operate and maintain these mills. Owners aren’t in an office directing others, they’re running the sawmill or operating one of the many pieces of equipment necessary to produce a shingle, a board or a piece of trim. Most of them are acquainted with Michael, and for that reason they were willing to break away from their busy schedule to chat with Marjorie and I.

Tune in tomorrow to meet Brent and Annette Cole of Alaska Specialty Woods. This family of musicwood producers has more than just a great story to share, check in to oogle at their gorgeous 2,800 year old ‘Ancient Sitka Line’ of soon-to-be guitars.

“Just Listen”: Brent and Annette A Family of Musicwood Producers (2 of 6 part series) —>

Follow along and meet Brent and Annette Cole of Alaska Specialty Woods, Larry Trumble of Wood Marine, Keith Landers of H&L Salvage and Hans of Good Faith Lumber

Jun 18 2014

Dargon Point Timber Sale – Local Wood, Local Benefits?

The Dargon point Timber sale was offered on May 10, 2014. Prospective bidders are given 30 days to respond in a sealed bid process. The estimated value, as appraised by the USFS appraisal system, for the 4,520 mbf* of young-growth timber offered was $440,035.85.  The official sale and opening of the bids was held on June 10, 2014 with four bids received as follows:

    • Frontier Inc.  $ 797,915.00
    • Good Faith Lumber   $ 682,800.00
    • SEALASKA Corp.   $ 626,236.00
    • Dahlstrom Lumber  $ 470,000.00

*This bid was for 309 MBF Hemlock  and 4,211 MBF Sitka Spruce young-growth.

So what’s the big deal? To understand the issues, let’s start form the beginning. The Dargon Point timber sale is a young-growth timber harvest involving 57.7 acres on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. This sale presents a unique, new economic opportunity and is one of the first of its kind in SE Alaska.  The sale provides large expanses of valuable and viable young-growth timber accessible by road, a characteristic uncommon in remote Alaska.

This is the Good Faith Mill in operation on Prince of Wales Island. Small mills provide stable jobs and economic diversification to our region. Supporting these valuable operations so that they can realistically compete for timber sales requires changes to the timber sale program and the US Forest Service appraisal system.

Dargon Point and the Transition Framework

The Dargon Point sale is significant because of the opportunity to stimulate the Tongass Transition and promote resilient, sustainable and economically diverse Southeast Alaskan communities by catalyzing in-region business development, in-region manufacture of value-added products, and more value-per-board-foot.  However, the same threat still exists, the exportation of the long-term benefits, along with jobs and profits, overseas. The size, logistical ease and value of the sale has attracted the attention of large-scale lumber exporters, primarily in Asian markets.

Dargon Point represents a real opportunity to stimulate economic diversification in the region. The Tongass Transition Framework was put forward by the US Department of Agriculture in 2010 with the support of communities, tribes, and entities throughout the region. The framework was initiated to stimulate job creation, address the dwindling supply of old-growth timber, and transition Southeast Alaska into a sustainable, economically diverse region with a healthy young-growth timber industry.

A large component of the Tongass transition involves moving the region out of old-growth timber harvest and into young-growth management. The outcome of the Dargon Point sale can set a promising precedent for the future of young-growth sales and stimulate a successful integrated transition.

Outdated Policy and Practices:

In 2012, during the NEPA scoping process, Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole promised expansive regional benefits

The project will be pretty wide-ranging in its impacts, from improving forest health and wildlife habitat to providing sawlogs to mills and job opportunities for local contractors…If approved, the young-growth volume will diversify the current Southeast Alaska timber industry”.  

However, these “wide-ranging” local impacts are unlikely to be realized if Cole, the US Forest Service and the region fail to address shortcomings in the current timber appraisal system. The existing appraisal system virtually eliminates local businesses by making it near impossible for small-scale miller operations to realistically compete with timber exporters. Timber sale layouts, offerings, harvest timing, and size, could be carried out in a responsible manner that encourages business investment, job growth, and value-added manufacturing in Alaska.   As it stands, the appraisal system does not fully capture the value that young-growth timber offers our region, nor does it catalyze local development.

