This expedition is part of Sitka Conservation Society’s Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. The Project, begun in 2009, is a partnership between SCS and the Tongass National Forest Service to collect base-line data on the ecological conditions and human impacts to designated Wilderness areas. The Tongass NF 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). Almost all of this land is only accessible by boat or on foot. Because most Tongass Wilderness Areas are so difficult to access, Forest Service Wilderness rangers rarely, if ever, have the ability to monitor areas which require technical skills, lots of time, or difficult logistics for access. SCS augments and fills in the gaps in data by targeting these areas.
For the 2013 project, the SCS Wilderness crew will work with Craig and Thorne Bay Ranger Districts to conduct a monitoring expedition to a set of outercoast islands adjacent to Prince of Wales Island including Coronation Is., Warren Is., the Spanish Is., and the Maurelle Is.
Adam Andis, is the Communications Director for SCS. He has managed the Wilderness Stewardship Program since 2011. Andis first started paddling on a National Outdor Leadership School expedition in Prince William Sound. He guided kayak trips all over Southeast Alaska for Spirit Walker Expeditions before moving to Sitka to work for SCS. Andis is a Level 4 ACA Instructor, a Leave-No-Trace Master Educator, and Wilderness First Responder. He is also on the board of directors of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and has a passion for Wilderness preservation and protection.
Rob Avery, has been paddling since he was a teenager (and that was a long time ago!) racing sprint and marathon in Junior K1. Originally from the UK, Rob now lives in the Pacific Northwest where he manages distribution for Valley & North Shore kayaks. He is also the regional rep for Snap Dragon, Level Six and other fun paddlesports stuff under his Active Paddles business, and also runs Kayak Kraft coaching service. Rob is an ACA Level 5 Instructor, Level 4 BCU coach, 5 star BCU paddler, Wilderness First Responder, Leave-No-Trace Instructor and no stranger to Alaska where is has spend many windy and rainy days paddling in the SE, central, Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands.
Paul Norwood, was born and raised in Paris, and has lived in Alaska since 1999. He spent a few years fishing and working in canneries, then did odd jobs in the interior of the state. Finally, he went to Sitka where he studied liberal arts and Spanish at UAS and worked as a tour guide on wildlife watching cruises. He has been on the Sitka Mountain Rescue team for several years, completed a year of Americorps service at the Sitka Sound Science Center, did an internship with the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment and a stint on a trail crew in southern Patagonia, and participated with numerous organizations on small projects ranging from traditional gardening to mapping invasive species. Paul has Emergency Medical Technician certification.
Dates and Duration: We are planning 16 days for the trip (11 field days, 2 travel days, and 2 weather days). The trip will begin June 16th and the crew will return to Sitka on July 2nd.
Route: The crew will pack boats in the small fishing village of Port Alexander. The crux of the trip will be the 12.5 nm open-water crossing of Chatham Strait to Kuiu Island. From there, the crew will paddle south to Cape Decision and stay at the Cape Decision Lighthouse. On to the Spanish Island and Coronation Island where the crew will monitor recreation sites and record visitor use data, survey for invasive plants, conduct owl broadcast surveys, swab toads for fungal infections, and a litany of other research goals. From Coronation, the team will cross to Warren, then down to the Maurelles to meet up with Craig Ranger District staff and Youth Conservation Corps to help out in the field. Back at the final destination in Craig, the crew will lead a kayak skills and rescue class for the Ranger District staff and community members in Craig. The trip will wrap up with an adventure in ferry hopping from Craig to Ketchikan and finally back to Sitka.
Pre-trip: send kayaks to Port Alexander on mailboat
June 16: Fly in small plane to Port Alexander, cross Chatham Strait to Kuiu Island.
June 17: Paddle along Kuiu to The Spanish Islands and Coronation.
June 18: Survey Coronation I.
June 22: Paddle to Warren island and survey.
June 25: Paddle to Maurelle Island group.
June 26: Meet the Craig Wilderness Rangers and Youth Conservation Corps in the Maurelles to help with projects
June 27: Survey Maurelle Islands
June 28: Paddle to Craig
June 29: Teach kayak skills and rescue training for Craig community.
June 30: Catch InnerIsland ferry to Ketchikan
July 1: catch Alaska Marine Ferry to Sitka.
July 2: Return to Sitka, compile data, sort and clean gear, then drink some cold beers
For more information, please contact Andis at [email protected] or (907) 747-7509.
Lake Benzeman is located approximately 35 miles SE of Sitka by boat in the South Baranof Wilderness Area. Botanist Jonathan Goff, SCS member Diana Saverin, and volunteer Paul Killian made the trip down late on a Friday afternoon. The following morning they broke down their tents, inflated their packrafts, and set out to paddle to the opposite side of the lake. For the next several days, they paddled and hiked this remote part of Baranof Island as they surveyed and inventoried everything from rare and sensitive plants to recreation sites. On their last morning, they got an early start and hiked to the alpine where they surveyed for mountain goats. The fog was thick and lingering. After a couple hours they decided to head back down to pack up camp and prepare to be picked up by float plane.
Click on the links below to learn more.
Ricky Sablan is a law enforcement ranger with the Sitka National Historical Park. He joined the SCS Wilderness crew on a Community Wilderness Stewardship Project expedition to South Baranof Wilderness in the summer of 2012. Be sure to check out his videos from the trip below.
Walking onto a boat called “The Gust”, we loaded up our kayaks and supplies in preparation for an adventure. I looked backwards to see the orange transport ships from the cruises ship pass by as we set our courses to the open waters. Light grey clouds painted the sky, but the rain was holding back. Off in the distance, a hump back whale shot a burst of air from his blowhole and I realized I was no longer in man’s world.
I was to spend the next five days in the South Baranof Wilderness with three strangers I had only met a few days ago during briefing. Ray Friedlander an intern with the SCS, Jonathan Goff our botanist, and team leader Adam Andis were to be my new friends as we headed into the wild. Our plan was to be dropped off in Whale Bay with a satellite phone, an emergency SPOT gps tracker, and a USFS radio linking us to the rest of the world. Our goal was to assist the USFS in collecting data reports and observations in preserving the wilderness in Whale Bay.
Some hours had past as we came to rest upon a nice bay located near Port Banks. We unloaded all our gear and the kayaks on the shore and watched as The Gust slowly faded away off in the distance. We took our first paddle down to Port Banks and began taking notes of all the planes, jets, and boats that we observed and heard in the wilderness. As we paddled to shore, we observed an old recreational site where people had left some old trash. We packed up the trash and headed back to camp to burn what we could.
It was our duty to take notes on the conditions of these old sites and for the next few days we would paddle up the large arm of whale bay visiting recreational site to recreational site and writing down our observations on the human impacts of the area. Jonathan would collect samples of invasive plants and he would educate us what types of plants were edible and native to the area.
As the days past by, we quickly became immersed into a majestic routine paddling for miles soaking up the wilderness and all it has to offer. Safety was always considered a priority, but having fun was a mandatory part of the trip that we embraced. Taking a dip in the cold clear water felt refreshing after a long paddle on a hot summer day. We had the experience of watching nature at its finest as a brown bear had caught a salmon that was running up one of the creeks. Otters would crack shells on their bellies while a doe and her fawn walked to the shore to observe our brightly colored kayaks pass them by. No need for television, computers, or cellphones to entertain our minds, the wilderness in God’s great country was all we needed. The volunteer experience with the Sitka Conservation Society was something
I’ll always remember.
Anyone that tells you there is a trail between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait because “it’s on the map,” has never been there on foot. This is because there is no trail there! An SCS Wilderness Groundtruthing team recently explored that area on the Tongass and confirmed that the only trails available are the ones made by deer and bear.
The purpose of this expedition was to look at habitat connectivity and bear use. Members of the expedition were wildlife biologist Jon Martin, mountain goat hunting guide and outdoorsman Kevin Johnson, photographer Ben Hamilton, and SCS Executive Director Andrew Thoms.
SCS is interested in this landscape because of the protections given to these areas. The land between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait is protected as LUD II – a Congressional roadless designation status meant to protect “the area’s wildland characteristics.” The lands between Lisianski Strait and Goulding Harbor are part of the West Chichagof-Yacobi Wilderness where management is to “provide opportunities for solitude where humans are visitors.” Management language aside, the most important thing about these areas is that they are large, contiguous protected areas where an entire watershed from the high-ridges to the estuaries is left in its natural condition. This means that these watersheds are able to function with no impact from roads, logging, mining, or other human activities.
What this looks like on the ground is a pristine habitat teaming with bears, deer, and rivers and lakes filled with salmon and trout. There are also many surprises: on this trip, we found a native species of lamprey spawning in a river creek that no one in the group has ever seen before (and the group had over 60 years of experience on the Tongass). We also found fishing holes where trout bit on every cast, back-pools in river tributaries filled with Coho Smolts, forests with peaceful glens and thorny devil’s club thickets, and pristine lakes surrounded by towering mountains.
If any place should be protected on the Tongass, it is these watersheds. The Lisianski River is a salmon and trout power-house and produces ample salmon for bears that live in the estuary and trollers that fish the outside waters. One can’t help but feel grateful walking along the river and through the forests here, thankful that someone had the foresight to set this place aside. Clear-cutting logging wild places like these provides paltry returns in comparison to the salmon they produce and all the other life they sustain.
These watersheds that we walked through are success stories and teach us how the temperate rainforest environment works in its natural unaltered state and how much value they produce following their own rhythms. The actions taken in the past to set these areas aside give us pause to think about what we should be doing today to invest in our future and protect ecosystems that are similarly important ecologically.
