I was able to join Bethany and Shaina in Hoonah to work with John Hillman (Hoonah Indian Association or HIA) from June 4-6. The weather was fantastic and by lucky coincidence another friend (Alex Crook) and Forrest Cole (Tongass Forest Supervisor) were in town as well so the trip turned out even better than I had hoped.


From left to right: Forrest Cole, Art Burbank and John Hillman at the Hoonah Community Woodshed. This project employs local people at the tribe to provide a stable and high quality source of firewood that results in more efficient heating, fewer chimney fires, improved air quality and land management objectives for partners such as SEALASKA.

I boated over to Hoonah from Gustavus on the morning of the 4th. I met John at the HIA offices and we immediately headed over to the Hoonah Ranger district offices to sit down and visit with the new Hoonah Ranger, Arthur Burbank, as well as Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole. Our conversation focused primarily on sharing John’s ideas for growing the Hoonah Community wood shed project into something more akin to a woody biomass heating utility by identifying some commercial building applications and streamlining the processing of cord wood production. We then headed out the road as a group to visit the Gartina hydro project site. At that point Art and Forrest headed on down the road to visit the Icy Straits lumber mill and John and I returned to Hoonah so that I could grab the van and head back out the road to have a look at a Gartina creek tributary that John thinks may have some potential to add to the Gartina hydro project output (Elephant Falls).


Looking east toward Elephant Mountain from the quadcopter at approximately 1,300 feet elevation (see google earth image below for photo location). Elephant Falls is in the lower center of this shot. This is a limestone mountain so it would be good to get a better sense for how much of this basin drains subsurface.

After returning to the Gartina Hydro project construction site I set the quadcopter up for a flight to have a closer, bird’s eye look at Elephant Falls. The flight distance from the van to the falls was approximately 4,000 feet. I was able to fly out to about 1 mile before wireless transmission of the video feed started to break down and it was getting difficult to tell what I was looking at. The camera shoots at such a wide angle it is hard to tell even under the best of circumstances just how close you are to things like tree tops and cliff faces but I am sure that practice will help immensely. Overall, I was extremely impressed with the perspective that the quad provided and as I improve my piloting skills I am sure I will discover more uses for this device.

After flying the quad up to the falls, I ventured out on foot to have a look at where the Elephant Falls creek joins the main stem of Gartina creek so that I could get a better sense of the available flow. After walking up the Gartina mainstem approximately 1,700 feet I found the Elephant Falls tributary and hiked upstream a bit. Unfortunately, I did not have any instruments with me to measure flow (other than my eyeballs).


Google Earth image of the portion of Gartina Creek that is included in the current Gartina Creek Hydro project. Elephant Creek Falls is shown in yellow. Water supply creek has been investigated for hydro-potential and is considered the next best option for Hoonah once the Gartina Falls project is up and running. Could Elephant Falls also contribute to this project? That is the question I am exploring with John. Note the position labeled for where the quadcopter photo shown above was taken.

Based on what I saw on the ground and a little bit of GIS work to calculate basin area back at my office (Elephant Falls creek basin size is 9% of the total basin in the current Gartina hydro project), my guess is that the flow in the Elephant Falls tributary was 7-10% the total flow of Gartina Creek on this day. A penstock running just 1,500 feet and beginning at the top of the falls would provide 500 feet of head. The current Gartina Hydro-project is a low-head design with only 60 feet of head to produce power. Though this intake will capture approximately 10 times the water available in the Elephant Falls tributary, the theoretical energy outputs from these two projects may not be that much different because of the much greater head available at the Elephant Falls site. The equation for getting a rough idea of the power available in a stream is (Q * H/11.8) * .75 where Q = flow in cubic feet per second or cfs, H = the total elevation change between intake and powerhouse in feet (head), 11.8 is a constant for this equation and .75 is the estimated efficiency of the turbine. So in general, if flow is 100 cfs and head is 50 feet (not far from conditions on this day at the current Gartina project site) that produces the same amount of power as 10 cfs of flow at 500 feet of head (not far from what I was seeing at the Elephant Falls site on this day).

Developing a supplemental hydro power plant at the base of Elephant Falls would involve some tricky penstock design as about 15% of the penstock would have to hang from a cliff face but there are many projects that have overcome this challenge. On the upside, the project would not impact any anadromous fish habitat and road construction and transmission line design to the powerhouse site would be relatively straight forward. All in all, I think it is worth spending $2,500 bucks on gaging equipment to get more accurate flow data for the entire year and another field trip to investigate opportunities for developing a reservoir and other construction options.


John Hillman looks on as HIA crew boss Bob Leuband shows Bethany how to work a chainsaw to thin young growth.

On the second day of the trip I mostly shadowed Shaina as she interviewed folks about potential commercial boiler applications at the City, the Icy Strait Point facility and the school. Read Shaina’s trip report here.

On the third day I worked with Bethany to give her an opportunity to learn about the work we have been doing with HIA on developing an ecosystem service work crew at the tribe. We visited active and past sites of work and interviewed crew members for putting together a media piece on this success story.

We started out by visiting the crew on Huna Totem lands where they were actively thinning some young-growth stands. John has been working with representatives of Huna Totem and SEALASKA to line up ongoing work opportunities like this one. Here again I flew the quadcopter to get a bird’s eye view of the job site. While I was doing that, John provided Bethany with an immersion experience in forest thinning! After Bethany got a feel for how difficult the work is she ventured up into the stand with crew boss Bob Leuband to interview a couple of the young men on the crew.


Quadcopter view of Huna Totem young growth stand in the Spasski watershed near Hoonah. The HIA ecosystem workforce crew is in the woods thinning just uphill of the trucks on the road in the lower center of this shot. Look closely and you can see the areas on the right side of the stand that have already been thinned by the crew.

After visiting the active thinning site, Bob, John, Bethany, Alex and I headed out the road to visit the first project the crew worked on out at Kennel Creek. The Kennel Creek project provided the start-up funds necessary for John Hillman and Bob Starbard to get this work crew started at the Hoonah Indian Association. The Kennel Creek project was funded primarily by a $250,000 grant made by the Lynn Canal/Icy Strait Resource Advisory Committee in 2011. The work was performed in 2013.

This year the RAC provided another $40,000 dollars to support the crew in an effort to conduct resource inventories necessary to establish a stable program of work on both private and public lands surrounding Hoonah. I hope to report on this project later this summer. Another $120,000 dollars has been prioritized by the RAC for the HIA crew to conduct salmon stream restoration but this support will depend on Title II funding being renewed by Congress next time around (an annual process).


This is a shot of Bethany and Alex recording video of HIA’s crew boss Bob Leuband standing on one of the engineered game trails his crew installed in the summer of 2013. Notice that it looks like comfortable walking between where I am standing and where Bob L. is standing. The vast majority of this stand is very hard going because of an abundance of jack-strawed cull wood from recent thinning.

While we were out the Kennel Creek project site we had a look at the areas where HIA’s 8 person crew installed “engineered game trails” in younger thinned stands as well as the older young growth stand that they pruned. It looked to us that the crew did an excellent job of enhancing wildlife and timber values in the Kennel Creek watershed, but even more exciting to me is the fact that John and Bob were able to build on this initial project and keep their crew working up through today. Bethany is going to produce an informational media piece on this project and the HIA crew in general sometime in the next couple of months.

Before heading back to Hoonah we ran into Art (HRD ranger) as he was out the road enjoying the lovely day with his family. He was kind enough to give Alex and I a ride down to the Kennel Creek cabin while Bethany finished up with the HIA crew. Alex has been contracted by the Path to Prosperity program to do some media work in support of the the Icy Straits lumber mill. The new cabin at Kennel Creek was built from wood milled locally at the Icy Straits Lumber mill and Alex took this opportunity to get some still images while I flew the quadcopter for some video footage that he may be able to use to promote Wes and Sue Tyler’s high value-added lumber mill.

We came away from this trip to Hoonah with a solid to-do list for energy and economic development sectors and I look forward to providing updates on these efforts in the coming months.


New USFS public use cabin at the mouth of Kennel Creek in Freshwater Bay.