As you may know towards the end of 2014 the federal government passed the Sealaska Lands Bill, a small measure attached to the much larger National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation transfered public ownership of nearly 70,000 acres of the Tongass from the Forest Service to the private Sealaska Corporation. The land selection finalizes the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the 1971 legislation that transferred ownership to the Regional Native Corporations.
In order to inform the Sitka Community SCS wanted to share the locations and sizes of the various land claims across the Tongass. Some of the larger areas that have been signed over include portions of Kosciusko Island and Tuxekan Island, plus on Prince of Wales sections of Polk, Mckenzie and Keete Inlets. Closer to home there are parcels of land near Sitka at Kalinin Bay, Lake Eva, Fick Cove, and North Arm.
Maps showing the location and size of the various areas that were transferred to the Sealaska Corporation can be accessed on a Forest Service website here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r10/home/?cid=STELPRD3824925
The Tongass Transition was announced in 2011 by leaders of the Department of Agriculture to shift industrial logging focus away from old-growth clear-cutting and toward development of a viable second-growth industry. This transition will introduce a more holistic approach to governing the Tongass that integrates and values a variety of non-timber industries.
The Sitka Conservation Society is dedicated to the Tongass National Forest as a whole, including its wildlife habitat, tourism potential, salmon fisheries, and rural communities. We have never supported the exploitation of Tongass timber at the expense of all of its other economic and environmental resources. For this reason, we are optimistic about the Tongass Transition and are working to push it forward as quickly as possible. SCS executive director Andrew Thoms now has a seat on the Tongass Advisory Committee, giving us some direct influence over the Transition’s directions and time table. While having a seat on the Advisory Committee is an important victory, SCS still needs your help to curb old-growth logging and protect our forests in their entirety.
Follow along and learn more about the significance of this transition, why it is necessary and how it will impact our 17 million acre backyard by reading our Understanding the Tongass Transition essay.
Terrible news for the Tongass this week: Around 70,000 acres of the Tongass are being turned over to Sealaska for development.
As Davey Lubin told the Sitka Sentinel this week, “I’m highly disappointed that our treasured, priceless public lands have been privatized. It’s a huge loss for the whole nation … What Theodore Roosevelt established as a national legacy, Lisa Murkowski has squandered.”
This week’s developments show that not even our National Forests are protected from corporate control. Congress and the American public need to give this issue more scrutiny. Read the article below to hear SCS Executive Director Andrew Thoms’s take on the Sealaska Lands Bill. The article below was printed in the Sitka Sentinel on Monday, December 15.
By SHANNON HAUGLAND, Sentinel Staff Writer
A bill transferring 70,000 acres of land from the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska Corp. passed Congress on Friday.
Rodman Bay (Photo provided by Sitka Conservation Society)
“It has taken seven years, but I’m proud to say that we finally completed the land conveyance for Southeast Alaska’s nearly 20,000 Native shareholders, and at the same time ensured that the region’s remaining timber mills have timber,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a news release, following the vote on Friday.
The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act was included in the bipartisan package of lands bills approved Friday as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It provides Sealaska with 70,075 acres to finalize the transfer of land owed to the Native shareholders under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
“Some 43 years after passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the federal government will finally finish paying the debt we owe Natives for the settlement of their aboriginal land claims,” Murkowski said in the announcement.
The land transfer includes more than 68,000 acres available for logging, including land in Rodman Bay and Sinitsin Cove near Sitka, as well as 1,009 acres for renewable energy resources and recreational tourism, and 490 acres of Native cemetery and historic sites.
The legislation also includes about 152,067 acres of old-growth timber in new conservation areas to protect salmon and wildlife habitat, Murkowski said. The bill goes next to the president for his signature.
Representatives of Sealaska Corp. were unavailable for comment.
Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Council Chairman Michael Baines said he was pleased by the news, which he ran across this weekend on Facebook.
“I’m 100 percent pleased, the council is pleased,” he said. He noted that the STA Tribal Council passed a resolution last week in support of the compromise legislation proposed by Murkowski.
Baines said he believes the legislation will be beneficial to tribal citizens.
“I hope it will mean an improved economic development for the corporation which will mean more dividends for the tribal citizens,” he said. “I hope it will mean jobs in Sitka but as far as I know there hasn’t been any jobs from the regional corporation.”
Asked whether he believes the land will be developed and logged any differently than in the past, Baines said, “I hope they’ve learned their lesson. They’ve done that before – and it’s taken decades to bring back more trees that they can log.”
Sitka Conservation Society Andrew Thoms said he was disappointed by the news.
“Anytime that public lands are given to a private corporation, it’s a loss for everyone,” he said. “It’s going to mean 70,000 acres of some of the best timber land in the Tongass put into Sealaska hands, and the old-growth stands they’ve been given are some of the best remaining stands of cedar left on the Tongass. The burden is on Sealaska now to do what’s best for the shareholders in the region.”
He called old-growth cedar a “cultural treasure of the peoples of the Pacific Northwest.”
“As Sealaska now owns those best stands of cedar, are they going to continue to foster that connection, or will it be exported to Asian markets?” Thoms said. “It’s about more than just (habitat). The cedar trees in those stands are thousands of years old, and they won’t grow back in our lifetime.”
He cited Rodman Bay, on the north end of Baranof Island (30 miles north of Sitka), and Sinitsin Cove on North Kruzof (25 miles northeast of Sitka) as two areas closest to Sitka that are identified as “economic development” lands in the transfer.
Clarice Johnson, a Sealaska shareholder, said she was opposed to the lands transfer as proposed. (Johnson works at the nonprofit SCS but specified that she was speaking only as a shareholder.)
“I think there are a number of shareholders who are supportive of receiving our full land selection but not the way it was put in the rider, and they don’t think it will be much benefit to the average shareholder,” she said. “Possibly because Sealaska has lost so much money, they’ll probably cut the land quickly; and a large portion of any natural resource development in regional corporation land will be shared with other regional corporations.”
She noted that this provision – calling for regional corporations to share profits – has made it possible for Sealaska to pay out dividends, since the local regional corporation has not been profitable in recent years. She added that she believes the main beneficiaries of the land transfer and development of the lands will end up being the corporation’s board and staff through salaries and other compensation.
Johnson said she believes one of many results of the transfer will be the inadequate protection of karsts in Southeast.
“There is no protection compared to the U.S. Forest Service,” she said.
Johnson said that although only two “economic development” land selections are near Sitka there are others she believes are designated as “historic sites” including Kalinin Bay. She said the 15-acre site is the fifth largest historic site in the land selection.
Johnson said she’s concerned about what may happen at this location. “They can’t log, and they can’t mine there, but they can develop it,” she said.
Davey Lubin, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., five times in the last six years to testify against the Sealaska lands bill, said he was “highly disappointed” with the news.
“I’m highly disappointed that our treasured, priceless public lands have been privatized,” he said. “It’s a huge loss for the whole nation … What Theodore Roosevelt established as a national legacy, Lisa Murkowski has squandered.”
The Sealaska lands bill is separate from legislation to transfer 11 acres near Redoubt Lake to Sealaska, which is now in the hands of the Bureau of Land Management, Baines said.
It was a fine cloudy morning with a touch of fresh breeze on June 11th; just another typical morning here in Sitka. My supervisor, Conservation Science Director for the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS), Scott Harris arrived at the Forest Service Bunk house (where I live) at 6:45 a.m. to pick me up. All I was told is that we will be setting traps to look for an invasive crab species that could potentially reach the waters of Alaska. I was super excited since I am not at all familiar with trapping crabs. On our way, we stopped to pick up Bethany Goodrich, SCS's Tongass Policy and Communications Resident. Our first stop was at the Sitka Sound Science Center and Taylor White, the aquarium manager, greeted us. We loaded small containers with dead herring fish as bait before placing these containers into the six crab pots.
At 7:30 am in the morning, members of the Sitka Conservation Society and Sitka Sound Science Center were already busy, loading the boat with crab pots, and getting ready to take off to Sitka Sound to monitor the waters of the invasive crab species, the European Green Crab. As SCS's Salmon Conservation Intern, I was eager to learn about the methods of monitoring invasive species in Alaska.
Currently, the European Green Crab is not known to occur in Alaska, but are currently found as far north as British Columbia.European Green Crabs first entered the United States in the mid 1800's, coming by sailing ship to the Cape Cod region.Since then, the crabs have become well adapted to the environment and flourish in the waters of United States. However, with the increase in numbers, European Green Crabs have created negative impacts on local commercial and personal fishing and caused habitat disturbance thus affecting other native species. These crabs heavily prey on tubeworms, juvenile claims and juvenile crabs. In recent years, with the increase in the European crab population, there has been a strong decline in the populations of young oysters and other smaller native shore crabs. With its increasing population European Green Crabs have the potential to outcompete the native Dungeness crab for food and habitat. Thus, our mission of setting up the crab pots is to capture and halt the invasive European Green Crabs as early as possible in their invasion.
Shortly after we finished placing the bait, we headed towards Scott's boat, Alacrity and placed the baits while waiting for Lynn Wilber, a PHD student from the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom. Once Lynn showed up, we headed out to the sea. As we headed out to sea, the panorama before me reminded me of the scenes from the discovery channel's series "Deadliest Catch", except for the fact that the water that we were in was a lot calmer.
We went out to where the water depth was about 30 ft and Scott plunged the first metal anchor that was attached to a marker buoy into the water. Attached to the buoy was a long heavy rope line and on that line we attached the crab pots using metal clippers. Each crab pot has to be 5-arm length apart from the other. One by one, we deployed the crab pots in to the water and at the end of the line, we attached another anchor with a marker buoy attached to it.
The next day, around the same time, we headed out to the sea to see if we had captured any European crabs in our crab pots. Keeping with the protocol, we had left the traps for the whole 24 hours. As we pulled in each trap, we discovered a bunch of sea stars, 1 rockfish and a male and a female Kelp Greenling and luckily no European Green Crabs. As part of the protocol, we also measured the salinity of the water because this is an area where the freshwater from Indian River fuse with the ocean and thus the salinity can fluctuate from time to time. Another reason for measuring the salinity is that the European Green Crabs are known to be tolerant of freshwater. Thus it is important to monitor the water chemistry, to determine if it is suitable environment for European Green Crabs to become established.
This process of monitoring happens every month in an effort by the staff of Sitka Conservation Society and Sitka Sound Science Center to protect that valuable native species of Alaska and to stop the invasion of the European Crab species as soon as possible. Forests, streams and the ocean all combine to provide a favorable habitat for salmon. To keep our fisheries healthy, we must continue to monitor and implement restoration projects in all of these three areas.
The Sealaska Lands Legislation has passed out of committee in both the House and Senate, and could go before the full House and Senate for approval as early as sometime in July. If approved, the Legislation would privatize over 70,000 acres of the Tongass, including parcels near Sitka at Kalinin Bay, Lake Eva, Fick Cove, and North Arm.
The Sealaska Legislation has been introduced three prior times, and has previously passed out of the House but has never before been subject to a vote by the full Senate. All indications are that the current version of the Bill will reach a Senate vote, and so it is critical to reach out to members of Congress explaining why the Bill would be bad for us in Sitka and bad for Southeast Alaska as a whole.
The current House and Senate versions of the Bill are wildly different, with the Senate version (S.340) being considered a compromise containing fewer inholdings, provisions for public access for fishing, and expanded stream buffers in some timber selections. That said, the Senate Bill would still transfer 70,000 acres of the Tongass to a private corporation and would lead to clear-cutting some of the largest and oldest trees remaining on the Tongass. Should both the House and Senate versions pass they would go a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions. Sealaska has publically said it would prefer legislation enacted that is more like the House version than the Senate version, so we can only imagine what its lobbyists are telling members of Congress.
