The day we headed out from Hoonah was like most days in Southeast Alaska. Grey clouds diffused the light and an almost imperceptible rain left everything damp. We were headed to the Inian Islands, a cluster of knobby isles on the western end of Icy Strait, just inside the entrance to Cross Sound. Our trip held a dual mission: to conduct volunteer wilderness monitoring for the Forest Service and to gather traditional subsistence foods for the Hoonah locals on the trip: Owen James and Gordon Greenwald, our boat captains and wizened culture-bearers, two young men named Randy and Sam, and another adult volunteer, Kathy McCrobie.
The Inians along with two other large islands make up the Pleasant/Lemesurier/Inian Island Wilderness. The PLI Wilderness is one of 19 areas within the Tongass National Forest designated as Wilderness, the highest form of protection public lands can receive. The islands are also historic gathering and hunting grounds of the Huna Tlingit, the native tribe who call this section of northern Southeast Alaska home. Because the Inians are close to the open sea, they are rich with unique flora and fauna. A trip to these distant islands is an opportunity to collect delicacies not common in interior waters near Hoonah. For instance, one of our subsistence targets was black seaweed, a species that thrives in the cold, wave washed intertidal zone of the outercoast, but is rarely found more than a few miles into the Southeast archipelago.
The outside waters can be a harsh place in the summer and downright inhospitable in the winter. Although the Huna Tlingit are seasoned open ocean travelers and motorized skiffs make the 40-mile journey from the village of Hoonah to the islands much more manageable than a Tlingit canoe, it is still a sizable trip for locals. The same factors—difficult access and a short season—also make it difficult for the Forest Service Wilderness Rangers who are headquartered in Hoonah, to access these areas that they are tasked with managing and protecting.
On the first day of our trip we arrived at the Inian Islands after a few hours of skiffing over unusually calm waters. Our first stop was at lowtide on a rocky beach, the perfect habitat for Black Katy chitons, one of the traditional foods commonly called Gumboots which we hoped to return with.
The beach also looked like it could be a prime camping area, so while the rest of the crew flipped rocks and pried unsuspecting chitons from their hiding spots, I headed up the beach to look for recreational impacts. Monitoring impacts from visitors is one of the tasks the Forest Service has asked us to assist with. Wilderness areas are intended to preserve nature in its wildest state, but trash, campfire rings, and other signs of previous visitors detract from the wild character of these places. Also, once a site has been impacted, the trend is a downward slope to a trashed site. To prevent cumulative impact, we check known campsites and cleanup and naturalize any human traces we find. Fortunately, this site was in the same condition it’s probably been in since it was uncovered by the glacier, so I spent some time flipping rocks and adding to the gumboots collection.
As the tide neared its apex, Gordon pointed out a small rock island set apart from the larger Inian Islands. For generations, this rock had been the prize destination for Huna families. Set far from land and too small to support trees, the rock is the perfect nesting ground for seabirds like gulls and cormorants and we had timed our trip perfectly to harvest the new eggs. As we approached the rock in skiffs, Gordon and Owen explained the protocol: as the swell surges, we run the skiff up to the rock, one person jumps off, and he pulls the bow away before the swell drops the boat onto the shore, then reset and try again for the next person. Before they maneuvered the skiffs toward the rock, they carefully taught the boys the traditional method to appropriately harvest the eggs. If done in an ecologically responsible way, these practices will be able to continue forever. (Learn more about the regulation regarding egg collection by Alaskan Natives).
As we approached the rock in skiffs, Gordon and Owen explained the protocol: as the swell surges, we run the skiff up to the rock, one person jumps off, and he pulls the bow away before the swell drops the boat onto the shore, then reset and try again for the next person. Once on the rocks, Gordon instructed Sam and Randy to only take eggs from nests with multiple eggs, always leaving one behind.
Sam was the first to make the jump. The birds immediately erupted in a cacophony of squawks and feathers. Randy and I traded apprehensive glances. I made an excuse that I needed to pack my camera gear in drybags before I could jump…really I just wanted one more chance to see how it was done. Randy landed an impressive leap, despite receiving a bootfull of water. I followed him up the rock. As a non-Native, without subsistence rights to the eggs, my job was to enjoy the view. Blankets of birds flapped above us. The few green tufts of grass made a stark contrast to the guano-bleached stone and the blue-grey sky and water. It took no time for Sam and Randy to collect plenty of eggs to share with family and elders back in Hoonah. With concentration, steady boat handling, and good timing, we all made it safely back aboard the skiffs.
As the day went on, I was impressed with the way Owen and Gordon pointed out new landmarks to the two young men. Every remark about a headland or bay included not only geographical references, but also historical, cultural, and subsistence context.
That night, while we ate chowder made with local salmon, smoked octopus and cockles, I reflected on the education Randy and Sam had inherited on this trip. I have no doubt that they were more interested in learning about hunting spots, edible shellfish, and traditional stories than they were about the Wilderness land designation of their home. But, I would like to think that by relating the cultural values and subsistence practices of the Inian Islands along with the Wilderness values that will continue to protect this place for those practices, they have a better chance of retaining a favorable perspective of public lands, too.
In the end, the idea and values of Wilderness are stories, stories that must be repeated and retold to maintain their relevance. Gordon and Owen have endeavored to pass those stories to Hoonah youth. My esteem and thanks goes out to them for including the value of respect for public lands in the stories they tell.
The Dargon point Timber sale was offered on May 10, 2014. Prospective bidders are given 30 days to respond in a sealed bid process. The estimated value, as appraised by the USFS appraisal system, for the 4,520 mbf* of young-growth timber offered was $440,035.85. The official sale and opening of the bids was held on June 10, 2014 with four bids received as follows:
- Frontier Inc. $ 797,915.00
- Good Faith Lumber $ 682,800.00
- SEALASKA Corp. $ 626,236.00
- Dahlstrom Lumber $ 470,000.00
*This bid was for 309 MBF Hemlock and 4,211 MBF Sitka Spruce young-growth.
So what’s the big deal? To understand the issues, let’s start form the beginning. The Dargon Point timber sale is a young-growth timber harvest involving 57.7 acres on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. This sale presents a unique, new economic opportunity and is one of the first of its kind in SE Alaska. The sale provides large expanses of valuable and viable young-growth timber accessible by road, a characteristic uncommon in remote Alaska.
Dargon Point and the Transition Framework
The Dargon Point sale is significant because of the opportunity to stimulate the Tongass Transition and promote resilient, sustainable and economically diverse Southeast Alaskan communities by catalyzing in-region business development, in-region manufacture of value-added products, and more value-per-board-foot. However, the same threat still exists, the exportation of the long-term benefits, along with jobs and profits, overseas. The size, logistical ease and value of the sale has attracted the attention of large-scale lumber exporters, primarily in Asian markets.
Dargon Point represents a real opportunity to stimulate economic diversification in the region. The Tongass Transition Framework was put forward by the US Department of Agriculture in 2010 with the support of communities, tribes, and entities throughout the region. The framework was initiated to stimulate job creation, address the dwindling supply of old-growth timber, and transition Southeast Alaska into a sustainable, economically diverse region with a healthy young-growth timber industry.
A large component of the Tongass transition involves moving the region out of old-growth timber harvest and into young-growth management. The outcome of the Dargon Point sale can set a promising precedent for the future of young-growth sales and stimulate a successful integrated transition.
Outdated Policy and Practices:
In 2012, during the NEPA scoping process, Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole promised expansive regional benefits
“The project will be pretty wide-ranging in its impacts, from improving forest health and wildlife habitat to providing sawlogs to mills and job opportunities for local contractors…If approved, the young-growth volume will diversify the current Southeast Alaska timber industry”.
However, these “wide-ranging” local impacts are unlikely to be realized if Cole, the US Forest Service and the region fail to address shortcomings in the current timber appraisal system. The existing appraisal system virtually eliminates local businesses by making it near impossible for small-scale miller operations to realistically compete with timber exporters. Timber sale layouts, offerings, harvest timing, and size, could be carried out in a responsible manner that encourages business investment, job growth, and value-added manufacturing in Alaska. As it stands, the appraisal system does not fully capture the value that young-growth timber offers our region, nor does it catalyze local development.
