I am a New Englander, born and raised inland of Boston with only superficial exposure to the fishing industry. My past seafood vocabulary includes: lobstah, steamahs, chowdah, cod, haddock, and Sam Adams Summer Ale. My previous understanding of salmon, apart from grandiose images of grizzlies welcoming ballets of jumping fish into gapping jaws, was that there were two types: farmed and wild. For years, I welcomed forkfuls of homogeneously colored salmon steaks into my mouth- oblivious to the colorful salmon hierarchy that exists outside the supermarket freezer- the hierarchy where chinooks rule as king.
Five thousand miles from home, my expanded Southeast Alaskan vocabulary now includes an entire continuum of warm colored flesh. Five different salmon species inhabit these waters. What's tricky is that each one answers to at least two names. Pinks are humpys, chums are dogs, sockeyes are red, cohos are also silvers. With all these different names, methods of fishing them, flesh qualities and arguing attitudes to which fish is best, I've struggled to get a full grip on all salmon. One salmon however, the chinook, I think I'm starting to get.
The most coveted among lip-licking salmon know-it-alls, the chinook's other name is appropriately 'king'. Assuming the throne as the largest pacific salmon, chinooks boast fatty, succulent, buttery, pink -and on rare occasions white- flesh. The meat demands high market value, constitutes the smallest percentage of the salmon harvest, and draws avid anglers from across the country to Alaskan waters to usurp their first king.And so, this New England girl, whose most memorable fishing moments previously include hooking my brother and barfing in the cabin of a charter while my cherub-cheeked grandfather hooked haddock with his Northshore cronies, agreed to cruise the Alaskan coast in pursuit of her King.
Chatter on the docks warned chinooks to be abnormally elusive this season. I, however, retained faith. My salmon sensai Greg Killinger, is no novice to the art of hooking kings, claiming hundreds of these desirable fish since moving to Sitka long ago. I bought my day license and king tag and set out.
The sun was hot and bright, stripping layers of clothing from my fellow fishermen and I all day- odd for an Alaskan rainforest. We enjoyed a Friday on deck, admiring a clear view of Edgecumbe- Sitka's neighboring volcano- and shared the sea with rival boats and behemouth humpbacks.
This is the grocery store of rural Alaskans. Here, you don't compete for parking spots, shopping carts, or the last rump roast. You instead battle swells, compare wits, and scan the horizon for jumping fish. 'Subsistence' is the political term used to describe this cherished anachronism and as enjoyable as the practice is to visitors, it certainly means much more to residents. A powerful traditional value for food is celebrated here. In remote and rural Alaska, where a bag of groceries can cost a small fortune, people also depend on their ability to harvest rich nutrition from the forest and surrounding waters. Each year, by boat and on foot, rural Alaskans harvest this rainforest's bounties and return home to fill freezers and stock pantries with venison, fish, and berries- a feat that packs with it incredible pride.
I was thinking just how good that would feel, was wondering how the meat of white-tailed deer compares to Sitka black-tail, and was rubbing my somewhat queasy stomach when these thoughts were welcomely interrupted by a sudden STRIKE!
The fishing rod that had spent a great deal of the morning dutifully hunched over in waiting, sprung to attention! Greg scrambled to the rod, tightened the line and placed it in my hands. He looked through my eyes, to the hidden angler within, and said something along the lines of…"This is a king. Your King. And if that reel goes overboard, your hand had better be attached!" The rest of the catch is a hilarious blur of shuffling bodies, me squealing, eager voices shouting 'keep the pole upright' 'to the left of the boat, to the right, and reel faster' all silenced by WHACK- a strike of the gaff, sacrificing royalty on deck.
I admired the beautiful sheen of her scales, hugged her fat slippery body to my fleece, estimated her length and weight, and grinned for pictures with my prize. We caught a rainbow of other fish during the remainder of the day but like the over-eager, impatient, cookie jar invading child I am, I couldn't help peering into the ice chest at her beautiful body and the meal she promised.
And so, I caught my king and ate her too. I know she was a female because bright red eggs were revealed while we cleaned her flesh on shore. We also recovered two full herring from her stomach… this was easily the most intimate experience I've had with my food and now my food's food to boot- how wonderfully gross.
Beside a salad bursting with freshly harvested salmon berries and beach asparagus, my king's meat made for a delicious fresh meal. Harvesting your own food is an honorable tradition that evokes pride, love, and harbors incredible respect for the animal, its habitat, and for the family and friends with whom you chose to share with. The rest of her meat is flash frozen and vacuum sealed, awaiting future travel back to the east coast where I will return home to my family as a unique type of provider. I certainly haven't made an awful lot of money as a conservation intern in Southeast Alaska but I am beyond rich with experience, newfound respect for America's last frontier and am hopeful my parents will accept a cooler full of fish flesh as starting payment on my college loans...
