Sitka Conservation Society
Jan 05 2012

4H Way-of-Life Club: General Information

The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H Club seeks to connect youth to their natural environment through a number of hands-on, outdoor activities. Through parent and volunteer-led activities, youth are taught the skills to feel equipped while out in the Tongass National Forest. They are taught skills that relate to safety, like building survival kits and shelters, to  wild-food harvest and preservation, to outdoor hobbies like bird identification. As with all 4H Clubs, our group seeks to incorporate elements of the 4H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. We also strive to develop a healthy community through family and youth participation.

For the 2012-2012 school year, we will focus on a variety of topics: mushroom hunting, berry picking, cooking, shelter building, tracking, plant ID, survival kits, and food preservation.

We meet the first and third Tuesday of the month and every last Saturday. There are two groups: Cloverbuds, ages 5-8 and 4H, ages 9+. The cost to join is $20.00, which is divided between registration to National 4H, insurance, and the Activity Fund. If cost is an issue, please ask us about scholarships.

Check out our briefing sheets for more information:4H Briefing sheet

Please contact Tracy Gagnon at or call 747.7509 if you are interested in joining!

Dec 30 2011

Mushroom Hunting with 4H Group

4H Mushroom HuntEarlier this fall we set out on a hunt, a mushroom hunt. With our paper bags in hand we searched for different mushrooms with Sitka Conservation Society Board Treasurer, UAS Professor, and mycologist Kitty LaBounty. Families worked together looking for different fungus: some large, some small, some edible, some gilled and others with spongy pores. This was the first time many of the members of the Alaska Way-of-Life 4H Club have ever looked for mushrooms. This outing helped them to experience their natural environment in a new way, with different eyes. Their vision became focused and directed at finding these special fungi that are intimately connected to the forest through their extensive mycelium network. After collecting mushrooms we gathered together to group the mushrooms in to different categories: edible and non-edible, size, color, and cap structure. On this evening parents and children alike learned safe harvesting practices, edible mushroom types, and mushroom identification. It was a wonderful opportunity to tap into the underground mysteries of the forest with fresh, young eyes. And—what a fun way to forage for food!

**Knowing how the different forms of life in an ecosystem interact helps us all to better understand the natural world. And the more we understand the natural world, the better stewards we can be to ensure that future generations can experience the magnificence of the local environment. The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H Club teaches students about the natural world through hands-on activities so they too can be a part of their natural environment of the Tongass.

–October 2011

4h Mushroom Sorting

Dec 27 2011

Expedition: Stag Bay

In the summer of 2010, the SCS Wilderness crew packed up and headed north for an attempt at circumnavigating Yakobi Island by kayak. The weather and health of the crew were not cooperating, so paddling around Yakobi was not an option. Instead, the crew traveled to Stag Bay across Lisianski Strait, which turned out to be a fantastic destination.

Dec 16 2011

Expedition: West Chichagof

West Chichagof Wilderness has always been near and dear to our hearts here at SCS, in fact we probably wouldn’t be here today if our founders hadn’t fought for its protection (check out the whole history here).  And we still protect it today, by monitoring on the ground conditions that lead to effective management decisions and give us a baseline to chart the health of the ecosystem.

In the summer of 2011, the SCS Wilderness crew spent 3 weeks aboard the S/V Paulette, captained by our good friend Ken Merrill traveling the entire coast-line of West Chichagof.  Ben Hamilton of Pioneer Videography came along to document the trip.  You can watch all of his videos below.


Week One

Week Two

Be sure to check out the cave report and map of “Calvin Cave” here.

Week Three


Aug 13 2011

Expedition: Port Banks

Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) along with the Forest Service, traveled down to Port Banks late in the summer of 2011. During their trip, they collected data ranging from campsite monitoring to water quality.  Scott Harris and Zia Brucaya of SCS were accompanied by Forest Service ranger, Darrin Kelly as they monitored the wilderness of the South Baranof Wilderness Area.


Jun 26 2011

Expedition: Stikine Wilderness

Sitka Conservation Society partnered with the Tongass National Forest to control invasive plant populations in the Stikine-LeConte Wilderness located on the mainland of southeast Alaska. The main objective was to control the spread of  Reed Canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea).


Apr 11 2011

About the Artist: Rhonda Reany

The double-salmon motif that Rhonda Reaney created for the Sitka Conservation Society combines the sleek elegance of the sea-run sockeye with the focused intent of the spawning female sockeye.  The double salmon reflects the interconnectedness of the Ocean environment and the lands and waters of the Tongass Rainforests. Rhonda describes the top salmon as being full of life. The body incorporates human symbols with an eye representing the nutrients the salmon collects in the ocean.. The bottom Salmon is ready to spawn. Rhonda did not add any life to this fish other than the round-eggs it is going to lay to start a new cycle of life. The shape of the back represents the motion of the fish in the act of spawning.  Available in t-shirts and hoodies in the SCS store.

Rhonda Reany was the youngest of eleven children. She grew up surrounded by talented brothers who loved to carve. As they became allergic to carving wood, she would be handed the designs and she slowly learned. Since she was young, she often watched George Benson carve. Learning from his work, talking with elders, other artists and through books at the local library, Rhonda quickly developed into a very talented artist.

My mother who’s taught me how to respect the land. We have always been taught to respect the land.”

Her art is inspired by values distilled in her by her mother and father. Her mother always taught her that you take what you need and to always give back. Rhonda incorporates her mother into every piece of art that she completes by adding a simple, elegant cross.

The Sitka Conservation Society works to protect the Wild Salmon of the Tongass National Forest. With over 6,000 spawning streams home to Pink, Chum, Sockeye, Coho and Chinook Salmon, Salmon are a keystone species on the Tongass and a crucial link between the forest and the sky. These Salmon are an essential part of Sitka’s economy, culture and food supply. The Tongass National Forest produces 30% of Wild Salmon in Alaska from just 5% of the land. Statistics prove that the most economically valuable resource that the Tongass National Forest produces is Salmon.  SCS has protected Tongass Salmon through our historic efforts to achieve Wilderness Designation for the West Chichagof Wilderness Area— 260,000 acres of salmon-producing watersheds.  SCS continues to advocate for land management on the Tongass that focuses on restoring and protecting critical salmon habitat and intact watersheds and has helped to catalyze important Salmon habitat restoration projects on Baranof and Chichagof Islands.

Feb 09 2011

Expedition: Rust Lake

Rust Lake Expedition 2010

Flying into Rust lake

Adam Andis, Wilderness Stewardship Coordinator

Rust Lake in West Chichagof Wilderness Area

Goldfishing- (adj.) 1. the act of completing a task half-heartedly 2. “half-assing” it Etymology: derived from the process of smoking a cigar by puffing out one’s cheeks without inhaling the smoke.One could characterize our hike from Rust Lake in the interior of West Chichagof out to the head of Patterson Bay as many things: ridiculously soggy, heinous bushwhacking, an exercise in patience, pathetically jovial, steep, slippery, but no one could ever characterize it as goldfishing, a term we arrived at after a long hiking day while smoking the fine cigars Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of SCS, sent with us.


Matt and Kitty hiking through the muskeg

Conducting botanical surveys

Matt Goff, Kitty LaBounty and I flew into Rust Lake on the morning of June 8thunder bright blue skies, unloaded the plane and immediately took off to the alpine. One major intention of the trip, was to survey a band of Karst topography near Rust Lake. The Karst area is an erosional formation of a band of limestone bedrock that runs diagonally across Chichagof Island. The area is unique in the species of plants that can grow on it’s unusual surface. Kitty and Matt were interested in comparing the presence and absence of a number of alpine plant species between the limestone and surrounding bedrock. As the pictures show, this area is a perfect subject area for comparison because of the obvious delineation between the two different bedrock regimes. We finished our 11 hour “day” hike by crashing, sliding, and bashing our way down the Karst ridge back to camp at around 9:30 pm.

