We see it just about every day, and the time is coming for us to pay a little closer attention to it: Kruzof Island
North Kruzof is the next item on the Forest Service agenda for a new management plan. But what does the Forest Service have in mind for north Kruzof? Something called an Integrated Resource Management Plan or IRMP.
In a nutshell, an IRMP is
“a collaboration using an inclusive process to find common ground across the many stakeholders and to leverage our investments for broader conservation impacts… blending a cross section of forest management activities, such as forest thinning, decommissioning roads, and removal of fish passage barriers – all of which lead to improved forest and grassland health and watershed function”¹.
So how will this translate into real life on Kruzof?
Kruzof is being managed for a number of different attributes: salmon habitat, recreation, hunting, wildlife habitat, transition into old growth forest, and to a much lesser extent – timber extraction. The new IRMP will seek to further the progress on each of these attributes in a cohesive way, with management activities working towards multiple goals across the landscape. Some of these activities could include:
- Gap treatments - as the name suggests, this consists of creating a small (about 1/4 acre) clear cut in a young growth stand. This mimics natural disturbances such as a blow down from high winds and storms. These gaps in the canopy allow more light to reach to the forest floor, in addition to creating wider spaces between trees.
- More light = more plant life on the forest floor, namely plants that deer and other animals depend on for food, like blueberries and huckleberries.
- More room = bigger trees can grow. If you’ve ever tried to bushwhack through a stand of second growth trees, you know what a dense thicket many of those stands can be. Removing some trees in a gap treatment also mimics the natural die-off that would occur as some trees out-compete others for light. The ‘winning’ trees can now devote more energy to growing outwards, speeding up the process of skinny second growth trees growing into giant old growth trees that existed there before logging.
- These big trees will eventually fall, and hopefully into a salmon stream!
- Trees removed from the forest will be available (to a limited extent) for use by Sitkans as firewood, building materials, and more. Gap treatments that will also be removing the downed trees will only occur in a few places on north Kruzof, and will likely be fairly limited.
- Upstream V’s - in streams, like Shelikof creek, that were ‘stream cleaned’ during logging operations (removing all logs and other obstacles from the stream bed in order to allow machinery to use it as a roadway), logs are placed back in the streams in a large “V” pattern to mimic the presence of former logs and the conditions they created.
- Pools to rest in and hide from predators are created by having large logs in streams. Calm pools for salmon to rest in are important for their long and arduous journey upstream to spawn. Once hatched, salmon fry also depend on these same pools as a place to rest as well as hide from predators. More complex stream conditions (deep, calm pools, tangled branches, swift moving water) create more varied habitat for salmon to thrive in. More thriving salmon means greater spawning success and larger salmon runs in the future.
- More salmon to eat, for people, bears, ravens, eagles, and even the forest itself! The abandoned salmon carcasses left in the forest by bears and other animals fertilize the forest as they decompose, bringing in essential nutrients all the way from the ocean.
- Improved Roadways- if you’ve driven an ATV on Kruzof lately, you’ve noticed the “speed humps” that have been created to slow down ATV traffic, making it safer for all users. In addition to these installments:
- Clearing trails that are overgrown will not only make those trails safer for those who do venture on them, it will allow other users access to these roadways.
- Maintaining and improving current roads and trails will allow for easier access and more enjoyable experiences for all users, and will also discourage new trail-blazing in these areas.
- Cabin/Facilities Upkeep- while already a part of the Forest Service system, the cabins scattered across Kruzof could be given more attention and upkeep as needed/requested.
- Additional amenities could also be a part of cabin/facilities upkeep, such as hardened trail access to and campsites at North Beach, a culture camp for the Tribe, wildlife viewing platforms at Iris Meadows, additional mooring buoy at Mud Bay, ”meat poles” for hunters to hang deer, etc.
These activities, and possibly others, will be “mixed and matched” in order to best meet the goals and objectives of each of the many management attributes of Kruzof Island. Having an IRMP for Kruzof is an exciting opportunity, as it allows both the Forest Service, as well as Sitkans, much more flexibility when managing a landscape like north Kruzof: no rigid “cookie cutter” approach to management.
Even more exciting is how this IRMP is being created – with direct input from the public! Coming up on January 16th at Centennial Hall, everyone in Sitka will have a chance to make their ideas and desires for north Kruzof heard during a public meeting with the Forest Service and the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group. This summer, the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group, along with some other ‘stakeholders’, took a trip out to north Kruzof to brainstorm some ideas on what they’d like to see happen there. This meeting will incorporate ideas from the summer as a jumping-off point for more discussion on what Sitkans want to see on their public lands.
For more information on the Kruzof public meeting, contact Ray Friedlander at [email protected]g
Can’t come to the meeting, but still have ideas you want to be heard? Contact Erin Fulton at [email protected]
¹US Forest Service Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Overview document
Growing up in Minnesota, and having just spent the last three years in North Carolina, hearing or reading the term “public lands” brings to mind some pretty specific notions and memories, most of which include traveling a long distance, paying entrance or vehicle fees, rangers and managers who varied from enthusiastic to ornery, and usually lots of people.
After living in Sitka for just over two months now, I’ve come to see public lands in a much different light. Sitka is nestled within 17 million acres of mountains, forests, streams and muskegs that comprise the Tongass National Forest. There’s no long expedition needed to reach public lands here – they’re in our backyards. They are our backyards. And these public lands are so much more than just a beautiful place to visit – they are the backbone to the communities of southeast Alaska.
I did take a small excursion this past weekend, over to Kruzof Island. I was excited to actually travel the roads and see the forests, beaches, streams and muskegs I have spent so much time working with on the computer. Not to mention this was my first chance to see the Tongass off of Baranof Island. The purpose of this trip was two-fold: to ‘ground truth’ a number of forest stands and salmon streams for their current condition and their potential for restoration work, and to experience first-hand why Kruzof is such a popular and important place for Sitkans.
I traveled with AmeriCorp volunteer Paul Norwood and SCS’s Watershed & Restoration manager Scott Harris over to Mud Bay. Once there, we anchored the boat, loaded up our gear onto our rented ATV’s, and headed west across the island to North Beach cabin (our ‘home base’ for the next couple of days). Already on the very first day on Kruzof, my idea of what “public lands” are started to shift. There I was, looking in awe at the beautiful forests and muskegs of north Kruzof as we roared along in our ATVs, all the while the other people we came across during our trip were there hunting deer with their families, starting to set out marten traps for the upcoming trapping season, and just enjoying the weekend out in the woods.
While our trip didn’t include trap setting, I was able to experience deer hunting for the first time (a beautiful buck on our first day), ATVing through forests, up mountains and across rivers, hiking in streams and through muskegs, old growth stands and thick young growth, and strolling along Shelikof beach collecting sand dollars. All of these amazing and unique experiences, all in three days, all on a small section of an amazing island, and all on public land.
As important and cherished as Kruzof is to Sitkans today, it still shows a landscape scarred from a less than kind history of extensive clear-cutting. Amid the tangle of young growth we climbed through were the moss-covered stumps of the giant trees that once towered there; streams barren of any logs or other diversions were lined with the blunted ends of old fallen trees that had been removed to allow for machinery to move easily upstream; mountain and hill-sides were blanketed in a mosaic of old growth, young growth, and veins of alder along the roads and trails. The scars are healing on Kruzof, but work is still needed to ensure that we can bring Kruzof back to it’s previous ecosystem health, allowing us and the countless animals that live there to enjoy the many riches of Kruzof well into the future.
This trip showed me Kruzof Island as more than just a pretty view of Mount Edgecumbe: it is simultaneously a place for hiking, ATVing, subsistence hunting, fur trapping, restoration work on salmon streams and the surrounding forests, bird watching, beach-combing, quiet reflection, adventure… the list goes on. And all of this without any waiting in line at an entrance gate, or paying a visitor fee, or being constantly monitored by rangers and land managers. Believe it or not, this was the first time I had seen “the public” actually utilizing their public land. After all the visits I had made to public lands before in the lower 48, it wasn’t until coming here to Sitka, and seeing it first hand on Kruzof Island, that I really understood what public lands are really about.
We are so fortunate here in southeast Alaska to not only to have this beautiful landscape as the backdrop of our lives, but to have that landscape as public land that we can visit for recreation and relaxation, and for our livelihoods. The fishing and tourism industries, which are the first and second largest employers and revenue makers in Sitka, are dependent on healthy forests, salmon streams, myriad wildlife, hiking and ATV trails, and cabins: all of which are found in our public lands. On Kruzof, these are places like Shelikof Creek, Iris Meadows, Twin Lakes, North Beach cabin, and so many more. Yes, public lands like the Tongass National Forest are managed by tax payers’ dollars, but the money that the public pays to manage the Tongass is re-paid one hundred-fold. From the roughly 14 million dollars that the Forest Service spends on tourism and fisheries & watershed management within the Tongass, just under two billion (that’s $2,000,000,000!) is brought into the local economies of southeast Alaska from these two industries. And this number doesn’t even include the value of subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering.
When I see Mount Edgecumbe on a clear day, or look out from atop Harbor Mountain, or hear the words “public lands”, a new array of memories and ideas come to mind. Public lands are for all people, for a profusion of different activities. They’re a gift and a legacy for all of us.
More than just timber and trails
Just about everyone who has visited Kruzof Island on the Tongass National Forest leaves knowing that they experienced a magical place. Most everyone realizes that even though they just visited an island within the borders of our Nation’s largest national forest, that forest is much more than just a source of timber.
The visitors and the Sitkans who spend time there know that the place is more than just its trails and cabins, forests and muskegs, rugged coastline and tide pools, brilliant scenery and world class hunting. Altogether, the ecosystems and landscape on Kruzof is the essence of Southeast Alaska’s coastal temperate rainforest ecosystem: a globally rare and unique ecosystem that is indescribably beautiful.
The Forests of Central Kruzof were logged in the past. To many, the scale and scope of logging were too much. To others, the logical was the logical use of the landscape. Today, we are charged with figuring out how we manage and take care of the Kruzof landscape and plan for the use of the land and protection of the cultural, wildlife, and aesthetic resources for future generations. Doing this right will require a holistic approach to take all of the island’s vital attributes and resource values into account. That is, we may be able to harvest timber from Kruzof but how much? At what scale? How fast? And how to best benefit our community. We will need to leave areas free from roads and timber harvest to protect vital habitat for spawning salmon, rutting deer, and fish-hungry bears. We will also have to invest and maintain recreational infrastructure for residents and visitors so that they can access and experience Kruzof Island and understand how special the place is.
To make sure the public lands of Kruzof are managed in the best way possible, citizens should be engaged in the planning processes that decide what will happen on public lands. They can do that by going directly to those who will decide, the US Forest Service. SCS is working with the local Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group and the US Forest Service to give Sitkans an opportunity to brainstorm and give their ideas and input. Watch for meeting notices in early December 2012. For those who cannot attend a meeting in Sitka, they can contact:
Decisions are being made regarding future timber operations, upkeep of cabins, shelters & trails, changes to stream & river management.
These are decisions that will affect the ecosystems of Kruzof Island, all the myriad animals that depend on those ecosystems, and us: the Sitkans who depend on Kruzof for its excellent hunting. fishing. hiking, bear viewing, camping and more.
The Forest Service will go ahead and decide the fate of Kruzof how they see fit, unless each of us speaks up and lets them know how much we value Kruzof and its future.
Tell the Forest Service how you want to see the future of Kruzof shaped. Contact the Sitka District Ranger Carol Goularte and let her know that Sitkans want to be included in planning the future of Kruzof!
Contact Carol Goularte: by email [email protected] or by phone 747-6671
Starrigavan Creek Cabin
The Starrigavan Creek Cabin is not only the most popular cabin in the Tongass National Forest, it’s also a tangible example of how sustainable second growth timber harvest can be utilized. Who needs old growth harvests when such beautiful things can be built with sustainable second growth?
Even building the cabin was a learning experience! This beautiful cabin was constructed as a part of University of Alaska Southeast’s two-week log home building course. Check out a video about the building process here.
More important than being an example of the use of second growth timber, the Starrigavan Creek Cabin is a great place for family and friends to get out and explore the Starrigavan Recreation Area. There’s a reason this cabin is the more frequently used in all of the Tongass National Forests – great times and great memories to be made!
What are your favorite memories from time spent at the Starrigavan Creek Cabin?
Do you kayak in Silver Bay? Hike along Indian River? Hunt on Kruzof? These are the places you know and love: how do you want to see them managed? How do you think restoration and management should be prioritized?
Your input matters! The information we gather from this survey will help guide our work. Please fill out our short 5 minute survey online or using the insert in Friday’s issue of the Sitka Sentinel. Paper surveys can be dropped off at the SCS office, 4J’s, the Highliner, or Kruz-off Espresso. Thanks!