Hoonah Community Forest Project
By Chris Erickson
November 24, 2008
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
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
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
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.
Tok River Outfitters LLC
Received November 23, 2008
- Published November 24, 2008
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