Scientists have identified over 77 other watersheds across the Tongass that produce massive amounts of salmon and have ecological characteristics that need to be protected. Some of these watersheds are slated to be logged by the Forest Service. Even worse, pending Sealaska legislation could result in some of these watersheds being privatized, sacrificing protection for salmon streams and spawning habitat. With your help and involvement, SCS is working to protect those watersheds and landscapes so that we can ensure the consideration of long-term health and resource benefits from these watersheds over the short-term gains of logging, road-building, or privatization. It is our responsibility that we make the right choices and that future generations are grateful for what we leave them to explore and benefit from.
If you want to be part of SCS’s work to protect lands and waters of the Tongass, please contact us and we’ll tell you how you can help. If you are inspired, write a letter to our senators and tell them to protect salmon on the Tongass and manage it for Salmon: here
Wilderness: A glimpse at the American experience
While studying visitor use in wilderness areas is an everyday part of my job, I’ve found that explaining what makes a wilderness area different from a large grouping of trees has become the largest secondary part of my work experience.
So what does make the land outside of town in wilderness or something else entirely? By stating wilderness areas in America are lands designated by congress for recreation would be correct, but the concept gets more muddled when breaking it all down. The take home message for wilderness areas is that they are lands designated for the American people to use. The language in the wilderness act tells us that wilderness exists for the enjoyment of the public and with regulations in hopes future generations have the chance for like experiences.
Recognizing these wilderness areas are places set aside which harbor some of the best natural landscapes in the world is a must. For instance, the wilderness areas near Sitka Alaska harbor old growth stands that rise up dramatically forming awe inspiring landscapes that are both magical to witness and imperative for a whole host of specie’s survival. For arguments sake I’ll point out the one such species, marbled murrelets, which are unique sea birds requiring old growth tree stands for nesting.
So, having distinguished that these special places require careful considerations, what types of restrictions attempt to help lessen human impacts? The big restrictions mostly revolve around having no mechanized use, specifically things like helicopters, chainsaws, or even bicycles. The purpose behind these restrictions is to allow the American people real opportunities for wilderness solitude in unspoiled natural areas.
Additionally wilderness lands are not specifically designed for entrepreneurs to exploit as other larger tracks of federal land encompass a variety of use options such as timber harvesting. However, with delicate use wilderness guides help transport people into places otherwise not available to the average citizen.
The central theme of the American wilderness experience is providing a place where a person can travel and feel like the natural world still exists. The small restrictions on use help ensure these beautifully wild places will continue to exist at the same capacities in the future. Additionally, the price of experiencing truly natural places is invaluable and having wilderness remain pristine during these days of ever shrinking wild lands is vital for the American experience.
Recapping, wilderness is an area of federally designated land, set aside for the American public to enjoy in the most natural ways possible. There are restrictions on use to ensure future generations have the opportunity to continue to enjoy these places without man’s overwhelming influences. For most of us that means the perfect place for viewing a bear with cubs, finding the perfect place for an outdoor adventure, seeing the pictures our friends and loved ones share with us from magical places, or simply knowing that the natural environment witnessed today will exist tomorrow.
This summer I have the great opportunity of interning with the Sitka Conservation Society and the United States Forest Service’s Sitka Ranger District. I am excited for getting on with my duties revolving around visitor use studies in the Tongass National Forest and sharing my experiences.
So without further ado let me officially introduce my blog spot; I will share my travels into the Tongass National Forest’s officially designated Wilderness and national forest lands, which yes indeed differs from a patch of unoccupied trees outside of town. With this glimpse into my summer I hope to paint pictures of interesting experiences with the people, land, and wildlife.
Let’s get started with some background:
I have had the great fortune of residing in a variety of places throughout the country including Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Maine, California, and Alaska. Moreover, I’ve rambled into some of the most beautiful spots in America on road trips, vacations, and pure itchy feet adventures. Throughout my life I have been attracted to the wilder places, and at a certain point I found a need to help positively impact these most special places. In a nutshell this is how I find myself in my last semester studying Recreation Management at The University of Maine Machias and visitor use in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest for the summer.
Thank you for following me through my travels and please remember the places I will discuss exist only in the visitor use capacities they currently hold due to previous public support and require public participation to remain at the current levels.
The Sitka Conservation Society field crews are doing remote field work throughout the Tongass this summer. Our field work this summer includes salmon-habitat restoration work at Sitkoh River and Sitkoh Lake, ecosystem conservation and connectivity work in Hoonah Sound, invasive plant removal in Wilderness Areas, helping teach a visiting University course on Alaska’s Forests, Fisheries and Wilderness, and much more. On some of the trips, there are opportunities to jump on some of our flights or transport to get out to remote locations. We hope that SCS members can take advantage of these opportunities and get out to know and experience our Tongass backyard!
