Sitka Conservation Society
May 31 2012

The Journey to Sitka

In the middle of May, I packed up my truck, slid a kayak on top, and left my dad’s home on Puget Island in Washington to pick up Bethany in Seattle and head for Baranof Island in Alaska! First leg of the trip: driving 1,100 miles to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the departure point for the ferry to Sitka.

We cruised from the green Pacific Northwest into wide, golden, sagebrushed hills of southern British Columbia. I’ve made the summer pilgrimage to Alaska nearly all my life, but always in an airplane. The long, gradual experience of watching the landscape change over the course of a thousand miles was new for me, much less abrupt. We slept in the back of my truck for three nights on our way up, and boarding the M/V Matanuska to Sitka early one morning.

I’m an anthropologist, so I love people watching. The ferry is a rich place for observation. There were older tourists toting behemoth RVs, young Alaskan high school sports teams, fishermen, welders, and many other diverse folk. We met a hand troller/opera singer/pianist from Ketchikan, and a Finnish dentist.

I remember sitting in the ferry’s cocktail lounge sipping Alaskan craft beer, listening to the troller/musician effortlessly improv classical piano. I drank in the mountains and the sea, completely content, with a feeling of possibility. I’ve been dreaming of coming back to Alaska for two years, since the last time I was in Kodiak. This trip up, for me, represents a long-awaited pilgrimage back to a familiar place, but with a new purpose and perspective. I’ve always been a part of the family crew, adhering to family rules, living under family infrastructure. Now that that infrastructure is gone, I am starting new work in a new place with new people, with a new college degree. I’m both excited to venture outside of Alaskan commercial fishing culture, and to see what that culture looks like here in Sitka.

Bethany has never been to Alaska, but recently spent five months working as a research assistant in Antarctica, and is no stranger to cold, wild places. Here’s to a summer of discovery for us both!

May 31 2012

Meet Bethany and Natalia

Welcome! We are Natalia Povelite and Bethany Goodrich, and are interning at the Sitka Conservation Society this summer! We are here to explore and convey the ways that people here in Sitka and Southeast Alaska live within this wild place. From salmon fishing to spruce tip harvest, we will show how and why the Tongass is an incredible and vital place for people to live, and an absolute necessity to protect.


A little more about Natalia

I was born in Kodiak, Alaska and have spent nearly every summer of my life commercial fishing with my family in Alaska. My love for Alaskan wilderness and natural bounty stems from this lifelong experience. I grew up in Boise, Idaho, and graduated from Willamette University in December 2011 with a B.A. in Anthropology.

My family no longer fishes in Alaska, and while I nearly pursued commercial fishing as a career, I ultimately decided that what I really wanted was to work in Alaska to protect the wild places and unique lifestyles I have grown to love and respect, which led me to the Sitka Conservation Society.

While studying anthropology, I focused on socio-environmental relations, specifically among Native Alaskans. I am interested in the connections between people and land, and the ways that people engage with their surrounding environment. I believe that these relationships are inextricably tied to community and culture, and that collective experiences guide conservation ethics.

A core theme for me in my life currently as well as in this work is that of home. I’ve lived in several states and towns, and my idea of home is getting ever fuzzier. One thing I know for sure is that Alaska is where I’ve felt my most authentic, true self, and perhaps that is what makes it my home for now. I’m looking forward to exploring what makes the Tongass home for those who live here and breathe this misty forest air every day. I want to know what makes people grow their roots here, and how the experience of living within the Tongass builds upon itself to create the specific community of Sitka.


Meet Bethany

Hello readers! I am ecstatic that you are interested in following the summer interns and SCS staff as we explore how Southeast Alaska ‘lives with the land’. Before I start filling this blog with adventures, research, thoughts, opinions, and discoveries, I figured it appropriate to provide you all with a brief introduction of myself.

