Putting Community First—for Conservation That Lasts
The Nature Conservancy's Alaska, Canada, and Washington programs are working together to create a sustainable future on an unprecedented scale in the Emerald Edge—the largest remaining coastal temperate rainforest on Earth. The Emerald Edge is home to Indigenous and local communities whose stories are intertwined with its old-growth forests and pristine waters, and whose survival depends on healthy forests and oceans.
Knowing that conservation succeeds when local communities are strong, The Nature Conservancy partners directly with people living across the Emerald Edge to set the stage for emerging leaders to succeed, support the creation of local wealth that works with nature, and secure community access to critical resources.
People from across the Emerald Edge are engaging in innovative Indigenous Community Exchanges, traveling to one another's communities to share ideas, stories, and practices.
"It was not until this gathering that I understood how an Indigenous cohort could have such impacts on global decision-making," says Spencer Greening of the Gitga'at First Nation. Spencer joined community leaders from Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska at E Alu Pu, the World Conservation Congress Indigenous Leaders gathering in Hawai'i.
In Southeast Alaska, Ian Johnson, with the Hoonah Indian Association, joined Hoonah residents on Prince of Wales Island to learn about biomass-fueled greenhouses.
"If we hadn't had a chance to travel to Prince of Wales," he says, "we wouldn't now be planning for building a sustainable community greenhouse in Hoonah."
On the Path to Prosperity
When Main Street Prospers, Nature Can, Too
"They believed in me," says Greg McMillan (pictured above). And that's making all the difference for his expanding oyster farm in the protected waters of Prince of Wales Island.
Meanwhile, over in Juneau, a couple launches their own brand of salsa - with kelp they harvest from the sea. A deli puts local fish on the menu in the fishing town of Petersburg. In the snowy mecca of Haines, a startup builds hand-crafted skis out of local, sustainably sourced wood. What do these ventures have in common? They all aspire to be triple bottom line businesses - committed to people, the planet and profits.
There's something else, too: They all thank The Nature Conservancy for helping them get their start. With Spruce Root, an indigenous partner in the region, we support a revolving loan fund and the Path to Prosperity (P2P) business plan competition—all to nurture a growing entrepreneurial sector in Southeast Alaska.
Why? Businesses that do well on Main Street can also do good for nature and people. After too many booms and busts in the region, the time for stable communities that rely on the sustainable use of local resources is now. Over the last five years, The Nature Conservancy has supported more than four dozen business ventures with a combination of business training, loans, and startup funds.
In these remote coastal communities, that's something people can believe in.
Making the Refuge Whole
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge had a hole in its heart: less than a half-square-mile in size, it threatened to transform Alaska's most popular national wildlife refuge. Once a homestead, this private inholding had been subdivided into 20 parcels and primed for unleashing a dizzying array of changes that didn't bode well for a place renowned for brown bears, moose, trumpeter swans and, of course, salmon. The Nature Conservancy in Alaska negotiated the purchase of every single one of those 20 properties and has now declared "mission complete." We've reunited this wayward tract of healthy forest, ponds and streams by donating the parcels to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Reserving the River
Lower Talarik Creek is legendary among anglers, famous for rainbow trout measured in pounds, not inches. Large and plentiful, these trout earned the creek one of the first official Trophy Rainbow Trout designations in Alaska. Located in Bristol Bay, the creek flows over eight miles of rolling tundra into Iliamna Lake. But more than 75 percent of this valuable watershed has been claimed for mining activities. That's why in the late 1990s, the Conservancy purchased a key land parcel at the mouth of the creek, and began the five-year process of documenting the creek's water flows. In cooperation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Conservancy then applied for an in-stream water flow reservation. The application was approved in 2017, allowing the Conservancy to reserve enough water in Lower Talarik Creek to meet the needs of salmon and trout in perpetuity.
My Mission Moment
This year we celebrated a big step forward in the Tongass. The Tongass National Forest's newly revised land management plan includes the science-based recommendations we first put forward ten years ago: protect 2.5 million acres of the most important salmon watersheds, while nurturing a diversified economy that includes fisheries and a more sustainable second-growth forest industry.
Our science-based proposal won the support of people from across a remarkably diverse spectrum of Southeast Alaska—among parties who had never before reached agreement on a matter of such regional importance. It breathed new life into a region that has known natural resource conflict for too long.
But this year has also shown us that our best attempts at building bridges in the Tongass aren't immune to political headwinds. Even as we celebrate this history-making moment, new obstacles threaten our progress. Luckily, we're in the business of lasting and transformational change.
Our approach in the Tongass—the work to connect to and support people who believe a healthy Tongass is critical to healthy communities—is what makes conservation durable.
—Christine Woll, Southeast Alaska Program Director
Wolves of Prince of Wales Island
Where the Wolves Are
Conservancy staffer Michael Kampnich felt a bite in the air as he pushed the 14-foot aluminum skiff away from the dock. This might be their last chance to deploy the new trail cameras. Winter storms would soon make travel impossible.
Michael and Elijah Winrod, a local trapper and boat captain, were providing field support for a major scientific study of Prince of Wales Island wolves. A volunteer, Elijah's knowledge of the remote wilderness would ensure the cameras were set up where wolves were most likely to roam. Exposed to the elements, they traveled 180 miles, hugging craggy shorelines and crossing open seas. As dusk was setting the first night, they set up camp on a small island in a secluded inlet to avoid bears.
For two days they scouted new sites, retrieved photos, replaced old cameras and gathered scat samples. The information they collected would be sent to Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists, who are monitoring wolf population trends over time on Prince of Wales—a place where the health of wolves is closely linked to the health of deer and other species.
"This is a valuable and fascinating study. Working with lifelong locals and agency biologists who all possess remarkable knowledge and insights of wolves has been a privileged opportunity for me," says Michael, Prince of Wales Island field representative for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska.