Wrangell volunteer Ally Adams, Boy Scouts Mikel Smith, Curis Wimberly, and Tymon Teat, and SEACC Wilderness Stewardship Coordinator Daven Hafey size up the invasive reed canary grass at Twin Lakes.
Dave Rak, of the US Forest Service, displays one of two slingloads full of non-native buttercup and dandelion that the SEACC-led group removed from the Twin Lakes area.
Story last updated at 7/18/2012 - 5:23 pm
The Stikine River is many things: The fastest flowing, un-dammed, navigable river on the North American continent; The source of robust salmon fisheries, productive moose and waterfowl hunts, and clean water draining 20,000 square miles of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska; The lifeblood of Wrangell, Petersburg, and the people who called this watershed home for centuries; Wild and natural and free.
For a group of hearty Southeast residents-organized by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) in collaboration with the Wrangell Boy Scout Troop 40, the U.S. Forest Service, the Sitka Conservation Society and Breakaway Adventures-the Stikine also became the site of a week of hard work, camaraderie and Wilderness Stewardship.
The trip focused on the Twins Lake area of the river, a larger example of one of the many interlaced wetlands that thread around the Stikine. These wetland mosaics slow down stream flow and create rich sedge meadows and extensive willow coverage, which in turn support high numbers of moose, black and brown bear, wolf, waterfowl, trout, amphibians and even humans.
Lately, however, the U.S. Forest Service has observed increasing signs of a number of problematic neighbors in the Stikine watershed. Noxious weeds, including reed canary grass (an aggressive weed that outcompetes many native plants) have taken up residence along the lakes' perimeter. Invasive plants can change the dynamic of an ecosystem, ranging from microorganisms to plants to birds, amphibians and mammals. The Forest Service has developed plans to manage these invasive plants on the Stikine internally, but they have also solicited the assistance of collaborative organizations and volunteers with an interest in keeping the Stikine healthy.
Under the guidance of the Forest Service's Wilderness Stewardship Challenge, SEACC, the Wrangell Boy Scouts and others worked a collective 304 hours over the course of six days at Twin Lakes, taking the first step in the difficult dance with reed canary grass. The group hand-pulled the grass in several locations along the lakeshore, and covered three extensive monoculture sites with heavy duty black plastic to prevent the grass from growing and spreading. Additionally, the crew spent each morning hand-pulling and shovel-removing non-native buttercup and dandelion, filling two sling loads and dozens of garbage bags full of weeds.
"We want to make sure reed canary grass doesn't take up native plants because moose and other animals don't eat reed canary grass," said Boy Scout Tymon Teat, one of nine Wrangell residents who volunteered at Twin Lakes.
The Scouts weren't the only Wrangell locals to take an interest in the invasive weed issue. Three adult volunteers lent their hands, and four personal boats from town ran up the river to learn more about the project.
"I've been moose and bear hunting this area since 1980 and never noticed any dandelions or other invasives until just recently," said Wrangell resident and Assistant Troop Leader Glenn Smith. "Having my son up here, it's important to show him the things that aren't native."
When the Scouts and volunteers were not pulling weeds, they had an opportunity to reaffirm their connection to the land and enjoy what it means to spend a week in the wilderness. The group used their lunch breaks and evenings for swimming and fishing, catching insects and amphibians, and watching the sun set from the desert on Andrew's Island. They laughed and learned from each other and from the Stikine itself.
Wilderness stewardship is about hard work, tired hands, and a sore back. It's about remembering our connection to the land and welcoming our responsibility as its stewards. Considering the importance of the Stikine River to the communities of Wrangell and Petersburg, it's safe to say the river needs all the stewards it can get.