I grew up in a small town about forty minutes outside of Boston, Massachusetts. I can’t really say where I currently ‘live’ anymore as I’ve been pretty uprooted since I left Massachusetts for California in 2007. A year ago I lived in San Francisco, five months ago Antarctica was home, five weeks ago I sheltered in a dome shaped home nestled in the New Hampshire woods, three weeks ago I lived in Natalia’s truck, and today my head hits the pillow in Sitka, Alaska.

Although my location is constantly shifting, my love for nature and the arts has remained unchanged since day one. The majority of my childhood was spent accumulating bruises of varying degrees and sorts- jumping out of trees, snagging my home-sewn dresses (thanks mom) on barbed wire fences and falling…a lot- often into marshes while in pursuit of pollywogs. During inclement New England weather, I passed the time creating artistic messes that I humbly referred to as masterpieces. New England is truly beautiful and I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up surrounded by a wild asylum (Sadly, a lot of which now has been sold off and mutated into ‘modern-colonial’ New England homes).

This early love affair with art and nature has since begun a long drawn-out transformation into a profession. I graduated last spring from the University of San Francisco with a BS in Biology, emphasis in Ecology, and minors in Fine Arts and Neuroscience. In past years I have worked with captive animals ranging from chimpanzees to cockroaches, rehabbed and cared for many sick and injured wide-eyed elephant seal pups and sea lions, and interned for a wild cat conservation non-profit. Upon graduation, I headed to Palmer Station, Antarctica to work as a field and lab assistant on a polar phytoplankton project studying genetic and ecological seasonal shifts of diatoms. I enjoy combining my creativity and love for science and conservation through the development of informative, useful, and entertaining media for the public. I hope to keep you all informed and amused during my next three months here in Sitka, Alaska.

Please stay tuned!


May 29 2012

Devils Club Harvest with Alaska way-of-life 4H Club

When I first moved here seeing devils club would make me cringe. I would lament at its pervasive cover. Inevitably when hiking, I would grab onto a stalk for support or bushwhack through a thicket of them. I noticed on a recent hike that my feelings for devils club had changed significantly. I was excited to see the plants, the larger the stand the bigger my grin. Now I see devils club as a medicine, a prolific and powerful resource in the Tongass. Its healing qualities seem to cure any ailment and have been used by Tlingits for thousands of years.

Last week, I met with one of our families to learn the process of harvesting the plant. Always harvest from a large stand and leave little impact. Be careful to harvest stalks above new buds so the plant can put energy into those shoots. Before clipping a branch, thank the plant for its medicine and healing properties.

Over the weekend, 4H Alaska way-of-life members located a stand of devils club, harvested a few stalks, scraped off thorns, and peeled off the green bark. I had already made the devils club oil by heating the dried bark gently in a double boiler for three hours (the longer you infuse it the stronger the medicine). Together, we added beeswax shavings to the warm oil to make a salve. Its applications are limitless: chapped lips, sore muscles, bug bites, buns, etc.

**It is of utmost importance to be mindful in your harvest, maintain respect for the plant and its natural environment, and harvest only what you can use.

May 29 2012

Kayak Skills/Rescue & Wilderness Monitoring Training

Saturday, June 9 and Sunday, June 10, 2012, 10am-5pm

ACA instructors Adam Andis and Darrin Kelly will teach all of the skills you need to be a safe and confident paddler, so that you can get out and enjoy our coastal wilderness areas and volunteer with the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project to collect needed baseline data. The class will include kayak skills for beginning to advanced paddlers, self and assisted rescue training, and Wilderness monitoring training, including an invasive plant ID lesson from Kitty LaBounty.

This two day course is open only to current SCS members so be sure to join or renew your membership when you sign up. Space is very limited, so sign up early!

To sign up or for more information, contact SCS at 747-7509.

Cost is $75 for the 2-day course (drysuits included). Kayak rental is $35 per day through Latitude Adventures. A 10% will be offered to participants who provide their own drysuit.

Skills Course Agenda:

Day 1

1000 Introduction (15 min)

  • Intros- instructors, SCS, Wilderness Project
  • Itinerary
  • Site logistics- food, water, hot drinks, bathroom, changing area
  • ACA
  • outline course expectations
  • safety briefing- PFD always on in water, helmets, hypothermia risk & mitigation, paying attention to each other and instructors)
  • liability release

1015 On Shore Presentations (55 min)

  • Equipment orientation – drysuits later
  • Personal clothing and gear
  • PFD’s, wetsuits, spray skirts
  • Safety equipment
  • Basic boat design and kayak terminology
  • Boat fit and adjustment
  • Boat/body weld
  • Foot brace adjustment
  • Spray skirt attachment/release
  • Dry land “wet exit” drill
  • Paddle orientation and use
  • basic paddle technique

1110 Break (5 min)

1115 Launching & Landing (30min)

  • The paddling environment: wind, waves, weather, water (overview)
  • Carrying kayak to and from water
  • Entry/exit of kayak from shore or dock
  • Boat stability, “hip wiggle,”
  • Allow students a few minutes to paddle around and get oriented with their kayak

1145 Basic Strokes & Skills (60 min)

  • Rafting up
  • Sweep stroke (forward/reverse/pivot in place)
  • Forward Stroke
  • Reverse stroke and stopping
  • Draw stroke

High and low braces (hip snap/boat lean/lower body control) – discussion, not practice

1245 Lunch (30 min)

  • risk management triangle

1315 Rescues (3 hr 15 min)

  • hi and low brace
  • t-rescue demo (2 instructors)
  • stirrup demonstration
  • assisted rescue variations (stirrup, swamping the kayak)
  • students practice
  • paddle-float demo
  • students practice
  • paddle-float re-entry and roll (if time available)
  • advanced bracing- sculling
  • all-in practice

1630 Wrap up (20 min)

  • get out of dry suits

1650 Debrief (10 min)

  • tomorrow’s itinerary


Day 2

1000 Monitoring Training (1hr 50 min)

  • Plant ID Training (Kitty LaBounty) (40 min)
  • Solitude Monitoring (20 min)
  • History of Wilderness/Wilderness Character (10 min)
  • LNT and Rec. Site (40)

1150 Paddling Environment (extended) (50 min)

  • Tides- theory and practice
  • Charts
  • Weather
  • Basic navigation

1240 Lunch (45 min)

  • Expectations for the day
  • Prepare to get on the water- get dressed, personal gear and snacks, fill water bottles

1325 Practice and tour (3 hr 5 min)

  • Skills and limitations (next steps)
  • staying together
  • emergencies
  • boat traffic
  • skills- stroke refinement, edging, running draws
  • continued LNT training and practice
  • Communication- equipment and protocol
    • Signaling
    • Boat traffic/Rules of the Road
    • “What’s in my PFD?” and “What’s in my cockpit?”

1630 Return and Debrief (30 min)

  • Return gear
  • Thanks and continue to stay involved in SCS Wilderness Project
May 28 2012

Living with the Land Blog

In the Tongass, people live with the land. We are constantly learning from it–learning how to build communities that are part of the landscape rather than a place away from it. In this blog we want to share with you some of those lessons we’ve learned and the experience of learning them first hand.


If you are not automatically redirected to the blog page, click here.

May 10 2012

Energy Star Rebate Program Makes Dent in Electric Consumption



Gary and Nancy Short were the first participants of the Energy Star Rebate Program sponsored by the City and Borough of Sitka and the Sitka Conservation Society. They replaced their old (1972), inefficient freezer with a new Energy Star rated freezer. Just look at the difference!

The Energy Star Rebate Program kicked off in late February and provided electric users with the opportunity to upgrade to an Energy Star appliance and receive a rebate ranging from $165-$1,500. The program was well received by residents in the first few months and is already showing great potential to make a dent in Sitka’s electric consumption.

The program grants rebates for five Energy Star appliances, which were chosen to maximize energy savings. Residents can choose between Energy Star refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, heat pump hot water heaters, and air or ground source heat pumps. After dropping off the old appliance at Scrap Yard and receiving a receipt of disposal, you are ready to complete the application. The application consists of a one page form that can be downloaded on the Electric Department page of the City website or can be picked up at the Electric Department at 105 Jarvis Street. One participant even described the application process as “surprisingly painless and very easy to follow”. After the information provided on the application has been verified, the City will write a check made payable to the applicant and mail it to the address provided – it’s as simple as that!

After only three months since the program start date, 47 participants have taken advantage of this opportunity and upgraded to an Energy Star appliance. The result: almost 50,000 kWh have been removed from the electric grid annually! The energy savings are expected to continue increasing as the remaining 75% of the allotted funds are used by homeowners seeking energy efficiency upgrades. To maximize the energy savings of the $100,000 in the initial fund, $70,000 is allocated for air or ground source heat pump rebates and the remaining $30,000 will go towards all other appliance rebates. Therefore, although a majority of the funds remain in the program, only $22,475 is available for appliances other than air or ground source heat pumps. Rebates will remain available until funds are used in each category or until June 30, 2012.

Are you on the fence about purchasing an Energy Star appliance? Now is the time to act! Make sure you get a rebate for an Energy Star refrigerator, freezer, washing machine, or heat pump hot water heater before funds run out! To learn more about the program, including frequently asked questions, visit


May 10 2012

Celebrating a Year of Fish to Schools

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.

May 08 2012

“Calvin” Cave

CALVIN CAVE is named for Jack Calvin one of the original founders of the Sitka Conservation Society who helped to protect West Chichagof as a Wilderness area.  The following report and map were produced by Kevin Allred with the Tongass Cave Project.  Kevin joined the SCS Wilderness crew on a trip to West Chichagof in the summer of 2011.  See videos of the trip here.

DESCRIPTION: Calvin Cave was discovered on June 19, 2011 by Kevin Allred, and the Sitka Conservation Society Wilderness crew: Adam Andis, Tomas Ward, and Ben Hamilton, while searching for caves as part of the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. The cave is located at the lower edge of a large muskeg which provides acidic waters where it flows onto the band of Whitestripe Marble of Triassic age. After a meandering stream slot, the small stream enters the cave, which is a winding narrow crack downcut into the marble. Down the slope are a series of sinkholes which indicate the downstream course of the underground stream. After about 60 feet the cave ends in too tight constrictions at the bottom of the first of these sinkholes, and daylight is seen in several places. There is an excellent example of the underside of a “sealed” sinkhole with its characteristic humus plug here. The cave was surveyed by Kevin Allred and Tom Ward. Its vertical surveyed depth is 10 feet and it has 63.8 feet of surveyed passage. The resurgence of this cave stream is not known, but is probably somewhere adjacent or under the nearby gorge of Marble Creek.

BIOLOGY: Fungus gnat webs were noted throughout the cave, but no insects were seen. No bones were seen.

MANAGEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS: Due to its remoteness, Calvin Cave is not likely to be negatively impacted by visitation. It is protected from logging under Wilderness Area regulation.


May 07 2012

Students share their research with the community

On May 1, students from the Science Mentor Program, Sitka High Field Science Class, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School shared their research with the community. Nearly 50 people attended. Standing room only! Students projects included research in microbial fungal communities in young growth forests, vegetation mapping to target wildlife habitat restoration prescriptions, whale acoustics and more! Through these annual programs, Sitka youth are engaging in ecological research, resource management, and are learning to become active stewards of our local environment.


May 07 2012

Starrigavan Stream Team

Each May in Starrigavan Valley, nearly 100 7th Graders from Blatchley Middle School in Sitka spend a couple days doing hands-on stream restoration and monitoring. In the classroom, the students learn about watershed ecology and salmon habitat. Then they hit the field and help professional watershed managers actually install in-stream wood structures to rebuild fish habitat. They also monitor water quality and changes is stream structure. This project has a slew of partners that includes the Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Ranger District, Sitka School District, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and others.

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