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.
I haven't consciously thought about water as frequently as I have in the last four weeks. There has never been a time where I have counted the seconds it takes me to wash my hands or cringed at running water so much. This month has been long, informative, and pretty cold, but has been made me realize how much water people use on a daily basis. Bucket showering was definitely something I was dreading in September, but I have to admit I have learned to love them. I enjoyed being challenged by them and it has helped me tremendously to really appreciate having running water.
I think I have perfected the art of bucket showering. Here are some tips I have learned along the way:
- Hold the bucket up in the air as close to the shower head as you can while filling it up. Then the water will stay warm through the whole bucket shower
- Have a cup to pour the water from the bucket onto yourself.
- Have patience. Bucket showering is a very slow process. It takes much longer to wash shampoo out of hair when water pressure is pretty much non existent.
During this month of my water conservation challenge I have experienced a whole array of emotions towards the project. There were days where I really wished I never brought up the idea of bucket showers and other times when I thought I might be able to do this for the rest of the year. Overall, it has been a wonderful month that has brought our whole JV community together. It is very motivating to have a community of people supporting one another to accomplish this goal. It has taught me that these small acts can be done by anyone who wants to help conserve water or just challenge themselves. Although we live in a city where water is more prevalent than almost anywhere else in the world, water is still a precious resource. We have an outstanding opportunity to take our rainfall and repurpose it. There are places within our country's borders that don't have the luxury of a long shower because they live in drought stricken environments with no extra water to spare. I think we can empathize with them by trying to conserve water in our own community.
During this month of water challenges and research I have learned that it takes approximately 250 gallons of water to create 1 gallon of hot water. This gives the issue of water conservation a whole new dimension: energy. November will be a month of energy conservation for the JV House with plenty of candle making and headlamps. Look out for an update.
Do you kayak in Silver Bay? Hike along Indian River? Hunt on Kruzof? These are the places you know and love: how do you want to see them managed? How do you think restoration and management should be prioritized?
Your input matters! The information we gather from this survey will help guide our work. Please fill out our short 5 minute surveyonlineor using the insert in Friday's issue of the Sitka Sentinel. Paper surveys can be dropped off at the SCS office, 4J's, the Highliner, or Kruz-off Espresso. Thanks!
For the last two weeks I have stood in my shower cherishing every moment because I knew it wasn't October yet. But September has passed and October will bring lots of rain, or so every Sitkan has warned me of, and new changes in the Jesuit Volunteer House. We have decided to take challenges every month to live a more simple and sustainable lifestyle. For our community, that means being mindful of the way we live. We want to leave the smallest footprint on our world and live in a manner that uses fewer resources.
We begin this challenge by looking at our water consumption. Many ideas were tossed around for this water theme, but the one that stuck was bucket showers. It is in part to see if we could all accomplish this, but most importantly it is about forcing us to really think about our personal consumption and be more aware of the choices we make when consuming water.
My interest in water consumption began in college when I learned that the majority of the world does not have access to water like we do. Many countries can't turn on a faucet and have clean running water. I thought I understood and appreciated this. I would always make sure to turn off the water when I wasn't using it, but never had I thought about how much I was potentially wasting in the shower. I started looking at my own water usage, but not enough for me to really change my showering habits, not until now. I needed the support of a community who was willing to not only bucket shower with me, but keep me motivated to continue.
I started timing my showers in September to see how many minutes a typical shower lasts. We had no way of determining how many gallons of water we were using during a shower, so we based everything off time. My showers averaged out to be seven minutes, which I would consider a fairly short shower, but I knew that bucket showering would take considerably less time. This morning I found out how short it was. One minute and forty five seconds was the time it took to fill up one kitchen bucket. It only took one bucket to do the same thing that seven minutes of running water takes. Was it pleasant? No, not really. It was cold and kind of uncomfortable, but that was the point. We are trying to push ourselves to feel a little more uncomfortable to understand how to live more simply and sustainably.
Water availability is probably not on the forefront of everyone's mind in one of the wettest climates in the world, but it's been on mine. What if every person in Sitka decided to flush their toilet one less time a day, turned off the water when they brushed their teeth, or took a shorter shower? What if every person did just one thing every day to conserve a little water? Think of how much that could be when 8,950 people decide to conserve just a little more than usual. Think of how many thousands of gallons of water we, as a community, could conserve together every day. Could everyone make themselves a little more uncomfortable one time a day? The Jesuit Volunteer House has promised 31 days worth of bucket showers to limit our water consumption. What if the entire community would take the challenge with us? Think of the possibilities. Stay tuned for updates.
Check out this great video prepared by our new JV Americorps, Courtney Bobsin, on the importance of Fish to Schools. We hope this inspires you to choose fish for lunch tomorrow, the first for the 2012-2013 school year!
"In Sitka we, as a community, have an outstanding opportunity to have a strong relationship with the food we eat. We touch fish with our hands and get to transform it into a meal to fuel our bodies, and that is something to be celebrated. Fish to Schools is a project that has been created to provide a healthy and local option to the school lunch menu and allow kids to explore all dimensions of their food: where does it comes from, what does it look like, and why is it so important. Students are able to go look at fishing boats, dissect a salmon, and learn how to prepare the food they catch.
It's time to ask questions about where our food comes from. And it's time to care about the answer. Kids will learn that the banana they ate for breakfast traveled thousands of miles to reach their doorstep and the lunch they ate at school came from Alaskan fisherman. Let's cut the fish open. Let's explore and investigate what we are putting in our bodies. Let's treat our body well and see what comes of it.
Fish to schools encourages healthier foods by serving locally harvested fish every other Wednesday. We strive to teach kids about how the fish they are eating got from the stream to their plate and why we should care about the process because the origin of our food is too important to overlook. By fueling our body with good food, we are becoming healthier people who promote sustainable practices and protect our planet. So let's celebrate our food and where it comes from! Let's put that food into our body. And let's be healthier and live more sustainably. We can change the way we see food."
In partnership with Sitka Conservation Society and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).
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.
What started as an idea to put second growth timber to practical use in 2007 has since taken shape as the most frequently used cabin in the Tongass National Forest. The Starrigavan Cabin Project combined local watershed restoration, community recreation and practical vocational training to produce a forest service cabin that four years later, continues to enrich the lives of Sitka locals and transients alike.
Many watersheds across the Tongass National Forest have been clear-cut and harvested for old growth timber. The resulting land is referred to as 'young growth' or 'second growth' and differs from its original landscape in various ecologically critical ways. Many plants and wildlife such as salmon and black-tailed deer, require the unique assets old growth landscapes offer; the encompassing health of larger ecosystems such as the temperate rainforest of the Tongass National Forest, depends on the existence of old growth. For that reason, organizations interested in protecting intrinsically and economically valuable lands and watersheds often turn to restoration efforts such as 'thinning' of second growth forests to accelerate the return of young forests to old growth conditions. A byproduct of restorative thinning is not surprisingly: second growth timber!
Unfortunately, second growth timber here is not as unique and economically marketable a commodity as Alaskan old growth. However, finding local economic use has proven not impossible and in light of the success with the Starrigavan Cabin project, second growth timber is becoming a beautiful and sustainable alternative to environmentally damaging old-growth clear-cutting.
Dustin Hack, a local Sitkan participant in the 2-week log home building class that resulted in the Starrigavan cabin (see above video), is pursuing the economic possibility of "a nationwide market for Alaskan second growth wood". He explains that participation in this construction class opened his mind to the prospect of using second growth timber for wide-scale timber framing and applauds that "the US Forest Service, conservationists, city and tribe are all behind the effort to use second growth wood to build an economy here in Sitka."
Although, one hundred and fifty cabins are available for recreation within the Tongass National Forest, the Starigavan Cabin is both the first ever produced using local second growth timber and the first cabin accessible (weather permitting) by vehicle. Therefore, not only did this cabin demonstrate a charming and functional use of second growth timber, it's subsequent presence continues to extend forest stewardship to those unable to access Southeast Alaska's more remote cabins.
The restoration work that resulted in the wood, the class that provided local vocational training, and the production of the Starrigavan cabin itself have left a truly significant legacy here on Baranof Island. A tangible demonstration of the shift from unsustainable old-growth harvesting to second growth restoration timber, this project is a reflection of a truly resilient and innovative community working to protect the vast landscape they are fortunate to call home.
To reserve your stay at the Starrigavan Cabin please visit: www.recreation.gov
To learn more about restorative thinning practices please download our briefing sheet by clicking here
Sealaska Legislation would create "Corporate Earmarks" that would Privatize some of the most important parcels on the Tongass
Sitkans have been following the threat of the privatization of the very popular Redoubt Lake Falls Sockeye Fishing site over the past years with growing alarm. There is a pending transfer of the site to the Sealaska Corporation through a vague 14(h)(1) ANSCA provision that allows selection of "cultural sites." The obvious intent of that legislation was to protect sites with petroglyphs, pictographs, totem poles, etc. However, Sealaska has worked to expand selection criteria very liberally and select sites that were summer fish camps or other transient seasonal sites. Of course, the places that were fished in the past are still fished today. The result of this liberal interpretation is that sites are being privatized that are extremely important fishing and access areas that are used and depend by hundreds of Southeast Alaskans and visitors today.
Beyond the fact that the potential transfer of cultural and historic sites is not to tribal governments or clans, but to a for-profit Corporate Entity, one of the most alarming developments is the fact that Sealaska is selecting virtually all of the known subsistence Sockeye Salmon runs across the Sitka Community Use Area. Here is a link to a map that we made a few years ago that shows those sites: here. It is inconceivable to us that legislation that would give a corporation strategic parcels of public lands that control access to Sockeye Salmon streams is even a thought in Congress.
We have heard that there negotiations going on in Washington, DC right now that are choosing the sites that Sealaska would obtain through the Sealaska Legislation. It is extremely important that people who use sites that are in danger of being privatized let Forest Service and Congressional staff in Washington, DC know how important these sites are. Here is a link to a letter that SCS just sent that includes a listing of the sites: here. Feel free to use that letter as a guide.
If you want help writing a letter, please get in touch with us and we will help.
If you have a letter outlining how you use the sites, send them to Mike Odle's email [email protected]
These inholdings could seriously change the face of the Tongass and the way the public can access and use public lands. Make your voice heard now to ensure that we can continue to use and enjoy these sites.
[tentblogger-vimeo 44134134]Sitkoh River Restoration Begins!
The Sitkoh River Salmon Habitat Restoration Project got started last week. SCS staff, Trout Unlimited Alaska, local high school students, and other volunteers have been helping work at the site alongside contractors and Forest Service staff. On Wednesday June 13th, the crew hosted a fly-in visit by journalists, fishermen, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Habitat Division Director who took a tour of the project to see what was going on.
The visitor's were thoroughly impressed. Randy Bates, Director of the ADFG Division of Habitat stated, "The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is happy to participate in a project like this that will restore high value fish habitat and restore the productive capacity of the original stream course."
Wayne Owen, the Forest Service Alaska Director of Wildlife, Fisheries, Watersheds and Subsistence commented to the press during the visit that "Salmon are the lifeblood and economic base of Southeast Alaska. The Tongass is the fish basket of North American and Southeast Alaska produced a billion dollars in economic activity from the salmon produced on the Tongass."
SCS applauds the efforts of the State of Alaska and the United States Forest Service in recognizing the role that the Tongass National Forest plays in providing and producing the salmon resource that is so important to the 32 salmon-dependent communities of SE Alaska. We hope that the Sitkoh River Restoration project is just the start of more efforts to put the watersheds that were damaged by historic logging back together so that they can return to full ecosystem functionality and produce all the salmon that they were once capable of.
As citizens across the country watch the antics of the 112th Congress, we are all left wondering, "where is the leadership we need to take on the challenges we are facing in the world? When are we going to take care of our environment? When are we going to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy? When are we going to invest in local economies rather than giving massive subsidies and tax-breaks to global corporations? When is Congress going to actually put aside partisan differences and do something meaningful?"
It surely isn't happening right now. In fact, the House of Representatives just introduced a bill that shows the worst of Congress and it could have huge implications on SE Alaska and critical public lands across the country. They have cynically named the bill the "Conservation and Economic Growth Act." It should probably be called, "The- Worst Bills For The Environment in Congress Wrapped Into One Act of 2012." The bill is a lands omnibus bill and pulls together some of the worst bills currently in Congress. It includes such cynically titled acts such as the "Grazing Improvement Act of 2012" which allow grazing to continue on lands where cows shouldn't even be roaming and puts grazing permits outside of environment review. It also includes the beautifully named "Preserve Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Act" which sounds good, but in reality is meant to open miles of critical beach habitat for piping plovers to ATVs, Dune Buggies, and other off road vehicles. Good luck plovers!
For Southeast Alaska, this bill is awful because our Representative Don Young has inserted the Sealaska Legislation which would privatize close to 100,000 acres of ecologically critical Tongass Lands. The version of the bill that Representative Young has introduced is much worse than the bad version of the bill being debated in the Senate. This version would create an even more widespread pox of in-holdings throughout the Sitka Community Use Area in areas that Sitkans routinely use and enjoy. If this bill passes, the nightmare we are facing with the corporate privatization of Redoubt Lake Falls is just the beginning.
If you dislike these developments as much as us, please take action. We don't think that calls to Representative Young will help (you can try, his number is 202-225-5765). However, his goal seems to be to privatize and give away as much of the Tongass as possible. If you are in the lower 48, you should call your Congress members and tell them that HR2578 is awful and they should not support it. If you are in Alaska, please consider writing a letter to the editor letting everyone else in the community know how bad this bill is and that its introduction is a travesty (give us a call if you want some ideas or help).
As we watch our Congress and elected leaders flounder, we are reminded that in a democracy, we share responsibility and need to take action to create the society and the environment we want. Voicing concerns over the misdirection of Congress, especially on bills like this one, is one way we can engage and make change.
Here is a link to a letter that SCS submitted opposing the legislation: here
Here is a link to a Radio Story on the legislation: here
Here is a link to a copy of the legislation: here