TONGASS ROOTS: At Home in Alaskaâ€™s Island Rainforest
SOUTHEAST ALASKA CONSERVATION COUNCIL (SEACC)
I N T R O D U C T I O N Under the pearl skies and majestic spruce of the Tongass National Forest live people who by love, spirit, and mission have made the mountainous coast of Southeast Alaska their home. Some traveled to the world’s largest remaining coastal temperate rainforest by chance and some by design. Still others are here by birth and some can trace their forest roots back until they disappear into the distant veil of prehistory. However they came here, these people have stayed. Inspired by this wild land’s beauty and embraced by its abundance, they have consciously, willfully created lives in partnership with the forest and the sea. In coming months and years, many of the Tongass’s untouched river valleys and saltwater bays may be scarred with clearcuts and roads. In our efforts to conserve these remaining wild lands, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is working to protect the resources that sustain the fishermen, hunters, artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and others who live or visit Alaska’s rainforest. As the lives of the people profiled here show, the story of the Tongass is not only about its magnificent trees, wildlife, mountains, and clear running waters; it’s also about a way of life.
Dedicated to Maggie Wigen, whose life and spirit reflected the soul of Southeast Alaska. May she never be forgotten.
COVER: Port Houghton, photo by David Job. TITLE PAGE: Rocky Pass, photo by Scott Foster. INTRODUCTION: Photo portraits by Linda Townsend.
TONGASS ROOTS: At Home in Alaska’s Island Rainforest
SOUTHEAST ALASKA CONSERVATION COUNCIL (SEACC) • 2004 Text and project coordination by Sarah Lemagie
Anchorage Daily News
“There is room for logging in Southeast Alaska, and a need for it. But we have to do it wisely this time, or we’ll leave nothing for our children and grandchildren.”
Sylvia Geraghty Stung by salt spray, Sylvia Geraghty struggled with the outboard motor of the skiff, connected by a line to her larger freight vessel, the Freyja. As she pulled the starter cord, a wave crashed over the Freyja’s wheelhouse and pushed the disabled boat closer to the looming rocks of White Cliff Island. If Sylvia couldn’t start the motor, she and the boats would be crushed against the cliffs. On this stormy summer afternoon, Sylvia was on her way to a meeting in Edna Bay. The State of Alaska was revising its land management plan for Prince of Wales Island, and Sylvia, a longtime resident and advocate for the area, wanted to be certain that the State heard the concerns of local residents. At last, the skiff’s outboard sputtered to life. Sylvia motored the skiff up to the landward side of the Freyja and pushed the bows of both boats into the waves, working them down the length of the island until a rescue boat arrived soon after. Sylvia climbed aboard and continued to the meeting, where, in the words of a friend, “Sylvia gave the agency guy hell and got the community all fired up.”
Though Sylvia’s work to protect the Tongass is rarely as dangerous as it was that day, it has always been exciting. For nearly twenty years, she fought to lessen the impact of logging in the wild places near her home, including the mist-shrouded forests of Mount Calder and Holbrook Mountain, whose stark summits overlook the intricate inlets of Shakan Strait and El Capitan Passage. Her extensive, personal knowledge of the land, down-to-earth style, and ability to energize the small communities off the west coast of Prince of Wales Island (people who have been referred to as “unorganizable, fringe of the fringe, hard-core back-to-thelanders”) enabled her to achieve surprising victories. Yet Sylvia’s early career hinted at little of what was to follow. In 1971, she was a computer systems analyst in Juneau and a mother of three. Sylvia raised her children with the dream that someday they’d live on a remote homestead like the one near Petersburg where she’d spent much of her childhood. Finally, when her eldest son reached junior high school, Sylvia quit her job and moved her family to New Tokeen, an inactive cold-storage facility on an uninhabited, three-mile-long island off the coast of Prince of Wales.
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When Sylvia and her children arrived, New Tokeen was a collection of ramshackle buildings. After refurbishing them, Sylvia became a commercial fish buyer and opened a general store, a laundromat, a liquor store, and a fuel business that served boats in the area. The family depended on the sea and forests of nearby Holbrook Mountain and El Capitan Passage for fish, shellfish, game, wild greens, and berries. Sylvia’s initiation as an activist began in 1984 with a one-page legal notice from the Forest Service announcing that swaths of land near her home, including areas near Mount Calder and Holbrook Mountain, would be clearcut. Shocked, she went to a meeting in Craig, where she discovered that the entire Prince of Wales community was violently opposed to the plan. At that time, Craig lacked good media access, so Sylvia organized a second meeting in Ketchikan. As a result of the heavily-reported public uproar at that meeting, the Forest Service abandoned its proposal.
has been logged heavily since the 1950’s. “I knew if we could retain those two core areas,” Sylvia says, “we would have a fairly large preserve of land that was the way it had always been.” Sylvia, now a grandmother, recently (and reluctantly) retired from the demanding work of running New Tokeen and moved to Wrangell. She continues to work for the protection of the area that she lived in for so long—increasingly with an eye toward future generations. “There is room for logging in Southeast Alaska, and a need for it,” she says. “But we have to do it wisely this time, or we’ll leave nothing for our children and grandchildren.”
After that fast and furious introduction to Tongass logging, Sylvia became aware “that though I had won that particular battle, there was a whole war out there to be fought.” In her mid-forties, Sylvia became an unstoppable conservation activist. She educated herself about forest management issues, wrote letters, and held meetings with locals and Forest Service employees at her homestead. Protecting most of Calder-Holbrook in the 1990 Tongass Timber Reform Act was one of Sylvia’s greatest victories. With its majestic old-growth cedar and spruce, the west coast of Prince of Wales has always been a prime target for the timber industry, and Photo by Tim Bristol
Photo by Linda Townsend
“ I go out of my way to stay away from a road system when I hunt, and I try to teach my kids the old-fashioned way.”
