SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Hoonah Community Forest Project
By Chris Erickson


November 24, 2008
Monday PM

On October 1, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game implemented the first early closure of the doe hunting season in the history of Northeast Chichagof Island. It was an unsettling announcement for those of us living in Hoonah and Tenakee, two communities which rely heavily upon subsistence hunting. More unsettling is the drop in the deer population which prompted the early closure. To those of us who make our living as hunting and fishing guides operating on the northeastern tip of Chichagof Island, this drop is all too apparent. During trips in the field, deer sightings during peak activity times of early morning and late evening, once numbering a dozen or more, are so rare as to be worthy of mention.

In an APRN article on October 28, Area Management Biologist Phil Mooney stated that the population drop was due to two harsh winters following several mild winters. The deer population grew quickly during the mild winters, ate all the available winter forage, and then dropped dramatically when two harsh winters could not provide enough food to sustain the population. There is one underlying variable that determines deer population size: habitat quality.

The deer population is limited by the amount of winter forage that our forests can provide. Winter vegetation grows best in old growth forests, where the high tree canopy keeps most of the snow off the ground, which allows the vegetation to thrive and makes the forest floor easier for deer to navigate. Unfortunately, most of the large old-growth stands on Northeast Chichagof have been cut. In their place are young growth forests, which are often so thick that deer can barely walk through them, and edible vegetation is sparse. The decrease in high quality deer habitat on Northeast Chichagof has made our deer population very vulnerable to hard winters.

Fortunately, we can restore the quality of our forests. Restoration projects are a huge win-win for both wildlife and people. Besides the obvious subsistence benefits that come from supporting a healthier deer population, restoration projects are a wonderful opportunity to provide local jobs by bringing different user groups together to work collaboratively in the Tongass.

The Hoonah Community Forest Project (sponsored by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, SEACC) brought together the conservation community, US Forest Service, employees of Icy Straits Lumber, customary and traditional users of the forest, and Hoonah community members to discuss the future of the area's forests. This summer SEACC, the Hoonah Ranger District, and community members followed a recommendation of this project and began planning a restoration project in the Kennel Creek watershed, just south of Hoonah. This project will also require the equipment and expertise of workers at Icy Straits Lumber. Restoration projects throughout Southeast can help our small mills diversify their revenue sources and save jobs. Restoration projects could also help save Forest Service jobs, which are currently being cut as more of the federal Forest Service budget is directed toward fighting forest fires down south.

Restoration projects are gathering steam throughout our region. SEACC and the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) worked with the Forest Service to include restoration efforts as part of the deal to resolve the groups' appeal of the Iyouktug timber sale east of Hoonah. SCS is also working on restoration efforts with the Forest Service and other groups in the heavily used Starrigavan watershed near Sitka that was heavily clear-cut decades ago and whose deer and salmon numbers are not what they could be.

The bottom line: Restoration projects increase the quality of wildlife habitat, help secure the future for subsistence harvest, help create and save local jobs, and provide a unique opportunity for different user groups to find common ground and work together. They are a win-win for everybody.

Chris Erickson
Tok River Outfitters LLC
Hoonah, AK

Received November 23, 2008 - Published November 24, 2008



Viewpoints - Opinion Letters:

letter Webmail Your Opinion Letter to the Editor



Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.


E-mail your letters & opinions to
Your full name, city and state are required for publication.

SitNews ©2008
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska