Last week, 4-H members had the opportunity to become Eco Explorers at the Sitka National Historical Park with the Park’s Rangers. The 4-Hers learned about three important ecosystems in Sitka: the intertidal zone, the temperate rainforest, and macro invertebrates..
Rangers teach the 4-H members about the intertidal zone
Intertidal zones offer many creatures to observe, such as mussels, sea stars, sea cucumbers and crabs. The 4-Hers discussed what adaptations these creatures have to allow them to survive the tides, and created their own super-human that is adapted to what is needed to survive the boundary between the ocean and land.
4-Hers searched for crabs underneath rocks
While learning of the temperate rainforest, the 4-Hers played organism bingo. The 4-H members were divided into teams to see or hear as many of the species of animals and plants on the bingo sheet as possible. Another hands-on game was played to emphasis the relationship between resources and wildlife.
4-Her marking down what animal they saw in the Park
Learning about macro invertebrates started with becoming one! Each 4-Her was given a card that described one of three macro invertebrates with characteristics such as number of tails, length of the antennae and shell. After they were all dressed up, each discovered whether they were a mayfly, stonefly or a caddis fly. After, the 4-Hers got to do some hands on exploring of what they could find in a stream.
The 4-Hers learned why evaluating what macro invertebrates are living in a stream is important- because they can be measures of water quality and pollution!
4-Hers dressed up as a Stonefly
Each day, the 4-H members got to fill in their journals with what they learned and saw. The journals offered an opportunity to recall some of the things they learned throughout the week. By the end of the camp, 4-Hers had a better understanding of the term biodiversity and the importance of biodiversity here in the Tongass. On the last day, each 4-Her got to graduate as an Eco Explorer and received a certificate for their hard work.
Photos by Alana Chronister
Many thanks to the Sitka National Historical Park Service for providing this amazing camp for the 4-Hers!
On the morning of June 17th at 5:30 AM I hopped into Scott’s truck. It was early but I wasn’t tired; neither were Luke A’Bear or Alana Chronister. We were all too excited anticipating our adventure into the Alaskan Wilderness. The journey began on Scott’s boat, traveling about three hours to get to our first site, Waterfall Cove. On the way I was already surprised by all the animals we had seen: bald eagles, sea otters, cormorants, and seagulls to name a few.
Once we got to Waterfall Cove we had only walked just past the shoreline when Luke spotted two distant brown dots and with the binoculars we confirmed it was indeed two grizzly bears. West Chichagof felt like a wildlife mecca and embodied everything people talk about when they talk about Alaska. We continued on to the creek where we located two stream temperature loggers and two air temperature loggers. The stream loggers are anchored to fallen logs and the air temperature loggers are nailed to trees by the bank. When Scott reviewed the data on the tablet, the graph formed a U shape representing higher temperatures during summer and lower temperatures during the winter.
After the data has been collected, the loggers are returned to their spots to collect data for another year. Alana and I then took mixing transects of the stream meaning we took the temperature of the water in ten spots across the stream. This gives the team an idea of the variability of the stream temperature. All of this data is important because a baseline needs to be established for the temperature of rivers and creeks that support salmon life. As climate change warms the planet, and thus the temperatures of creeks where salmon runs are present, salmon populations will suffer if the creeks become too warm. Because of this data, scientists in ten, twenty, or fifty years in the future will be able to study salmon populations in correlation with climate change and stream temperature changes. For example, if in the future salmon populations are dwindling and stream temperatures are much higher than in the past, scientists will have a variable to study further.
Alana Chronister and I taking stream temperature transects.
The next site was Ford Arm, another beautiful stream and forest in this wilderness wonderland. At this site the temperature loggers had to be moved upstream to avoid tidal influences. Last year the loggers could not be moved farther upstream because it was late in the season and the bears were gorging on the plentiful salmon swimming through the creek.
The next day’s site was Black Bay, a site that must be kayaked to due to the steep bank. Scott and I paddled to the site to gather data while Luke and Alana explored the estuary and its resident bears. On Friday we visited a site called Goulding River and hiked to a close by waterfall afterward. Saturday was our last day and was spent first watching a pregnant doe swim across the channel then hobble to shore and visiting a place called the Potato Patch before going to the site. Despite its unglamorous name, the Potato Patch is one of the most stunning places I have been to.
Waterproofing air temperature loggers.
The bright sun warmed us all up as we eagerly shed warm layers and put on our sunglasses. We climbed off the boat onto a white sand beach surrounded by the nearby mountains. The beach led to a driftwood logjam and behind that a bluff covered in grasses and wildflowers. Is was so tempting to just forget about everything else and stay there forever. However, we had to go to visit one more site called Leo’s before heading back to Sitka. At this site, the stream ran just a short distance before ending in a large lake. We gathered data as usual but having just been to the beautiful Potato Patch and this being our last site, I was thinking about the importance of the work SCS is doing. Salmon is vital not only for many plants and animals living in Alaska but also for the people. Just in the town of Sitka alone, the salmon industry employs a significant amount of people. This means salmon population and health must be preserved to keep not only nature in balance, but in order to create a sustainable and lasting fishing industry that will allow the people of Sitka and Alaska to continue benefitting from the land for many years to come.
Special thanks to Knox College and Sitka Conservation Society for giving the amazing opportunity to be the Wild Salmon Conservation and Restoration Intern, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer holds!
The Potato Patch
In May, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska took another important step forward on their journey to establish a shellfish toxin testing lab to serve Southeast Alaska. Representatives from eight regional tribes, the Washington Department of Health, NOAA, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), and the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association (SARDFA) met to learn how to test seawater samples for harmful toxins. Lest anyone forget, shellfish toxins such as the saxitoxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning or the domoic acid that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning remain a real and intensely present risk in Southeast Alaska. This past December a man in North Douglas contracted PSP harvesting clams only 150 yards away from the boat launch, while a few weeks ago Ketchikan saw their first bloom of the saxitoxin-producing plankton Alexandrium.
A picture of plankton from June 8th's tow at Starrigavan Dock. The scalloped chains in the center are the diatom Pseudonitzschia, a plankton that occasionally produces domoic acid and amnesic shellfish poisoning. Starting this summer, the Tribe will be able to say whether that domoic acid is being produced.
This is the second such meeting in the last year. The first, in November 2014 taught attendees how to collect and monitor plankton species at local beaches. We described that conference in a previous blog post, while KCAW also ran a story (found here). While monitoring plankton species can give several days notice of potentially toxic bloom events and rising toxin levels in shellfish, monitoring species is still a fair distance from testing the toxin levels in the toxins themselves. This meeting aimed to reduce that distance. If potentially harmful plankton are present, Tribes will now test a seawater sample directly for the presence of toxins. Harmful plankton do not produce toxins all the time, so this additional step is a way to reduce unnecessary alarm over high plankton levels.
Why did it (need to) happen?
Commercially harvested shellfish, from geoducks to scallops, are all tested by the ADEC for paralyzing saxitoxins. This is an important and necessary step to keep consumers safe, but it’s also nearly impossible for Southeast Alaskans to get their samples to the Anchorage lab in time. Samples are results are only good for five days from the date of collection. It frequently takes three days to get samples from fishing grounds in southern Southeast to and through the lab, leaving one day for fishermen to travel to the fishing ground and only one day to collect shellfish! If the samples are delayed at any point or fall outside the time or temperature regulations, there may not be an opening at all that week.
Left: the promise of unopened boxes fills the air as Sitka Tribe's new lab comes together. Right: Dr. Vera Trainer (NOAA) shows Brian Holter and Ray Paddock how to filter a water sample. ©seator.org.