Letters, emails, and phone calls from Southeast Alaska residents have made a difference in keeping prior versions of the Sealaska Legislation from passing, but none of that outreach will have an impact on members of Congress when they take up the Legislation once again. They need to hear from us again and be reminded that the Tongass is a National Forest that belongs to everyone and that we in Southeast Alaska depend on this public forest for our livelihoods and our ways of life.
(photo from theSealaska Shareholder's Underground)In a recent Letter to the Editor in the Sitka Sentinel, the President and CEO of Sealaska Corporation attempted to waylay our fears that the public would not be allowed on landstransferredto the corporation's private ownership by the Sealaska Bill. He also stated that Sealaska does "not post 'NoTrespassing in any form on [Sealaska Corp.] lands," and goes on to state that "Sealaska stands on its history, having allowed access to its lands forresponsibleuse."
Update: See our full response, published May 10th in theSitka Sentinelat the bottom of the post.
The mission of the Sitka Conservation Society is to protect the public lands of the Tongass National Forest. As public lands, they belong to all Americans as National Patrimony. Although lands in public hands are not always managed how we want, the process exists for citizens to have their voices heard and give input on how the lands are managed. Most importantly, public access is guaranteed and not restricted in anyway. If important sites on the Tongass like Redoubt Lake are privatized and owned by Sealaska Corporation, they are no longer part of all our national patrimony and the public does not have a say in how they are managed. Sealaska Corporation says that they will allow "unprecedented access." Whatever that is, it is nothing compared to current access on these lands that all of us currently own as American citizens.
Our greatest fears concerning the potential in-holding parcels that the Sealaska Corporation wants to own is not what may happen in the next few years, but what will happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now. We understand that Sealaska will make many promises now when they want support for their legislation. But we can't predict what future Sealaska Corporate boards might decide to do with the land and who may or may-not be allowed to use them. These fears are what unsettles us the most about the Sealaska legislation.
Below is the current Sealaska policy for access to its lands which clearly states access is per their discretion:Click here to download the entire report.)
Letter to the Editor, published in theSitka SentinelMay 10th, 2013.
Dear Editor: Recently the Sealaska Corporation's President and Corporate Executive Officer (CEO), Chris McNeil called out the Sitka Conservation Society in a letter to the editor and called us out for causing "anxiety, anger, and opposition" to Sealaska's actions. I would respond to Mr. McNeil that we are not causing this reaction, we are responding to it as it is what most of us in the community feel when we think of public lands like Redoubt Falls, Port Banks, Jamboree Bay, Kalinin Bay, and places in Hoonah Sound being taking out of public hands and put into corporate ownership. We did put graphics with cartoon police tape over a photo of SItkans subsistence dip-net fishing at Redoubt falls. They can be seen on our website at www.sitkawild.org. These graphics represent our greatest fears: that a place that all of us use and depend on, and that is owned by all Americans (native and non-native), will have limitations put on it under private ownership or will be managed in a way where members of the public have no voice or input. Our fears come from past Sealaska actions. We also put photos on our website of Sealaska logging on Dall Island and around Hoonah; and we linked to the story of Hoonah residents who asked that logging not be so extensive and target their treasured places but were logged anyway. The case in those areas is that the corporate mandate to make a profit superseded what community members wanted. We are scared of what corporate management of these important places around Sitka will mean on-the-ground and we will continue to speak out to protect our public lands. Mr. McNeil Jr. paints the issue as native vs. non-native and accuses SCS of wanting to "put natives in a box." For us, the issue is about distrust of corporations without public accountability, not ethnicity. Mr. McNeil has an annual compensation package that is far greater than the entire SCS budget. He is flanked by lawyers who can write legal language and policy that we cannot begin to understand the implications of. Even in their different versions of the House and Senate legislation, the access policy is very different, confusing, and ultimately subject to Sealaska's whims. As SCS, we are speaking out against a corporation owning the public lands where publicly owned resources are concentrated on the Tongass. Sealaska's legislation is not good for Sitka if it means that more places like Redoubt Falls could be taken out of public hands and transferred to a corporation. Sincerely, Andrew Thoms
Take action to protect your public lands HERE.The following letter was submitted to the Sitka Sentinel by SCS.