This system needs to be reformed or amended to realistically support the values and goals of the Tongass Transition and value local processors for a young-growth industry. Alaska Region 10 is undoubtedly unique and has logistical, cultural and historical differences that need to be reflected in the governance of its natural resources. The system needs to encourage business investment and business development.

Second-growth lumber being prepared for processing at a small manufacturing mill on Prince of Wales Island.

In the last decade, the USFS has fore fronted the need to collaborate with partners as it realizes its mission across the United States. Many regional entities have been collaborating effectively with the USFS, local mills, schools, contractors, and businesses to ensure an efficient young-growth process that supports job creation, capacity building, economic diversification and a healthy future for our young-growth industry. For instance, the Nature Conservancy’s retooling loan fund intends to aid regional mills in building infrastructure for processing young growth. The Sitka Conservation Society has worked with partners to build young-growth community assets, test business plans and understand the best-use of young-growth wood.

All of these activities are in line with the USDA’s Strikeforce initiative, a “commitment to growing economies, increasing investments and creating opportunities in poverty-stricken rural communities”.  While Strikeforce and the Transition Framework support economic growth and a smaller scale timber industry suitable for SE Alaska, there is a marked disconnect between these initiatives and the sales being planned and offered. The success of the transition and the full, long-term benefits of our combined work cannot be realized without legitimate access to young-growth timber for local mills and businesses. The next major collaboration may be one that explores and evaluates the timber appraisal system and the goals of the US Forest Service. Do they want to develop and support a timber sale program that is appropriate to the scale and needs of Region 10? Or will it remain business as usual with our resources exported for others to profit from them.

Dargon Point: The Bottom Line:

All of these issues are evident when reviewing the bids put forth for the Dargon Point sale. In addition to the notable variety of bid amounts, one thing is evident; multiple buyers all see a value in young-growth timber.  However, this is likely due to the export market value. The USFS needs to follow suit and start valuing timber resources in a way that affords SE Alaska a future in young-growth timber. According to Keith Rush, Forester with The Nature Conservancy

Alaska uses about 80 million board feet of lumber every year. Almost all of this is young-growth lumber shipped up from the lower 48. Some of this could and should be processed locally.”

If the appraisal calculator were reflective of actual regional needs and the value of local resources, we would already be doing just that.   In-region processing must be represented in the appraisal system, if not promoted over export. Young-growth is a forest resource that is valuable and we should be moving the transition forward by investing in young-growth opportunities.

The solution is two-fold, first the USFS should design and offer young-growth sales that are scaled to benefit local processing rather than attract export companies. This means sales of less than 1 MMBF.   Secondly, designing and offering young-growth sales located on the existing road systems for local processing only will enable smaller outfits to be competitive in the bidding process.

 

 

 

Jun 18 2014

What’s Cooking Sitka?

Sitka Kitch is the recent community food project that arose from the 2013 Sitka Health Summit. SCS is spearheading this effort along with a committee of dedicated volunteers.  The overall goal of Sitka Kitch is to improve health, provide a new community resource and promote community development; all through the lens of food security. SCS has a history of success when it comes to promoting local food and we hope that Sitka Kitch will be no different. There are numerous opportunities for Sitka Kitch to continue to foster programs like Fish 2 Schools, partner with local food organizations, all through a shared use community kitchen.

What community kitchens bring to the table!

The Sitka Kitch will start with food based education and emergency preparedness at the household level. In fact we will be offering several classes in July on how to can and prepare food for your pantry. As it grows, the Kitch seeks to provide career and technical training, and entrepreneurial development opportunities.  This will be achieved through a shared use community kitchen. We have partnered with the First Presbyterian Church  to provide space on a limited basis.  SCS and the church collaborated in April to prepare an application to the “Northwest Coast Presbytery community blessings grant.”  The proposal outlined a budget to renovate their existing kitchen to meet the requirements of becoming a DEC certified Kitchen and thus meet the needs of potential Sitka Kitch users. The application was successful and we were awarded $13,000 for the project! The renovations will be underway this summer with a goal of offering commercial space to users in the late summer or early fall.

