Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Pacific High School win National Volunteers and Service Award

Due to COVID-19 social-distancing requirements, Michelle Putz of the USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger District planted Tlingít potatoes by herself in April 2020.

Tlingít potatoes

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) and the Pacific High School gardening class (PHS) were recognized at the Sitka Tribal Council’s Zoom meeting on August 19, 2020, for being two of seven recipients of the USDA Forest Service’s 2019 National Volunteers and Service Award. The award was earned through their collaboration with the Tongass National Forest’s Sitka Ranger District to build awareness about a traditional food source, the Tlingít potato, also known as Maria’s potato.

Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards and Regional Forester David Schmid, and others, will present a plaque and a letter signed by USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.

“These award winners really demonstrate and put into action our agency core values of service, of conservation, diversity, of safety and our interdependence,” said Chief Christiansen, during the award announcement video on June 19, 2020. “As Forest Service employees we understand that relationships with people and communities are absolutely essential in achieving our mission. Thank you so much and congratulations for your outstanding contributions in helping us achieve our important conservation mission.”

Community members plant Tlingít potatoes in April 2019 as part of an Earth Day celebration.

Seventy-three nominations were submitted for this year’s awards, the highest number of nominations to the annual awards program in the past 10 years. Nominees exemplified the Forest Service’s core values of service, conservation, diversity, interdependence and safety.

Edwards believes the project and partnership has strengthened relationships with the Sitka Tribe and local schools, giving much of the credit for its success to tribal and school leadership.

“Tammy Young from the Sitka Tribe has been an incredible force behind this project, as have several teachers and the principal at Pacific High School,” said Edwards. “It has connected the Tribe, Sitka’s Pacific High School and the Forest Service in shared stewardship of a traditional resource.”

“Sitka Tribe of Alaska is so pleased that our District Ranger office chose some five years ago to begin this project working with our Tribal citizens on revitalizing the cultivation of our tried and true crop, the Tlingit potato,” said Kathy Hope Erickson, tribal chairman for Sitka Tribe of Alaska. “There have been local people throughout the years continuing this tradition of native horticulture, but the extra effort and outreach by the collaborators has breathed new life into this practice. For this we are grateful to our partners. We wish too, to thank the Forest Service for recognizing that the ‘forest’ includes not just trees, but all creatures in and around it, the flora and fauna who are interdependent on it and each other for a complete existence.”

Sitka Tribe of Alaska, USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger Station will plant Tlingít potato garden on Earth Day

SITKA, Alaska – The USDA Forest-Service Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will join forces for the fourth consecutive year to educate people about Tlingít potatoes (also called Maria’s potatoes) and plant a crop of potatoes. The community is invited to participate in a web-based educational program on April 22, 2020. USDA Forest Service staff, the tribe, and tribal citizens will share how to grow Tlingít potatoes, and share the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting root vegetables.

Separate from the education event, Tongass National Forest employees will, this year, plant the potatoes themselves. Since 2017, the Sitka Ranger District has provided a sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and provided the seed potatoes to plant the garden. In previous years, the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and Sitka community volunteers have assisted on the project.

“Because of the limited window for planting and the need to keep people safe and healthy, we decided that a virtual event, followed by one or two employees planting the bed, was our best plan of action for 2020,” Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “By teaching people through a web-based event, even more people can learn how to grow and sustain an easily grown, very productive traditional food.”

The virtual educational event is happening from 1:30-2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 22, which is Earth Day. Attendees should use a computer or tablet, and are encouraged to sign in a few minutes early using their full name. Organizers will use a Teams meeting at https://tinyurl.com/tlingitpotatoes for both video and audio. Organizers suggest using the button: “join in on the web instead” once they have connected to the Teams meeting. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907- 747-2708 or email michelle.putz@usda.gov.

Tlingít potatoes have been present in Tlingit gardens for more than 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile, and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska harvest Tlingít potato garden for community

The community is invited to help harvest the U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tlingít potato garden at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4. This workday and educational opportunity will be at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. Staff will provide information on how to care for Tlingít potatoes, their biology, history, and cultural aspects.

