Mary Wood helps 4-H members get settled into their kayak before going on the water or the first time.
As the kids helped load the kayaks and safety equipment into the car, they complained the day’s activities had not been long enough. Their grumbles continued in the van all the way back to town as they begged Alaska Way-of-Life 4-H leader, Mary Wood, for more time on the water the next day. They only had one day left in their kayaking course, the last 4-H class of the summer, and they were not ready for it to end.
“They are developing a love and a passion for this place and that will have an impact on them,” Wood says about the Alaska Way-of-Life 4-H program. From kayaking to gardening to fishing to cooking, her goal is to help the kids appreciate the beauty of their own backyard and grow up knowing they want to protect it.
“They will continue to be stewards of this place and be positive and productive members of their communities,” Wood says. “Even if they leave, they will continue to advocate for the ideals they are learning in 4-H.”
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4-H program was started in Sitka three years ago with a push from Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society. Thoms knows that he came into conservation work because of his own experiences with 4-H growing up.
“I look back and it’s really amazing how much it shaped my life,” Thoms says. Growing up in upstate New York, Thoms did 4-H projects centered around nature – enjoying bird watching, building bird houses, working on a Christmas tree farm, and learning about conservation. “Through all of that, I got really into natural resources and natural resources management.”
Thoms came to Sitka 10 years ago and has been dedicated to building more community-driven programs here. The 4-H program is just one part of that vision.
“We are helping to start 4-H, but for it to continue, it has to have people that are passionate and build the program themselves,” Thoms says.
Part of creating a sustainable community is teaching children to use and respect their environment. Subsistence skills like harvesting berries, fishing, and hunting are all a part of life in Sitka, a community of about 9,000 in the heart of the Tongass National Forest. Thoms wants kids to grow up learning how to best use their environment, respect it and protect it. That’s the Alaska way of life.
But, 4-H can prepare kids for careers and opportunities outside of conservation also. Alison Mazzon volunteered with the Alaksa Way-of-Life 4-H program this summer while she visited Sitka on a grant from Patagonia, the company she now works for. While in Sitka, Mazzon helped chaperone the kayaking classes and taught classes on outdoor gear maintenance.
Mazzon grew up in Ohio and learned to sew at her local 4-H program. From her first project of a pair of shorts to designing and making her own prom dresses, she gained more than just the ability to make to her own clothes and several state-level awards from her 12 years in 4-H. Mazzon says she is grateful to 4-H for the friends she made and the leadership skills she gained.
And, like Thoms, Mazzon took her 4-H skills to her career. After studying fashion design in college and working for a few years on the runways in New York City, Mazzon is currently a technical design manager for Patagonia and is part of the team that make high-performance outdoor clothing and gear.
“I don’t know what I would have done with my life otherwise,” she says.
Just a few short weeks after their kayaking adventures came to an end, the 4-H crew took to the beach and learned fishing skills as their first class of the new school year.
In addition to these classes, the kids will also do community service projects, an important aspect of building a sustainable community, Wood says. For example, the kids make jams and jellies for the senior center. She says it teaches the kids a valuable skill and gives them a chance to connect with older generations.
One of Wood’s favorite memories of her time leading 4-H is from last year on Earth Day. She had brought a group of students out to a local hiking trail to do some trash clean up. She expected the kids to complain – spending a day picking up garbage not the ideal way to spend time for 9-year-olds. But, the complaints she got were not what she expected. They were upset that at how much trash they had collected. How could so much litter be found in their home?
Going on her second year in Sitka, Wood has big plans for the 4-H program. She is excited to start building a wider group of volunteers and seeing more kids join the program. She also wants to develop more classes for high school students, as the majority if the activities over the last three years have been for ages 5 – 10.
Whether the kids are learning to make jams with the berries they picked for elders in the community or learning important outdoor skills for kayaking and hiking, the Alaska Way-of-Life 4-H program is about creating a strong community that exemplifies social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Those Alaskan ideals, and the ideals of 4-H, are seen as intertwined for SCS and they last across generations.
