Every summer the Sitka Conservation Society lures a handful of unsuspecting, environmentally minded, intrepid folk into the Tongass. They come from all over the world, hoping to experience Alaska. Little do they know that upon arrival they will be introduced to a wilderness so vast they could not hope to grasp it in one summer, and a town so welcoming that they will be taken into stranger's homes and offered homemade rhubarb crisp. This summer our media interns are a mix of local and imported young people who love storytelling and adventure.
Alex Crook flew to Alaska straight from Cambodia, where he has spent the past 10 months working as a photojournalist and freelance photographer. So far he has accomplished his subsistence goals by catching his first King and making his first salmonberry pie. Alex's other goals include using photography to give a face to the alternative energy movement in Southeast Alaska. (photo by Gleb Mikhalev)
Berett Wilber grew up fishing with her family and photographing her Southeast Alaska home. Berett's focus this summer will be collecting stories from locals about the places they love. She's interested in how the people of Southeast benefit from conservation in the Tongass.(photo by Gleb Mikhalev)
Caitlin Woolsey, another lifelong Sitkan, is excited to be back on the trails. She hopes to spend the summer hiking and writing stories that illustrate the importance of a well-preserved Tongass in the lives of Sitkans and Alaskans in general.(photo by Alex Crook)
Gleb Mikhalev has lived all over, from the midwest, to Russia, British Columbia, and New York City, and he says Sitkans are some of the most welcoming people he's ever met. Last summer Gleb crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a 32 ft. steel sailboat. This summer he's found his way to the Pacific, and hopes to spend the summer getting to know the people of Southeast Alaska. (photo by Alex Crook)
Kari Paustian was born and raised in Sitka and has spent the last few summers working on the Forest Service Trail Crew. This summer she will be the SCS liaison with the Forest Service, managing projects and writing stories on restoration in the Tongass.(photo by Alex Crook)
Lione Clare, another Sitkan, joins the intern team as a photographer. She has loved growing up in Sitka, and feels lucky to have had the opportunity to explore and get to know her environment. She wants to work to conserve the Tongass by documenting the beauty that she sees all around her and sharing it with others.(photo by Ray Pfortner)
By the end of the summer, the interns hope to cover a variety of stories, from subsistence living on Prince of Wales to the Blue Lake Dam construction here in Sitka. Stay tuned for this team's photos, stories, and films about living with the land and building community here in the Tongass.
As you may recall from a previous post by Ray, a bike shelter is being built locally, using Tongass wood and will be landing at the Sitka Sound Science Center soon. I say landing, because it has been constructed at Sitka High School and will actually be transported courtesy of a sizeable fork lift and truck, thanks to S&S contractors, and placed at its final home.
The shelter is a beautiful timber framed structure made of young growth Sitka spruce and old growth red cedar. Timber framing is a traditional style of building that uses non-dimensional lumber, that is, no 2"x4"s or other standard timber sizes are used in the construction of the frame. Instead, timber framed construction uses large, squared timbers and relies on carefully designed and fitted joints using wooden pegs to hold the frame in place. Not only is the bike shelter a much needed asset, it is charming in its execution thanks to the vision of Randy Hughey and newly transplanted Dan Sheehan. Randy, who has just retired after 30 years, has been running the Sitka High Construction and Industrial Arts courses, and Dan is an experienced timber framer. The two partnered up for this project and have since poured countless hours of their personal time into the construction of the shelter along with the help of SHS students and local volunteers.
The shelter will temporarily have four U-shape racks, until the final rack is designed and installed. Mike Litman, of Precision Boatworks, will be designing the racks for the shelter. The structure joins a growing network of bike shelters around Sitka, including one being built for Pacific High School by Pat Hughes (UAS) and Pacific High students. This shelter will serve as a demonstration project, highlighting the importance of local products, local craftsmanship and knowledge, the strength of community and contributing to local economy. SCS was able to fund this project through the Community Capacity and Land Stewardship (CCLS) program with the National Forest Foundation (NFF). The goal is to share local knowledge, connect local processors with local builders, and influence resource managers to make decisions on the Tongass that benefit local communities. A sustainably managed forest will support a more resilient community.
Look for the Shelter to arrive later this summer! Special thanks to the 'Village' that made it possible: Randy Hughey Dan Sheehan SHS Contruction Students Lisa Busch, Lon Garrison and the SSSC S&S Contractors Mike Litman, Precision Boatworks Parks and Recreation, City and Borough of Sitka Mel Cooke & Bill Thompson National Forest Foundation, CCLS program USFS SCS members The Sitka Community
SCS was recently awarded another Community Capacity and Land Stewardship (CCLS) Grant from the National Forest Foundation. The CCLS grant focuses on the use of local, young growth timber and habitat restoration. This grant will sustain and further develop the capacity-building momentum generated from last year's grant. One of the components of the previous grant was to provide local, young growth timber to the Sitka High School industrial arts classes. Students were provided with red alder for building bed side tables, as well as Sitka spruce to construct a bike shelter. The bike shelter will be finalized this summer and placed at the Sitka Sound Science Center.
Through the current grant, SCS will continue to promote regional young growth markets, incentivize forest restoration and further the Transition Framework by creating an educational opportunity for local youth that focuses on young growth timber for structural and building applications. Currently, SCS will work with a local miller to process local red alder. Red alder has been historically considered a ‘weed species', however due to its abundance it is quickly becoming valued for use in specialty wood products, cabinetry, furniture and architectural millwork such as wainscoting or molding. SCS is encouraging regional industry integration by building relationships between producers and users. The red alder will become part of the Allen Auditorium renovation project on the Sheldon Jackson campus. This partnership will also allow for SCS to sponsor several local high school students to work under the supervision of local builder Pete Weiland on the renovation project this summer. Students will be given the opportunity to spend approximately one month working on the Auditorium renovation project and will be partnered with a college mentor. The wood will be provided to the renovation project to produce an installation and demonstration project that highlights red alder as a viable material. SCS is now accepting applications from local high school students who are interested in participating in this project. Applications are due by July 1 and can be emailed to email@example.com .
As recreationists we put on our hiking shoes, as fishermen we sport xtra tufs, and for Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV)'s Girls on the Run program, we learn and run in sneakers.
This was SAFV's fifth year participating in the Girls on the Run program and the Sitka Conservation Society's first. Our mission at SCS ties us to protecting the beautiful Tongass National Forest that surrounds us and also connects us to the development of sustainable communities. We also use the triple bottom line as one of our guiding principles, meaning that healthy communities, protection of the natural environment, and economic vitality have to be balanced for a sustainable earth.
Twice a week throughout this past fall and spring, I would join other volunteer coaches at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School to learn with young women about topics like peer pressure, bullying, and self-reflection. Activities would range from circling up and collectively trying to keep a beach ball up in the air to running laps forwards and backwards in pairs to even making dream catchers for patients at the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC)'s hospital. We asked each other questions, smiled and laughed while going over the days lessons, and simply had fun.
Programs like Girls on the Run help us create space for young women to come together as a team, work through topics that discuss the meaning of community and positive thinking, all the while creating relationships to support one another. These are seeds that overtime will bloom into the sustainable community we work hard to have. Community is not a dream although it is quite often idealized—a community is people and the relationships that hold them together. Having programs like Girls on the Run are preventative measures for our young women here in Sitka. The Sitka Conservation Society would like to thank SAFV for their commitment to community empowerment and prevention. Preventative work makes it so that we are not treating hardships or mistakes after they have already happened but instead working to avoid them all together through education, mentorship, and teamwork.
"Girls on the Run is so much FUN!" A team-building exercise, we all circled up and tried to keep this beach ball in the air as long as possible.
"1, 2, 3-GO!" Closing this year's Girls on the Run program was our 5K run, where members of the community joined our girls for their big day!
Within the University of Alaska Southeast, classrooms were teeming with young women eager to deepen their understanding in the field of science. On April 13th, 2013, Girls Scouts of Alaska organized a one-day science symposium in Sitka for its young members and asked Sitka women working in various scientific fields to teach a class that covered information of their choosing.
The Sitka Conservation Society's community organizer Ray Friedlander participated in the event and chose to discuss and recreate the ecological relationships commonly found throughout the Tongass National Forest from the perspective of Coho salmon.
For the activity, girls ranging from ages 5 to 10 embodied a particular role in the web. Roles included fishermen, aquatic insects, old growth forest, eagles, bears, ocean, and rivers, which were represented by photographs that the girls wore around their necks. The most popular role however was the Coho salmon, which was represented by a stuffed animal toted around by one of the girls as she made her way from Girl Scout to Girl Scout with a red ribbon. As the salmon "swam" its way to each critter or habitat in the web, questions were posed to the group about the significance of that relationship.
"What relationship do you think this salmon has to the old growth forest?" Friedlander asked the group.
"The shade from the trees helps keep the salmon from getting too hot," said one Girl Scout. "The roots stop the soil from going into the river and making it dirty," said another.
Each Girl Scout was then asked to loosely hold on to the ribbon, and help answer the questions posed to the other roles of the ecological web. After every role of the web was discussed, the Girl Scouts looked around to see that in fact they were all connected by a ribbon that represented the relationships formed through their species and habitat interactions with the salmon.
Embodying the ecological relationships that exist between different species and habitats of the Tongass allowed Sitka Girl Scouts to see how important it is to view these relationships as interconnected rather than separate. For the Sitka Consevation Society and Girl Scouts of Alaska, inspiring our youth to become stewards of the environment promotes the leadership skills and knowledge needed to ensure a healthy, protected Tongass and sustainable community.
Arguably, to know a place is to know the plants. It's one thing to appreciate the aesthetics of a certain habitat but another to really know the plants within it. To really know a plant creates a relationship. One that's based on an understanding and appreciation of seasons, habitat, and life cycle. It's a give and take—food and medicine (among others) for protection and stewardship.
