For Sitka locals, it’s no surprise to walk through Totem Park in late July and see evidence of salmon. From the flopping in the river, to the eagles snacking on the banks, to the smell of rotting fish which permeates the air, the salmon cycle is a constant for summer in Sitka.
On June 19th, visitors to the park also got a taste of how important salmon are to the forest. Instead of finding salmon in the river, they walked through the park to find fish hanging decorated in the trees – quilted salmon, copper-colored salmon adorned with pennies, salmon covered in poems – and instead of an olfactory reminder, there was an auditory one: the sound of strings from the Sitka Summer Music Festival, playing a concert on the old battlefield where Tlingit warriors defended their lands from Russian traders. “It’s a natural amphitheater,” said musician Tali Goldberg. “The acoustics are great. It sounds like a concert hall.”
From celebrating our unique artistic and environmental history, or simply getting out in the woods to enjoy some music and Vitamin D, the 2nd Annual Salmon in the Trees event offered an interdisciplinary glimpse into how important salmon are to the people of Sitka. Drawing on the region’s history of mixing art and environment, community members decorated 30 wooden salmon that were hung by volunteers (many of them from the Forest Service), giving a modern day twist to the long-standing celebration of salmon culture. Adding world famous musicians into the mix highlights just how much Indian River, named Katzdaheen in Tlingit, means to the people of Sitka. “People listen with their hearts and really absorb [the music],” said Joachim Eylander, one of the cellists.
And it’s not just the music they’re hearing: it’s the raven calls between the movements, and the sounds of the river, which flows through the middle of the park. It has had salmon returning for thousands of years to spawn in the waters, from the estuary in what is now the Sitka National Historic park to the river’s upper reaches deep in the Tongass National Forest. Salmon in the Trees is a chance to share with visitors how strong the cultural forces of salmon and the Tongass are to Southeast Alaskans, an opportunity to use art and music to celebrate the important relationship between forest and fish. It’s a way to illustrate how that relationship, which begins in the rivers throughout Southeast Alaska can flow out to affect the entire community – just like the music in the trees.
The summer boat tour adventure continues to the
West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness on Tuesday July 23rd.
The West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area is near and dear to our hearts here at SCS, as the central focus of our founding as an organization. Thirty-three years after its federal designation as a Wilderness Area, West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness is still a place treasured by many Alaskans. Come with as we explore just some of the many reasons that this Wilderness is such a special place.
Guest speakers from the US Forest Service and the Sitka Conservation Society will guide us through the dramatic beginnings of the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area, what makes a wilderness a Wilderness, why these places are so important, and more.
This special tour will take place on Tuesday July 23rd, from 5:30 to 9:30pm. TIckets can be purchased from Old Harbor Books 201 Lincoln Street for $45 or (if available) at the Crescent Harbor loading dock at time of the cruise. It is suggested that tickets be purchased in advance to assure participation. Boarding begins at 5:15 pm. at Crescent Harbor. Due to the discounted rate of this trip, we are unable to offer additionally reduced rates for seniors or children.
This cruise is great for locals who want to get out on the water, for visitors to Sitka who want to learn more about our surrounding natural environment, or for family members visiting Sitka. Complimentary hot drinks are available on board and you may bring your own snacks. Binoculars are available on board for your use. Allen Marine generously offers this boat trip at a reduced rate for non-profits. Please call 747-7509 for more information or email [email protected]
See you on the boat!
I arrived in Sitka a little over a week ago, and since arriving, the stunning sights around me have constantly amazed me. I am surrounded by beautiful scenes of mountains, forests, and maritime infrastructure that drastically differ from the everyday sights of my Wisconsin upbringing. Luckily, I will be immersed in the natural beauty of the area all summer, as my summer position with the Sitka Conservation Society will involve a good amount of fieldwork. For my position as the wild salmon conservation and restoration intern, I will need to familiarize myself with the Pacific Northwest ecosystems, and considering I have never been west of South Dakota, I have a lot to learn.
Reading about ecosystems is an excellent beginning step in the learning process, but I think in order to best understand an ecosystem, you must physically venture into the ecosystem. Luckily for me, I am surrounded by largest national forest in the United States, the Tongass National Forest, giving me a classroom of 17 million acres.