For more information on classes or being a new tenant contact Marjorie at SCS (marjorie@sitkawild.org or 747-7509).

 

May 30 2014

In Memory of Greg Killinger

Greg Killinger fell in love with Southeast Alaska when he volunteered with the US Forest Service in 1983.  During that first summer, he worked in fisheries surveying dozens of streams on Baranof and Chichagof Islands and other places on the Northern Tongass.  This first summer was enough to convince him that this was where he wanted to be.  He spent his next 30 years on the Tongass doing great things for our public lands and the natural world. Greg grew up in western Oregon.  He graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science.  He went on to complete a master’s degree in Natural Resource Management. Greg married his wife Lisa Petro, a local Sitkan, in 1990.

We worked very close with Greg in his position as the Tongass lead staff officer for Fisheries, Wildlife, Watershed, Ecology, Soils, and Subsistence.  Greg held that post and worked under the Forest Supervisor from the Sitka Forest Service office.  In that position, he oversaw and helped with all the programs across the Tongass for fisheries and watersheds.  Greg was a key partner and helped build important relationships between the Sitka Conservation Society and the Forest Service.  With him, we worked together on salmon habitat restoration projects like the Sitkoh River Restoration, restoration projects on Kruzof Island, and many other salmon-related projects across the entire Tongass.

Our working relationship with Greg and his employees was so close that we even shared staff.  In 2011, SCS and Greg developed a position we called the Tongass Salmon Forest Resident.  SCS funded the position and they worked under Greg.  The position’s goal was to “tell-the-story” of all the innovative and important programs that Greg managed on the Tongass that protected, enhanced, and restored salmon habitat.  When SCS created the position, our goal was to shine the light on this great work.  Greg put the spotlight on his staff and the partners that he worked with to make the Tongass’s Fisheries and Watershed programs successful.  That was the kind of leader that he was:  he never wanted to take credit but always wanted to empower others and build more leadership and capacity.

That initial project led to two similar positions in 2012 and 2013.  Greg worked with SCS staff to make two beautiful short films that shared the story of important fisheries management programs.  One, called “Restoring America’s Salmon Forest”, illustrated a project Greg helped orchestrate that improved the health of the Sitkoh River—a major salmon producer damaged by past logging.  The other, “Subsistence in Southeast Alaska: The Tongass National Forest’s Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program”, showcases the importance of Tongass salmon for subsistence use. This film also highlights important joint fisheries projects that Greg’s program created with various Tribes across the Tongass. These programs continue to empower Native Alaskans to monitor important salmon runs across the region.  Greg understood the importance of sharing the story of Tongass programs with the larger public. He was driven to  showcase the importance of this forest in producing salmon and share how the Forest Service’s staff cares for salmon, fisheries, and wildlife habitat.  These films—and the many additional products that came from these partnerships—were catalyzed by Greg. Despite his heavy involvement, few recognized it was he who made them happen. Again, that was just the type of leader he was.  He empowered and inspired us as a key catalyst that made things happen but did so from the background, never seeking credit or recognition.

Greg cleaning a halibut after a day out fishing

Greg was also a serious outdoorsman.  He loved fishing for king salmon in the early summer and dip-netting for sockeye in July.  He was a very accomplished alpine hunter whose passion was chasing after sheep in the Alaska interior.  Greg did a number of epic hunts solo.  He once shared the story of a solo mountain goat hunt that he did during a particularly dry summer. He became severely dehydrated high in the mountains.  At one point he was crawling into a gorge looking for water while hallucinating because he had already been without water and under the sun for 2 days (in a rainforest!).  He did get his goat in the end though.

