As we hunker down during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s natural to feel cooped up, isolated, and nostalgic for “normal” life. These are difficult, uncertain times. At the Sitka Conservation Society, we want to support you in new worlds of living, working, and learning.
That’s why we’ve released The Salmon Forest for free viewing, with everyone from families to globe-trotters to fishermen to daydreamers in mind.
The Salmon Forest celebrates what hasn’t changed during the outbreak: the incredible lands and waters of Southeast Alaska, and the salmon’s return to their home streams.
About the Film
The Salmon Forest is a 30-minute documentary film that explores the connection between wild salmon and life in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States.The film follows Alaskan salmon on their epic migration from the streams of the forest to the ocean and back, revealing the various lives they impact along the way. Pull in a huge catch with commercial fishermen, explore the breathtaking landscapes that draw in millions, watch as a mother bear lunges into a stream to feed her cubs, visit a native Tlingit community to better understand salmon’s cultural significance, and meet the people who work day and night to ensure this public resource is protected for generations to come.
Filmed in stunning high definition, The Salmon Forest highlights one of the last healthy homes for salmon on Earth, and provokes a deeper understanding of this complex and beautiful ecosystem. Ultimately, this film celebrates the unique role public lands play in salmon production and reminds us that proper management is vital to sustain the future of commercial fisheries, subsistence, recreation, and our forests.
This film was made in partnership between Sitka Conservation Society, the U.S. Forest Service, and Wild Agency to share the interdependence of the Tongass National Forest, wild Pacific salmon, and the communities of Southeast Alaska.
Continue the Entertainment!
With parents and families in mind, we’ve made a Fin-Tastic Activity Packet that contains a coloring page and worksheets. Learn more about the life cycle of a salmon, create your own food web, and see how salmon are an important part of the Southeast Alaskan way of life in these activities that are fun for the whole family!Read more
In a large, old, wooden building on the waterfront at Sitka Sound Science Center, a group of women gathers around a central table. A spotlight leans over their shoulders, lending light to a delicate creative process. Dressed in bright pink, Audrey Armstrong strains her eyes and carefully aligns mind, material and dexterity as she pierces a tiny needle through glittering scales.
Audrey, who is Athabaskan, is teaching a new generation of creatives the ancient technique of fish skin sewing. She has been sharing her skills and knowledge for over a decade, and this is her fifth summer teaching this particular course in Sitka— after four at Sheldon Jackson Museum this is her first year at the Sitka Arts & Science Festival.
As Audrey tells it, almost any Alaskan fish skin can be used for this craft, but she favors salmon. Salmon is the fish that sustains her family and culture, and it was a silver salmon that inspired her, 15 years ago, to learn this utilitarian art form.
“It was cloudy on the stream in early September, and I caught my first one for the day. It was all soft and gushy so I let it go. Then I caught my second one and the sun was starting to come out and it just shined on the salmon, and all these gorgeous purples, pinks, and dark colors were revealed and I just fell in love.”
This late Coho run inspired Audrey’s interest in fish-skin sewing. “I said, ‘Wow, I know my ancestors such a long, long time ago probably used fish skin,’ but there was nothing written on it.”
She got to work and started researching. She went to the Smithsonian in Anchorage with others interested in skin sewing and found that while the Yupik were more prolific in their technique, the Athabaskan also made use of fish skin. “The only Athabaskan things I saw were made in 1849: a pair of gloves and a little purse made out of fish skin from our region.” Audrey expanded her research and studied different techniques. “Then I just started experimenting with it and doing different things and that’s how I started, trial and error.”
In 2009, Audrey took her interest to the next level. In Kasitna Bay, Audrey and a group of 13 attended Fran Reed’s first and only class. Reed was a prolific skin-sewer famous for her revitalization efforts in the field as well as for her baskets that include seal gut, salmon skins, fins, ferns and more.
“She had terminal cancer and she was very adamant that this continued. I took her first class and it was her last class even though she had been studying it for 25 years,” says Armstrong.
“When she was teaching us she was very ill, so we would set up a big chair for her and we called it ‘the queens chair’. She would sit and talk to us and we would bring things up to her and she would tell us what to do next. Kind of like what I’m doing right now in this class,” laughs Armstrong as she turns to offer advice and to tie beads onto one of her student’s pieces.
“In that same year, Fran died and we promised her before she died, that the following year after the class that all 13 of us would have an exhibit in her honor. We would show all different kinds of fish skin works: masks, capes, necklaces. And, we did. I made a big berry bucket,” recalls Audrey.
When Senators want to hide their legislation from the public, they will introduce it on Friday afternoons. When they really want to hide something, they'll do it on a Friday afternoon before a 3-day weekend. Senator Murkowski really has something to hide because she introduced a bunch of legislation that plays politics with the Tongass on the Friday afternoon before a beautiful Memorial Day weekend in Southeast Alaska.Read more
This Friday marks the beginning of a well-loved Sitka tradition, the Alaska Seafood Festival! The festival began in 2010, as a way to celebrate the bountiful ocean resources Sitka and Southeast Alaska has to offer. The fishing industry supplies significant revenue and jobs for the community as well as attracting tourists. Because seafood is such an important part of the Sitka community, it is essential that the resource is not only celebrated at the festival but also considered beyond the city limits.
Most Sitka residents and visitors enjoy the benefits of having plentiful wilderness recreation sites just a short distance from the city. These recreation sites are often within the Tongass National Forest. Like all national forests, the Tongass is under management of the US Forest Service. Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to work with Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) and the Forest Service to evaluate different forest treatment plans created to ensure the forest, streams, and salmon are all working together in harmony. One concern is ample habitat for rearing juvenile and spawning adult salmon. Salmon depend on wood in the streams to create sheltered areas with a reduced current. However, past harvesting in the Tongass has disrupted the conifer growth that supplies this habitat. The good news is that the Forest Service has been applying different forest treatment plans to different areas with the goal of growing larger conifers that will eventually fall into the stream to provide habitat. Plentiful habitat then ensures thriving salmon populations that will prosper in the future.
Pink Salmon at Indian River
One such area is Appleton Cove located on North Baranof Island. SCS and the Forest Service recently traveled to this area to observe how trees along stream banks are growing and what kinds of trees there are. Our studies consisted of setting up four to six plots along the stream bank and flagging every live tree within these plots. We then recorded the tree species, diameter, and height. This study was also done at Fish Bay, Noxon, and other sites in order to create a representative and diverse sample. These studies will be combined with developing Forest Service research to guide how the trees along stream banks will be managed through treatments such as thinning.
Me and the Forest Service crew: Chris Leeseberg, Sarah Rubenstein, and Malachi Rhines
Sarah Rubenstein setting up a plot along a stream bank
Another Forest Service Project dedicated to preserving salmon populations is present at Redoubt Lake. Redoubt Lake is one of the largest meromictic lakes in North America meaning the lake has areas of salt water and fresh water that do not mix. Each year thousands of salmon swim from the ocean and up the falls to reach Redoubt Lake to spawn. The Forest Service has set up a weir at the opening of the lake, which is essentially a gate preventing fish from passing except in specific areas. Forest Service workers are then able to count the fish and identify their species as they swim through the weir or past a camera in the evenings. Sockeye and Coho salmon are also sampled meaning they are weighed, measured, and have a scale taken. This information is then used to further study the fish at Redoubt and their genetic make up. One concern is that farmed fish could be mating with wild fish and disrupting wild type DNA. The scale sample comes into play here as it is analyzed by geneticists to determine if the fish has any DNA inherited by a farmed fish. Counting the fish that return to Redoubt Lake each year will also help the Alaska Department of Fish and Game set appropriate harvest limits to ensure future abundance.
On Redoubt Lake with the weir in the background
This weekend while enjoying festival events such as cooking and canning classes, the seafood banquet, film screenings, and more remember to also consider the connection between forest management and the sustainability of valuable Alaskan seafood.
Learn more about how the US Forest Service manages the Tongass National Forest at www.fs.usda.gov/land/tongass/landmanagement and be sure to visit the SCS booth while at the festival.
When visiting a wild landscape, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the expansive beauty of the place, overlooking what troubles may exist in the area. However, this does not mean these places are free of ecological or anthropological issues. On July 3, the four members of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), Chrissie Post (U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Ranger), Irene Owsley (volunteer and renowned photographer) and myself spent 6 days in Whitewater Bay focusing our energy on managing these wilderness issues that are easy to neglect.
The View of Table Mountain from our camp in Whitewater Bay
The biggest project of this trip was hand pulling an invasive plant: black bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus). Black bindweed is listed as a restricted noxious weed in Alaska and management of black bindweed in Whitewater Bay began in 2009. Despite these efforts, there was still an abundance of black bindweed found in the area, meaning there was no shortage of work to keep us busy. However monotonous pulling an invasive plant may be, it does offer excellent time for reflection, allowing the group to engage in meaningful discussions about conserving wilderness areas. During one of these discussions about how to protect these wild areas, YCC crewmember, Jaxon Collins, offered the insight that the goal of conservation and preservation organizations may be shortsighted. Jaxon said, “We shouldn’t be working to answer why we need to protect these areas, but instead, we should be working to stop these questions from being asked.” This was just one of the countless times, that the learning was being done by myself as well as the YCC crew.
Breeze searching for black bindweed to pull
Besides picking a gargantuan amount of bindweed, we also spent time picking up beach trash. We found fishing nets, tsunami debris and a lot of plastic. One day we walked to Woody Point, the point where Chatham Strait gives way to Whitewater Bay and were besieged by the amount beach trash. Although we were in a Wilderness Area over 15 miles away from the closest inhabited community of Angoon, we were reminded once again that we were not removed from human disturbance.
Jaxon removing beach trash found near Woody Point
The elegance and wildness of wilderness areas can make it is easy to overlook the human influences that are present in these areas. The YCC group gained experience in noticing these intricacies first hand, as they dove into projects that included removing invasive plants, bagging up beach trash and inventorying illusive campsites. The goal of the this trip was not only to manage an invasive species and clean up a wilderness area, but it was also to show the challenges that are facing wilderness managers throughout the United States. By showing these challenges, combined with the stunning scenery of wilderness areas, we hope to educate more people about the issues facing wilderness and develop more defenders of wild areas. As Edward Abbey famously said, “the idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” I know that the opportunities provided to these teenagers have created four new defenders of wilderness and hopefully a group of citizens who will decipher how to “stop these questions from being asked.”
Jaxon, Elizabeth and Travis working to remove bindweed from the Kootznoowoo Wilderness
The Youth Conservation Corps finished their month residence in the Tongass and returned to their respective homes last week. It has been an amazing experience for all people and parties involved. Stay tuned for a final blog about the YCC!
On June 23, the four members of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) and myself teamed up with the Angoon Community Association (ACA) Watershed crew and took a floatplane from Angoon to Lake Alexander in the Kootznoowoo wilderness area. Lake Alexander is a beautiful Lake across Admiralty Island on the Cross Island Canoe route. Lake Alexander has a U.S. Forest Service cabin on one side of the lake and a Forest Service shelter on the other side. Our group stayed at the cabin and met with three Forest Service Cabins and Trails employees as well as the ACA Watershed Crew staying across Lake Alexander in the mornings for our workdays.
Elizabeth stepping off the floatplane in Lake Alexander. Amazing to think that three weeks ago, she had never been on a plane.
When we arrived at the Lake Alexander cabin, Forest Service employee, Dana Kimbell, was waiting at the cabin to help us settle into our home for the next eight days. After setting up our tents and putting our food in the bear box, Dana instructed us how to clean the inside and outside of the cabin up to standard. Dana also guided the crew as we painted two sides of the cabin and stained the window frames and door to the cabin.
Jaxon painting a side of the Lake Alexander Cabin
When Dana left that evening to return to her camp on the other side of the lake, Zach Holder, a fellow Admiralty Island National Monument Cabins and Trails employee who was picking up Dana on the skiff, forewarned me, “Eat a big meal tonight and an even bigger meal tomorrow for breakfast. Trail work is a lot different than cabin work.” His hint was well received by the crew and myself, but that did not mean we were completely ready for the grueling work that lay ahead.
The view from our camp across Lake Alexander at Mount Distik
The following morning, we started our trail work activities. The section of trail we were working on was on the back half of the Lake Alexander shelter to Mole harbor 2-mile portage trail. To assist with the project, we hiked 1.3 miles to our work site with pack boards strapped down with puncheon boards and four-foot 4x6s, peeled trees for trail structures, assisted in building and digging these structures and collected moss to re-vegetate the area around the structures.
Breeze and Jaxon enjoying a lunch break away from the mud
This work had no shortage of carrying heavy packs or getting muddy. In fact, at one time, YCC crewmember Travis said, “Eight year-old Travis would love this job, getting paid to play in mud. Oh, who am I kidding, I love this job!” Although the rain, muck and tedious work made for long days, the crew enjoyed their time spent working on these projects.
Travis hammering in the puncheon boards for the boardwalk
Upon completing our puncheon walkway across the wet muskeg trail and our staircase, we took our services to a different section along the Cross Island Canoe route. The next section of trail we focused on was the 1/3-mile portage between Beaver Lake and Lake Hasselborg. On our first day working on that trail, we also met with a group of Forest Service VIPs that included Leslie Weldon, the National Forest System's Deputy Chief. It was a great experience for the crew to be recognized for their hard work and to be encouraged to work to protect natural resources in their career and life paths.
Jaxon investigating a rough-skinned newt he found near the Beaver Lake Trailhead
The Admiralty Island Canoe Route has attracted adventurous canoeists since the mid 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed portages to connect the lakes and bays and also built shelters. On the second to last day, we took our stab at a short 1/3-mile portage, although we were not participating in the traditional canoe portage. Instead, a team of 10 that included ACA watershed members, YCC members, and Forest Service employees grabbed onto a long rope harness and dragged a large skiff across the Beaver Lake to Lake Hasselborg trail. After successfully completing this portage, we took a slightly smaller skiff uphill from Lake Hasselborg to Beaver Lake. This trip inspired me to complete the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route, but any intention on bringing a 5-person skiff with me was quickly terminated. A pack raft seems like a better means to cross the island.
Breeze and Travis exploring the fashion opportunities granted by bear bones found on a side trip to Mole Harbor
On our final day, we broke down camp and cleaned up the cabin. As we sat together waiting for the floatplane pick-up, we discussed the highs and lows of the trip. Laughs were shared and hardships remembered. When taking off from Lake Alexander, we took one final look at our beautiful base camp for the past week and smiled a tired, triumphant smile.
The crew in front of the lake Alexander Cabin. (Front row from left to right: Dana Kimbell (U.S. Forest Service) and Breeze Anderson; Back row from left to right: Elizabeth Crawford, Mike Belitz (SCS), Travis Maranto and Jaxon Collins)
The Youth Conservation Corps has one final trip before leaving the Tongass and heading back to their respective homes. This final trip begins on Friday, June 3, when the crew boats to Whitewater Bay in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness. On this trip, the crew will inventory and pull invasive plants, clean up the shoreline of debris and assist U.S. Forest Service archeologists in searching for possible petroglyphs. I have no doubt that another extraordinary experience will come of this trip and a greater land ethic will be instilled in these future wilderness champions.
For more information about the YCC, please feel free to e-mail Mike at [email protected]
The island of Admiralty remains to this day a place preserved almost entirely as Wilderness. Home to the highest density of brown bears in North America, a population of a few hundred residents, and prolific stands of old-growth that never saw the saw, this country, by anyone’s definition, the federal government’s included, is Wild. But the briefest of glances at Admiralty’s history makes immediately evident that this future was never assured; the preserved state of this landscape never necessarily its inevitable fate. To quite the contrary, nature on Admiralty has known many threats, its trees for decades the particular envy of loggers throughout Southeast. But despite the long history of people seeking to degrade Admiralty, there exists an equally long history and tradition of people working to defend it. This past week, I had the privilege of meeting the four individuals adding yet another chapter to this story of wilderness stewardship on Admiralty Island.
The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) project taking place on Admiralty is engaging four youth from around the country in community and conservation work. Sponsored by the Forest Service and supported by the Sitka Conservation Society, this corps has been tasked with initiatives that address the health of Admiralty’s Kootznoowoo wilderness, its community of Angoon, and, hopefully, each YCC’s commitment to conservation, by bringing them into contact and communion with the land. Such connection, SCS has always believed, lies at the essence of environmental ethic and action. Or in other words, the land itself is oftentimes its own most effective advocate, the best thing we can do being simply to bring people out to it. By employing youth to work with our public lands, the YCC program is thus very much aligned with the model of conservation advocacy that SCS has always practiced. And by helping the Forest Service host this corps branch, we have been able to foster these person-place connections with an incredibly important segment of society: the rising generation of potential environmental stewards.
When I arrived in Angoon, the YCCs had just completed construction of a community greenhouse, and were soon to set off for three weeks in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness. There they would be participating in shelter and trail maintenance, non-native plant control, and general restoration and monitoring – projects to which the Forest Service had put the Civilian Conservation Corps over eighty years ago, as part of the New Deal.
Sitting at the doorstep of Kootznoowoo – having just witnessed a whale pass by, listening to the roaring of a sea lion, and sated by the salmonberries we had picked on our hike – I had the chance to talk to the YCCs about their thoughts on the Wilderness, this tradition of stewardship, and the Southeast Alaskan environment in which they were immersed.
Below is some of what each of them had to say:
How much did you know about Wilderness before this program?
Jaxon Collins: Not a lot.
Breeze Anderson: I didn’t know anything.
Elizabeth Crawford: Not really anything.
Travis Maranto: Not very much.
And what do you know and think now?
Jaxon: I know that there are people who have been trying hard their whole lives to keep wilderness intact, and I think other people should try and respect that.
Breeze: I think that to work with nature, in particular these Wilderness areas, is a necessity, and that it needs to be done before we ruin it.
Elizabeth: This landscape already feels as if its home to me.
Travis: I’ve always had a love and respect for nature, but I never truly understood Wilderness as being so free and untrammeled. Just being in this space you immediately sense something special about it.
Why are you excited about the wilderness stewardship work ahead?
Jaxon: It’s just amazing to be one of the first youth groups out here in a while doing this. Maybe it can inspire others who have an interest to take action too.
Breeze: This work gives me hope. Hope that these efforts to conserve can keep going, since they’ve already been going on for so long.
Elizabeth: I just feel very fortunate to have been picked to come here. You need trees to breathe and well, to really do everything. And now here I am standing in their beauty and I get to help protect them. That makes me excited.
Travis: I have such a deep respect and love for wild places, and I don’t think there’s enough of them. In the modern age, humans have been destroying them rapidly. When you think about the millions of years Earth has been here, we’ve only been here a very short period of time, and we’ve already done a great deal to screw it up. I’m here because I want to do a something to fix that, and convince others to do so too.
If there’s one thing you would say to people to convince people that these places are worthy of protection, what would it be?
Jaxon: When you’re out here, you get to forget about all of the worries of life and just be yourself. It’s incredibly freeing.
Breeze: There’s a saying I like which goes: “we think we own the land, when really the land has no owner.” Being out here, in this stunning landscape, I get reminded of that fact. I mean, this place has been here for ages, and to help it stay the way it is rather than destroying it, that’s a powerful thing to be a part of.
Elizabeth: We always say in my family that we only have one Earth. In society we’re always searching for the newer, cooler thing. But why ruin what we already have, what we’ve relied on for all our lives? We need to appreciate and protect our Earth, because it gives us so much we don’t even realize.
Travis: Nature gives so much to us – wood, salmon, sustenance, fresh air – and we’ve been taking these things from nature for thousands of years in a manner that didn’t also destroy it. But now in modern times we’ve just been trashing the ecosystem. And I can participate in that destruction, or I can jump in and help.
Hailing from as nearby as Tenakee Springs, Alaska or as faraway as Mobile, Alabama, these four YCC members represent a diversity of background and experience. But it was clear from our conversations that a commonality of spirit exists amongst them when it comes to caring for and conserving the land. Which comes as good news, because as Matthew Fred Sr., the Tlingit elder of Angoon, bluntly put it, when it comes to conservation, “there are no guarantees. You have to fight for what you want.” Just as we owe Kootznoowoo’s current state to our predecessors who fought to preserve it, generations to come will inherit the landscape that our actions in the present have left to them.
And although wilderness exists in the minds of many an inviolable place, the truth is that these landscapes are not immune to assault. Just this year, an airport has been proposed within the boundaries of Kootznoowoo, and as of a few days ago, Admiralty’s Green's Creek Mine expansion project broke ground, threatening to leach more contaminants into the nearby Wilderness environment as waste product. All of which just serves as a reminder that wilderness work is the responsibility of each successive generation, or at least each generation that continues to find some value, apart from the economic, in these areas. It is unfortunate, but a reality, that lands with many threats require many defenders. Whether you’re examining the specific story of Admiralty, the history of Alaska, or America’s past more broadly, one fact will remain true throughout: the tree one person alone could fell it has taken many people to defend.
On the surface, I admit, this seems a depressing reality. But I wonder if, in some ways, this is actually the condition from which conservation also derives its strength, as it makes conservation, in my mind at least, inherently an act of community – something that requires conversation with the past, cooperative action in the present, and a commitment to fostering stewardship in the caretakers of the future. What I saw during my visit to Angoon was the YCC program doing just that: educating youth about the history of our public lands; engaging them in present preservation efforts; and empowering them to be future conservationists. And thus, while the future of public lands should not be taken for granted, never assumed as assured, of one thing it seems we can be certain: if the YCC is any indication, there remain those out there willing and eager to take on the cause of continued stewardship and service.
The YCC crew, from left to right: Travis, Jaxon, Breeze, and Elizabeth
Be sure to stay updated on the YCC throughout the remainder of the month by way of the SCS Facebook page. Have specific questions about the YCC? Feel free to email to their crew leader, SCS’s own Mike Belitz ([email protected]). And for more on wilderness stewardship at SCS, keep checking our website, or call (907-747-7509) or email ([email protected]) to get involved. We’d love to hear from you!
On the morning of June 17th at 5:30 AM I hopped into Scott’s truck. It was early but I wasn’t tired; neither were Luke A’Bear or Alana Chronister. We were all too excited anticipating our adventure into the Alaskan Wilderness. The journey began on Scott’s boat, traveling about three hours to get to our first site, Waterfall Cove. On the way I was already surprised by all the animals we had seen: bald eagles, sea otters, cormorants, and seagulls to name a few.
Once we got to Waterfall Cove we had only walked just past the shoreline when Luke spotted two distant brown dots and with the binoculars we confirmed it was indeed two grizzly bears. West Chichagof felt like a wildlife mecca and embodied everything people talk about when they talk about Alaska. We continued on to the creek where we located two stream temperature loggers and two air temperature loggers. The stream loggers are anchored to fallen logs and the air temperature loggers are nailed to trees by the bank. When Scott reviewed the data on the tablet, the graph formed a U shape representing higher temperatures during summer and lower temperatures during the winter.
After the data has been collected, the loggers are returned to their spots to collect data for another year. Alana and I then took mixing transects of the stream meaning we took the temperature of the water in ten spots across the stream. This gives the team an idea of the variability of the stream temperature. All of this data is important because a baseline needs to be established for the temperature of rivers and creeks that support salmon life. As climate change warms the planet, and thus the temperatures of creeks where salmon runs are present, salmon populations will suffer if the creeks become too warm. Because of this data, scientists in ten, twenty, or fifty years in the future will be able to study salmon populations in correlation with climate change and stream temperature changes. For example, if in the future salmon populations are dwindling and stream temperatures are much higher than in the past, scientists will have a variable to study further.
Alana Chronister and I taking stream temperature transects.
The next site was Ford Arm, another beautiful stream and forest in this wilderness wonderland. At this site the temperature loggers had to be moved upstream to avoid tidal influences. Last year the loggers could not be moved farther upstream because it was late in the season and the bears were gorging on the plentiful salmon swimming through the creek.
The next day’s site was Black Bay, a site that must be kayaked to due to the steep bank. Scott and I paddled to the site to gather data while Luke and Alana explored the estuary and its resident bears. On Friday we visited a site called Goulding River and hiked to a close by waterfall afterward. Saturday was our last day and was spent first watching a pregnant doe swim across the channel then hobble to shore and visiting a place called the Potato Patch before going to the site. Despite its unglamorous name, the Potato Patch is one of the most stunning places I have been to.
Waterproofing air temperature loggers.
The bright sun warmed us all up as we eagerly shed warm layers and put on our sunglasses. We climbed off the boat onto a white sand beach surrounded by the nearby mountains. The beach led to a driftwood logjam and behind that a bluff covered in grasses and wildflowers. Is was so tempting to just forget about everything else and stay there forever. However, we had to go to visit one more site called Leo’s before heading back to Sitka. At this site, the stream ran just a short distance before ending in a large lake. We gathered data as usual but having just been to the beautiful Potato Patch and this being our last site, I was thinking about the importance of the work SCS is doing. Salmon is vital not only for many plants and animals living in Alaska but also for the people. Just in the town of Sitka alone, the salmon industry employs a significant amount of people. This means salmon population and health must be preserved to keep not only nature in balance, but in order to create a sustainable and lasting fishing industry that will allow the people of Sitka and Alaska to continue benefitting from the land for many years to come.
Special thanks to Knox College and Sitka Conservation Society for giving the amazing opportunity to be the Wild Salmon Conservation and Restoration Intern, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer holds!
The Potato Patch
The public comment period for the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposed road through to Katlian Bay closed on Friday, April 3. The Sitka Conservation Society submitted comments as we feel the State should not be spending upwards of $16 million on a project of limited benefit, especially considering Alaska is facing a $4 billion budget deficit.
View looking east across Katlian Bay. Photo © kayak_guru
The Katlian Bay Road Project was originally developed under the Road to Resources Program under former Governor Parnell. However, the resources the road was meant to access, namely a rock pit on Shee Atika land, were not accessible within the project’s budget. Now, the road is still scheduled to be completed, but under the umbrella of providing recreational and subsistence opportunities for the Sitka community.
Listed below are several concerns and issues that SCS has with the proposed road. For a more in-depth discussion of our concerns, click here for a full copy of our comments.
- The DOT currently does not know what the annual cost of maintaining the road will be. SCS feels that this should have been one of DOT’s first considerations, as the road travels through steep terrain the likelihood of washouts and landslides is high. Therefore, the annual upkeep of the road could be significant, potentially leading to a closure of the road.
The DOT is unsure who will design, construct and maintain any of the proposed recreation infrastructure. The Forest Service’s recreation budget has been slashed over recent years and Sitka Trail Works is already stretched thin and has a massive backlog of work along the existing trail system.
An increase in the number of people hunting and fishing in the Katlian Valley will likely see new bag/catch limits introduced. We would like to see an analysis of how increased access may affect these subsistence opportunities. We fear that increased access will lead to greater take and will actually result in decreased opportunities for subsistence and sport hunting and fishing.
The Katlian Valley was heavily logged in the 1960s and as the proposed road will further increase pressure on the watershed, SCS asks the DOT to invest mitigation funds into restoration projects. This should include: forest habitat improvement, removing blockages to fish passage and in-stream fish habitat restoration.
We are currently in a very different economic climate to when the road project was first announced. Our state parks are threatened with closure and our schools are having to cut programs and staff. Unfortunately, the funding for this road likely cannot be re-appropriated to help fund these core areas as the money is in bond form. As the money for the project is coming from GO bonds it means the State will go into further debt in order to construct it.
Can we really afford to do this, especially considering Alaska’s current dire financial situation? Combine this with the substantial annual (and currently unknown) maintenance cost and it is obvious this road is a luxury we simply cannot afford.
Review of the Forest Service's latest timber sale
Clearcuts spread over a hilly landscape on POW. The proposed Mitkof Island timber project contains more large old clearcuts in an area already heavily logged;
much like this area.
Yesterday, the Forest Service released the Decision Notice for the proposed Mitkof Island timber sale. This Decision Notice outlines the exact details of the project showing the how, the where and the amount of timber to be harvested. Unsurprisingly the Forest Service has chosen the alternative that contains the most volume of timber. The sale was first proposed in February 2013 and was initially billed as the ‘Mitkof Island Small Sales Project’, designed to meet the needs of the local community and small mills. It has since morphed into a textbook large-scale Forest Service timber sale that only goes to further liquidate our limited stock of old-growth forest in one swift cut. The sale does, however, contain progressive elements and demonstrate a more responsible use of old-growth timber in some aspects.
What is proposed?
The alternative selected by the Forest Service will see 28.5 million board feet (MMBF) of timber harvested from 4,177 acres. The timber will come from both old and second growth, with 800 acres of old-growth harvest and 750 acres of young-growth commercial thinning, amounting to 50% removal. Also, included is 1,500 acres of old growth with 95 or 98% retention, this is designed to supplement the microsale program (details below), which is also included, but with live green trees. The selected alternative also includes an additional one-time helicopter harvest that amounts to 13.4 MMBF of old-growth harvest, retaining 66% of the standing trees.
What we like
The project contains a new design component that seeks to compliment and expand upon the microsale program first applied on Prince of Wales (POW) Island. This program offers operators the chance to go out and prospect for dead or downed trees close to the existing road systems. These trees are still very valuable and if suitable ones can be found the Forest Service will draft up a contract and offer them for sale. However, whilst including the original the Mitkof project also includes an evolution of the microsale program to now include green trees whereby almost 1,500 acres will be approved for multiple harvest entries for microsales with either 95 or 98% basal area (aka tree) retention. The allowable harvest per sale would range from an individual green tree through to small openings not exceeding 1.5 acres. This means a unit is open to repeated small harvests until such a time 2 or 5% of the stands original tree area has been removed. It offers flexibility to the mills so they can extract what timber they want and, whilst the unit is open, when they want.
A standing dead spruce is felled to create music wood as part of the microsale program
on POW. This type of low impact harvest and value-added product is the future of the old-
growth timber industry in Southeast Alaska.
What we don’t like
Yet also included in the sale is almost 800 acres of clearcut and very low-retention old-growth harvest, amounting to over 10MMBF. Mitkof Island has already experienced decades of industrial scale logging and yet large areas are slated for clearcut logging. In the sale Environmental Assessment the Forest Service admits, “The total volume slated for ground-based harvest systems may well exceed the capacity of current small sales purchasers.” Therefore, by continuing to offer these large sales, that only one or two mills in the region can process, the USFS is essentially bias towards the needs of these large export based operators. In reality they should be developing policy and incentives to keep profits in Southeast Alaska and not liquidate large tracts of our old-growth assets in a few short years.
Scenes like this industrial scale clearcut on POW need to become a thing of the past, the
negative ecological impacts last for hundred of years. Plus very few mills can process units
of this scale. Those that can export most of the trees un-processed out of region, meaning
Alaskans are missing out on the profits from these ancient and unrenewable trees.
In addition to the clearcuts, the newly announced Decision Notice includes 2,000 acres of un-even aged harvest, where 66% of the trees are left standing. Again, the volume and cost of extracting this timber, via helicopter, only “seeks to meet the need of larger operators within the region.” It seems un-fair to be offering such large volumes of timber that small mills cannot bid on. Furthermore, whilst the selective harvest of this portion is certainly better than clearcuts, the 66% retention has no credible scientific backing as to its effectiveness at retaining old-growth forest function. We hope the Forest Service monitors these stands to assess how successful, or not, they really are.
The Mitkof Island timber sale seems to reflect the current split personality of the Forest Service. On the one hand there is big talk of the need to transit to a young-growth based timber industry. Whilst ensuring wise use of our old-growth forests, promoting the development of a diverse value-added in-situ timber processing economy; not exporting these potential profits elsewhere. Yet it continues to promote and support practices of the past that only temporarily prop-up Southeast Alaska’s timber economy and do not provide it with sure foundations for the future. A federal land-management agency is essentially responsible for the economic development of the Tongass. By definition this is neither its focus nor its authority, but by circumstance it is a major cog in the future and development of the region’s economy. With the appointment of a new Forest Supervisor on the Tongass, Earl Stewart, just announced we can only hope this pandering to the needs of the regions quick cut and export based operators becomes a thing of the past sooner rather than later. Otherwise, there will be no more suitable timber left to support our value-added, small-scale mills that provide more stable, well paid and long-term jobs per board foot of timber cut than traditional large clearcut operations.
Find out more detailed information on the project here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=29099