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!
Surveying salmon streams on the Tongass National Forest is no easy task - it involves lugging heavy survey gear, tripods, marking stakes, and other gear through dense young growth forests and wading up to our hips in frigid water. Last month, Scott Harris, Watershed Program Manager for the Sitka Conservation Society, worked with the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew to survey recently completed restoration work on the Sitkoh River. After three days of survey work, Watershed Crew Supervisor Calvin Washington mentioned "this is a great project, I want to continue seeing what happens here…".
Restoring habitat is a worthy ideal, but restoring our connection to the land and inspiring a sense of long-term stewardship is equally, if not more, important. Calvin is the crew leader of the Angoon Community Association Watershed Crew. His crew joined SCS's Restoration Coordinator Scott Harris and Groundtruthing leader Bob Christensen recently to survey the Sitkoh River.
The Sitka Conservation Society developed a restoration partnership with Trout Unlimited, the Sitka Ranger District, and the Sustainable Salmon Fund to restore a section of Sitkoh River that was flowing down an old logging road. The construction phase is now complete and the longer-term effort of monitoring the effectiveness of the project has begun. This is where the Angoon Crew comes in. None of the three crew members had ever been to Sitkoh River, also called L'ukheenak'u (Coho Salmon Little Creek) by the people of Angoon. Our crew conducted habitat assessments, surveyed the completed restoration project, and just became familiar with the landscape. Rivers are dynamic, and this crew will return next summer to continue monitoring work and see what has changed. Soon they may even claim to be the new stewards of Sitkoh River!
Kruzof island is a defining characteristic of the landscape of Sitka. This diverse and wild island is home to the emblematic profile of Mt. Edgecumbe volcano, mountains and craters, thousands of acres of muskeg, and a wild and rugged coastline. It is one of the Tongass National Forest's most impressive landscapes, as well as one of the most appreciated and utilized by hunters, fishermen, ATV users and hikers. In an effort to repair damage from past logging, the US Forest Service is in the preliminary stages of an extensive and important restoration project on this well-loved island.
The Forest Service maintains four recreational cabins on Kruzof that allow people to access and enjoy the beauty and wonder of the island. Locals often skiff over on weekends to camp or stay in cabins, hike Mt. Edgecumbe, and walk sandy beaches. The central part of Kruzof is particularly important to Alaska ATV Tours, a locally run business. On these tours, visitors drive old logging roads to view bears, Sitka black-tail deer, and to experience a wild landscape and coastline unparalleled in the U.S. Many local Sitkans depend on Kruzof for hunting and fishing subsistence resources, and value the island highly as a place to live off of the wild bounty of the Tongass.
Our relationship with Kruzof has not always been as ideal as it is now. Many of the most majestic forest stands on the island were clear-cut for timber by the U.S. Forest Service, the agency responsible for managing the Tongass. Areas that were once old-growth forest are now in various stages of second-growth, with alder creating the predominant canopy. Some stands are in the stem-exclusion stage (sometimes referred to as dog-hair forest), where trees are close together and spindly, with branches protruding in all directions. It is a far cry from the open, mossy, complexity of old-growth Tongass forest and does not provide superb habitat for wildlife like the original forest. Simply walking through this second-growth forest is a difficult endeavor, and a reminder of the responsibility we have to restore the Tongass.
While past timber management decisions have been near-sighted in scope, we now have the chance to be more informed and thoughtful stewards of this rare temperate rainforest. Carefully planned thinning treatments are one possible restoration method that helps accelerate the regrowth of the forest back to old-growth conditions. By thinning some of the trees in these dense stands, more sunlight reaches the forest understory and improves habitat for vital subsistence resources.
Kruzof is a treasured place that people of diverse backgrounds and interests love and appreciate. As the land manager of Kruzof, the Forest Service has both a responsibility and an opportunity to improve its landscape for community members and wildlife. Management of such an important place must be done with great care and consideration to all who use this incredible landscape.
Because the landscape is valuable for many different reasons like recreation, salmon production, subsistence and timber potential, the best way to manage the landscape is through an approach that aims to figure out how to integrate management activities that seek to balance and benefit all these uses. In the Forest Service, this is being called "Integrated Resource Management." For an Integrated Resource Management Plan to succeed, the multiple local interest groups invested in Kruzof must work together to figure out how to balance uses and figure out what is appropriate and will work. They must work together to develop the most communally valuable plans for restoration.
The Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group is actively working to bring together different community voices on this project. SCSG recently organized a visit to Kruzof with several community members, discussing and visualizing future possible uses for the island, and the meaning of restoration and ecological maintenance. Such visits are important in determining which areas are most ecologically and socially important, and how best to acknowledge and repair past damage done by clearcut logging. Conservation is a constant effort to find the best and most sustainable ways for people live among our natural environments. The planning stages of the Kruzof restoration project are a valuable time to think about how we can envision the most sustainable, wild, and beneficial Kruzof for years to come.
The collaborative work between the Forest Service and the Sitka community is a chance to be resourceful, sustainable, and thoughtful in developing our relationships with Kruzof.The second-growth forest on Kruzof is poor wildlife habitat and needs to be repaired. Salmon habitat is impaired and needs work to return to its full potential. Recreational infrastructure on the island is important to the community and to local businesses. Management activities in such a communally important area must be imagined and carried through with the combined perspective, foresight, and resourcefulness of Sitka as a community. This project is new, and the learning process is ours to share as we envision and shape Kruzof for many future generations. All community members have a stake in shaping the future of Kruzof, and we can work together to create the healthiest future for ourselves and for the Tongass.
[tentblogger-vimeo 48769359]In July of 2012, thirteen undergraduate students from Knox College embarked on a 15-day wilderness expedition into the wilds of Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The trip was part of a semester long course entitled "Alaska: Forest, Fisheries, and the Politics of Wilderness". The course entailed an in-depth study of the history of natural resource management in Southeast Alaska. The first part of the course took place on the Knox College campus in Galesburg, IL with a thorough exploration of the literature regarding natural resource extraction in Southeast Alaska. This classroom based study of Alaskan resource management was complimented with a 15-day field expedition to the region the following summer. This was the "hands on" component to what they had learned in the classroom.
The students arrived in Sitka, Alaska on June 27th, 2012. After a few days of preparation they embarked on a 100 mile kayaking expedition guided by Latitude Adventures, a local kayak guiding operation. For many of these students, this was their first experience camping, not to mention their first experiences in the great Alaskan wilderness. After ten days on the water, exploring the intertidal zone, watching bears, eagles, and whales; the students arrive at False Island on Chichagof Island. There the students then spent five days working side by side with the United States Forest Service restoring salmon streams that had been degraded by industrial logging. They also had the opportunity to participate in a variety of scientific surveys aimed at understanding the complexities of young growth forests.
This expedition was so unique because it allowed the students to experience the places that they had learned about in the classroom, first hand. For many, this was a trip of a lifetime.
Opportunities like Knox College's course are available for colleges and universities throughout the nation. It is the goal of the Sitka Conservation Society and the Sitka Sound Science Center to connect courses like these with our local assets. We can connect you and your students with our local experts, guides, interpreters, and organizations to facilitate your course's Alaskan education.
"Should I wear these pants or my stretchy ones?" Tracy Gagnon is sitting on the floor of my living room, hunting gear spread out around her, holding up a pair of lightweight hiking pants. Today is a momentous day for Tracy. Not only is it the day after her twenty sixth birthday, but it is the morning of her first ever hunting trip. She has sighted in her thirty aught six at the range, and her head is full of the philosophy of subsistence hunting.This is a big step for Tracy, who is originally from Las Vegas, and moved to Sitka a year ago to run the SCS program, Fish for Schools. "People in Las Vegas don't have guns!" she tells us (we laugh because that's probably not true), "no one hunts, at least no one I know." Actually, she says, her fifth grade teacher did make the class venison sloppy joes one time. And come to think of it, there was an ex-boyfriend who had an unsettling set of deer antlers mounted above his bed...but other than that, Tracy feels that she has had very little exposure to subsistence hunting culture.
Since moving to Alaska, things have been a little different. Tracy decided to start hunting because she wants to be responsible for her food, and up here, hunting seems like a good way provide for herself. A friend of hers once explained that he never feels more connected to the land than when he is hunting. Never more connected to the animal until he has lifted his gun to fire. Now we are in the car on the way to the harbor, and Tracy tells us she is awed by subsistence hunters in Alaska. "They know the place...they know how to read the wilderness, and they have a deep respect for the process," she says. She has heard so many stories of the rituals of respect that people have with hunting, reassembling the carcass after harvesting the meat, leaving a lock of hair on the mountain, always thankful to the deer for being in the right place in the right time, and standing still instead of bounding away. "I've never had those experiences," Tracy says, "so my main underlying reason [for hunting] is practical, but I'm also excited about the process.
We make it to the beach by nine, and we are up the ridge in an hour. We are getting a late start, but the extra sleep was worth it. The day could not be more beautiful. As we hike up through the trees, morning sun glints on the edge of each false summit, until we finally break out onto the alpine, where our ridge stretches out in front of us, and snowy peaks block out the horizon. We all agree that we are unbelievably lucky to live in the most beautiful place on earth. Our hunting location will remain unnamed, but I will tell you that we were in the Tongass, and not too far from Sitka. We see two float planes all day, and not a single other person. "Can you believe we woke up this morning and got to do this?" Berett (the photographer) asks. The ridge is about three miles long as the crow flies, and slowly climbs in a meandering curve up to a frozen lake nestled in a deep bowl. We hit snow after five hours of slow hunting, and the dog lies down to cool off. We go a little farther, then start down, still not giving up the hunt. It's hard to feel discouraged when you have such a glorious landscape to distract you.
Unfortunately, Tracy didn't bring her beginners luck, and we make it back to the beach at seven without sighting a deer. My mom, the experienced hunter on the trip, tells us not to be disappointed. "Subsistence hunting is like a kind of religion. Most religions have some aspect of faith in that which you cannot see." She tells us about a time when she was looking down a hillside, and she knew there must be a deer down there because the dog was going crazy, sniffing the air and prancing around like it was Christmas morning. Mom rested her gun on a boulder and looked and looked and couldn't see anything through the scope, and finally, growing impatient, the dog ran around the boulder and spooked the deer that had been laying there with it's back against the warm rock. "Deer surprise you when you are at your lowest and feel like giving up."
We don't come home with a deer, but we are not entirely empty handed; Tracy found some bright orange Chicken of the Woods mushrooms that she brought home for dinner, Berett got lots of great shots, and the dog brought back a forest's worth of sticks matted up in her fur. Back in the living room thirteen hours later, Tracy is still excited; "I actually think I've never seen a more beautiful view in my entire life. Twenty-six is a good year!"
Photos by BERETT WILBER
Berett Wilber was born and raised in fishing family in Sitka, Alaska. Currently studying as a junior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, the photography skills that she developed as a kid running around Baranof Island have developed into a dedicated interest and professional tool. Although she's worked in many interesting places, from the steps of the capital in Washington, DC to the prairies of the Midwest, the Tongass is still her favorite place to shoot.
[doptg id="25"]Much has changed at Sitkoh Lake since the late 1970's. What was once an epicenter for industrial logging is now a center of activity for forest and watershed restoration. During the summer of 2012, the Sitka District of the United States Forest Service (USFS) went into the Sitkoh Lake Watershed to restore tributary streams and repair some of the damage that was caused by industrial logging. This logging occurred at a time when we didn't understand the value of the yearly returns of salmon compared to the short-term gains of clear-cut logging.
In the late 1970's the area around Sitkoh Lake was heavily logged and many roads were constructed in close proximity to the nearby streams. Unfortunately, the resulting degradation in wildlife and stream habitat made survival more difficult for the area's Sockeye, Coho, Pink, and Chum salmon. To rectify this issue, the Sitka Ranger District of the USFS has invested resources to restore and monitor these important streams.
Rivers and streams in old growth forest naturally have large logs and other root masses that create ideal habitat for juvenile salmon that spend the first years of their lives in this slow moving, deep water. These natural structures help to create deep pools, oxygenate the water, and provide cover from predators. When the area around a stream is heavily logged, the natural material that can create this salmon habitat is lost. As a result the stream becomes straighter, shallower and less ideal for juvenile salmon.
To fix this problem the crew from the US Forest Service installed a number of man-made structures called "upstream V's" that replicate these natural structures. These upstream V's help channel the stream's flow and create deeper, slower moving water ideal for juvenile salmon. However, these are temporary fixes that will hold the stream bank together until the trees along the stream grow large enough to naturally create this habitat diversity for spawning salmon.
This project in the Sitkoh Lake Watershed is important because these salmon runs help support many of our local communities. Many commercial seine and troll fishermen depend on these fish for their livelihoods. These runs also support our local subsistence fishery that so many residents depend upon for their sustenance. Considering these qualities, it's fair to say that these streams are the lifeblood for the nearby communities of Angoon and Sitka.
Forest Service projects like this that "manage the Tongass for Salmon" are extremely important investments in both the ecosystems of the Tongass as well as the economy of Southeast Alaska. But this project is just a start. There are still hundreds of miles of salmon streams that have been impacted by historic clear-cut logging that still need restoration.
SCS is working to make sure that this project is only the beginning of a long-term focus of Tongass management that focuses on our Wild Alaska Salmon Resource.
August is an amazing month for deer in Southeast Alaska. During August, there is food for deer everyplace. The estuaries have copious amounts of sedges and grasses; berry bushes are filled out with green leaves, blueberries, and Red-huckleberries; ground forbs are in full growth. The vegetarian deer are literally wading through a full salad bowl of nutritious greens and tasty treats and can take a bite of of just about everything they pass and munch it down!
With all the plants available, the deer can afford to be choosey about where they hang out and what they eat. Obviously, they pick the best place to go: the high alpine. In the high alpine they find the newest and most nutritious growth. This summer, after a heavy winter, there are many patches of alpine where the snow has only recently melted and new grass and deer cabbage is just starting to grow and begin to blossom. These new shoots are tender and the deer graze hard on these to fatten up to get through the leaner winter months.
Deer also like the high alpine because they have both the cover of the stunted mountain hemlock trees as well as long vistas to keep a lookout on what is around then. There is often a breeze in the alpine and on the ridges that helps the deer keep the bugs from biting. I'm not sure if this is a factor or not for the deer, but the high alpine of the outer coast is also amazingly beautiful and has some of the most spectacular views in the entire world!
Sitka Black Tailed Deer are an amazing creature of the temperate rainforests. They are one of the most treasured species in Southeast Alaska. The work of SCS to protect the forest habitat of the deer and conserve intact watersheds ensures the long-term conservation of this amazing creature.
[tentblogger-vimeo 45955527]What comes to mind when you hear the term conservation? Petitions, polar bears, politicians, researchers? David Attenborough? Did heavy equipment tearing up a rainforest floor come to mind? Unlikely. Nestled deep within our earth's largest temperate rainforest- conservation takes unique form.
This summer, the Sitkoh River Restoration Project mobilized a team of heavy equipment operators on the Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The US Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, Sitka Conservation Society and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game raised $318,000 and hired Aqua Terra Restoration to repair critical salmon spawning habitat damaged by clearcut logging in the 1970s. Logging adjacent to the river banks left the Sitkoh without adequate erosion control and the fallen timber salmon need. Dump trucks, chainsaws, and excavators converted blueprints and years of planning into wooden structures and a redirected riverbed that will return healthy fish habitat and stability to this damaged system.
Salmon habitat restoration is relatively new to the Tongass and constitutes a key part of the Forest Service's transition from old-growth logging to young-growth management, forest restoration, and investment in other industries-such as fishing and tourism. Across the forest, similar river and stream restoration projects are in various stages or have been completed with great success. Multiyear, complex, and dependent on powerful partnerships this rich form of salmon habitat restoration is by no means easy. However, in a land where salmon are lifeblood to both ecosystems and residents, protection of this critical resource is absolutely vital.
Habitat restoration benefits fish, fish-dependent ecosystems, and fish-dependent economies. It also provides career opportunities to skilled ecologists and equipment operators passionate about safeguarding our environment- people who prefer hardhats to suits, the company of bears to water cooler gossip and all in all want to build something good for our earth as opposed to something that's only good for industry.
There are over 70 damaged salmon-producing watersheds on the Tongass and the Forest Service estimates $100 million dollars are needed to repair them. Salmon and trout alone contribute more than $1 billion to Southeast Alaska's economy and employ some 7,300 people. It is critical that salmon become the top management priority of our country's largest national forest; managing for salmon employs restoration workers on the ground, benefits local subsistence and the fishing industry, and conserves salmon-dependent rainforest ecosystems.
The Tongass is one of the last remaining forests with healthy and abundant wild salmon runs. Making this species the Tongass' top priority makes sense for the ecosystem, the economy and anyone who loves to catch, eat or simply view wild salmon.
Hoonah Sound to Lisianski Strait to Goulding Harbor: A Chichagof Wilderness Expedition through Intact Watersheds
Anyone that tells you there is a trail between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait because "it's on the map," has never been there on foot. This is because there is no trail there! An SCS Wilderness Groundtruthing team recently explored that area on the Tongass and confirmed that the only trails available are the ones made by deer and bear.
The purpose of this expedition was to look at habitat connectivity and bear use. Members of the expedition were wildlife biologist Jon Martin, mountain goat hunting guide and outdoorsman Kevin Johnson, photographer Ben Hamilton, and SCS Executive Director Andrew Thoms.
SCS is interested in this landscape because of the protections given to these areas. The land between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait is protected as LUD II – a Congressional roadless designation status meant to protect "the area's wildland characteristics." The lands between Lisianski Strait and Goulding Harbor are part of the West Chichagof-Yacobi Wilderness where management is to "provide opportunities for solitude where humans are visitors." Management language aside, the most important thing about these areas is that they are large, contiguous protected areas where an entire watershed from the high-ridges to the estuaries is left in its natural condition. This means that these watersheds are able to function with no impact from roads, logging, mining, or other human activities.
What this looks like on the ground is a pristine habitat teaming with bears, deer, and rivers and lakes filled with salmon and trout. There are also many surprises: on this trip, we found a native species of lamprey spawning in a river creek that no one in the group has ever seen before (and the group had over 60 years of experience on the Tongass). We also found fishing holes where trout bit on every cast, back-pools in river tributaries filled with Coho Smolts, forests with peaceful glens and thorny devil's club thickets, and pristine lakes surrounded by towering mountains.
If any place should be protected on the Tongass, it is these watersheds. The Lisianski River is a salmon and trout power-house and produces ample salmon for bears that live in the estuary and trollers that fish the outside waters. One can't help but feel grateful walking along the river and through the forests here, thankful that someone had the foresight to set this place aside. Clear-cutting logging wild places like these provides paltry returns in comparison to the salmon they produce and all the other life they sustain.
These watersheds that we walked through are success stories and teach us how the temperate rainforest environment works in its natural unaltered state and how much value they produce following their own rhythms. The actions taken in the past to set these areas aside give us pause to think about what we should be doing today to invest in our future and protect ecosystems that are similarly important ecologically.
Scientists have identified over 77 other watersheds across the Tongass that produce massive amounts of salmon and have ecological characteristics that need to be protected. Some of these watersheds are slated to be logged by the Forest Service. Even worse, pending Sealaska legislation could result in some of these watersheds being privatized, sacrificing protection for salmon streams and spawning habitat. With your help and involvement, SCS is working to protect those watersheds and landscapes so that we can ensure the consideration of long-term health and resource benefits from these watersheds over the short-term gains of logging, road-building, or privatization. It is our responsibility that we make the right choices and that future generations are grateful for what we leave them to explore and benefit from.
If you want to be part of SCS's work to protect lands and waters of the Tongass, please contact us and we'll tell you how you can help. If you are inspired, write a letter to our senators and tell them to protect salmon on the Tongass and manage it for Salmon:here