Karst Gallery

Karst topography is formed when soluble bedrock, like limestone, is eroded away by slightly acidic water, such as rain. It can create some truly bizarre landscapes on both small and large scales.  At the Rust Lake site, the Karst band abuts other mafic (characterized by high magnesium and iron (ferric) content) bedrock, making it a perfect site to note presence and especially absence of certain plant species.

Removing invasive plants

Matt and Kitty spent the morning taking plant surveys along the gravel bars of the river flowing in to Rust Lake. Last year, Kitty had noted invasive dandelions along this stream. The population seemed small enough that manual removal may be an eradication option. This year, the population had grown slightly, but we still manually removed all dandelions we could find (approximately 200). We hope that continued hand removal and monitoring will prove effective in this area. After all the backbreaking, rugged, and dangerous work of weeding dandelions, I spent a good portion of the noon hours napping on the bank under the sun.

Lily Mihalik of KCAW Sitka arriving under the clouds

Peggy Marcus, Supervisory Natural Resource Specialist for the Sitka Ranger District of the Forest Service, and Lily Mihalik from Raven Radio in Sitka were scheduled to fly in on the afternoon of June 9th. As I napped, the winds picked up and the weather came in forcing them to reschedule for the next morning.

Peggy Marcus from USFS getting a little exposure

I called Forest Service Dispatch at 6:00 am: “Ceiling at 1500 ft, light winds from the South, good visibility”. Rust Lake is in a bowl at about 870 feet. The Forest Service needs at least, 500ft of to fly into the lake. That didn’t give much margin for error. After a couple of hours, Kitty, Matt, and I began calculating the amount of extra weight we would be carrying down to Patterson ourselves, since it seemed very unlikely Peggy and Lily would get through. As we debated, we heard a plane engine, and shortly thereafter saw the tiny float plane dive in just under the ceiling through the cut where the river flows out to the Pacific.

With Lily and Peggy in the field, we packed up camp and headed for our next camp, an alpine lake under another Karst band across the valley from the first.

After morning coffee on the 10th, we packed up and headed for Patterson Bay. The end of the alpine lake and the beginning of the slope to Patterson marks the boundary of the Wilderness Area. One can’t help but wonder if the beautiful weather was directly related to being with in the wilderness boundaries, because as soon as we crossed the boundary, the rain began and continued throughout the day. Armed with aerial photos and GPS, the crew hiked down a very slippery and steep ridge into the valley bottom of Patterson. By late evening we had crashed and thwacked through more devils club and alder thickets we could handle, but we were still a way off from Patterson Bay. Finally, hungry and exhausted, we saw an opening in the trees.

Rainy rest stop

Unfortunately, rather than finding Patterson Bay on the other side of the tree line, we discovered a massive beaver operation that didn’t show up on our out-dated aerial photos. The slues created by the damming we too deep and to wide to cross. We circled around and plunged back into the devils club. After a while, apparently walking in circles, it started to get dark. Eleven hours of bushwhacking in the rain had drained us. We found a spot in the forest, built a fire, and set up camp. As Peggy, Lily, and I collected wood, Matt and Kitty scouted the way ahead only to find out that we were under a mile to the beach at Patterson!

Flying out of the field

In the morning, the weather had calmed down and we were hopeful for a successful float plane pick up. Finally on the beach, however, the wind changed and began gusting. The plane came over the ridge behind us and circled a number of times, contemplating the take-off potential in the current conditions. Satisfied, he landed. We took off again, into the margins of a squall. There were some initial bumps as testified by the bruises Kitty’s fingers left on my leg, but overall the flight back to Sitka was smooth and beautiful thanks to the pilots at Harris Air.


Check out the radio stories of the trip on Raven Radio:

Wilderness Surveys Shed Light on Human Impact

Wild Plants May Show Signs of Climate Change

Jan 30 2010

Tongass wins Wilderness Award

Tell Senators Begich and Murkowski: Don't let the Forest Service Clear-Cut the Wilderness and Recreation Budget

Dear Senator,


Share this with your friends:


On the day before Halloween, the US Forest Service announced they were going to reduce the already insufficient $1.1 million dollar Wilderness and Recreation budget for the entire Tongass National Forest by over half a million dollars.

This is “budgetary clear-cutting” with the Forest Service already proposing the closure of 12 cabins alongside a reduction in the staff positions responsible for maintaining trails, keeping cabins stocked and safe, and processing the permits for guides and tour operators.

Cabin closures and loss of Wilderness and Recreation staff overall signifies a lack of prioritization of the tourism and recreation industries here in the Tongass National Forest. The tourism industry alone racks in $1 Billion annually with thousands of visitors coming every year to experience the wilderness of Southeast Alaska.

The Forest Service is not fulfilling its promise of the Tongass Transition. The Transition is a framework the agency adopted in 2010 aimed at creating jobs in sectors like recreation and tourism while moving away from Southeast’s outdated timber management program.  For instance, next year the Forest Service has estimates that just one timber sale will COST taxpayers $15.6 Million (that’s over 25 times the entire Wilderness and Rec budget).  The Transition (where it to be enacted) would dictate that sustainable and profitable programs like Recreation and Wilderness would take precedence over such wasteful timber projects.

The Forest Service enacted the Transition three years ago.  Now we want them to take action to save our recreation and tourism opportunities from these budgetary reductions. We need to support what sustains our livelihoods here in the Tongass rather than reduce them year after year.

Contact Senator Begich and Senator Murkowski. Ask them to encourage the Forest Service to take action on the Tongass Transition by reallocating their budgets to make Wilderness and Recreation a priority and to push for more federal funding for the Forest Service.  Email, while important, are not as effective as written letters.  If you would like help drafting a letter, contact SCS at or call (907) 747-7509.

Aug 07 2009

Expedition: Rezanof Lake

SCS traveled with Forest Service personnel investigating the decommissioned cabins in Maksoutoff and Rezanof lakes. We conducted invasive and sensitive plant surveys on both Rezanof and Khostof lakes, including the main creek valley at the head of Rezanof Lake and up the northwestern slope of Mt. Hagemeister.

We did not locate any invasive plant species in the area.

The most unique vegetation type encountered on this trip was the grass dominated meadows on the eastern shore.  The grasslands may be maintained by episodic flooding and/or browse of invading shrubs and trees.

Also at the upper lake shore were less frequently encountered species such as Symphotrichum subspicatum.  An infrequently encountered orchid (on Baranof Island), Goodyera oblongifolia, was found in the peninsula between the Khostof and Rezanof lake.

We did relocate populations of Mimulus lewisii (on the Alaska Natural Heritage Vascular Tracking List) on the eastern shore of Rezanof Lake.

We found one adult boreal toad in the sloughs of Rezanof Creek.

Rarely documented lichen (for Baranof Island) on Tsuga mertensiana on Mt. Hagemeister: Nephroma arcticum

Historical: Located USGS markers related to hydrological project in late 1960’s.

Range extension of a bryophyte, Pseudolescurea patens, previously known from Yakutat area in Southeastern Alaska.

Notable bird sightings: Great Blue Heron nest, Red Tail hawk, Lesser sandpiper, and Red throated loons.

Follow Us
Get Updates
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Newsletter and updates

Take Action Now
Take Action

Keep up to date on all of the issues. Check out "The Southeaster" Blog.

  • Hungry for Huckleberry Pie, Venison Stew, or Fresh Greens? Come to the Wild Foods Potluck Nov. 2!
  • Stand Up to Corporate Influence!
  • Kayaking Kootznoowoo: Report on SCS’s Final Wilderness Trip
  • Encouraging Local Natural Resource Stewardship on the Tongass: Kennel Creek
  • Teaching the Alaska way of Life: 4-H in Sitka
Get Involved
Get Involved