• Tongass National Forest, Sitka Ranger District, clarifies rules for berry-picking and gathering on forest lands

Salmonberries await picking near the entrance to Sitka National Historical Park

Salmonberries await picking near the entrance to Sitka National Historical Park

The Tongass National Forest, Sitka Ranger District, is reminding people that any berry-picking or other gathering for commercial use on national forest lands requires a special-use permit. The rules clarification comes after a sign recently was posted outside a grocery store offering payment for salmonberries. Personal-use berry-picking and other gathering is allowed, so long as no money changes hands.

Please note, these are not new regulations and they have been on the books for many years. But the USDA Forest Service wants to remind people about them because many Sitka residents don’t know them.

“Here is an interim policy for special forest products attached (see link below), but it is long and cumbersome for most to read,” District Ranger Perry Edwards wrote. “The short version is you can collect berries, mushrooms, etc., for personal use in a national forest. But once you sell them it becomes a commercial use and a person needs to have a special forest product permit. So far, no one has officially gone through the process to get one from the Sitka Ranger District, as it does take some time for the USDA Forest Service to do the analysis and the public process.”

The interim rules and regulations run several pages, but the two paragraphs below help clarify Special Forest Products and commercial uses.

  • Special Forest Products – Special forest products (SFPs) are defined as products derived from non-timber biological resources that are used for subsistence, personal, spiritual, educational, commercial, and scientific use. SFP resources include, but are not limited to: mushrooms, boughs, Christmas trees, bark, ferns, moss, burls, berries, cones, conks, herbs, roots, and wildflowers. Also included are cuttings (such as of willow used for restoration) and transplants (as for landscaping purposes). SFP resources exclude saw-timber, pulpwood, cull logs, small round-wood, house logs, utility poles, minerals, animals, animal parts, rocks, water and soil.
  • Commercial Uses — SFP resources that are sold, processed for sale, or used in business operations are considered commercial use. Research collections for bioprospecting or other purposes by entities that do not have a cooperative agreement with the Forest Service or other federal government agency or department are considered commercial use and are subject to the same permitting procedures and requirements as other commercial uses. Commercial use on the Tongass National Forest is subject to the standards and guidelines in the Tongass Forest Plan, national and regional SFP policies, and the following management guidelines. In all cases, commercial use should not displace subsistence, personal or other non-commercial uses.

The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has similar rules for harvesting from Alaska State Parks, and earlier this summer began requiring a special permit for gathering seaweed at the Halibut Point Recreation Area in Sitka.

• Interim Special Forest Products Policy for Tongass National Forest, Sitka Ranger District

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• Alaska State Parks now requires special permit to harvest seaweed at Halibut Point Recreation Area

BeachSeaweed

Because of a major increase in the collection of seaweed from Halibut Point Recreation Area for gardens and compost, the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (aka, Alaska State Parks) is limiting the amount residents can remove in order to continue to provide reasonable qualities for all users.

Alaska State Parks has permitted collection of seaweed washed ashore at Halibut Point Recreation Area for many years. However, effective immediately a special-use permit is required to collect seaweed at Halibut Point Recreation Area. Commercial use will not be permitted.

Special-use permits are required for any vehicle access to Halibut Point Recreation Area due to increased damage to park terrain. Seaweed collection will be allowed for anybody willing to walk in and not use a vehicle. KCAW-Raven Radio recently ran this story, which provides more information about the new policies.

The Sitka Park office, which is located at the recreation area, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, but staff is often away from the office. Residents should make an appointment to obtain a seaweed special-use permit in advance of using it, at least a day prior to collecting, by calling state parks at 747-6249. Please note that those people needing a permit on a weekend should call during the week so staff can be available to open the gate. There is no charge for the permit. The access gate will be locked starting April 12. Gatherers are asked to limit the amount of seaweed they take.

Alaska State Parks said it appreciates the public’s cooperation in the implementation of the seaweed collection special-use permit. Access to Halibut Point Recreation Area for the disabled to get to the picnic and day use area will continue to be accommodated as quickly as possible, the park said. Contact park staff for more information.

