Today we (Terri, Skylar, Yajaira, Chris, Ryan and Bob) went to the estuary meadows of the Hamilton River to look for a place to install a trail camera. We are hoping to capture photos of Moose, Bears, Wolves, Mink, Marten and other wildlife that may be using the area. We took the Hamilton River Trail down to the meadows but we did not want to install the camera on the people trail, even though it is likely a popular trail for wildlife too, because we did not want to be taking pictures of people without them knowing about it.
We talked about how vegetation provides food and cover for wildlife and how if we understand how to identify food and cover values in wildlife habitat we can use that information to choose a good location for setting up the trail camera. We also talked about animal sign and how there are two important categories for it: ephemeral sign only lasts for a little while, like tracks and scat; and perennial sign lasts a long time like well-worn trails and sign trees.
We decided to pick an area that provided food and cover for as many species as possible so we looked for some big trees (cover) that were next to shrub thickets (foods in the form of berries and woody browse), meadows (food in the form of herbaceous leaves, stems and roots), and the river (food in the form of salmon).
After hiking to a spot with good food and cover values, we looked for perennial wildlife sign and found both a well-worn trail as well as a set of sign trees. There was even some ephemeral sign in the form of bear scat and a bear bed along the trail (look close in the photo). We found a good mounting tree that could take in the view of the trail and we set up the camera. Then we tested the camera by taking turns walking the trail like a bear or wolf might do.
That was fun.
I participated in an Emerald Edge community exchange to Hoonah along with SSP community catalysts from Kasaan (Carrie Sykes) and Kake (Loretta Gregory), as well as Dawn and her son Shawan Jackson from Kake, Hydaburg High School student Joe Hillaire and Huna Totem and Huna Heritage Foundation employees Joe Jacobson and Sarah Dybdahl. We organized this trip because the folks in Hydaburg, Kasaan and Kake are interested in both the Hoonah Community Forest project happening in Hoonah and the Icy Strait Point tourism destination.
The eight of us converged in Hoonah on July 12 and spent the first half of the day visiting with folks at the Hoonah Indian Association to learn about the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership. This project represents an all-hands, all-lands approach to natural resource management that is currently employing 5 community members to create a comprehensive and consistent inventory of forests, streams and roads in the watersheds that surround Hoonah; including specialized studies on salmon habitat productivity, deer habitat productivity and berry production.
The jurisdictional patchwork and forest conditions are similar in most rural Southeast Alaskan communities. The watersheds that surround these communities have been logged very thoroughly and over a relatively short period of time. The logging road systems have become integral to both the subsistence and cash economies of these communities but the costs of maintenance currently far exceed the revenue production now that the first phase of logging is over. The question today for these communities is: Now What? Are there ways to generate revenue that are not currently in operation? Are there important habitat restoration needs that could benefit the local subsistence economies? If there is not enough funding to keep all the roads open, how do we prioritize which ones to invest in for ongoing use? Through the HNFP Community Forest initiative we are tackling these questions with a combination of cutting edge science, community engagement and collaboration for greater overall collective impact.
The second half of the day was led by Joe Jacobson of Huna Totem, the local ANCSA tribal village corporation. Joe works as one of the primary managers of their Icy Strait Point tourism facility, a premiere tourist destination that caters to the cruise ship industry. This facility is sited at an old salmon cannery (1912-1932) that Huna Totem restored and opened to its first ship in 2014. Icy Strait Point, or ISP as it is called locally, is at the heart of an economic growth period for the community that is providing revenue for the village corporation, its shareholders, as well as a number of local businesses that are popping up to take advantage of the seasonal influx of visitors that are brought in through ISP. In 2016, there were approximately 250,000 visitors that came through ISP to this small community of just 800!
The folks from Kake and Kasaan are particularly interested in ISP as a model of cultural and eco-tourism that they would like to replicate, though probably at a much smaller scale. Joe and the folks at Huna Totem were kind enough to participate in this SSP and Emerald Edge shared-learning field trip and share with the folks from other rural communities in Southeast what ISP is, how it operates, what has gone well, what has been challenging, and brainstorm ideas for how these lessons might be applied in their local communities.
One of the funnest outcomes of the ISP tour was “catalyzed” by the high school students that had joined us on this trip. ISP employs quite a few Hoonah High School students and of course Shawan and Joe spotted some that they knew from sports and other regional affairs. Before we knew it, Joe and Shawan had broken away from our group and held a quick meeting with one of their friends that resulted in a complimentary ride down the ISP zip line! Great example of social capital in action! Suffice it to say, we all learned a lot and had a great time doing it!
Next steps include the development of a workforce recruitment plan to help ISP find prospective employees from other villages in Southeast Alaska, exploration of youth programming opportunities that can dovetail with ISP and the HNFP project, and future trips for ISP managers to Kake and Kasaan for ongoing consultation on their interests in developing unique cultural tourism experiences like what is offered in Hoonah.
I participated in an Emerald Edge community exchange to British Columbia along with community catalysts from Kasaan (Carrie Sykes), Kake (Loretta Gregory) and Sitka (Chandler O’Connell). Our friend Michael Reid of TNC Canada arranged the trip for us so that we could learn from folks in Vancouver, Bella Bella and Klemtu about their Supporting Early Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) Community Initiative program, Coastal Guardian program, Qqs Projects Society and the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD).
The four of us flew down on Sunday night. Michael suggested we stay at Skwachàys Lodge in downtown Vancouver. This is a “Social Enterprise” that I first heard about while taking the Community Economic Development course at SFU a couple years ago. The lodge is very nice and includes an excellent native arts gallery, as well as native art throughout the lodge, including unique installations in each room. Profits from the business are used to support an artist in residence program, many of whom have artwork in the gallery.
After we checked in at the lodge we had a very “Portlandia” experience while ordering a late night dinner at a local restaurant called the flying pig. It took the waiter about fifteen minutes to go over the beer menu, complete with descriptions of the aroma, foretaste, aftertaste, overtones, undertones, etc. that was fit for a stage. By the time the waiter got to Chandler she knew to head him off before he got started and just asked for an amber. Food was good (so was the beer of course).
We had nothing scheduled on Monday until dinner so we each had a free day to explore the city, visit with local friends or catch up on office work. We met for lunch at a Taqueria that was a favorite for the group that participated in the CED course in 2014 (especially Marjorie).
In the evening we met with Michael, Lara and Jana for dinner and had a nice meal while we learned about the Coastal Stewardship Network (CSN) and where things are at with data management systems. We identified many common interests and discussed opportunities for a community exchange between folks who work for CSN and communities in southeast Alaska.
On Tuesday we flew out to Bella Bella. We arrived at about noon at the ~ 1,200 person Heiltsuk village and immediately jumped on a Sea Taxi to head out to Koeye (pronounced “kway”) lodge. After running for about two hours we arrived at the camp where we were greeted by Larry (Qqs Executive Director) and Chris (Koeye caretaker). The kids were all out in the field so we immediately got a tour of the facilities from Larry, including a traditionally constructed longhouse.
After the tour and getting ourselves tucked into our cabins we sat down with Larry to learn more about the history of Koeye. It was an awe-inspiring story of vision, leadership and the right thing at the right time. We learned that Koeye’s origins, like the Kake Culture Camp, stemmed from Bella Bella’s interest in doing something about teen suicide in the village during the late 70s and early 80s. Larry was originally brought to the village to help combat this issue, which soon led to a program that dovetailed a “reoccupation” of traditional territory with a family oriented approach to reconnecting with traditional cultural values in several remote cabin settings. The Koeye lodge got its start by being next to one of the first 10 cabins that were built throughout the territory. After being acquired by the Qqs Projects Society and serving a number of years providing refuge and a place for families to heal and grow stronger together, the original Koeye lodge burned down. This tragedy served to further galvanize the growing circle of people involved in this good work and they were able to raise funding to scale this work up and build the village-like facilities we see today at Koeye.
There are innumerable layers of empowerment work that Larry shared with us as part of the origin story of Koeye; from the way the land and original lodge were acquired and how the new lodge buildings were constructed using local wood milled in Bella Bella, to the restoration of the hereditary chiefs’ role in community governance and growing local capacity for the community to blend traditional ecological knowledge with scientific approaches to natural resource planning; and much more, too much for me to go into here. For the purposes of this brief field report I will add that about the time the lodge was being rebuilt after the fire there was a joining of forces with the newly formed Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) Community Initiative and together they became a stronghold for cultural revitalization on the BC coast.
I ended up missing out on the first night with the kids because I passed out early and did not wake up for dinner. Oh man did I need it too. I was woken up briefly a couple times after the dinner hour: the first time by the gleeful laughter of the kids as they played various forms of tag just outside the cabin door; the second time by the voices of the kids singing traditional songs around the campfire.
Our second day at Koeye was another sunny one, even to the point of being hot! The kids headed out early to explore up the Koeye river and go for a swim. We stayed back and spent some more time with Larry before he took us up the river in a skiff to do some exploring of our own. What a fantastic estuary! And a sockeye system to boot! Brown bear and wolf tracks mixed in with the kids’ footprints on the sandy beaches near the mouth of the river. Dungeness crab scurried away from the boat as we plied the sandy shallows on the way up the estuary. Mergansers, loons, eagles, kingfishers, etc. all clear indicators of the riches that this watershed provides to its inhabitants. Larry dropped us off in a lush meadow at the upper reaches of where the tide influences the river, right next to a Grizzly Bear rub tree and set of “hot-feet” (my favorite kind of animal sign!). If Larry had not won over my heart by then, the rub tree and hot-feet would have certainly done the job:) While we were stretching our legs in the meadow I took the opportunity to fly the drone and got some cool video of this lovely spot.
The Koeye watershed was designated by the Heiltsuk people as a conservation area through the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. There is a detailed management plan (developed by the Heiltsuk Nation) for this and other areas of ecological and cultural significance in the Heiltsuk traditional territory that is implemented and kept up to date by the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD) based in Bella Bella. An overview version of this plan is linked in a paragraph below.
After returning from the boat ride up the river we had dinner with the kids. On this night, and over the course of the 3 days we spent at Koeye, I had conversations with young people, school teachers and SEAS coordinators that spoke volumes about the value of the SEAS program to them personally, and to the present and future vitality of their culture and communities. I was particularly struck by conversations I had with a few adults on the whale tail deck where they told me about how SEAS not only introduced traditional cultural practices to the young people in their schools, but also introduced these practices to many adults, including themselves. They described themselves as part of a lost generation; between where traditional cultural practices brought punishment from missionaries in the past and the cultural revitalization that is happening today.
We also discussed how well it was working to have kids from Klemtu and Bella Bella staying together in an environment where they couldn’t fall into the trap of isolating themselves by using their electronics or even their social cliques. We talked about how present day politics between Nations and within villages can undermine the work of cultural revitalization and recognized the power the Koeye experience could have in reducing future political conflicts by helping the young people from the different villages to form bonds of friendship at an early age. Here again the SEAS coordinators and community school teachers at camp described themselves as missing out on this kind of opportunity when they were young but also appreciating their chance to form similar bonds with the coordinators and teachers from other villages today.
At Koeye lodge (and the Qqs Projects Society in general), the programs are guided by principles for youth education, environmental awareness and cultural awareness. On our third day, and the kids’ third day, the emphasis was on cultural knowledge. We started out with a leisurely morning around “the big house” with the kids playing games and me flying the drone. I also had a chance to walk the property (80 hectares) with Larry to talk about opportunities to integrate some terrestrial restoration activities as part of the programming there (the property was clear-cut about 30 years back). After lunch we all headed down to the longhouse for singing and dancing. We only had about an hour before the sea taxi returned for our departure but it was clear from watching the group learning to celebrate their culture together that the enthusiasm was sincere and that the whole experience was a kind of healing and strengthening of culture that also served to nurture future leaders who will carry on these traditions throughout the BC coast.
The ride back to Bella Bella was stunning, though a little choppy. We arrived in the late afternoon and immediately went over to the HIRMD office to meet with their staff. Kelly, the HIRMD Director, was a very gracious host and fed us dinner while we learned about the amazing array of programs and projects that they are currently managing. I was particularly impressed with their stories of restoring a local sockeye run, regaining access to herring eggs, the extensive geospatial mapping of traditional use data they have achieved, and the overall level of influence this office has over the use of natural resources in their traditional territory. Here again there is just too much to go into any detail (plus our brains were packed so full by the end of the night I am certain that I can’t remember half of what we heard) but please explore these links to learn more about the many cool projects they are working on in Heiltsuk territory.
We were invited back to the HIRMD office for a breakfast herring eggs and to share some of the work that is happening via the SSP that the Heiltsuk people may be interested in. We shared the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership, Path 2 Prosperity business plan competition, some good stories about salmon habitat restoration (a new interest at HIRMD), the success of the community carving sheds in Hoonah, Hydaburg and Kasaan, the development of the cultural tourism campus in Kasaan and overall how the SSP operates. Folks were grateful for the overview and were interested in doing an exchange to the north to learn more first hand.
At the end of our visit HIRMD Chair and Heiltsuk Chief William brought out a family heirloom; a Haida dancing apron that includes a Chilkat blanket woven in. He brought it out to show us because he knew that Carrie would be particularly interested in this item of shared heritage. While watching the group learn about the apron I was struck by how imaginary the border is, at least in some ways, between the US and BC; that in fact it is truly One Coast. Many nations have inhabited, and will inhabit the lands and waters of British Columbia and southeast Alaska – but a trip like this really drives home the basics about our connections to one another through the land and the sea, and our common interests in cultural diversity, youth education, wild food gathering and the awe-inspiring beauty of the emerald edge that we all have the great fortune to inhabit.
Hot News - New SSP Catalyst Hired in Hoonah!
The SSP is getting a new community catalyst to work with our existing partners at the Hoonah Indian Association (HIA). This new hire is named Ian Johnson and he is a recent graduate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Ian will be the primary point of contact for the HNFP and will be responsible for making sure the HIA Stewardship crew has everything they need to complete the various data collection and project implementation tasks that get thrown their way. Ian will also be running point on field data quality control, facilitating communications between all stakeholders and the community of Hoonah, and coordinating the ongoing evolution of this effort as it shifts from the inventory and assessment phases of work to the planning, implementation and monitoring phases of work. Ian will be arriving in Hoonah in late March with an official start date at HIA in early April.
The HNFP interdisciplinary technical team will be meeting in Juneau on April 11 to officially kick off the 2016 field season. This group includes specialists in forestry, fisheries, wildlife and roads that are working together to compile a comprehensive and consistent inventory of natural resources within the HNFP project area. The meeting on April 11 will give the principal investigators in each resource sector an opportunity to share their study plans and discuss their field season schedules in order to maximize opportunities for cooperation on summer field work, community engagement and watershed planning.
Also in April, there will be a community meeting held in Hoonah to share the overarching objectives of the HNFP with the local public and provide opportunities for residents to participate in project prioritization and entrepreneurial investments.
2016 Field Work Launched!
Spring is springing early in Hoonah this year and so is the HNFP field season! The Hoonah Indian Association (HIA) Stewardship Crew is already out in the field working on the resource inventory and assessment phase of this effort. The inventory and assessment will result in a comprehensive and consistent compilation of data for topography, streams, fish habitat, timber resources, deer habitat and nearby logging road systems by the end of 2017. This initial inventory and assessment data will serve as the foundation for community engagement in watershed planning that will include collaboration from all local landowners and land managers while it immediately seeks to deliver increased benefits from nature that are important to the subsistence and commercial economies of Hoonah.
The Deer Team
The crew’s initial work this Spring implements a deer study designed to improve our understanding of how deer utilize second-growth timber stands. The research is being conducted in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Southeast. Part of the reason the crew are out in the field so early this year is that the warmer than normal Winter and early Spring green-up threaten to degrade the genetic material that is being collected from deer pellet transects. This genetic material is going to give us a better idea of how many and what kind of deer are using the second-growth timber, and whether different types of thinning prescriptions might influence how much use the deer can make of these areas for their survival.
The deer pellet transects should be wrapped up by middle of April when the crew will begin using their forestry equipment to collect data on the trees, shrubs and herbs where the genetic material was collected from. These “slash surveys” will place an emphasis on understanding how the downed trees from pre-commercial thinning impact a deer’s ability to access forage in the treated stands. As part of the slash surveys, the deer crew will also install about 40 trail cams to monitor the summer use of these same areas.
By the first week of May, the deer team will be wrapping up the data collection phase of their study and the HIA crew will shift gears to focus on road and culvert surveys.
Road Survey Crews
The question of whether or not to maintain a road is typically one of the more controversial topics in community meetings held by local landowners and managers. In order to support the most well-informed and thoughtful dialogue possible, the Road Team will be focusing on the collection of information that will help collaborators discuss the costs and benefits of road maintenance on a segment by segment basis; where the costs of keeping a road open can be weighed against the benefits that road provides the community across the entire triple bottom line.
Hydrology and Fisheries
At the same time that half the HIA crew will be working with the USFS on road conditions surveys, the other half of the HIA crew will be working with Sealaska and USFS biologists and hydrologists on a variety of data gathering efforts related to streams and the fish that live in them. Mapping of the stream network and the modeling of salmon habitat values are top priorities for the fish and stream team. Much of the data collection that took place last summer, and the additional surveys that will be performed in May, June and July this year, will be used to fine-tune our interpretation of the topographic information that was acquired last fall in the form LIDAR data (Light Detection and Ranging data). Thanks to funds provided by HIA and the NRCS, the HNFP is one of just a few projects in southeast Alaska to benefit from this very detailed elevation data. For example, we are working with Lee Benda and the Netmap team to use the LIDAR data to develop a very detailed and accurate map of the stream network that exists in each watershed around Hoonah (see above).
Timber and Wildlife Habitat
By mid-July we are hoping that most of the fish, streams and road data collection work will be complete and that the full HIA crew can switch gears and begin working with the Vegetation Team. The Vegetation Team will be lead by a TNC forester and a local ecologist working with the HIA crew starting around July 15. This team will collect data on forest, shrub and herb characteristics that can be used to inform yet another LIDAR based modeling effort that we hope will provide the most accurate and comprehensive information to date on the forested and non-forested terrestrial habitats that exist near Hoonah. This vegetation classification system will then be used to identify the best locations near Hoonah to emphasize the management of vegetation for timber, deer and non-timber forest products such as blueberries and firewood.
The vegetation field work should take us into the first week of September or so. That will leave us a month or two to tie up any loose ends on the resource inventory work that exists as well as to add additional field data collection work that may come up during community engagement and interdisciplinary technical team meetings. For example, there has already been considerable discussion about how to go about identifying some lands that would be well suited to managing for intensified blueberry production.
By the Fall we will all be shifting gears and focusing on using the summer field data to conduct in-depth watershed assessments and project prioritizations that balance costs and benefits for long-term investments in land management across the full triple bottom line.
That’s it for now.