The importance of the regulations requiring shellfish testing and specifying the treatment of samples can not be overstated. Properly handled samples are necessary for good lab results, and good lab results are essential when we’re looking at toxins that can cause people to stop breathing. The issue is not the testing process, but instead that the State of Alaska does not have the resources to open a regional testing facility, nor do they have the resources to expand their shellfish testing program to recreational and traditional shellfish harvesters. ADEC is doing an excellent job testing samples with the money they have, but there is a need for a regionally-based lab that can also serve recreational harvesters. The Sitka Tribe and the SEATT partnership are hoping to build just that.
So why was this meeting so exciting?
As we pointed out before, the Sitka Tribe’s leadership on this issue is an important step toward reclaiming local ownership over a healthy, wild food source. Here in Sitka, our beaches are littered with mussels, butter clams, littleneck clams, and cockles. We are surrounded by food, but paralyzed with fear (pun intended). Having access to real information about current plankton levels and toxin levels would change that, opening up our beaches to traditional and recreational harvesters alike.
More importantly, however, this May meeting was important because of the partnerships it has created and strengthened. The November meeting featured seven Southeast Tribes, NOAA, and the Washington Department of Health (WDOH). This meeting featured eight Tribes, while three more are committed to joining at the start of the next fiscal year. NOAA and WDOH have both remained involved as well. The real triumph, however, is the new participation of SARDFA and the State. This project will not succeed without the support and patronage of the Southeast divers, and it can not even get off the ground without the tacit approval of the State.
Federal, state, private, public, local, regional, and Tribal organizations. All working together, all working to build a regional lab devoted to local and regional food. Alaskans are fond of saying that resources belong to the people. The partnerships this project has brought together prove the truth of that statement.
We wish the SEATT partnership solidarity, good fortune, and few plankton blooms. Sample on, friends!
SEATT members learn to collect a whole water sample. ©seator.org.
Each May in Starrigavan Valley, nearly one hundred 7th Graders from Blatchley Middle School spend a few days doing hands-on stream restoration and monitoring. In the classroom, the students learn about watershed ecology and salmon habitat. Next, they hit the field. Studetns help professional watershed managers install in-stream wood structures to rebuild fish habitat. They also monitor water quality and changes in the stream structure. Stream Team is sponsored by the Sitka Conservation Society, the Sitka Ranger District, the Sitka School District, the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, the National Park Service, and others. This year's Stream Team should be especially exciting since this fall's landslide has changed the stream's layout so much.
Take a look at some pictures of Stream Team in action below:
Students in the Science Mentor Program gain valuable knowledge of the local environment by conducting ecological research studies one-on-one with professional scientists. This program is excellent preparation for post-secondary studies and gives students a glimpse of where ecological science careers can take them. Individual students work with their professional mentors to develop, implement, and report on a research study that addresses a pertinent ecological question in the local Sitka area. This year, student projects include bird banding around Sitka and testing whether Starrigavan valley has a microclimate significantly different from downtown Sitka's.
This program is a cooperative effort between the Sitka School District, Sitka Conservation Society, University of Alaska Southeast, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Educating young people about energy issues is the best way to create an energy independent future for Sitka. To kickstart energy discussions in classrooms, the Sitka Conservation Society spearheaded a campaign of visiting schools. Our discussion topics included Sitka’s current energy consumption, Sitka's potential for energy conservation, fossil fuels in Alaska, home weatherization, and home and building energy audits. The program also included tours of the Blue and Green Lake hydroelectric dams. SCS is no longer running our Kids' Energy Awareness campagin, but we remain committed to providing youth education opportunities through our 4-H, science mentorship, and Fish to Schools programs
SCS is not involved with this project, but we are excited to highlight the exciting science our neighbors at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska are starting. We wish them sunny skies and toxin-free plankton samples!
