[dropcap][/dropcap]Lake Benzeman is located approximately35 miles SE of Sitka by boat in the South Baranof Wilderness Area. Botanist Jonathan Goff, SCS member Diana Saverin, and volunteer Paul Killian made the trip down late on a Friday afternoon. The following morning they broke down their tents, inflated their packrafts, and set out to paddle to the opposite side of the lake. For the next several days, they paddled and hiked this remote part of Baranof Island as they surveyed and inventoried everything from rare and sensitive plants to recreation sites. On their last morning, they got an early start and hiked to the alpine where they surveyed for mountain goats. The fog was thick and lingering. After a couple hours they decided to head back down to pack up camp and prepare to be picked up by float plane.
Click on the links below to learn more.
[wpcol_2third id="" class="" style=""]Five months ago I was one of thirteen undergraduate students from Knox College (located in Galesburg, IL) to travel north to Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest with the Sitka Conservation Society. This trip was the final component of a trimester- long course entitled "Alaska: Forest, Fisheries, and Politics of the Wilderness.'"Prior to our Alaskan adventure, our class spent ten weeks reading and writing about the history and policy of the land management practices in the Tongass National Forest. Once we got to Alaska we spent 15 days kayaking 100 miles along the beaches of the Tongass Forest. We finally reached False Island where we helped the United States Forest Service with restoration of key salmon habitats. After that we spent an additional week in Sitka learning and talking to local policy makers and stakeholders. This unique experience gave my classmates and I a hands-on look at the complex ways nature, policy, and the public are inextricably intertwined.
When I was in the Tongass it became clear that it is one of the few remaining wild places in America. It is an ecosystem with a deep cultural significance, beauty, and wonder. During the time we spent in Sitka we were able to meet fisherman of the charter, commercial, and subsistence trades alike. We were able to meet with community members and local politicians to see the importance salmon and the Tongass forest have on each of their daily lives and the community's economy as a whole. We were also fortunate enough to witness the amazing and significant work many individuals and advocacy groups are doing to see to it that there are lots of opportunities to use, enjoy, and care for the lands and waters of the Tongass.
Despite being over 3,000 miles away in Galesburg, IL, I wanted to continue to show my support for the prioritizing of watershed restoration and salmon habitats in the Tongass. I started talking to my classmates who had come to Alaska with me and we decided to talk to others who have never been there, and informed our peers about the Tongass and its salmon. It turns out that the message was pretty simple- we told students about the two-fold mission statement of the Forest Service: (a.) to make sure that America's forests and grasslands are in the healthiest condition they can be and (b.) to see to it that you have lots of opportunities to use, enjoy, and care for the lands and waters that sustain us all- and we told them about what we saw in the Tongass and the surrounding communities. The response was empowering. We soon held a Salmon Advocacy Party where admission was free aside from personal advocacy. Each student was asked to write a letter to the Chief of the Forest Service describing why the Tongass and particularly salmon habitat restoration was important to them. This event helped many students, who otherwise would not have been engaged by this particular environmental issue, become interested and engaged in advocating for the health of the Tongass and the surrounding community.
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Ricky Sablan is a law enforcement ranger with the Sitka National Historical Park. He joined the SCS Wilderness crew on a Community Wilderness Stewardship Project expedition to South Baranof Wilderness in the summer of 2012. Be sure to check out his videos from the trip below.
Walking onto a boat called "The Gust", we loaded up our kayaks and supplies in preparation for an adventure. I looked backwards to see the orange transport ships from the cruises ship pass by as we set our courses to the open waters. Light grey clouds painted the sky, but the rain was holding back. Off in the distance, a hump back whale shot a burst of air from his blowhole and I realized I was no longer in man's world. I was to spend the next five days in the South Baranof Wilderness with three strangers I had only met a few days ago during briefing. Ray Friedlander an intern with the SCS, Jonathan Goff our botanist, and team leader Adam Andis were to be my new friends as we headed into the wild. Our plan was to be dropped off in Whale Bay with a satellite phone, an emergency SPOT gps tracker, and a USFS radio linking us to the rest of the world. Our goal was to assist the USFS in collecting data reports and observations in preserving the wilderness in Whale Bay. Some hours had past as we came to rest upon a nice bay located near Port Banks. We unloaded all our gear and the kayaks on the shore and watched as The Gust slowly faded away off in the distance. We took our first paddle down to Port Banks and began taking notes of all the planes, jets, and boats that we observed and heard in the wilderness. As we paddled to shore, we observed an old recreational site where people had left some old trash. We packed up the trash and headed back to camp to burn what we could. It was our duty to take notes on the conditions of these old sites and for the next few days we would paddle up the large arm of whale bay visiting recreational site to recreational site and writing down our observations on the human impacts of the area. Jonathan would collect samples of invasive plants and he would educate us what types of plants were edible and native to the area. As the days past by, we quickly became immersed into a majestic routine paddling for miles soaking up the wilderness and all it has to offer. Safety was always considered a priority, but having fun was a mandatory part of the trip that we embraced. Taking a dip in the cold clear water felt refreshing after a long paddle on a hot summer day. We had the experience of watching nature at its finest as a brown bear had caught a salmon that was running up one of the creeks. Otters would crack shells on their bellies while a doe and her fawn walked to the shore to observe our brightly colored kayaks pass them by. No need for television, computers, or cellphones to entertain our minds, the wilderness in God's great country was all we needed. The volunteer experience with the Sitka Conservation Society was something I'll always remember.
[tentblogger-vimeo 48769359]In July of 2012, thirteen undergraduate students from Knox College embarked on a 15-day wilderness expedition into the wilds of Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The trip was part of a semester long course entitled "Alaska: Forest, Fisheries, and the Politics of Wilderness". The course entailed an in-depth study of the history of natural resource management in Southeast Alaska. The first part of the course took place on the Knox College campus in Galesburg, IL with a thorough exploration of the literature regarding natural resource extraction in Southeast Alaska. This classroom based study of Alaskan resource management was complimented with a 15-day field expedition to the region the following summer. This was the "hands on" component to what they had learned in the classroom.
The students arrived in Sitka, Alaska on June 27th, 2012. After a few days of preparation they embarked on a 100 mile kayaking expedition guided by Latitude Adventures, a local kayak guiding operation. For many of these students, this was their first experience camping, not to mention their first experiences in the great Alaskan wilderness. After ten days on the water, exploring the intertidal zone, watching bears, eagles, and whales; the students arrive at False Island on Chichagof Island. There the students then spent five days working side by side with the United States Forest Service restoring salmon streams that had been degraded by industrial logging. They also had the opportunity to participate in a variety of scientific surveys aimed at understanding the complexities of young growth forests.
This expedition was so unique because it allowed the students to experience the places that they had learned about in the classroom, first hand. For many, this was a trip of a lifetime.
Opportunities like Knox College's course are available for colleges and universities throughout the nation. It is the goal of the Sitka Conservation Society and the Sitka Sound Science Center to connect courses like these with our local assets. We can connect you and your students with our local experts, guides, interpreters, and organizations to facilitate your course's Alaskan education.
We sat quietly in the colony struggling not to make noise for fear of scaring the birds. It was about ten o'clock at night and the sun was still setting. To the west the sun sank over the horizon and the last few flickers of light colored the approaching clouds. To our east and south the full moon rose in a brilliant orange, promising to illuminate our night's work. The scene was dreamlike, surreal.
Part of what makes Saint Lazaria so unique is its somewhat unusual land use designation. The island of Saint Lazaria is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Homer, AK. It is also a designated Wilderness Area protected under the National Wilderness Preservation System. Thismulti-level protection has kept the island in pristine condition.
My work with SCS brought me to Saint Lazaria to learn about Alexis Will and the research she is conducting on the island. Will is a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she is working towards her Masters' of Science in Biology and Wildlife. For her thesis she is trying to determine the diets and foraging grounds of Rhinocerous Auklets (i.e., Cerorhinca monocerata). Will believes that by better understanding this species' diet and foraging grounds, we will better understand how these birds may adapt to an increasingly variable environment.
Will's research is also part of a bigger study. In recent years the population of five key groundfish species in the Gulf of Alaska have been significantly lower than in previous years. This is particularly alarming as these five fish species are all commercially important to the state. To determine what is causing this decline, the North Pacific Research Board is currently in the process of conducting a Gulf of Alaska-wide study. Their goal is to better understand the causes for these declining populations.
So how does Will's research fit in to this bigger project?
Here's the thing. Rhinocerous Auclets feed on the same fish that the five groundfish species feed on. If Alexis can determine where and how much fish the Saint Lazaria Rhinocerous Auclets are eating, then we will have a better picture of the food base in the Gulf, at least, theoretically. With better information on the health of the food base in the Gulf, the state of Alaska will have better science with which to base their fishing quotas. It's cool research and I was glad to have the opportunity to learn more about it.
However, what intrigued me most about Saint Lazaria was my experience in the Rhino colony. The Rhinoceros Auklet colony is located at the edge of a very steep and menacing cliff. Below the cliff we could see the commercial salmon fleet at anchor, protected in the lee of the island. As the Rhinos arrived at their nest to feed their chicks, the commercial trolling fleet sat below bracing for the approaching gale, and in the distance the lights of Sitka illuminated the night sky. As I sat in the darkabsorbing the night's activities, I was reminded of the simple fact that we are ALL part of this global ecosystem.
Hoonah Sound to Lisianski Strait to Goulding Harbor: A Chichagof Wilderness Expedition through Intact Watersheds
Anyone that tells you there is a trail between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait because "it's on the map," has never been there on foot. This is because there is no trail there! An SCS Wilderness Groundtruthing team recently explored that area on the Tongass and confirmed that the only trails available are the ones made by deer and bear.
The purpose of this expedition was to look at habitat connectivity and bear use. Members of the expedition were wildlife biologist Jon Martin, mountain goat hunting guide and outdoorsman Kevin Johnson, photographer Ben Hamilton, and SCS Executive Director Andrew Thoms.
SCS is interested in this landscape because of the protections given to these areas. The land between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait is protected as LUD II – a Congressional roadless designation status meant to protect "the area's wildland characteristics." The lands between Lisianski Strait and Goulding Harbor are part of the West Chichagof-Yacobi Wilderness where management is to "provide opportunities for solitude where humans are visitors." Management language aside, the most important thing about these areas is that they are large, contiguous protected areas where an entire watershed from the high-ridges to the estuaries is left in its natural condition. This means that these watersheds are able to function with no impact from roads, logging, mining, or other human activities.
What this looks like on the ground is a pristine habitat teaming with bears, deer, and rivers and lakes filled with salmon and trout. There are also many surprises: on this trip, we found a native species of lamprey spawning in a river creek that no one in the group has ever seen before (and the group had over 60 years of experience on the Tongass). We also found fishing holes where trout bit on every cast, back-pools in river tributaries filled with Coho Smolts, forests with peaceful glens and thorny devil's club thickets, and pristine lakes surrounded by towering mountains.
If any place should be protected on the Tongass, it is these watersheds. The Lisianski River is a salmon and trout power-house and produces ample salmon for bears that live in the estuary and trollers that fish the outside waters. One can't help but feel grateful walking along the river and through the forests here, thankful that someone had the foresight to set this place aside. Clear-cutting logging wild places like these provides paltry returns in comparison to the salmon they produce and all the other life they sustain.
These watersheds that we walked through are success stories and teach us how the temperate rainforest environment works in its natural unaltered state and how much value they produce following their own rhythms. The actions taken in the past to set these areas aside give us pause to think about what we should be doing today to invest in our future and protect ecosystems that are similarly important ecologically.
Scientists have identified over 77 other watersheds across the Tongass that produce massive amounts of salmon and have ecological characteristics that need to be protected. Some of these watersheds are slated to be logged by the Forest Service. Even worse, pending Sealaska legislation could result in some of these watersheds being privatized, sacrificing protection for salmon streams and spawning habitat. With your help and involvement, SCS is working to protect those watersheds and landscapes so that we can ensure the consideration of long-term health and resource benefits from these watersheds over the short-term gains of logging, road-building, or privatization. It is our responsibility that we make the right choices and that future generations are grateful for what we leave them to explore and benefit from.
If you want to be part of SCS's work to protect lands and waters of the Tongass, please contact us and we'll tell you how you can help. If you are inspired, write a letter to our senators and tell them to protect salmon on the Tongass and manage it for Salmon:here
Wilderness: A glimpse at the American experienceWhile studying visitor use in wilderness areas is an everyday part of my job, I've found that explaining what makes a wilderness area different from a large grouping of trees has become the largest secondary part of my work experience.
So what does make the land outside of town in wilderness or something else entirely? By stating wilderness areas in America are lands designated by congress for recreation would be correct, but the concept gets more muddled when breaking it all down. The take home message for wilderness areas is that they are lands designated for the American people to use. The language in the wilderness act tells us that wilderness exists for the enjoyment of the public and with regulations in hopes future generations have the chance for like experiences.
