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
[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.
In the Tongass, people live with the land. We are constantly learning from it--learning how to build communities that are part of the landscape rather than a place away from it. In this blog we want to share with you some of those lessons we've learned and the experience of learning them first hand.
If you are not automatically redirected to the blog page, click here.
Each May in Starrigavan Valley, nearly 100 7th Graders from Blatchley Middle School in Sitka spend a couple days doing hands-on stream restoration and monitoring. In the classroom, the students learn about watershed ecology and salmon habitat. Then they hit the field and help professional watershed managers actually install in-stream wood structures to rebuild fish habitat. They also monitor water quality and changes is stream structure. This project has a slew of partners that includes the Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Ranger District, Sitka School District, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and others.
Stewardship contracting, unlike conventional U.S. Forest Service contracting tools, offers a creative way to incentivize restoration by paying contractors in full or part with the value of the restoration "byproducts" that are extracted during a project. It also allows the agency to award contracts based on overall best value to the government and local communities rather than lowest bid at the time. Stewardship contracts that exercise these authorities are desirable because they address significant challenges to habitat restoration and local economic development faced by rural communities.
Stewardship contracting successes in other states provide excellent models of the ecological, social, and economic benefits of this tool, but as the Forest Service works to translate stewardship contracting to the unique geography of the Tongass, there are significant concerns that must be addressed about how and what goals are being met.
What We Love
Stewardship contracting is the primary mechanism under which the U.S. Forest Service can implement best value contracting and enhance local benefits from projects, while responding more nimbly and effectively to mounting landscape-scale restoration needs. The intent of stewardship contracting is to "blend the need to restore and maintain healthy forests with the need to work closely with communities," which is why collaboration with communities is required throughout a stewardship project. Priority project types include watershed restoration, wildlife and fish habitat, invasive species removal, and other activities related to improving forest health.
Under stewardship contracting, the Forest Service has several unique authorities at its disposal designed to maximize the value of projects for both the Federal government and the local community. Best value contracting, which can allow the agency to rank bids based on criteria such as "local business" or "materials and supplies purchased locally," is the only required authority. Others, such as the ability to trade goods for services, may be applied to suit individual projects. Together, stewardship contracting authorities allow local districts to integrate multiple projects into one efficient package; reinvest profits back into the landscapes they came from; actively support local economic development and capacity building; and focus on end result ecosystem benefits.
What We Don't Support
Although forests in other states have utilized stewardship contracting with great success for almost a decade, southeast Alaska is only just beginning to explore its potential. Experiments with stewardship contracting are taking place on Prince of Wales Island and in Kake, but unresolved questions about how the various authorities can and should be used are stifling experimentation and distracting the agency's focus from accomplishing broader goals.
A particular barrier to implementing stewardship contracts in southeast Alaska has been the "goods for services" authority, which many consider a necessary component of the tool (although as stated above, the only mandatory authority is best value contracting). In states like Oregon, California, and Montana, where restoration projects can be paid for by selling byproducts to local pellet mills and other operations, this authority is a perfect fit. In landscapes like those that dominate southeast Alaska, however—where young growth is less mature, further from markets, and therefore less valuable—it is far less applicable.
Although trading goods for services is optional, and only one of many opportunities offered by stewardship contracting, districts in this region have begun resorting to large old growth sales to pay for restoration in a misguided attempt to force a fit. Using old growth to offset restoration costs is unheard of elsewhere in the country and, we believe, a gross misapplication of the law. The goods for services authority was designed to encourage local market integration and provide a more economical way to accomplish restoration objectives; large old growth sales do not fit this model, nor do they contribute to a key intent of stewardship contracting, which is to improve forest and watershed health.
As successes in the lower 48 have shown, stewardship contracting can be an effective way to enhance local economic development through restoration, but recent experiences in southeast Alaska remind us that focusing too intently on implementing a specific tool can lead to losing sight of the ideals that it represents. In this case, stewardship contracting is not the only method by which the Forest Service can engage in habitat restoration, collaboration with communities, project integration, best value contracting and local capacity building. In cases where restoration byproducts have no value, we would like to see the agency concentrate on exercising best value/local benefit contracting, long-term contracts, collaboration, and other applicable authorities; if this is not possible, we suggest that the agency use tools other than stewardship contracting to accomplish these goals.
Additional resources on stewardship contracting:
- Stewardship Contracting: Basic Stewardship Contracting Concepts (USDA brochure)
- Everything You Wanted to Know About Stewardship Contracting (USDA slideshow)
- Stewardship Contracting and Collaboration - Best Practices Guidebook(Sustainable Northwest)
- Best Value & Stewardship Contracting Guidebook - Meeting Ecological and Community Objectives(Sustainable Northwest)
- Click here for links to USDA stewardship contracting legislation and policy direction.
."Everything You Wanted to Know about Stewardship End Result Contracting… But Didn't Know What to Ask." USDA Forest Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management. Available online at: http://www.fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/stewardship/index.shtml.
Protecting ecosystem diversity and finding sustainable ways to use the resources around us are two things that SCS cares deeply about, which is why this recent story on PRX -Food and Forests: Reviving Diversity- caught our eye. It chronicles a pretty inspiring model, based on the work of The Watershed Center in Hayfork, California, for catalyzing sustainable economic development around natural resources in rural communities like Sitka.
The first part of this story explores how one rural California community used a restoration economy and sustainable green business model to recover from the loss of 150 jobs and a declining timber industry. It shows how residents learned to work with U.S. Forest Service land managers to manage for biodiversity of the forest, while building upon local skills and the passion for working in the woods that is so deeply ingrained in the community's social fabric.
To help modernize the workforce, The Watershed Center developed educational and training opportunities that would allow local workers to qualify for new restoration jobs, and supported the tertiary manufacturing of timber products to engage high-value markets and socially responsible investors. Community members also explored ways to utilize non-timber forest products such as naturally-occurring medicinal herbs like yarrow, St. John's Wort, yerba santa, mullein, and Echinacea. They used the surrounding Trinity National Forest's chemical-free environment as a high-value marketing tool, and leveraged local indigenous knowledge to help revive natural ecosystem patterns diminished by modern management priorities.
This story is an inspiring example of economic reinvention that demonstrates how we can effectively combine "the preservation and restoration of nature's original biodiversity with the sustainable harvest and use of resources drawn from it." In Sitka, we can learn from stories like this as we work toward healthy ecosystems and sustainable economic development in our own landscapes and community.
Past logging practices, now disallowed, in the Sitkoh River watershed damaged important spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steehead trout. For the past 12 years, the river has been flowing down an old logging road. Two years ago, SCS formed a partnership with the US Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, and the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund to restore 1.25 miles of the river. Work will start this summer.
This week, SCS and US Forest Service staff are presenting at the Community-Based Watershed Management Symposium in Juneau. We are using the Sitkoh project as an example of how working together can increase the ability to restore more watersheds and ensure healthy fisheries for all Alaskans.
To learn more about the Sitkoh River Restortaion, click here
President Obama quoted one of SCS's favorite authors, Aldo Leopold, during a White House Conference on Conservation on March 3rd. Specifically, he cited the famous quote"Conservation is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution." Everyday at the Sitka Conservation Society, we are exercising our skills and insights as we work to find ways for Sitka to live within the majesty of the Tongass and thrive, while conserving its resources and ensuring they are there to sustain future generations.
Prior to his address, there was a panel discussion at the White House that discussed topics related to many of the land stewardship issues that SCS is working on. One member of the panel was Maia Enzer, from the Portland based NGO Sustainable Northwest. Maia visited Sitka in 2009 and helped us get SCS started on community-based collaborative resource management so that we can ensure that management of our Sitka Community Use Area is done in a way that responds to how we use and depend on those lands. During her comments at the White House, Maia said, "the backbone of collaborative natural resource management efforts comes from small, rural community based organizations that have networks tin the community that connect to a lot of other communities and people [and] the accomplishments of these small community organizations is what gets to the systematic change."
SCS, the small community organization in the Tongass, is the best example in the region of a group that is implementing projects and initiatives on the Tongass with a new vision and using those successes to help change National Forest Policy across the nation. As we work to connect our local network of neighbors and partners with organizations like Sustainable Northwest that help us tell our story and advocate on policy makers at a national level, we are making long-term change in public lands policy. Thanks for the all the help and for the props at the White House Maia!!!
We applaud the White House's attention to conservation and public lands and look forward to more positive policy changes on the Tongass.
Here is a link to video of the President's address on Conservation: here (forward to min 16:55)
Here is a link to the panel discussion: here (forward to min 8:40)
Fishermen Travel to Washington, DC to Advocate for Tongass Management that Prioritizes Wild Alaska Salmon
Salmon are the lifeblood of Sitka's economy, culture, and way-of-life and are a keystone species in the temperate rainforest ecosystems of the Tongass. Management of the Tongass has long focused on timber and historic logging practices were done in ways that severely damaged salmon runs. The Forest Service has since learned that stream beds shouldn't be used as logging roads and that there needs to be buffers between logging and salmon streams. However, Forest Service management priorities and spending still overwhelmingly focus on timber harvest—even though salmon are really the drivers of the SE Alaska economy and the most valuable resource from the Tongass.
A group of fishermen are traveling to Washington, DC this week to lay out the facts for decision makers in Washington, DC. They will be delivering a stack of letters from hundreds of people who use and depend on Salmon from the Tongass and ask for a shift in budget priorities in Tongass management.
To take action to help us protect Tongass Salmon, click here.
Read the Press Release Below on their visit below:
"Salmon and trout alone are a billion-dollar industry in Southeast Alaska that sustains more than 7,000 jo The U.S. Forest Service is the lead agency that manages the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, part of the world's largest coastal temperate rain forest that covers most of Southeast Alaska and produces tens of millions of salmon every year. Southeast Alaska commercial salmon fishermen landed nearly 74 million fish during the 2011 season, a harvest worth more than $203 million—the most valuable in the state.bs either directly or indirectly. And yet the Forest Service budget remains squarely focused on timber and road building. It doesn't make sense given the enormous value of fish
total economic output related to their purchases that year is estimated at $358.7 million. Salmon and trout angling also supported 2,334 jobs and generated $84.7 million in personal income in 2007. On average, sport anglers catch 900,000 salmon each year in Southeast Alaska. They also catch halibut, steelhead, trout, char, rockfish, lingcod, and other species.
Because of its stunning beauty, the Tongass draws more than 1 million tourists to Southeast Alaska every summer. Many come aboard cruise ships to view the forest's snowcapped mountains, tidewater glaciers, pristine fjords and abundant marine and terrestrial wildlife, including brown bears, wolves and humpback whales.
Despite the bounty fishing and tourism provide to Southeast Alaska, the Forest Service budget fails to reflect this
Service budget so that more money goes toward
managing the Tongass as the salmon forest it is," said Jev Shelton, a longtime Juneau commercial fisherman who has served on many fishery boards, including the Pacific Salmon Commission.
For more than four decades, the Forest Service managed the Tongass primarily for old-growth timber produ "There are fe
At SCS, we know that getting people outside and participating in the stewardship of our environment is the single best way to realize our vision of a sustainable community living within the Tongass National Forest. Last summer, SCS, the Sitka Ranger District, and Sitka High School established a long-term monitoring study that will evaluate the efforts made to restore deer habitat in young growth forests in Peril Strait. Students built four "deer exclosures" to support this study. The exclosures will allow us to study the plant growth that occurs without being browsed upon by deer. Students will revisit these study sites each year. Through this project, students are being active participants in ecological restoration and gaining valuable insight in what it takes to be good stewards of our backyard!