This article is part of a series on climate change, the effects of fossil fuels, and ways towards a sustainable future.
You can make your voice heard on these issues. Alaska’s own Senator Murkowski is the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Tell her to act on climate change by signing our petition, sending a letter we’ve written, or contacting her yourself. Her office can be reached at 202-224-6665, by mail at 709 Hart Senate Building, Washington, D.C. 20510, or through this contact form.
Photograph by Accent Alaska
The costs of fossil fuel dependence are many. Alaska is facing the financial woes of an oil-based economy, and just about every government that deals in oil also has to deal with the corruption that comes along with it. The heaviest price, however, is paid directly by our planet and the people who inhabit it. By burning fossil fuels, we taint our water and air, and warm our planet. The effects of climate change are proving deadly to species across the globe - including humans. The world is in for full-on climate catastrophe if we do not address our fossil fuel usage, but this does not mean these are the problems of tomorrow. The world is already feeling the heat of climate change. Here’s a shortlist of some of the environmental problems the fossil fuel industry is responsible for.
It’s well known that the oil industry has a history of polluting water. The Exxon Valdez oil spill remains in the collective memory of Alaskans - largely because it continues to affect the ecosystems around Prince William Sound. But such massive oil spills are just the tip of the iceberg. Smaller pipeline leaks are a far too common occurrence, hundreds happening in America alone each year. The extraction of fossil fuels regularly involves dumping chemicals into water sources - including those where people get their drinking water. Oil companies who skirted environmental regulations poisoned the waters of the Amazon river, increasing cancer risk for those who live nearby. America’s watersheds have also been contaminated. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas involves the use of chemicals known to be toxic to humans and animals. It is near impossible, with current technology, to ensure that these toxins stay out of drinking water. Whole communities have had their tap water compromised by gas extraction, and the ecosystems around our rivers have been damaged as well.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill wreaked havoc on Alaskan ecosystems / Photograph by Natalie Fobes
The extraction and combustion of fossil fuels contaminates not just the water we drink, but also the air we breath. The fossil fuel industry pumps a wide assortment of chemicals into the atmosphere, with various consequences to our health. Benzene has been known to cause cancer, nitrogen oxides have been linked to respiratory problems, and sulfur dioxide has recently been proven to cause heart disease. Thousands of deaths occur every year due to inhalation of the fine particles that fossil fuel-fired power plants produce. Additionally, these pollutants lead to the fall of acid rain, which damages soil and surface waters.
Another pollutant that we put into the air by burning fossil fuels is carbon dioxide, which functions as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere and warming the planet. Global temperatures have risen close to 1 degree Celsius since the industrial revolution. Temperatures in Alaska have been rising at twice the rate as the rest of the country. Just one symptom of this problem has been thawing permafrost. As the layer of frozen soil gets thinner, trees tilt in ‘drunken forests’. Lack of snowfall has spelled bad news for Yellow Cedars, which are dying off en masse where there is no longer a layer of snow to protect their roots from freezing. The ecosystems that relied on previously healthy forests are being thrown into turmoil as well.
Due to the melting permafrost layer, trees have been tilting over in 'drunken forests' / Photograph by Tingjun Zhang
Rising temperatures also means melting ice, which in turn means rising sea levels. Alaska’s glaciers have been a major player in pouring water into the oceans - losing ice roughly at the rate of 75 billion tons a year. Seas have risen somewhere between 4 and 8 inches in the last hundred years, and it is unclear how much they will continue to rise. Already, island coastlines are beginning to sink below the waterline - some are in danger of disappearing altogether. In another hundred years, cities along America’s east coast could go under as well.
Climate change is already impacting weather across the globe. As more water enters the seas and atmosphere, rains become heavier and floods more probable. Many of the pacific islands threatened by rising sea levels have also been faced with floods recently. Storms, too, have been getting more vicious. Typhoon Haiyan intensified, due to changes in the climate, to become the most powerful storm to ever hit land, taking thousands of lives with it. Alaskans haven’t gotten off without their share of extreme weather events. Last year, a massive storm - the largest the region has ever recorded - brought 100 mile an hour winds to the Shemya Islands. This February, thundersnow was spotted in Nome - a bizarre indicator for an area that rarely sees any sort of electrical storm.
Changing weather patterns make drier areas drier, cause snow to melt earlier, and may also be sparking more lightning strikes. All of this has bred the perfect equation for an increase in wildfires. Nowhere has the burn been felt worse than in Alaska. It seems we’re on pace to set records in the area of land burned this year. Particularly worrying about these blazes - besides the immediate threats they pose to human and animal habitats alike - is their potential to accelerate global warming. When wildfires melt away at the permafrost layer, they release more carbon into the atmosphere - playing into a vicious cycle that will contribute to more fires in the future.
This wildfire season in Alaska is on pace to blaze by previous records / Photograph by the Alaskan Type 1 Incident Management Team
Carbon dioxide is not only troubling in the atmosphere. As we produce more of this gas, more is absorbed into the oceans, increasing the acidity of the water. Ocean acidification obstructs calcification, so shellfish have a harder time forming their shells. Coral often become bleached in acidified waters, and algae tend to die off, throwing wrenches into ocean food chains. The fisheries of the Gulf of Alaska are especially threatened by this changing ocean chemistry. When organisms at the bottom of the food chain struggle to survive, the fish that people sustain their livelihoods from suffer as well.
Loss of Species
We’ve all by now probably heard about the plight of the polar bears, whose habitats are literally floating out to sea as arctic ice melts. But these bears are not the only species feeling the heat. Human-induced changes to ecosystems, on land and in water, are playing a role in what some scientists are calling the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. If climate change continues to speed up, we could soon be losing species as fast as they were going when the dinosaurs died off.
Yet another species facing the adverse effects of climate change is Homo Sapiens. The National Institute of Health lists a whole slew of health problems that climate change can induce - from asthma, to cancer, to neurological conditions. Already, hundreds of thousands of people die each year, many due to overheating or other weather events. The developing world has suffered the worst, and is expected to suffer more as food production is threatened by droughts and floods and clean water becomes more scarce. Nations whose people have the most to lose to climate change also have fewer resources to alleviate the loss - while those countries who are leading contributors to the problem have money set aside to deal with the fallout.
Typhoon Haiyan left many displaced from their homes in the Phillipines / Photograph by Romeo Ranoco/Reuters
Cultures in Danger
Individual lives aren’t the only thing our species stands to lose to climate change - whole cultures are threatened as well. The ways of life of indigenous groups are often tightly tied to the land. The Nukak-Maku people in Colombia need glacial runoff water to subsist in their homelands. As glaciers retreat, fishing and agriculture become harder for these people, forcing some to abandon their traditions for life in the city. In Barrow, Alaska, melting ice has made it more difficult for the Native Inupiats to subsist off of bowhead whales as their ancestors have done for ages. Another Native Alaskan village, Newtok, is being forced to completely relocate, due to erosion accelerated by the melting permafrost. The people of the Carteret Islands, too, have had to abandon their home due to rising sea levels, becoming refugees to the climate crisis.
Clean water, breathable air, biodiversity, human culture - these things are invaluable. If we want them to be around much longer, we cannot continue to depend on fossil fuels. Despite the damages that have already been done, it is not too late to act to address climate change. By transitioning to renewable energy sources, we can halt the harm we do to our planet by burning fossil fuels. If we put in the work to take care of the Earth, we will build a future with a liveable, clean climate.
Do you care about the future of the Tongass National Forest? Do you want to learn more about tiny houses? Or ocean acidification?
Join the staff and board of the Sitka Conservation Society for an evening filled with great food, conversation, and idea sharing. The We Love the Tongass Gathering will take place on Sunday, February 15 from 4-6 pm at Swan Lake Senior Center (402 Lake Street). Staff and board of the Sitka Conservation Society will discuss tiny homes, local wood, climate change, 4-H programming, and Tongass timber sales. Bring your ideas about how to promote sustainable communities in Southeast Alaska. Let your voice be heard!