Recognizing these wilderness areas are places set aside which harbor some of the best natural landscapes in the world is a must. For instance, the wilderness areas near Sitka Alaska harbor old growth stands that rise up dramatically forming awe inspiring landscapes that are both magical to witness and imperative for a whole host of specie's survival.For arguments sake I'll point out the one such species, marbled murrelets, which are unique sea birds requiring old growth tree stands for nesting.
So, having distinguished that these special places require careful considerations, what types of restrictions attempt to help lessen human impacts? The big restrictions mostly revolve around having no mechanized use, specifically things like helicopters, chainsaws, or even bicycles. The purpose behind these restrictions is to allow the American people real opportunities for wilderness solitude in unspoiled natural areas.
Additionally wilderness lands are not specifically designed for entrepreneurs to exploit as other larger tracks of federal land encompass a variety of use options such as timber harvesting. However, with delicate use wilderness guides help transport people intoplaces otherwise not available to the average citizen.
The central theme of the American wilderness experience is providing a place where a person can travel and feel like the natural world still exists. The small restrictions on use help ensure these beautifully wild places will continue to exist at the same capacities in the future. Additionally, the price of experiencing truly natural places is invaluable and having wilderness remain pristine during these days of ever shrinking wild lands is vital for the American experience.
Recapping, wilderness is an area of federally designated land, set aside for the American public to enjoy in the most natural ways possible. There are restrictions on use to ensure future generations have the opportunity to continue to enjoy these places without man's overwhelming influences. For most of us that means the perfect place for viewing a bear with cubs, finding the perfect place for an outdoor adventure, seeing the pictures our friends and loved ones share with us from magical places, or simply knowing that the natural environment witnessed today will exist tomorrow.
This summer I have the great opportunity of interning with the Sitka Conservation Society and the United States Forest Service's Sitka Ranger District. I am excited for getting on with my duties revolving around visitor use studies in the Tongass National Forest and sharing my experiences.
So without further ado let me officially introduce my blog spot; I will share my travels into the TongassNational Forest's officially designated Wilderness and national forest lands, which yes indeed differs from a patch of unoccupied trees outside of town. With this glimpse into my summer I hope to paint pictures of interesting experiences with the people, land, and wildlife.
Let's get started with some background:
I have had the great fortune of residing in a variety of places throughout the country including Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Maine, California, and Alaska. Moreover, I've rambled into some of the most beautiful spots in America on road trips, vacations, and pure itchy feet adventures. Throughout my life I have been attracted to the wilder places, and at a certain point I found a need to help positively impact these most special places. In a nutshell this is how I find myself in my last semester studying Recreation Management at The University of Maine Machias and visitor use in Alaska's Tongass National Forest for the summer.
Thank you for following me through my travels and please remember the places I will discuss exist only in the visitor use capacities they currently hold due to previous public support and require public participation to remain at the current levels.
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The Sitka Conservation Society field crews are doing remote field work throughout the Tongass this summer. Our field work this summer includes salmon-habitat restoration work at Sitkoh River and Sitkoh Lake, ecosystem conservation and connectivity work in Hoonah Sound, invasive plant removal in Wilderness Areas, helping teach a visiting University course on Alaska's Forests, Fisheries and Wilderness, and much more. On some of the trips, there are opportunities to jump on some of our flights or transport to get out to remote locations. We hope that SCS members can take advantage of these opportunities and get out to know and experience our Tongass backyard!
1) Kayak Drop Off at False Island in Peril Straits, July 13th, $150: Have you ever wanted to paddle the coast of the infamous Deadman's Reach, watch for bubble-net feeding whales off Povorotni Island, walk through the majestic stands of Sitka Spruce in Ushk Bay, and ride the tidal currents through Segius Narrows? Next weekend could be your chance to do it!!! SCS is taking an Allen Marine transport boat that will be picking up a University Class at False Island on July 13th at 9am. We have room for a total of 9 kayaks and camping gear (can be double Kayaks). Reserve your spot on this transport and Kayak drop-off for $150 by contacting [email protected] or 747-7509 (fee helps pay for transport to the site. You are responsible for your own expedition, gear, etc. We will drop you off at the False Island dock)
2) Peril Strait Boat Cruise Ride-Along, July 13th, $45: The trip from Sitka North through Peril Straits is a maze of twisting waterways, islands, mountains, treacherous tidal currents, and beautiful bays and coves. Ride along with SCS on an Allen Marine Boat for a pick-up at False Island. The boat will leave at 9am and will return at approximately 1pm. Bring your charts and see if you can follow-along with the route through the passage that separates Baranof and Chichagof Islands! There are only 2 spots available on this trip so if you are interested in this opportunity to travel through Peril Straits, get your tickets now at SCS Offices.
3) Float Plane Drop-off at Goulding Harbor in the West Chichagof Wilderness Area July 30th or 31st ($150/person): Goulding Harbor is one of the most spectacular nooks in the West Chichagof Wilderness Areas. Its unique shoreline is dimpled and littered with islets and coves and the long sloping beaches make for great brown bear habitat. Two trail-heads depart from Goulding Harbor. One leads to White Sulfur Springs and the other follows an old mining rail-road to the Goulding Lakes. It is an amazing place for a wild and remote Wilderness Adventure. SCS has scheduled a float plane pick-up at Goulding Harbor for a crew that will be coming in from a Wilderness expedition. If you would like to take advantage of a float-plane drop off to explore the Goulding Harbor Area, this is your chance. Contact [email protected] (747-7509) for more information (This is a drop-off only. Participants are responsible for their own travel plans and arrangements after drop-off).
Keep watching for more opportunities to get out and explore the Tongass. SCS already has boat cruises scheduled and there may be more opportunities to piggy-back for travel to remote Wilderness Areas!
Saturday, June 9 and Sunday, June 10, 2012, 10am-5pmACA instructors Adam Andis and Darrin Kelly will teach all of the skills you need to be a safe and confident paddler, so that you can get out and enjoy our coastal wilderness areas and volunteer with the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project to collect needed baseline data. The class will include kayak skills for beginning to advanced paddlers, self and assisted rescue training, and Wilderness monitoring training, including an invasive plant ID lesson from Kitty LaBounty.
This two day course is open only to current SCS members so be sure to join or renew your membership when you sign up. Space is very limited, so sign up early!
To sign up or for more information, contact SCS at 747-7509.Cost is $75 for the 2-day course (drysuits included). Kayak rental is $35 per day through Latitude Adventures. A 10% will be offered to participants who provide their own drysuit.
Skills Course Agenda:Day 1
1000 Introduction (15 min)
- Intros- instructors, SCS, Wilderness Project
- Site logistics- food, water, hot drinks, bathroom, changing area
- outline course expectations
- safety briefing- PFD always on in water, helmets, hypothermia risk & mitigation, paying attention to each other and instructors)
- liability release
- Equipment orientation – drysuits later
- Personal clothing and gear
- PFD's, wetsuits, spray skirts
- Safety equipment
- Basic boat design and kayak terminology
- Boat fit and adjustment
- Boat/body weld
- Foot brace adjustment
- Spray skirt attachment/release
- Dry land "wet exit" drill
- Paddle orientation and use
- basic paddle technique
1115 Launching & Landing (30min)
- The paddling environment: wind, waves, weather, water (overview)
- Carrying kayak to and from water
- Entry/exit of kayak from shore or dock
- Boat stability, "hip wiggle,"
- Allow students a few minutes to paddle around and get oriented with their kayak
- Rafting up
- Sweep stroke (forward/reverse/pivot in place)
- Forward Stroke
- Reverse stroke and stopping
- Draw stroke
1245 Lunch (30 min)
- risk management triangle
- hi and low brace
- t-rescue demo (2 instructors)
- stirrup demonstration
- assisted rescue variations (stirrup, swamping the kayak)
- students practice
- paddle-float demo
- students practice
- paddle-float re-entry and roll (if time available)
- advanced bracing- sculling
- all-in practice
- get out of dry suits
- tomorrow's itinerary
1000 Monitoring Training (1hr 50 min)
- Plant ID Training (Kitty LaBounty) (40 min)
- Solitude Monitoring (20 min)
- History of Wilderness/Wilderness Character (10 min)
- LNT and Rec. Site (40)
- Tides- theory and practice
- Basic navigation
- Expectations for the day
- Prepare to get on the water- get dressed, personal gear and snacks, fill water bottles
- Skills and limitations (next steps)
- staying together
- boat traffic
- skills- stroke refinement, edging, running draws
- continued LNT training and practice
- Communication- equipment and protocol
- Boat traffic/Rules of the Road
- "What's in my PFD?" and "What's in my cockpit?"
- Return gear
- Thanks and continue to stay involved in SCS Wilderness Project