People and Place

The Elusive Goshawk

Photo for The Elusive Goshawk

[doptg id="9"]I am climbing over old fallen logs, heavy moss and fungus-covered behemoths. The moss looks inviting, but I don't know whether my next step will be a vertical plunge into a rotten piece of wood, or a nice solid step. My right hand is festering from devil's club thorns, and I'm trying to prevent a hundredth whip to my face from a blueberry bush. So goes another day of surveying goshawks on Chichagof Island in the Tongass National Forest.

Bethay and I volunteered with the Forest Service's survey of Queen Charlotte Goshawks on Chichagof island as part of their management efforts that will include thinning prescriptions to restore old growth habitat conditions.The Queen Charlotte goshawk is specific to this region, and is a subspecies of the Northern goshawk. We hiked through old-growth forest, prime habitat for goshawks, and got to know the beautiful (and powerful) forest we are here to protect.

I've spent some time in Alaska, but I have never experienced anything like hiking through the Tongass for hours on end. It is not easy! It required all of my faculties to not fall, or get scratched, poked, or slapped...and most of that happened anyway. I started to feel like the forest had a personality, a large being with idiosyncrasies I had to learn to respect and work around if I wanted to harmonize with it. Despite the bush-whacking, hiking through the forest was incredibly beautiful and rewarding, and it was enthralling to be surrounded by old-growth Tongass forest.

We hiked all day for three days, stopping frequently to make goshawk calls with a megaphone. We didn't hear so much as a chirp in response for the majority of the survey. I was starting to wonder if this bird actually existed. On the third day, we were soaked from rain, and had almost gotten back to our truck to head home for some hot tea and a movie, but decided to make one last goshawk call. AND IT ANSWERED. Chelsea has years of experience with goshawk surveys, and told us that when a bird finally answers, it's a rush. It made my jaw drop, and my heart race. "Call it again!" I yelped. It answered a second time, this time closer to us. I never thought I'd get so hyped up about hearing a bird! We skipped back to the truck in a state of euphoria.

The Queen Charlotte goshawk is an elusive and sensitive creature. It needs specific old-growth habitat in the Tongass to survive, and it is a species well worth surveying and protecting, as the Forest Service is doing. To the goshawk!


North to Sitka

Photo for North to Sitka

[gallery link="file" columns="5"]

We're married!I can't believe it!Both Kate and I agree that we will someday look back on these last few weeks as the happiest in our lives.

We got hitched on June 2ndin Sonoma, CA.After two days collecting ourselves in Nor Cal, from one of the biggest events of our lives, we packed our truck and steered north to Alaska.This summer we are working with the Sitka Conservation Society in Sitka, AK.We couldn't think of a better place to spend our first months together as a married pair.

Sitka is located on Baranof Island.To get there you have to either fly or take a ferry.Kate and I caught the ferry in Prince Rupert, BC on June 10th.The trip on the Alaska State Ferry was something that I had been looking forward to for a long time.For me, the ferry marked the beginning of our Alaskan adventures and one step closer to the wild North.

Since I was a kid there's been something pulling me to this landscape.It's hard to explain why I'm drawn here, to a place that we perceive as cold, wet, and generally unwelcoming.But for me, and maybe you too, there's a desire to find something here, achieve something, a metaphysical search of sorts. Anyways, I'm still searching.

I couldn't have been happier to arrive in Sitka on June 12.It's been 5 years since I last lived here, but nothing seems to have changed much... at least in town.We haven't yet had the chance to escape into the mountains.We plan to take our first hike later this afternoon.I can't wait to step into the forest and introduce Kate to the Tongass, and the Tongass to Kate.I wonder if it has changed as much as I have?I guess there's only one way to find out…

Wildlife Cruise with Gallant Adventures

Photo for Wildlife Cruise with Gallant Adventures

One of my favorite aspects of Southeast Alaska is that it is total water world. There are endless islands and bays and inlets, teeming with life and energy and just begging to be explored. We had the opportunity to go out on a wilderness cruise with Pauli Davis, owner of Gallant Adventures, and explore some of the islands just off of Sitka on a warm, pleasant evening. He skiffed us over to St. Lazaria Island, which is a National Wildlife Refuge and a nesting bird colony. St. Lazaria is rugged and cliff-lined, and provides habitat for bald eagles, peregrine falcons, cormorants, and many other species of birds.

Pauli nosed us into a cave of cormorants, from which Mt. Edgecumbe was perfectly visible.We edged up to some rafts of sea otters, the mothers and pups eyeing us as we moseyed closer to them. At one point we needled into a tiny little lagoon-like inlet on a small island I do not know the name of. Sunset, glassy calm, thick silence, and crystal clear water amounted to an absolutely ethereal experience. I tilted my head downwards and gazed at the bottom, spotting creatures of the intertidal zone. The water was so clear I just wanted to drink it, or swim in it, or be it. Someone pointed out an old Tlingit path on the beach, reminding us that we were certainly not the first people here, though it felt like it.

Pauli is an incredibly knowledgeable guide, with a passion for sharing his practice-earned perspectives. He knows Sitka's waters and its creatures. If you're in Sitka and are looking for an authentic, professional guide of local waters and wildlife, he's your man![doptg id="7"]

The Journey to Sitka

Photo for The Journey to Sitka

In the middle of May, I packed up my truck, slid a kayak on top, and left my dad's home on Puget Island in Washington to pick up Bethany in Seattle and head for Baranof Island in Alaska! First leg of the trip: driving 1,100 miles to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the departure point for the ferry to Sitka.

We cruised from the green Pacific Northwest into wide, golden, sagebrushed hills of southern British Columbia. I've made the summer pilgrimage to Alaska nearly all my life, but always in an airplane. The long, gradual experience of watching the landscape change over the course of a thousand miles was new for me, much less abrupt. We slept in the back of my truck for three nights on our way up, and boarding the M/V Matanuska to Sitka early one morning.

I'm an anthropologist, so I love people watching. The ferry is a rich place for observation. There were older tourists toting behemoth RVs, young Alaskan high school sports teams, fishermen, welders, and many other diverse folk. We met a hand troller/opera singer/pianist from Ketchikan, and a Finnish dentist.

I remember sitting in the ferry's cocktail lounge sipping Alaskan craft beer, listening to the troller/musician effortlessly improv classical piano. I drank in the mountains and the sea, completely content, with a feeling of possibility. I've been dreaming of coming back to Alaska for two years, since the last time I was in Kodiak. This trip up, for me, represents a long-awaited pilgrimage back to a familiar place, but with a new purpose and perspective. I've always been a part of the family crew, adhering to family rules, living under family infrastructure. Now that that infrastructure is gone, I am starting new work in a new place with new people, with a new college degree. I'm both excited to venture outside of Alaskan commercial fishing culture, and to see what that culture looks like here in Sitka.

Bethany has never been to Alaska, but recently spent five months working as a research assistant in Antarctica, and is no stranger to cold, wild places. Here's to a summer of discovery for us both![doptg id="6"]

Meet Bethany and Natalia

Photo for Meet Bethany and Natalia

Welcome! We are Natalia Povelite and Bethany Goodrich, and are interning at the Sitka Conservation Society this summer! We are here to explore and convey the ways that people here in Sitka and Southeast Alaska live within this wild place. From salmon fishing to spruce tip harvest, we will show how and why the Tongass is an incredible and vital place for people to live, and an absolute necessity to protect.


A little more about Natalia

I was born in Kodiak, Alaska and have spent nearly every summer of my life commercial fishing with my family in Alaska. My love for Alaskan wilderness and natural bounty stems from this lifelong experience. I grew up in Boise, Idaho, and graduated from Willamette University in December 2011 with a B.A. in Anthropology.

My family no longer fishes in Alaska, and while I nearly pursued commercial fishing as a career, I ultimately decided that what I really wanted was to work in Alaska to protect the wild places and unique lifestyles I have grown to love and respect, which led me to the Sitka Conservation Society.

While studying anthropology, I focused on socio-environmental relations, specifically among Native Alaskans. I am interested in the connections between people and land, and the ways that people engage with their surrounding environment. I believe that these relationships are inextricably tied to community and culture, and that collective experiences guide conservation ethics.

A core theme for me in my life currently as well as in this work is that of home. I've lived in several states and towns, and my idea of home is getting ever fuzzier. One thing I know for sure is that Alaska is where I've felt my most authentic, true self, and perhaps that is what makes it my home for now. I'm looking forward to exploring what makes the Tongass home for those who live here and breathe this misty forest air every day. I want to know what makes people grow their roots here, and how the experience of living within the Tongass builds upon itself to create the specific community of Sitka.


Meet Bethany

Hello readers! I am ecstatic that you are interested in following the summer interns and SCS staff as we explore how Southeast Alaska ‘lives with the land'. Before I start filling this blog with adventures, research, thoughts, opinions, and discoveries, I figured it appropriate to provide you all with a brief introduction of myself.

I grew up in a small town about forty minutes outside of Boston, Massachusetts. I can't really say where I currently ‘live' anymore as I've been pretty uprooted since I left Massachusetts for California in 2007. A year ago I lived in San Francisco, five months ago Antarctica was home, five weeks ago I sheltered in a dome shaped home nestled in the New Hampshire woods, three weeks ago I lived in Natalia's truck, and today my head hits the pillow in Sitka, Alaska.

Although my location is constantly shifting, my love for nature and the arts has remained unchanged since day one. The majority of my childhood was spent accumulating bruises of varying degrees and sorts- jumping out of trees, snagging my home-sewn dresses (thanks mom) on barbed wire fences and falling...a lot- often into marshes while in pursuit of pollywogs. During inclement New England weather, I passed the time creating artistic messes that I humbly referred to as masterpieces. New England is truly beautiful and I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up surrounded by a wild asylum (Sadly, a lot of which now has been sold off and mutated into ‘modern-colonial' New England homes).

This early love affair with art and nature has since begun a long drawn-out transformation into a profession. I graduated last spring from the University of San Francisco with a BS in Biology, emphasis in Ecology, and minors in Fine Arts and Neuroscience. In past years I have worked with captive animals ranging from chimpanzees to cockroaches, rehabbed and cared for many sick and injured wide-eyed elephant seal pups and sea lions, and interned for a wild cat conservation non-profit. Upon graduation, I headed to Palmer Station, Antarctica to work as a field and lab assistant on a polar phytoplankton project studying genetic and ecological seasonal shifts of diatoms. I enjoy combining my creativity and love for science and conservation through the development of informative, useful, and entertaining media for the public. I hope to keep you all informed and amused during my next three months here in Sitka, Alaska.

Please stay tuned!


Living with the Land and Building Community in Southeast Alaska

Photo for Living with the Land and Building Community in Southeast Alaska

The Tongass National Forest is the heart and soul of Sitka and the people who live here, as has been the case for thousands of years.

The Tongass provides our food, and it provides jobs in the fishing and tourism industries, which are the backbone of Sitka's economy. The Tongass is also where we go to relax and find inspiration.

When the Tongass is not well, neither is Sitka, a fact that has driven the work of the Sitka Conservation Society for over 40 years.

This blog will tell stories of the ways the Sitka Conservation Society, the people of Sitka, and all of Southeast Alaska, are finding ways and solutions to build communities that live with their natural environment and turn away from the unsustainable practices that were tried over the last 200 years. This blog will include stories of individuals, groups, practices we have learned, natural history concepts, and much more that we hope will begin to help us learn how to live with the land and build sustainable communities in Southeast Alaska.

UPDATE 2/6: Boy Scout Troop 40 Adopts the Stikine

Photo for UPDATE 2/6: Boy Scout Troop 40 Adopts the Stikine

[box style="0"]

UPDATE 2/6: Listen to the KSTK story about the Scout's presentation at the Alaska Forum on the Environment.[/box]

[tentblogger-vimeo 45100272]

In June of 2012, members of Wrangell's Boy Scout Troop 40 joined forces with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS), the United States Forest Service and local volunteers to help remove invasive plants from the Stikine-LeConte Wilderness Area. The objective of the trip was to remove the aggressive reed cannery grass from the banks of the Twin Lakes by hand pulling the plants as well as covering areas with sheets of black plastic. The group also helped remove an enormous amount of buttercups and dandelions from the lakes' shoreline.

However, the ultimate goal of the trip was to teach the Boy Scouts what it means to be good stewards of the land and the value of Wilderness areas like the Stikine. What better way is there to teach this lesson then to spend five days in the Wilderness learning these lessons first hand from the land and from each other?

After five days in the field, Troop 40 decided to adopt the Twin Lakes area as their ongoing stewardship project. They plan to return in the coming years to continue the work that they've started. It is community dedication like this that the Stikine and other wilderness areas require in order to remain pristine for future generations.

[doptg id="11"]

Do your part to
the Tongass

Take Action Become A Member