Volunteers from the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and others from the community planted the potatoes in April in the sunny plot of land the Sitka Ranger District provides to serve as the shared potato garden. School and tribe volunteers assist in the harvest, but community involvement is also needed.

Participants should come prepared for the weather as all activities will occur outdoors. Attendees are asked to wear boots and gardening gloves, and bring hand trowels and buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil after harvesting.

Potatoes will be dried and prepared for storage. Many of the potatoes harvested will be saved as next year’s seed potatoes. The rest of the harvest will be shared among the volunteers and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services Department.

For the third year in a row, the potato garden will help support food security in Sitka and be an ambassador for heirloom varieties of vegetables throughout Southeast Alaska.

“This year, we shared Maria’s ‘Tlingít’ seed potatoes with Supanika Ordonez and Timothy James Ackerman and their children. Timothy’s grandmother was Maria Ackerman Miller, whom the potatoes were named after,” says Michelle Putz, project coordinator and lead gardener for the Sitka Ranger District. “It’s exciting that our potato project has allowed this historic and delicious food to end up back in the hands —and the dirt—of the ancestors who brought it forward to scientists. Because of Forest Service and Sitka Tribe’s efforts to cultivate and share this potato and information about it, this unassuming potato has gone full circle.”

Supanika and her children (shown in the photos) were thrilled to grow Maria’s potatoes.

“We recently bought a house in Juneau and we were hoping to grow some of Maria’s potatoes with our sons. Last year, we had gotten some [seed potatoes] from Maria’s daughter in Bellingham (Wash.), but they had been cross-bred with a purple potato variety. We had hoped that some were Tlingít potatoes, but the crop was all purple,” Supanika said. “This spring, the Forest Service gave us some Maria’s seed potatoes from the Forest Service/Sitka Tribe potato garden. As they started to pop out of the ground, our 3-year-old would say ‘great-grandma’s potatoes’ every time we walked by. The boys had fun harvesting this week. We got quite a crop, so we have enough to save and plant next year too.”

Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards, adds, “We could not be happier than to bring this potato back to the family that brought it to us in the first place.”

Tlingít potatoes (sometimes called Maria’s potatoes) have been present in Tlingít gardens for more than 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile* and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800’s.

All are invited to learn and assist in this workday. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or michelle.putz@usda.gov.

*Zhang, Linhai with Charles R. Brown, David Culley, Barbara Baker, Elizabeth Kunibe, Hazel Denney, Cassandra Smith, Neuee Ward, Tia Beavert, Julie Coburn, J. J. Pavek, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Inferred origin of several Native American potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska using SSR markers. Euphytica 174:15-29

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The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 30 percent of the nation’s surface drinking water to cities and rural communities and approximately 66 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 900 million forested acres within the U.S., of which over 130 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

Sitka Tribe, Forest Service continue Tlingít potato garden for community

The USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will work together again from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at the Sitka Ranger District (2108 Halibut Point Road) to create an educational opportunity and traditional food source for community members. Forest Service staff and the tribe will share how to grow Tlingít (sometimes called Maria’s) potatoes, and share the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting potatoes.

Since 2017, the Sitka Ranger District has provided a sunny plot of land to serve as the shared Tlingít potato garden. Together, the Tribe and the Forest Service provide the seed potatoes to plant the garden. The Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and the gardening class from Pacific High School will again assist with the planting.

Community involvement is also needed to get the garden planted. Volunteers are asked to bring boots, gardening gloves, and shovels. Five-gallon buckets of seaweed to incorporate into the soil are beneficial, too. Members of the community who help tend the shared garden may receive more than gratitude as their reward.

“Last fall we harvested 90 pounds of potatoes. We shared the harvest among those helping out and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program. And this year, we will be expanding the garden so we can grow even more potatoes,” said District Ranger Perry Edwards. “This project teaches people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the need for food security among Sitka Families. It’s also a fun and very sustainable way to celebrate Earth Day.”

Tlingit potatoes have been present in Tlingit gardens for over 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile* and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800’s.

This work day and educational opportunity will be from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or michelle.putz@usda.gov.

*Zhang, Linhai with Charles R. Brown, David Culley, Barbara Baker, Elizabeth Kunibe, Hazel Denney, Cassandra Smith, Neuee Ward, Tia Beavert, Julie Coburn, J. J. Pavek, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Inferred origin of several Native American potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska using SSR markers. Euphytica 174:15-29

Forest Service, Sitka Tribe to harvest Tlingit potato garden for community on Oct. 19 (changed to Oct. 24)

The U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will harvest the Tlingít community potato garden — and present scientific and cultural information about the unique crop — at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19, at the Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road (NOTE: According to the flier posted at the library, this event has been moved to 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24). Participants from the community will receive information on how to grow Tlingít potatoes, as well as their biology, history, and cultural aspects.

Michelle Putz stands in the Tlingít potato garden at the U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District office.

The Sitka Ranger District provides the sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and tends the garden over the summer. Volunteers from the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and others from the community planted the potatoes in April. School and tribe volunteers are expected to assist in the harvest, but community involvement is also needed. Attendees are asked to wear boots and gardening gloves, and bring hand trowels or shovels. Five-gallon buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil after harvesting also would be beneficial.

All of the potatoes will need to be dried and prepared for storage. Many of the potatoes harvested will be saved as next year’s seed potatoes. Depending on the size of the harvest, the group will share the harvest among the volunteers and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services Department.

(Photo courtesy of Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire) Bill Ehlers, assistant gardener at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau, holds a Tlingít potato next to some of the potato plant’s flowers.

The potato garden was started in 2017, partially, to support food security in Sitka.

“We’re excited about this year’s harvest because of the size and vigor of this year’s potato plants. The plants are more than three times the size of last year’s plants, so we are hopeful that we’ll have a really good harvest,” said Perry Edwards, Sitka District Ranger. “We also look forward to learning more about the genetic make-up of our harvest from the scientists who have studied them over the last year.”

Tlingit potatoes (sometimes called Maria’s potatoes) have been present in Tlingit gardens for over 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile* and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800’s.

This work day and educational opportunity will be at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. Participants should come prepared for the weather as all activities will occur outdoors. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us.

*Zhang, Linhai with Charles R. Brown, David Culley, Barbara Baker, Elizabeth Kunibe, Hazel Denney, Cassandra Smith, Neuee Ward, Tia Beavert, Julie Coburn, J. J. Pavek, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Inferred origin of several Native American potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska using SSR markers. Euphytica 174:15-29

Sitka Tribe, U.S. Forest Service plant Tlingít potato garden for community

(Photo courtesy of Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire) Bill Ehlers, assistant gardener at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau, holds a Tlingít potato next to some of the potato plant’s flowers.

The U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will join forces again on Friday, April 20, to create an educational opportunity and traditional food source for community members. Forest Service staff and the tribe will share how to grow Tlingít (sometimes called Maria’s) potatoes, and share the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting potatoes.

Since 2017, the Sitka Ranger District has provided a sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and provided the seed potatoes to plant the garden. The Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and the gardening class from Pacific High School assisted on the project, and will again this year. But community involvement is also needed. Volunteers are asked to bring boots, gardening gloves, and shovels. Five gallon buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil would be beneficial as well. Members of the community who help tend the shared garden may receive more than gratitude as their reward.

“Last fall we shared the harvest among those helping out and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program. We’ve been growing and naturally enhancing our soil this spring, so this year we hope the crop is even larger,” District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “This project teaches people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the need for food security among Sitka families. It’s also a fun and very sustainable way to celebrate Earth Day.”

Tlingit potatoes have been present in Tlingit gardens for over 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile* and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800’s.

The first work day and educational opportunity will be from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Friday, April 20, at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us.

*Zhang, Linhai with Charles R. Brown, David Culley, Barbara Baker, Elizabeth Kunibe, Hazel Denney, Cassandra Smith, Neuee Ward, Tia Beavert, Julie Coburn, J. J. Pavek, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Inferred origin of several Native American potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska using SSR markers. Euphytica 174:15-29

Sitka Ranger District, Sitka Tribe to harvest Tlingit community potato garden

(Photo courtesy of Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire) Bill Ehlers, assistant gardener at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau, holds a Tlingít potato next to some of the potato plant’s flowers.

The community is invited to help harvest the Sitka Ranger District/Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tlingit potato garden and learn scientific and cultural information about the unique crop at 3 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25, at the USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road.

Leading Tlingit potato researcher Elizabeth Kunibe will join the group to present information on the biology, history, and cultural aspects Tlingit potatoes. Topics will include harvesting potatoes, learning to store potatoes for seed and for food, preparation for next year’s garden, and the cultural aspects of Tlingit potatoes and native gardening.

The Sitka Ranger District provided the sunny plot of land for the shared potato garden and tended the garden over the summer after volunteers from the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and others from the community planted the potatoes in April.

Community involvement is needed for the harvest. Participants should come prepared for the weather as all activities will occur outdoors. All of the attendees are asked to wear boots, gardening gloves, and bring hand trowels or shovels. Bringing buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil after harvesting would be beneficial.

The potatoes will need to be dried and prepared for storage. Many of the potatoes harvested will be saved for next year’s seed potatoes, Depending on the size of the harvest, the group hopes to share the harvest among the volunteers and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services.

Tlingit potatoes (sometimes called Maria’s potatoes) have been present in Tlingit gardens for over 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

This work day and educational opportunity will be at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us. For interviews and information to be used for publication, contactthe Tongass Public Affairs Officer Paul Robbins at 907-228-6201 or paulrobbins@fs.fed.us.

Tlingít potato garden being readied for community of Sitka

(Photo courtesy of Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire) Bill Ehlers, assistant gardener at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau, holds a Tlingít potato next to some of the potato plant’s flowers.

The U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska have joined forces to help create an educational opportunity and traditional food source for community members.

The two groups will show how to grow Tlingít potatoes, and tell about their biology, history and cultural aspects.

The Sitka Ranger District is providing a plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden. The Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and the gardening class from Pacific High School will assist on the project, but community involvement also is needed.

Attendees should bring boots, gardening gloves and shovels, and (if possible) five-gallon buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil. The first work day and educational opportunity is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, at the Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road.

Organizers said that members of the community who help tend the shared garden may receive more than gratitude as their reward.

“We hope to share the harvest among those helping out, and possibly share potatoes through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services,” Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “This project will teach people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the growing need for food security among Sitka families.”

K’únts’ — sometimes called Maria’s Potatoes — have been present in Tlingít gardens for more than 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us.

• Natural History Seminar Series to feature presentation on Mushrooms of Alaska’s Southern Coasts

mohatth

The next topic of the Natural History Seminar Series will feature Kate Mohatt presenting “Mushrooms of Alaska’s Southern Coasts.” The presentation is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday Sept. 19, in Room 229 at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus.

Kate Mohatt is an ecologist for the Chugach National Forest who has been studying fungi in Montana and Alaska for several years. She has been a key organizer in the Girdwood Fungus Fair and a frequent speaker at the Tongass Rainforest Festival in Petersburg. Mohatt is the lead author of the 2013 publication, Mushrooms of the National Forests in Alaska (available at the USDA Forest Service, Sitka Ranger District office in Sitka, 204 Siginaka Way).

Mohatt will talk about the importance of fungi in forests, and about some common and interesting fungi found in Alaska. She also will lead a walk focused on forest fungi on Saturday, Sept. 20, in Sitka, with details shared at the Friday night seminar.

The seminar series is supported by a grant from the Sitka Permanent Charitable Trust to the Sitka Sound Science Center, and by the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus with support from the USDA Forest Service. If you have questions, please contact Kitty LaBounty at 747-9432.

• 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