Goodbye Alaska!

My final month in the Tongass went by as quickly as the previous three. It was a summer full of adventures, seed collecting, hiking, camping, swimming, and wildlife viewing. The Tongass is truly a magical place. The coastal temperate rainforest is such a unique ecosystem. It is so productive and filled with megafauna and old-growth stands, that make you feel like you were transported into Jurassic Park. Ketchikan seems to always be entrapped by thick clouds and a mist that makes the mountain’s features more mysterious. However, despite its reputation as one of the rainiest US towns, we had a beautiful summer filled with many consecutive sunny days. I began to long for the clouds and rain as plants and creeks started to dry up. After a few weeks in August, Ketchikan returned to its normal cloud coverage that I’ve grown to love.

We finished the season with collections from 20 different species. Aquilegia formosa (wild columbine), Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard), Carex aquatilis (water sedge), Carex echinata (star sedge), Coptis aspleniifolia (fern-leaf goldthread), Chamerion angustifolium (fireweed), Gualtheria shallon (salal), Heracleum maximum (cow parsnip), Oplopanax horridus (devil’s club), Ribes bracteosum (stink currant), Rubus spectabilis (salmonberry), Sanguisorba officinalis (great burnet), Scirpus microcarpus (panicled bulrush), Spiraea splendens (rose meadowsweet), Tiarella trifoliata (three-leaf foamflower), Vaccinium ovalifolium (blueberry), and Vaccinium parviflorum (red huckleberry). In total we collected 1,577,772 seeds, weighing 17 lbs.

It was a very diverse group of species, that all have high value for restoration projects. For example, Cow Parsnip & Fireweed provide food and shelter to animals and pollinators. Plus, they are great for roadside disturbed areas and shade out the biggest nuisance in the Tongass: reed canary grass. We collected lots of fruit bearing shrubs that are great for wildlife and help stabilize the soil. The rest of the species were collected to help revive the stream banks after stream restorations.

Apart from all the seed collecting, we collaborated with other resource specialists on timber, watershed restoration, archeology, and recreation projects. I got to dip my toe into the other disciplines and expand my general knowledge. This experience I had out here was everything I wanted and more. I learned a ton about botany, coastal rainforests, restoration, and working for a government agency. This internship is definitely going to be instrumental in continuing a career stewarding our natural world.

I leave Alaska with a bittersweet kind of feeling. I am very grateful for this opportunity and so glad I accepted the offer to come almost 3,500+ miles from home to an area that I had no prior experience with. The Tongass National Forest holds a special place in my heart, and I look forward to making my way back here one of these days.

Making Headlines in August

A highlight of this month was working with the Fish & Wildlife and KIC (Ketchikan Indian Community) crews on restoring salmon habitat to streams at Last Chance campsite. Before we started this project the stream looked like a bowling alley, the water was flowing straight down and starting to erode the bank into the nearby campground. When a stream is flowing like this, there’s no pools or pockets for fish habitat or breeding grounds. We spent the week digging trenches along the creek, then pulled downed trees into the trenches, and covered them with rocks. After a week of manual labor, the stream ended up with more S curves, waterfall features, and pools. We even made the front page of Ketchikan Times! The seeds we are collecting this season will be used on projects like this in the future to restore vegetation to the stream banks.

The rest of the workdays of August were dedicated to collecting and cleaning seeds. On August 28th we were able to send off 7 out of our 8 completed seed collections. The 7 collections that were shipped on August 28 were Vaccinium ovalifolium (Blueberry), Chamerion angustifolium (Fireweed), Ribes bracteosum (Stink Currant), Oplopanax horridus (Devil’s Club), Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard), Hercaleum maximum (Cow Parsnip), Gualtheria shallon (Salal). Our 8th collection will be Spirea splendens (Rosie spirea), which we aim to ship out in the next two weeks, hopefully along with Scirpus microcarpus (Panicled Bulrush), and Carex aquatilis (Water Sedge).

Some other noteworthy things happened this month. I stumbled upon a tree covered in “Chicken of the Woods.” Sautéed with salt, pepper, and butter they truly taste just like chicken! The less appetizing photo on the right features some dead salmon. Several species of salmon have almost concluded their runs back to the lakes and streams they were born in. Once they make it back to the lake they lay their eggs or spread their sperm. After such a dangerous and exhausting journey they can rest easy and rot away in bliss knowing they’ve completed their life cycle. Ward Lake in Ketchikan is very pungent and getting harder to visit, but seeing the lake fill up with salmon is a reminder on just how extraordinary nature’s processes can be!

Finally, the top highlight of the month was hiking the Deer Mountain Traverse. Last Saturday afternoon Neave and I sent it up the Deer Mountain trail head right in the center of town and at 4pm on Sunday we reached the parking lot at the base of Mahoney Mountain on the far south side of Revilla Island. The ~18~ mile hike through the alpine, past many lakes, and over several peaks was a once in a lifetime hike. Absolutely beautiful landscapes and perfect weather. It was a great way to cap off an awesome month!

Wild Life and Wilderness

The first month of this journey has been everything I was hoping for and more! The Tongass NF is so vast and filled with dense wilderness, it’s much more accessible by float plane or boat than by car. So we’ve been traveling mostly by boat, which can present challenges with rough seas or stormy days. However, the weather has been surprisingly incredibly nice. The tales of torrential rain 7 days a week were greatly over exaggerated (please don’t let this jinx me).

As we wait for our targeted species to flower, develop fruits, and then go to seed, we have filled our time with trainings, scouting, rare species surveys, and micro timber sale surveys. We’ve also done a few personal use timber surveys, a program that I believe is unique to Alaska. Each Alaskan resident is given the opportunity to take 10,000 board feet of timber for their personal use (usually to build a house or stock up on firewood). So i’ve gone out to a few different islands with the timber crew to survey the trees they’ve chosen to make sure it’s 150 ft away from any streams or eagles nest, the forest floor is clear of any rare species, and outside of any cultural resource sites. It’s been an interesting experience, my preconceived bias was that these individuals would want the biggest and easiest trees to extract. However, the individuals were very environmentally conscious, and turned down trees that they felt would disturb the ecology of the forest. Its refreshing to see how connected the residents here are with the forest, something that is not as common in other parts of America.

Anyways, I’m super excited for the rest of this adventure. I’ve learned a ton and can’t wait to absorb even more!