SCS’s short documentary Restoring America’s Salmon Forest was selected to show at the Alaska Forum on the Environment Film Festival on Friday, February 8, 2013 in Anchorage. The film focuses on a multi-agency effort to increase salmon returns on the Sitkoh River in Southeast Alaska’s Chichagof Island, by improving the spawning and rearing habitat and redirecting a river that was heavily damaged by logging operations in the 1970s.
In the heyday of the Southeast Alaska timber industry, little regard was paid to the needs of salmon. Streams were frequently blocked and diverted, with streams in 70 major watersheds remaining that way decades later. Salmon surpassed timber in economic importance in Southeast Alaska more than two decades ago, but only in the last few years has the Forest Service finally made a serious effort to repair damaged streams. Currently over 7,000 jobs in Southeast Alaska are tied to the fishing industry, compared to about 200 in the timber industry. The Forest Service spends about three times as much on timber related projects as fisheries and restoration projects each year on the Tongass.
While salmon are responsible for 10 times as many jobs in Southeast Alaska as timber, and are also an important food source and a critical part of our cultural identity, the Forest Service still puts timber over salmon in its budget priorities. Recent Forest Service budgets have dedicated in the range of $22 million a year to timber and road building, compared to less than $2 million a year to restoring salmon streams damaged by past logging, despite a $100 million backlog of restoration projects.
Logging damages watersheds by diverting streams, blocking fish passage, and eliminating crucial spawning and rearing habitat structures. Restoration increases salmon returns by removing debris, redirecting streams, stabilizing banks to prevent erosion, and even thinning dense second-growth forest. We believe it simply makes sense to go back and repair habitat if you are responsible for its damage.
Please contact your representatives in Washington to tell them the ways you depend on Tongass salmon, and tell them you support managing the Tongass for salmon and permanently protecting important salmon producing watersheds. Tell them it is time to redirect funds from the bloated timber budget to the salmon restoration budget, and finally transitioning away from the culture of old-growth timber to sustainable practices recognizing all resources and opportunities.
What to say:
Check out the talking points in this post for some ideas of what you might include in your letters or calls.
Contact:Undersecretary Robert Bonnie
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
Email: [email protected]Senator Lisa Murkowski
709 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Email: [email protected]Senator Mark Begich
825C Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Produced by Bethany Goodrich, a summer staffer at the Sitka Conservation Society, “Restoring Alaska’s Salmon Forest” provides a brief look at how a restoration project looks on the ground and what such a project can accomplish in terms of salmon returns.
Bob Christensen, original member of SCS’s Groundtruthing Project team, recently completed a comprehensive review of forest restoration methods for The Wilderness Society. This very readable work provides a thorough background of the why, how, and where of restoring forest habitats in the Tongass National Forest. It also describes a concise method for prioritizing restoration locations based on ecological, social, and economic criteria. We used this work to inform the prioritization we conducted for the Sitka Community Use Area. Efforts like this are critical to our understanding and ever-constant learning about how to restore fish and wildlife habitat in Southeast Alaska.
You can view Bob’s report below or download an 8 Mb version by clicking on this link.
This school year, SCS partnered with the Sitka High School Construction Tech program to explore and demonstrate ways that young-growth red alder and Sitka spruce from the Tongass can be used in building and woodworking. The projects that resulted are profiled, along with others from throughout the region, in “Alaskan Grown: A Guide to Tongass Young Growth Timber and its Uses,” published by SCS this month.
Whether you are a builder, woodworker, consumer, or simply interested in the growing conversation around Tongass young-growth timber, the guide profiles projects throughout the region and shares practical insights about the quality and performance of local young-growth in a variety of applications. It also discusses basic challenges and opportunities surrounding the eventual U.S. Forest Service transition to young-growth timber harvest on the Tongass, which was announced in 2010.
Funding for this guide was provided by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation as part of an ongoing effort to support sustainable timber harvest and local markets in the Tongass National Forest. The purpose is to invigorate markets for Tongass young-growth timber products, particularly in Southeast Alaska, by exploring their performance in a variety of interior and exterior applications. By sharing practical information, broadening the knowledge base, and connecting local producers with consumers, we hope to help builders, woodworkers, resource managers and others make more informed decisions about using Tongass young-growth.
Check out the guide to learn more about:
- Why Tongass young-growth is important right now
- What the most common species are, and how they can be used
- Where Tongass young growth is being used, including in the Sitka High School construction tech program, U.S. Forest Service public recreation cabins, and private homes
- When experts predict economic harvest of young-growth will be possible on the Tongass
- What it will take to start shaping a sustainable local young-growth industry with the opportunities we have today
We know there is significant interest in the use of young growth, and we believe Southeast Alaska communities can sustain small young-growth timber operations that support local expertise and sustainable economic development. Harvesters, processors, builders, and consumers throughout the region are interested in realizing this vision. We hope that this guide will be one small step toward expanding and informing this conversation.
The survey results are in. And the winner is….. Katlian River! We conducted a survey of Sitkans to identify community priorities for stream and forest restoration. Other places within the top 5 include Shelikof Creek (seen in the photo here), and Nakwasina River. Our survey also identified the values and activities that are most important to Sitkans when accessing public lands.
We combined the best of the ecological assessments with our survey data to come up with a Strategic Plan for restoring the watershed that are important to people living, working, and playing in the Sitka Community Use Area.
On January 16, 2013 at 6:30pm at Centennial Hall, Sitkans can share their ideas and priorities with the Forest Service regarding the future management of Kruzof Island. Over the next few years, multiple habitat restoration, timber management, and recreational developments and maintenance can occur on Kruzof Island. The community survey we conducted also identified the Central Kruzof – Iris Meadows area as the #3 priority for future restoration work. As part of this process, we sent a small crew to Kruzof Island to ground-truth these opportunities. You can read their report here….
Click on this link to to download a hi-res (approx. 50Mb) version of this document
Since the Forest Service first announced its Tongass Transition Framework in early 2010, the Sitka Conservation Society has both partnered with the agency and sought models to demonstrate ways Tongass second growth timber can be used locally and sustainably. We know there is a significant interest in the use of local wood, and we believe Southeast Alaska communities can sustain small second-growth timber operations and mills. Local builders are interested in realizing this vision. However the Forest Service still needs a little convincing to move away from a dependence on unsustainable old growth logging. With the help of a National Forest Foundation grant, we recently donated 1,800 board feet of local young growth Pacific red alder to the Sitka High School industrial arts department for students to use in building night stands. Our hope is if students can successfully use this local wood in their first-ever carpentry projects – and perhaps discover a few of its quirks – local builders and the Forest Service will take note, and give more consideration to local second growth. To learn more about the Sitka High industrial arts classes’ use of local alder, listen to this article by KCAW radio.
Salmon are the backbone of the economy and the way-of-life in Southeast Alaska. Many of our regional leaders recognize the importance of salmon for Southeast Alaska and recently worked with the Sitka Conservation Society to articulate why Salmon are important and the efforts they are taking to protect and sustain our Wild Salmon Populations. With support from the State of Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund and Trout Unlimited Alaska, SCS helped to produce a series of “Targeted, effective, and culturally competent messages on the importance of wild salmon and salmon habitat will be created that are customized to appeal to specific Southeast Alaska communities.”
The work of the Sitka Conservation Society strives to find the common ground that we all have to the natural world that surrounds us. We work to build upon this common ground to chart a course for policy, practices, and personal relationships that create an enduring culture of conservation values alongside natural resource management that provides for current and future generations. In Alaska, we have in Salmon an opportunity to do things right. We are proud when are leaders recognize and support this vision and take actions that manifest this support. Listen to what they have to say:
Listen to: Senator Mark Begich
“We have an incredible salmon resource in Southeast Alaska. Did you know that salmon provide a 1 Billion dollar industry that powers the local economy? And that catching, processing and selling salmon puts 1 in 10 Southeast Alaskans to work? Salmon is big business throughout Southeast Alaska and symbolizes the richness and bounty of the Tongass National Forest. Healthy and abundant salmon–something we can all be proud of!”
Listen to: Senator Lisa Murkowski
“Since I was a young girl growing up in Southeast the region has been sustained because of the diversity of our economy, and a key part of that diversity is our salmon which fuel a 1 Billion dollar commercial fishery annually. Not to mention the sport fisheries’ economic contributions. Catching, processing and selling salmon accounts for 10% of all regional jobs. Everyone is lucky to live in a place that produces such bountiful fisheries. Healthy and abundant salmon–something we can all be proud of!”
Listen to: Dale Kelly – Alaska Troller’s Association
“Did you ever think that an old log lying in the stream might be good for salmon? Turns out it is! A fallen tree creates pools and eddies where salmon like to lay eggs. These areas are also nurseries for young salmon. Back in the day, people used to clear logs from salmon streams, but that’s no longer allowed and restoration work is underway in some rivers. Healthy forests mean healthy salmon–something we can all be proud of!”
Listen to: Bruce Wallace – United Fishermen of Alaska
“Did you know that conserving and restoring salmon habitat means jobs for Southeast Alaskans? Salmon already employ about 1 in 10 people here. Restoring salmon watersheds damaged in the past means more fish, bigger overall catches, and more jobs. With support from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, forest restoration projects are underway in the Tongass National Forest. Healthy forests mean healthy salmon–something we can all be proud of!
Listen to: Sencer Severson – Salmon Troller
“Southeast Alaskans love our rare spells of hot, dry weather, but heat and sunshine can be bad for salmon–in fact, they like shade. That’s why our towering trees in the Tongass National Forest are so important for our salmon to reproduce. Leaving trees along salmon streams provides essential shade. It also prevents erosion and keeps rivers in their natural channels. In the Tongass, healthy forests mean healthy salmon!”
