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.
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On May 1, students from the Science Mentor Program, Sitka High Field Science Class, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School shared their research with the community. Nearly 50 people attended. Standing room only! Students projects included research in microbial fungal communities in young growth forests, vegetation mapping to target wildlife habitat restoration prescriptions, whale acoustics and more! Through these annual programs, Sitka youth are engaging in ecological research, resource management, and are learning to become active stewards of our local environment.
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The future of the Tongass National Forest will be intimately tied to how engaged our communities are in its sustainable management. The Science Mentor Program involves Sitka youth in hands-on scientific research that explores important ecological questions regarding forest restoration. Listen to the Raven Radio story about how Sitka High student Justine Webb and UAS professor Kitty LaBounty are using genetic lab techniques to examine soil fungal communities in young growth forests. Check out the story at the link below.
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.
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)
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!
SCS Receives Grant from The National Forest Foundation to Use Local Wood and Plan Watershed Restoration Projects
The Sitka Conservation Society has been awarded a grant to partner with local organizations to build capacity for the use of Tongass young growth timber, and to create a long-term strategic plan for watershed restoration in the Sitka Community Use Area. The grant is awarded through the Community Capacity and Land Stewardship Program, a collaborative program of the National Forest Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The two-phase project will build momentum of the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group by partnering with local high schools and community members. With the $20,000 grant, the project will last throughout 2012 and will result in a collaboratively defined Strategic Restoration Priorities List, a Best Management Practices document on partnering with the U.S. Forest Service on restoration projects, and initial efforts to advocate for the highest priority projects.
"The project will combine ecological data with social and economic priorities to create a framework that prioritizes where we need to restore salmon and deer habitat," Said Scott Harris, SCS Collaborative Restoration Projects Coordinator. "It will also find ways to maximize local benefits to create jobs for local contractors to perform the work needed on the Tongass National Forest, as best for the community as a whole."
SCS will partner with Sitka High School (SHS) on the young growth component of the project. Industrial arts students will build furniture and a visitor's kiosk for Sitka Sound Science Center with young growth timber harvested and milled on Prince of Wales Island. These projects will take place during the 2012-2013 school year and will be the first time local wood has been used in SHS industrial arts projects in nearly a decade.
"It is exciting to bring local wood back into the classroom. There will be some differences in using young growth than what we usually build with, so it should be a good experiment to see the best ways to use the wood," said Sitka High School industrial arts teacher, Randy Hughey. "It will also be a great opportunity for the students to learn about the local resources available and how they can support the Sitka economy."
Based on the experiences at Sitka High, SCS will develop a best practices guide for buying local wood. The guide will compare the cost of local young growth to imported wood, will detail where and when local wood can be purchased, and will explain properties of local young growth that may be different from conventional lumber. SCS and SHS will host two educational open houses during the 2012-13 school year for local builders and other community members on the best practices.
Bill Thomason, owner of Alaska Wood Cuts Mill, will sell SCS young growth spruce from a stockpile of timber he acquired under stewardship contract during a 2007 habitat restoration project on Prince of Wales Island.
"We have been cutting and milling second growth here on POW for a few seasons now. It is great wood for a number of purposes, particularly in the construction of log and timber cabins as we are now doing," he said. "We are really encouraged by the start of its use here in Southeast Alaska."
"There are a lot of opportunities for using young growth timber from the Tongass, and I hope this experience will not be a one-time thing at the high school," said Sitka contractor Marcel LaPerriere, owner of Southeast Cedar Homes, which uses wood from local sources. "I believe this is an opportunity to raise awareness and increase the commercial use around the region."
The second component of the grant will focus on strategic planning for collaborative watershed restoration projects on the Tongass. In recent years, the U.S. Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, Trout Unlimited and other partners have worked together to restore salmon streams damaged by industrial logging practices decades ago. Despite the work and successful partnerships, projects have proceeded without a community-derived strategic plan.
"There are important watersheds in the Sitka Ranger District that were heavily impacted by logging during the pulp mill days. We know that this has had a negative impact on the number of fish these watersheds produce," Matt Lawrie, a 2nd generation Sitka salmon troller said. "I'm hopeful that this project will bring together agency staff, fishermen, and locals with knowledge about local watersheds and it will lead to more habitat restoration projects that will increase Coho numbers and create more stability and resiliency for salmon populations."
Winter doesn't slow down field science in Sitka! The four Sitka High School students and their mentors in the Science Mentor Program are in the full swing of their projects. In the photo at left, Justine is measuring tree diameters to quantify the forest stand where she is collecting soil samples. She will then conduct genetic analyses of microbial fungal communities in the soil. Sarah and Tahnee are mapping habitat types that are critical for deer overwintering survival in Starrigavan Valley. And Spencer is learning statistical tests for calculating fish stocks. Follow our progress on the blog
UPDATE 2/6: Listen to the KSTK story about the Scout's presentation at the Alaska Forum on the Environment.[/box]
However, the ultimate goal of the trip was to teach the Boy Scouts what it means to be good stewards of the land and the value of Wilderness areas like the Stikine. What better way is there to teach this lesson then to spend five days in the Wilderness learning these lessons first hand from the land and from each other?
After five days in the field, Troop 40 decided to adopt the Twin Lakes area as their ongoing stewardship project. They plan to return in the coming years to continue the work that they've started. It is community dedication like this that the Stikine and other wilderness areas require in order to remain pristine for future generations.