September 8, 2023- Last month the Trust’s Vice President and Senior Lands Specialist Aimee Rutledge visited two of our project sites in the Chuck River and Kootznoowoo Wilderness Areas of southeast Alaska. Join us on a virtual site visit with this 4-minute video to learn more about the projects and one of America’s most important forests!
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
June 16, 2022 – The Wilderness Land Trust partnered with the Southeast Alaska Land Trust (SEALT) to acquire two inholdings: the Wheeler Creek 5 and Chuck River Bend properties, in order to protect their watersheds and the salmon, brown bear, and Sitka black-tailed deer that call them home. When our transfer of this land to the U.S. Forest Service is complete, a total of 33 acres of new wild lands will be added to the Tongass National Forest and permanently protected from private development.
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 1 bear per square mile of the island. The Chuck River Wilderness is also south of Juneau but on the mainland, and is bordered by the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness. The Chuck River is a major producer of several species of salmon, but especially pink salmon. Both wilderness areas are located within the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States, and the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet. The Tongass has sometimes been referred to as America’s Climate Forest, for its unmatched ability to mitigate climate change. It remains one of the most important forests in the world.
Despite its remoteness, residents and visitors can access these wilderness areas by boat or float plane, and often do. In fact, remoteness is often the draw for many people who end up building private cabins in such areas. Preserving the ecological integrity, size, and connectivity of these wilderness areas serves to provide a high level of resilience in the face of climate change, establishes secure habitat for native wildlife, and ensures the economic benefits of recreation and tourism for both residents and visitors of Southeast Alaska.
The Wilderness Land Trust, in partnership with the Southeast Alaska Land Trust, has now completed three projects in Southeast Alaska, including conserving the largest remaining inholding in the Chuck River Wilderness.
A heartfelt thanks to all our supporters and our partners – Southeast Alaska Land Trust and private donors – for making these acquisitions successful.
March 25, 2022 – It’s been 30 years since The Wilderness Land Trust protected its first parcel of land. Nearly 25 years later we landed in Alaska, purchasing the largest remaining private inholding in the Chuck River Wilderness in partnership with the Southeast Alaska Land Trust. The 154-acre Windham Bay parcel was transferred to the public for permanent protection almost exactly a year ago.
Together we are now working to protect more wilderness in Alaska. The Kootznoowoo (Fortress of the Bears) and Chuck River Wilderness areas in the Tongass National Forest surround the Inside Passage waterway, connecting more than 2.2 million acres of public land. The size and connectivity of these wild lands filled with coastal rivers and rare muskeg wetlands provide a high level of resilience in the face of climate change that allow grizzlies, salmon, mountain goats, wolves and humpback whales to thrive. The Tlingit village of Angoon on Admiralty Island is home to more than 500 people. Several other rural communities, including the nearby village of Kake, depend on these wilderness areas for subsistence harvests.
Within the 2.2 million acres of public land, clusters of private lands left over from old mining camps exist, threatening the surrounding wilderness with the prospect of timber and mineral extraction as well as residential development.
The Wilderness Land Trust is now working to acquire two properties to prevent cabin development along Wheeler Creek and the Chuck River in the Kootznoowoo and Chuck River Wilderness areas, protecting the salmon, grizzly and black bears that call them home. When this work is complete, a total of 33 acres of new wild lands will be added to the Tongass National Forest and permanently protected from private development, safeguarding more than 2.2 million acres of public land they impact.
Please take the time to learn more about our work in Alaska and join our fight to save this extraordinary wilderness. If you’ve already joined our Alaska campaign, thank you for your support. We cannot do this work without you.