That type of solo hunting in big mountains really characterized the kind of person Greg was– not macho and he didn’t do any of that to show-off or to be the guy that got the biggest trophy– rather, he did those hunts for the pure challenge and as the highest form of communing with the natural world of Alaska.  Greg loved wildlife. He loved the land and the water and the oceans. He loved the ecosystems of Alaska and all the natural processes that tied them all together.   Hunting for him was one of the many ways that he was part of those ecosystems and part of how he connected with the natural world.

Greg didn’t just challenge himself on Dall Sheep hunts in the Alaska Range.  Greg took on enormous challenges in the work that he did and with the same calm and unassuming manner that he talked about his extreme outdoor exploits.  One isn’t the type of leader that Greg exemplified or is responsible for the variety and complexity of programs that Greg oversaw on a whim.  In fact, balancing all the issues and programs that Greg oversaw was more of a challenge than the hunts he loved so much.  Protecting salmon habitat under pressure from development, finding the resources and coordinating the partners to restore critical salmon systems, bringing together extremely diverse interests to work together, and being responsible for defining the strategy for how our largest National Forest deals with Climate Change are just the tip of the iceberg of what Greg did in his day-to-day.  In most likelihood, those extreme hunts for Greg were actually a simplification of life for him: a situation where the most logical rules of nature are paramount and where the most basic instinctual conflicts of man-vs-nature and man-vs-himself are played out amongst the most perfect and beautiful of our planet’s natural creation.

Greg died suddenly, unexpectedly, and in his prime.  The one and only grace of his passing is the fact that it happened on a mountainside, in the arms of the beautiful forest he loved, and on one of the most spectacular spring days there ever was in Sitka.  He enjoyed that last day to its fullest  fishing for King Salmon in the morning, gardening, and then a trip up the mountain.

Greg’s unexpected passing left all of us who knew him shocked.  We lost a mentor that we admired, a colleague that inspired us, and a friend that we could always count on.  Greg came to the Tongass and when he left, he left it a better place.  We will always remember him and we will always strive to be as good a person as he was.

Written by:  Andrew Thoms, Bethany Goodrich, Jon Martin, Kitty Labounty; May 30th, 2014

Video and Slideshow by: Bethany Goodrich, Corrine Ferguson, Pat Heur and the great help of Lisa, Su Meredith and all who scanned photos, dug through the archives and even digitized slides to memorialize Greg

Note:  Greg Killinger will be added to the Sitka Conservation Society’s Living Wilderness Celebration Board which honors the people who cherish and protect the wild and natural environment of the Tongass and have a passion for Wilderness.  The above essay will be added to a book that tells the story of the people we honor and forever celebrate their lives and actions.  In this way, we will continue to draw inspiration from Greg and all the others whose lives we celebrate.

Boating home after a successful trip fishing for kings with Steve and Kari Paustian and Bethany Goodrich

Feb 17 2014

Fish to Capital

When serving local seafood in our schools became a community health priority in the 2010 Sitka Health Summit, the Sitka Conservation Society recognized the opportunity to apply our mission to “support the development of sustainable communities.” Now all grades 2-12 in Sitka serve locally-harvested fish at least twice a month, reaching up to 1,500 students. In just three years over 4,000 pounds of fish have been donated to Sitka Schools from local seafood processors and fishermen.

Fish to Schools is a grassroots initiative that builds connections and community between local fishermen, seafood processors, schools, students, and families.  It’s a program that we would like to see replicated across the state—that’s why we created a resource guide and curriculum (available March 1st!). And that’s why I went to the Capital.

Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools is a state funded program that reimburses school districts for their Alaskan food purchases. This $3 million grant allows schools to purchase Alaskan seafood, meats, veggies, and grains that would otherwise be cost prohibitive to school districts. It also gives a boost to farmers and fishermen with stable, in-state markets.

Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools was introduced by Representative Stoltze and has been funded the last two years through the Capital Budget. I went to Juneau to advocate for this funding because it’s a way to ensure funding for local food purchases state-wide. Locally this means sustained funding for our Fish to Schools program.

I met with Senator Stedman, House Representative Kriess-Tomkins, and the Governor to tell them how valuable this grant has been for schools, food producers, and students around the state. I will continue my advocacy and ask you to join me. It is through your support that Fish to Schools exists in Sitka—let’s take that support and make this thing go state-wide!

The Sitka School District took the lead by passing a resolution to support “multi-year” funding of Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools. Let’s join them and advocate for a program that revolutionizes school lunches and catalyzes local food production. Please sign this letter and tell Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins you support state funding for local foods in schools.


Ask Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins to support sustained funding for Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools












Dear Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins,

I am writing to express my support for sustained funding of Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools–a program that supports Sitka’s very own Fish to Schools program.

Fish to Schools is a program that connects fishermen, seafood processors, school food service, the school district, and students. It’s a program that gets local fish on lunch trays while building local foods security, creating access to these foods, and connecting youth to their food source. Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools takes it one step further–now we can support our local economy by paying our fishermen and seafood processors while creating new, stable markets for their fish to stay in-state, support more jobs for our fleet, and provide more Alaskan foods for Alaskans.

Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools supports Southeast Communities. Sustained funding ensures Alaska children eat Alaskan foods. It’s a small state investment that benefits many sectors or our community. I thank you for your support in having this program continue through sustained funding.

Thank you Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins.

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Feb 12 2014

The Meaning of Wild, March 9th in Sitka

SCS will present the Sitka premiere of The Meaning of Wild Sunday, March 9, 2014 from 6-8pm at the Sitka Performing Arts Center.  Tickets $7 available at Old Harbor Books (2/14/2014). Free for kids 10 and under.

The film will be accompanied by a selection of wilderness-themed short films,  a photography exhibit and silent auction, and door prizes.

 

The Films:

Meaning of Wild (25:00)

Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography

The Meaning of Wild 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. The film highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. Ultimately The Meaning of Wild celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates.  Visit the Meaning of Wild website.

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.

Big Bear Country (26:11)

Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography

Follow wildlife biologist Jon Martin, big game guide Kevin Johnson, conservationist Andrew Thoms and filmmaker Ben Hamilton as they travel by foot and packraft through the rich habitats of West Chichagof Wilderness.  The team seeks out the coastal brown bear, a keystone species, to unravel the importance of protecting large tracks of intact habitat for wildlife population.  Their journey takes them through the Lisianski-Hoonah Sound corridor, an area proposed but ultimately removed from the original citizen-intiated Wilderness proposal and a prime wildlife area, and over the Goulding Lakes, within the Wilderness boundary.  Prepare yourself—you’re about to enter into Big Bear Country.

Running Wild (4:00)

Film by Alexander Crook

Getting out into wilderness, feeling the moss underfoot, legs pumping uphill, breathing clean air, and taking a minute to reflect at the top of a climb—these are the things that inspire backcountry trailrunner Nick Ponzetti to travel to designated Wilderness areas.  Follow Nick on a run through the heart of Wilderness to find out how his love of running has inspired a passion for protecting wild places.

Tongass Wilderness, Our Wilderness (1:06)

Film by Adam Andis

This short film, shot in South Baranof Wilderness area shows how designated Wilderness is integral to us all.

 

 

Exhibit:

The Wilderness of Southeast Alaska

Photos by Adam Andis

Photographer Adam Andis has been exploring the remote Wilderness areas of Southeast Alaska for the past 8 years as a private kayak guide and manager of the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project.  This collection of photos includes 24 images depicting the raw beauty of 14 Wilderness Areas in the Tongass.  Prints will be available to purchase through silent auction at the event with a portion of the proceeds being donated to SCS.

 

Door Prizes:

Attendees can enter their ticket stubs into a drawing for a number of great door prizes donated by local businesses including:

2 REI Flash Packs from REI Anchorage

Coupon for Whale Watching tour from Aquatic Alaska Adventures

Gifts from Sound Sailing

2 copies of The Meaning of Wild DVD

 

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