“There is a big need for interdependence here,” Thoms says. “In Alaska we are part of a community, and you cannot do it alone.”
To learn more about 4-H in Sitka and upcoming classes and events, email Mary Wood at [email protected]
Almost three months have already gone by since I started my internship with the Sitka Conservation Society, under the supervision of Scott Harris, the Conservation Science Directorat SCS. It is now the start of September and I cannot believe how fast time flies by when I am truly enjoying my eye-opening opportunity. It still feels as though only yesterday I landed in Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport. Nowadays waking up every morning to rhythmic pulses of the rain droplets and the fresh aroma of the soothing ocean breeze has become a part of my daily life.
Along with the overwhelming invasion of nature in my life, I also get a chance to spend the majority of my time here in the largest national forest in the United States at 17 million acres. The Tongass is one of the last few forests untouched by industrialization and remains as the largest temperate rainforest on earth. The forest encompasses part of the Northern Pacific coastal forests along with the Central and North Coast regions of British Columbia. Due to its vast size, the forest hosts a number of various types of trees: western red cedar, sitka spruce and western hemlock. The forest is also home to five species of salmon, brown and black bears, and Bald Eagles.
My days at Sitka are often filled with a variety of outdoor activities- all of which have constantly kept me marveling at the great nature I am surrounded by. From hiking up mountain trails to kayaking upstream against the swift tides, my internship projects have led me to explore different parts of the Tongass while having the opportunity to meet other biologists, conservationists, and interns. One of my projects involved monitoring a conservation and restoration project implemented by the U.S Forest Service (USFS) in the Starrigavan Recreational Area. I am conducting vegetation surveys in these forest gaps and collecting data from trail cams to monitor deer activity within the gaps for tagging purposes. The workers of the USFS cut oval forest gaps with anarea of 100 ft in diameter to mimic natural disturbances in the forest. The purpose of this is to encourage the growth of shrubs and ferns, which are another type of food sources for deer and bears. Starting since the 1950s, a significant percentage of the big trees (old growth) in the Tongass were logged and when the second generation of trees grew, they left little space for sunlight to reach to the ground. Thus, without these gaps, the growth of shrubs and ferns will decrease, thereby lowering the food sources for the deer, which may lead to a decline in the deer population in the future. Within the gaps, there are also deer enclosures to monitor how deer foraging affects vegetation growth.
From the peaks of the mountains to where streams meander across the landscape, my weekly duty takes me to a stream that flows through the community of Sitka. Once a week I would ride my bike down to Indian River to collect water samples from the river. According to the protocol, I would filter the water from the river and pour them into two sampling bottles. The Sitka Conservation Society is a part of SALMoN (Southeast Alaska Long-term Monitoring Network) and participates in the Global Rivers Observatory (GRO). GRO documents water chemistry from rivers around the world in order to understand long-term ecological changes to freshwater ecosystems. To document the water chemistry, GRO analyzes nutrient concentrations, dissolved organic carbon, and the isotope ratio of strontium. Local streams such as Indian River will be studied alongside the great rivers such as Amazon, Yangtze and others. The program started when Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink, a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and one of the founders of GRO was a Scientist in Residence at the Sitka Sound Science Center.
My days often began with journeys packed with wilderness adventures. I went on a five day camping trip to West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness which is located about 55 miles away from Sitka and it takes around 3 hours to get there by boat. This trip by far is the longest period of time that I've been out camping. The purpose of this project is to install temperature loggers into five different streams in order to monitor the health and the quality of the stream waters. To arrive at some of these streams, we had to bushwhack through the forest while making noises to alert the bears. Some trails were challenging and tedious with rugged and slippery mud-covered grounds but they were all fun. Once we've reached the streams, we conducted a variety of analyses such as installing temperature loggers and recording the stream width. We also measured the flow of the streams and noted down the dissolved oxygen levels. While performing these tasks, it was fascinating to see thousands of salmon fish swimming up these streams, their silvery scales reflecting the sunlight underneath the clear water. The end of each day was an even bigger adventure for me since we would move from one campsite to the next. Before the sun sets, we would spend about 30 minutes, cruising around the ocean in our boat, searching for a safe spot to camp. We camped on different parts of the forest each night and got to explore the wonders of the old growth wilderness in the dark, quiet night.
From sampling streams, my internship has also taken me to Redoubt Lake, a unique meromictic lake where its top layer is freshwater with several hundred feet of saltwater on the bottom layer of the lake.Going to Redoubt was a whole new experience unlike anything before at Sitka. Not only was it the longest camp trip, it was also riveting to be at Redoubt Lake where I had a chance to work with the Forest Service. Located about 12 miles from the city of Sitka, Redoubt Lake plays an important role in the subsistence fisheries for the people of Sitka. The Forest Service maintains a weir system to count and record the fish entering whereafter the Alaska Department of Fish & Game makesmanagement decisions based on the data collected each season. Once the fish pass through the weir, they head up to the northern tip of the lake and travel up streams to spawn. Through out the process, I witnessed the physical transformation of these iconic fish. Their bodies become bright red and the male sockeyes' heads morphed into sharply hooked noses with gawking teeth. They nipped and bit at one another, fighting to reproduce for the first and the last time, before they lie lifeless beneath the streams. It definitely was a biological process worth observing.With large amount of ocean surrounding the island comes the freshest seafood. The most important resource of Southeast Alaska is salmon. There are five different types of salmon here: king, sockeye, coho, chum and pink salmon. Here, salmon is fished for industrial purposes and plays a major role in sustainable fishing as well. Out of the five different types of Salmon, I have already tried three of them, which are King, Sockeye and Pink. The two that I haven't tasted yet are Coho and Chum. Most people here prefer the King and I have to agree with them on that. I also got a chance to try deer meat, which tasted like beef but leaves a trace of gamey palate in your mouth.
Despite the nature explorations that were required for work, I also had a chance to enjoy the beautiful picturesque landscape of Alaska. The town of Sitka is small with a population of 9000 people, yet it is lively and vibrant with esthetically decorated small vendor shops. Sitka is surrounded by the sounds of clashing waves and mountains varying in heights. During my leisure time from work, I went on hikes on the mountains with friends and enjoyed stunning landscapes from the peaks of the mountains. Along the way, I met other interns and co-workers who were passionate about conserving the natural beauty that the Tongass has to offer.
On the 28thof August, I completed my internship with the Sitka Conservation Society and had the opportunity to gain hands on conservation experience that I have longed for. Within the past three months, I learned so much about the importance of conservation methods, and my internship gave me a chance to work with land managers who are working on making important conservation decisions. I learned new research and conservation approaches and methods as well as the importance of social outreach to the community for our conservation works. Overall, this internship has given me invaluable knowledge and taught me to have even more respect for the beautiful wilderness and the natural wonders of the earth. This was truly an eye opening experience and certainly, one that I will never forget.
The Alaska Way of Life 4-H project had a fun summer of gardening, exploring the forest and beach, listening to birds, kayaking in the Sitka Sound, and learning how to sew; all while creating a sense of belonging among new friends in Sitka! This fall we will get dirty harvesting Sitka's Wild Edibles and learning some basic food preservation skills.
The new 4-H year is just around the corner! It is time to wrap up current projects andthink about updating member registration. For new and old members, the forms to complete registration are below:
What is 4-H? Check out the brochure link below!
My internship has also taken me to Redoubt Lake, a unique meromictic lake, wherethe top layer is freshwater with several hundred feet of saltwater on the bottom layer of the lake. Located about 12 miles from the city of Sitka, Redoubt Lake plays an important role in the subsistence fisheries for the people of Sitka. The Forest Service maintains a weir system to count and record the fish entering whereafter the Alaska Department of Fish & Game makesmanagement decisions based on the data collected each season.
Going to Redoubt was a whole new experience unlike anything before in Sitka. Not only was it the longest trip of my internship (a total of 6 days out in the field), it was also riveting to be at Redoubt Lake and tohave a chance to work with the Forest Service. Throughout the entire trip, we lived in a small cozy cabin that is built on an island completely surrounded by water. Every morning, I was up by 6:30 and the day officially started off at 7:00. Through the quiet serene waters,we boated towards the weir, the morning silence broken by the Forest Service employees yelling,"Hey Bear" and the sound of the blow horn. The Forest Service runs a mark and recapture study of sockeye returning to the stream. In addition we sampled the fish, which entailed weighing, measuring and collecting a scale sample.
Sitting at the weir and counting fish as they pass through was quite an experience. It was fascinating to see thousands of salmon swimming up these streams, their silvery scales reflecting the sunlight underneath the clear water as they fought against the downstream currents. While there was a feast of action packed beneath the waters, the above grounds were active with local dip netters at the outlet of the lake and hungry bears that roamed around the surroundings. One day, as I was sitting at the weir and counting fish with Janelle Horstman, a Forest Service employee, a bear snuck up to the end of the weir. It was a chilling experience, yet quite incredible to see a wild bear within 20 feet. With the gush of rapids pouring out at the outlet, I barely heard the bear coming down from the island. It made me appreciate the rugged beauty and graceful movement of these magnificent grizzly bears.
Once the fish pass through the weir, they headed up to the northern tip of the lake and traveled up-stream to spawn. Throughout the process, I witnessed the physical transformation of these iconic fish. Their bodies became bright red and the male sockeyes' heads morphed into sharply hooked noses with gawking teeth. They nipped and bit at one another, fighting to reproduce for the first and the last time before they lie lifeless beneath the streams. It was definitely a biological process worth observing.
The scenes at Redoubt Lake were pretty mesmerizing. The sight of glassy black pearly water reflecting the clouds above and nearby mountains created a dreamy ambiance. The sounds of nature and refreshing ocean breeze swirled around the lake, creating a perfect blend of serenity. With its picturesque landscape and its importance to the subsistence fishery of Alaska, Redoubt Lake is definitely one of the most precious landmarks of the Tongass National Forest.
Sitka Conservation Society Executive Director Andrew Thoms is a member of the Tongass Advisory Council, a group of 15 stakeholders from all over the Pacific Northwest, including fishermen, timber salesmen, Alaska Native groups and conservationists.
Thoms traveled to Ketchikan last week for the first of many The Tongass Advisory Committee meetings that will discuss strategies for implementing a new management plan for the Tongass National Forest. The goal of the new plan is to shift from old growth to young growth timber harvesting.
"This committee is leading the way in figuring out how land and resource management can sustain and benefit communities while also conserving intact ecosystems," Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society and a member of the committee said. "It is natural that this is being done in Southeast Alaska because all of us who live here are so connected with the natural environment and the resources it provides."
The Tongass National Forest, Sitka's 17 million acre backyard, is the largest in-tact temperate rainforest in the world. And, the Tongass Advisory Committee wants to make sure it stays that way. Thoms and other members of the committee still want the forest to be profitable, but in more sustainable and community-focused ways. The Tongass National Forest is home to 74,000 people.
"I am very impressed that 15 people can come to consensus and put community at the top of the list," Wayne Brenner, one of the nominated co-chairs of the committee said after the three-day conference. "That is the key that holds Southeast together."
The old growth that is left in the Tongass only makes up about 4 percent of the forest. The committee wants the U.S. Forest Service to shift the focus from valuable old-growth timber to renewable resources and industries like salmon fishing and tourism. Timber harvesting will not completely disappear, but rather the committee wants to encourage a shift to young-growth harvesting.
Forrest Cole, Tongass National Forest supervisor, said the transition to young growth will support a healthy forest ecosystem, while also creating more sustainable southeast communities.
"We are confident this transition will work long term and we are excited that it has already started with Dargon Point, which could become a benchmark for future projects," Cole said. Other young growth harvesting projects are being planned for Kosciusko Island and Naukati-Greater Staney on Prince of Wales.
"For the past several decades there has been significant conflict with harvesting old growth timber and building roads," Cole said. "This struggle has damaged the local timber industry and has negatively affected the Southeast Alaska economy."
Kirk Hardcastle, a committee member, is also a commercial fisherman in southeast Alaska. He applied for the committee because he wanted to help transition the Tongass Management Plan to one more focused on fishing and renewable energy.
"We have every renewable energy resource in southeast Alaska," Hardcastle said. "We're not looking to export as much as apply the technology to our communities."
In addition to fishing and renewable energy, the committee meetings on August 6 – 8 in Ketchikan also focused on subsistence, tourism and recreation.
Thoms is honored to be a member of this committee and to be a part of implementing a new management plan in the forest. While the actual transition may be several years away, he is working with the Forest Service to ensure they are taking steps in the right direction.
Part of my work here at SCS is my role as a community catalyst with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP). The SSP focuses on the triple bottom line approach to solving many of the challenges rural communities face in SE Alaska. In keeping with two of the SSP's key directives, focus on local food and economic development, Sitka Kitch was developed. Sitka Kitch is the community project that was born out of the Sitka Health Summit being led by Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) and a devoted committee of local volunteers. The goal is to tap into local food resources, provide education and foster the development of new jobs and industries. This will fill a missing niche in Sitka and the region, training students to fill existing jobs in industries related to our region's tourism and food based industry.
Sitka Kitch will also provide emergency preparedness and home economic based classes to increase food security at the household level. Programming and outreach will encourage community wide collaboration to address food-based issues while simultaneously improving economic development. The long term project goal is the development of a sustainable food system for Sitka through empowerment and education. Expected outcomes include an increase in local food production, small business development, and improved household-level food security and local food consumption.
This will ideally be achieved through the establishment of a shared-use commercial kitchen. Sitka Kitch does not have a permanent facility yet but is currently partnering with the First Presbyterian Church to provide limited access. The Sitka Kitch Committee prepared a proposal to the Church's national organization and received a $13,000 grant to upgrade the facility for commercial use and we hope to start working with small businesses in the fall. "Sitka Kitch" also offered three classes in July (exceeding one of our goals for the 2014 health summit!). We were able to bring in Sarah Lewis from the UAS Cooperative Extension office to run the classes. Class themes revolved around the primary objectives of Sitka Kitch - cottage food industry development and maximizing household level food security through preservation of food. We had the added bonus of welcoming Amy Gulick to class (Salmon in the Trees) who was on hand to photograph people interacting with salmon! The courses were held at our partner facility, the FIrst Presbyterian Church of Sitka and at Sitka High School.
Overall class metrics: Total student hours: 136 Total students/participants among classes: 34 Individual participants: 25 ( a few students took multiple classes)
Cottage Food Industry: 8 in attendance, 7 female, 1 male. Class focus was on cottage food industry (rules and guidelines for what you can sell, how it must be prepared) Kitch goal: educate locals on small, local food based business to encourage product development for farmers market and other 'booth' vending type events. Class cost was $20 per participant, 3 hours
Canning the harvest: 17 in attendance, 13 female, 4 male. Class focused on handling and processing of meat, fish and vegetables for canning preservation. Kitch goal: educate community members about proper canning techniques and how to maximize preservation of subsistence and other harvests, as well as store bought or bulk purchased produce. This was partly in response to the community food assessment information that found 90% of food preservation methods in Sitka was reported as freezing. Class cost was $20 per participant, 5 hours
Jams and Jellies: 9 in attendance, all female Class focused on multiple recipes for preparing jams, jellies, catsups. Kitch goal: a fun twist on conventional canning, creativeways to produce and preserve local berries and food products Class cost was $20 per participant, 3 hours
Do you think you can make a fish recipe that is kid friendly, baked, low in fat, and low in sodium? Eight people were up to the challenge and participated in Sitka Conservation Society's community recipe contest for Fish to Schools. The Sitka School District is already serving many delicious local fish entrees like rockfish tacos, teriyaki salmon, and fish & chips, but we wanted to diversify the menu and hear from you.
Families submitted recipes—one was created by an 8 year old!—and a panel of judges were ready with forks to judge the fish dishes on taste, kid-friendliness, ease of preparation, and nutrition. The judges spanned the stream to plate spectrum from seafood processor to student consumer.
The top three dishes were salmon patties, coconut pecan rockfish with blueberry dipping sauce, and salmon mac ‘n cheese. The other contenders: sesame-veggie salmon cakes with tangy apple slaw, salmon pinwheels, salmon fish fingers, salmon with dill, and salmon wraps. My mouth is salivating.
You be the judge and test the recipes out at home (and keep an eye out for them on the lunch tray). If you have a recipe that you would like to share, please submit it to [email protected]. We'd love to share it with food service and hope they'll give it a try.
Thank you to our fine chefs: Kathy Hope Erikson: Salmon Patties Mike and Ava Newel (age 8): Coconut Pecan Rockfish with Blueberry Dipping Sauce Zoe Trafton (age 8): Salmon Mac 'n Cheese Beth Short-Rhoads and Kat Rhoads (age 6): Sesame-Veggie Salmon Cakes with Tangy Apple Slaw Judi Ozment: Salmon Pinwheels Anna Bisaro: Salmon Fish Fingers Matt Jones, Salmon with Dill Charles Bingham: Salmon Veggie Wraps
And our panel of judges: Cassee Olin, Sitka School District Lon Garrison, Sitka School Board Zak Rioux, Student Zoe Trafton, Student Tim Ryan, Sitka Sound Seafoods Kathy Warm Caroline Lester Matt Meizlish
"Living with the land" means having knowledge and familiarity with the natural environment that surrounds you. Part of that knowledge is knowing what are the edible plants in the environment and when they are ready for harvest. On the outer coast of Alaska in the Tongass National Forest, that also means knowing what seaweeds are edible. Knowing Seaweeds means knowing when they are in best conditions for harvest, how they are processed, and what they can be used for.
Although there are great books on identifying plants and seaweeds and recipes for preparing, sometimes the best information (and most locally pertinent), comes from spending time with elders and listening to what they have learned over their lifetimes.
In this video, SCS staff Scott Harris, Tracy Gagnon, and Adam Andis spent a morning with long-time SCS board member Bob Ellis and absorbed some of his wisdom about seaweeds in the intertidal zones of the Sitka Sound.
Sitka is easily the most historic city in Alaska and is arguably the most beautiful as well. The naturally protected waters and abundance of seafood meant Sitka Sound was highly valued by the indigenous Tlingit thousands of years before Russian fur traders arrived. The Russian traders established New Archangel in the early 19th Century at the site of modern Sitka's downtown. Today, Sitka is proud to have a population approaching 9,000 and a bustling economy. Over 19% of jobs in Sitka are tied to the seafood industry, while tourism is another key employer. Sitkans are committed to preserving the local beauty, tranquility, culture, and wildlife.
Want to learn more about Sitka? Check out these links:
Video of Sitka by former SCS Wilderness Coordinator Adam Andis:
The Tongass National Forest covers the majority of the Alaskan Panhandle. At 17 million acres, it is not only the nation’s largest National Forest, but is also part of the world’s largest temperate coastal rainforest. The Tongass is home to towering spruce, cedar, and hemlock trees; thousands of coastal brown bears and blacktail deer; and countless streams which provide spawning grounds for millions of salmon. The Tongass also includes 31 communities containing almost 75,000 people. The health of the forest and those communities are intricately tied together; the long-term prosperity of both depends on careful and conscientious management of the forest's rich natural resources.
Want to learn more about the Tongass? Check out the links below:
- Keep it low in fat and sodium
- Bake the fish!
- Don't use any special appliances. These recipes will be replicated in local schools in big quantities, so don't make it too complicated.