This system needs to be reformed or amended to realistically support the values and goals of the Tongass Transition and value local processors for a young-growth industry. Alaska Region 10 is undoubtedly unique and has logistical, cultural and historical differences that need to be reflected in the governance of its natural resources. The system needs to encourage business investment and business development.
In the last decade, the USFS has fore fronted the need to collaborate with partners as it realizes its mission across the United States. Many regional entities have been collaborating effectively with the USFS, local mills, schools, contractors, and businesses to ensure an efficient young-growth process that supports job creation, capacity building, economic diversification and a healthy future for our young-growth industry. For instance, the Nature Conservancy’s retooling loan fund intends to aid regional mills in building infrastructure for processing young growth. The Sitka Conservation Society has worked with partners to build young-growth community assets, test business plans and understand the best-use of young-growth wood.
All of these activities are in line with the USDA’s Strikeforce initiative, a “commitment to growing economies, increasing investments and creating opportunities in poverty-stricken rural communities”. While Strikeforce and the Transition Framework support economic growth and a smaller scale timber industry suitable for SE Alaska, there is a marked disconnect between these initiatives and the sales being planned and offered. The success of the transition and the full, long-term benefits of our combined work cannot be realized without legitimate access to young-growth timber for local mills and businesses. The next major collaboration may be one that explores and evaluates the timber appraisal system and the goals of the US Forest Service. Do they want to develop and support a timber sale program that is appropriate to the scale and needs of Region 10? Or will it remain business as usual with our resources exported for others to profit from them.
Dargon Point: The Bottom Line:
All of these issues are evident when reviewing the bids put forth for the Dargon Point sale. In addition to the notable variety of bid amounts, one thing is evident; multiple buyers all see a value in young-growth timber. However, this is likely due to the export market value. The USFS needs to follow suit and start valuing timber resources in a way that affords SE Alaska a future in young-growth timber. According to Keith Rush, Forester with The Nature Conservancy
“Alaska uses about 80 million board feet of lumber every year. Almost all of this is young-growth lumber shipped up from the lower 48. Some of this could and should be processed locally.”
If the appraisal calculator were reflective of actual regional needs and the value of local resources, we would already be doing just that. In-region processing must be represented in the appraisal system, if not promoted over export. Young-growth is a forest resource that is valuable and we should be moving the transition forward by investing in young-growth opportunities.
The solution is two-fold, first the USFS should design and offer young-growth sales that are scaled to benefit local processing rather than attract export companies. This means sales of less than 1 MMBF. Secondly, designing and offering young-growth sales located on the existing road systems for local processing only will enable smaller outfits to be competitive in the bidding process.
Join SCS and the USFS as we cruise to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Learn how SCS advocates for the protection of pristine habitats and how the USFS manages the resources of the Tongass National Forest.
Birds of Sitka Sound
Join local naturalists as we explore the Sitka Sound through the lens of the resident and migratory birds of the Tongass National Forest. Learn how the Sitka Conservation Society advocates for pristine habitats to be protected for these diverse local species.
On one of the lowest tides of the summer, we will set sail early to try to find the critters of the inter tidal zone on Kruzof Island. The Allen Marine vessel will drop us off so we can explore up close and personal with marine creatures accompanied by a local biologist. Learn the importance of this micro-ecosystem, its connection to our Tongass National Forest, and how SCS supports our public lands for recreation.
Sedge Meadows and Salmon of Nakwasina PassageSunday, July 27 1 – 4 pm $40 per person
Join SCS Executive Director, Andrew Thoms, and SCS board member / UAS Professor, Kitty LaBounty on board an Allen Marine vessel to sail through the Sitka Sound and surrounding area.
Salmon of Sitka SoundTuesday, August 19 5 – 8 pm
Join us on our final boat cruise of the season as we travel the Sitka Sound exploring the life of a salmon. Sitka Sound Science Center’s Aquaculture Director, Lon Garrison, will be on board to guide us through salmon’s importance in the Tongass National Forest.
More information on boat cruises to come this summer! Keep checking this page for more opportunities to get out to sea! Summer Boat Cruise tickets are available at Old Harbor Books two weeks prior to the event. Due to vessel regulations, space is limited and each person requires a ticket (children, adults, and seniors are all $40). The purchase of tickets must be cash or check (Sitka Conservation Society) only. For more information, please contact SCS at 747-7509 or email Mary, [email protected]
Boarding begins at 5:15pm from the Crescent Harbor Loading Dock.
Hot drinks are complimentary.
Binoculars are available on board.
Snacks can be purchased or you can bring your own.
2014 Earth Week wrapped up with the first annual Youth Eco Challenge. The event, hosted by the National Historical Park, had five teams engaged in various challenges that tested their living with the land skills as well as teamwork and communication.
The event began with a fire building task on the beach. Teams made a Leave No Trace fire below high tide using Usnea (old man’s beard), kindling, and 3 matches. They then worked as a team to guide blind folded members to the next task in a Trust Walk. At the Battlefield site, teams worked together to move a tent pole 10 feet using only their index fingers. They engaged in effective communication, teamwork, and patience.
At the Fort site, teams were sent on a scavenger hunt with their compasses to spell a four-letter word that was mapped out in the grass. One team member reflected on how he learned that it is easier when the whole team is working together and listening to each other.
Next, teams practiced bear safety as they walked down the path to find a bear hiding in the woods. The kids “got big” with each other and calmly talked to the bear. After successfully going around the bear, teams were ready to make a safe, weather proof shelter with items from their safety kit. One team even made a natural lean-to shelter with insulation!
The event wrapped up with a native plant identification game with Ranger Ryan Carpenter from the National Historical Park.
A very well deserved THANK YOU goes out to Jen Grocki, co coordinator for the Eco Challenge. Jen inspired the event and saw it through to fruition. Also, a thank you to Sea Mart for donating healthy snacks, Russell’s for their help with purchasing compasses and survival kits, Ryan Carpenter and the National Historical Park for hosting the event as well as adding a native education task, and AmeriCorps member Xaver and Kelly for helping with the event.
Thanks to everyone who attended the 13th Annual Parade of Species!
The Parade of Species is an annual celebration of Earth Day organized by the Sitka Conservation Society. Families are invited to dress up as their favorite plant or animal and swim, slither, fly, or trot through town. Community partners offer games and activities after the parade and donate prizes for “Best Costume” contest winners.
SCS would especially like to thank the following organizations and individuals who donated their time and resources for the activities after the parade:
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Troy Tydingco & Patrick Fowler
- Park Service: Ryan Carpenter, Christina Neighbors, Kassy Eubank-Littlefield, Anne Lankenau, Andrea Willingham, Jasa Woods & Janet Drake
- Kayaani Commission: Judi Lehman & Erin Rofkar
- Forest Service: Marty Becker & Perry Edwards
- Sitka Tribe of Alaska/Herring Festival: Jessica Gill & Melody Kingsley
- Sitka Sound Science Center: Madison Kosma, Ashley Bolwerk, Michael Maufbach & Margot O’Connell
- Kettleson Memorial Library: Tracy Turner
- Cooperative Extension: Jasmine Shaw
- Stream Team: Wendy Alderson, Amy Danielson, Nora Stewart, Al Madigan, & Levi Danielson
- 4H: Mary Wood
- Fish to Schools: Jess Acker
- Harry Race: prize tokens to soda fountain
- Botanika Organic Spa: delicious earth-friendly treats
The Secure Rural Schools Act (previously referred to as “timber receipts”) has provided approximately $100,000 for a group of volunteer Sitkans (the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee or RAC) to decide how the funds will be spent on the Sitka Ranger District.
Projects proposal may be submitted by federal, state, local, or tribal governments; non-profit organizations, landowners, and even private entities. The projects must benefit the National Forest System. The current round of funding proposals are due by APRIL 30, 2014. Projects ideas are limited only by your imagination, projects may include: road and trail maintenance, buoy and cabin maintenance, ATV trail brushing, wildlife habitat restoration, fish habitat restoration, invasive species management among other much needed projects.
Click here to learn more about the program and how to prepare a proposal.
Community driven projects ensure that the US Forest Service understands the priorities of the community in order to better shape their management activities, as well as influencing the distribution of funds throughout the Sitka Ranger District. For more information or assistance, contact Marjorie Hennessy, Coordinator for the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group at [email protected] or 747-7509.
For more information on the RAC you can attend the meeting of the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee on June 6, 4pm, at the Sitka Ranger District (remember current RAC proposals are due April 30!). Community involvement in public lands management planning is a valuable opportunity for the public to have a say in how our lands are cared for!
Parade of the Species, Friday, April 25th, Meet at 2:30
The 13th Annual Parade of the Species will be held on Friday, April 25th. Parade participants are invited to dress as their favorite animal or plant and gallop, slither, swim, or fly with us. We will meet in Totem Square at 2:30 and parade down Lincoln Street to Centennial Hall at 3:00 pm. Prizes will be awarded for Best Use of Recycled Material, Most Realistic, and Best Local Plant/Animal.
There will be a number of community organizations with hands-on Earth Day inspired activities for the whole family from 3:00-4:30 at Harrigan Centennial Hall.
For a full list of Earth Week community events, go here. Earth Week Events For more information contact Mary at SCS offices -747-7509.
For inspiration, check out all the wonderful costumes from the 2013 Parade of the Species.
Post- parade Activities for Kids
Friday, April 25th, 3:00 – 4:30 pm
There will be a number of community organizations with hands-on Earth Day inspired activities for the whole family at Harrigan Centennial Hall following the parade. All the activities are kid friendly, free and open to the public.
Participating organizations this year include:
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game
- National Park Service
- Forest Service
- Sitka Tribes of Alaska
- Sitka Sound Science Center
- Kettleson Library
- Cooperative Extension
I am serving as the Living with the Land and Building Community JV/AmeriCorps member at the Sitka Conservation Society. I mostly serve the youth in Sitka, leading the Alaska Way-of-Life project 4-H club, and volunteering with the Fish to Schools program and Stream Team. Every day is different at SCS which keeps life fun and interesting! I am able to get outside with youth almost every day sharing the importance of our place and our ability to live with the land. My hope is that the youth I serve gain a value of stewardship that will last a lifetime.
The programs I offer through SCS are unique to life in Southeast Alaska. We live in a special place where snow-capped mountains meet the sea, where it rains over 100 inches each year, and where people have a strong sense of community with each other and the land. The 4-H members are engaging in experiential education to get outside, explore the world around them, and learn about how they can live with the land.
The 4-H motto of “learning by doing” is very much part of my role here. I am walking with the youth, learning the “Alaska way of life” with them every day. We are able to explore the world around us through genuine curiosity. I do not always have answers, not growing up in Alaska myself, but that is what a strong community is about: finding the answers together. I have been able to improve my sense of belonging in Sitka and lean on community members to share their knowledge of “Living with the Land” with the 4-H members I serve. We have pulled in stream ecologists, and mammal and fisheries biologists to learn more about brown bears, whales, herring, birds, and salmon. Living with the land and building community really is the Alaska way of life in Sitka.
In the fall, I did a series of classes that focused on outdoor safety and survival. We talked about water purification, shelter building, first aid, staying warm, and what to bring with you in a day pack. Many of the 4-H members went home and made their own safety kits which they now bring with them to 4-H hikes so they are prepared for wilderness adventure. A 4-H parent told me, “this is a very important series; chances are this class will save someone’s life.” The wilderness is our backyard here in Sitka. Exposing youth to outdoor skills at a young age will keep them safe while they explore the natural environment around us.
I am serving in the Tongass National Forest, a coastal temperate rainforest, the largest national forest in the United States. The future of the Tongass is in our hands to protect for generations of people and wildlife to come. This is one of the most magical places I have ever been to, which I now am able to call home. It is through wild places that we are able to connect to the true beauty of the world and find ourselves. We are able to see how life is interconnected here, how the salmon thrive because of the trees, and the trees are nourished by the salmon. It always comes back to how we can be stewards of our natural environment and live with the land and learn from the land.