• Alaska State Parks special-use permit for seaweed gathering at Halibut Point Recreation Area

• Sitka Sound Science Center presentation will shed light on impacts of Fukushima radiation in the Pacific Ocean

cooperFukushima

People living along the Pacific Coast, including in Sitka and Southeast Alaska, have been wondering about the impacts of radiation in the food supply ever since the March 2011 earthquake in Japan and Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown.

Dr. Lee Cooper of the University of Maryland, a Scientist in Residency Fellow at the Sitka Sound Science Center, will discuss the current state of the science on Fukushima radiation and its likely impact on the Gulf of Alaska during a brown-bag lunch presentation from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on Friday, March 14, at the Sitka Pioneer Home Chapel. Bring your lunch and questions to the presentation, which is sponsored by the Sitka Sound Science Center and the National Science Foundation.

According to the Sitka Sound Science Center:

It is projected that dissolved contaminants, particularly the radioactive isotopes of cesium, 137Cs and 134Cs from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power in Japan, will reach Southeast Alaska this year.  Because the amount of radiation released is uncertain and the accident site is still leaking to some extent, it is difficult to know exactly what the peak concentrations of radioactive cesium will be in local waters, but it is not likely to exceed levels that were observed during the bomb fallout era 40 to 50 years ago. Cesium is chemically very similar to potassium, which is a common ionic salt in seawater, so fortunately the concentration of cesium into the foodweb and into seafood harvested for food is comparatively modest.

Nevertheless, it is important to put into perspective the potential risks involved and communicate this to the public. This talk will summarize the newest scientific information that is available on the impacts of the accident, based upon a special session held in late February at the Ocean Science Meeting in Honolulu and attended by scientists studying Fukushima impacts, ranging from Japan and East Asia to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

For more information, contact Tory O’Connell at 747-8878.

 

• How to weed through the conflicting information about Fukushima radiation and its impacts on Alaska waters

SalmonImage

Alaskans have been worried about their seafood ever since the March 2011 Fukushima earthquake and Japanese nuclear plant problems. It’s understandable that Alaskans are concerned about the safety of the seafood, seaweed and marine mammals in the area. But Alaskans also should note that most of the information posted on social marketing sites just isn’t true.

This NOAA map has been showing up on social media posts with a note that it shows the path of 300 tons of radioactive material entering the ocean each day. This map really shows the probable tsunami paths from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

FALSE IMAGE: TSUNAMI WAVES, NOT RADIATION: Many people have posted on social media that this NOAA map shows the path of 300 tons of radioactive material entering the ocean each day. This map really shows the probable tsunami wave heights from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

One of the biggest examples of false information usually is accompanied by an official-looking map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a note that each day the map shows 300 tons of radioactive material entering the water each day. The map is an official NOAA map, but it doesn’t show radiation. It actually shows the probable tsunami paths from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. When in doubt, or even if not, don’t be afraid to consult one of the myth-debunker sites such as Snopes.com, which has the details on the real story behind this map.

The Sitka Local Foods Network has been following the situation since it happened, and we even posted an update in March 2012 in hopes of easing people’s worries (many of the links on this page have been updated). The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services also has a site with updates.

In recent weeks, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) did some research, interviewing Dr. Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and one of the country’s top researchers on oceanographic radiation. Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins posted his findings in his Jan. 8 constituent newsletter, and that write-up also appeared in several Alaska publications such as the Alaska Dispatch.

010714_Fukushima-Radiation-GraphAlso in January, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig gave an update to the Alaska Senate’s Natural Resources Committee about what it’s doing to track the radiation, and he said so far the DEC hasn’t seen anything to cause concern. The Ketchikan website Stories In The News also had a follow-up story that included information from Hartic’s testimony and an update from Buesseler, who announced the launch of a new “How Radioactive Is Our Ocean?” website to help crowd-source information about what’s happening along the 5,000-mile Pacific coastline.

Taking things a step further, in January a couple of Seattle media organizations — KPLU and the Seattle Times — ran stories about Seattle fish-broker Loki Fish Co. ran its own tests on Alaska seafood. After the testing, the folks at Loki Fish Co. decided Pacific salmon is safe to eat.

• Easing concerns about possible radiation in gathered seaweed this year

One of the prime springtime activities around Sitka is for people to gather seaweed, either for subsistence/traditional food purposes or to use it to fertilize local gardens. Seaweed is loaded with lots of healthy vitamins and minerals so it’s eaten by many in Sitka, and it also makes great fertilizer for the garden.

But this spring members of the Sitka Local Foods Network board have been hearing concerns from local gardeners and farmers about the seaweed this year possibly being contaminated by radiation (or iodine 131) from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan. Some of these concerns came after several local residents in recent weeks found Japanese fishing buoys and other debris on beaches around Sitka, and they were fueled by other stories about Japanese debris washing up on Alaska beaches.

Many people have had reservations about harvesting seaweed, either to eat or use in their gardens, and some people were skeptical about official reports that said there was no or limited radiation exposure to debris headed toward Alaska. For those people who want to test their seaweed or soil, the Plant Science Library in Anchorage is not equipped to test seaweed. But there are facilities in Washington State that are willing to test for a fee of between $50 to $200.

For those people who want to track the effects of the Fukushima Dai-ichi on U.S. marine environments, you can track the effects on Alaska coastlines at this congressional site. Other reliable websites for current information include  http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm247403.htm  and http://www.srrb.noaa.gov/.

Greg Wilkinson, a public information officer with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, provided this link to a three-page handout about the effects of radiation on wild foods in Alaska. The State of Alaska has teamed up with the states of Hawai’i, California, Oregon and Washington, the province of British Columbia, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide the Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Joint Information Center.

“Hopefully, disseminating this information to you all will alleviate some concerns about seaweed harvesting this year,” Sitka Local Foods Network board member Johanna Willingham said.

• New ‘Field Guide to Seaweeds of Alaska’ will help Sitka residents identify various types of seaweeds

Alaska Natives have been gathering seaweeds and other sea vegetables for centuries, with the seaweeds providing an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. There are dozens of types of seaweeds available in Alaska, and most of them are edible.

The Alaska Sea Grant program from the University of Alaska Fairbanks recently released a new book by Mandy R. Lindeberg and Sandra C. Lindstrom called “Field Guide to Seaweeds of Alaska.” This book is billed as the first and only field guide to more than 100 common seaweeds, seagrasses and marine lichens of Alaska. The book features color photos, written descriptions and it is printed on water-resistant paper.

As part of the Sitka WhaleFest Maritime Market this weekend, one of the authors (Lindeberg) will be in Sitka signing copies of the new guide at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Old Harbor Books booth at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Lindeberg is a self-proclaimed “nerdy” Juneau biologist who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Marine Fisheries Service Auke Bay Laboratory.

Mandy Lindeberg

Mandy Lindeberg

Lindeberg spent nearly 15 years working on the book with the help of Lindstrom, a professor and researcher in botany and marine ecology at the University of British Columbia who was born and raised in Juneau. Lindeberg took about 80 percent of the photos in the book, hoping to come up with enough decent images so scientists and naturalists had more than the sometimes-hard-to-decipher drawings found in most previous books, while Lindstrom helped with the taxonomic work and reviewed the scientific descriptions.

Lindeberg said the new guidebook will help people be able to better identify the types of seaweeds when they are out gathering (Editor’s note, federal and state subsistence laws prohibit the gathering of seaweed in urban nonsubsistence areas such as Juneau/Douglas and Ketchikan/Saxman, but seaweed gathering is legal in rural areas of Alaska including Sitka and most other Southeast Alaska communities, including areas just outside Juneau/Douglas and Ketchikan/Saxman).

Lindeberg said her guidebook will help people identify the various types of seaweeds, but it does not discuss which seaweeds are edible and how to prepare them, so people might want to use it with another Alaska Sea Grant book, “Common Edible Seaweeds in the Gulf of Alaska,” by Dolly Garza. The new “Field Guide to Seaweeds In Alaska” costs $30 and is available at Old Harbor Books or through the Alaska Sea Grant program’s online bookstore.