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.
With so many programs already dedicated to teaching students about fish biology and lifecycle, The Sitka Conservation Society chose to take a different angle. We wanted to answer the question, "How did fish end up on our dinner plate?" Modeled after the Farm to School program, we developed a series of interactive lessons to illuminate the steps fish take from stream to plate. We invited a number community members and organizational partners into the classroom to share their part of the story.
We began with third graders in early October by teaching students about fishing methods. We answered the question, "How are fish caught?" Through a number of silly, hands-on activities, students learned the differences between commercial, sport, and traditional harvesting methods. To reinforce commercial methods, local fishermen were invited to give presentations on their chosen method(s). One fisherman father, Dan Falvey, went so far as to have students set a longline with baited hooks (magnets). After a good soak, students landed their catch… of paperclips!
Fishing, a familiar pastime for many of the students, was well understood. But less known was what to do with them next. Students were invited on a tour of Sitka Sound Seafoods, a local seafood processor, where they saw a boat unload fish, a halibut fillet demonstration, shrimp, crab, and sea cucumbers processed and packaged. Back in the classroom, Alaska Native Tom Gamble, took students through the process of gutting, filleting, and preserving the catch. He shared native traditions and emphasized respect for the salmon throughout the entire process for feeding him and his family.
Next in line was cooking, a final and very important step in the journey from stream to plate. Students gathered around wisps of steam as they watched Alaska Native, Charlie Skukla Jr., place fire-hot rocks into a traditional bentwood box. In less than minute the water began to boil chunks of local fish. Boiled fish couldn't be simpler and the students loved it. One class got to work with Chef Colette Nelson of Ludvigs Bistro. Together students created delectable tastes of sesame salmon and toasted rockfish. Paired with cooking, we taught students why fish is good for their bodies. They all seemed to know that seafood was good for them but few could articulate why. Students learned a simple mantra--that "fish are healthy for our head, heart, and make us happy." This really stuck; over 70% of participating students increased their health knowledge after the program.
The underlying thread that connected all of these steps was conservation. After playing a game to demonstrate a salmon food web, students learned how fish are connected to the livelihood of other plants, animals, and habitats. They learned that salmon feed the Tongass, not because the forest has teeth but because it absorbs all the nutrients of the salmon carcasses that act as a fertilizer. Students were also asked to consider what would happen if people overfished. Along with extreme answers like, "We would die," were other answers like, "Other animals need fish to survive," and "They won't be able to reproduce." It is our hope at SCS that students feel more connected to the food they eat and that they now know it is our responsibility to protect and care for the habitat and waterways that are home to these incredible animals. --Dec. 2011[gallery link="file" orderby="post_date"]
In the summer of 2010, the SCS Wilderness crew packed up and headed north for an attempt at circumnavigating Yakobi Island by kayak. The weather and health of the crew were not cooperating, so paddling around Yakobi was not an option. Instead, the crew traveled to Stag Bay across Lisianski Strait, which turned out to be a fantastic destination.
This is a test post about the Starrigavan Restoration Project.
The double-salmon motif that Rhonda Reaney created for the Sitka Conservation Society combines the sleek elegance of the sea-run sockeye with the focused intent of the spawning female sockeye. The double salmon reflects the interconnectedness of the Ocean environment and the lands and waters of the Tongass Rainforests. Rhonda describes the top salmon as being full of life. The body incorporates human symbols with an eye representing the nutrients the salmon collects in the ocean.. The bottom Salmon is ready to spawn. Rhonda did not add any life to this fish other than the round-eggs it is going to lay to start a new cycle of life. The shape of the back represents the motion of the fish in the act of spawning. Available in t-shirts and hoodies in the SCS store.
Rhonda Reany was the youngest of eleven children. She grew up surrounded by talented brothers who loved to carve. As they became allergic to carving wood, she would be handed the designs and she slowly learned. Since she was young, she often watched George Benson carve. Learning from his work, talking with elders, other artists and through books at the local library, Rhonda quickly developed into a very talented artist.
My mother who's taught me how to respect the land. We have always been taught to respect the land."
Her art is inspired by values distilled in her by her mother and father. Her mother always taught her that you take what you need and to always give back. Rhonda incorporates her mother into every piece of art that she completes by adding a simple, elegant cross.
The Sitka Conservation Society works to protect the Wild Salmon of the Tongass National Forest. With over 6,000 spawning streams home to Pink, Chum, Sockeye, Coho and Chinook Salmon, Salmon are a keystone species on the Tongass and a crucial link between the forest and the sky. These Salmon are an essential part of Sitka's economy, culture and food supply. The Tongass National Forest produces 30% of Wild Salmon in Alaska from just 5% of the land. Statistics prove that the most economically valuable resource that the Tongass National Forest produces is Salmon. SCS has protected Tongass Salmon through our historic efforts to achieve Wilderness Designation for the West Chichagof Wilderness Area— 260,000 acres of salmon-producing watersheds. SCS continues to advocate for land management on the Tongass that focuses on restoring and protecting critical salmon habitat and intact watersheds and has helped to catalyze important Salmon habitat restoration projects on Baranof and Chichagof Islands.
Rust Lake Expedition 2010[wpcol_1third id="" class="" style=""]
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[pullquote_right]Goldfishing- (adj.) 1. the act of completing a task half-heartedly 2. "half-assing" it Etymology: derived from the process of smoking a cigar by puffing out one's cheeks without inhaling the smoke.[/pullquote_right]One could characterize our hike from Rust Lake in the interior of West Chichagof out to the head of Patterson Bay as many things: ridiculously soggy, heinous bushwhacking, an exercise in patience, pathetically jovial, steep, slippery, but no one could ever characterize it as goldfishing, a term we arrived at after a long hiking day while smoking the fine cigars Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of SCS, sent with us.
Matt Goff, Kitty LaBounty and I flew into Rust Lake on the morning of June 8thunder bright blue skies, unloaded the plane and immediately took off to the alpine. One major intention of the trip, was to survey a band of Karst topography near Rust Lake. The Karst area is an erosional formation of a band of limestone bedrock that runs diagonally across Chichagof Island. The area is unique in the species of plants that can grow on it's unusual surface. Kitty and Matt were interested in comparing the presence and absence of a number of alpine plant species between the limestone and surrounding bedrock. As the pictures show, this area is a perfect subject area for comparison because of the obvious delineation between the two different bedrock regimes. We finished our 11 hour "day" hike by crashing, sliding, and bashing our way down the Karst ridge back to camp at around 9:30 pm.
Karst topography is formed when soluble bedrock, like limestone, is eroded away by slightly acidic water, such as rain. It can create some truly bizarre landscapes on both small and large scales. At the Rust Lake site, the Karst band abuts other mafic (characterized by high magnesium and iron (ferric) content) bedrock, making it a perfect site to note presence and especially absence of certain plant species.
Matt and Kitty spent the morning taking plant surveys along the gravel bars of the river flowing in to Rust Lake. Last year, Kitty had noted invasive dandelions along this stream. The population seemed small enough that manual removal may be an eradication option. This year, the population had grown slightly, but we still manually removed all dandelions we could find (approximately 200). We hope that continued hand removal and monitoring will prove effective in this area. After all the backbreaking, rugged, and dangerous work of weeding dandelions, I spent a good portion of the noon hours napping on the bank under the sun.
Peggy Marcus, Supervisory Natural Resource Specialist for the Sitka Ranger District of the Forest Service, and Lily Mihalik from Raven Radio in Sitka were scheduled to fly in on the afternoon of June 9th. As I napped, the winds picked up and the weather came in forcing them to reschedule for the next morning.
I called Forest Service Dispatch at 6:00 am: "Ceiling at 1500 ft, light winds from the South, good visibility". Rust Lake is in a bowl at about 870 feet. The Forest Service needs at least, 500ft of to fly into the lake. That didn't give much margin for error. After a couple of hours, Kitty, Matt, and I began calculating the amount of extra weight we would be carrying down to Patterson ourselves, since it seemed very unlikely Peggy and Lily would get through. As we debated, we heard a plane engine, and shortly thereafter saw the tiny float plane dive in just under the ceiling through the cut where the river flows out to the Pacific.
With Lily and Peggy in the field, we packed up camp and headed for our next camp, an alpine lake under another Karst band across the valley from the first.
After morning coffee on the 10th, we packed up and headed for Patterson Bay. The end of the alpine lake and the beginning of the slope to Patterson marks the boundary of the Wilderness Area. One can't help but wonder if the beautiful weather was directly related to being with in the wilderness boundaries, because as soon as we crossed the boundary, the rain began and continued throughout the day. Armed with aerial photos and GPS, the crew hiked down a very slippery and steep ridge into the valley bottom of Patterson. By late evening we had crashed and thwacked through more devils club and alder thickets we could handle, but we were still a way off from Patterson Bay. Finally, hungry and exhausted, we saw an opening in the trees.
Unfortunately, rather than finding Patterson Bay on the other side of the tree line, we discovered a massive beaver operation that didn't show up on our out-dated aerial photos. The slues created by the damming we too deep and to wide to cross. We circled around and plunged back into the devils club. After a while, apparently walking in circles, it started to get dark. Eleven hours of bushwhacking in the rain had drained us. We found a spot in the forest, built a fire, and set up camp. As Peggy, Lily, and I collected wood, Matt and Kitty scouted the way ahead only to find out that we were under a mile to the beach at Patterson!
In the morning, the weather had calmed down and we were hopeful for a successful float plane pick up. Finally on the beach, however, the wind changed and began gusting. The plane came over the ridge behind us and circled a number of times, contemplating the take-off potential in the current conditions. Satisfied, he landed. We took off again, into the margins of a squall. There were some initial bumps as testified by the bruises Kitty's fingers left on my leg, but overall the flight back to Sitka was smooth and beautiful thanks to the pilots at Harris Air.
Check out the radio stories of the trip on Raven Radio:
Red Bluff Bay is one of the most iconic places on Baranof Island. The area gets its name from the red, ultramafic (meaning high iron content) of the bedrock outcrop that marks the entrance of the bay. SCS's Wilderness Crew, accompanied by author Nick Jans, targeted the bluffs as a prime environment to survey for rare and sensitive plants. Red Bluff is also a popular destination for travelers and small cruise boats, so it was also important to monitor the base-line levels of human use to ensure that we don't "love this place to death."
Goulding Lakes are a series of three large lakes right in the middle of West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness area. In the summer of 2010, the SCS Wilderness Crew comprised of SCS staff and a number of volunteers, flew into the largest of the lakes with the goal of survey priority areas as they backpacked north to Stag Bay. Check out the video to see how the adventure unfolded.