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.