What comes to mind when you hear the term conservation? Petitions, polar bears, politicians, researchers? David Attenborough? Did heavy equipment tearing up a rainforest floor come to mind? Unlikely. Nestled deep within our earth’s largest temperate rainforest- conservation takes unique form.
This summer, the Sitkoh River Restoration Project mobilized a team of heavy equipment operators on the Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The US Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, Sitka Conservation Society and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game raised $318,000 and hired Aqua Terra Restoration to repair critical salmon spawning habitat damaged by clearcut logging in the 1970s. Logging adjacent to the river banks left the Sitkoh without adequate erosion control and the fallen timber salmon need. Dump trucks, chainsaws, and excavators converted blueprints and years of planning into wooden structures and a redirected riverbed that will return healthy fish habitat and stability to this damaged system.
Salmon habitat restoration is relatively new to the Tongass and constitutes a key part of the Forest Service’s transition from old-growth logging to young-growth management, forest restoration, and investment in other industries-such as fishing and tourism. Across the forest, similar river and stream restoration projects are in various stages or have been completed with great success. Multiyear, complex, and dependent on powerful partnerships this rich form of salmon habitat restoration is by no means easy. However, in a land where salmon are lifeblood to both ecosystems and residents, protection of this critical resource is absolutely vital.
Habitat restoration benefits fish, fish-dependent ecosystems, and fish-dependent economies. It also provides career opportunities to skilled ecologists and equipment operators passionate about safeguarding our environment- people who prefer hardhats to suits, the company of bears to water cooler gossip and all in all want to build something good for our earth as opposed to something that’s only good for industry.
There are over 70 damaged salmon-producing watersheds on the Tongass and the Forest Service estimates $100 million dollars are needed to repair them. Salmon and trout alone contribute more than $1 billion to Southeast Alaska’s economy and employ some 7,300 people. It is critical that salmon become the top management priority of our country’s largest national forest; managing for salmon employs restoration workers on the ground, benefits local subsistence and the fishing industry, and conserves salmon-dependent rainforest ecosystems.
The Tongass is one of the last remaining forests with healthy and abundant wild salmon runs. Making this species the Tongass’ top priority makes sense for the ecosystem, the economy and anyone who loves to catch, eat or simply view wild salmon.
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
Above: TROLLERS, like the family salmon troller pictured above, made sure that TRAWLING was not allowed in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska. TRAWLING is an unsustainable method of fishing that results in massive bycatch. TROLLING is a much more targeted fishing method and is more sustainable.
The Sitka Conservation Society signed onto a letter raising the alarm that trawl caught fish were being purchased by a local fish processor. Trawling, the practice of dragging a net through the water or along the bottom of the ocean and indiscriminately catching everything in the path of the net, has proven to be one of the most wasteful types of fishing and one of the most environmentally damaging. Trawling has been outlawed in Southeast Alaska east of 140 degrees West Longitude thanks to the foresight and advocacy efforts of fishermen, conservationists, community members, and local government in 1998.
Trawl fishing is very different from the types of fishing employed in Southeast Alaska today. Not to be confused, trolling employs hooks and line and is one-hook, one-fish. Likewise, seining and gill-netting are highly targeted to specific places, times, and types of fish and is closely monitored to ensure fish harvest does not exceed the population needed for long-term population viability. Halibut and Black-cod Long-lining is also a one-hook, one-fish fishery that has tight controls on by-catch and harvest levels. Crab and Shrimp fishing in SE Alaska uses pot and traps and has little impact to the seafloor and does not kill the by-catch.
SCS is concerned about trawling because of the harm is can cause the environment and the threat that it poses to the local economy that Sitka has worked so hard to develop in ways that balance human needs and environmental protection. This is an issue that clearly demonstrates that protecting fisheries is both about protecting the natural environment of the Tongass Temperate Rainforests where salmon begin their lives and being vigilant on what takes place in the ocean ecosystems where the fish grow and mature.
To listen to a radio story on Sitkan’s concerns on trawling and the threat it poses to fisheries, livelihoods, and the environment, click here.
To read the letter that the Sitka Conservation Society signed, click here.
Dustin Hack is not your typical entrepreneur. Instead of making his living by sipping lattes, yapping on cell phones, and playing the stock exchange, Hack makes his living the old-fashioned way, with his own two hands.
Hack, 31, originally from Plainfield, IL, recently started a new business in Sitka entitled the Alaska Beam Company. The business utilizes dead and downed yellow cedar from the Sitka Ranger District in the construction of local buildings, fencing, boat interiors, and other hand-crafted products. It’s a business model that, as Hack explains, “just makes so much sense!”
Sitkans have been following the threat of the privatization of the very popular Redoubt Lake Falls Sockeye Fishing site over the past years with growing alarm. There is a pending transfer of the site to the Sealaska Corporation through a vague 14(h)(1) ANSCA provision that allows selection of “cultural sites.” The obvious intent of that legislation was to protect sites with petroglyphs, pictographs, totem poles, etc. However, Sealaska has worked to expand selection criteria very liberally and select sites that were summer fish camps or other transient seasonal sites. Of course, the places that were fished in the past are still fished today. The result of this liberal interpretation is that sites are being privatized that are extremely important fishing and access areas that are used and depend by hundreds of Southeast Alaskans and visitors today.
Beyond the fact that the potential transfer of cultural and historic sites is not to tribal governments or clans, but to a for-profit Corporate Entity, one of the most alarming developments is the fact that Sealaska is selecting virtually all of the known subsistence Sockeye Salmon runs across the Sitka Community Use Area. Here is a link to a map that we made a few years ago that shows those sites: here . It is inconceivable to us that legislation that would give a corporation strategic parcels of public lands that control access to Sockeye Salmon streams is even a thought in Congress.
We have heard that there negotiations going on in Washington, DC right now that are choosing the sites that Sealaska would obtain through the Sealaska Legislation. It is extremely important that people who use sites that are in danger of being privatized let Forest Service and Congressional staff in Washington, DC know how important these sites are. Here is a link to a letter that SCS just sent that includes a listing of the sites: here . Feel free to use that letter as a guide.
If you want help writing a letter, please get in touch with us and we will help.
If you have a letter outlining how you use the sites, send them to Mike Odle’s email at Michael.Odle@osec.usda.gov
These inholdings could seriously change the face of the Tongass and the way the public can access and use public lands. Make your voice heard now to ensure that we can continue to use and enjoy these sites.
As citizens across the country watch the antics of the 112th Congress, we are all left wondering, “where is the leadership we need to take on the challenges we are facing in the world? When are we going to take care of our environment? When are we going to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy? When are we going to invest in local economies rather than giving massive subsidies and tax-breaks to global corporations? When is Congress going to actually put aside partisan differences and do something meaningful?”
It surely isn’t happening right now. In fact, the House of Representatives just introduced a bill that shows the worst of Congress and it could have huge implications on SE Alaska and critical public lands across the country. They have cynically named the bill the “Conservation and Economic Growth Act.” It should probably be called, “The- Worst Bills For The Environment in Congress Wrapped Into One Act of 2012.” The bill is a lands omnibus bill and pulls together some of the worst bills currently in Congress. It includes such cynically titled acts such as the “Grazing Improvement Act of 2012” which allow grazing to continue on lands where cows shouldn’t even be roaming and puts grazing permits outside of environment review. It also includes the beautifully named “Preserve Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Act” which sounds good, but in reality is meant to open miles of critical beach habitat for piping plovers to ATVs, Dune Buggies, and other off road vehicles. Good luck plovers!
For Southeast Alaska, this bill is awful because our Representative Don Young has inserted the Sealaska Legislation which would privatize close to 100,000 acres of ecologically critical Tongass Lands. The version of the bill that Representative Young has introduced is much worse than the bad version of the bill being debated in the Senate. This version would create an even more widespread pox of in-holdings throughout the Sitka Community Use Area in areas that Sitkans routinely use and enjoy. If this bill passes, the nightmare we are facing with the corporate privatization of Redoubt Lake Falls is just the beginning.
If you dislike these developments as much as us, please take action. We don’t think that calls to Representative Young will help (you can try, his number is 202-225-5765). However, his goal seems to be to privatize and give away as much of the Tongass as possible. If you are in the lower 48, you should call your Congress members and tell them that HR2578 is awful and they should not support it. If you are in Alaska, please consider writing a letter to the editor letting everyone else in the community know how bad this bill is and that its introduction is a travesty (give us a call if you want some ideas or help).
As we watch our Congress and elected leaders flounder, we are reminded that in a democracy, we share responsibility and need to take action to create the society and the environment we want. Voicing concerns over the misdirection of Congress, especially on bills like this one, is one way we can engage and make change.
Here is a link to a letter that SCS submitted opposing the legislation: here
Here is a link to a Radio Story on the legislation: here
Here is a link to a copy of the legislation: here
The Sitka Conservation Society’s Fish to School Program has nearly completed its first full school year with raving reviews, community support, and strong partnerships. These local fish lunches are served as a hot lunch option through the school lunch program. Lunches are available to all students, totaling about 700 students with about half of those students consistently eating hot lunch.
In just one year we have seen local fish lunch consumption rates almost double at Blatchley Middle School (BMS), at an average of about 39%. I remember a lunch at BMS where a student tempted her friend to try the fish fillet. She was very skeptical but after trying it couldn’t get enough and began to feed her other friends! Check out this video on Fish to Schools at BMS by local filmmaker Hannah Guggenheim.
At Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary (KGH), where fish was introduced this fall, we are seeing rates of about 30% participation, with a few lunches peaking above 40%. Students consistently rave about the local fish lunches. One elementary school student at a recent lunch said, “I don’t like the fish lunches, I love them!” Other students tell me that they always get fish when it’s on the menu even though they generally pack lunches from home.
This spring we were delighted to collaborate with two new schools, Pacific High School (PHS) and Mount Edgecumbe High School (MEHS). PHS has a unique school lunch program with students serving as cooks for their classmates while learning commercial kitchen skills that lead to a job-ready Food Handlers Certification. In this program, they prepare unique dishes, including Caribbean rockfish with sweet potato fries, rockfish marinara, and crispy-baked rockfish.
MEHS finished off the school year with their first fish lunch after a year-long, grassroots student campaign to get local fish into their school. Student organizers from the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) Club led the charge by raising awareness about the environmental benefits of eating locally-harvested fish and polled students to see if they wanted to see fish at their school. 90% of students said, “Absolutely, yes!” Their efforts culminated in mouthwatering fish tacos this April.
Education programs were integrated into the third and seventh grade classes along with fish lunches. Students followed the cycles of fish from their native habitat to their lunch tray by interviewing local fishermen, hearing stories from Alaska Natives, dissecting and filleting salmon, and preparing tasty dishes with a local chef. Cultural knowledge, nutrition, and food systems were woven throughout the program. Local fish lunches paired with the Stream to Plate Curriculum brings students closer to their culture and the backbone of Sitka. Serving students local fish and exposing them to the fishing culture, connects them to their home and develops a sense of pride for being a part of a community that supports itself on the best (tasting and managed) seafood in the world.
The Sitka Fish to Schools program was awarded the Best Farm to School Project in Alaska for the 2011-2012 school year. It is a community-wide honor, recognizing all of the stakeholders involved in the program: food service, local seafood processors, fishermen, school district, principals, teachers, and community volunteers. Alaska’s First Lady, Sandy Parnell, came to a local fish lunch to recognize our local efforts in Sitka. We are thrilled that she personally came to show her support for our creative use of local foods in the school lunch program. We hope her interest will continue to increase the profile of this program and that we will see continued support for these efforts statewide.
The Sitka Conservation Society hopes 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. Further, we hope that this program will influence the USDA, and the policy makers who direct it, 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.
Interested in volunteering with the Community Wilderness Stewardship Project? Here are a couple of ways to get your hands dirty protecting you local Wilderness Areas:
Heading out into the Wilds on your own? If you are planning to get out hunting, hiking, fishing, paddling, etc. in a designated Tongass Wilderness Area (like West Chichagof-Yakobi or South Baranof) please consider downloading, printing, and filling out our Encounter Monitoring Form (PDF). Recording how, when and where folks are using our Wilderness Areas can give us a base-line to chart increases or decreases in human impact. Just follow the instructions on the form and record the boats, planes, people, and human impacts you find. Then, return the forms to us.