This annual meeting is free and open to the public. For more information call SCS at 747-7509 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandbags to limit coastal erosion near Kivalina are scattered by savage winter storms. Warmer waters have eliminated Kivalina's ice buffer, forcing the entire village to relocate. Photo: Mary Sage/AP
Alaska is already feeling the heat of climate change - in more ways than one. Rapidly rising temperatures have been melting permafrost and killing trees. Wildfires are burning away huge swaths of forest. Ocean acidification threatens the way of life of those of us who depend on fisheries. Whole communities have had to relocate due to rising sea levels.
Attorney and global warming activist Deborah Williams has alerted Sitkans that Alaska is more vulnerable to the catastrophic impacts of global warming than any other place in the country. As carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, Alaska's ecosystems degrade and temperatures rise more quickly than those farther south.
SCS is pushing back against climate change. Here's where we're focusing:
1) Senator Lisa Murkowski - Alaska's own Senator Lisa Murkowski serves as the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources committee. That makes her one of the most powerful people in the world when it comes to implementing climate change solutions. Senator Murkowski needs to put Alaskans first - that means fighting climate change. Add your voice! Call or write to Senator Murkowski and sign our petition today!
2) Forest Service Management - Southeast Alaskans are in the enviable position of living in one of the world’s greatest carbon sinks. Scientists have discovered that the old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest sequester amazing amounts of carbon in the soil. In light of this recent evidence, it is imperative that the Forest Service reconsider its Tongass management. Their transition away from old-growth logging means more than habitat preservation - it is a vital step to reduce the speed of climate change.
Alaskan Voices on Climate Change: A series of writings from those who call Alaska home on the growing threat of climate change
Climate change is hitting Alaska hard, threatening the very place so many call home. This series features a range of voices from across the state speaking up about climate change and their experiences working to stop it. Most of these authors aren't directly affiliated with SCS, but we are honored that they've taken the time to write for our blog.
1. Tristan Glowa, A College Climate Organizer from Fairbanks - Tristan here shares his story of how he became involved in the fossil fuel divestment movement and why he knows it is important to work for a safe climate.
2. Kengo Nagaoka, A Divestment Activist from Fairbanks - Kengo speaks to the power and necessity of the divestment movement, and to the troubles of Alaska's oil dependency.
3. Kelsey Skaggs, Climate Justice Activist from Juneau - In this interview, Kelsey talks about how she took up the cause of climate justice, and the litigation she is currently involved with that aims at getting Harvard to divest from fossil fuels.
4. Nathan Baring, Youth Environmental Activist from Fairbanks - Nathan shares why he cares about fighting climate change, and some of his thoughts on how people can make personal changes to contribute less to the problem.
5. Sijo Smith, a Climate Activist from Eagle River - Sijo explains how growing up in Alaska has driven her to fight for a safe climate.
The Real Price of Oil: A series on climate change, the costs of oil dependence, and paths towards a sustainable future
Climate change is taking its toll on ecosystems and the homes of people across the world. The people and nature of Alaska have been especially affected, seeing our lands go up in smoke or sink into the ocean. Our economy and government have been hurt by the use of fossil fuels as well. Oil dependence has introduced corruption and fiscal uncertainty to the state of Alaska. To protect the integrity of our state, our land, and our communities, we are going to need to find solutions that create a more sustainable society. This series addresses issues around climate change and other problems that come with oil, and discusses some ways out of the troubles of fossil fuel dependence.
1. What the World Pays for Oil - A shortlist of the many environmental effects that fossil fuel use has in Alaska and around the world.
2. Oiling the Chains of Government: How the Fossil Fuel Industry Corrupts the Political Process - This post explores the lobbying, climate denial, and corruption that big oil uses to leverage political power across the nation and the world.
3. Oil Spills into Alaskan Politics - This article looks at some cases of big oil exerting its political influence within the state of Alaska, both legally and illegally.
4. Divestment is a Way to Stand Up to Big Oil - An explanation of fossil fuel divestment, and an argument for its usefulness in fighting climate change.
5. Stop Subsidizing Climate Change - An essay on why we need to end the massive subsidies and tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry
6. Towards a Climate Just Future - This piece looks at some inspiring cases of resistance to the fossil fuel industry from around the world, and discusses why it is necessary for movement fighting against climate change to work towards climate justice.