The Sitka Conservation Society created an opportunity for community members to deepen their relationship to the land through a "spring edibles plant series." This class explored edible plants in three different habitats: the forest, estuary, and coastline. Students learned how to identify plants, where they are commonly found, harvesting techniques, and preparation methods. And now, we hope, they have a deeper appreciation and connection to the Tongass National Forest.
This course was a partnership with the Kayaani Commission, which was established in 1998 to "preserve and protect the historical and traditional knowledge of the way plants are used." Kayaani Commissioners shared a customary wisdom, complementing instructor Scott Brylinsky's extensive knowledge of edibles and plants.
Click here for an online field guide to the wild edibles in the Tongass. Enjoy the tastes of the Tongass!
In 2011, SCS began the Sitka Salmon Tours program. The goal of the tours was to give visitors a salmon's eye view from the forests where the salmon are born, to the ocean, the fisher and processor, and finally to our plates. We've discontinued the Salmon Tours for 2013. Instead, we have distilled all of the great facts, stories, and natural history from the tours into this manual, "Sitka: A Tongass Salmon Town." Now anyone can be an expert on wild Tongass Salmon. We hope that Sitka residents, guides, and naturalist will use this guide to share the miracle of salmon that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to this place each year.
Printed guides are available at the Sitka Conservation Society office. If you'd like us to mail you a copy, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Bulk copies are available for purchase at-cost (about $0.80 per copy).
Download a copy of the manual HERE.
The first of six boat tours to take place throughout the summer. Mark your calendars!
- June 1st, Saturday 10am
- June 11th, Tuesday 5:30pm - Cancelled
- June 27th, Thursday 5:30pm
- July 23rd, Tuesday 5:30pm
- August 13th, Tuesday 5:30pm
Check back soon for more information on tour topics and speakers. See you on the boat!
A special thanks to Allen Marine for offering discounted charter prices for our non-profit summer tours, which makes this series possible.
"You're going to want to burn two and then mark it 13.5," Judi says to her workshop buddy Linda. Linda carefully measures across a piece of hemlock harvested from Starrigavan Valley and marks it with a pencil. She pulls out the tape measure and goes over it again (measure twice and cut once!) as Judi confirms the pencil lines and arrows. Judi grabs the ‘worm saw' (a powered skillsaw) and starts ripping the board as Linda holds it down and observes.
After a piece of wood drops to the floor, both women carefully inspect the cut, running their fingers along the edge then nodding in approval. It's not perfect but pretty close. "We can fix that when we sand it," Linda says.
We've come a long way from our first workshop class when we built our saw horses, making sure to pad the top of them with ‘sacrificial' wood. The sacrificial wood being scrap that we don't mind chipping, cutting and scarring as a result of our novice woodworking abilities. Our first class began with instructions from Marcel LaPerriere, local craftsman and owner of Southeast Cedar Homes. He gave usthe basic DOs and DON'Ts of the wood shop as we eyedthe unfamiliar gadgets and tools that surrounded us. The next few meetings we learned how to use tools, how to change drill bits and saw blades and the difference between crosscut and plane cut. Despite our rapidly growing repertoire of skills and vocabulary, we were still short on confidence, often having to encourage one another to take the helm when it was time to start up a saw. Now, class participants are confidently using saws, drill presses, and are continually awestruck all while being steeped in the delicious smell of fresh cut wood. Our class is small (eight participants) but maxes out the space in the wood shop. It is also a diverse group of women ranging from an opera singer to a retired teacher to a Sheldon Jackson summer camp organizer proficient in Chinese.
In April SCS and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp partnered to offer a ‘Women in Carpentry Workshop'. The workshop, a brain child of SCS board member Judi Lehman, and she thought it would tie in nicely with our young growth projects that were funded by the NFF Community Capacity and Land Stewardship program. The course provides locally harvested wood, tools, supplies and instruction from SCS board President Marcel LaPerriere. The product of the class is quite simple: six wooden benches to be placed at the Allen Auditorium on the SJ campus. The goal, however, is much more involved. SCS wanted to showcase young growth timber, contribute to the production of a local wood product and shed light on the quality and usefulness of young-growth timber. This class takes it one step further by providing an opportunity for women who had little to no experience with wood working to learn new skills and create something for the community.
One class member, Kenley, described why she decided to take the course: "I signed up because I really wanted to learn how to use power tools and wanted to gain skills for volunteering and life projects. I've learned so much already! The vocabulary and skills are foreign to me and I've reveled in learning the names of tools, techniques, and processes. I have a much deeper respect for how buildings are constructed and how wood objects are made. I've learned a lot about trees and wood and really appreciate Marcel's dedication and patience in teaching this awesome class". We aren't quite ready to start building our dream homes, but we are learning and having fun along the way. For now, I just wish I could wield a planer or skillsaw fluidly and one handed like Marcel!