The current version of the Sealaska legislation is scheduled for a hearing on April 25thin the Senate Public Lands Subcommittee. This Sealaska bill is a threat to the public lands of the Tongass and to the ways that Sitkans use the Tongass. This legislation would transfer lands on the Tongass to Sealaska that are outside of the original boxes where they were allowed to select lands. The legislation would affect us in Sitka because the corporation is asking for in-holdings throughout the Sitka Ranger District that are some of the most valuable areas for access and use. The bill would allow the corporation to select in-holdings in North-Arm/Hoonah Sound, Kalinin Bay, Fick Cove, Lake Eva, Wrangell Island off Biorka, Port Banks, and many others. On Prince of Wales Island, the corporation has cherry-picked the lands that have the highest concentration of the remaining economically valuable cedar trees, the oldest and fastest growing second growth, and the timber stands that have the most investment made by taxpayer dollars in roads, culverts, and forest thinning.
The in-holding selections might seem familiar topic. The corporation is selecting them in the same process they are using for Redoubt Lake. It is claiming that fishing access areas are eligible for selection under authorities that were meant for cemeteries. In the case of Redoubt Lake that means that one of the most important sites for public use and subsistence on the Sitka Ranger District could be privatized and owned by a corporation that has a for-profit mandate and is run by a board of directors that has created its own closed circle of power (remember when Sitkans tried to get elected to that board). The CEO of Sealaska came to Sitka a few weeks ago and made many promises about public access. That all sounded good, but how long is he going to be around? None of the agreements they proposed are legally binding. What happens when their board of directors decides that they don't want to allow everyone to fish there anymore? What happens when they decide that they "are obliged to make profit for their shareholders" and the best way to do that could be to capitalize on the asset of Redoubt Lake and build a lodge on the island between the two falls? Promises made today don't necessarily stand the test of time when lands are not in public hands and are not managed by a publically accountable entity.
For all of the above reasons, SCS will be telling members of theSenate Public Lands Subcommittee that the Sealaska Legislation is not good for the Tongass and not good for Southeast Alaska. Information on how to contact members of that committee can be found on the SCS website:www.sitkawild.org.
Update: Sealaska Corporation's CEO recently issued a response to the above editorial. He also complained about the photos below. He called them "unethical," "mysterious," "misinformation."
Of course our photos of Redoubt Falls with no trespassing signs are fabricated, that is because (thankfully) this area is still in public hands where everyone, including Sealaska shareholders, have equal rights to utilize this place. The photos we didn't need to fabricate are the images of Sealaska Corp's logging practices on land they currently own on Dall Island. (Watch this Google Earth tour to see for yourself.*) But don't take our word for it; take a look at the short video Hoonah's Legacy, showing the massive clearcuts logged by Sealaska Corp that scarred that community's landscape. Or, visit the Sealaska Shareholders Underground's Facebook page to hear about shareholders who disagree with the Corporation, but who have so far been suppressed by Sealaska and prevented from allowing any new voices onto the Sealaska board of directors.
Based on history and the facts, it is hard to see how allowing a profit-driven corporation like Sealaska to take away public lands from Alaskans would be "good for Sitkans, the Tongass and for Southeast Alaska." If you agree, please consider writing a Letter to the Editor of your local paper and share this information with your friends and community.
* This is a Google Earth tour (.kmz file). You must have Google Earthinstalledon your computer to view the tour.Please encourage your friends and relatives living in states listed below to call their Senator.
Key Senate Public Lands Subcommittee Members:
Oregon-Senator Ron Wyden(202) 224-5244
Washington-Senator Maria Cantwell(202) 224-3441
Colorado-Senator Mark Udall(202) 224-5941
New Mexico-Senator Mark Heinrich(202) 224-5521
Minnesota-Senator Al Franken(202) 224-5641
Senator Lisa Murkowski has reintroduced the Sealaska Lands Legislation, with the new version of the bill containing five selections in the Sitka area, some of which are in crucial subsistence and recreation areas.
The Sitka-area selections are 15.7 acres at Kalinin Bay, 10.6 acres at North Arm, 9 acres at Fick Cove, 10.3 acres at Lake Eva, and 13.5 acres at Deep Bay.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SITES BELOW
Background: Murkowski's legislation, known as S.340, is the fourth version of the Sealaska Lands Legislation to be introduced in the last eight years. Like the three previous versions, the primary focus of this Legislation is to allow the Sealaska Corporation to make land selections outside the boundaries it agreed upon following the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Legislation would lead to the privatization of over 70,000 acres of the Tongass and grant Sealaska access to substantially more old growth forest than if it made its selections within the previously agreed upon boundaries.
In fairness to Murkowski and Sealaska, the latest version of the Legislation is a significant improvement on prior versions of the Legislation, with the addition of timber stream buffers, removal of proposed "Natives Futures" development sites from the Sitka area, and the inclusion of new provisions for subsistence access in cultural and historic sites.
Most of the development lands in the Legislation are on Prince of Wales Island, and all of the Sitka-area selections are deceptively-labeled "cemetery and historic" sites. From the time the first version of the Legislation was introduced, the Sitka Conservation Society has held the position that we do not oppose Native management of important Native cultural and historic sites. Our problem has been that from our experience and review of agency practices concerning previous historic site applications, including that at Redoubt Falls near Sitka, the law is so loosely interpreted by the federal agencies tasked with determining what qualifies as a cemetery/historical site that virtually anything can be considered "historic." Indeed, we have seen little evidence to the historic value of most of the sites selected by Sealaska.
Under the new Legislation, Sealaska has selected 76 "cemetery and historic" sites around Southeast Alaska. For years we have said that the Tongass National Forest is large, but its greatest resources are concentrated in small areas like the mouths of streams and in safe anchorages. Thus, some of the spots with the richest resources in the Tongass might only take up a few acres. Many of Sealaska's proposed cemetery/historic sites selections are small in terms of acres, but the effect of making these spots private inholdings can be very "large" such as when they are located at "choke points" of access or cover the entire mouth of a stream. It might only takes two acres at the mouth of a stream to, in effect, control the whole stream.
SCS have told Senators Begich and Murkowski that we oppose the Sealaska Legislation, and we encourage you to do the same. SCS -- Sealaska Murkowski lettertoviewthe letter expressing our concerns. Please contact them and explain how you and your family use and rely on the parcels selected in the Legislation.
SITKA-AREA SITES OF IMPORTANT CONCERNS
The latest version of the Sealaska Lands Bill includes six cemetery and historic sites in the Sitka area. While some of these sites may contain important cultural artifacts, at this time we have seen little evidence and we would like to see a lot more. From past experience, most notably our work on Sealaska's pending selection of Redoubt Falls near Sitka, the standards for what qualifies as "historic" are extremely broad. Actual archeological evidence is not needed, and often sites are deemed historic by second hand oral accounts. Furthermore, from our experience, the agencies tasked with enforcing these loose standards are generally unwilling to raise objections or apply the law to its full extent.As noted, we have been given little information about the historic significance of the Sitka-area sites. About all we know is the site locations as listed here:
- Kalinin Bay Village (site 119). This is a tourism spot and is used for hunting and fishing. As recently as the 1960s, it was used as a fish camp, which included a store and diesel generating plant.
- Lake Eva Village (site 120). This includes trail access.
- Deep Bay Village (site 181). This area is widely used for hunting and fishing. The 1975 field investigation found no evidence of occupation.
- North Arm Village (site 187). This is a popular hunting, fishing and guided bear hunting location. The 1975 field investigation states: "This could possibly have been a village."
- Fick Cove Village (site 185). This is a popular hunting and subsistence area. The 1975 field investigation revealed the ruins of two cabins which may have been trapper cabins.
Take Action: If you or your family use these sites, please contact Senators Begich and Murkowski and tell them you do not want to lose access to public lands.
111 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
fax. (202) 224 - 2354
Toll-free line: (877) 501 - 6275
Email Senator Begich HERE
Email Senator Murkowski HERE
Sealaska Corporation selected the Kalinin Bay Village Site in the latest version of the Sealaska bill. The Kalinin Bay site is 15.7 acres, making it the 5th largest historic site selection in Southeast. The popular Sea Lion Cove Trail begins at the head of Kalinin Bay and continues over to the west side of Kruzof Island. It is not known what impacts there may be on trail access, if the Sealaska bill passes.
In earlier versions of the bill, Sealaska selected Kalinin Bay as an "enterprise site" which would have allowed tourism activities and created a Sealaska controlled "access zone" in a fifteen mile radius of the site. Although Kalinan Bay has been selected under a different designation in the current bill, there may be allowances for tourism type activities.
For more information on the current Selalaska bill, and how you can help CLICK HERE.
Bethany and I recently spent five days volunteering at the Forest Service-managed weir at Redoubt lake in the Tongass National Forest. Located just twelve miles from the city of Sitka, Redoubt falls is one of Sitka's most important subsistence fisheries, especially for sockeye. Locals dipnet and castfor salmon to stock their freezers and cupboards with the rich red flesh of this iconic fish. In past years, Redoubt has provided up to 60% of the total sockeye subsistence harvest in the Sitka Management Area (US Forest Service, 2011).
Redoubt lake is unique because it is one of the largest meromictic lakes in North America, which means its top layer is freshwater, and there are several hundred feet of saltwater on the bottom layer of the lake. The two layers don't mix, and the lake is about 900 feet deep at its deepest. The Forest Service maintains a weir system to count and record the fish entering the lake, and coordinates with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to make management decisions based on the data collected each season.
Subsistence harvest defines life in rural Alaska, and Sitka is no exception. In July when the sockeye are running, Redoubt is the buzz of local conversation and activity. Employees and volunteers at Redoubt work hard to maintain the health and sustainability of this salmon run, serving the general public by caring for the most important resource of Southeast Alaska.
Redoubt lake is long and narrow, protected on all sides by mountains and cliffs in a glacial valley. Salmon swim from the weir at the falls up to the northern tip of the lake, spawning in a clear stream that originates in a pristine lake in the mountains. The Forest Service runs a mark and recapture study of sockeye returning to the stream, which entails occasionally snorkelling the stream to survey marked and unmarked sockeye. Bethany and I donned warm and buoyant drysuits to snorkel in the clear, cold water with stunningly red sockeye. When they pass through the weir, sockeye are silver-scaled and relatively normal-looking salmon. The physical transformation they undergo between the weir and their spawning stream is spectacular. The sockeye we swam with had bright scarlet bodies and a defined and unwieldy hump on their backs. Olive green heads ended in sharply hooked noses dripping with snarling teeth. They nipped and bit at one another, fighting to reproduce as a final dance before laying and fertilizing their eggs for future runs.
Redoubt lake is one of the most important public spaces in Sitka for people to fish and recreate. It is a community gathering place for Sitkans in the Tongass National Forest, and it is vital that this place remain public for this tradition to continue. Currently there is pressure from Sealaska to privatize Redoubt, potentially excluding many people from this vital public fishery and gem of the Tongass. The public service done by the Forest Service at Redoubt is highly valued, and a reminder of the incredible importance of keeping salmon, our most valued economic and cultural resource, accessible to all. Redoubt has been identified as one of the T77, or top 77 fish-producing watersheds in the Tongass. It's awe-inspiring beauty and vital habitat is absolutely deserving of this designation.
Click here to learn more about the Tongass77 and what you can do to help protect our salmon forest!