When Sitka Conservation Society was established, our founders wanted to ensure there were places in Southeast Alaska where future generations could experience the landscape of the Tongass free of any impact from logging. This was in 1967, when pulp mill logging was converting watersheds to wastelands of mud and stumps. At the time, the designation of a Wilderness Area, like the West Chichagof-Yakobi area, was one of the best tools at hand to protect these lands.

Historic SCS photo of Tongass field work.

When we talk about “Wilderness” here in Southeast Alaska, it’s important that we recognize the Lingít, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples; the original stewards of these lands, who have taken care of and utilized these lands and waters for hunting and gathering, transit, sacred spaces, and their ways of life since time immemorial. The Wilderness Act was created with an ideal of lands that are totally free from the impacts of humans. But over time, those of us who are not Indigenous have realized that humans have lived on, and occupied land in North America for thousands of years. As more people in our country increasingly understand our nation’s colonial past and come to terms with the legends and stories that don’t fully represent the reality, it is important that we adapt our understanding of “Wilderness” accordingly.

Wilderness stewardship is the work we do to take care of what the founders founders established. We also recognize that the Lingít, Haida, and Tsimshian Peoples were the original stewards of these lands and are grateful for the traditional knowledge and stewardship values that also inspire and guide our work. 

Forest Service conducting cultural monitoring in the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area. Photo by Lione Clare.

SCS formed by designating Wilderness Areas that would protect large areas of intact habitat, where all the natural processes of the temperate rainforest ecosystem could continue uninterrupted by humans. Through our stewardship projects in Southeast Alaska’s Wilderness Areas, we are helping protect the ecological condition of these special places. We are doing the work together with the U.S. Forest Service, helping them take care of the Tongass’s Wildernesses. We are also bringing new people into this work by recruiting volunteer stewards, businesses that use the Wilderness Areas, and communities, tribes, and organizations that live and work in and adjacent to the Wilderness Areas.  

Waterfall in the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area. Photo by Cora Dow.