Every summer the Sitka Conservation Society lures a handful of unsuspecting, environmentally minded, intrepid folk into the Tongass. They come from all over the world, hoping to experience Alaska. Little do they know that upon arrival they will be introduced to a wilderness so vast they could not hope to grasp it in one summer, and a town so welcoming that they will be taken into stranger's homes and offered homemade rhubarb crisp. This summer our media interns are a mix of local and imported young people who love storytelling and adventure.
Alex Crook flew to Alaska straight from Cambodia, where he has spent the past 10 months working as a photojournalist and freelance photographer. So far he has accomplished his subsistence goals by catching his first King and making his first salmonberry pie. Alex's other goals include using photography to give a face to the alternative energy movement in Southeast Alaska. (photo by Gleb Mikhalev)
Berett Wilber grew up fishing with her family and photographing her Southeast Alaska home. Berett's focus this summer will be collecting stories from locals about the places they love. She's interested in how the people of Southeast benefit from conservation in the Tongass.(photo by Gleb Mikhalev)
Caitlin Woolsey, another lifelong Sitkan, is excited to be back on the trails. She hopes to spend the summer hiking and writing stories that illustrate the importance of a well-preserved Tongass in the lives of Sitkans and Alaskans in general.(photo by Alex Crook)
Gleb Mikhalev has lived all over, from the midwest, to Russia, British Columbia, and New York City, and he says Sitkans are some of the most welcoming people he's ever met. Last summer Gleb crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a 32 ft. steel sailboat. This summer he's found his way to the Pacific, and hopes to spend the summer getting to know the people of Southeast Alaska. (photo by Alex Crook)
Kari Paustian was born and raised in Sitka and has spent the last few summers working on the Forest Service Trail Crew. This summer she will be the SCS liaison with the Forest Service, managing projects and writing stories on restoration in the Tongass.(photo by Alex Crook)
Lione Clare, another Sitkan, joins the intern team as a photographer. She has loved growing up in Sitka, and feels lucky to have had the opportunity to explore and get to know her environment. She wants to work to conserve the Tongass by documenting the beauty that she sees all around her and sharing it with others.(photo by Ray Pfortner)
By the end of the summer, the interns hope to cover a variety of stories, from subsistence living on Prince of Wales to the Blue Lake Dam construction here in Sitka. Stay tuned for this team's photos, stories, and films about living with the land and building community here in the Tongass.
As you may recall from a previous post by Ray, a bike shelter is being built locally, using Tongass wood and will be landing at the Sitka Sound Science Center soon. I say landing, because it has been constructed at Sitka High School and will actually be transported courtesy of a sizeable fork lift and truck, thanks to S&S contractors, and placed at its final home.
The shelter is a beautiful timber framed structure made of young growth Sitka spruce and old growth red cedar. Timber framing is a traditional style of building that uses non-dimensional lumber, that is, no 2"x4"s or other standard timber sizes are used in the construction of the frame. Instead, timber framed construction uses large, squared timbers and relies on carefully designed and fitted joints using wooden pegs to hold the frame in place. Not only is the bike shelter a much needed asset, it is charming in its execution thanks to the vision of Randy Hughey and newly transplanted Dan Sheehan. Randy, who has just retired after 30 years, has been running the Sitka High Construction and Industrial Arts courses, and Dan is an experienced timber framer. The two partnered up for this project and have since poured countless hours of their personal time into the construction of the shelter along with the help of SHS students and local volunteers.
The shelter will temporarily have four U-shape racks, until the final rack is designed and installed. Mike Litman, of Precision Boatworks, will be designing the racks for the shelter. The structure joins a growing network of bike shelters around Sitka, including one being built for Pacific High School by Pat Hughes (UAS) and Pacific High students. This shelter will serve as a demonstration project, highlighting the importance of local products, local craftsmanship and knowledge, the strength of community and contributing to local economy. SCS was able to fund this project through the Community Capacity and Land Stewardship (CCLS) program with the National Forest Foundation (NFF). The goal is to share local knowledge, connect local processors with local builders, and influence resource managers to make decisions on the Tongass that benefit local communities. A sustainably managed forest will support a more resilient community.
Look for the Shelter to arrive later this summer! Special thanks to the 'Village' that made it possible: Randy Hughey Dan Sheehan SHS Contruction Students Lisa Busch, Lon Garrison and the SSSC S&S Contractors Mike Litman, Precision Boatworks Parks and Recreation, City and Borough of Sitka Mel Cooke & Bill Thompson National Forest Foundation, CCLS program USFS SCS members The Sitka Community
The Sealaska Lands Legislation has passed out of committee in both the House and Senate, and could go before the full House and Senate for approval as early as sometime in July. If approved, the Legislation would privatize over 70,000 acres of the Tongass, including parcels near Sitka at Kalinin Bay, Lake Eva, Fick Cove, and North Arm.
The Sealaska Legislation has been introduced three prior times, and has previously passed out of the House but has never before been subject to a vote by the full Senate. All indications are that the current version of the Bill will reach a Senate vote, and so it is critical to reach out to members of Congress explaining why the Bill would be bad for us in Sitka and bad for Southeast Alaska as a whole.
The current House and Senate versions of the Bill are wildly different, with the Senate version (S.340) being considered a compromise containing fewer inholdings, provisions for public access for fishing, and expanded stream buffers in some timber selections. That said, the Senate Bill would still transfer 70,000 acres of the Tongass to a private corporation and would lead to clear-cutting some of the largest and oldest trees remaining on the Tongass. Should both the House and Senate versions pass they would go a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions. Sealaska has publically said it would prefer legislation enacted that is more like the House version than the Senate version, so we can only imagine what its lobbyists are telling members of Congress.
Letters, emails, and phone calls from Southeast Alaska residents have made a difference in keeping prior versions of the Sealaska Legislation from passing, but none of that outreach will have an impact on members of Congress when they take up the Legislation once again. They need to hear from us again and be reminded that the Tongass is a National Forest that belongs to everyone and that we in Southeast Alaska depend on this public forest for our livelihoods and our ways of life.
For Sitka locals, it's no surprise to walk through Totem Park in late July and see evidence of salmon. From the flopping in the river, to the eagles snacking on the banks, to the smell of rotting fish which permeates the air, the salmon cycle is a constant for summer in Sitka.On June 19th, visitors to the park also got a taste of how important salmon are to the forest. Instead of finding salmon in the river, they walked through the park to find fish hanging decorated in the trees - quilted salmon, copper-colored salmon adorned with pennies, salmon covered in poems - and instead of an olfactory reminder, there was an auditory one: the sound of strings from the Sitka Summer Music Festival, playing a concert on the old battlefield where Tlingit warriors defended their lands from Russian traders. "It's a natural amphitheater," said musician Tali Goldberg. "The acoustics are great. It sounds like a concert hall."
From celebrating our unique artistic and environmental history, or simply getting out in the woods to enjoy some music and Vitamin D, the 2nd Annual Salmon in the Trees event offered an interdisciplinary glimpse into how important salmon are to the people of Sitka. Drawing on the region's history of mixing art and environment, community members decorated 30 wooden salmon that were hung by volunteers (many of them from the Forest Service), giving a modern day twist to the long-standing celebration of salmon culture. Adding world famous musicians into the mix highlights just how much Indian River, named Katzdaheen in Tlingit, means to the people of Sitka. "People listen with their hearts and really absorb [the music]," said Joachim Eylander, one of the cellists.
And it's not just the music they're hearing: it's the raven calls between the movements, and the sounds of the river, which flows through the middle of the park. It has had salmon returning for thousands of years to spawn in the waters, from the estuary in what is now the Sitka National Historic park to the river's upper reaches deep in the Tongass National Forest. Salmon in the Trees is a chance to share with visitors how strong the cultural forces of salmon and the Tongass are to Southeast Alaskans, an opportunity to use art and music to celebrate the important relationship between forest and fish. It's a way to illustrate how that relationship, which begins in the rivers throughout Southeast Alaska can flow out to affect the entire community - just like the music in the trees.
The summer boat tour adventure continues to the
West Chichagof-Yakobi Wildernesson Tuesday July 23rd.
The West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area is near and dear to our hearts here at SCS, as the central focus of our founding as an organization. Thirty-three years after its federal designation as a Wilderness Area, West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness is still a place treasured by many Alaskans. Come with as we explore just some of the many reasons that this Wilderness is such a special place.
Guest speakers from the US Forest Service and the Sitka Conservation Society will guide us through the dramatic beginnings of the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area, what makes a wilderness a Wilderness, why these places are so important, and more.
This special tour will take place on Tuesday July 23rd, from 5:30 to 9:30pm. TIckets can be purchased from Old Harbor Books 201 Lincoln Street for $45 or (if available) at the Crescent Harbor loading dock at time of the cruise. It is suggested that tickets be purchased in advance to assure participation. Boarding begins at 5:15 pm. at Crescent Harbor.Due to the discounted rate of this trip, we are unable to offer additionally reduced rates for seniors or children.
This cruise is great for locals who want to get out on the water, for visitors to Sitka who want to learn more about our surrounding natural environment, or for family members visiting Sitka. Complimentary hot drinks are available on board and you may bring your own snacks.Binoculars are available on board for your use.Allen Marine generously offers this boat trip at a reduced rate for non-profits. Please call 747-7509 for more information or email [email protected]
See you on the boat!
I arrived in Sitka a little over a week ago, and since arriving, the stunning sights around me have constantly amazed me. I am surrounded by beautiful scenes of mountains, forests, and maritime infrastructure that drastically differ from the everyday sights of my Wisconsin upbringing. Luckily, I will be immersed in the natural beauty of the area all summer, as my summer position with the Sitka Conservation Society will involve a good amount of fieldwork. For my position as the wild salmon conservation and restoration intern, I will need to familiarize myself with the Pacific Northwest ecosystems, and considering I have never been west of South Dakota, I have a lot to learn.
Reading about ecosystems is an excellent beginning step in the learning process, but I think in order to best understand an ecosystem, you must physically venture into the ecosystem. Luckily for me, I am surrounded by largest national forest in the United States, the Tongass National Forest, giving me a classroom of 17 million acres.
One particular area of the Tongass National Forest where I will be spending a lot of time this summer will be at Starrigavan, a site that was extensively logged in the 1970s and is now a second growth forest. At Starrigavan, the U.S. Forest Service cleared eight gaps in an attempt to help improve the understory vegetation, which in turns helps provide forage vegetation for deer. One of my projects this summer will be helping to create small (5m X 5m) deer exclosures in six of these gaps in order to study how deer foraging affects the understory development. The most difficult part of this project has already proven to be hiking all of the equipment through the dense second growth forest to the gaps.
A different task this summer will be setting up and collecting data for a study looking at the insect diversity and abundance found in second growth forest. Due to the fact that most restoration projects are geared towards salmon and deer, little is known about the habitat suitability of second growth forests on species other than salmon and deer. For this reason, this work is extremely compelling and relevant. In fact there is not even a good list of possible insects that could be found in the pit-fall traps we are setting up!
All in all, this summer looks like it is shaping out to be an experience of a lifetime, an experience that will be mentally and physically challenging at times, but one that will be perpetually rewarding. I look forward to becoming a better field biologist and conservationist, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from my colleagues at the Sitka Conservation Society. I also look forward to learning from listening, feeling, and experiencing the wilderness of the Tongass National Forest.
Mark your calendars! The next tour in our Summer Boat Tours series will be exploring the History of Sitka Sound on Thursday June 27th.
We'll be exploring the islands, forests and waters of Sitka Sound and learning about the rich history of this amazing place: how it has shaped the lives of those who've called Sitka home, and how Sitka Sound has been shaped in turn.
Guest speakers from the Sitka Historical Society, the Sitka Maritime Heritage Society, as well as local Sitkans with a love of history and unique knowledge of this amazing place will help bring the days of Sitka's yesteryear to life.
Boarding for the tour will begin at 5:15pm from Crescent Harbor Shelter, departing at 5:30pm, and returning home at 8pm. Tickets can be purchased at Old Harbor Books for $35.Any questions? Call 747-7509 or email [email protected].
See you on the boat!
Did you build your own water filters out of cotton balls and coffee filters, make homemade rainwater catchment systems, or simulate oil rigs with sand and straws when you were in third grade? Neither did I. Third graders in Chris Bryner's class got to embark on a journey to learn all about water conservation in and around the Tongass over the course of the last few months through a project called Conservation in the Classroom. This new program, created by myself and Chris Bryner, aimed to teach kids everything about water conservation and how it relates to their lives. Throughout two months, I taught lessons on how water conservation relates to things like pollution, waste, energy, water filtration, and more.
Chris's classroom is unique in that he uses the model of project based learning. This non traditional and adaptive teaching style gave me the freedom to let kids learn by building and being creative instead of talking at them. They learned how hydropower works by building their own water wheel. They compared this to oil rigs as they created their own ocean with layers of sugar and sand to represent oil and the ocean floor. They saw as they pulled the "oil" out of the water with a straw, the "ocean floor" was disturbed. Instead of me telling them, they got to create the simulation on their own. They could see how hydropower is a clean source of energy and understand how our Blue Lake Dam works.
We talked about the importance of protecting watersheds, which is a huge concept for third graders! Kids crumpled up paper to create miniature mountain peaks. I sprayed water on all of the peaks and they watched it trickle down to create this big watershed. We did the same thing with food dye and saw how far it could travel if you dump a pollutant at the top of a mountain. The kids watched it happen in front of their eyes instead of being told what might happen. After that, the kids asked f we could have a trash pick up day to remove all the garbage from Cutthroat Creek to stop it from spreading.
Sitka Conservation Society's advocates for protecting the Tongass and promoting ecological resiliency. By teaching third graders why conservation matters, they will have a better understanding of why the Tongass is worth protecting. Through these projects and others that the kids created, we all learned how even though water is abundant here, it relates and impacts other things in the Tongass and should be monitored and protected.
After exploring these things, the kids got to break up into groups and focus on a final project they were most interested in. One group investigated the benefits and drawbacks of the Blue Lake Dam Expansion Project. They went on a tour of the facility, interviewed key people from the project, and talked to Sitkans about what they thought. Another group wanted to know how to proper filter water. They did a Skype interview with a woman who builds filters for families in Africa. The kids were creative, inquisitive, and had incredible results. Conservation in the Classroom was a terrific collaboration between SCS and Chris Bryner's class. Students walked away with a better understanding of their landscape and how to protect it.
SCS has extended the application deadline for an exciting opportunity, the Entrepreneurial Capacity Development and Local Business Catalyst position. We are seeking a highly motivated, self-starter to work as a local business catalyst in Sitka, Alaska.This catalyst will work with community partners and identify local entrepreneurial needs and opportunities. The candidate's main focus will be to develop programs that stimulate and empower the community and establish projects that focus on living and buying locally. Click here for a full position description and details on how to apply!
Interested in volunteering with the Community Wilderness Stewardship Project? This year we'll have a number of opportunities for you to get into the field with SCS staff and USFS Wilderness Rangers to help collect monitoring data, remove invasive weeds, and enjoy our amazing Wilderness areas.
Slocum Arm- 6 days - July 8-July 14 – 2 volunteers
Volunteers will be travelling to Slocum Arm in West Chichagof Wilderness Area to help researchers monitor plots for the Yellow-Cedar study by Stanford University. The crew will be transported by charter boat to Slocum Arm, then access field plot by kayak.
Slocum Arm – 5 days – July 14-July18 - 2 volunteers
Volunteers will be travelling to Slocum Arm in West Chichagof Wilderness Area to help researchers monitor plots for the Yellow-Cedar study by Stanford University. The crew will be transported by charter boat to Slocum Arm, then access field plot by kayak. This trip will trade-out with the previous trip on July 14th.
Port Banks/Whale Bay- 5 days – July12-July16 – 2 volunteers
After boating from Sitka to Whale Bay, the crew will off-load with gear and packrafts. After hiking to Plotnikof Lake, the crew will packraft to the end of the lake, portage to Davidoff Lake and paddle to the end of the lake, then reverse the trip back to salt water. Volunteers will assist SCS staff and collect ecological and visitor use data. At the end of the trip, volunteers will fly back to Sitka by float plane.
Red Bluff Bay- 8 days – July 21-July 28 – 2 volunteers
Red Bluff Bay on the eastern side of South Baranof Wilderness Area is a spectacular destination. The SCS crew will spend 8 days camping in the bay and traveling by kayak and foot to monitor base-line ecological conditions and visitor use before flying back to Sitka by float plane.
Red Bluff Bay- 7 days – July 28-August 3 – 2 volunteers
Red Bluff Bay on the eastern side of South Baranof Wilderness Area is a spectacular destination. The SCS crew will spend 8 days camping in the bay and traveling by kayak and foot to monitor base-line ecological conditions and visitor use before flying back to Sitka by float plane. This trip will trade-out with the previous trip on August 3.
Taigud Islands – 7 days – August 11-August 17 – 3 volunteers
Volunteers will paddle from Sitka to the Taiguds and surrounding islands to assist SCS Wilderness staff monitor recreational sites and collect beachdebrisfor future pick-up. The crew will then paddle back to Sitka. *Note: These dates are not yet firm and may be subject to change.