1) Kayak Drop Off at False Island in Peril Straits, July 13th, $150: Have you ever wanted to paddle the coast of the infamous Deadman’s Reach, watch for bubble-net feeding whales off Povorotni Island, walk through the majestic stands of Sitka Spruce in Ushk Bay, and ride the tidal currents through Segius Narrows? Next weekend could be your chance to do it!!! SCS is taking an Allen Marine transport boat that will be picking up a University Class at False Island on July 13th at 9am. We have room for a total of 9 kayaks and camping gear (can be double Kayaks). Reserve your spot on this transport and Kayak drop-off for $150 by contacting [email protected] or 747-7509 (fee helps pay for transport to the site. You are responsible for your own expedition, gear, etc. We will drop you off at the False Island dock)
2) Peril Strait Boat Cruise Ride-Along, July 13th, $45: The trip from Sitka North through Peril Straits is a maze of twisting waterways, islands, mountains, treacherous tidal currents, and beautiful bays and coves. Ride along with SCS on an Allen Marine Boat for a pick-up at False Island. The boat will leave at 9am and will return at approximately 1pm. Bring your charts and see if you can follow-along with the route through the passage that separates Baranof and Chichagof Islands! There are only 2 spots available on this trip so if you are interested in this opportunity to travel through Peril Straits, get your tickets now at SCS Offices.
3) Float Plane Drop-off at Goulding Harbor in the West Chichagof Wilderness Area July 30th or 31st ($150/person): Goulding Harbor is one of the most spectacular nooks in the West Chichagof Wilderness Areas. Its unique shoreline is dimpled and littered with islets and coves and the long sloping beaches make for great brown bear habitat. Two trail-heads depart from Goulding Harbor. One leads to White Sulfur Springs and the other follows an old mining rail-road to the Goulding Lakes. It is an amazing place for a wild and remote Wilderness Adventure. SCS has scheduled a float plane pick-up at Goulding Harbor for a crew that will be coming in from a Wilderness expedition. If you would like to take advantage of a float-plane drop off to explore the Goulding Harbor Area, this is your chance. Contact [email protected] (747-7509) for more information (This is a drop-off only. Participants are responsible for their own travel plans and arrangements after drop-off).
Keep watching for more opportunities to get out and explore the Tongass. SCS already has boat cruises scheduled and there may be more opportunities to piggy-back for travel to remote Wilderness Areas!
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:
1000 Introduction (15 min)
- Intros- instructors, SCS, Wilderness Project
- Site logistics- food, water, hot drinks, bathroom, changing area
- 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
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
- 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
- boat traffic
- skills- stroke refinement, edging, running draws
- continued LNT training and practice
- Communication- equipment and protocol
- 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
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.
Interested in volunteering with the Community Wilderness Stewardship Project? Here are a couple of ways to get your hands dirty protecting you local Wilderness Areas:
Heading out into the Wilds on your own? If you are planning to get out hunting, hiking, fishing, paddling, etc. in a designated Tongass Wilderness Area (like West Chichagof-Yakobi or South Baranof) please consider downloading, printing, and filling out our Encounter Monitoring Form (PDF). Recording how, when and where folks are using our Wilderness Areas can give us a base-line to chart increases or decreases in human impact. Just follow the instructions on the form and record the boats, planes, people, and human impacts you find. Then, return the forms to us.
Want to join the SCS Wilderness Crew on a trip? Occasionally, we have extra room for volunteers to join the Wilderness Crew on research expeditions. If you would like to add your name to the list of volunteers we contact when such opportunities arise, fill out the Volunteer Form and Medical History Form below and return it to [email protected]. Also, be sure to take the short (10-15 min) course which allows volunteers to ride in Forest Service aircraft (most of our trips involve small plane flights) and watch the Boat Safety Video. Please keep in mind that only current SCS members can join a Wilderness trip, so make sure you join or renew your membership!
Volunteer Form (MS Word)
Volunteer Form (PDF)
USFS Flight Protocols: A-102: USFS Alaska Region Fixed Wing Safety Course * see instructions at the bottom of this post.
Volunteer Gear Checklist (MS Word) If you will be attending a trip, be sure to check out this gear checklist.
* Aviation Training Instructions
1. Go to this link and register as a user: https://www.iat.gov/Training/
2. Once registered, make note of your user name and password and log-in to the website.
3. Go to the “On-Line Courses” list and scroll down to USFS ALASKA/REGION 10 SPECIFIC COURSES. Click on “A-102: USFS Alaska Region Fixed Wing Safety”
4. Complete the course. At the end, click on the link to take a short quiz. After passing the quiz, you will receive an email from “IAT Admin” that includes some instructions for locating your completion certificate. Please email an electronic copy of your certificate to [email protected].