This is a guest post by Bonnie Loshbaugh about her reflections on SCS's Tongass Salmon Forest Residency. This unique position was a partnership with the Sitka Ranger District and was tasked with telling the story of the Forest Service's work restoring salmon habitat in the Tongass.
Be sure to check out the fantastic slide show of Bonnie's photos at the bottom of this post.
I arrived in Sitka in May, after the herring opener had ended and before the salmon season had really gotten fired up, for a six month stint as the Tongass Salmon Forest Resident. The position, a collaboration between the Sitka Conservation Society, The Wilderness Society, and the Forest Service, was a new venture for everyone. For the Forest Service, it was one of the tentative steps the agency is taking towards a transition from a timber-only to a multi-resource management approach for the Tongass National Forest. For the Sitka Conservation Society and The Wilderness Society, it was part of a long term shift by environmental organizations towards collaborating rather than fighting with the Forest Service in Southeast Alaska. For me, a newly minted master of marine affairs, the residency was an opportunity to position myself at the crossroads of public policy and science, practice my science writing abilities, to return to my home state, and—I'll be honest—to eat a lot of fish.
In Sitka, I got a room in the Forest Service bunkhouse and started a crash course in island life, Forest Service safety training, NGO-agency collaboration, and NGO-NGO collaboration, with a refresher on small town Alaska. Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula, I already knew a great deal about salmon as food. Now I started learning about salmon as an economic driver, natural resource, cultural underpinning, keystone species in the coastal temperate rainforest, and salmon as the life work and primary focus of many of the people I had the honor of working with during my time in Sitka.
During the summer field season, I went with the fisheries and watershed staff on quick projects—a day trip by boat to Nakwasina to help add large wood to a salmon stream—and long projects—and eight day stint at a remote camp on Tenakee Inlet with a crew using explosives to decommission an old logging road. Although I was mainly in Sitka, I also visited Prince of Wales Island and the restoration sites at the Harris River and worked up a briefing sheet that was used during USDA Undersecretary Harris Sherman's visit to the same sites. By the fall, I had a large amount of information and photos which I worked up into several brochures for the Forest Service, and also a Tongass Salmon Factsheet, and a longer Factbook.
My main contacts at the Forest Service were Greg Killinger, the Fisheries Watershed and Soils Staff Officer for the Tongass, and Jon Martin, the Tongass Transition Framework Coordinator, both of whom made the connections for me to work with and ask questions of the top fisheries folk on the Tongass, as well the rank and file staff on the ground carrying out restoration and research work. The residency gave me a chance to learn about salmon on the Tongass, and to immediately turn that information around for public distribution. Along the way, it also allowed me to see how a federal agency works, a particularly enlightening experience since I have mainly worked for non-profits in the past. While collaboration is not always the easy way, the joint creation of the Tongass Salmon Forest Residency is a recognition that it is the best way to manage our resources, and I hope to see, and participate in, many more such collaborations in the future.
This winter, students from Sitka High's Field Science Class worked with the Sitka Ranger District to target wildlife habitat restoration activities. We mapped occurrences of Vaccinium species (Blueberry) and other deer forage plants in young growth forests. We then used data analysis and mapping technologies to identify potential locations where the Forest Service can create canopy gaps. Gaps provide more light to the forest floor and encourage the growth of plants deer eat to survive snowy winters.
BACKGROUND: Clear-cut logging of the forests near False Island between 1967 and 1972 led to fast-paced, even-aged growth of new conifers, shrubs and herbaceous plants that is today causing serious problems for deer and other wildlife. After about 25 years of growth in a previously clear-cut area, conifers become so thick that understory shrubs and herbs are shaded out, virtually eliminating vital deer forage for over 100 years. Restorative thinning of the kind completed during the Ocean Boulevard project can help maintain a more open canopy and better habitat for the deer and other wildlife that local communities depend on for subsistence.
Ocean Boulevard was the first of an ongoing series of projects in the False Island landscape aimed at addressing a wide range of resource opportunities related to subsistence, ecosystem restoration, and recreation. Ocean Boulevard benefited from early collaboration with community stakeholders that went above and beyond the traditional U.S. Forest Service process (learn more here).Related projects include the Sitkoh River Restoration and Peril Landscape Opportunities Project.
STATS: In 2011, local contractor TM Construction thinned 334 acres of young growth forest with treatments that included 25 x 25 foot spacing and canopy gaps. Many of the downed trees were removed by ground-based equipment and either stored in a sort-yard for future sale, or tagged for in-stream use in the Sitkoh River Restoration Project that will be completed in 2012; others were cut into smaller pieces and left to decay in the forest.
INNOVATIONS: The U.S. Forest Service took an experimental approach with Ocean Boulevard, using it to test the costs and logistics involved in removing and storing downed trees after thinning. Better understanding these costs will help the Forest Service and community more realistically assess future opportunities to use "restoration byproducts" from the Sitka Ranger District for biomass, lumber, and other timber products.
FUNDING AND SUPPORT:Ocean Boulevard was funded by the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and
was the first U.S. Forest Service project to involve input from the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group (SCSG).
Check out our briefing sheet to learn more about community input on the Ocean Boulevard Project: Ocean Boulevard Briefing Sheet.
BACKGROUND: The Peril Project is a collaborative stewardship initiative designed to improve wildlife habitat and recreational access within the False Island/Peril Strait landscape. Planning for Peril officially began in 2010, but the "landscape-scale" project concept is rooted in three efforts that began as far back as 2006: the U.S. Forest Service False Island Integrated Resource Management Plan (IRMP) planning group, the Sitkoh River and Creek Watershed Inventory and Restoration Plan (2009) and the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group (2009).
The Ocean Boulevard Wildlife Improvement Project, completed in 2011, was the first project to transpire from these collaborative efforts to improve the False Islandlandscape. The Sitkoh River Restoration was the second, and will be completed in 2012.
The Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group,which was originallyformed to develop community-based stewardship opportunities related to Tongass management, organized two public meetings in 2010 to share information and gather collaborative input on Peril.These meetings were attended by a wide range of community stakeholders, and resulted in stewardship suggestions that can be read here(May 2010)and here(December 2010).
Click here for a copy of the 2011 Peril Project Environmental Assessment(EA).
STATS: As proposed in the Peril Project EA, work will include 2,122 acres of thinning in both upland and riparian areas; opening approximately 1.75 miles of closed road to off-highway vehicles (OHVs); constructing a 0.41-mile foot trail to the East Sitkoh Lake cabin; and placing large woody debris in 2.2 miles of Sitkoh Lake inlet streams to restore fish habitat. Work on the ground will begin in summer 2012.
INNOVATIONS:Peril is one of the first projects in the Sitka Ranger District in which collaborative input from the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group and other community partners has been prioritized. The goal is to better integrate community priorities into Forest Service planning efforts in the SCUA, and SCS will continue to engage in similar opportunities with the Forest Service and community partners.
Peril is also the first landscape-scale project to be undertaken in the Sitka Ranger District, meaning that multiple resource opportunities are being addressed within a single large landscape. By focusing on a wide range of opportunities and looking at ways to achieve multiple goals at once, the Forest Service is saving time and taxpayer money while providing more benefits to the local community.
FUNDING AND SUPPORT: All funding to-date for the Peril Project comes from the U.S. Forest Service. The project has received input and support from the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group since 2010.
Make Management and Protection of Wild Alaska Salmon a Priority in the Tongass National Forest!Background: 5 species of Pacific Salmon spawn in the Tongass National Forest. For thousands of years, those salmon have played a key role for the peoples and cultures that make their home on the Tongass. Today, the connections and traditions between communities and salmon is still one of the most important associations that we have with the natural environment of the Tongass.
Take Action: Management of the Tongass National Forest is currently at a critical crossroads. As we begin to move beyond the ill-fated, industrial logging phase of Tongass Management, the region and the Forest Service is striving to define a new paradigm for Tongass Land Management. The decision makers who govern the Tongass need to hear from you now that management for Wild Alaska Salmon is the most important use of the Tongass National Forest.
You Can Help Now: by writing letters to Alaska State Senators, the Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, and the Alaska Regional Forester telling why Salmon are important for SE Alaska and how our dependence on the lands and the waters of the Tongass revolves around Salmon.
Here are some of the important points that you can highlight:
- Salmon are the backbone of the economy of SE Alaska
- The economic value and the jobs created by commercial harvest of Salmon is much greater than the economic value of the Timber industry—even though more money and resources are spent on the timber program ($30million) than salmon management and restoration ($1.5 Million).
- Salmon are important for both the local seafood industry, the SE Alaskan visitor industry, and rural communities who depend on subsistence fishing
- Subsistence harvest of salmon on the Tongass is one of the most important protein sources for SE Alaskans--- outline how subsistence caught salmon are important for you
- Forest Service management of subsistence fisheries (such as Redoubt Lake) have enormous benefits for Sitka and other SE Alaskan Communities-- expanding this program is critical
- Salmon Habitat Restoration Projects—such as the work being done in the Starrigavan Valley and Sitkoh River in Sitka—are the most important efforts currently being conducted by the Forest Service on the Tongass. This work should be continued and expanded.
- The success of Tongass Management should no longer be tied to "million-board feet of timber produced" but rather should be measured on the successful rehabilitation, enhancement, and continuance of Wild Salmon Runs on the Tongass
- Continued and expanded research and investigation on Alaskan Salmon is a huge priority to assess how we will manage salmon in the face of climate change
Send Letters to (email is fine):
[wpcol_1third id="" class="" style=""]Senator Lisa Murkowski 709 Hart Senate Building Washington, DC 20510 Email to staff: [email protected] Senator Mark Begich 144 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510 Email to staff: [email protected] [/wpcol_1third] [wpcol_1third id="" class="" style=""] Undersecretary Harris Sherman Department of Natural Resources and the Environment U.S. Department of Agriculture 1400 Independence Ave., S.W. Washington, DC 20250 Email: [email protected] Tom TidwellChief of USDA Forest Service US Forest Service 1400 Independence Ave., SW Washington, D.C. 20250-0003 [email protected] [/wpcol_1third] [wpcol_1third_end id="" class="" style=""] Beth Pendleton Regional Forester Alaska Region 10 [email protected] [/wpcol_1third_end]
Please send a copy to us at the Sitka Conservation Society offices at [email protected]. We will keep track of the letters that are received by decision makers and work on getting them delivered in person by a fisherman to decision makers in Washington, DC.
The Sitka Conservation Society is working hard during this Forest Service budget preparing season to advocate for a shift of Tongass funding from a disproportionate logging program to a focus that manages our largest National Forest for Salmon. It is high time that we made this shift because salmon are the lifeblood of our region for our ecosystems, our economy, and our way-of-life. Now is a critical time to write letters supporting the Tongass's Fisheries and Watershed program and ensuring that the Forest Service is putting Tongass funding in the programs that benefit our wild, Alaska Salmon and the communities within the Tongass.
You can help by writing a letter, click here to Take Action.In December, SCS was able to help Matt Lawrie, a local Sitka Troller, travel to Washington, DC to take copies of letters that Fishermen and community members wrote asking for a shift from Forest Service spending on Old Growth Clear-cutting in the Timber program to the Fisheries and Watershed program to restore and protect Tongass Salmon Habitat. Matt personally delivered the letters to Harris Sherman, the Undersecretary of Natural Resources, Senior Staff at the USDA Rural Development offices, staff from the President's Management and Budget Office, and spoke personally with the Chief of the Forest Service and delivered the message on the importance of Tongass Salmon.
The meetings were frustrating because everyone acted like they agreed that funding needs to shift from Timber to Salmon, but everyone seemed to point the finger that someone else had to step up and demand the change was made. It seemed that some of the decision makers that were visited (The Forest Service Chief and the Undersecretary) were genuinely happy that commercial fishermen were visiting DC and speaking up on the budget because they are slowly recognizing the importance of the Tongass National Forest's role in producing salmon and sustaining a sustainable fishery and sustainable livelihoods and that they agree that this shift needs to be made.
Officials were also glad that commercial fishermen and concerned community members were finally visiting because the timber lobby visits at least twice a year to keep the programs funded that log the Tongass!We always knew that timber had a big lobby and it is likely why more money is going to cut down the Forests that salmon depend on than restoring the damage that pulp mill clear-cutting has done to the Tongass that needs fixing.
The fact that Matt and the other fishermen visited the same offices as timber shows us that we are doing the right thing. It was really good that young fishermen stand up and speak too because he represents a new generation on the Tongass that is looking ahead to the future and thinking about sustainable management of Tongass resources--- the opposite of what we've had with clear-cut logging.
We are going to try to send more fishermen back to Washington in February to advocate for a Forest Service budget that focuses on Salmon and Watershed restoration. We want to take back at least 200 letters from fishermen in February. That would be 40 more letters than there are timber jobs in Southeast Alaska (160 timber jobs, over 4000 jobs related to Salmon).
You can help us by writing letters to the regional forester, the undersecretary of Natural Resources, our Alaskan Senators. Tele Aadsen did a really good blog post that outlines the issue calls fishermen to action. It is a great post to point people to for motivation:
Four Sitka High students were recently selected to participate in the Science Mentor Program. This program pairs students with professional mentors to conduct ecological field studies. From left to right: Program Coordinators Scott Harris, Ashley Bolwerk, and Kent Bovee, Tahnee Curran will be work with Wildlife Biologist Chris Leeseberg at the US Forest Service, Spencer Combs will be working with Fisheries Biologist Troy Tydingco at the AK Dept. of Fish and Game, Justine Webb will be working with Botanist Kitty LaBounty at the University of Alaska Southeast, and Sarah Rasmussen-Rehkops will also be working with Chris Leesburg. The program is funded by the Sitka Conservation Society and the Secure Rural Schools Act.
In 2011, with funding from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, we developed the Salmon For All Ages Project. Now that the year has ended, we can tally our success at spreading the word about the value of our Alaska Wild Salmon and Salmon Habitat to people throughout Southeast Alaska. We developed a curriculum resource guide for teachers, conducted teacher training workshops, aired public service announcements, and developed a university-level course in watershed ecology. Some of our 2011 key statistics:
756 potential number of K-12 Southeast Alaska students exposed to the curriculumClick on this link to hear an example of one of our radio PSAs.
1,342 number of PSA's aired
14 number or radio stations involved
5 number of teacher workshops conducted in different communities
5 number of school districts involved
25 number of teachers involved