When visiting a wild landscape, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the expansive beauty of the place, overlooking what troubles may exist in the area. However, this does not mean these places are free of ecological or anthropological issues. On July 3, the four members of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), Chrissie Post (U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Ranger), Irene Owsley (volunteer and renowned photographer) and myself spent 6 days in Whitewater Bay focusing our energy on managing these wilderness issues that are easy to neglect.
The View of Table Mountain from our camp in Whitewater Bay
The biggest project of this trip was hand pulling an invasive plant: black bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus). Black bindweed is listed as a restricted noxious weed in Alaska and management of black bindweed in Whitewater Bay began in 2009. Despite these efforts, there was still an abundance of black bindweed found in the area, meaning there was no shortage of work to keep us busy. However monotonous pulling an invasive plant may be, it does offer excellent time for reflection, allowing the group to engage in meaningful discussions about conserving wilderness areas. During one of these discussions about how to protect these wild areas, YCC crewmember, Jaxon Collins, offered the insight that the goal of conservation and preservation organizations may be shortsighted. Jaxon said, “We shouldn’t be working to answer why we need to protect these areas, but instead, we should be working to stop these questions from being asked.” This was just one of the countless times, that the learning was being done by myself as well as the YCC crew.
Breeze searching for black bindweed to pull
Besides picking a gargantuan amount of bindweed, we also spent time picking up beach trash. We found fishing nets, tsunami debris and a lot of plastic. One day we walked to Woody Point, the point where Chatham Strait gives way to Whitewater Bay and were besieged by the amount beach trash. Although we were in a Wilderness Area over 15 miles away from the closest inhabited community of Angoon, we were reminded once again that we were not removed from human disturbance.
Jaxon removing beach trash found near Woody Point
The elegance and wildness of wilderness areas can make it is easy to overlook the human influences that are present in these areas. The YCC group gained experience in noticing these intricacies first hand, as they dove into projects that included removing invasive plants, bagging up beach trash and inventorying illusive campsites. The goal of the this trip was not only to manage an invasive species and clean up a wilderness area, but it was also to show the challenges that are facing wilderness managers throughout the United States. By showing these challenges, combined with the stunning scenery of wilderness areas, we hope to educate more people about the issues facing wilderness and develop more defenders of wild areas. As Edward Abbey famously said, “the idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” I know that the opportunities provided to these teenagers have created four new defenders of wilderness and hopefully a group of citizens who will decipher how to “stop these questions from being asked.”
Jaxon, Elizabeth and Travis working to remove bindweed from the Kootznoowoo Wilderness
The Youth Conservation Corps finished their month residence in the Tongass and returned to their respective homes last week. It has been an amazing experience for all people and parties involved. Stay tuned for a final blog about the YCC!