Community members clustered around tables at the Hoonah Indian Association (HIA) community building in Hoonah on Sunday afternoon. Some had already celebrated Mother’s Day in the morning and now were here to discuss energy solutions in their small islanded-grid town of 800. Hoonah became one of five high priority areas for the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory when HIA was accepted into the Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) program in 2015.
The first step of the program is to complete a three-day community meeting in order to develop a Strategic Energy Plan for Hoonah. Many efficiency and renewable energy priorities were discussed throughout the three day meeting.
You can find energy data on Hoonah and all Alaskan communities through the Alaska Energy Data Gateway.
The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership (HNFP) is unique in many ways because it trying to set a new standard for collaboration between private landowners, public land managers and community residents. Its science driven approach provides data to land managers and land users so they can interface and fuse the needs of subsistence users and timber production. A particularly important uniqueness of the HNFP is the ability of the community to provide feedback on how the results and land management implications of this collaborative work can benefit them. At the Clan Workshop held from April 13-16th in Hoonah, Brian Kleinhenz (Sealaska) and Ian Johnson (Hoonah Indian Association Environmental Director, Sustainable Southeast Partnership) and other partners started a dialogue with clan leaders to review the status of the project to date and “What success of the HNFP means to them, and to the community”. The conversation was engaging, and yielded some very useful insight into how the HNFP can benefit the community.
- The project has employed 6 residents of Hoonah to conduct surveys. In 2015 they conducted road surveys and stream surveys
- In 2016 the crew of Hoonah residents will be tackling surveys to assess deer densities in timber treatments, volume of slash in pre-commercially thinned stands, road condition, culvert function, anadromous fish distribution, and fish habitat condition.
- LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data have provided elevation data for the study area at an incredibly precise (1m) scale. These data are a powerful toolset for this project and for designing other projects where detailed data are required. The data also provide insight in the characteristics of timber stands and will be important for understanding tree characteristics within the stand.
- The data collection for the HNFP will be mostly completed by the end of this year, and we will begin writing the final land management plan based on our results and what we find are the needs of the community.
Community Needs and Feedback
- There is strong interest to expand this research to freshwater lakes that may support a sockeye run, or that currently do. Sockeye are important cultural and subsistence resource for residents in Hoonah as well as Angoon. It would also be good for future projects to incorporate Point Adolphus for its historical and cultural importance.
- Culturally significant areas are not included in the current land management plan, but an inventory of them would benefit the plan
- The HNFP should integrate its work in with the schools. Bringing kids outdoors is a great learning tool for them, a powerful outreach tool for the HNFP, and can inspire kids to pursue work in the outdoors that will bring them back to Hoonah.
- This project could enhance the commercial harvest of blueberry picking, but the harvest of any subsistence resource (e.g., bluerries, devils club, salmon) should be done honoring the traditional ways.
The outreach at the the clan workshop was the beginning of an extensive plan to engage the community.
- Ian Johnson is available to talk about this project and get community feedback at almost any time. You have several ways to contact him including : stopping by his office (#1 at the Community Center), calling him at 907-723-6044, or emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Watch the community bulletin boards for upcoming meetings in regards to HNFP. Meetings will also be advertised on the Facebook Group Hoonah Buy, Sell, Trade
- There will be a block of time each week to meet with Ian to discuss the project and have a (strong) cup of coffee. See his office door or call to find out the date and time.
- There may be an opportunity to go out and see the work that the Hoonah crews do! If you would like to spend a little time out in the field, be sure to contact Ian.
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.
In October, Capital City Weekly’s Mary Catharine Martin reported on an impressive region-wide effort to document and understand the effects of environmental change across Southeast Alaska. This study is facilitated by the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory and Sitka Conservation Society in collaboration with the rural communities of Hoonah, Yakutat, Angoon, Kake, Klawock and Kasaan. The multi-faceted project combines social and ecological research to study the impact of environmental change on coastal subsistence practices.
For this follow up piece, the Hoonah Indian Association invited me to join a discussion between project participants to better understand an additional goal of the study— engaging citizens in scientific research. In each participating village, organizers selected one or two high school students to have 10 conversations with resource users, including community elders. In this way, the project created formal opportunities to engage the young and old in conversation about something all agree is important— the food we eat.
Randy Roberts and Alaska Skaflestad are the two Hoonah high school students participating in the study. Their first conversation was with community elder Raino Hill.
Hill is clearly no novice when it comes to subsistence. A tired old dip-net hangs above his shed. He greets us dressed in a pair of Grundens and invites us inside to chat over the humming of freezers. We have 30 minutes, because Hill plans to take a few of his nephews out on the water to pull crab pots before last light. He greets us with an enthusiastic, “Come on in and sit down!”
After introductions and general questions, Skaflestad and Roberts jump into the meat (sometimes literal) of the discussion.
RR: What shoreline-related questions are you interested in?
RH: I have concerns about cruise ships. I found a fish that I have in the freezer. It was on the water gulping air on the surface and I grabbed it. It’s weird, almost like a catfish looking thing with yellowish whiskers. It’s something I’ve never seen here in all these years. I thought when I grabbed it, did this come from some bilge water off a cruise ship?
Skaflestad and Roberts take notes and begin asking in-depth questions.
AS: Do you harvest thimbleberries?
RH: Nope, I eat them too fast to harvest any!
AS: What slope do you harvest on? In what type of sediments—muddy, sandy, rocky? What mode of transportation do you typically use to access these locations?
Hill answers. The students record.
RR: Do you have concerns for this resource?
RH: The same thing goes for halibut and salmon, just management concerns. Hopefully we can get the checks and balances between subsistence, sport, and commercial fishing settled – with the halibut especially – and all get together and don’t argue about it and actually focus on the resources and not just industry.
The list of subsistence resources is extensive. From spruce tips to skunk cabbage, butter clams to gumboots, and seals to nettles, Skaflestad and Roberts ask Hill about every subsistence resource I can think of.
AS: Do you harvest any clams not listed?
RH: Pink Neck.
AS: Pink Neck?
RH: They are kind of like a razor clams, but flatter with a softer shell. They are very site specific and if I told you where I found them …well, we’d have to stop the discussion and my friends would kill me! There are quite a few sites around, same terrain. You are looking for sand and exposed beaches.
Apparently, there’s always more to learn. The survey listed plenty of resources that piqued the group’s curiosity.
RH: You know what would be interesting? To have a class. I’m 62, I’ve done it all around here but I don’t know what a lot of it is. I’m not stupid, it’s just not something I’ve done. Like mushrooms. I love mushrooms! But, I won’t eat them here because I don’t know what’s what.
AS: Oh, I love shaggy mane mushrooms here, and chicken of the woods. I’d love to have a class too!
Skaflestad and Roberts dive back into the details of each resource. These insights are important. This is the data that the Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory is crunching to build a baseline to understand how environmental change is affecting Southeast Alaskan rural communities. But the significance of the project spans beyond the recorded data. This survey is creating a space for spin-off conversations that connect elders and youth with the practice of harvesting. It turns out that one of the group’s key concerns has little to do with environmental change.
RH: A lot of elders are passing away and the subsistence lifestyle is changing. Like with the seagulls eggs here for example, there is less and less people who are doing it in the first place. The culture itself is kind of dying. A lot of that stuff that used to be more pronounced in the culture, with subsistence, is kind of going by the wayside. Like with seal, people are eating less and less seal. There are many changes to the ways of subsistence here and that’s kind of sad.
The erosion of subsistence skills and knowledge is not a new concern for Roberts and Skaflestad.
AS: The number one concern is not passing down knowledge. We have always been told to pass down knowledge and to always listen to every story and remember them because one day you will need it. Especially in the Native culture, because we technically don’t have a written language, everything was passed down orally and people still practice that in many ways.
A gap exists between the scientific community and the general public. In a time in which our communities are facing environmental challenges, the need to close this gap is becoming increasingly urgent. Projects that incorporate community members and prioritize their knowledge and experiences are helping with that. This project not only engages citizens with science but also serves to immerse elders and students in important conversations about a changing world. Elders with decades of experiences and history are sharing their knowledge with the inheritors of this region, the next generation of subsistence users, politicians, land managers, researchers and mentors.
RR: Do you have anything else to add that has not been covered in the conversation?
RH: Yes. What you are doing is good and people need to share more with each other and even start some classes to encourage more harvesting of the different things we don’t all know about. Or, we might know about, but we don’t know what to do with. Spruce tips, fireweed and all that. These are all renewable resources, you know, and let’s get people more into it and make sparks for the younger people. Let’s take it back into the schools.
Hill shares a jar of his freshly smoked wild salmon and hugs Roberts and Skaflestad. He poses for a picture with his crew of nephews who are visiting from as far as Idaho to learn from their uncle about subsistence, harvest and the pride that comes with self-sufficiency. It’s something that with careful management and skill sharing, will hopefully happen in Hoonah indefinitely.
RH: This here is the clan I have been visiting for two weeks that I’m teaching subsistence to. They are good boys, but I am getting tired. A good tired though. We’re headed out to pull crab pots. Show them your smile, boys!
And with that, the conversation ends.
The boys jump into the back of Raino’s truck. They putter off to practice what they preach and leave Skaflestad, Roberts and I on the curbside. It’s starting to get late and Skaflestad has already rushed here after a full day working at the Chipper Fish restaurant. Randy spent the day working as a dance performer at Icy Strait Point. The two are beat.
“So what’s your drive and motivation for juggling another job, for participating in this research?” I ask.
“I actually think it’s good to know these things,” Skaflestad answers. “Raino did say that our culture is dying and I feel that is true. The only subsistence that young folk really do is deer hunting and fishing and there is so much more we could be doing and it gets the elders happy because they are always saying ‘you need to do this’ but kids our age still don’t. But, something now is starting up, so we are moving forward instead of being in a neutral position. We will make a difference and it’s nice to know we are actually helping. It’s not just one town either, we are helping multiple towns by working together and a lot of people, especially elders, get happiness out of it and happiness is always a good thing!”
This research was funded by the USFS Western Wildland Threat Assessment Center and the Sitka Conservation Society. The researchers hope to next year increase the study’s scope to include communities in the Chugach National Forest as well as Sitka and Juneau.
• Bethany Goodrich is a freelance storyteller and the Communications Coordinator for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP). SSP is a diverse group of partners dedicated to the cultural, ecological and economic prosperity of Alaska’s rural communities. Visit www.SustainableSoutheast.net.