Want to join the SCS Wilderness Crew on a trip? Occasionally, we have extra room for volunteers to join the Wilderness Crew on research expeditions. If you would like to add your name to the list of volunteers we contact when such opportunities arise, fill out the Volunteer Form and Medical History Form below and return it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to take the short (10-15 min) course which allows volunteers to ride in Forest Service aircraft (most of our trips involve small plane flights) and watch the Boat Safety Video. Please keep in mind that only current SCS members can join a Wilderness trip, so make sure you join or renew your membership!
Volunteer Form (MS Word)
Volunteer Form (PDF)
USFS Flight Protocols: A-102: USFS Alaska Region Fixed Wing Safety Course * see instructions at the bottom of this post.
Volunteer Gear Checklist (MS Word) If you will be attending a trip, be sure to check out this gear checklist.
* Aviation Training Instructions
1. Go to this link and register as a user: https://www.iat.gov/Training/
2. Once registered, make note of your user name and password and log-in to the website.
3. Go to the “On-Line Courses” list and scroll down to USFS ALASKA/REGION 10 SPECIFIC COURSES. Click on “A-102: USFS Alaska Region Fixed Wing Safety”
4. Complete the course. At the end, click on the link to take a short quiz. After passing the quiz, you will receive an email from “IAT Admin” that includes some instructions for locating your completion certificate. Please email an electronic copy of your certificate to email@example.com.
Protecting ecosystem diversity and finding sustainable ways to use the resources around us are two things that SCS cares deeply about, which is why this recent story on PRX - Food and Forests: Reviving Diversity - caught our eye. It chronicles a pretty inspiring model, based on the work of The Watershed Center in Hayfork, California, for catalyzing sustainable economic development around natural resources in rural communities like Sitka.
The first part of this story explores how one rural California community used a restoration economy and sustainable green business model to recover from the loss of 150 jobs and a declining timber industry. It shows how residents learned to work with U.S. Forest Service land managers to manage for biodiversity of the forest, while building upon local skills and the passion for working in the woods that is so deeply ingrained in the community’s social fabric.
To help modernize the workforce, The Watershed Center developed educational and training opportunities that would allow local workers to qualify for new restoration jobs, and supported the tertiary manufacturing of timber products to engage high-value markets and socially responsible investors. Community members also explored ways to utilize non-timber forest products such as naturally-occurring medicinal herbs like yarrow, St. John’s Wort, yerba santa, mullein, and Echinacea. They used the surrounding Trinity National Forest’s chemical-free environment as a high-value marketing tool, and leveraged local indigenous knowledge to help revive natural ecosystem patterns diminished by modern management priorities.
This story is an inspiring example of economic reinvention that demonstrates how we can effectively combine “the preservation and restoration of nature’s original biodiversity with the sustainable harvest and use of resources drawn from it.” In Sitka, we can learn from stories like this as we work toward healthy ecosystems and sustainable economic development in our own landscapes and community.
Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) courses are coming to Sitka, April 25-29. Register today for bowhunting, firearm safety, rifle, shotgun and muzzleloading classes. Space is limited, so sign up today! Classes will be held at the Sitka Sportsman’s Association indoor range. Call Holley at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for more information – 747-5449. We’ll see you there!
Class information and forms: (click here for the full class schedule)
Archery: $30 online exam fee. This is a two-part class: register and take part one online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=huntered.fdbow. At the end of the online test, you will receive a “Field Day Qualifier Certificate” that will qualify you to participate in the field day on April 25, 6-10 p.m.
Rifle: April 27, 6-9 p.m. Cost is $40. Make checks payable to Outdoor Heritage Foundation. Maximum 8 students. Requires completion of the Basic Firearm Safety course (included in registration) on April 26, 6-9p.m. Rifle workshop flier and registration form.
Muzzleloader: April 28, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Cost is $20, checks payable to State of Alaska. Maximum 12 students. Participants must complete a study packet (available at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office) before class begins. Muzzleloading flier.
Shotgun: April 29, 12-4 p.m. Cost is $40, checks payable to Outdoor Heritage Foundation. Maximum 8 students. Requires completion of the Basic Firearm Safety course (included in registration) on April 26, 6-9p.m. Shotgun workshop flier and registration form.
All registrations and payments (except archery) are accepted at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office, 304 Lake St. #103, 747-5449