Dave Randrup Every year in mid-September, mechanic Dave Randrup closes his garage in Petersburg and heads up the Castle River for a month of moose hunting. He weaves his houseboat south between Kupreanof and Mitkof Islands, then angles west toward the mouth of the Castle. The river meets saltwater reluctantly after passing through a wide stretch of tidal flats, which bare at low tide. Dave times his departure, sometimes leaving town in the lonely dead of night, so that he crosses the flats on the flood tide. After traversing the tidal flats and working around the rock garden of boulders at the river’s mouth, Dave moors his houseboat near a Forest Service cabin and settles down to hunt moose. The annual trip doubles as a family reunion, as Dave’s kids, brothers and sisters, buddies, and old hunting partners visit on weekends and days off. Some come to hunt, others to paddle up the river, sightsee, and enjoy the camaraderie of the Randrup camp. Dave 6
likes the spot because “it’s a place where the kids can come up and go hunting and fishing without any danger of brown bear. You can fish for coho and trout, and there are waterfowl during the last part of moose season. It’s a nice area, nice and quiet, and there aren’t too many people.” In mid-October, when the bite in the air reddens noses and the cold rain sheets down from gray skies, Dave and his hunting party strike camp and head home with—if they’ve had any luck—two or three moose. Dave divides his share among family and friends, and trades some of what’s left over for deer and halibut. By late fall, the Randrup family usually has three hundred pounds of moose, a couple of Sitka black-tailed deer, and a hundred pounds of halibut in the freezer to keep them well fed until the next trip to the Castle River.
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Back for the winter, Dave resumes work at the garage he and his brother started in 1969. An affinity for nuts, bolts, and grease has marked several generations of the Randrup family. Dave’s father worked as a machinist in a Washington shipyard during World War II before moving to Petersburg in 1951, where he opened his own machine shop and taught his son the trade. But growing up in Petersburg, in the heart of the Tongass, Dave began to discover worlds outside the work and interests of his family. Over the years, he has worked as a salmon seiner, a logger, a carpenter, and a shipwright as well as a mechanic. Dave’s passion for hunting settled in him early. Since his father didn’t share his interest, he learned from friends. By the time he was 13, he was making regular expeditions to a family cabin, and has hunted religiously ever since. “I don’t go to church,” Dave says, “but I guess my church is the outdoors.” He has taught his children to enjoy tramping under the moss-draped trees of the forest as much as the excitement of the hunt. This mindset is an important part of the reason that Dave returns to places like the Castle River. “I go out of my way to stay away from a road system when I hunt,” he says, “and I try to teach my kids the old-fashioned way. There aren’t too many places where you can hunt away from roads, but if you want to see country, you’ve got to walk.” Photo by Linda Townsend
Courtesy of Laurie Bower
“Right close to where we fish they want to log Ushk Bay. It’s just the next bay down, and we’re afraid that if they do that it’s going to be really ugly and the fish are going to start dying….It would be really sad, too. The trees are really big down there.”
Esther Bower Last year, Esther Bower and her friend Maggie Dunlap noticed that the sand dollars were disappearing from Sandy Beach near Sitka. For years, people in their town had casually picked up the odd sand dollar off the hard-packed sand at the water’s edge without harming the population, but now the creatures’ numbers were dwindling. The girls became alarmed that some people were collecting the creatures to bleach and sell to tourists. “Everybody is taking them in bucket loads,” Esther said. To make matters worse, “They take the sand dollars in the spring when the really low tides are, and that’s when they’re supposed to be breeding.” So Esther and Maggie, both age 10, decided to do something about it. The girls painted “Please don’t take the live sand dollars” on a large sign and pounded it into the sand on the beach. They also developed an “eco-friendly” clay sand dollar as an alternative souvenir for tourists. The girls’ campaign made them overnight heroes. They made the front page of the Sitka newspaper and drew the attention of 8
state biologists, who were appalled that the sand dollars were being collected for commercial use. Such passion and initiative are unusual in a 10-year old, but then Esther is an unusual girl. Every spring since the Hoonah Sound herring spawn on kelp fishery opened, Esther’s family has gone out with friends in their boats to produce the gourmet food. “The first year it opened I was in my mom’s stomach, so I’ve gone every year except for one year when they [the Alaska Department of Fish and Game] closed it to see how the fish were doing,” she says. To harvest herring roe on kelp, the family nets schools of herring and herds them into a pen, where the fish spawn on carefully chosen stalks of wide-leaved brown kelp. After they spawn, the fishermen let the herring go. “Then we wait one or two days,” Esther says, “and then we start processing the stalks of kelp. We take them out of the water, salt them, and put them in this large tub of brine, and then we sell them to the Japanese people.” In Asia, the translucent roe, clinging like jellied snow to the slick kelp, are an expensive delicacy sold in stamp-sized pieces.
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But for Esther, the sea and sandy beaches are not just about fish. She has grown up on the beaches of Hoonah Sound—camping, playing football, building bonfires, and eating freshly-gathered clams. Motoring on the boat, the wind in her hair, she loves watching Dall’s porpoises play in the bow wave. This year, she is learning to kayak. When the water is calm, her mother lets her put her 5-year-old brother in the kayak’s stern hatch and paddle him between the boat and the shore.
Esther’s mother is often amazed at her daughter’s energy and zeal about protecting the forests and waters of Southeast. “I try not to preach to her too hard and try to show her other points of view,” she says, “but she’s pretty passionate about it.” Then again, as a born and raised Southeast Alaskan, Esther has had a very different childhood than her mother’s. After all, as Esther’s mother says, “I never took naps on a beach in Hoonah Sound when I was eight months old.”
Her life on the water, she says, “is just really fun, and I don’t want it to stop.” Young as she is, Esther is worried that her family’s fishing could end someday. “Right close to where we fish they want to log Ushk Bay. It’s just the next bay down, and we’re afraid that if they do that it’s going to be really ugly and the fish are going to start dying….It would be really sad, too. The trees are really big down there.” As with the decline in sand dollars in Sitka, the prospect of logging in places around Hoonah Sound like Ushk Bay, Deep Bay, and Poison Cove has made Esther fiercely opinionated. “I think logging is really bad because they make all these roads, and I think it’s really mean to the trees. If there are birds’ nests in the trees, they kill the little birds, and it’s hard on the bears because the salmon runs get trashed because of the slash.” Courtesy of Laurie Bower
Courtesy of Edna Jackson
“We’re part of the land. We’re never separated from it.”
Mike Jackson On a calm, sunny day off the coast of Kuiu Island, Mike Jackson’s 13-year-old nephew, Larry, shook as he stood on the deck of the boat with his uncle. He raised his gun, aimed it at the harbor seal 75 yards away, and pulled the trigger. The shot found its target, and the seal rolled lifeless on the next wave. They quickly pulled alongside the animal and hauled it into the boat by its flipper. “He was all excited, but very nervous when he shot the seal,” says Mike, who went through the same experience with his father when he was eleven. “You get a feeling when you take a life that’s kind of unexplainable, but you’re able to cope with it because the animal is part of your sustenance.” After Mike and Larry explained to the seal’s spirit why its life was needed, they returned home to Kake, a Tlingit village of 700 on Kupreanof Island. There, some 70 local children were waiting to help clean and prepare the seal as part of a town culture camp. Within a few hours, the seal’s meat and intestines were cleaned, 10
cut up, and in the smokehouse, its liver and heart were eaten, and a group of children were busily rendering its fat. “When he got to camp, you could tell the self-confidence he had, because he experienced something that not many people can.” However, humility is a byword for any Tlingit youth, especially after his first successful hunt. “He couldn’t be exulting or bragging about it,” says Mike. As tradition dictates, Larry gave the meat to friends and elders in the community rather than keeping it for his family. “It’s a way of showing respect,” Mike explains. “That way, everybody knows he’s a hunter.” Mike was born and raised in Kake, and his extended family is by far the largest in town. With one daughter of his own and more than 35 nephews and nieces, Mike has taken on the responsibility of teaching many of them the hunting and gathering practices of their clan. He has guided nearly a dozen nephews through their first deer or seal hunts, and takes countless others out to collect shellfish. “The kids really enjoy it. They come back at ten in the
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evening with rosy cheeks and rosy noses, all excited because they got their first clams or first sea urchins, and they take them to their elders excited at what they have to share.”
Courtesy of Edna Jackson
Kuiu Island is at the center of the Keex Kwaan tribe’s traditional lifestyle. From the island’s eastern shore, tribesmen have watched the sun rise over the mainland mountains for millennia. Its significance is such that Keex Kwaan tribe members were traditionally known as the People of the Dawn. Mike’s ancestors called the island “the stomach,” a name that reflects the shape of Kuiu as well as its importance as a food source for the Keex Kwaan.
nephew, one seal hunt, and one sea urchin at a time. He tells his five-year old grandson, Shawaan, the same stories that his father told him, trusting that even if the boy does not use the knowledge now, “he’ll have it as a seed in him.”
Kuiu and its waters continue to provide today. The people of Kake, including Mike’s family, still fish, gather, and hunt for Sitka blacktailed deer and seal there. Once a year in the spring, twenty or so of Mike’s close friends take boats out to the east shore of the island to troll for early salmon together. They also gather red and black seaweed, which they dry and eat with boiled fish, eggs, and in soups. At night, the boats anchor at a favorite beach and everyone comes ashore for a bonfire. “We’re part of the land,” Mike says. “We’re never separated from it.” This connection to the land is part of the sense of balance that he maintains by consciously staying in touch with the ways of his ancestors. Passing these traditions on to the next generation is an undertaking with uncertain success, but Mike persists, one
Photo by Linda Townsend
“Wood pulp is renewable. Wilderness is not.”
Eric Lee In 1902, Eric Lee’s grandfather, Harold, emigrated from Norway and moved to Petersburg, a tiny fishing village on Mitkof Island. Harold wrested his living from the sea, as did his son, Eric’s father, who helped pioneer the area’s king crab fishery in the 1960’s. Eric himself began his career on the sea when he was twelve, and has spent most of the last thirty years fishing the waters of Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait, eventually as the skipper of his own boat. The wild lands and waters of Mitkof Island have for decades sustained and inspired the Lee family. As a youngster, Eric’s father, Eldor, roamed the forests on the southern half of the island, climbing mountains and swimming and fishing in Blind Slough, a sparkling inlet of calm water rich in king and coho salmon. Eldor so loved the area that, soon after he married, he and three friends floated an old garage up the slough, where they skidded it up onto a bank. The garage became a cabin retreat where the Lees have gone ever since to fish, hunt, picnic, and pick berries in summer and ice skate in winter.
One summer when Eric was still a boy, his family spent six weeks in the one-room cabin while his father helped build a water pipeline from Crystal Lake, which is tucked between the knees of the mountain overshadowing the slough. Each morning, Eric’s mother packed a lunch for Eldor and canoed him down to the nearest bridge so he could climb the mountain in time for work. Meanwhile, six-year-old Eric reveled in the gifts of the slough. There was a day, he remembers, when he caught a minnow and, hands cupped, showed it to his mother. “If we really had to live off the land,” he asked, “I’d have to eat this, right?” Taken aback, she said, “Probably.” Before she could do more than gasp, Eric swallowed the fish whole. He can still recall the struggling minnow tickling the inside of his stomach. Quiet and introspective, Eric spent more and more time in the forest as a teenager, hunting, fishing, or patiently watching the wildlife around him. As a young man, he left for Los Angeles, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays. When he eventually returned to Southeast Alaska, he was stunned by the
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changes that had taken place near his home. “The rate of logging in the late seventies and eighties was just alarming,” he says. “Many of the best places to hunt had been turned into hillsides of stumps and log slash.” Eric joined with local conservationists to fight Forest Service timber sales on Mitkof Island. He has experienced both victory and defeat. Today, Mitkof is scarred by large clearcuts; the second-growth spruce and hemlock that are returning to the older logging sites provide poor winter habitat for the island’s Sitka black-tailed deer. Other areas are slated for logging, particularly the southeastern corner of the island. Eric has had the satisfaction, though, of seeing some prime bear and deer habitat near Blind Slough protected as an old-growth reserve. Today, Eric continues to reap the joys of living in Alaska’s temperate rainforest. From the banks of the slough, he watches beavers renovate their lodges, weasels stalk the boundaries of their territory, and bears battle over spawning salmon in the shallows of the slough. In the stands of second-growth, it is quiet. The tightly packed trees have cut off the light to the forest floor and few plants or creatures live there. As Eric says, “Wood pulp is renewable. Wilderness is not.” Photo by Linda Townsend
A Forest at Risk Southeast Alaskaâ€™s Tongass National Forest is a unique place where wild salmon still fill the rivers and streams, bald eagles soar, grizzly and black bears roam, and residents depend on the land, forests, and ocean for their livelihoods.
Low-elevation, old-growth watersheds are the most ecologically rich, beloved places on the Tongass. Unfortunately, these valuable places are often the most threatened. Today, many are vulnerable to logging, road building, and mining development. Of the places featured here, only the Naha watershed and parts of Berners Bay, northwest Chichagof Island, and Calder-Holbrook have been granted long-term protection. Yet even some of these protected places are threatened by land privatization and nearby development projects. Right: Mud Bay, North Chichagof Island Photo by Skip Gray
Map background: No Name Bay, East Kuiu Island Photo by Don Cornelius
Ushk Bay, Deep Bay, Poison Cove (page 8) Scott Foster
TONGASS WILD LANDS: The Places Behind the People
The wide tidal flats of Ushk Bay, Deep Bay, and Poison Cove link the baysâ€™ icy waters and forests, where fish, bears, deer, and plants have supported traditional use by Native Alaskans for generations. Fishermen from Sitka and Angoon continue to depend on the salmon, crabs, shrimp, and herring that thrive in these bays.
North Chichagof Island (page 30)
Florian Sever Scott Foster
The sight of humpback whales breaching and feeding cooperatively off the coast of Chichagof Island enchants visiting kayakers and boaters, whose growing numbers are making the area an increasingly valuable treasure to local guide and outfitter businesses.
Courtesy of Richard Carstensen
Scott Foster Scott Foster Scott Foster
Located near Petersburg, the Castle River and its three main tributaries teem with salmon. The riverâ€™s two public cabins and plank trails serve many of the thousands of visitors who come here every year to fish and hunt moose, waterfowl, and Sitka black-tailed deer.
The rugged peaks of Mt. Calder and Holbrook Mountain overlook the waterways of El Capitan Passage and Shakan Strait, where rich fisheries have long sustained local residents. The CalderHolbrook roadless area is blanketed by one of the last pristine forests of any size around Prince of Wales Island, which has been heavily logged in the last century.
Southeast Mitkof Island (page 12)
Courtesy of Dave Randrup
Due to heavy logging on Mitkof Island, the roadless southeastern corner is one of the last areas on the island where ancient spruce and hemlock trees still stand. These old-growth areas provide critical habitat to the islandâ€™s Sitka black-tailed deer, which remain a key food source for many Petersburg hunters and their families.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game ©Ray Troll 1989
Northwest Dall Island (page 24) Sea birds, wolves, and Sitka black-tailed deer roam Dall Island, the rocky, sea-battered coast of which retreats into grassy hills and forests underlain with caves. The island has a long history of use by Native Alaskans that stretches back 2-3,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. Several sea caves on Dall contain evidence of prehistoric human habitation. Bob Wood
The lake-studded Naha River is one of Ketchikan’s most beloved fishing and hiking areas. One of the top four sport fishing streams on the Tongass, the Naha attracts anglers and picnickers, who hike the river’s trail and cast for its abundant steelhead and sockeye salmon.
Located near the base of the ice fields of the Alaska Coastal Range outside of Petersburg, the forests of this mist-covered bay have such extraordinary color that people who visit here refer to a particular shade as “Port Houghton green.” One of the largest producers of wild Pacific salmon in Southeast Alaska, Port Houghton’s bays and estuaries are favorite commercial fishing, crabbing, and wilderness recreation areas. Petersburg residents have fought for years to keep logging out of this rich spot.
Michael Penn G.T. Larson
Southeast Rocky Pass (page 28)
East Kuiu Island (page 10) A remote, intricate coastline of estuaries, coves, and bays outlines the rich forest of East Kuiu Island, which has sustained Native Alaskans from time immemorial. The remains of ancient villages, camps, gardens, and fish traps speak to the area’s long-standing contribution to the Tlingit village of Kake, whose residents—as well as Kuiu and Prince of Wales Island locals—continue to gather plants, seafood, seals, and Sitka black-tailed deer there.
Lovelace Creek and Kushneahin Creek flow through the southwestern corner of Kupreanof Island into the waters of Rocky Pass, attracting strong runs of salmon. Fishermen and kayakers roam the coast, coming ashore to camp and beachcomb, while moose and wolves find shelter onshore in the area’s forested ridges and vast stretches of muskeg.
Courtesy of Mike Jackson
Eager to replenish energy reserves after the long winter, sea lions, whales, bald eagles, and gulls descend each spring on the “silver tide” of hooligan in Berners Bay in a spectacular feeding frenzy. The bay’s glacier-adorned peaks, waterfalls, and salmon-rich streams make it equally attractive to Juneau fishermen, kayakers, and campers. Road and mine development, as well as proposed land privatization, threaten to irreversibly alter this magnificent spring symphony.
©Jeff Harding 2003
“Scientists…find isotopes from fish in trees, at the top, several hundred yards away from the streambeds. It shows you the connectivity of the whole thing. The fish are actually in the trees.”
Ray Troll Ray Troll paints fish: fish swimming, fish being eaten, fish eating each other in a long chain, fish forming a ladder to the heavens, and fish flying through the air. His wacky shirts, posters, and murals of marine life are known across the country, and in Alaska—well, you’re not a real Alaskan unless you have a Ray Troll t-shirt that says “Spawn Till You Die” or “Fish Hard, Die Free” or “Fish Worship: Is It Wrong?” Ray became hooked on fish when he came to Ketchikan in the summer of 1983 to sell fish on the dock and help his sister start a seafood store. “I landed in the middle of this fish culture,” he says, and he has never left it. “I have not exhausted the subject,” says Ray. “It’s led me to all kinds of aspects of fish and the marine world. There’s sport fishing, commercial fishing, canneries, Native culture, fish scientists, fish enthusiasts, and fish dorks like myself. I’m a bona fide fish dork.” But Ray’s art isn’t just about his passion for creatures that swim. Because fish are at the heart of nearly all things Southeast Alaskan, 20
Ray’s fish obsession has naturally become linked with an enthusiasm for the local history, Native culture, and ecology of the Tongass. The Naha watershed near Ketchikan is a veritable playground for people like Ray. The area is steeped in local lore, having been the site of a skirmish between explorer George Vancouver’s men and local Native Alaskans and, later, of Southeast Alaska’s first large cannery. Even the name “Naha” means “mother” in Chinook, a jargon composed of French, English, and Pacific Coast native languages used by traders up and down the coast in the nineteenth century. The Naha also has lots of fantastic fish. An avid angler of uncertain skill, Ray has fished throughout Southeast Alaska for twenty years, but the Naha River is one of his favorite spots. The Naha’s many lakes and fishing holes are shaded by ancient trees under which fishermen and bears compete for the river’s bounty. There, in spring, Ray has often sought the elusive steelhead, a creature that Ray describes as “the holy grail of sport fish. They’re wily,
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they’re not as abundant, and they’re sort of the supertrout,” he says, “although if you want to get technical they’re not really a trout, they’re actually a species of salmon.” And for Ray, Naha is one of the best places to catch them. The watershed has long been important habitat for steelhead, as well as sockeye salmon, because both species need lakes to spawn in and, unlike most other rivers in mountainous Southeast, the Naha river leads directly from a lake to the ocean without first going over waterfalls too high for fish to leap. Partly because of its rich fisheries, Native Alaskans have depended on the Naha for generations. In the Naha, the connections between humans, wildlife, history, and ecology are clear, and Ray is conscious of these links whether he’s fishing the river or painting in his studio. This awareness perhaps explains designs of his like “Stream of Consciousness,” which shows a river overflowing with (among other things) humans, salmon, bears, a Tlingit warrior, a kingfisher, and a television. His appreciation of nature’s intricate links also explains why Ray’s otherwise dreamlike images are more often than not backed by solid science. “Scientists…find isotopes from fish in trees, at the top, several hundred yards away from the streambeds,” Ray says. “It shows you the connectivity of the whole thing. The fish are actually in the trees. I’ve done an image of that, salmon flying through the trees. So science feeds the art.” ©Ray Troll 1989
Photo by Linda Townsend
“A lot of the people that we take out have an idea that a national forest is a national park. They’re surprised that any logging goes on at all.” Scott Hursey
Scott and Julie Hursey From the deck of the Heron, Julie Hursey and Jackie watched as a pod of orcas toyed with a harbor seal in the distance. The seal spotted the boat and swam toward it in a desperate attempt to reach cover under it. It was a body length away when, without warning, an orca exploded out of the depths and devoured the hapless creature in a single bite. Julie watched as Jackie hesitated, then turned to look at her, her face struck with horror and wonder. A young city girl from California, Jackie was exploring the Inside Passage with her family onboard Julie and Scott’s boat. “I don’t think I like Free Willy anymore,” she said. While that experience of nature in the raw may have been the highlight of Jackie’s trip, Julie stresses that, although breathtaking, such extraordinary moments do not encapsulate all the reasons she and her husband love Southeast Alaska. “You have to live here a long time to accumulate those experiences,” she says.
Living in Alaska “is like a long-term relationship. It’s not about the peak moments; it’s the hours you spend that knit you together.” Julie and Scott have put in those hours. As co-owners of Alaska Passages, a charter business that offers custom trips out of Petersburg on the Heron, the couple has spent years exploring the remote coves and inlets of Admiralty Island, Frederick Sound, and Port Houghton. With groups of five or six people, often families, they kayak, fish, listen to whales, photograph bears, bald eagles, and sea lions, and hike under the moss-clad limbs of the rainforest’s ancient spruce. Guests routinely leave the Hurseys’ boat with a heightened awareness of the Tongass National Forest and its relative lack of protection. “A lot of the people that we take out have an idea that a national forest is a national park,” Scott says, noting that national parks are protected from resource extraction, while national forests are not. “They’re surprised that any logging goes on at all.”
