Designating land as Wilderness is the ultimate step to ensuring its protection in the long-term. Wilderness designation protects critical habitat from mining, logging, and development while still allowing people to use the land for hunting, fishing, subsistence gathering, recreating, and even making a living from guiding and operating tours.
Wilderness was integral to SCS’s formation and we’ve maintained that commitment to Wilderness ever since. You can see the whole story of SCS’s formation in the short documentary Echoes of the Tongass. But the short story is that in the 1960s large, industrial pulp mills were clear-cutting huge swaths of the Tongass with no end in sight. A small group formed in Sitka to fight the rampant logging surrounding their home. They saw the recent passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as a way for them to protect at least some of the Tongass. They drafted a proposal to designate the western third of Chichagof Island as Wilderness because of its diverse habitats, intact old-growth forests, and pristine wildlife habitats. It took 13 years of effort, but in 1980, the West Chichagof Wilderness became the first citizen initiated wilderness in Alaska.
Through the politics of the designation process, the extractive interest groups for the timber and mining lobby managed to carve large sections of some of the best habitat out of the designated land. Some of those excluded parcels like Ushk Bay and Poison Cove are currently being managed for logging. As the Forest Service puts it, these areas are managed for “Intense Development” which means they “Manage the area for industrial wood production…and maximum long-term timber production.”
These areas were excluded because they are the best, most iconic old-growth rainforests in the world and provide habitat for important species like the coastal brown bear, Sitka deer, and pacific salmon. Unfortunately, that also means that they are the areas where clear-cut logging is cheapest and easiest.
But, since the 60s, the pulp mills have closed their doors. Nowadays, the timber industry only employs about 200 jobs. Our economy in Southeast Alaska has shifted to tourism and fishing which employ 10,200 and 8,000 jobs and contribute almost $2 Billion to the economy annually. Wilderness designation directly benefits tourism and fishing because it preserves both the habitat, which salmon need for spawning, and viewsheds the tourists flock to Alaska to see.
This year the Wilderness Act is 50 years old and we think it is a perfect time to finish the job our founders began almost a half century ago to designate ALL of West Chichagof as Wilderness. Please join us by sending a note of your support to our senators using the form below.
Ask Senators Begich and Murkowski to Fulfill Wilderness Designation in West Chichagof
SCS will present the Sitka premiere of The Meaning of Wild Sunday, March 9, 2014 from 6-8pm at the Sitka Performing Arts Center. Tickets $7 available at Old Harbor Books (2/14/2014). Free for kids 10 and under.
The film will be accompanied by a selection of wilderness-themed short films, a photography exhibit and silent auction, and door prizes.
Meaning of Wild (25:00)
Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography
The Meaning of Wild takes viewers on a journey through one of our nation’s most wild and pristine landscapes – The Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The film follows wildlife cameraman Ben Hamilton as he travels by boat, plane, kayak and foot to capture and share the true value of Wilderness. Along the journey Ben encounters bears, calving glaciers, ancient forest, and harsh seas but it’s the characters he meets along the way that bring true insight to his mission. The film highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. Ultimately The Meaning of Wild celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates. Visit the Meaning of Wild website.
Background: Sitka Conservation Society has been partnering with the USDA Forest Service for over 5 years to monitor and steward Wilderness areas in the Tongass. Part of SCS’s mission is to educate and inspire community members to take care of their local public lands through projects like the Meaning of Wild.
This film was made possible through support from the Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, and the contributions of over 100 community members all of whom we would like to thank for making this film a reality.
Big Bear Country (26:11)
Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography
Follow wildlife biologist Jon Martin, big game guide Kevin Johnson, conservationist Andrew Thoms and filmmaker Ben Hamilton as they travel by foot and packraft through the rich habitats of West Chichagof Wilderness. The team seeks out the coastal brown bear, a keystone species, to unravel the importance of protecting large tracks of intact habitat for wildlife population. Their journey takes them through the Lisianski-Hoonah Sound corridor, an area proposed but ultimately removed from the original citizen-intiated Wilderness proposal and a prime wildlife area, and over the Goulding Lakes, within the Wilderness boundary. Prepare yourself—you’re about to enter into Big Bear Country.