“Alaska’s sustainable salmon management depends on good information. That’s why technicians may ask to look at salmon you’ve caught. Fish with the adipose fin removed usually means the salmon had a tiny wire ta implanted in side when they were juveniles. These tags provide managers with important information on the origin of the stock. Healthy and abundant salmon–something we can all be proud of!”
Background: The US Forest Service has adopted the Tongass Transition Framework, a program intended to shift forest management away from the out-dated and ill-fated old growth logging paradigm toward management that support multiple uses of the forest, including recreation, restoration, subsistence, and second-growth management. This is an encouraging recognition of the region’s important natural resources, but the figures don’t match the Forest Service’s transition plan. Check out the figures here.
For example, the Forest Service still spends over $22 million a year on logging and road building, but only $6 million on recreation and tourism and $8 million on restoration and watershed. Our fishing industry relies on healthy watersheds and restoring damaged salmon stream. Our tourism industry relies on recreational facilities and wildplaces for visitors to get the Alaska experience. It just so happens that these are also the two biggest industries in Southeast, together supporting over 15,000 jobs and providing just under $2 BILLION to the local economy. Logging on the other hand only supports 200 jobs.
Take Action: Please ask the Forest Service to follow through with their Transition Framework and put their money where their mouth is. Write to the Undersecretary of Natural Resources, Harris Sherman.
Contact:Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell U.S. Dept. of Agriculture 1400 Independence Ave. S.W. Washington, D.C. 20250
Please also send a copy to SCS at [email protected] so we can hand-deliver all of your letters to the Undersecretary himself in Washington, DC.
Some key point to include in your letter:
- Tourism and fishing are the two largest economic drivers in Southeast Alaska.
- Logging and road building cost tax payers $22.1M annually, while the Forest Service only spends $6.1 M annually on tourism and $8.1M annually on fisheries and watershed management. BUT, the timber industry only supports 200 jobs— tourism supports 10,200 and fishing supports 7,200.
- The Forest Service has adopted the Tongass Transition Framework, a program to transition from timber harvesting in roadless areas and old-growth forests to long-term stewardship contracts and young growth management. This is an encouraging recognition of the need to protect the region’s natural resources and fundamental economic drivers: tourism and fishing, BUT the Forest Service needs to reflect this transition in their budget.
- Be sure to include your personal connection to the Tongass, it’s forests and natural resources.
- Also, be sure to include how you rely on the Tongass—for subsistence, recreation, business, etc.
Example: Here’s an example letter I wrote. Feel free to use this as a template:Your Address Here Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell U.S. Dept. of Agriculture 1400 Independence Ave. S.W. Washington, D.C. 20250 Dear Chief Tidwell: I am writing out of concern for my home. I live in Sitka, Alaska, a small fishing community in Southeast Alaska surrounded by the Tongass National Forest. Our entire economy revolves around our natural resources. I have been a guide for many years with a sea kayak tourism company. When my clients, or really anyone, come up to see Alaska they want to see three things: bears, forests, and salmon. Luckily for me as a guide, if you find one of them, you’ll find the others. For instance, if you find a salmon stream, you’d better be on the look-out for a bear; if you want to find a good salmon stream, go to the healthiest, oldest forest; and if you want to find a stand of big healthy trees, follow the salmon and bears. Just as the bears, salmon, and tress are connected, so too are our industries: tourism, fishing, and timber. In Sitka, we’ve already seen that poor logging practices kill our fishing industry by destroying the spawning-streams, the birthplaces of our salmon populations. Without standing forests and salmon fishing, tourism wanes in response. Recently, though, we have also seen that if all of these industries are balanced, our communities benefit as a whole. Small-scale logging, responsible fishing, and eco-friendly tourism have been growing at increasing rates and are the model for a new future for the Tongass. In Southeast, we are trying to build a sustainable future, and we are succeeding. My concern for my home stems from your agency’s spending priorities. Like any healthy and productive systems, our economy and your budget need to be proportionate and well-balanced. So, why does your agency spend just $6.1 million on recreation and tourism and $8.1 million on fisheries, but about $25 million annually on timber and road-building? That is certainly not a balance, and considering that fishing is our largest industry and tourism is the second in line, it is nowhere near proportionate. As the Forest Service, you say that your job is “caring for the land and serving people.” To care for the land and serve people in Southeast (and anyone who values these wild places) please redistribute your budget priorities to reflect the real situation on the Tongass. Imagine if we invested $25 million in salmon habitat restoration and recreation instead of timber. In four years, we will have completed all of the restoration projects needed on the Tongass. Compare that to the 50 years it will take at current rates. Speaking for all of us in Southeast Alaska, we cannot wait 50 years. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely: Adam Andis
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]
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.