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Scott and Julie also highlight the natural history and wildlife of Southeast Alaska and make a special effort to get their younger clients excited about nature. “We try to focus on families and on educating kids,” he says. “We try to get them out into the Tongass and onto the beach so we can show them tide pools and get them on some hikes.” Many of the Hurseys’ clients discover that the wilderness of the Inside Passage evokes emotions that do not often surface elsewhere. For one man, it was the howl of a wolf near a remote salt lagoon in Port Houghton. For another woman, it was a pod of orcas swimming off the bow of the Heron—a sight that made her burst into tears. Julie believes these reactions are related to “the experience of being alone—of going to a beach where there are no human footprints, of hearing a wolf when you’re sitting on the beach and knowing no one else is around for miles, of watching a huge iceberg fall off the side of a glacier. Even the quality of light as it changes across the landscape gives me a real sense of peace.”
mouths agape, scoop up hundreds of panicked herring. “The whales talk to each other to get the thing set up,” says Scott, who often listens to them underwater on the Heron’s hydrophone. There are times when Scott and Julie slip into Port Houghton alone. On spring days, the meadows erupt with shooting stars, buttercups, and chocolate lilies, and the forest is cloaked in a fog of yellow spruce pollen. “It’s wonderful seeing the forest renew itself,” says Julie, “and feeling at home in such a wild and beautiful place.”
When the Hurseys crave solitude, they often motor into Port Houghton. “It’s a long bay that starts out as fairly gentle country,” Scott says, “but as you get farther back in, the mountains get bigger and bigger.” He and Julie take groups there to shelter from inclement weather, to fish, and to watch whales. If they are lucky, they’ll see a pod of five or six humpback whales bubblenet feeding. One whale dives under a school of herring and blows a ring of bubbles around the fish. As the bubbles rise, the herring become confused and cluster. The fish will not swim through the “net” of bubbles, enabling the whales to chase them to the surface and, Photo by Linda Townsend
Courtesy of Pete Smith
“Caves are the only places on the Tongass where we are going to get a good window into our history.”
Steve Lewis Steve Lewis and his friends love naming caves: Slug’s Plunge, Toad’s Plunge, Die Hardyman Hole, Blowing in the Wind, and Two Deer Pit. Macho Peak-A-Boo, a challenging vertical-descent cave complete with skylight. Enigma Cave, and its diminutive neighbor, Slightly Enigmatic. Many spelunkers would do just about anything to have the honor of naming even one cave, but for seasoned Alaskan cavers like Steve, it’s a fairly regular event. Many of the islands in Southeast Alaska are richly endowed with karst, a landform created when rain and snowmelt dissolve limestone to form a labyrinth of caves and underground streams. As a founding member of the Tongass Cave Project, Steve has spent much of the last decade dropping into 500-foot pits, climbing 30-foot walls, swimming underground pools, and squeezing through wormholes, all in pitch darkness and often in uncharted territory. There is much uncharted territory on Dall Island, a rugged, wavepounded island in the southernmost reaches of the Tongass. Steve loves the island’s weathered rocks and grassy hills because they 24
have an “out-there feeling” unique to remote islands that, like Dall, face the open ocean. “There aren’t any giant mountains or huge cliffs or the biggest trees on the Tongass,” he says, “but it feels wild.” It is also peppered with caves. “The density of sinkholes on parts of Dall is some of the best in the country,” Steve says. Even on a place like Dall, which, geologically speaking, might as well be a giant slab of Swiss cheese, finding caves can be a tricky business. Years of experience have taught Steve some of the nuanced differences in terrain and undergrowth that can signal the presence of caves, but, he says, “You have to develop an eye for each island.” On Dall, Steve and his companions study aerial photos and geological maps, then walk the ground in search of pits, sinkholes, and grikes (fissures in limestone). In the course of exploring and charting caves in Southeast Alaska, Steve and other Tongass Cave Project members have discovered human and animal remains as much as 40,000 years old. Many of the caves they have explored contain the sleeping holes-turned-
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gravesites of bears, foxes, and otters that curled up for winter before the rise of human civilization. In 1996, paleontologist Tim Heaton was about to wrap up an excavation of On Your Knees Cave when, filling the last bag of sediment, he found human bones that were later radiocarbon dated as 9,800 years old.
And as much as anything else, it’s about being on the cutting edge. As Steve says, “Think about it: discovering a hundred feet of virgin passage in a cave. That’s something that most cavers would kill to do. It’s a privilege to be a part of that.” Courtesy of Pete Smith
Steve and other Tongass Cave Project members believe that Southeast Alaska’s karst is both unique and undervalued. Bones dissolve in the acidic surface soil of the Tongass, but basic limestone can leave them untouched for millennia, making caves the only places in the region that preserve these remains well. As such, they are “the only places on the Tongass where we are going to get a good window into our history in terms of human migration into North America, as well as the way plants and animals moved into Southeast Alaska as the glaciers receded,” Steve says.
But the group has always been about more than saving karst. It’s about the thrill of adventure—a thrill that, Steve’s friends say, has prompted him to jump into icy underground pools without remembering to zip up his drysuit.
Alaskan caves are as fragile as they are valuable. Because it is so porous, karst makes for well-drained soil that produces magnificent stands of ancient spruce that are coveted by the timber industry. Unfortunately, logging projects often devastate karst systems. Cave entrances are blocked, slash and sedimentation plug up caves and the animal remains within, and redirected water dissolves ancient limestone formations. In the last decade, Tongass Cave Project members have worked with the Forest Service, television crews, writers, and conservation groups to advocate for protection of Tongass caves.
Photo by Skip Gray
“I realized I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”
Mary Willson Every spring, millions of small, silver fish called hooligan swim into Berners Bay to spawn in the lower reaches of its rivers. So rich and oily that, dried, they burn like candles, the fish are irresistible to legions of creatures who swarm into the bay to fatten up before continuing on to their summer breeding grounds. Sea lions stack up like linebackers, then dive in unison to corral and capture the fish. Humpback whales and orcas join in the frenzy, and the silvery scales of millions of victims coat the surface of the water. Within a few days, the final push for the spawning grounds begins and, lifted by the tide, the hooligan pulse into the Berners and Antler Rivers. Tens of thousands of gulls rise in a screaming flurry over the shallow water. Shorebirds, ducks, mergansers, and crows flock in droves. A thousand bald eagles feed on the hooligan that die after spawning (not all do) and ravens cache carcasses in the trees so that when the wind blows, it rains desiccated hooligan. When Juneau research ecologist Mary Willson first saw the clouds of birds at the hooligan run in Berners Bay, her initial reaction
was, “How on earth am I going to count all these animals?” Though many years as a scientist have honed Mary’s practical mind to a sharpness that always responds to hard numbers, they have also given her a depth of experience that magnified the awe and wonder that she felt on first witnessing the hooligan run. Mary came to Alaska after a long career at the University of Illinois. When her husband died just short of her twenty-fifth year as a biology professor, Mary decided that she’d had enough of the classroom and moved to Juneau to take a job with the Forestry Sciences Lab. Her new job was a refreshing change from teaching, as it allowed Mary to spend summers in the field doing everything from netting birds to collecting bear scat. Winters she wrote. As a field researcher in the little-studied environment of Southeast Alaska, Mary was able to follow her keen interest in ecosystem relationships. Her initial studies on fruit-eating birds piqued her interest in the links between berries and bears—and bears naturally led her to salmon and other fish. As a result, she came to Berners Bay with a detailed mental map of some of the many
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interactions between species that occur in Southeast. But even that did not prepare her for the menagerie of creatures that she saw stream into Berners Bay for the biggest feast of the year. The sea lions, whales, and, most of all, the birds that Mary watched that first spring convinced her to conduct a more extensive series of studies of the hooligan run. Every April for several years, she and a team of research assistants headed to an island in the Antler River and set up camp on a carpet of moss overhung by a canopy of spruce boughs. The studies that resulted from their observations of the wildlife only hint at the full ecological richness of Berners Bay, but they make a strong case for its preservation. The U.S. Congress has recognized the bay’s value and protected parts of it from the threat of logging. However, it continues to face threats from mining, road building, land privatization, and other development. Mary’s studies suggest that any of these activities could disrupt the magnificent interplay between species that occurs during the hooligan run.
Photo by Bob Christensen
The hooligan have also influenced the way that Mary views her work, inspiring her to take an increasingly active role as a watchdog of extraordinary places like Berners Bay. In recent years, Mary has devoted more and more of her research to conservation goals, and has spent time educating journalists and the public about the critical importance of habitat to birds and other creatures, both in Alaska and abroad. Having studied a “wildlife heaven” like Berners Bay and discovered the depths of the damage that could be done to it, she says, “I realized I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”
Photo by Linda Townsend
“The connection between the land and where you get your food is very strong for me. The landscape should provide sustenance for spirit and body.”
Dave Beebe Dave Beebe has an exceptional approach to commercial fishing. While many Southeast Alaskan fishermen move from place to place in search of the largest schools of fish, Dave centers his fishing on experience and lifestyle rather than profit. He sticks to his traditional fishing grounds in the Keku Strait between Kupreanof Island and Kuiu Island “through thick and thin,” because, he says, “I have a really strong personal attachment to the place.” With salmon prices often hovering at cents per pound and independent fishermen struggling to compete with fish farms, Dave has chosen to steer clear of the salmon fishery entirely. He sets crab pots and fishes for halibut in the summer and fall, dives for sea cucumbers in October, and harvests herring roe on kelp in the spring. This cobbled-together fishing schedule allows Dave to live an unconventional but highly fulfilling life. When he’s not on his boat, Dave lives in Kupreanof, a town of roughly 35 with no roads and no municipal electricity or running water. He has served as mayor and lived for years as a caretaker in a house that doubled as the community center. 28
Between seasons and when the fishing is slow, Dave explores the wild lands of Keku Strait. “The connection between the land and where you get your food is very strong for me,” he says. “The landscape should provide sustenance for spirit and body.” By boat and by foot, Dave roams the rocky beaches and the cold waters lapping Kupreanof’s shores with a digital video camera. Over the years, he has collected remarkable footage of weather, water, and wildlife. In the spring when the herring spawn, he captures with his lens the sea lions, orcas, humpback whales, loons, and mergansers for which—as for him—the herring symbolize the end of the lean winter season. In late summer, he hikes up a remote creek in Rocky Pass to shadow the black bears that throng to feast on spawning salmon. Dave watches quietly, often coming within ten feet of the agile animals. He recognizes individuals by size, pelt, personality, or the favoring of an injured paw. Dave shoots underwater footage of live salmon, and of their decaying carcasses where the bears
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leave them in the forest. He zooms in on the insects that stud the rotting fish, then turns the camera to the ancient, towering spruce trees that are nourished by the nitrogen-rich flesh of the salmon. Dave’s purpose is “to establish a visual relationship between salmon carcasses and black bears, and to show the bears’ crucial role over millenia in distributing salmon well away from creek beds.” He refers to studies that point to the importance of fish carcasses to the forest, saying, “Who would have thought that the bears may be partly responsible for the health of these four hundred-yearold trees?” Dave also shoots video of porpoises and whales, sunsets and storms, crab pot-setting and kelp harvesting. His attention to detail is masterful. In one take, rain beads up in luminescent droplets on the wheelhouse window of his boat, each drop holding in its center a perfect inverted image of the tree-lined shore. Dave’s photography is “an act of gratitude” that he can participate so fully in the natural cycles of Kupreanof and Kuiu Islands. To Dave, it is a continual source of wonder that, twenty years after escaping a suburban fate, he can fish “with a certain frame of mind that truly appreciates the bounty of the natural world, beyond making money, and to do that for a living in a place I would otherwise vacation in.” Photo by G.T. Larson
Courtesy of Judy Brakel
“I took the wild untouched version as my vision of the world. I thought that’s the way the world was normally.”
Judy Brakel One spring day, Judy Brakel and her husband Greg kayaked along the coast of Baranof Island, coming ashore in late afternoon to camp on the beach. After cooking dinner, they walked into the forest until they came to an open area of rounded granite terraces. “Greg remarked how little the land had changed since the last ice age,” Judy said, recalling the slow-growing plants that spotted the rockscape. They hiked up the granite slope until Judy stopped before an oblong mound of rocks. Lichens gripped the stones and tiny trees grew from between the cracks. She suddenly realized, “I am seeing something that was made by people.” Greg, a naturalist, agreed that the mound was not only manmade, but one of the oldest artifacts he had seen in Southeast Alaska. The couple pondered its significance until, finally, it hit Judy. “I bet you it’s a grave,” she said. They turned to watch the rays of the setting sun shoot through the clouds to strike the tiny islands of Chatham Strait. “Oh, this is a perfect place to put somebody,” Judy thought. Today, she remembers the moment of that discovery with a feeling of privileged peace that can be experienced only
by someone who has spent years exploring Southeast Alaska. “It made me feel so rooted here, like I found this place because I belong here,” she says. Judy’s roots in the Tongass have been a lifetime growing. Born in Petersburg, she grew up traveling the coastline of Southeast Alaska’s islands and mainland by boat. As a child, Judy spent so much time wandering the region’s rocky beaches and mist-laden fjords with her family that, she says, “I took the wild untouched version as my vision of the world. I thought that’s the way the world was normally.” Because she learned how to fish, hunt, and harvest edible plants early on, Judy has long been confident in her ability to make a home of the rainforest. When she was in her thirties, Judy’s first marriage ended in divorce, and she faced the challenge of raising three small children alone in Juneau. Too short of cash to afford new winter clothes for her children, Judy gathered shellfish and local plants, fished, hunted mountain goats, and started a backyard garden to keep her family well-fed. “We would combine outdoor adventures with practical things like getting clams or berries or ptarmigan,” she says.
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At her office job, Judy says, “I would always look out the window and wish I was outside even when it was raining.” Eventually, she was able to juggle her responsibilities so she could work as a kayak guide in the summer. “At that point, I told myself I was never going to spend another summer in an office,” she says, “and I never have.” For twenty years now, Judy has led kayak trips exploring the bays, salt chucks, and hidden coves of northern Southeast. She has gravitated to the northern coast of Chichagof Island, where Sitka black-tailed deer browse the intertidal kelp in the winter, and whales, seals, bald eagles, and gulls feast on herring in the summer. Near Point Adolphus, Judy has watched countless humpback whales breach and feed in the waters of Icy Strait.
the people relaxed into it. They would paddle alongside whales, see a lot of wildlife, and when we got back, we would go to a building where they could get out of the rain, and they wouldn’t.” Judy now lives in Gustavus with Greg in a house built of Tongass spruce and hemlock. Each fall, Judy stores vegetables from their garden in their root cellar and cans quart upon quart of high-bush cranberry juice. She dries mushrooms, makes kelp salsa, and picks nagoon berries. She fishes for salmon and hunts on the small islands around Gustavus and across Icy Strait on north Chichagof, sometimes kayaking home with a deer. She has never stopped exploring and celebrating her home. “I feel like I’ve had a fortunate life because I’ve lived here,” she says. “It’s akin to the gratitude that’s central to most or maybe all religions.”
As a guide, her favorite trips are the ones when clients begin to feel at home. “I’ve been on trips where it rained every day, and
Courtesy of Judy Brakel
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a coalition of eighteen local conservation groups in fourteen Alaskan communities throughout the Tongass National Forest. SEACC’s members include commercial and sport fishermen, business owners, small wood products manufacturers, Native Alaskans, scientists, sportsmen and women, and many more Alaskans and Americans dedicated to safeguarding and ensuring the sustainable use of the Tongass National Forest. For more information or to get involved, please contact: Southeast Alaska Conservation Council 419 6th Street, Suite 200 • Juneau, AK 99801 Phone: (907) 586-6942 • Fax: (907) 463-3312 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org • Website: www.seacc.org SEACC gratefully acknowledges the support of the following organizations and individuals, without whom this publication would not have been possible: Alaska Conservation Foundation Feldman & Orlansky Counselors at Law Wendilee Heath-O’Brien Special thanks to the following people: all of the photographers who generously provided Tongass images for this publication; Tim Bristol; Jeremy Anderson; and the dedicated staff at SEACC. BACK COVER: Port Houghton at sunset, photo by David Job.