On Tuesday of this week I skiffed from Lemesurier Island to Hoonah to begin a week of work on the Kennel Creek project.  The previous several days had been characterized by a dense, misting fog with very little wind and Tuesday was the same. I got a bit later start than I had hoped because of how late the morning light came on but the calm seas made for a smooth run over.

The Hoonah ranger district wildlife biologist picked me up when I arrived at the harbor. We spent a little time in town taking care of some office details and then headed out the road to Kennel Creek for some field work.

The Kennel Creek watershed is a 1 to 1.5 hour drive from Hoonah. Just outside of town there was a lot of activity on the road that is associated with the airport expansion project. Right now it looks like they are focusing on a big fill to expand the parking lot and several of the rock pits on nearby SEALASKA lands were being reopened to provide the rock.

The drive was lovely as the fall colors, those that we have here in Southeast, were in full swing in the wet forests, marshes and muskegs alongside the road.

We stopped briefly at a bridge that was being worked on by Coutlee and Sons. They were re-decking the bridge surface. We talked to Grant Coutlee about his experiences as a local contractor and invited him to the workshop that we had scheduled for later in the week. The bridge work is a good example of the kind of road maintenance that is well suited to a small local contractors and local mills and is serving to assist with keeping a mainline road open through a beaver marsh that has been notorious for beaver plugged culverts that have led to road flooding and damage.

We bumped into a bear between the beaver marsh and Kennel Creek but it scurried off the road too fast for me to get my camera out.

Just before beginning our work at the Kennel site, John drove me over to the new public use cabin at the old logging camp site at the mouth of Kennel Creek. This cabin is comprised of locally milled wood that was prepared as a kit/package by Icy Straits Lumber, assembled by a SAGA crew then moved and placed on its Kennel Creek foundation by a local contractor. The cabin is truly exceptional. It is much brighter, than the typical FS panabode design and includes two stories, both with nice decks that have excellent views out over Freshwater Bay towards Seal Creek.

Hoonah Ranger District biologist Jon Hyde getting a GPS location for a forest thinning treatment area at Kennel Creek.

The fieldwork at the Kennel Creek site was basically a somewhat heuristic survey of some dense areas of second growth forest to look for remnant understory shrubs to center “treatment areas” on. The HIA crew will navigate to these flagged areas using GPS units and will use thinning techniques to increase light penetration to the forest floor that we hope will increase the amount of understory vegetation for browsers like deer to use during all four seasons.

The field surveys went smoothly and I had a nice conversation with the HRD biologist about ways we might consider improving the prescription to add more wildlife values to the stand. We saw a nice bear on the way back to Hoonah just down the road from where an Icy Straits logging crew was working on a small sale in upper Game Creek.

The next day, Daven of SEACC showed up to do the final organizing push necessary to make sure the workshop went off smoothly. We both met with the ranger and HIA folks over the course of the day to talk about the Kennel project and the workshop and we made some minor adjustments to the agenda and field trip plan. Daven and I spent a few hours talking about the big picture of the People and Place campaign and I was reminded how valuable a learning experience it is for me to join our program staff leads in the communities to assist them with their work.

On Thursday, after seeing the morning arrivals to their lodging, we kicked off the workshop with a speaker from down south (Jay Maclaughlin) who talked about his experiences working on collaboration and stewardship contracting in his neck of the woods. There were a lot of parallels between our rural, natural resource based communities but it is fair to say that he had a lot more experience than us in terms of demonstrating a successful transition from the industrial scale logging of the past to a blend of habitat restoration, fire prevention and timber program development that has help stabilize their local economic situation.

Following Jay, two forest service professionals provided some great information on federal contracting, grants and agreements. Both speakers clearly were enthusiastic about collaboration but they stressed the value of communities pulling together long-term visions and specific business plans that they believe will help direct the agencies to be more supportive of community interests.

Later in the afternoon we heard from Daven about an ecosystem workforce assessment he worked on with HIA that helped us all gain a better understanding of how much work is out there, who is currently getting the work and what it might take to see more work go to local contractors.

After Daven spoke, I wrapped things up with a brief description of the Kennel Creek project, including some orientation on what we would be looking at on the Friday field trip.

Halibut Olympia was served for dinner by the folks at the Icy Straights Lodge and it was truly fantastic. In fact, all the food we had at the lodge was delicious.

The Hoonah Workshop group collaborating at an old log landing in the Kennel Creek watershed.

On Friday, we spent the day driving out to Kennel Creek and back. USFS employee Chris Budke joined us and led our expedition out the road where we stopped along our way to talk about a variety of service work opportunities that we can foresee as an ongoing program of work in the Hoonah Ranger District.

At the Kennel Creek site we hiked up the old logging road to have a look at the stands post logging complexity and talked about the purpose of the project (workforce training and ecological restoration) and the specific prescription ideas that are going into the plan. Work on this project should begin sometime next spring.

When we returned to Hoonah it was raining pretty hard, even snowing a bit above 800 feet! For one last speaker we asked the Lodge owner, Ed Phillips to tell us about his experience looking for ways to cut down on energy costs using a wood fired boiler. He was a very enthusiastic advocate for woody biomass to displace heating oil use, to say the least!

Overall, I was very impressed with the relationship building, the emphasis on the power of community visions and business plans to precipitate sustainable development, and the recognition that although there will surely be a lot more meetings like this one to keep the ball rolling, the value of creating trust within and between our communities is well worth the effort.

Ed Phillips of the Icy Straight Lodge in Hoonah shows off his wood fired boiler.