7. What Sitkans learn from the Paris Climate Agreement? A lot. - This summary of the groundbreaking Paris Climate Agreement looks into what it means for Sitka and the state of Alaska.
Curious? Concerned? Confused? Try these:
USFS Report: Climate Change in the Tongass
Terrible news for the Tongass this week: Around 70,000 acres of the Tongass are being turned over to Sealaska for development.
As Davey Lubin told the Sitka Sentinel this week, “I’m highly disappointed that our treasured, priceless public lands have been privatized. It’s a huge loss for the whole nation … What Theodore Roosevelt established as a national legacy, Lisa Murkowski has squandered.”
This week’s developments show that not even our National Forests are protected from corporate control. Congress and the American public need to give this issue more scrutiny. Read the article below to hear SCS Executive Director Andrew Thoms’s take on the Sealaska Lands Bill. The article below was printed in the Sitka Sentinel on Monday, December 15.
By SHANNON HAUGLAND, Sentinel Staff Writer
A bill transferring 70,000 acres of land from the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska Corp. passed Congress on Friday.
Rodman Bay (Photo provided by Sitka Conservation Society)
“It has taken seven years, but I’m proud to say that we finally completed the land conveyance for Southeast Alaska’s nearly 20,000 Native shareholders, and at the same time ensured that the region’s remaining timber mills have timber,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a news release, following the vote on Friday.
The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act was included in the bipartisan package of lands bills approved Friday as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It provides Sealaska with 70,075 acres to finalize the transfer of land owed to the Native shareholders under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
“Some 43 years after passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the federal government will finally finish paying the debt we owe Natives for the settlement of their aboriginal land claims,” Murkowski said in the announcement.
The land transfer includes more than 68,000 acres available for logging, including land in Rodman Bay and Sinitsin Cove near Sitka, as well as 1,009 acres for renewable energy resources and recreational tourism, and 490 acres of Native cemetery and historic sites.
The legislation also includes about 152,067 acres of old-growth timber in new conservation areas to protect salmon and wildlife habitat, Murkowski said. The bill goes next to the president for his signature.
Representatives of Sealaska Corp. were unavailable for comment.
Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Council Chairman Michael Baines said he was pleased by the news, which he ran across this weekend on Facebook.
“I’m 100 percent pleased, the council is pleased,” he said. He noted that the STA Tribal Council passed a resolution last week in support of the compromise legislation proposed by Murkowski.
Baines said he believes the legislation will be beneficial to tribal citizens.
“I hope it will mean an improved economic development for the corporation which will mean more dividends for the tribal citizens,” he said. “I hope it will mean jobs in Sitka but as far as I know there hasn’t been any jobs from the regional corporation.”
Asked whether he believes the land will be developed and logged any differently than in the past, Baines said, “I hope they’ve learned their lesson. They’ve done that before – and it’s taken decades to bring back more trees that they can log.”
Sitka Conservation Society Andrew Thoms said he was disappointed by the news.
“Anytime that public lands are given to a private corporation, it’s a loss for everyone,” he said. “It’s going to mean 70,000 acres of some of the best timber land in the Tongass put into Sealaska hands, and the old-growth stands they’ve been given are some of the best remaining stands of cedar left on the Tongass. The burden is on Sealaska now to do what’s best for the shareholders in the region.”
He called old-growth cedar a “cultural treasure of the peoples of the Pacific Northwest.”
“As Sealaska now owns those best stands of cedar, are they going to continue to foster that connection, or will it be exported to Asian markets?” Thoms said. “It’s about more than just (habitat). The cedar trees in those stands are thousands of years old, and they won’t grow back in our lifetime.”
He cited Rodman Bay, on the north end of Baranof Island (30 miles north of Sitka), and Sinitsin Cove on North Kruzof (25 miles northeast of Sitka) as two areas closest to Sitka that are identified as “economic development” lands in the transfer.
Clarice Johnson, a Sealaska shareholder, said she was opposed to the lands transfer as proposed. (Johnson works at the nonprofit SCS but specified that she was speaking only as a shareholder.)
“I think there are a number of shareholders who are supportive of receiving our full land selection but not the way it was put in the rider, and they don’t think it will be much benefit to the average shareholder,” she said. “Possibly because Sealaska has lost so much money, they’ll probably cut the land quickly; and a large portion of any natural resource development in regional corporation land will be shared with other regional corporations.”
She noted that this provision – calling for regional corporations to share profits – has made it possible for Sealaska to pay out dividends, since the local regional corporation has not been profitable in recent years. She added that she believes the main beneficiaries of the land transfer and development of the lands will end up being the corporation’s board and staff through salaries and other compensation.
Johnson said she believes one of many results of the transfer will be the inadequate protection of karsts in Southeast.
“There is no protection compared to the U.S. Forest Service,” she said.
Johnson said that although only two “economic development” land selections are near Sitka there are others she believes are designated as “historic sites” including Kalinin Bay. She said the 15-acre site is the fifth largest historic site in the land selection.
Johnson said she’s concerned about what may happen at this location. “They can’t log, and they can’t mine there, but they can develop it,” she said.
Davey Lubin, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., five times in the last six years to testify against the Sealaska lands bill, said he was “highly disappointed” with the news.
“I’m highly disappointed that our treasured, priceless public lands have been privatized,” he said. “It’s a huge loss for the whole nation … What Theodore Roosevelt established as a national legacy, Lisa Murkowski has squandered.”
The Sealaska lands bill is separate from legislation to transfer 11 acres near Redoubt Lake to Sealaska, which is now in the hands of the Bureau of Land Management, Baines said.
The Sitka Conservation Society and Pundit Productions produced the short film “Rain Power” in 2010. Our primary goal was to encourage policy makers to support the expansion of Sitka's hydroelectric capacity. The film shows that a small community like Sitka can be a leader in renewable energy. It also shows that hydropower can be perfectly compatible with healthy fish runs. Since the film came out, the construction of the Blue Lake Dam has finished and a much lower percentage of city power comes from imported diesel.
Watch the film below
The Sitka Conservation Society began working on local action on Climate Change and Renewable Energy in 2006. As a small, island community with an isolated electric grid, Sitka is a good “microcosm” test case for figuring out how to transition to 100% renewable energy. Because we are so isolated, it is easier to figure out our energy inputs and energy outputs. Also, we are a small enough community to figure out what the best way forward is as a group. At the same time, we have enough infrastructure that our energy solutions can provide meaningful examples to the state's larger communities. The efforts that SCS has helped catalyze locally have helped Sitka look beyond an oil-dependent economy towards a renewable energy future. We have a long ways to go, but we have built a strong foundation. We hope Sitka continues to be a global leader in sustainable living.
Below is a timeline of Sitka's advancements in renewable energy development:
- 1958 — Blue Lake Dam Constructed generating 62,000 Mw of electricity. Original designers made the dam “expandable” for future community growth
- Late 1970’s– Green Lake dam constructed in response to 1970’s oil crisis and with the forethought of Sitka leaders that locally produced, renewable energy would best provide long-term energy stability; Green Lake System came online in 1982 and produces 60,000 Mw hours; SCS Founder Alice Johnstone was one of the Sitka Assembly Members who initiated this project.
- 2006– City of Sitka electrical department plans hydro expansion in response to increased energy demand, rising oil prices, and future oil scarcity; investigates two options; Lake Diana is a Red Herring. City finds that the Blue Lake Expansion, “following the foresight of engineers two generations ago,” gives amazing returns for a relatively small “hydro-investment”
- 2007– City of Sitka and Sitka Conservation Society develop a joint summer intern position to analyze and educate Sitkans on Energy Conservation to avoid resorting to costly diesel generation and increased carbon emissions. The intern, Amy Heinemann, a Graduate student at Yale,does extensive research and produces energy conservation brochures with in energy policy; effects of energy conservation efforts by Sitkans are notable. Copies of the energy efficiency brochures are available here;
- Listen to an interview with Amy Heinemann: here
- 2007– Sitka Energy Task Force forms— SCS is a founding member of a consortium of Sitka community members who begin to work together to combine public/private sector resources to envision Sitka’s energy future
- 2007—Sitka Mayor Marko Dapovich signs the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement
- 2007—Sitka begins investigating and studying ways to diversify energy sources using local sources including wood-to-heat in homes and commercial buildings, fish waste to biodiesel, new hydroelectric expansion at Takatz Lake, expansion of interruptible heating; use of heat pump technology , and expanded use of electric cars
- 2008—First Electric car arrives in Sitka; local demand outstrips commercial supply as American car companies fall behind the curve—Sitkans begin “homemade” electric car conversions. Listen to a Raven Radio story on that effort here
- 2008—City of Sitka signs Mayor’s Agreement on Climate Change; joins “ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainable community network”
- 2008– City of Sitka Public Works and Sitka Conservation Society work with local Sitka Harvard Student Chandler O’Connell to do an inventory of Sitka’s carbon emissionsand total Sitka Energy Budget: See Chandler’s final presentation to the Sitka Assembly: here
- Read the full report: here
- 2008– City of Sitka forms a Climate Action Task Force to identify ways that Sitka can reduce carbon emissions. Sitka Conservation Society staff member Paul Olson and SCS board member Steve Ash serve on the task force.
- 2009– Sitka is not awarded a State of Alaska AEA grant to do feasibility work on a Takatz Lake Project but proceeds with planning and field work otherwise; SCS submits scoping documents outlining positive and negative aspects of the Takatz Lake Project. Read our comments: here
- 2009—Blue Lake Expansion project continues and proposes an expeditious timeline; community pools resources to support efforts.
- 2009—SCS invests in two summer positions on energy:
- Lexi Fish, local Sitkan with a degree in political science, is hired to campaign for the US Congress to qualify Salmon-friendly hydro projects as renewable so that Sitka can get federal support for our renewable energy investment. During her initial three month position, Lexi meets with both Alaskan Senators and delivers the community’s message on the need for investment in renewable energy. Here is a link to an interview Lexi did on Raven Radio on her internship: here
- Travis Clemens, an Energy Policy and Engineering Student from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, works as part of the Electric Department in a joint position to evaluate what renewable energy technologies could work in Sitka. Here is a link to Travis’s report on Renewable Energy Options for Sitka: here
2010: City of Sitka works with researchers to assess “Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Hydropower in Southeast Alaska.” Read the report here
- 2010: The Sitka Conservation Society partners with the City of Sitka Public Works department to sponsor a joint position that will help implement the City Climate Action plan as well as help move forward City efforts in Energy Efficiency. Local Sitkan Juliet Agne serves on this position as part of an Americorps Volunteer program. Juliet staffs the Climate Action Task force which releases the Sitka Climate Action Plan in June of 2010: read the plan
- 2010 The Sitka Conservation Society produces the documentary “Rain Power” that tells the story of Sitka’s efforts to take action on climate change and become a renewable energy powered community. The film specifically asks law makers to consider salmon-friendly hydropower part of the nation’s renewable energy solutions and to support communities like Sitka who are planning salmon-friendly hydro projects. To watch the film, click: http://vimeo.com/16635495
- 2011- Sitka Conservation Society continues to partner with the City of Sitka Electric Department to create a joint staff position that works to provide outreach materials that educate Sitkans on how they can become more energy efficient, how they can conserve energy, and what state and federal programs are available for resources or financial assistance. This position extends from the Summer of 2011 with Americorps support to a full time, year-long position that extends to 2012
- 2012: SCS publishes “The Future of Energy in Sitka” report that outlines energy use over the next twenty years and scenarios for meeting energy needs and recommendations of needed efforts. Read the report: here
- 2012: SCS works with the Sitka Electric Department to create a local rebate program to help local citizens make investments in energy efficient appliances and heat pumps: here
2012: SCS and many other community groups work to continue to develop and implement actions and initiatives outlined in the Climate Action Plan. These efforts include:
- Conversion to Energy Efficient Streetlights
- Energy Efficient Re-model of Pacific High
- Materials Re-use Center
- Municipal Composting Effort
- Serve locally caught fish in Schools
- Energy Efficient Affordable Housing : http://www.baranofislandhousing.org/Programs/weatherization.asp
- City Rebate for Energy Efficiency improvements: http://www.cityofsitka.com/government/departments/electric/documents/RebateProgramFAQ_000.pdf
Sitka's two hydroelectric dams supply much of its power, but supplemental diesel fuel is still necessary. To lower Sitka's fossil fuel use and reduce its carbon footprint, the Sitka Conservation Society has worked to keep year-round messages of energy conservation and efficiency in local and regional media. Using public service announcements, articles in the local newspaper, and presentations to local government offices, SCS has informed residents about state weatherization programs, local energy updates, utility changes, and simple home weatherization projects.
Funded by a $100,000 Alaska Department of Labor grant, the Energize! Sitka program is a partnership between the Southeast Alaska Career Center and the Sitka Conservation Society. Our aim is to make Sitka more energy efficient. This program provides residents with extensive professional training and certifications for “green” jobs in the areas of construction, carpentry, and weatherization techniques. It also provides community-wide outreach for home weatherization, energy efficiency, and other state programs.
This year’s primary election was one for the record books. Financial record books, that is. Over the last few months, Alaskans witnessed the most expensive primary campaign in state history. Where is all this money coming from? Corporations. And not just any corporations – some of the richest corporations on earth.
In order to secure their billion dollar tax break, oil companies contributed nearly $15 million to the Vote No (on Ballot Measure 1) campaign. According to campaign finance reports published by the state of Alaska, the top six contributors to the Vote No campaign were BP Exploration Alaska Inc. ($3,625,408), ExxonMobil ($3,606,132), ConocoPhillips Alaska ($2,541,584), ConocoPhillips ($1,471,077), Repsol ($729,432), and Chevron ($300,000). Less than 25 individual Alaskans contributed to the campaign. The Vote Yes campaign, on the other hand, received financial contributions from over 1,000 individual Alaskans.
The troubling statistics continue. Stockpiled with big oil money, the Vote No campaign spent $170 per vote. The Vote Yes campaign, which relied primarily on contributions from individual Alaskan donors, spent $8.
This is an example of corporations asserting undue influence in the political process. In a country that calls itself a democracy, corporations should never be allowed to pay their way into the political system. In Alaska, however, they are.
How do we stop corporations from dominating Alaska politics? We stand up to them. We use our individual and collective voices. We form coalitions and citizen movements that demand corporations to serve the public good, not the Gods of Profit.
Leading up to the primary election, the Sitka Conservation Society mobilized Alaskans across the state to take action on Ballot Measure 1. We made phone calls, knocked on doors, distributed lawn signs, and had meaningful conversations with community members about what’s at stake when corporations dominate our political system. Many Sitkans voiced their concerns about SB 21 via radio waves and newsprint. A giant thank you to Steve Paustian, Mary Beth Nelson, Cindy Litman, Libby Stortz, and Anthony Guevin for submitting Letters to the Editor about the importance of repealing the oil tax giveaway.
Our efforts paid off. While the repeal failed statewide (52.5 percent of Alaskan voters voted No), Sitkans voted 3:1 in favor of the repeal. On Election day, some 1,315 Sitkans checked the “yes” box, compared to only 448 people who checked “no.” Every single precinct in the district voted in favor of the repeal.
What do these results reveal? They show us that we Alaskans are deeply divided on how we should manage our natural resources. They show us that thousands of Alaskans (90,150 to be exact) are willing to vote for oil company tax breaks, leaving less money for the state to fund public schools, hospitals, and necessary public services. But they also show us that thousands of Alaskans (nearly 82,000 voters) are deeply concerned about the excess role corporations play in the management of our natural resources.
The oil in our state ground belongs to the people of Alaska. We, the people of Alaska, must continue to mobilize against corporate oil giants that take our oil without investing in our state. Join us in our campaign to fight corporate influence and keep our natural resources in public hands.
To get involved or receive more information, email email@example.com or call 907-747-7509.
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.