Running Wild (4:00)
Film by Alexander Crook
Getting out into wilderness, feeling the moss underfoot, legs pumping uphill, breathing clean air, and taking a minute to reflect at the top of a climb—these are the things that inspire backcountry trailrunner Nick Ponzetti to travel to designated Wilderness areas. Follow Nick on a run through the heart of Wilderness to find out how his love of running has inspired a passion for protecting wild places.
Film by Adam Andis
This short film, shot in South Baranof Wilderness area shows how designated Wilderness is integral to us all.
Photos by Adam Andis
Photographer Adam Andis has been exploring the remote Wilderness areas of Southeast Alaska for the past 8 years as a private kayak guide and manager of the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. This collection of photos includes 24 images depicting the raw beauty of 14 Wilderness Areas in the Tongass. Prints will be available to purchase through silent auction at the event with a portion of the proceeds being donated to SCS.
Attendees can enter their ticket stubs into a drawing for a number of great door prizes donated by local businesses including:
2 REI Flash Packs from REI Anchorage
Coupon for Whale Watching tour from Aquatic Alaska Adventures
Gifts from Sound Sailing
2 copies of The Meaning of Wild DVD
Want to get involved with 4H? 4H is a positive youth development program to get youth civically engaged and apply leadership skills at a young age.
Our 4H Adventure Series starts February 18!! This series will be Tuesdays through May from 4:15 – 5:45pm for ages 8 to 13. Skills we will explore are: map and compass navigation, using survival kits, GPS and geocaching, fire building, shelters, knots, water purification, Leave No Trace Wilderness ethics, bear awareness, and other skills to prepare for an overnight trip!
New 4H members are encouraged to join! Please share with friends who may be interested.
Attendees must be 4H members. Please complete the registration forms before the 18th. Copies are available at the Sitka Conservation Society.
Registration is open for this series by e-mailing Mary or Tracy or by calling SCS at 747-7509.
Get outside and explore!
The Sitka Conservation Society is seeking an applicant to support the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. The Wilderness Intern will assist SCS’s Wilderness Project manager to coordinate and lead monitoring expeditions during the 2014 summer field season.
If interested, please review the position description below and submit a resume and cover letter to Adam Andis at [email protected]
Position Title: SCS Wilderness Project Internship
Host Organizations: Sitka Conservation Society
Location: Sitka, Alaska
Duration: 14 weeks, starting in May 2014. Specific start and end dates to be determined by intern and SCS
Compensation: $ 4664 plus travel
Benefits: Intern will receive no health or dental benefits. Intern is responsible for housing. SCS will provide appropriate training for fieldwork in Southeast Alaska.
Organization: The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is a grassroots, membership-based organization dedicated to the conservation of the Tongass Temperate Rainforest and the protection of Sitka’s quality of life. We have been active in Sitka, Alaska for over 45 years as a dynamic and concerned group of citizens who have an invested interest in their surrounding natural environment and the future well-being of their community. We are based in the small coastal town of Sitka, Alaska, located on the rugged outer west coast of Baranof Island. Surrounded by the towering trees of the Tongass National Rainforest, the community has successfully transformed from an industrial past and the closure of a local pulp mill to a new economy featuring a diversity of employers and small businesses.
Background: The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is the nation’s largest National Forest totaling 17 million acres with almost 6 million acres of designated Wilderness Area (also the largest total Wilderness area of any National Forest). The Sitka Ranger District alone encompasses over 1.6 million acres of countless islands, glaciated peaks and old growth forests. In 2009, SCS partnered with the Sitka Ranger District (SRD) to ensure the two Wilderness areas near Sitka (the West Chichagof Yakobi and South Baranof Wilderness Areas) meet a minimum management standard by conducting stewardship and monitoring activities and recruiting volunteers. We will be continuing this project into its fifth year and extending the project to ranger districts throughout the Tongass National Forest.
Direction and Purpose:
In this position you will be expected to assist in organizing the logistics of field trips. Trips can range from just a few nights to three weeks. Backcountry field logistics include float plane and boat transport to and from field sites; kayaking, backpacking, and packrafting on location; camping and living in bear country; field communications via satellite phone, VHF radio, and SPOT transmitters. You will be co-leading trips with SCS Staff. Depending on experience, you may have the opportunity to lead short trips of volunteers on your own.
Working with SCS Staff, this intern position will assist in the following duties:
- ·collection of field data
- ·coordinating logistics and volunteers for field surveys
- ·plan and conduct outreach activities including preparing presentation and sharing materials on Wilderness and Leave No Trace with outfitters/guides and other Forest users.
- prepare and submit an intern summary report and portfolio of all produced materials, and other compiled outputs to the Forest Service and SCS before conclusion of the residency, including digital photos of your work experience and recreational activities in Alaska. Reports are crucial means for SCS to report on the project’s success.
- ·Graduate or currently enrolled in Recreation Management, Outdoor Education, Environmental Studies or other related environmental field
- ·Current Wilderness First Responder certification (by start date of position)
- ·Outdoor skills including Leave-no-Trace camping, multi-day backpacking
- Sea kayaking skills and experience
- ·Ability to work in a team while also independently problem-solve in sometimes difficult field conditions.
- ·Ability to communicate effectively and present issues to the lay-public in a way that is educational, inspirational, and lasting
The ideal candidate will also have:
- ·Experience living or working in Southeast Alaska
- ·Pertinent work experience
- ·Outdoor leadership experience such as NOLS or Outward Bound
- ·Ability to work under challenging field conditions that require flexibility and a positive attitude
- ·Proven attention to detail including field data collection
- ·Experience camping in bear country
- ·Advanced sea-kayaking skills including surf zone and ability to perform rolls and rescues
- Sea kayak certification from American Canoe Association or British Canoe Union
Fiscal Support: SCS will provide a stipend of $4,664 for this 14 week position. SCS will also provide up to $1,000 to cover the lowest cost airfare from the resident’s current location to Sitka. Airfare will be reimbursed upon submittal of receipts to SCS.
With respect to agency/organization policy and safety, intern agrees to:
- ·Adhere to the policies and direction of SCS, including safety-related requirements and training, including those related to remote travel and field work.
- ·Work closely with the SCS Wilderness Project Coordinator to update him/her on accomplishments and ensure that any questions, concerns or needs are addressed.
- ·Be a good representative of SCS at all times during your internship.
- ·Arrange course credits with your university if applicable.
With respect to general logistics, resident agrees to:
- Seek lowest possible round trip airfare or ferry trip and book as soon as possible and before May 1st, working in conjunction with SCS whenever possible;
- Provide SCS with travel itinerary as soon as flight is booked and before arriving in Alaska. Please email itinerary to Adam Andis at [email protected]..
- Reimburse SCS for the cost of travel if you leave the intern position before the end of your assignment.
- Have fun and enjoy the experience in Sitka!
May 20-June 1: SCS and Forest Service trainings; get oriented and set up in offices; begin researching and getting up-to-speed on background info (Outfitter/Guide Use Areas, patterns of use on the Tongass National Forest (subsistence, commercial fishing, guided, recreation), Wilderness Character monitoring, Wilderness issues).
June 4 – August 17: Participate in field trips and assist in coordinating future trips, contact Outfitter and Guides to distribute educational materials, assist SCS in other Wilderness stewardship activities.
By August 20-24: Prepare final report including any outreach or media products, trip reports, and written summary of experience to SCS. Work with Wilderness Project Coordinator on final reports.
To apply please submit a cover letter and resume that includes relevant skills and experiences including documentation of trips in remote settings to Adam Andis: [email protected]
Application will close March 31, 2014.
Tell Senators Begich and Murkowski: Don't let the Forest Service Clear-Cut the Wilderness and Recreation Budget
On the day before Halloween, the US Forest Service announced they were going to reduce the already insufficient $1.1 million dollar Wilderness and Recreation budget for the entire Tongass National Forest by over half a million dollars.
This is “budgetary clear-cutting” with the Forest Service already proposing the closure of 12 cabins alongside a reduction in the staff positions responsible for maintaining trails, keeping cabins stocked and safe, and processing the permits for guides and tour operators.
Cabin closures and loss of Wilderness and Recreation staff overall signifies a lack of prioritization of the tourism and recreation industries here in the Tongass National Forest. The tourism industry alone racks in $1 Billion annually with thousands of visitors coming every year to experience the wilderness of Southeast Alaska.
The Forest Service is not fulfilling its promise of the Tongass Transition. The Transition is a framework the agency adopted in 2010 aimed at creating jobs in sectors like recreation and tourism while moving away from Southeast’s outdated timber management program. For instance, next year the Forest Service has estimates that just one timber sale will COST taxpayers $15.6 Million (that’s over 25 times the entire Wilderness and Rec budget). The Transition (were it to be enacted) would dictate that sustainable and profitable programs like Recreation and Wilderness would take precedence over such wasteful timber projects.
The Forest Service enacted the Transition three years ago. Now we want them to take action to save our recreation and tourism opportunities from these budgetary reductions. We need to support what sustains our livelihoods here in the Tongass rather than reduce them year after year.
Contact Senator Begich and Senator Murkowski. Ask them to encourage the Forest Service to take action on the Tongass Transition by reallocating their budgets to make Wilderness and Recreation a priority and to push for more federal funding for the Forest Service. Email, while important, are not as effective as written letters. If you would like help drafting a letter, contact SCS at [email protected] or call (907) 747-7509.
For Kari Paustian, one of the most important things about growing up in Southeast Alaska is the way that is has shaped what she considers valuable. To read about a value system based on the Tongass, read Kari’s story. To what she has to say, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
If you had seen Kari Paustian at her first dance recital, in her polka dotted tutu, you might not recognize her now. She is 21 years old, a senior in college, almost six feet tall. and has worked for the Forest Service Trail Crew for the past two years, hauling logs, sawing trees, and building bridges. However, if you listen to her describe her job, it’s clear that her tutu years have had their influence. “Me and my boss, and we went up to cut firewood with a cross-cut saw because you can’t use a chainsaw in wilderness areas. We took this beautiful saw up to this very isolated cabin – flew in by float plane. We spent two days cutting firewood. You move your whole body when you use a cross-cut saw. It’s almost like a dance – one person pulls and the other person pushes, and the only sound that you hear is the shh shh shh of the saw moving through the wood. And you can still hear the birdsong in the background.”
Kari can make chopping wood sound like a gift because for her, it is one. The opportunity to work with the Tongass is a way to take advantage of the skills that she learned from all of the physical activities she did as a kid, from ballet to cross country. And her relationship to the land is reciprocal: she’s majoring in environmental studies and is currently interning at the Sitka Conservation Society. When she thinks about her future, it’s with conservation in mind. Being out in the woods is something that is valuable enough to her that she is working on becoming valuable to the forest in return. “I think that any work If involve myself in here will be involved with the Tongass, with the ocean. I can’t imagine living here and working at a desk for 8 hours a day 5 days a week,” she says.
Kari feels that because she grew up in South East, her view of the land is different that most people’s – but just as important. “I think the true beauty in this place is in the details.There’s a sense of learning about plants by tasting them, instead of learning out of books. picking up a leaf and tasting it. The act of being out in the environment – feeling the bark in the trees, the rain falling on your face – it’s a very tactile life that we live here. Those really little details, those tiny creatures and plants are what makes this ecosystem run. They’re at the bottom of the food chain. It makes me feel blessed that I’ve had the time, enough years, to notice those things. and enough people to show me.”
Even if she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after graduation, one thing that she’s sure of is where she’ll do it “I’ve never been someplace that I’ve liked more than Sitka, and I’ve done a fair bit of traveling. If I were to raise a family, this would be -” she stops, and corrects herself – “This is the place I’d want to do that. It’s home.”