A special thanks to my fishing buddy Greg Killinger for sharing his knowledge of these coasts and for helping me reel in my very first king!
What started as an idea to put second growth timber to practical use in 2007 has since taken shape as the most frequently used cabin in the Tongass National Forest. The Starrigavan Cabin Project combined local watershed restoration, community recreation and practical vocational training to produce a forest service cabin that four years later, continues to enrich the lives of Sitka locals and transients alike.
Many watersheds across the Tongass National Forest have been clear-cut and harvested for old growth timber. The resulting land is referred to as 'young growth' or 'second growth' and differs from its original landscape in various ecologically critical ways. Many plants and wildlife such as salmon and black-tailed deer, require the unique assets old growth landscapes offer; the encompassing health of larger ecosystems such as the temperate rainforest of the Tongass National Forest, depends on the existence of old growth. For that reason, organizations interested in protecting intrinsically and economically valuable lands and watersheds often turn to restoration efforts such as 'thinning' of second growth forests to accelerate the return of young forests to old growth conditions. A byproduct of restorative thinning is not surprisingly: second growth timber!
Unfortunately, second growth timber here is not as unique and economically marketable a commodity as Alaskan old growth. However, finding local economic use has proven not impossible and in light of the success with the Starrigavan Cabin project, second growth timber is becoming a beautiful and sustainable alternative to environmentally damaging old-growth clear-cutting.
Dustin Hack, a local Sitkan participant in the 2-week log home building class that resulted in the Starrigavan cabin (see above video), is pursuing the economic possibility of "a nationwide market for Alaskan second growth wood". He explains that participation in this construction class opened his mind to the prospect of using second growth timber for wide-scale timber framing and applauds that "the US Forest Service, conservationists, city and tribe are all behind the effort to use second growth wood to build an economy here in Sitka."
Although, one hundred and fifty cabins are available for recreation within the Tongass National Forest, the Starigavan Cabin is both the first ever produced using local second growth timber and the first cabin accessible (weather permitting) by vehicle. Therefore, not only did this cabin demonstrate a charming and functional use of second growth timber, it's subsequent presence continues to extend forest stewardship to those unable to access Southeast Alaska's more remote cabins.
The restoration work that resulted in the wood, the class that provided local vocational training, and the production of the Starrigavan cabin itself have left a truly significant legacy here on Baranof Island. A tangible demonstration of the shift from unsustainable old-growth harvesting to second growth restoration timber, this project is a reflection of a truly resilient and innovative community working to protect the vast landscape they are fortunate to call home.
To reserve your stay at the Starrigavan Cabin please visit: www.recreation.gov
To learn more about restorative thinning practices please download our briefing sheet by clicking here
[tentblogger-vimeo 44134134]Sitkoh River Restoration Begins!
The Sitkoh River Salmon Habitat Restoration Project got started last week. SCS staff, Trout Unlimited Alaska, local high school students, and other volunteers have been helping work at the site alongside contractors and Forest Service staff. On Wednesday June 13th, the crew hosted a fly-in visit by journalists, fishermen, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Habitat Division Director who took a tour of the project to see what was going on.
The visitor's were thoroughly impressed. Randy Bates, Director of the ADFG Division of Habitat stated, "The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is happy to participate in a project like this that will restore high value fish habitat and restore the productive capacity of the original stream course."
Wayne Owen, the Forest Service Alaska Director of Wildlife, Fisheries, Watersheds and Subsistence commented to the press during the visit that "Salmon are the lifeblood and economic base of Southeast Alaska. The Tongass is the fish basket of North American and Southeast Alaska produced a billion dollars in economic activity from the salmon produced on the Tongass."
SCS applauds the efforts of the State of Alaska and the United States Forest Service in recognizing the role that the Tongass National Forest plays in providing and producing the salmon resource that is so important to the 32 salmon-dependent communities of SE Alaska. We hope that the Sitkoh River Restoration project is just the start of more efforts to put the watersheds that were damaged by historic logging back together so that they can return to full ecosystem functionality and produce all the salmon that they were once capable of.
[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!
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"]
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"]
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.
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!
In the Tongass, people live with the land. We are constantly learning from it--learning how to build communities that are part of the landscape rather than a place away from it. In this blog we want to share with you some of those lessons we've learned and the experience of learning them first hand.
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