Written and photographed by Bethany Goodrich for Alaska Business Monthly
Dennis Gray Jr. sets his fishing gear with a calm and practiced rhythm in the Gulf of Alaska, south of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. “My ancestors have fished these waters since the last Ice Age,” Gray says as he slides his knife through the crimson gills of a coho salmon.
Gray is a fourth-generation commercial fisherman. He’s also the city administrator for Hoonah, a Tlingit village carved into the slender coast of Chichagof Island.
Aboard his humming freezer troller, Gray relies on a time-tested strategy: selecting hoochies and flashers, adjusting depth and speed to catch salmon. But back in town, he and his community of 800 concentrate their efforts on another silvery target: building prosperity in rural Alaska.
Challenges confront hundreds of isolated villages across Alaska. Despite being just seventy miles west of the state capital, Hoonah remains accessible only by boat or small plane. Goods and services are barged in, and that’s costly. Energy prices are more than double what Juneau residents pay. And the unemployment rate for the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area, which includes Angoon, Hoonah, Gustavus, Tenakee Springs, and Pelican, was more than twice as high as the state’s average in 2015, due in part to a lack of year-round jobs. Still, many Alaska Native families in Hoonah trace their ancestry back for centuries with roots anchored to specific shorelines, forests, and fishing grounds.
And despite its isolation, Hoonah’s location helps. There are bountiful fisheries and the town’s position between Juneau and Glacier Bay makes it a strategic and attractive stop for cruise ships plying the Inside Passage from Seattle or Vancouver. According to the city of Hoonah’s 2016 economic report, the number of available jobs and average annual wages have all risen since 2010. The median family income jumped 15 percent and Hoonah’s sales tax revenue jumped 46 percent, according to the report.
While every rural Alaska town and village has its own unique economic challenges, the way Hoonah is facing theirs can offer insight and inspiration to others seeking development options.
Adapt with Authenticity
“Adapt or die,” says Gray with a smile as he captains his freezer troller past a brightly lit cruise ship pulling into town. “Hoonah has always done a good job of transitioning from one industry to the next. We are good fishermen, we were good loggers, and now we are good tour operators.” Icy Strait Point, established by Huna Totem Corporation in 2004, is a cultural ecotourism port built on the site of Hoonah’s historic cannery, which operated until 1953.
Gray vividly remembers the energy in town when Hoonah decided to invest in Icy Strait and tourism—even though it was contentious. “I was twenty-two, new to the city council, and scared as heck,” he says. Huna Totem requested city support to connect the historic site to city water and electricity. Some Hoonah residents were not convinced. “I’d say the community was about 40/60 against developing tourism. People were like: ‘What? That’s never going to happen. A little Indian village, why would tourists even come to Hoonah?’ Eventually, we spent our last savings to put in a waterline… because we believed in … what it might do for Hoonah.”
Before Icy Strait, tourists seldom visited. Today, according to the city, Icy Strait Point supports one-third of the city’s sales tax base. Huna Totem Corporation says more than 156,000 visitors arrived this year on eighty-three cruises, including Disney Cruise Lines—a number the company expects will exceed one hundred next year. And Icy Strait’s workforce is 80 percent local.
According to Russell Dick, CEO of Huna Totem Corporation, authenticity and community buy-in led to Icy Strait’s success. “If there is any place we are going to invest our money, it is going to be at home, putting our people to work,” Dick says.
“It’s not Disneyland. [Icy Strait Point] is an incredibly authentic port and done in a way that meets the expectations of the cruise lines without having to compromise our values.”
Sharing Home and Culture
Britney Jack began working with Icy Strait Point while in high school. Today, the twenty-two year old is the company’s logistics coordinator. “I take a lot of ownership and pride in working here and so [do] a lot of other local people … This is our home and our culture. We want to share it,” Jack says.
Gordon Greenwald is a master carver in Hoonah who also sits on several city boards including Hoonah’s economic development committee. Since Icy Strait opened thirteen years ago, Greenwald has seen progressively more tourists wander into the center of town, some visiting the carving shed where he works.