No Southeast Alaskan wild foods potluck would be complete without butter clams, blue mussels, or geoducks harvested from along our local beaches. Unfortunately, the fear of picking up shellfish contaminated with paralyzing or brain-damaging toxins, such as those found in a “red tide”, is enough to make most shellfish aficionados stick to the grocery stores. Luckily, subsistence and recreational shellfish harvesters got their first helping of good news this week at the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) conference organized and hosted by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Starting next week, seven tribes from Southeast Alaska will begin collecting and analyzing plankton samples from local beaches to use as an early warning system for toxic plankton bloom events. Within a few years, this species monitoring will be accompanied by direct testing of shellfish samples in the Sitka Tribe’s new lab. The end goal, although a few years away, is for subsistence Southeast harvesters to have the up to date information necessary to make an informed decision about the risks of harvesting on a given beach. At stake? An abundant, local, delicious, and currently underutilized source of protein. Let the testing begin!
Many of us have heard of phytoplankton, but not many of us have a working knowledge of the different species or why they might be dangerous. Phytoplankton, or microscopic marine plants, are the world’s most important primary producers and are responsible for at least half of the global annual oxygen production. Microscopic oxygen-emitters floating through our oceans may sound like a dream come true, but phytoplankton are also capable of producing some of the world’s deadliest toxins. The HAB conference was introduced to Alaska’s three main phytoplankton villains: the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia and the dinoflagellates Dinophysis and Alexandrium. Pseudo-nitzschia produces domoic acid, a poison that targets brain cells and leads to permanent short-term memory loss known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP). Dinophysis is the most benign of Alaska’s toxic plankton and merely induces “food-poisoning on steroids”, or Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP). Alexandrium, the most well-known and feared species, produces saxitoxins that inhibit nerve function. This leads to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) and, occasionally, to death. Saxitoxins are so potent that they have been weaponized by the U.S. military and are classified under Schedule 1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Toxins classified as chemical weapons are terrifying, but plankton are hardly alone among organisms in their ability to produce deadly poisons. The reason planktonic toxins in particular get so much attention is the ease with which they make their way into the human food chain. Plankton are filtered indiscriminately out of the water by shellfish. In a bloom situation, when one plankton species multiplies especially rapidly, any toxins produced can quickly accumulate to lethal levels in all of our favorite mussels, clams, scallops, and even in crustaceans. Humans are not the only species affected by high toxin concentrations in our seafood; sea lions and whales are known to have died from ASP while sea otters in areas with frequent Alexandrium blooms have learned to taste and spit out shellfish with high saxitoxin concentrations.
All this terrifying information from was almost enough to turn me off mussels forever. Thankfully the goal of the HAB conference was not to terrify the tribes in attendance, but rather to empower them to test their own beaches and ultimately to predict risk. That risk is real – in May of 2011, for example, thirteen people in Ketchikan and Metlakatla were admitted to the hospital with symptoms of PSP. But there is hope: in contrast to Southeast Alaska, where recreational shellfish harvesters are playing Russian roulette every time they eat a clam, Washington State has established a highly effective system of early monitoring and shellfish testing throughout Puget Sound. The HAB conference heard from Dr. Vera Trainer (NOAA) and Dr. Jerry Borchert (Washington Department of Health) about how they have coordinated a crew of volunteers and amateurs to make one of the most impressive, comprehensive, and up to date risk maps for the public to use.
Under the tutelage of NOAA scientists Dr. Trainer, Dr. Steve Morton, and Dr. Jennifer Maucher, the HAB conference attendees learned how to collect a plankton sample at a local beach (the primary site for the Sitka Tribe will be at Starrigavan), how to prepare a slide of that sample, and finally how to interpret and identify the organisms present under a microscope. As the attendees ogled at their water samples, they learned to measure the relative abundance of a species. They also learned how to collect and upload our data to a shared website so that all seven tribes involved in this project can see the results of the others. The goal of this plankton monitoring is to use plankton abundances to predict whether there will be a toxicity spike in shellfish in the immediate future.
The Sitka Tribe’s program is modeled after Washington State’s, but the Washington program does have some important differences. First, Washington testers enjoy funding and support from the state’s Department of Health, support that shellfish testers in Alaska will not receive. That support means the Washington DOH can certify beaches as safe or close them to harvesting at any time. The Tribe will have no such authority. No one will be certifying beaches as definitively safe, nor will they be closing beaches that are deemed unsafe. It will be up to us as consumers to pay attention to the Tribe’s data. Secondly, Washington’s program currently consists of both weekly sampling of plankton and of direct testing of shellfish toxin levels. For now, the Alaska program will just consist of plankton sampling, with direct, weekly shellfish testing possibly a year or two away.
So if the beaches won’t be certified, and no one is going to be testing the clams I want to eat next week, and I’m not a member of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, why should I be excited about this HAB conference as a casual harvester? Because this is the first step to what may in the not-too-distant future grow into a Washington-style risk-assessment program. Because coordination between seven far-flung communities in Southeast Alaska will likely give us some surprising insights on plankton movements and habits, and possibly on local currents. Because watching private citizens collect and interpret valuable scientific data may eventually spur the state to get involved. And because waiting a few years to know that your local shellfish are safe is definitely worth it when the alternative is to risk paralysis and suffocation, permanent brain damage, or (best case) horrible food poisoning. In short, we should all be excited because this is the first step anyone in Southeast Alaska has taken to reclaiming some personal ownership of a local food resource. Bravo and smooth sailing to the Sitka Tribe of Alaska!
Visiting Forest Service Wildlife Technician, Gwen Baluss carefully loosens the tie of a little sac and slowly reaches in. Delicately grasping the fragile creature within, she reveals the dark eyed junco to a resounding “AWE” echoing across the classroom as students pile on top of one another to get a closer look.
For the third year in a row, Baluss has returned to Sitka to continue studying and teaching the community about bird ecology. While juncos and other songbirds may frequent our feeders and whistle familiar songs during our afternoon strolls, there is still ample mystery to these birds. Scientists and land managers know relatively little about their range, distribution and migration ecology for one. Secondly, very few of us have been lucky enough to encounter our skittish feathered friends up close. As one of the participants ruefully commented, “The closest I’ve ever been to one of these birds has been sweeping away the unfortunate remains the cat dragged in.” “Don’t worry,” she facetiously reassured the bird banding team, “This will be my last cat.”
Last week, Blatchley middle school students, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary classes, Sitka High students and the Sitka Conservation Society’s (SCS) 4-H program experienced a more pleasant close encounter with our beloved song birds. In the frosted garden behind Blatchley Middle school, Baluss and Scott Harris, the Conservation Science Director with the Sitka Conservation Society carefully and delicately untangle tiny trapped birds from the mist nets. Baluss bands their legs and the team begin taking measurements. Gwen’s enthusiasm for these often overlooked natural wonders peaks as she explains to wide-eyed students how the sheen of a junco’s eyes changes with age from gray to red, how males boast darker plumage atop their heads and how a surprising diversity between individual juncos exists if you just take the time to look carefully. Captivated students edge closer as she starts blowing tenderly on the bird’s belly to reveal yellow fat deposits visible beneath their paper-thin skin. The classroom is fully engaged.
Southeast Alaska offers diverse opportunities for scientific inquiry and exploration just a few yards from the school door. With the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest as our backyard, children here grow up immersed in this outstanding landscape. Experiences like Gwen’s visit, encourage our youth to approach exploring the environment from an academic or potentially career-driven perspective. Students continue to steward this project throughout the year. In the past, a Sitka High School student Naquioa Bautista, working with the Science Mentor Program coordinated by SCS, based her science fair project on studying the banded bird’s movement. From Naquoia’s study, we learned that Sitka’s winter juncos do not stray very far from their banding sites. On the back wall of Ms. Dick’s 6th grade science classroom, a modern twist on the infamous ‘wanted poster’ is displayed, showing each tagged bird and their band color combination. Students, families and all of Sitka’s residents are encouraged to keep a lookout for tagged birds on their feeders or fluttering about on the trails (please report sightings here).
This week, a few lucky students were given a particularly memorable experience. After a bit of fumbling, the student’s tiny hands encapsulated the virtually weightless fragile feathered mess, their tiny heartbeat pumping against the student’s palm. After taking a knee, the top hand would slowly lift and in an instant burst of energy, the birds would return to the trees of our backyards leaving only tiny soft floating feathers in the air and grins of admiration across each onlooker’s face.
This project is supported by the University of Alaska Southeast’s Natural History Seminar Series, the Sitka Charitable Trust, the Sitka Conservation Society and UAS Biology professor Kitty LaBounty. Gwen Baluss is a biologist with the US Forest Service in the Juneau Ranger District and a member of Juneau’s Audobon Society. Please report any banded bird sightings to [email protected] or report to the Southeast Alaska Long-term Monitoring Network (SALMoN) . To learn more about Sitka’s 4-H program including how to enroll visit our 4-H page.
When collecting baseline solitude, campsite and invasive plant data in remote Wilderness areas throughout the Tongass National Forest, getting to these areas often presents a challenge, most often alleviated by taking a floatplane. However, to survey the greatest distance to help manage the most Wilderness, sea kayaks are needed for swift and efficient transportation. But how can a kayak fit in a small plane? The creators of the TRAK kayak are a company that offer a solution to this problem with their polyurethane fabric and foldable lightweight aluminum frame, allowing us to survey locations that may have otherwise been unrealistic.
This spring, generous donors rose to a matching challenge, allowing the Sitka Conservation Society to raise the funds to buy a TRAK kayak, and the kind folks at TRAK kayaks donated another three! This allowed us to take four people (the maximum number that fits in a beaver floatplane) into remote Wilderness areas and have kayaks after landing. This summer, we put the TRAK kayaks to the test, using them on five Wilderness Trips to five different Wilderness areas. The TRAKs were also used as part of a kids kayak course and were paddled on Mendenhall Lake in front of the Mendenhall Glacier.
The most trying trip for these TRAKs was a 13 day, 130 mile survey of the Portland Canal. The Portland Canal is a 100-mile long fiord that separates Canada from Southeast Alaska, with almost the entire Alaskan side lying within the Misty Fiord Wilderness area. However, the steep, almost unbroken rock walls, unrelenting wind and sheer remoteness makes it nearly impossible for the Forest Service to manage this canal. Thanks to the flexibility of the folding TRAK kayaks, we were able to survey this often overlooked canal. Still, before this trip we had only used the TRAKs once before and it was on a base camping expedition. Thus, there were some reasonable concerns about packing two-week’s worth of supplies in a folding boat. Luckily, the TRAKs packed well and handled amazingly. On this trip, we put the TRAKs to the test as we paddled in sizable chop nearly every day, dealt with the huge 20 foot tidal exchanges that were occurring at the time, and to our surprise we experienced the natural anomaly of a jökulhlaup—meaning a glacial lake broke free from the Salmon Glacier at the head of the fiord—resulting in a week-long constant ebb current. Nonetheless, the TRAK kayaks handled impressively well and it was easy to forget you were in a folding Kayak.
Another noteworthy expedition taken with the TRAK kayaks was on a trip down the west coast of Admiralty Island in Kootznoowoo Wilderness. On this trip, a crew of four took the ferry to Angoon and arrived in early afternoon. We were then able to take the Kayaks and gear to the sea, and we were on the water in time to find a good camp in the Wilderness by sunset. On this expedition, we paddled and surveyed 105 miles within the “Fortress of the Bear” before getting picked up by a floatplane. The flexibility to fold the kayaks into duffle bags greatly improves our ability to be stewards of the Wilderness and survey locations otherwise too remote.
