Growing up in Minnesota, and having just spent the last three years in North Carolina, hearing or reading the term "public lands" brings to mind some pretty specific notions and memories, most of which include traveling a long distance, paying entrance or vehicle fees, rangers and managers who varied from enthusiastic to ornery, and usually lots of people.
After living in Sitka for just over two months now, I've come to see public lands in a much different light. Sitka is nestled within 17 million acres of mountains, forests, streams and muskegs that comprise the Tongass National Forest. There's no long expedition needed to reach public lands here – they're in our backyards. They are our backyards. And these public lands are so much more than just a beautiful place to visit – they are the backbone to the communities of southeast Alaska.
I did take a small excursion this past weekend, over to Kruzof Island. I was excited to actually travel the roads and see the forests, beaches, streams and muskegs I have spent so much time working with on the computer. Not to mention this was my first chance to see the Tongass off of Baranof Island. The purpose of this trip was two-fold: to ‘ground truth' a number of forest stands and salmon streams for their current condition and their potential for restoration work, and to experience first-hand why Kruzof is such a popular and important place for Sitkans.
I traveled with AmeriCorp volunteer Paul Norwood and SCS's Watershed & Restoration manager Scott Harris over to Mud Bay. Once there, we anchored the boat, loaded up our gear onto our rented ATV's, and headed west across the island to North Beach cabin (our ‘home base' for the next couple of days). Already on the very first day on Kruzof, my idea of what "public lands" are started to shift. There I was, looking in awe at the beautiful forests and muskegs of north Kruzof as we roared along in our ATVs, all the while the other people we came across during our trip were there hunting deer with their families, starting to set out marten traps for the upcoming trapping season, and just enjoying the weekend out in the woods.
While our trip didn't include trap setting, I was able to experience deer hunting for the first time (a beautiful buck on our first day), ATVing through forests, up mountains and across rivers, hiking in streams and through muskegs, old growth stands and thick young growth, and strolling along Shelikof beach collecting sand dollars. All of these amazing and unique experiences, all in three days, all on a small section of an amazing island, and all on public land.
As important and cherished as Kruzof is to Sitkans today, it still shows a landscape scarred from a less than kind history of extensive clear-cutting. Amid the tangle of young growth we climbed through were the moss-covered stumps of the giant trees that once towered there; streams barren of any logs or other diversions were lined with the blunted ends of old fallen trees that had been removed to allow for machinery to move easily upstream; mountain and hill-sides were blanketed in a mosaic of old growth, young growth, and veins of alder along the roads and trails. The scars are healing on Kruzof, but work is still needed to ensure that we can bring Kruzof back to it's previous ecosystem health, allowing us and the countless animals that live there to enjoy the many riches of Kruzof well into the future.
This trip showed me Kruzof Island as more than just a pretty view of Mount Edgecumbe: it is simultaneously a place for hiking, ATVing, subsistence hunting, fur trapping, restoration work on salmon streams and the surrounding forests, bird watching, beach-combing, quiet reflection, adventure… the list goes on. And all of this without any waiting in line at an entrance gate, or paying a visitor fee, or being constantly monitored by rangers and land managers. Believe it or not, this was the first time I had seen "the public" actually utilizing their public land. After all the visits I had made to public lands before in the lower 48, it wasn't until coming here to Sitka, and seeing it first hand on Kruzof Island, that I really understood what public lands are really about.
We are so fortunate here in southeast Alaska to not only to have this beautiful landscape as the backdrop of our lives, but to have that landscape as public land that we can visit for recreation and relaxation, and for our livelihoods. The fishing and tourism industries, which are the first and second largest employers and revenue makers in Sitka, are dependent on healthy forests, salmon streams, myriad wildlife, hiking and ATV trails, and cabins: all of which are found in our public lands. On Kruzof, these are places like Shelikof Creek, Iris Meadows, Twin Lakes, North Beach cabin, and so many more. Yes, public lands like the Tongass National Forest are managed by tax payers' dollars, but the money that the public pays to manage the Tongass is re-paid one hundred-fold. From the roughly 14 million dollars that the Forest Service spends on tourism and fisheries & watershed management within the Tongass, just under two billion (that's $2,000,000,000!) is brought into the local economies of southeast Alaska from these two industries. And this number doesn't even include the value of subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering.
When I see Mount Edgecumbe on a clear day, or look out from atop Harbor Mountain, or hear the words "public lands", a new array of memories and ideas come to mind. Public lands are for all people, for a profusion of different activities. They're a gift and a legacy for all of us.
"Do you know what the best part of energy fasting day is? When you open the refrigerator and there is light!" This is what my roommate told me as we sat in a dark kitchen with a few White E and homemade candles burning. This rather permanent state of darkness we had created for ourselves was starting to have its effects on us. As the sunlight got shorter and shorter every day, I had noticed my patience for darkness was doing the same. I loved being challenged by only using one light after 5pm, but it was not an easy way to live for a month. It is the best way to learn how often you use lights or energy. Even on the last day of November, I still would forget to take my headlamp into my dark room and would have to feel around for what I needed.
We only made one exception to our set of guidelines. We decided that on Thanksgiving we could use one main light and a bathroom light, but not before we had a long conversation as a community about changing our rules for a holiday. For every other day, it didn't matter if a friend stopped by or if we had a guest staying with us, we made everyone play along with our challenge. Reactions to this new way of life were mostly positive.
I learned that this month took some preparation. Every Wednesday our community did a complete energy fast using only the refrigerator and heating. Anything else that had to be plugged into the wall or used energy was off limits for those 24 hours. On Tuesdays we made food that we could eat cold the following day. Usually that consisted of cold rice and vegetables or tacos. We learned our lesson after not preparing for our first energy fast and some major scrounging had to happen in order to eat dinner.
Sitka relies on hydropower from dams to give power to the city. This is an amazing opportunity that we receive. We are not forced to use coal, and we only rely on a limited amount of oil. Most of the country does not have the opportunity to use something as environmentally friendly as hydropower. Sitka still has experienced times of energy shortages. In times like those it is important to remember that energy challenges are completely doable. It is possible to live for a month with one light and without power once and a while. It is a challenge that everyone should try to help promote conservation and to come to a better understanding of how many lights are on in a home at any given time. Look out for more updates on next months challenge!
SCS staff members Andrew Thoms and Ray Friedlander went on Raven Radio with Chris Leeseberg, a USFS fisheries biologist, on November 26th to talk about the Forest Service's Kruzof Island project and a public meeting that will be happening at 6:30pm on January 16th 2013 at Centennial Hall. This upcoming meeting is unique in that it is allowing the public to voice project ideas and opinions for how they think the Kruzof landscape should be managed rather than let the decisions solely be made by the Forest Service.
Click on the link below to hear the interview and read the article Raven Radio posted about it:
Kruzof Island is an important community resource that provides Sitkans and visitors with a wide range of recreation, subsistence, and economic opportunities. Attending this Kruzof public meeting in January is a prime way to participate in democratic land management processes and get your voice heard. The Sitka Collaborative Stewardship group has already taken some steps to gather ideas. In July 2012, there was a field trip to Kruzof Island that led to some project brainstorming: salmon habitat restoration work in Iris Meadows, wildlife habitat restoration in 2nd growth stands, picnic shelter at North Beach, additional mooring buoy at Mud Bay, hardened camp sites at North Beach, hardened trail to access North Beach, wildlife viewing platform at Iris Meadows, and a culture camp for the tribe. These are only some of the many possibilities that can occur in on the Kruzof , Krestof and Partofshikof Islands, making your opinions and ideas just as important as what has already been proposed.
For more information on the Kruzof public meeting and other ways you can participate in public lands management activities, please contact Ray Friedlander at [email protected], (907) 747 – 7509.
Attention all bird enthusiasts and nature-lovers! 97 birds with various sorts of colored leg bands have been spotted in Sitka. We need your help in recording sightings of these birds!
The weekend before Thanksgiving, certified bird bander Gwen Baluss, Sitka High student Naquoia Bautista, and many volunteers banded Juncos, Chickadees, and Sparrows. Naquoia is participating in the Science Mentor Program. She will be conducting a study of the habits of wintering songbirds in Sitka. Her project relies on local bird enthusiasts and folks with bird-feeders to look out for her color-banded birds. If you would like to help, download and print the observation form here. You can also record observations on the internet at this link. If you have questions, contact Scott Harris at [email protected] or call 738-4091.
[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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Join us at the SCS Annual Wild Foods Potluck
November 29th, 5:00-7:30 pm at Harrigan Centennial Hall
This free, community event gives everyone a chance to come together and share meals made with locally foraged food, from fish and wild game to seaweed, berries and other traditional subsistence foods. All folks are asked to bring in dishes that feature local wild foods, and if you can't bring in a dish that features wild foods you can use a wild plant to garnish a dish made with store-bought foods. Doors open at 5 p.m. to bring in your dish, with dinner starting at 6:00 p.m. Non-alcoholic drinks will be provided.
This year's theme will be "Restoration in the Sitka Community Use Area" where we will be sharing with you the hard work we've put in to the Tongass National Forest. There will be prizes awarded for the best dishes made in categories like:
-best entree/most wild
-most filling (we have a lot of folks come to the Wild Foods potluck, so if you cook a big dish that can feed a lot of people, that would be very mindful and considerate and definitely worth rewarding!)
The doors open at 5:00 pm so you'll have a chance to visit the community booths from the following groups:
- Sitka Local Foods Network
- Sitka Trailworks
- Sitka Maritime Heritage Society
- Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association
- Alaska Way of Life 4-H Club
- Forest Service
- Sitka Cooperative Extension Service
- SCS Fish to Schools
- Wood Utilization Center
Look through photos of past years for inspiration, or view an article on the stories behind the dishes that were entered in the 2011 potluck.
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[tentblogger-vimeo 53985704] Sitka Conservation Society board member Richard Nelson spoke on salmon during Sitka Whalefest on the theme of "Cold Rivers to the Sea: Terrestrial Connections to our Northern Oceans." He spoke on the subject of one of the greatest manifestations of the connection between the terrestrial forests and the oceans: our Wild Alaska Salmon. His eloquent words remind us of why we care so much about and treasure salmon so deeply. Salmon are the backbone of the ecosystems of Southeast Alaska. For all of us who live here, Salmon are an extremely important part of our lives. Many of our jobs are directed related to salmon through fishing, processing, shipping, guiding, or managing salmon stocks. All of us are connected to salmon as the food that we eat and prepare for our families. For the Sitka Conservation Society, it is obvious to us that the Tongass is a Salmon Forest and that salmon are one of the most important outputs from this forest. For years we have fought against a timber industry that wanted more and more of the forest for clear-cutting and log export. It is time to turn the page on the timber dominated discussions of the past. Sure there is room for some logging. But, the Tongass should no longer be seen as a timber resource to be cleared and moved on. Rather, the Tongass should be managed with salmon as the priority, with the Forests left standing as the investment and the interest that it pays out every year being the salmon runs that feed our ecosystems, fisheries, and our families. Please help us protect Tongass salmon and help us make a new vision of Tongass management a reality. We need you to write letters telling decision makers and land managers to make Tongass management for salmon and salmon protection a priority. Here is an action alert that tells you how to write a letter: here. Or, if you need help, please feel free to visit or call our office (907-747-7509). You can read some letters that local fishermen wrote for inspiration: here Thanks for your help and support. Together we can ensure that are Wild Alaska Salmon are protected!
Former Sitka Reporter Andrew Miller recently attended a presentation in Juneau by Dr. Robert Lackey on "The Future of Pacific Salmon." Of course, the Sitka Conservation Society is extremely interested in the future of pacific salmon. Salmon are the backbone of the Tongass ecosystems as well as a critical component of the economies of the communities of Southeast Alaska. Andrew wrote the following dispatch from that presentation to summarize the findings of Dr. Lackey:
For me, the biggest takeaway from a recent lecture by Dr. Robert Lackey on the future of wild salmon was the critical importance of educating the public about our wild salmon runs.
Dr. Robert Lackey, a fisheries scientist at Oregon State University, explained how little awareness there is about salmon among the general population in the Pacific Northwest and how that effects policy decisions there. As an example, he noted how quickly policies to protect salmon on the Columbia River were reversed during an energy shortage in 2001. He said it was a no-brainer for decision makers when posed with a question of whether to increase the power generation of Columbia dams even if doing so would prevent fish passage. The salmon didn't get a second thought.
Lackey is the co-editor of Salmon 2100, a book that explores what steps must be taken to ensure we still have wild salmon runs in the year 2100. He was a guest of the Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership in Juneau in early November.
Although Lackey had a bleak outlook on the future of wild salmon worldwide, he expressed some optimism about the future of Alaska's wild salmon, which reinforced in me how important it is to be a vocal advocate for Alaska salmon and policies that help protect and enhance wild salmon runs.
Lackey listed a few advantages wild Alaska salmon have always enjoyed over salmon elsewhere, which have helped them to continue to thrive while wild stocks throughout much of the world have depleted to near extinction.
For one, he said, Alaska has always had an enormous salmon population. Bristol Bay alone produces more salmon than all of Oregon and Washington did when salmon runs there were at their historic highs.
Also, Lackey said, Alaska still has unmatched salmon habitat. He said natural resource development will always be a threat to habitat, but he is confident large dense populations in critical habitat areas will never develop. He said just about everything that people do is bad for salmon, and in the Pacific Northwest, where there are millions of people in giant cities along the coast, salmon habitat hasn't been much of a priority.
Finally, he said that people in Alaska care about salmon. He said people here are aware of salmon and want them to survive. This awareness absolutely needs to continue.
Lackey spoke a little about external threats to salmon, notably climate change and ocean acidification. To my surprise, he did not say these things necessarily spell doom for Alaska's wild salmon.
Lackey showed a graph of world temperatures over the last 2,000 years, which consisted of four or five cycles of warming and cooling. Current global temperatures are about high as they have been in any prior period of warming, and Lackey acknowledged that the warming is most likely going to continue for a long time, but, he said, in past warming salmon always adapted, often seeking new ranges farther north.
On a related topic, he said he wouldn't jump to conclusions about poor returns for some species of Pacific Salmon this last year. He said there are too many external factors to know what causes populations to rise and fall in a given year, and scientists really need to look at 30 year trends to assess the health of a species.
I can often be a cynic, but I left Lackey's lecture optimistic. I was reminded how fortunate we are to have our wild salmon runs in Southeast Alaska, but that it is up to us to keep them here. I know it's something we can do.
Of course, after the public is educated on the state of salmon and what we need to do to protect them, we must follow up with action to ensure that resource managers and decision makers are doing the right thing. If you want to help SCS protect salmon, we can help you take action. Check out our take action page and please think about writing a letter or making a call to tell Congress and Federal Agencies to protect our salmon stocks. Follow this link: here or call us to find out more. With your help, we can ensure that the future of Pacific Salmon is Alaska is good and that future generations can experience a wild Tongass filled with Salmon!
A new month has brought an end to bucket showering and replaced it with an energy challenge for the JV community. As the sun sets earlier and earlier in Sitka, we have all realized how frequently our lights are utilized. So we thought, how about we take a dark month and make it a little bit darker. After many discussions about what was tolerable and what was going to compromise our sanities, we decided that everyday at 5pm we would limit ourselves to one light on at a time in the house. So if one person is making dinner in the kitchen and another has to go to the bathroom, someone needs to get a headlamp. We chose 5pm because that is when most of us get home from volunteering at our sites. This has proved to be an interesting challenge that can immediately show someone how often they flip a light switch. Aside from the one light on in the house, we can use candles, headlamps, or flashlights.
But we thought this was a little too easy to do all the time, so we have added one day per week of total energy fasts. This means from the moment you wake up no lights, stove, microwave, toaster, space heaters, phone chargers, nothing. This also means that we have to plan ahead with charging our computers or phones, having food that we can eat without cooking at all, and having candles ready. Both of these energy limitations have really showed us how dark November can be. So far I have realized that bucket showering really only impacted 10 minutes of my day, but living with very littlelight for several hours a day is a constant reminder of our challenge. It has mostly made us all want to go to sleep at unreasonable hours because we get tired when we sit in darkness for too long. It has also helped to bring our community together. We find ourselves spending more quality time with one another. We also flock to our one light like moths.
Energy consumption is a topic that many people in Sitka can relate to. The expansion of the blue lake dam has been a point of conversation for quite some time. It is a good source of energy that required expansion to meet the needs of our community. Sitka relies on the two dams for the bulk of our energy. The JV House is hoping to remove some of that burden in the month of November to further our goal of becoming a sustainable community that works towards conserving resources. It has been a very informative, fun, and frustrating challenge thus far. Just doing it for one night can show someone how many light switches they flip after the sun sets. I encourage everyone to try this challenge, even just for one night, to understand the amount of energy a household uses between lights, laundry, and cooking. Check back for an update at the end of the month to hear about our funny stories and progress.
The morning light began to unfold as we motored south of town, a pod of whales to our right and the sun dancing in the still water. I am witness to the incredible orchestration of the ocean, the interconnection between everything. This is just the beginning...
At the hunting grounds, we anchor the skiff and pack up our gear. Now we hunt. I follow in my partner's foot-steps, every step deliberate. We walk slowly with vigilance, our eyes constantly scanning. Every movement is intentional, every sign of deer noted. We push forward and find a spot to hunker down and call in the deer, a sound that can be described as a guttural kazoo.
This is only my second time out on a hunt and I'm somewhat unaware of how this day will unravel. I try to stay present and note how ironic it is to be searching for edibles when so many are underfoot. Cranberries, crowberries, and labrador tea are in abundance but we pass them by, our eyes intent on another prey. Will our goal to find a deer override the pleasure of exploring the wilderness? Will we feel unsuccessful if we have nothing on our backs but the wind?
We keep walking, our steps intersecting existing deer trails. I am aware of my feet and the gentle forgiveness of the sphagnum moss. I look back and see the moss literally bounce back; the land feels uniquely alive. We stop again on the crest of a hill looking below while blowing the deer call. Nothing.
I begin to think I am cursed. The last time I went out we didn't even see a deer. Maybe I'm slowing my partner down or perhaps I am walking too loudly. But I remind myself that regardless of our intent, this is incredible. The sun plays with the clouds and mountain peaks surround me, I can't imagine a more perfect place.
We note the time and keep moving, knowing we must inevitably turn back soon before darkness sets. My eyes start to get lazy, my focus less centered but I try to remain attentive. We perch ourselves behind a large rock and try to call in a deer. We wait. We call again. And then out of my peripheral vision I notice movement to the left. A deer! I quickly signaled to my partner holding the rifle. And then…it was over.
We walked up to the buck and paid our respects. A life for a life, gunalchéesh. We quickly set to work, pulling out the organs. I was astounded by the warmth of this creature, its heart beating just minutes ago. I've heard of others leaving tobacco or tokens of respect for the life given, so without a tradition of my own, I pulled out a few of my hairs and sprinkled them atop the organs that would soon feed others.
On the return, my step was light (my partner did indeed pack out the deer); I was overcome with a feeling of success. I noticed how the walk back was starkly different then our journey in. The intention and awareness I brought with me began to fade. Our quiet whispers turned into conversation. It is so interesting how our interactions with place can change with context.
We were right on schedule when we returned to the skiff. Still plenty of day light to make the trip home. The air was surprisingly warm and calm for November, everything about today just felt so right. I was at home here.
When we returned to Sitka, my body was numb and tired. The spray from the skiff drenched me completely and the cold bit at every extremity. Exhaustion was setting but the day was just beginning. I watched my partner skillfully skin and quarter the deer, his hands knowing the right placement of his knife. In just a few minutes this beautiful animal transformed. How quickly this happened.
Once the deer was quartered we began to process the deer into cuts that would soon become dinner. I followed my knife along the bone and began to cut away the fat. I was fascinated by every muscle, how it connected to the bone and other muscles. We worked side by side for hours, ensuring every piece of meat was used.
This morning we finished the process by packaging up our roasts, rib meat, stock bones, and sausage. All evidence of our expedition lies in a small chest freezer, but it doesn't end there for me. The blood has washed off my hands, but I can still see it. It is through this experience that I find myself deeply connected to this place, to the interconnection of life. We are bound in this web and in the cycle of death and creation.
A heartfelt thank you to my partner who was a patient teacher.