One particular area of the Tongass National Forest where I will be spending a lot of time this summer will be at Starrigavan, a site that was extensively logged in the 1970s and is now a second growth forest. At Starrigavan, the U.S. Forest Service cleared eight gaps in an attempt to help improve the understory vegetation, which in turns helps provide forage vegetation for deer. One of my projects this summer will be helping to create small (5m X 5m) deer exclosures in six of these gaps in order to study how deer foraging affects the understory development. The most difficult part of this project has already proven to be hiking all of the equipment through the dense second growth forest to the gaps.
A different task this summer will be setting up and collecting data for a study looking at the insect diversity and abundance found in second growth forest. Due to the fact that most restoration projects are geared towards salmon and deer, little is known about the habitat suitability of second growth forests on species other than salmon and deer. For this reason, this work is extremely compelling and relevant. In fact there is not even a good list of possible insects that could be found in the pit-fall traps we are setting up!
All in all, this summer looks like it is shaping out to be an experience of a lifetime, an experience that will be mentally and physically challenging at times, but one that will be perpetually rewarding. I look forward to becoming a better field biologist and conservationist, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from my colleagues at the Sitka Conservation Society. I also look forward to learning from listening, feeling, and experiencing the wilderness of the Tongass National Forest.
Mark your calendars! The next tour in our Summer Boat Tours series will be exploring the History of Sitka Sound on Thursday June 27th.
We’ll be exploring the islands, forests and waters of Sitka Sound and learning about the rich history of this amazing place: how it has shaped the lives of those who’ve called Sitka home, and how Sitka Sound has been shaped in turn.
Guest speakers from the Sitka Historical Society, the Sitka Maritime Heritage Society, as well as local Sitkans with a love of history and unique knowledge of this amazing place will help bring the days of Sitka’s yesteryear to life.
Boarding for the tour will begin at 5:15pm from Crescent Harbor Shelter, departing at 5:30pm, and returning home at 8pm. Tickets can be purchased at Old Harbor Books for $35.
Any questions? Call 747-7509 or email [email protected].
See you on the boat!
Did you build your own water filters out of cotton balls and coffee filters, make homemade rainwater catchment systems, or simulate oil rigs with sand and straws when you were in third grade? Neither did I. Third graders in Chris Bryner’s class got to embark on a journey to learn all about water conservation in and around the Tongass over the course of the last few months through a project called Conservation in the Classroom. This new program, created by myself and Chris Bryner, aimed to teach kids everything about water conservation and how it relates to their lives. Throughout two months, I taught lessons on how water conservation relates to things like pollution, waste, energy, water filtration, and more.
Chris’s classroom is unique in that he uses the model of project based learning. This non traditional and adaptive teaching style gave me the freedom to let kids learn by building and being creative instead of talking at them. They learned how hydropower works by building their own water wheel. They compared this to oil rigs as they created their own ocean with layers of sugar and sand to represent oil and the ocean floor. They saw as they pulled the “oil” out of the water with a straw, the “ocean floor” was disturbed. Instead of me telling them, they got to create the simulation on their own. They could see how hydropower is a clean source of energy and understand how our Blue Lake Dam works.
We talked about the importance of protecting watersheds, which is a huge concept for third graders! Kids crumpled up paper to create miniature mountain peaks. I sprayed water on all of the peaks and they watched it trickle down to create this big watershed. We did the same thing with food dye and saw how far it could travel if you dump a pollutant at the top of a mountain. The kids watched it happen in front of their eyes instead of being told what might happen. After that, the kids asked f we could have a trash pick up day to remove all the garbage from Cutthroat Creek to stop it from spreading.
Sitka Conservation Society’s advocates for protecting the Tongass and promoting ecological resiliency. By teaching third graders why conservation matters, they will have a better understanding of why the Tongass is worth protecting. Through these projects and others that the kids created, we all learned how even though water is abundant here, it relates and impacts other things in the Tongass and should be monitored and protected.
After exploring these things, the kids got to break up into groups and focus on a final project they were most interested in. One group investigated the benefits and drawbacks of the Blue Lake Dam Expansion Project. They went on a tour of the facility, interviewed key people from the project, and talked to Sitkans about what they thought. Another group wanted to know how to proper filter water. They did a Skype interview with a woman who builds filters for families in Africa. The kids were creative, inquisitive, and had incredible results. Conservation in the Classroom was a terrific collaboration between SCS and Chris Bryner’s class. Students walked away with a better understanding of their landscape and how to protect it.