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 protected] If we get enough interest we'd be happy to organize another class for our members!
Photo Credit: Christine Davenport
On the day before Halloween, the US Forest Service announced they were going to reduce the already insufficient $1.1 million dollar Wilderness and Recreation budget for the entire Tongass National Forest by over half a million dollars.
This is "budgetary clear-cutting" with the Forest Service already proposing theclosure of 12 cabinsalongside a reduction in the staff positions responsible for maintaining trails, keeping cabins stocked and safe, and processing the permits for guides and tour operators.
Cabin closures and loss of Wilderness and Recreation staff overall signifies a lack of prioritization of the tourism and recreation industries here in the Tongass National Forest. The tourism industry alone racks in$1 Billion annuallywith thousands of visitors coming every year to experience the wilderness of Southeast Alaska.
The Forest Service is not fulfilling its promise of theTongass Transition. The Transition is a framework the agency adopted in 2010 aimed at creating jobs in sectors like recreation and tourism while moving away from Southeast's outdated timber management program. For instance, next year the Forest Service has estimates that just one timber sale will COST taxpayers $15.6 Million (that's over 25 times the entire Wilderness and Rec budget). The Transition (were it to be enacted) would dictate that sustainable and profitable programs like Recreation and Wilderness would take precedence over such wasteful timber projects.
The Forest Service enacted the Transition three years ago. Now we want them to take action to save our recreation and tourism opportunities from these budgetary reductions. We need to support what sustains our livelihoods here in the Tongass rather than reduce them year after year.
Contact Senator Begich and Senator Murkowski. Ask them to encourage the Forest Service to take action on the Tongass Transition by reallocating their budgets to make Wilderness and Recreation a priority and to push for more federal funding for the Forest Service. Email, while important, are not as effective as written letters. If you would like help drafting a letter, contact SCS at [email protected] or call (907) 747-7509.
Richard Nelsonand Hank Lentfer will be featured at the next Natural History Seminar series presentation titled "Chasing Wild Sounds"December 5th, 7:30pmat UAS. Nelson and Lentfer will discuss their project "Voices of Glacier Bay National Park", an effort to create a library documenting natural sounds from the park, including everything from the subtle scratches of a crab claws on sand grains to the reverberating trumpets of humpback whales echoing across the bay.
If you have questions, please contact Kitty LaBounty at 747-9432 or[email protected]
Funding for the seminar series is provided by a grant to the Sitka Sound Science Center by the Sitka Permanent Charitable Trust and by the University of Alaska Southeast.
This week on Voices of the Tongass, Margot O'Connell gives us a look into the unique set of skills she has developed by growing up in the Tongass. To hear Margot's story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
When we ask Margot O'Connell about her plans for the future, she tells us something we already know - something everyone who knows Margot knows about her: she loves books. "Growing up, books were sort of my entire universe," she says, "and that's still a big part of my life. I want to be a librarian. I'm going to go to grad school in a few years, I want to work in a library." Honestly, we are inspired by her sense of direction and her long term goals. But when we ask Margot about what she's doing now, she laughs out loud. "Well, growing up in Sitka you develop a weird skill set, so since 2008 I've been organizing and developing marine debris clean up on the outer coasts around Sitka. So kind of on accident I've become the marine debris coordinator for Sitka."
So library school is waiting because after graduation Margot felt "a compulsion to come home." And although Margot is humble, it's no accident that she has found herself involved with marine debris. She's been helping with the program for the last six years, and is now in charge of everything from organizing clean-ups and estimating fuel costs to partnering with community art programs and applying for grants. Not to mention the actual business of going out on the F/V Cherokee for a week at time to record what they can find on the beach. "We can only get on the beach June - September because of the weather. We'll take the Cherokee in, then a skiff, then a zodiac. We'll see what's there. We've expanded our mission to include tsunami tracking. So we'll record what we find, including invasive species. And then we'll actually remove all of the debris that we find on the beach."
Margot has never thought of herself as a scientist, but part of marine debris involves picking up shifts at the Sitka Sound Science Center, and teaching visitors about the local aquarium. She's surprised by how much she does know, even if it didn't come to her out of a book. Margot says she's learned through osmosis simply from growing up in Southeast. "The touch tanks we have [at the aquarium], they look like the tide pools we grew up playing in," she says. "Growing up here you just have this deep ingrained, inherited knowledge about the landscape and the environment." It's knowledge that she has put to use through her position with the marine debris program. Since she started in 2008, the program has cleaned more than 70,000 pounds of refuse off the beaches of Southeast Alaska.The program will miss her when she follows her passion for history and books to librarian school, but Margot is pretty sure she'll be back. "I guess I always had two separate worlds," she says. "I loved where I was living, loved my school, but I really like to be in this environment. I love to come home."