Sitka is the fifth largest city in Alaska with a year-round population of about 9,000 residents, of which approximately 80 % are non-Native and 20% are Alaska Native, primarily Tlingit. The Tlingit people have lived on this land for over ten thousand years. Recognizing the value of Sitka’s location and richness of natural resources, the Russians built a fort and trading post here in 1799 and by 1808 Sitka was the Capitol of Russian America. Soon Sitka, known as “the Paris of the Pacific”, was the largest, most industrious city on the Pacific Rim.
After the purchase of Alaska by the U.S. in 1867 Sitka remained the territorial capitol until 1906. It is located along the outer coast of Baranof Island. Community economics and demographics have been relatively stable over the past 15 years with commercial fishing representing the largest employer and economic driver followed by the regional health care organization SEARHC. Other important sectors include tourism; federal, state, and local government, and the US Coast Guard. From the mid 1950s until 1993 the economy and politics of Sitka were dominated by the Alaska Pulp Corporation pulp mill which employed about 450 residents year-round. Since the closure of the pulp mill Sitka’s economy has diversified to become one of the more stable local economies in Alaska. Sitka is surrounded primarily by federally managed Forest Service lands, many of which were clear-cut logged during the operating life of the pulp mill. Since about 1995 there have been almost no timber sales near Sitka.
Many of the high-value salmon watersheds in the Sitka area could benefit from ecological restoration to improve both wildlife and salmon habitat and to potentially provide a source of wood for bio-mass or a small-scale timber operation. This work could provide increased employment while improving habitat conditions for species that are important to local food gathering. Sitka enjoys a high degree of social, entrepreneurial, and workforce capacity to direct toward sustainable community development. Sitka may provide the perfect “Tongass sustainable development laboratory” in which to experiment with various methods of community engagement, collaboration, restoration, and sustainable economic development.
The Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is the primary lead organization in Sitka for the P&P Program. SCS maintains a high functioning staff and has strong relationships with a broad array of organizations, businesses, decision-makers, and community leaders. Community engagement, workforce capacity development, food security, and community energy planning and conservation are currently the primary focus of the work in Sitka. Indigenous empowerment strategies will be implemented in the future.