The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership (HNFP) is an all-lands, all-hands approach to community-based land management that was launched in July of 2015 with the support of the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), Sealaska Corporation, Hoonah Indian Association, City of Hoonah, The Nature Conservancy, Huna Totem Corporation and the US Forest Service. If you have not heard about the project yet, please check out the HNFP web page to read a summary overview. For everyone else, here is an update on what is going on now, and what is in store for the summer field season.

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.

Upcoming Events

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

A member of the HIA Stewardship crew collects genetic samples from deer pellets.

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.

Small section of the Gartina watershed that shows off the hillshade and stream network derived from the LIDAR data. Look closely and you can see the elevation data is so detailed that you can make out the rock pits and road beds. Look closer and you can see the new road spur that leads to Hoonah’s small hydro project on Gartina Creek. Click on the image to take a closer look.

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).

Here is an example of how the LIDAR data can provide insights on the condition of existing vegetation from an area called "westport' near Hoonah. In the same way that the LIDAR data was used to develop the hillshade for topography, the "first returns" for the sonar like data acquisition process can be used to display the heights of vegetation on the ground. Here, areas in red are the tallest trees in this image (beach and stream buffers), areas in orange are the tallest second growth timber, areas in dark green on smaller second growth timber and the light green areas are shrubs and ground plants. The Vegetation team will be collecting data this summer to provide more detail on the timber and wildlife habitat values that can be derived from interpreting this data.

Here is an example of how the LIDAR data can provide insights on existing vegetation from an area called “West Port’ near Hoonah. In the same way that the LIDAR data was used to develop the hillshade for topography above, the “first returns” for the sonar like data acquisition process can be used to display the heights of vegetation. Here, areas in red are the tallest trees in this image (old-growth in beach and stream buffers), areas in orange are the tallest young growth timber (mostly older “regen” from blowdown), areas in dark green are the taller second growth timber in older clearcuts and the light green areas are shrubs and ground plants in newer clearcuts or in non-forest types. The Vegetation team will be collecting data this summer on the timber and wildlife habitat values that can be derived from interpreting this data. Click on the image to take a closer look.

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.