To hear Kari, click here: 19_LWL_KARI_PAUSTIAN
In early October two high school students, Sitka Sound Science Center educator Ashley Bolwerk, and I traveled to Lake Suloia on Chichagof Island. This trip was part of the Community Wilderness Stewardship Project funded by the National Forest Foundation and the Sitka Conservation Society Living Wilderness Fund in order to gather baseline data on wilderness areas in the Tongass National Forest. Flying in a Beaver for the first time, I was able to see Southeast Alaska from a new perspective. As you fly from island to island, one can get lost in the sight of the Tongass from above. I was amazed at the beauty of Lake Suloia, peaking through the valley as we approached Chichagof Island. Upon landing, I realized my mistake of wearing hiking boots instead of Xtratufs. Fortunately, Ashley was able to give me a lift from the Beaver floats to shore.
Within our first hour, we had something to record for the Wilderness Stewardship Project: our first plane. We could not see it due to the low clouds, but it seemed fairly close. We went on a hike around the lake to look for beaver traps that were previously dropped off by a high school teacher but never set. Although unsuccessful, we became lovers of the muskegs and masters at dodging Devil’s Club. There were many signs of black tailed deer: tracks, scat, and trails that went under logs far too low for us to follow. We saw some small black birds with white wing tips on the lake, too far away to identify without binoculars. We were able to harvest Lingonberries and cranberries in the muskeg along with Labrador tea.
This particular trip provided for opportunities to explore and share my experience as the Living with the Land Jesuit Volunteer at SCS. I have learned about subsistence harvest of fish, game and wild plants upon which the Southeast community depends. I have gathered abundant wild edibles in the forest and muskeg to make fruit leather, jam, and other tasty treats. The area around Lake Suloia was no exception to the availability of these foods to support this Alaska way-of-life. I was able to teach the students on the trip how to identify cranberries, Lingonberries, crowberreis, bunchberries, and Labrador tea, which are all found in the muskeg. We also had a lesson on the Leave No Trace (LNT) wilderness ethics, which guide an explorer to travel with intention in the wilderness. It is an important practice to live by in the wilderness.
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest values of simple living, community, spirituality/reflection, and justice were very present on this trip into the wilderness. Although I thought we were living in luxury with a wood stove and outhouse in the forest service cabin, it was still a lesson in simple living! We talked about how little we need to survive in the wilderness: warm layers, rain gear, and Xtratufs take care of the basic need to stay warm in this coastal temperate rainforest. It excites me how simple living ignites creativity and shared talents. We were able to share a common space to build community without the distractions of technology and excess: a space for songs, games, and philosophical discussions. Taking time to reflect on your life, where you place value and priorities, seems to come naturally when you gaze across an alpine lake glimmering with a rainbow.
Kevin McGowan has made some friends you need a snorkel to find. “Swimming and seeing a sea lion can be pretty terrifying. Usually they’re just curious… but they’re pretty terrifying looking creatures, so it can be unnerving. You see their huge brown bodies and their vicious looking faces. it’s usually just a dark spot swimming under you, and then they pop up and you know they’re there. And hopefully they don’t do too much damage to you.”
Born and raised in Southeast Alaska, at age 21, Kevin knows that the experiences he had (and marine mammals he met) growing up have uniquely shaped him. “My interests are environment based,” he says. “My whole life has revolved around water.” And when he moved away from Sitka for college, he found it very difficult to translate those interests into a different environment. “My friends didn’t get to see that side of me,” he says. He’s certainly not the only one – while leaving home for college is difficult for all kinds of reasons, for the kids of Southeast Alaska, it is often harder to leave the wilderness environment behind more than their houses and neighborhoods. When the environment is a major component of your activities and interests, it also factors into your relationships with the people around you. In a new geographic environment, kids from Southeast not only have to deal with the usual homesickness, but they have to find a new way to make friends and navigate relationships without access to the things they usually do with their friends. “It would be hard [for my school friends] to see all my real interests, because a lot of them are really location based, the snorkeling and the mountain climbing and boating and kayaking,” Kevin says. “That’s all dependent on things I have here, and going to school I don’t have access to all these things. The way I relate to people from Sitka is a deeper connection. [I] don’t necessarily have that with people at school.”
But luckily, growing up outdoors doesn’t just serve to hinder the social experiences of Southeast Alaskan kids who are trying to make it in more urban and academic environments: Kevin also gives it credit for some of his success. For a guy who admits his high school years were spent dreaming about being outdoors, Kevin says his attitude towards school has shifted. “I definitely have focused academically,” he says. After a hard first year at OSU, he transferred to UAF, and took classes which he needed to catapult him to engineering school in California. Three schools in three years would wear out even the most dedicated student: so how did the shift from dreaming about getting out of the classroom to doggedly trying to stay in it occur? He sees his motivation linked to his experiences growing up in Alaska. “There’s a lot of curiosity that I’ve developed growing up here, adventures and finding new things,” he says. “So with school, I want to learn a lot of new things. It’s helped myself apply myself to schoolwork. Because there’s new things to learn. New people to meet, more foods to try. You don’t necessarily need to be snorkeling to experience somewhere cool and new.” And even though there will be challenges to surmount, it’s hard not to have faith in his ability to succeed. If he can make a good impression underwater on a sea lion underwater, it’s hard to imagine him feeling out of his depth.
Want to listen to Kevin’s stories about spearfishing in his own words?
This week on Voices of the Tongass, John Straley talks about what it means to succeed in the Last Frontier, from building a career to building a family. To hear the show, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
John Straley’s father could not have predicted that moving to the Last Frontier would turn his horse-shoeing son into an intellectual. “He always thought I was better suited to be running a chainsaw,” John says. “He was very proud when I became a writer, but he thought it was good that I had a back-up career as a laborer.” John’s father needn’t have worried. While John didn’t take the most traditional path to being one of Alaska’s most celebrated modern authors, he certainly took an effective one. “Being a horseshoer turns out to be a good motivation to be an intellectual. Your back motivates you to read books.” While it also might have helped that there weren’t many horses around, any way you look at it, he seems to have subverted his father’s expectations. From being a private eye to a youth conservation leader, there are few corners of the community that John has not have a presence in. And of course, his experience means has led to a life as no literary slouch: he has been published many times in many genres, serving as Alaska’s writer laureate between 2006 and 2008.
But, like any reputable laborer, John isn’t one to dwell on success. After almost forty years living in Alaska, he’s come to value his work not by the quantity of his audience, but by it’s quality. “I’ve been in a fancy hotel. And waited in the lobby for my driver and a Lincoln Town car to take me to a bookstore,” he says. “I didn’t make enough money that day to change anything. If I can give a reading at the library here, I’m happy. That’s as much audience as I need. if I can go to a friend’s house and read their kids to sleep, that’s as much as I need.”
And like his own father, John has learned to have his own expectations about being a father subverted. Attention to accurate description, necessary qualities for a writer and a poet, had some different effects when it came to fatherhood. He tells a story about teaching his son Finn some of the everyday joys of the Alaskan experience with his wife, Jan. “When we lived in Fairbanks,” he tells us, “she got a hand lens, and when a mosquito landed on Finn’s arm, she showed him what happens when a mosquito lands on him. Vividly. And when he steps outside the next day, and the screen door is just black with mosquitos, he starts screaming because the air is filled with monsters that suck his blood.” There is a significant pause while John reflects. “This was a mistake,” he admits.
But for any listener who has the opportunity to hear even a few of John’s stories, it’s impossible to believe that parenthood in Alaska was all tribulation – far from it. Near the end of his interview, John says something about the life he has built in the Alaska that rings true, even for those of us who have not spent nearly as much time in the wilderness as John has. “We’ve stayed here for now, jeez, almost 35 years or more,” he says. “It’s just become a fabulous part of our family. It changed all the stories I’ve written, the poems I’ve written. I’m sixty years old. I’m just happy to be alive. I can’t imagine living any place else.”
Listen to the show: 9_LWL_JOHN_STRALEY