Brief History of SCS
After watching logging proceed farther and farther into remote areas around Sitka in the early days of the Alaska Pulp Corporation 50-year contract, several Sitkan families banded together to present the first citizens’ proposal for a Wilderness area in Alaska, three years after the signing of the Wilderness Act. The Sitka Conservation Society was born through this effort in 1967, making us the oldest conservation group in Alaska. Thirteen years later, the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area was designated by Congress to permanently protect a significant portion of the outer coast of Southeast Alaska. In the following three and a half decades we have worked diligently to protect wilderness qualities in the Tongass National Forest. This has entailed a long and often contentious effort to improve the nature of industrial logging practices, to protect wildlife and fish habitat, and to set aside Congressionally-designated Wilderness areas that will never be logged. At the same time, SCS advocates the use of these Wilderness areas for subsistence hunting and fishing, recreation and rejuvenation.
History of the Sitka Conservation Society
The Sitka Conservation Society was born in 1967, when several Sitkans recognized the need to protect the natural environment of Southeast Alaska for the well-being of current and future generations. Sitka Conservation Society was officially established in February of 1968. The first major effort of SCS was to endorse the creation of a wilderness area on Yakobi and West Chichagof Island, an area of 380,000 acres.
Jack Calvin, the only founding member with extensive experience working for conservation (with the Sierra Club) lobbied extensively for the creation of a wilderness in one of his favorite boating areas. After Calvin received a letter from the acting chief of the Forest Service denying his request for wilderness designation, he responded with, “If we are as wrong as you think we are, surely you would have nothing to lose by presenting your case, as opposed to ours, to the President and the Congress.”
Although conservationists faced strong opposition to the creation of new wilderness areas, SCS diligently pursued its original goal and West Chichagof-Yakobi was finally designated a wilderness area in 1980. SCS was active in the early 1970s, opposing plans for logging and promoting wilderness.
The prevailing attitude in the 1960s and 1970s was fiercely anti-environment and pro-industry, but SCS worked diligently on protecting treasured spots from timber sales. In 1976, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Coalition (SEACC), a coalition of local Southeast conservation groups with similar goals and concerns, was formed with SCS as a member organization. The 1980s saw continued SCS action, and evaluation of our goals and objectives. Sitka’s need for a recycling center and Raptor Rehabilitation Center, opposition to disposal of Goddard public lands, attempting to save Kruzof Island from logging, and objection to the construction of floating barges on Kelp Bay and Kells Bay were some of the major issues that the Society tackled. Additionally, SCS acted against air and water pollution from the pulp mill, opposing APC’s exemption from the Clean Water Act. In 1990, SCS received a grant to explore and pursue legal action against APC’s Air Quality Permit.
The 1990s simultaneously saw a heightened public concern for the environment and brought SCS some of its greatest battles for conservation of the forests surrounding Sitka. SCS expanded, occupying its current office space and approving several paid staff positions. With greater global awareness of the urgent need to protect the natural environment, more Sitkans supported local conservation measures. A pressing issue was the Forest Service’s proposal to clearcut Ushk Bay and Poison Cove. These areas are close to Sitka and widely used for recreation and logging. SCS appealed the plan in 1994 and organized a petition against the clearcut in 1995. A ballot initiative organized by Friends of Southeast’s Future, a group formed in opposition to the proposed logging, failed by only 4 votes. Although this, and a 1997 Sitka ballot measure to officially oppose clearcutting that failed by 1%, were disappointments, they attested to the growing size and strength of the conservation community in Sitka.
During this period, SCS gained new capabity in computer mapping, through the addition of a staff person, Page Else, and several grants from the Conservation Technology Support Program. This capability helped us show the public a more comprehensive view of F.S. logging and impacts on other resources of the region.
In 1998, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the SCS and other appellants in the Ushk Bay/Poison Cove case, stating that the Forest Service broke the law by not providing sufficient information to the public about its decision on where to log. We continue to map and comment on almost all timber sales in the Tongass. Recent issues that the SCS has worked on are preserving roadless areas for the Tongass, investigating the impact of the introductions of non-native species, and urging the Forest Service to designate a maximum area of the Tongass as congressionally protected wilderness. Under the Bush administration, we are seeing an unprecedented level of attacks on environmental protection laws and regulations, and the agencies that enforce them.
Over 30 years after its formation, the SCS is continuing to act on its mission to secure the wise use, protection, and preservation of the natural resources of the Tongass and the protection of Sitka’s quality of life.