Boots on the Ground: A Site Visit Series
The Trust is fortunate to share frequent stories of success with you. One critical component of our work leading up to the success is visiting each property in person. As part of our due diligence during the acquisition and transfer phases, we join with our partners to meet landowners, inspect property conditions, validate property boundaries, create a plan for any stewardship needs and experience the wilderness character for ourselves. These trips often require logistical planning and backcountry travel, but are one of the most fulfilling duties of our work. We invite you into the wilderness with us on our last site visit.
Date: July 12, 2022
Location: Wheeler Creek Property, Kootznoowoo Wilderness, AK
Staff: Aimee Rutledge and Kelly Conde
Theme: Boating, Bushwacking, Boundaries and Buddies
The field day started at the US Forest Service office in Juneau, AK donning waders and XtraTuff rubber boots. The Tongass National Forest is the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet. So while the property we were planning to visit was well above the water line, walking through the brush can leave you just as wet as walking through a stream. Every site visit includes some bushwhacking to find property corners and boundary lines and in Alaska, that means hiking in waders.
We spent this day with our important project partners — the US Forest Service lands, recreation and realty staff from the Tongass National Forest, the Southeast Alaska Land Trust (SEALT) and one of the willing landowner who helped us by providing his firsthand knowledge of the land.
The property is located south of Juneau, Alaska, on Admiralty Island, the Kootznoowoo Wilderness (“Fortress of the Bears” in Lingít) is aptly named, as Admiralty Island is said to have the world’s highest concentration of brown bears in the world – an estimated 1,600 bears. This is more than one bear per square mile of the island. While sea life was abundant, there were sadly no bear sightings for us on this trip, although the landowner mentioned seeing a mother and cub just before our visit and USFS staff noted that bears frequently come down to Wheeler Creek!
To get there, we departed Juneau by boat with USFS staff at the helm and whizzed through Chatham Strait on the west side of Admiralty Island National Monument next to the humpback whales, Dall’s porpoises and pink salmon that call it home. After careful maneuvering at the right tide, two of us “sounding” for depth and debris, we anchored at the mouth of Wheeler Creek.
Watching for Alaskan brown bears, we boated up the creek to our recently purchased property in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness.
We scouted through the thick rainforest and ravenous mosquitos for property boundaries with USFS and SEALT, and got acquainted with adjacent long-time property owners for a potential next purchase.
The end of our day brought us near a humpback whale. We paused the boat to listen to the whale’s breath swishing from its blowhole, reminding of why our work is so important.
The urgency to protect the biodiversity of this most wild of places in the face of climate change becomes clear with a view of the drastically reduced Mendenhall Glacier, the backdrop to Auke Bay/Juneau.
We wish you great adventures in wild places this summer and we thank you for your continued support of our work.
From the Wild,
Aimee Rutledge and Kelly Conde