“Honestly, I was not in favor of it [Icy Strait Point] in the very beginning because I thought it was going to change us and we would end up like South Franklin [Street] of Juneau or Ketchikan. I don’t want that for Hoonah and I’m afraid that’s the direction they are going to go,” says Greenwald. “But in the meantime, it’s a positive thing and an employment base. Yes, it’s a service industry [and] it’s not a $35-an-hour job, but it’s better than nothing, and I think it has helped put Hoonah on the map.”
Since Icy Strait launched, nineteen new locally-owned businesses have opened in Hoonah, most catering to visitors. Tax revenue from Icy Strait is being invested in community assets such as sidewalks, a youth center, and the school system.
“Hoonah in the past had a lot of male-dominated employment opportunities with fishing and timber,” Gray says. “Tourism presents more widespread opportunities for women with kids and even grade-school students who work after school or dance when ships are in.”
Collaborate and Diversify
Some 150 miles of old logging roads weave throughout the forests, rivers, and valleys surrounding Hoonah. These roads, maintained by the US Forest Service, support local subsistence users as well as tourism guides and charters. They’re also important to a collaborative land management partnership called the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership that includes Huna Totem Corporation, Sealaska, the City of Hoonah, the Hoonah Indian Association, the Nature Conservancy, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, and the US Forest Service.
According to Robert Starbard, tribal administrator of the Hoonah Indian Association, some of these entities—particularly environmental nonprofits and Alaska Native corporations—have not always seen eye-to-eye.
But the organizations have adopted “this new collaborative way of working. This is the… future of how to do natural resource work effectively, efficiently, and sustainably,” says Starbard. “It is possible to have all stakeholders at the table building an effective private-public partnership for land stewardship and watershed management.”
A core goal is to create career opportunities in natural resources and land stewardship for locals.
“[It’s] about diversifying the economy in Hoonah,” adds Dick. “Tourism is not for everybody, but doing things like harvesting commercial blueberries, for example, are great opportunities.”
“Alaskan blueberries, black huckleberries, dwarf blueberries, bog blueberries,” rattles off Donovan Smith, who belongs to the partnership. “We’ve learned a lot about all the different plants and types of habitats where they thrive.”
This year, local pickers sold blueberries to Goldbelt Corporation, as well as ice cream and coffee shop, Coppa, in Juneau. Juneau’s Amalga Distillery also purchased one hundred pounds of blueberries for its blueberry vodka.
And while harvesting blueberries doesn’t bring in anywhere near the money that the commercial fishing fleet earns, it creates economic options for Hoonah. And the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership is about far more than just blueberries: the field crew traverses across the landscape from Sealaska watersheds to US Forest Service lands to map and monitor salmon streams, report on road conditions, thin forest stands for timber production, and restore salmon habitat.
“In terms of our youth and early career residents, the partnership creates professions for land use management. If you want to work with fish, you don’t have to be a commercial fisherman, you can be a fisheries biologist and can come home even if you went out to college and studied science. You can bring that expertise back to Hoonah,” says Starbard.
Kristi Styers dishes up a holistic view of her hometown’s economy while bouncing her daughter Alfie on her knees at Fishermen’s Daughter, the restaurant she opened in 2011.
“Everyone has to eat,” says Styers. “[So] we really see how the economy is doing. When fishing is good, we feel it. When it is great weather or a full cruise ship is in town, we feel it.”
Styers also felt it when Hoonah secured federal economic development agency grants and state legislative grants to invest $5.5 million in a boat haul-out that attracted more outside revenue.
“[Now] the boatyard stays full in the spring and the fall. It really stretched out our season,” says Styers, who keeps Fishermen’s Daughter open May to November, three months longer than during her first year. And when Huna Totem Corporation and the city installed a $22 million deep-water dock, more cruise companies could stop in Hoonah, and Styers saw even more diners.
That’s no accident. According to Gray, the city invests purposefully in infrastructure that catalyzes far-reaching economic impact in town for new industries like boat repair, old industries like fishing, and ancillary businesses like Fishermen’s Daughter.
Thinking Outside City Limits
Hoonah can’t do it alone and is looking to surrounding villages to ease some of the costs associated with isolated island living. “Savings can happen region-wide if we collaborate,” Gray says.
Hoonah hired a consultant to look at the feasibility of Angoon, Hoonah, Tenakee, Pelican, and Kake forming a borough. “That would help us with school costs,” says Gray. “Neighboring towns have schools of the same size and have the same overhead costs of a superintendent and principal and in theory we could share.” A flourishing school system can help Hoonah cultivate homegrown leaders.
“For a community to thrive you need to have committed people … in leadership positions [who] are around for the long term,” says Gray.
But Dick sees a Catch 22.
“How do you invest in local leadership? You have to create employment opportunities for good top-notch people to come back. And, if you don’t have that kind of leadership, how do you create those opportunities? It’s really a challenge.”
Cultivating prosperity in isolated Alaska is not easy. However, the coastal community of Hoonah remains dedicated, leaning on collaboration, diversification, adaptation, strategic investments, creativity, and a focus on cultivating local leadership to meet the challenge.
“My biggest hope is that in twenty years, Hoonah remains this place we can all be proud of,” says Styers.
Join gardeners of Southeast Alaska in Haines Feb 16-18th, 2018 for a 3 day conference on growing local produce in our short challenging growing season. Focusing on home use and small-scale farms, topics will include soil health, gardening practices, storage and preservation, composting, and food security.. Jeff Lowenfels, acclaimed long-time Alaskan garden author and writer, will be the keynote speaker. Format will include break- out sessions with local experienced growers, community extension personnel and sharing forums.. There will be many opportunities to network and share knowledge.
February 16- 18, 2018
More information and sign up at:
Brought to you by Southeast Gardener’s of Alaska”
Start: January 22nd, 2018 End: July 31, 2018 Pay: $100/home assessment
We are seeking a self-motivated individual to educate community members on energy efficiency by participating in the Home Energy Leader Program (HELP). This program is offered through the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) and sponsored by Yakutat Tlingit Tribe (YTT) Environmental Department. Home Energy Leader will attend training and use those skills to educate community members. The position will be paid on a per home basis for the outreach.
- Attend one-day training on January 23, 2018 in Juneau
- Solicit community participation and advertise program
- Conduct individual home assessments, which may include the following: Analyzing utility bills and consumption use, Light bulb savings comparison, Use of kilowatt meters to assess appliance draw, Eliminating phantom power consumption & using power strips, Installation of weather stripping and reduction of air infiltration, Programming and using programmable thermostats, Testing water temperature, Checking air filters and refrigeration coils, Installing faucet aerators and low flow showerheads
- Minimum Requirements: 18 years of age or older, Self-motivated and comfortable interacting with people
- Preferences: Desire to help community members, Experience with community outreach
For further details on the HELP program, please direct inquiries to: Shaina Kilcoyne | Renewable Energy Alaska Project | Sustainable Southeast Partnership | firstname.lastname@example.org |907-331-7409 Decision will be made by January 3, 2018 so apply today! Stop by YTT Environmental Department to obtain/return an application
Click here to download the application
Written by Christine Woll, Southeast Alaska Program Director of The Nature Conservancy
Beach seining on Klawock Lake. Photo by Lee House
“What does sockeye salmon mean to Klawock? I didn’t have to think that hard about that question. Klawock is here because of sockeye salmon.” Lawrence Armour, the mayor and tribal administrator of the Klawock Cooperative Association opened the Klawock Lake Sockeye Salmon Stakeholders meeting on November 14 on Prince of Wales Island. This 2-day gathering brought together community members, land managers, local government officials, fish and wildlife managers, tribal members, researchers and subsistence and commercial fishers in order to build a common understanding of the history and current status of sockeye salmon in the Klawock Lake Watershed. Stakeholders identified opportunities to partner on shared goals that will help steward this critical resource.
As the mayor mentioned, sockeye salmon has long been the critical resource that brought people to Klawock. Tlingit settlers from Tuxekan first used this area as a fishing camp during the summer, fashioning traditional fish traps, the remnants of which you can still see today in the tidal flats. In 1878, one of the first Alaskan canneries was built in Klawock, and a significant commercial sockeye fishery operated out here through the late 1930s. Today, sockeye continues to be of high value in the community – as Millie Schoonover, the president of the Craig village native corporation Shaan Seet, inc., stated “Sockeye is not just about subsistence – it is our traditional food.”
It is well documented in Klawock traditional knowledge that sockeye salmon have declined over the last century. The potential factors for these declines have been studied over many years, and are very complex and intertwined. These factors include:
- Commercial harvest of sockeye salmon in the past and climatic change may have permanently altered the ecology of the lake;
- Significant timber harvest, road building, and other development have altered the health of the spawning habitat
- A salmon hatchery, permitted before the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stopped permitting hatcheries on wild salmon streams, likely interacts with wild sockeye in unknown ways;
- And commercial and subsistence harvest continues to impact run size.
The Sustainable Southeast Partnership’s community fisheries program focuses on ensuring that local priorities are central to fish and fish habitat management. So when the organizers of the meeting began to plan this meeting, we knew that community priorities must take precedent to enable continual long-term stewardship and action. As community member Harry Jackson stated, “We are the original stakeholders of Klawock Lake.” Two community meetings and an online community meeting offered the general public a time to come, eat salmon, hear music and dance, and share their thoughts on how the community and managers should approach salmon stewardship. Over 100 people attended these events or responded to the survey. Quinn Aboudara, the Klawock community catalyst, followed the Mayor in the agenda, and presented on the results of this outreach.. It was made clear that sockeye harvest continues to be a major subject of passion and survival. Salmon habitat management, hatchery protocols, overharvest, and climate change were all voiced by participants as concerns. Many respondents also offered possible solutions, ranging from raising sockeye salmon in the hatchery; improving habitat; practicing traditional methods of predator control, and others.
The meeting also offered community leaders and members the opportunity to hear from managers and researchers on their current practices and information. Meeting participants learned the process for influencing and changing regulations in subsistence and commercial fisheries. Participants discussed and debated hatchery practices with the hatchery managers and regulators. And, they provided feedback on ongoing research into the ecology and habitat condition of Klawock Lake.
It is hard to facilitate difficult conversations like these when so much is at stake. These conversations require attention to power dynamics, avoidance of technocratic language, and the willingness to move past conflict. Luckily, participants acknowledged that they were all here for the same reasons – because they cared about sockeye. This type of shared learning and understanding between the community and managers is often the first step towards solutions, and an essential part of successful community fishery programs.
Meeting participants acknowledge that, in Klawock Lake, there is no “smoking gun.” No one action or one person is going to bring back sockeye salmon to historical levels. Brainstorming and discussions brought forth many great ideas and recommendations on ways to move forward – together. For example, participants recommended community-facilitated harvest reporting, watershed monitoring projects for students, and a community task force to develop recommendations on hatchery practices. We hope that the relationships and trust built at this meeting will help catalyze these next steps into action – and lead to a thriving future for this community fishery.
Stakeholders gather in Klawock to discuss stewarding the critical salmon resource. Photo by Christine Woll.
This meeting was sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, the Southeast Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership, the Klawock Cooperative Association, and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. The meeting was funded by the North Pacific Research Board. Thank you, Gunalchéesh, and Háw’aa to everyone who helped organize, facilitate, provide food and logistics, offer review and guidance, and share their knowledge before and at the meeting – all were essential to making this happen. To learn more about the final synthesis from recent research and this meeting, please contact Christine Woll at email@example.com
The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership (HNFP) has completed its last season of data collection with our locally trained work crews and is now full-steam ahead with writing a watershed management plan. On November 6th-7th, 2017 the HNFP Steering Committee and Technical team met to discuss the landowners objectives and recommendations as the partnership moves forward. Each of the groups spent time reflecting on important steps for the HNFP to be successful. There were many mutual answers for ways to create success, and both groups agreed it is crucial the Steering Committee to work closely with the Technical Team and that community value needs to be at forefront of all discussions as we move forward with recommendations and projects through the HNFP. This type of collaboration takes a lot of work! Ultimately the watershed management will be collaborative document that will be guided by community values, land manager needs, and technical advice.
A Relationship Between The Steering Committee, Technical Team, and Community
The technical team presented their results and preliminary recommendations in each of the resource areas. These recommendations will be refined by community priorities and values as well as landowner needs before they are finalized in the watershed management plan. Hoonah Indian Association Community Catalyst Ian Johnson will be hosting meetings with community members, and maintaining regular dialogue between the teams. This project will span the winter with a final watershed management plan being completed by April so that the local crews can complete projects. Although the projects are yet to be determined, it is possible that crews will be build on the stream restoration work they learned in 2017.
Check out the presentations on each of the resources that the technical team presented to learn more:
The technical team met at the Sealaska Plaza to go over results and next steps in the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership. Their results will be provided to the community and land managers to collaboratively form the final land management plan for the study area.
To learn more about Hoonah Indian Association’s Environmental Programs, check out their new beautiful website here!
To learn more about the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership or to get involved with the Hoonah Stewardship Council, please get in touch with Ian Johnson. firstname.lastname@example.org. 907 945 3545.
The new Home Energy Leader Program (HELP) provides training and resources to residents in Southeast Alaska to lower their energy bills through efficiency and conservation measures. Through the program, a group of Energy Leaders spent the day in training in late January. Home Energy Leaders will use the information and resources they gained in Juneau to engage their fellow community members to reduce energy use. This includes changing out up to five bulbs to LEDs. Participating communities include Hoonah, Yakutat, Kake, Angoon and Metlakatla. Check out these low cost energy savings tips here.
CALL TODAY! Community members interested in participating in the program as a resident participant should contact SSP Energy Catalyst Shaina Kilcoyne, S.email@example.com or (907) 331 – 7409.
This program is unique because it provides the Home Energy Leaders with the knowledge and hardware to enable them to immediately implement efficiency improvements in their community when they return from the training.
Training: The one-day training in Juneau was presented by a team that includes Certified Energy Manager Jim Fowler of Energy Audits of Alaska and local utility experts. The training included the following content:
- Analysis of utility bills and consumption
- Light bulb savings comparison
- Use of kilowatt meters to assess appliance draw
- Eliminating phantom power consumption & using power strips
- Installation of weather stripping and reduction of air infiltration
- Programming and using programmable thermostats
- Testing water temperature
- Installing faucet aerators
- A hands-on site visit to a home
- Assessing heating and air infiltration
In addition to the training content, Home Energy Leaders received a tablet to work on and materials necessary to engage residents in their communities including: Home Energy Savings guides; energy cost charts with community-specific rates; kilowatt meters; LED bulbs; thermometers; faucet aerators; power strips; and weather stripping.
Resident Participation: After qualifying the resident, the Home Energy Leader will schedule and perform a “site assessment”, which includes analysis of heat and electric consumption, light bulb inventory and LED swap out, plug load assessment, installation of weather stripping, installation of faucet aerators. Site assessment features will be completed as needed and desired.
Each participating resident must pay $25 for the site assessment, which will go back into the Program to allow more homes to be assessed. The true cost of the assessment is $125. Savings vary by community based on energy costs but can be up to $85 per year for the light bulb exchange alone.
Thank you for your interest in this program. Please direct any inquiries to: Shaina Kilcoyne | Renewable Energy Alaska Project | Sustainable Southeast Partnership | firstname.lastname@example.org | 907-331-7409
Robert Venables |Southeast Conference |email@example.com | 907-723-0177
This program is funded by the Alaska Conservation Foundation and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership