As published in the Sitka Daily Sentinel on Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Scientists are searching for a method to eradicate the invasive tunicate species that has kept Whiting Harbor closed since 2010. This invasive sea squirt has been found all over the world and can have detrimental effects on marine ecosystems if not controlled. But killing the invasive, is not so easy.
"Sometimes people have this notion that you can just kill anything," Ian Davidson, of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland, said in a recent interview. "There is not a standard template you can just follow and do."
Whiting Harbor is the cove between the Northwest end of the airport runway and the causeway linking the islands of the Fort Rouseau State Historical Park. If not for the tunicate contamination, Whiting Harbor would be the preferred access to the state park, which is accessible only by boat.
This September, Davidson and other scientists from the Smithsonian will be testing a possible treatment method for the invasive tunicate to see if they might be able to remove the species from Whiting altogether.
Didemnum vexillum, or D vex, is a fast-growing sea squirt sometimes called marine vomit. It has been found all over the world and has greatly impacted ecosystems off the coasts of New Zealand and Wales and has been particularly harmful to scallop populations near Massachusetts. Scientists believe D vex originated in Japan.
"It establishes well over surfaces," Tammy Davis, invasive species program director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said. "It's a really fast grower."
Fortunately for Sitka and the rest of Southeast Alaska, despite the fast-growing characteristics of D vex, surveyors have not found evidence of the tunicate spreading anywhere else in Alaska.
D vex often attaches to boats and fishing lines and is spread to other areas, so Davis said Whiting Harbor has been closed to all human activity since the discovery of the tunicate to limit the spread of the organism. As for what brought it to Sitka, no one knows.
"We can't say what the vector was," Davis said.
Scientists can't say just how long it's been here either.
Marnie Chapman, a professor at University of Alaska Southeast, was on the bioblitz expedition that discovered the tunicate in 2010.
"It's hard to identify on first look," Chapman said. If the scientists hadn't realized what they had found, "that would have been a nightmare scenario," she said.
Containing and ultimately eradicating the species is important because "invasive species compromise our sense of place," she said. "They take what is special and unique about a particular area and they make it less special."
But while the tunicate has remained contained in Whiting Harbor, scientists still don't know how to get rid of it. Davidson explained part of the research this fall will be testing the effects of increased salt content in the water of the harbor. A higher salinity of the water may help kill the tunicate, he said, but the scientists need to figure out if they can control the salt content in the harbor long enough to be effective.
Davidson's team of scientists will return early next year or in the spring for full on experiments in eradication, he said. This first trip is just testing the methods.
"I want to emphasize that this is not an eradication attempt, but rather a trial to determine how one might go about an eradication effort," Linda McCann of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center said. "We face several challenges with the work," she said including managing the delivery of the treatment and not harming the substrates the tunicate is attached to.
Davidson said that mobile creatures in the harbor will disperse if the salt content gets too high for them during the testing. He said the scientists were not worried about other invertebrates that may not be able to escape, because they were positive the harbor would repopulate because of Sitka's healthy intertidal zones.
Getting rid of the D vex tunicate in Whiting Harbor is another important step in the management process. Davidson said Alaska has less of an invasive problem than many other coastline states, particularly California.
"Alaska has a stronger reason to protect its territory," Davidson said. "You can get back to a pristine condition."
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.
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
If you've picked up a book on the Tongass or timber or even just Southeast Alaska, the story of the trees of Prince of Wales Island is probably one with which you're familiar. But even for an outsider, the story would be hard to miss, as the history of this island has been carved into its mountainsides. One does not need to have spent much time there to recognize: this land and logging have intimately known one another.
Traveling around the island by plane, car, and boat this past week, I saw before me a history etched in wood, a past laid bare by the felled trunks which often seemed to outnumber standing trees. But while I saw many scarred mountainsides on Prince of Wales Island, I also felt hope – hope that the manner by which this land was logged can serve a cautionary tale; function as an instructive story of misuse; and issue a warning – and wake-up call – to present and future generations of the costs we all pay when an unrenewable resource such as old-growth forest suffers reckless abuse as opposed to measured use.
It was beginning in the 1950s that many of the old-growth stands of the island began meeting with the former fate, logged swiftly and carelessly to provide raw material for the newly built pulp mill in Ketchikan. Flying over the forest in 1954, Art Brooks, logging manager for the Ketchikan Pulp Co., was to exclaim, "As far as the eye could see there were trees, trees, trees…nearly all virgin timber." That is no longer the case. Of the 140 by 45 mile island, only a few places have been spared the saw. I was lucky enough to visit one of them, the southern tip of the island, this past week.
For eight days, I, along with a group representing SCS, SEACC, the U.S. Forest Service, and HCA (the Hydaburg Cooperative Association), traveled around South Prince of Wales Wilderness, one of the most remote wilderness areas that Southeast Alaska has to offer, monitoring visitor use patterns. Along the way, we were fortunate enough to catch sight of whales and bears, watch the wonder that is salmon swimming upstream, be shown around an abandoned Haida village, and stand in the presence of trees hundreds – if not thousands – of years old. And aware of the past of this place, the contentious story of this space, I did not take getting to gaze at these ancient trees lightly. Knowing that this land has been a battleground for environmentalists for over half a century, that these forests are standing due to the hard work of many defenders, I felt privileged to be in their presence. But mindful that their present preservation was no guarantee of future conservation – the Big Thorne timber sale further north on the island standing as a testament to as much – I also began thinking about my own role to be had in speaking for these trees.
A few days before heading out on this trip, I had been having a conversation with someone who, when my job with the conservation society came up, laughed and said, "Oh, so you're part of the cult." When I asked what he meant, he spoke fairly disparagingly of environmentalism in general, asserting that environmentalists rarely understood their own agendas, merely mindlessly subscribing to whatever mentality happened to be dominant within conservationist circles at the time. Although initially affronted, I am, in retrospect, thankful for the encounter, as it reminded me that it's only when our beliefs are challenged that we take the time to reexamine, analyze, and crystallize them. As so, thinking of my parents soon flying into Sitka for a visit, and the many times as a kid they had read The Lorax aloud to me, I set out to articulate exactly what speaking for the trees means to me with regard to the Tongass National Forest.
And after having spent a week out in the wilderness, observing the natural connections that govern life in the Tongass, it becomes immediately apparent that just as with Dr. Seuss' Truffula trees, speaking for the spruce, hemlock, and cedar of Southeast Alaska involves speaking for a lot more. It's speaking for the salmon we saw jumping upriver, who rely on the trees for the enrichment and stabilization of their spawning streams. It's speaking for the deer we saw foraging on shore, who make their homes and secure their food under the cover of these trees' canopy. It's speaking for the bears we saw catching salmon, who depend on the forest to protect their food source of fish and fawns. It's speaking for the eagles we saw flying overhead, who make their nests and raise their young in the trees. And it's speaking for the people who catch those fish, hunt those deer, and enjoy the multiple other uses to which wilderness can be put. We are all intricately connected. It may be important at times to see the forest for the trees, but it is just as important to sometimes, both literally and figuratively, see the individual trees as well – see all the organisms and associations that make up the forest and appreciate that the parts are, indeed, what make up the whole, and if we misuse one, we endanger them all.
In its message of interconnectedness and warning against environmental abuse, Dr. Seuss' fable of the Truffula trees thus seems perfectly able to translate to the Tongass. There is only one point on which I might challenge him: having seen them, having stood in their presence and felt the reverence, awe, and humility they are able to inspire, in some ways, it seems, the trees of Southeast can also speak for themselves.
If you're interested in hearing more about our work, or are looking to get involved with wilderness stewardship and the preservation of our wild places, be sure to check out SCS's wilderness page here.Thanks and photo credit goes out to Luke A'Bear, one of the SCS participants, who was amazing at taking photos out on the trip. The Lorax image remains the property of Dr. Seuss.
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
Doug Chilton and The One People Canoe Society
Doug Chilton lives in Juneau, though his family originally comes from Angoon. A decade ago, he was excited when his canoe racing team was invited to race in Quinalt, Washington. But when his team showed up in Washington, he told me, they were surprised to find that there was nobody there. The next day, they were greeted by people arriving by canoe from reservations across Washington and Canada. "What we didn't know at the time is that it wasn't about racing for them, it was about the journey." Doug was taken aback by the way that these journeys were bringing people together as well as reconnecting native people with the tradition of the canoe-journey. Inspired, he came back to southeast Alaska with the goal of building a canoe-movement in his home waters, reconnecting with the journeys that his Tlingit ancestors has undertaken so many years ago. More importantly, he hoped to build a movement that would bring together the native tribe-members of Southeast Alaska in the ways that he had seen in Washington and Canada.
Building the energy within the movement was slow at first, he told me. He managed to get a team of people to paddle from Hoonah to Juneau for Celebration, which is a biennial festival celebrating Haida, Tlingit and Tshimian traditions and culture: the largest gathering of its kind in the state. But while it was hard to garner support while they were preparing for their journey, he told me that they received unexpected enthusiasm once they reached Juneau. People were intrigued. Many had thought it was never going to happen. Once they were able to see Doug and his team overcome the obstacle, though, they were convinced, and they wanted to try it themselves. "Over the years, it's been growing a little bit more and a little bit more, and sometimes it didn't feel like it was growing at all. But we were staying busy."
Since the first Celebration journey, Doug has been giving paddle workshops throughout Southeast Alaska. During the workshops, participants carve paddles from yellow cedar carving blinds, which have been donated by Haa'anni, the economic development division of the Sealaska corporation."We're putting together the group that's going to paddle the canoe," Doug explained to me, "and the idea is to get them started paddling together as a unit… Now during the paddle workshop we are trying to build the excitement and keep the excitement level high." And it's working. Canoe journeys elsewhere in the state have been taking off. Eleven canoes asked permission to land in Juneau at Sandy Beach for Celebration this year: the most canoes since Doug started paddling a decade ago.
Wooch.een: We Work Together
Having connected with Chilton through his paddling workshops, Stormy Hamar decided to organize a canoe journey from Coffman Cove to the rededication of Chief Shakes House in Wrangell. His first challenge, however, was to find a way to fill the 38 foot fiberglass canoe with people from the community. Many were members of his family. When I visited them in Kasaan, they told me that it was initially difficulth to get people to take time off from their busy lives. They handed out fliers and stopped people on the street. Finally, they were able to recruit fifteen people, some younger and some older, some with Haida heritage and some not. After carving their own paddles from donated boards, practicing paddling as a team for a a few hours, and pulling together last minute details, the day finally came to cast off. Stephanie Hamar, whose father, Stormy, skippered the canoe, told me that they had no idea what to expect. "We didn't know what was going to happen," she remarked, "We half expected to go down in the bay."
Much to their surprise, the team was able to paddle 34 miles the first day and camped a few nights on Vank island. Tim Paul Willis Junior was a pace-setter up at the front with Stephanie. He told me that he was amazed by how well everybody did. "I was surprised that a couple people ever made the journey, " he told me, "It was kind of impressive to see the different personalities of people come out through their actions." Stormy the skipper agreed that people on the team were able to show a different side to themselves. He told me that by the end, the group had become a cohesive unit, though in many ways, they didn't have a choice.
"In the canoe, people have to learn how to work together," he told me, "There's all this kind of simple stuff that you don't really think about. Everybody has to learn how to paddle in the same direction. When you're turning the boat, even when you're docking the boat. We even had to learn how to get in the boat."
By the end, everyone on board was proud of their teamwork. Nahaan, an avid paddle and canoe-builder from Ketchikan, described the sense of unity that a canoe-team builds to me. To him, working together is intrinsic to all aspects of a canoe-journey because it necessarily requires more than one person, both in its construction and in paddling. He related the sensation to the Tlingit word, "Wooch.een," which means, "we work together." "Wooch.een" could also describe the meditative quality of paddling in a team: the methodical movement of the boards in the water, the feeling of being balanced, the purity of intention, and the unifying feeling of participating in a collective activity.
Yet the sense of unity extends far beyond the rim of the canoe. Ken Hoyt works for SEARHC, but in his spare time he is a part of a team who is a part of a team building a strip-bark canoe in Wrangell. He told me that everyone involved in organizing the canoe journey has a stake in it and wants to see the team succeed.
"The journeys aren't simply just paddling," he told me, "There's a huge amount of logistics involved, a lot of people involved. You know every canoe might take fifty or a hundred people to get everything together, to get every last logistic taken care of, every bag packed and every little check list checked off."
Not just the people in the canoe are effected, but people witnessing the event are also inspired.
Listen to what Ken Hoyt says about how the different communities support the canoeshere.
"People support the canoers in a big way," he said, "They pray for the canoers, when we roll up to any community or leave any community they roll out the red carpet, or they'll host a potluck and the dance groups show up. It's powerful for the villages and the towns and the cities. Everyone celebrates the canoes in their own way. Like when we go to Juneau, they do that by having thousands of people on the beach. And when we go to Angoon, they do that by having a traditional foods potluck or a dance group. Kake woke up early in the morning to see us off. A lot of people were out on the dock with us. Just trying to help us out, whether it was picking up the canoes and helping us get them in the water, or if people forgot stuff at the house or they brought little last minute gifts for the trip."
Arriving on the shores after a long journey is often one of the most riveting aspects of the journey. Again, not just for the participants. "There is something deep inside people," said Ken, "When we land on the beach, you can see the look on people's faces. Some people are moved to tears, just overwhelmed by the powerful experience of the landing."
"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.
The last marathoner in the Sitka Cross Trail Classic ran confidently across the finish line as the Sitka Seafood Festival parade started to get underway on Saturday. Floats spewing bubbles and candy made their way down Lincoln Street towards the Sheldon Jackson campus just before noon on August 5 as just one part of a weekend-long celebration of successful wild fisheries in the Tongass National Forest.
"It's a celebration of how lucky we are," Cherie Creek, a regular volunteer at the festival, said. "We are a seaport and have tons of fisheries and fresh food."
On Aug. 1 and 2, the community gathered for the fourth annual Sitka Seafood Festival. The festival included a marathon, kids' races, cooking demonstrations, food booths, festival games, a fish head toss and the parade.
While it is a community event, Creek said she enjoys having people from out of town join in the festival activities. Her favorite event of the festival is the children's crab races.
The Sitka Seafood Festival is a great way to "show off to visitors how important seafood is to the Sitka community," Lon Garrison, president of the Sitka School Board said. He said he enjoys celebrating the well-managed and sustainable resource of the Tongass every year.
Garrison also participated in a new event at the festival this year: the Fish to Schools recipe contest. He helped judge 8 different recipes provided by locals to find the new recipe to be used in local schools this fall. The Fish to Schools program, initiated by the Sitka Conservation Society, brings locally caught fish into school cafeterias twice a month.
One in ten jobs in Sitka is related to the fishing industry and theTongass National Forest provides 28 percent of all salmon produced in the state of Alaska,so the festival really does rejoice in local endeavors. It's something outsiders can't help but take notice of.
"Everyone I've met has some kind of tie to fishing," Ali Banks, a visiting Chicago chef said. "It really drives everything."
Banks teaches in a recreational cooking school in Chicago and uses salmon from Sitka Salmon Shares in her classes. She said she encourages her students to buy wild rather than farmed fish because there really is a difference in quality. She also writes basic and fun recipes for the Sitka Salmon Shares website, which distributes mostly in the Midwest.
Traveling to Sitka for the seafood festival was a real treat for Banks. She spent a few days in Sitka out on a boat fishing. "I got the best Alaska has to offer," she said. "I love knowing where my food comes from."
Join the Sitka Conservation Society on their last boat cruise of the season!
On Tuesday, Aug. 19, SCS will set sail with Allen Marine tours to explore the salmon of Sitka Sound. Lon Garrison, aquaculture director at the Sitka Sound Science Center will be on board as a guide and to answer questions. Come learn about the importance of salmon to the Tongass National Forest and have some fun on a Tuesday night!
Tickets are on sale at Old Harbor Books beginning Aug. 5. The cost is $40 per person.
The boat cruise will depart Crescent Harbor at 5 p.m. and return at 8 p.m., boarding begins at 4:45 p.m.
Don't miss the last chance to take a SCS cruise this summer!
As published in the Daily Sitka Sentinel on July 16, 2014
Four environmental groups have filed a petition to make the Alaskan yellow-cedar, an important tree to Tlingit carvers, an endangered species.
However, some petitioners believe that the protection might not be enough to save the species.
"It's almost like we're too late with the petition, but hopefully not," said Kiersten Lippmann of Anchorage, who is with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The center, along with the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace and The Boat Company, an organization that runs charter tours through Southeast waters, submitted a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service last month asking for federal protection of yellow-cedar under the Endangered Species Act.
"They are on the downward swing, very dramatically, so something needs to be done," said Larry Edwards, of Sitka, an Alaska Forest Campaigner of Greenpeace. "We'll do whatever we can to help the process along."
Yellow-cedars have been dying off for about 100 years, U.S. Forest Service research finds. There is now more than half-million acres of dead cedar forests. The preliminary conclusion is that climate change is the cause.
The research has shown that decreasing snowfall in the region is allowing the shallow roots of the trees to freeze, causing the trees to die. Snow acts like a blanket and insulates the soil beneath, and also provides more water for the trees in the springtime when it melts.
Yellow-cedar trees can live to be more than 800 years old and are naturally very resistant to rot and disease. These qualities make its wood ideal for use as a building material that will be exposed to water and Southeast Alaska's rainy climate.
Its soft wood and fine grain make it a favorite wood for Native carvers.
"It's not just a natural resource, but a cultural resource," Janet Drake, a park ranger at the Sitka National Historic Park, said. With no red cedar in the area, the yellow-cedar is a beautiful, local wood for people to use, she said.
Obtaining endangered species status for a plant or animal takes more than one and a half years if the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. meets all deadlines for acting on the petition. Unfortunately, Lippmann said, usually those deadlines are not met on time.
And on top of that, the federal protection cannot stop the effects from climate change. It would only live trees from being cut down.
At present the Aleutian holly fern is the only federally protected plant in Alaska, says the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While conservation groups spearhead the petition efforts, some local carvers worry about the classification of yellow-cedar as endangered. Tlingit carvers Tommy Joseph and Robert Koffman, both of Sitka, voiced concerns about losing access to wood supplies if the petition should succeed.
Joseph said that he likes using yellow-cedar because of its durable qualities. "It's softer but it will outlast all the others," he said.
Koffman, who also works at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, said the tight grain of yellow-cedar allows him to put more detail into his carvings. He said it would be best if there is a clause allowing subsistence harvest of yellow-cedar in order to protect carvers' livelihood.
"If it is a disappearing species there should be protections," Koffman said, but added: "I think a limited amount of wood should be made available to Native artists."
Petitioners argue that the real enemy is commercial timber sales, not the amount used for carving.
"If you can at least limit logging, you can give the species a little bit of resilience in the face of climate change," Lippmann said.