Once again, we want to sincerely thank the kind and generous donors who helped SCS buy a TRAK, and we would also like to thank TRAK Kayaks for donating three boats to our project. Although the TRAK kayaks’ Wilderness field season is over, there are always remote Wilderness Areas in need of baseline Wilderness surveys, and we look forward to use these boats to manage our Wilderness areas in the future. If you are interested in learning more about the Community Wilderness Project, please feel free to e-mail [email protected].
The Sitka Conservation Society is not only dedicated to protecting the natural environment of the Tongass National Forest, but also to supporting the health and sustainability of the communities that depend on the forest's resources. As part of this mission, we partnered with local communities, the Tongass National Forest, and the National Forest Foundation to conduct a habitat restoration monitoring project on Twelvemile Creek on Prince of Wales Island.
This project has three key components; conducting the actual monitoring of fish ecology, engaging local school kids in hands-on activities in the creek, and training aspiring fisheries professionals from nearby communities.
Stream Team is a statewide citizen science initiative that brings students out of the classroom and into their backyard. This summer, students from Hydaburg, Craig and Klawock were able to participate.Corby Weyhmiller, a teacher in the community of Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, was instrumental in involving students in the hands-on activities. This past summer, kids worked alongside fisheries technicians and researchers at Twelvemile Creek. In addition to developing their math and science skills, the students learned about the background and history of forest management, salmon habitat, and restoration efforts on the Tongass National Forest.
Cherl Fecko has also been integral to the effort to engage local school students. Fecko is a retired Klawock school teacher and continues to work catalyzing environmental education initiatives on Prince of Wales. She said the hands-on experience is valuable for students in Southeast Alaska. "I think in this world of technology, what we're really hoping is that kids don't lose that connection to their outside world," she said. "I mean, they are still using technology but I think it's just so important to still get outdoors and connect with their environment."
The five species of Pacific salmon that inhabit the rivers and streams of the Tongass fuel the economy of Southeast Alaska and are an essential part this region's culture. Past logging practices were detrimental to salmon habitats because surrounding trees and even those lying across stream beds were removed. Forest Service biologists and local conservationists later realized the woody debris in and along the rivers and streams had its purpose. These logs create important habitat for salmon spawning when they are adults and provide cover for young salmon. They also have important ecological functions that can be hard to predict. For example, the logs that lie across creeks like Twelvemile catch and trap dead salmon that are washed downstream, and help fuel the nutrient and food cycles of the aquatic ecosystem.
Over the years, the Sitka Conservation Society, the National Forest Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and our communities have worked in partnership to focus on restoration projects that can return these streams to their original condition. This summer, enthusiastic Stream Team students, high school interns, and teams of scientists were out in the waters, observing the habitats to find out what has worked well in the restoration process and what can be improved. This adaptive management testing, or post-restoration monitoring, is funded by the Forest Service, National Forest Foundation and members of the Sitka Conservation Society.
The work on Twelvemile Creek has helped more than just the returning coho salmon, however. The internship program has given high school students the chance to participate in the research and get on-the-job training and exposure to fisheries research. Upon completion of the internship, students may receive scholarships for the University of Alaska Southeast's fisheries technician program.
The Sitka Conservation Society remains committed to not only the health of the fish in Twelvemile Creek, but its future stewards. Conservation Science Director Scott said, "It's a long-term commitment to taking care of a stream, but this is not just any stream and these are not just any kids. Ideally they'll end up getting jobs as fisheries biologists and fisheries technicians and natural resource managers."
Founding by Congress in 1991, the National Forest Foundation works to conserve, restore, and enhance America's 193-million-acre National Forest System. Through community-based strategies and public-private partnerships, the NFF helps enhance wildlife habitat, revitalizes wildfire-damaged landscapes, restores watersheds, and improves recreational resources for the benefit of all Americans.