Easy Salmon Advocacy: Protecting the Tongass, Part 2

14 12 2011

Friends of salmon and wild places: have you written your letter for the Tongass National Forest yet?

As discussed in Protecting the Tongass, Part 1,  the U.S. Forest Service’s budget for the Tongass has long been skewed. Timber/road development currently receive annual funding of $25 million, while habitat conservation/watershed restoration receive $1.5 million.

This disparity concerns me.  As a commercial fisherman, I have a significant interest in protecting the delicate ecosystems that nurture salmon. And as someone who calls Southeast Alaska “home,” my identity is as rooted in the Tongass as the towering hemlock, spruce, and cedar that carpet our coastline.

With gratitude to author/photographer Lynn Schooler for sharing this photo.

Sitka Conservation Society is a longtime advocate for a more balanced forestry budget. I’m joining SCS in this effort, and invite you to do so, too. Our goal is to collect 200 letters requesting increased funding for restoration and salmon protection by February 1. Can you take a moment to share your support? In February, SCS will hand-deliver our combined messages to Washington D.C.; please email your letter to andrew@sitkawild.org.

Not sure what to write? I’m sharing my message here; please feel free to use this example as a resource for your own letter. (Stats provided by a 2011 survey conducted by the Alaska chapter of the Nature Conservancy.)


Dear Undersecretary Sherman, Chief Tidwell, Senator Murkowski, & Senator Begich,

My name is Tele Aadsen, and I’m a second-generation salmon troller in Southeast Alaska. Salmon trollers are predominantly family operations; I began fishing at the age of seven, in 1984. My mother was one of a handful of female skippers at that time, and we comprised the only all-female troller. For the past 7 years my partner and I have run our own boat, the 43-foot Nerka, which he grew up on and took over as a 22 year old. Hook-and-line caught, we process and freeze our catch at sea, marketing a premium quality wild salmon to restaurants, grocers, and food co-ops across the U.S. This is our sole source of income.

Discussion of salmon sustainability frequently focuses on fisheries management and healthy oceans. Essential elements, yet incomplete. We must devote equal attention to the surrounding forests, which provide critical salmon habitat. In its streams, lakes, and ponds, the Tongass National Forest provides 17,690 miles of salmon habitat. Salmon are inextricably linked with the Tongass; the well-being of one directly impacts the other.

In Alaska, salmon mean far more than a meal or a paycheck. In a 2007 survey, 96% of Alaskans said salmon are essential to our way of life. In our remote region, where many communities are island-based, closed systems, the term “way of life” refers more to practical necessity than sentimentality. Nearly 90% of rural households in Southeast Alaska depend on salmon.

What does a dependency on salmon look like? It looks like over 7000 jobs: men, women, and young people working on fishing vessels or in processing plants. In a tremendous ripple effect, fisheries contribute to local economies. In some of Southeast Alaska’s small communities, salmon are the local economy. Grocers, restaurants, hotels, cold storages and transport systems all flourish with healthy salmon runs. The combined economic value of commercial, sports, and subsistence salmon fishing, plus hatchery operations, is estimated at $986.1 million.

The economic impact of salmon doesn’t stop at Alaska’s border. Many fishermen spend the off-season in the Lower 48, enhancing the economy of multiple states. In 2009, my partner and I were able to purchase our first home in Washington, where we frequently have boat work done. Maintaining a safe, successful fishing vessel is an expensive, on-going effort: all across the West Coast, harbors, boat yards, diesel mechanics, refrigeration services, craftsmen, fiberglass workers, metal fabricators, gear stores, and other marine service professionals are direct beneficiaries of our good salmon seasons.

Beyond these enormous economic considerations, the Tongass is one of the few remaining wild places in America, a rare ecosystem of deep cultural significance, beauty and wonder. I’m profoundly grateful for my life as a commercial fisherman, and hope to continue providing quality wild salmon to Americans in a responsible manner. I’m committed to protecting the natural resources that allow this unique profession, and want to thank you both for joining me in this effort. Thank you for advocating for a healthy, sustainable future, prioritizing funding for watershed restoration and salmon habitat in the Tongass.


Tele Aadsen, MSW

F/V Nerka


Please  take a moment to write a letter voicing your support for a more balanced forestry budget.  Your message doesn’t have to be long, but Sitka Conservation Society does need it by February 1 for hand-delivery to Washington D.C. In addition to channeling letters through andrew@sitkawild.org, you can, of course, send additional messages directly to Alaskan Senators Murkowski and Begich Forest Service Chief Tidwell (ttidwell@fs.fed.us), and Undersecretary Sherman (harris.sherman@usda.gov).

To me, these letters are more than advocacy. We’re writing love letters to the Tongass, based on our unique relationships with trees, salmon and Southeast Alaska. You all know my story… I’d love to hear yours. Why do you want to protect the Tongass? Please copy/paste your letter in the comments below. I’ll keep you posted on how we’re doing with our 200 letter goal. As always, I’m deeply grateful to each of you for your time and support. Best wishes to all.

Again, gratitude to Lynn Schooler.

Salmon, Trees, and We: The Tongass, Part 1

9 12 2011

This is one of my favorite places in the world:

Photo by Joel Brady-Power

This photo was taken in Sitka, but could be almost anywhere in Southeast Alaska. The Tongass National Forest blankets most of our region, a crazy quilt of western red cedar, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock that covers almost 17 million acres. Not only is the Tongass the largest national forest in the US, it’s also the largest temperate rainforest remaining in the world. About 70,000 people call the Tongass home – as do 30,000 bears. This rare ecosystem also supports deer, wolves, over 300 species of birds, and all 5 species of salmon: chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink.

When we talk about protecting wild salmon, our national dialogue is heavy on fisheries management and healthy oceans.  Essential elements, but incomplete. These ocean swimmers begin and end their lives in freshwater, including  17,690 miles of streams, lakes and ponds in the Tongass. If we promote sustainable fisheries without placing equal value on salmon habitat, both are at risk.

One of my fellow fishermen, Karl Jordan, published an editorial in the Juneau Empire yesterday: “Forest Service Budget Just Doesn’t Add Up.” (Available here.) Karl examined the annual funding for habitat conservation/restoration ($1.5 million) and logging/road development ($25 million). Quite a discrepancy – especially when you note that timber-related jobs number less than 200, compared to over 7000 fisheries-related jobs.

A fourth-generation fisherman, Karl’s profiled here in Amy Gulick’s tribute to the Tongass,  Salmon in the Trees. He’s a powerful advocate for salmon, speaking from a place of deep love for Southeast Alaska, the Tongass, and commercial fishing.

We heart salmon. (Photo by Jon Corbett)

That’s the place that I speak from, too. Life as a harvester is, for me, inherently bound to life as a conservationist. I believe it’s my responsibility to protect what I love. And between the photo at the top of this post, the many joys of our life at sea, and the honor of hand-delivering these gorgeous fish to our customers, I can’t even begin to count all of the ways I love salmon and trees.

If you speak from this place, too, please join me in quick, easy activism for salmon. If you support increased funding for salmon programs and habitat restoration in the Tongass, please email Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell (ttidwell@fs.fed.us) with your message. It doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to be received by December 16th to weigh in on 2012’s budget planning.

Not sure what to say? Karl’s editorial, here, is a great resource. Tomorrow, I’ll share a copy of my letter to Undersecretary Harris Sherman, which you’re also welcome to use as a resource. Whether your livelihood depends on the well-being of the Tongass, or your life is richer knowing that wild places like this still exist in our world, thank you for joining me in this effort.

Photo by Joel Brady-Power

On Speaking Up: Why I Support Occupy

6 11 2011

My mom recently saw an online photo of her daughter, protest sign held proudly high. “Oh, gawd!” Part embarrassed laugh, part groan; her response revealed a long-internalized instruction to be quiet and polite.

Those were the prevailing lessons of my childhood, too. Be nice, be discreet, keep a low profile. Easy values for a painfully shy, awkward kid to swallow. I didn’t recognize their consequences until later in life.

Be nice… For years I denied my need to write, afraid that sharing my truths would infringe upon and hurt others.

Be discreet… Far too often, I failed to speak out against unjust actions or words, choosing to fade into an accommodating background rather than standing up for those in need.

Be quiet… I didn’t know how to speak up when an adult put his hands on my 14 year old body.

In my early 20’s, I made a new friend. A woman who never wavered in her commitment to speak up for herself and others, and showed not a single iota of fear; I’d never known such a ferocious social justice ally. Words fail to express what a life-changing mentor she was, but I studied her every word, gesture, and action with awe. When she gave me this hand-painted Audre Lorde quote for my 23rd birthday, I felt that she’d bequeathed an invisible sword and shield upon me. That she’d blessed me.

I can hear some of you shifting in your seats. “Fine, Tele, whatever; what’s this got to do with fishing? I come here for the fishing stories!”

Fair enough. The point is, it was a slow, painful journey to learn to use my voice, and I still fall short. Most recently, I’ve been adding my voice to the Occupy Wall Street movement. A march here, a rally there; a no more to my bank and a hello, new team to my local credit union.

But some friends have frowned, “I don’t get it. What’s the point?”  There’s no shortage of articles on the global grievances propelling this movement, so I won’t reiterate those here. Instead, I’ll offer a few of the more personal reasons why this particular fisherman chooses to lend her voice to Occupy.

Because I’m in a high-risk profession that depends on my body’s ability to respond to the work’s demands, yet I don’t have health insurance. Because all summer long, I fantasize about the consequences of a single wrong step on a slippery deck, or one thoughtless moment with a knife. Because I’m surrounded by fishermen who spent decades spurring their bodies to clean faster, haul harder – there’ll be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead! – as if death was the only thing that could get in their way. None considered arthritic, gnarled fingers, froze-up knees, carpal tunnel that vined its wretched way from wrist to elbow to shoulders that didn’t move anymore, anyway. Few considered fishing’s absence of a 401(k).

Because I’ve heard critics grumble that those people should just get a job, dammit, and earn their way like the rest of us. But I have a job, and everyone in my circle has a job, and I’d challenge any one of those critics to give our job a try for a single day. Because we don’t work – we worship at a lurching, leaping altar of 18 hour days on our boots, no awareness of our stunning surroundings because all we see are the jewel-glistening entrails of the fish splayed open before us, immediately followed by the next, and the next, for what seems like weeks on end. We know the taste of fish madness, when we’re so sleep deprived yet still have to move so fast that we move beyond exhausted and fall into delirium, where we nod into our cold plates of spaghetti and drop into our bunks, our faces stiff with fish blood because it’s a choice between staying awake to wash or go to bed and we just don’t give a damn.  Work is our religion, and we are glassy-eyed zealots.

Because I’ve seen the tragic results of fishermen whose intestines knotted into bowlines of desperation and clove-hitches of silent fear, as they told themselves that maybe they’d find the motherlode, if they’d just fish tougher, drive themselves harder. Maybe they’d be able to make that boat payment, or pay that fuel bill, or send some money home, if they got lucky this one time. But too often, this one time included a nighttime run where they just couldn’t keep their gritty eyes open any longer, or winds shrieking louder and waves grabbing harder than they’d anticipated. If they got lucky, they only lost their boats.

Because the Nerka is only one boat, but we depend on a massive support system to remain in business. Diesel mechanics, fiberglass workers, metal fabricators, gear manufacturers, processing plants and cold storages, freight shipping, grocers, restaurants, and you. For us to make it, entire communities need to thrive.

Because my family’s well-being is directly linked to yours. Because I don’t clean every fish to bloodless perfection, handling each with care and precision, just so my neighbors can’t afford to buy them. I want you to be able to enjoy this gorgeous, heart-healthy wild salmon. I want you to take pleasure in preparing a meal, sitting down with your loved ones, and when you bite into that first, sunset-colored flake, I want your eyes to close in reverence and your lips to curl in delight. Because every day on the ocean is a gift, and I want to be able to make a living while sharing this gift with you.

And that is why I support Occupy.

Alaska Represented, Occupy Bellingham, 10.14.11

And you, sweet reader? Does speaking up come easily or hard for you? Where are the places that you use your voice, and where are the places you falter?

Special thanks to you, SB. I heart you.

Contemplating Alaska Day

18 10 2011

Today is Alaska Day, and, I have to admit, I have mixed feelings.

On October 18, 1867, Russia formally transferred control of the Territory of Alaska to the U.S. Commemorated as a  statewide holiday, Alaska Day is a really big deal in Sitka, where the actual transfer took place.  Festivities begin in early October, all building up to this day. Schools close. People get gussied up. The Lutheran Church hosts a pie sale like you wouldn’t believe. And a giant parade rolls through downtown, kicked off when the Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopters buzz Lincoln Street. Sitkans love an excuse for a parade.

Immediately following the parade, folks climb the stone steps up Castle Hill for a re-enactment of the transfer.  People in period costumes lower the Russian flag and raise the Stars & Stripes. The 9th Army Band provides accompanying music. It’s all very ceremonial.

Re-enactments of all kinds make me uneasy. I wonder about the groups not represented, the stories that aren’t included in the re-telling.  Those silences echo through this ceremony. Originally known as Noow Tlein, the land honored for its transition from Russian ownership to American is the same ground where, after the Battle of 1804, Tlingit people ceded their home.

(This summer, I asked a Tlingit elder about this. “Alaska Day must not be much of a celebration for you.”

“No,” she replied flatly. “But I’d rather be American than Russian.”)

I don’t have answers for these conflicted feelings, and I’m not in Sitka to experience Alaska Day first-hand this year.  Instead, I’m watching the Bellingham sun slowly creep up outside my writing window, Stellar’s Jays and squirrels rushing up to say good morning and ask where the peanuts are today.

Without any helicopter escorts or brass bands, I’ll mark Alaska Day in my own quieter way, recalling one of the last sunrises of our fishing season – a sunrise so spectacular that Bear the Boat Cat had to be on wheel watch, while Cap’n J and I were both fixated on capturing the moment. (No obscenity-laced whale interaction here, friends – this one’s safe for all viewers.)

There have been times when we’ve chosen to simply enjoy something beautiful, pausing to be present with ourselves and our surroundings, rather than distancing ourselves with the flurry of documentation. Probably not as many of those times as would be good for us.  But I’m glad this one made it onto film, so you can enjoy it, too.  Whatever stories you carry, may your Alaska Day include moments of beauty.

Walking Home: An Alaska Book Week Review

24 09 2011

Alaska Book Week is almost here! October 8-15; more info here. Join Hooked in celebrating ABW from wherever you are, by cozying up with one of Alaska’s many talented authors. This is a review of one of my favorites.

Packing for halibut fishing last May was pretty simple. Longlining’s fast pace and grueling hours equate to minimal down time that is best spent sleeping. Practicing great restraint for someone who usually packs more reading material than clothing, only one book went into my sea bag: Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler.

Winner of the 2010 Banff Mountain Festival John Whyte Award for Mountain Literature

As soon as the gear was set, we retired to our bunks for a 2 hour nap. I nestled into my sleeping bag, book in hand. If I’d wanted to prioritize sleep, this was a mistake: Walking Home captivated me from the first page.

The back flap reads, “Lynn Schooler has recently lost a dear friend and feels his marriage slipping away when he sets out into the wilderness to clear his head. His perilous solo expedition – first by boat, then on foot – takes him along one of the world’s wildest coastlines, being battered by the elements, fording a swollen river, and, for several harrowing hours, becoming a grizzly bear’s quarry.

But this barren landscape is also rich with human stories – of trappers, explorers, marooned sailors, and hermits, as well as the myths of the regions Tlingit Indians. Paying tribute to these lives at a lonesome turning point in his own, Schooler aspires to understand what it means to be not only part of nature’s web, but also a member of a human community in the flow of history.”

Though Schooler “set off into the wilderness,” Walking Home is no Into the Wild. Alaskans have little patience for Hollywood-ized stories of poorly-planned jaunts into nature. True to his forty years’ experience in Alaska, Schooler’s precautions were meticulous and humbling. This is someone I’d leave the dock with, I thought. That trust in the individual allowed me to trust the author, losing myself in his gorgeous prose.

Schooler’s geographical subject, Lituya Bay, is a favored oasis of fishermen, a place particularly close to my heart. Close in physical proximity, too: at the time of my reading, we were 40 miles offshore, gazing eastward to the very coastline he trekked. His historical research was as extensive as his personal preparation, weaving several centuries of stories with his own.

Though the region’s history and his adventure are fascinating, it was Schooler’s internal journey that truly resonated with me. His voice sounded familiar – the tone of so many men in this fleet, an entire generation selfless with their knowledge and time, keeping inner tumult as firmly guarded as a hot fishing spot. Following his unflinching gaze, insights absent of self-pity or blame, I found myself wondering if other fishermen had processed their own mid-life losses similarly. As bold a venture as Schooler’s solo hike was, the vulnerability of exposing his internal process seemed a far more courageous act.

Throughout the season, I raved about Walking Home to fellow fishermen who know and love this coastline. One frowned at my summary. “His marriage was in trouble, so he just left? Huh.”

Well… Yes. I understood my friend’s disapproval. But I also recalled my own reaction to deeply troubled times, when I fled to the sea without a backwards glance to the loved ones left behind. Having needed to walk out on my own life a time or two, I recognized the necessity of movement.

Death and decay are constants in this ecosystem, as they are in our lives. Out of loss comes new growth; as nature repairs herself, so do we. Following 1958’s great wave – the largest tsunami ever recorded, worldwide – Lituya Bay’s ravaged tree-line reasserts itself. The remains of shipwrecked vessels vanish from the coastline, as loved ones exit our lives. We grieve their departures, search for the lessons of our shared time, and continue on.

Book lovers all have favorites that we return to, over and over, for familiar comfort and new insights among well-worn pages. When I finished Walking Home and immediately began to read sections to my shipmates, struggling to see the print through thickening twilight, I knew this would be one of mine. For anyone who’s spent time on the water or in the woods, who craves the wild spaces around and inside of themselves and knows the echo of their own companionship, Schooler’s work is utterly relatable. It’s an ideal read for Alaska Book Week.

Those of you in/near Anchorage, mark your calendars for February 10-18, when Perseverance Theatre will perform a stage adaptation of Schooler’s 2003 memoir, The Blue Bear. Stay tuned via Facebook, where you can subscribe to Lynn Schooler’s daily photo posts – stunning meditations on life in Southeast Alaska.

Prayer flags flying, July 4th in Lituya Bay

And you, friends? What’s on your reading list for Alaska Book Week?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: