The Sitka Conservation Society and US Forest Service are working with community support and partner organizations to encourage a regional management transition across the Tongass National Forest. Our ultimate goal is that the management of our public lands reflects the collective interests and values of the region's many stakeholders. We work tirelessly to ensure that our largest national forest remains healthy, vibrant and productive for generations to come. To achieve these long-term goals, we encourage a shift away from an unsustainable focus on old-growth timber harvesting to the stimulation of a diversified and resilient regional economy with responsible watershed management.
Part of a successful transition involves an active US Forest Service Fisheries and Watershed Program with strong community and partner support. Unfortunately, for the last several years federal funding, including those allocated for fisheries and watershed management in the Alaska region, have decreased around 5 to 10% annually. SCS strongly advocates for forest management and a Forest Service budget that recognizes the significance of salmon and other fish and wildlife across the Tongass.
We are excited that this year, the Fisheries and Watershed budget in the Alaska region has been boosted by about 15%! This means that several important programs and projects that were on the back burner due to insufficient funding, can now move forward.
I sat down with Greg Killinger, Fish, Watershed, and Soils Program Manager on the Tongass who was very excited about these budget changes. "After several years of declining funding, it is great to see an increase in funds available to get important fisheries, wildlife and watershed work done on the Tongass with our communities in Southeast Alaska."
The types of projects and programs the Fisheries and Watershed sector supports include the stabilization, maintenance and restoration of damaged fish and wildlife habitat, the replacement or removal of unnecessary culverts that currently obstruct fish movement, and the support of monitoring projects that protect and secure a stable future for our natural resources. Major project work is planned on Kuiu Island, Prince of Wales Island and our neighbor in Sitka - Kruzof Island.
We continue to encourage adjustments to the region's budget and changes to management scope and strategy that support a healthier future for our forest, fish, and communities. Thank you to the Forest Service for taking this initial step in the right direction! Cheers to this small victory, now go get outside and enjoy the brilliant and healthy landscape we are so fortunate to call home!
Think back to those boring days during school, when you would tune out the teacher's voice, stare out the window, and daydream about being outside. Well, if you were a student at Craig High School, no dreaming would be necessary.
For the past few years, Wilderness Rangers with the Forest Service have been working with classes at Craig High School to develop monitoring projects that get kids out, into the field, doing real research in designated Wilderness Areas.
The curriculum is part of the Marine Biology class and Alaska Natural History class in alternate years. Students design monitoring projects, using data from previous years. Projects include phenology studies of False Hellebore, measuring fork lengths of salmon smolt, testing amphibians for Chytrid fungus, camera trapping large mammals, and any other indicator students plan into a study. Along with the research, the students learn about the management of designated Wilderness areas and work through the process of applying for research permits. The goal is that by the end of the semester, the students will have all of the practical experience needed to conduct professional field research—and hopefully open doors to new careers and develop an appreciation of Wilderness along the way.
Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the class through the magic of video-teleconferencing. Stanford PhD candidate Lauren Oakes and I talked to the students about our work and answered questions. This year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the class in the field for two consecutive days.
Getting to the Karta Wilderness, like most Wilderness Areas in Southeast, is not an easy task. We drove from Craig to Hollis on the eastern side of Price of Wales Island. There, we met the students at the dock, donned floatcoats, and loaded up in the Forest Service skiff after a safety briefing. The skiff ride to the Karta River takes about 40 minutes.
On the beach, teacher Ashley Hutton gave succinct instructions to the students, "This is your project, you know what to do, you are the researchers, so now it's up to you." She also made the valuable point, "We're in a Wilderness area. If your equipment breaks, that's just part of doing field research--you'll just have to roll with it and adjust your project as needed." With that, the students took off to collect the requisite data, set overnight traps, and explore.
I helped two groups of students, one pair collecting stream quality data (dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, and macro invertebrate surveys) and one pair testing amphibian populations for the problematic Chytrid fungus. While they conducted their tests, I asked them what they planned to do after highschool. The answers varied: diesel mechanic, fisheries biologist, Armed Forces. Thinking back to myself at that age (vacillating between aspirations to be a college professor or punk-rock drummer depending on the day), I realize that these students will likely change their future plans wildly in coming years. But the experiences they've gained from this class—appreciation and understanding of Wilderness, practical and marketable research skills, resiliency when things don't go quite as planned—will grant them more options, more realistic expectations, and more perspective toward whatever paths their future holds.
SCS's involvement in Wilderness stewardship, including the Craig HS class, is made possible thorough a grant from the National Forest Foundation. Founded by Congress in 1991, the National Forest Foundation works to conserve, restore and enhance America's 193-million-acre National Forest System.
The Secure Rural Schools Act (previously referred to as "timber receipts") has provided approximately $100,000 for a group of volunteer Sitkans (the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee or RAC) to decide how the funds will be spent on the Sitka Ranger District.
Click here to learn more about the program and how to prepare a proposal.
Community driven projects ensure that the US Forest Service understands the priorities of the community in order to better shape their management activities, as well as influencing the distribution of funds throughout the Sitka Ranger District. For more information or assistance, contact Marjorie Hennessy, Coordinator for the Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group at firstname.lastname@example.org or 747-7509.
For more information on the RAC you can attend the meeting of the Sitka Rural Advisory Committee on June 6, 4pm, at the Sitka Ranger District (remember current RAC proposals are due April 30!). Community involvement in public lands management planning is a valuable opportunity for the public to have a say in how our lands are cared for!
Sitka is alive with activity! The herring have returned to our waters to spawn. Fish, fishermen, whales, birds and sea lions are crowding our oceans and coasts and the streets are starting to smell fishy.
Check out this little video SCS helped produce with Ben Hamilton that showcases our deliciously fresh fisheries-from stream to plate!
Designating land as Wilderness is the ultimate step to ensuring its protection in the long-term. Wilderness designation protects critical habitat from mining, logging, and development while still allowing people to use the land for hunting, fishing, subsistence gathering, recreating, and even making a living from guiding and operating tours.
Wilderness was integral to SCS's formation and we've maintained that commitment to Wilderness ever since. You can see the whole story of SCS's formation in the short documentary Echoes of the Tongass. But the short story is that in the 1960s large, industrial pulp mills were clear-cutting huge swaths of the Tongass with no end in sight. A small group formed in Sitka to fight the rampant logging surrounding their home. They saw the recent passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as a way for them to protect at least some of the Tongass. They drafted a proposal to designate the western third of Chichagof Island as Wilderness because of its diverse habitats, intact old-growth forests, and pristine wildlife habitats. It took 13 years of effort, but in 1980, the West Chichagof Wilderness became the first citizen initiated wilderness in Alaska.
Through the politics of the designation process, the extractive interest groups for the timber and mining lobby managed to carve large sections of some of the best habitat out of the designated land. Some of those excluded parcels like Ushk Bay and Poison Cove are currently being managed for logging. As the Forest Service puts it, these areas are managed for "Intense Development" which means they "Manage the area for industrial wood production…and maximum long-term timber production."
These areas were excluded because they are the best, most iconic old-growth rainforests in the world and provide habitat for important species like the coastal brown bear, Sitka deer, and pacific salmon. Unfortunately, that also means that they are the areas where clear-cut logging is cheapest and easiest.
But, since the 60s, the pulp mills have closed their doors. Nowadays, the timber industry only employs about 200 jobs. Our economy in Southeast Alaska has shifted to tourism and fishing which employ 10,200 and 8,000 jobs and contribute almost $2 Billion to the economy annually. Wilderness designation directly benefits tourism and fishing because it preserves both the habitat, which salmon need for spawning, and viewsheds the tourists flock to Alaska to see.
This year the Wilderness Act is 50 years old and we think it is a perfect time to finish the job our founders began almost a half century ago to designate ALL of West Chichagof as Wilderness. Please join us by sending a note of your support to our senators using the form below.
SCS will present the Sitka premiere ofThe Meaning of Wild Sunday, March 9, 2014 from 6-8pm at the Sitka Performing Arts Center. Tickets $7 available at Old Harbor Books (2/14/2014). Free for kids 10 and under.
The film will be accompanied by a selection of wilderness-themed short films, a photography exhibit and silent auction, and door prizes.[box style="0"]
The Meaning of Wild is now available for pre-order in DVD, Blu-Ray, digital download, or digital rental. Order your copy today![/box]
Meaning of Wild (25:00)Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography
The Meaning of Wild takes viewers on a journey through one of our nation's most wild and pristine landscapes – The Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The film follows wildlife cameraman Ben Hamilton as he travels by boat, plane, kayak and foot to capture and share the true value of Wilderness. Along the journey Ben encounters bears, calving glaciers, ancient forest, and harsh seas but it's the characters he meets along the way that bring true insight to his mission. The film highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. UltimatelyThe Meaning of Wildcelebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates. Visit the Meaning of Wild website.
Background: Sitka Conservation Society has been partnering with the USDA Forest Service for over 5 years to monitor and steward Wilderness areas in the Tongass. Part of SCS's mission is to educate and inspire community members to take care of their local public lands through projects like the Meaning of Wild.
This film was made possible through support from the Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, and the contributions of over 100 community members all of whom we would like to thank for making this film a reality.
Big Bear Country (26:11)Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography
Follow wildlife biologist Jon Martin, big game guide Kevin Johnson, conservationist Andrew Thoms and filmmaker Ben Hamilton as they travel by foot and packraft through the rich habitats of West Chichagof Wilderness. The team seeks out the coastal brown bear, a keystone species, to unravel the importance of protecting large tracks of intact habitat for wildlife population. Their journey takes them through the Lisianski-Hoonah Sound corridor, an area proposed but ultimately removed from the original citizen-intiated Wilderness proposal and a prime wildlife area, and over the Goulding Lakes, within the Wilderness boundary. Prepare yourself—you're about to enter into Big Bear Country.
Running Wild (4:00)Film by Alexander Crook
Getting out into wilderness, feeling the moss underfoot, legs pumping uphill, breathing clean air, and taking a minute to reflect at the top of a climb—these are the things that inspire backcountry trailrunner Nick Ponzetti to travel to designated Wilderness areas. Follow Nick on a run through the heart of Wilderness to find out how his love of running has inspired a passion for protecting wild places.Adam Andis
This short film, shot in South Baranof Wilderness area shows how designated Wilderness is integral to us all.
Photographer Adam Andis has been exploring the remote Wilderness areas of Southeast Alaska for the past 8 years as a private kayak guide and manager of the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. This collection of photos includes 24 images depicting the raw beauty of 14 Wilderness Areas in the Tongass. Prints will be available to purchase through silent auction at the event with a portion of the proceeds being donated to SCS.
Door Prizes:Attendees can enter their ticket stubs into a drawing for a number of great door prizes donated by local businesses including:
2 REI Flash Packs from REI Anchorage
Coupon for Whale Watching tour from Aquatic Alaska Adventures
Gifts from Sound Sailing
2 copies ofThe Meaning of Wild DVD
Last week, after much anticipation, SCS was able to get the Young Growth bike shelter installed at the Sitka Sound Science Center. If you haven't had a chance to check it out, we encourage you to do so. It's the product of multiple community partnerships and hard work. This summer SCS produced a video about the bike shelter and it features time lapse footage of the shelter going up and an interview with Randy Hughey, the instructor at Sitka High who designed the shelter along with local craftsman Dan Sheehan.
To celebrate, we will be holding a small dedication celebration on Tuesday, January 28th, at 3:00 PM. If you are interested in a bike ride, meet up at Totem Square at 2:45 for a quick ride down to the shelter. We will be thanking people who have helped along the way and have some light refreshments.
We can't thank all of these great people enough for their help with this project!
National Forest Foundation, CCLS program Randy Hughey and Dan Sheehan Sitka Sound Science Center Chris Pearson and Coastal Excavation City of Sitka Parks and Recreation Mike Litman – Precision Boatworks US Forest Service Bill Thomason Mel Cooke Good Faith Lumber Keith Landers H & L salvage S&S Contractors Baranof Island Brewing Company SCS members, staff, interns and volunteers
House Bill 77, or the "Silencing Alaskans' Act," is up for vote in the state senate this legislative term. The passage of this bill would cut Alaskans out of permitting decisions for any project on state lands, particularly projects that could destroy salmon habitat. The bill would give only the unelected Department of Natural Resources Commissioner power to approve permits without having to notify the public of potential impacts unless the impacts are deemed by the Commissioner as "significant and irreparable." HB 77 also omits citizens, non-profits, and tribes from being able to apply for in-stream water flow reservations that protect fish and wildlife habitat, or be used for recreation and parks, navigation and transportation, and sanitation and water quality.
As of now, the average citizen can apply for an in stream water flow reservation to protect important salmon streams in their community. This will go away however if HB 77 is approved.
This is where you come in. If you are in Senator Stedman's district, give him a call and let him know you appreciate him standing up for the voice of Alaskans by opposing HB 77. The Senator's phone number is 907-465-3873.
Want to take it a step further? Get in touch with me and we'll work together to represent Southeast's disapproval of HB 77. The bill goes out on the Senate's floor this session, so we gotta act fast. Call 907-747-7509 and ask for Ray.
Subsistence in Southeast Alaska: The Tongass National Forest Service's Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program
Although we often associate our National Forests with trees and silviculturalists, BY FAR, the most valuable resource that the Tongass National Forest provides is in the production of all 5 species of wild Pacific salmon. Managing salmon habitat and the fish populations within the forest is one of the key roles of National Forest Service staff in Alaska. The Tongass National Forest is the largest National Forest in the United States. Its 17 million acres is home to 32 communities that use and very much depend on the resources that this forest provides.
On this National Forest, fisheries and watershed staff are probably the most critical positions on the entire Forest and are responsible for the keystone species in the temperate rainforest ecosystem—Salmon--a $1 Billion per year commercial fishery that serves up delicious salmon to people around the nation and the world, not to mention subsistence harvests that feed thousands of rural community members in Alaska. These staff also carry the legacy of thousands of years of sustainable management on their shoulders.Like nothing else, salmon have shaped the cultures and the lifestyle of the peoples and communities of Southeast Alaska. The Tlingit and Haida people who have called the Tongass home for thousands of years, have learned and adapted to the natural cycles of salmon. Deeply held cultural beliefs have formed unique practices for "taking care of" and ensuring the continuance of salmon runs. As documented by Anthropologist Thomas Thornton in his book, Being and Place Among the Tlingit, "the head's of localized clan house groups, known as yitsati, keeper of the house, were charged with coordinating the harvest and management of resource areas" like the sockeye salmon streams and other important salmon runs.
The staff of the Fisheries and Watershed program has integrated Alaska Native organizations, individuals, and beliefs into salmon and fisheries management programs on the Tongass and have hired talented Alaska Native individuals as staff in the USDA National Forest Service. Through the efforts of the Fisheries and Watershed program and its staff, a variety of formal agreements, joint programs, and multi-party projects that manage and protect our valuable salmon resources have been developed. The programs on the Tongass are case-studies for the rest of the world where lands and resources are owned by the public while being managed through the collaborative efforts of professional resource managers in government agencies, local peoples with intimate place-based knowledge, and involve multi-party stakeholders who use and depend on the resource.
The Tongass is America's Salmon Rainforest and the Forest Service's Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program is a stellar example of how we manage a National Forest to produce and provide salmon for people across the entire country as well as the people who call this forest their home.
One of the things that struck me instantly when I moved to Sitka was the number of jarred foods I saw on people's shelves. I moved up from Oregon where canning foods was either considered "trendy" or outdated--it was a lost art. But here, it's an art that is practiced every year. In fact, according to the 2013 Sitka Food Assessment, 77% of Sitkans preserved or processed food in the last 12 months.
1 in every 3 Sitkans jar up food every year! And while that is an impressive number, it's one we want to increase. In the case of an emergency shelf-stable foods are incredibly important. Canning foods is a way to build our individual and community food resiliency.
And it's another way to connect to the Tongass. Knowing the seasons through food harvest forms a relationship to the natural world, a dependency even. It's sustenance and subsistence—it's a way of life. Many foragers even have secret spots for berries, wild greens, or mushrooms. There's a sense of ownership for these treasured places and they invite stewardship.
Every year hundreds of pounds of berries hang off their branches and freezer bags are filled with future muffins, smoothies, and pies in mind. And while these gems are absolutely delicious frozen, they are quite yummy canned into jams, jellies, syrups, and juice.
The Sitka Conservation Society offered a food preservation class this winter, turning frozen huckleberries into jam, jelly, and fruit leather. If you're interested in a canning class, call the Sitka Conservation Society at 747.7509 or email email@example.com. If we get enough interest we'd be happy to organize another class for our members!
Photo Credit: Christine Davenport