Klawock Indigenous Stewards Forest Partnership unites community partners in search of solutions for local forests and watersheds
Friday, June 9, 2023
The community of Klawock, located on Prince of Wales Island, is surrounded by water, rivers and streams that are home to salmon runs that have nourished the community for thousands of years. Over the past two decades, salmon returns have dramatically decreased, motivating the community to investigate the root causes and find potential solutions to help improve fish habitat in the area, restoring local streams and fish populations along with them.
At the heart of the restoration work is the Klawock Indigenous Stewards Forest Partnership (KISFP). The partnership employs residents of Prince of Wales Island as they are empowered as stewards of their own lands, watersheds and rivers, lakes and ocean they feed. From stream restoration to salmon habitat improvements, the projects led by the KISFP lean on the knowledge of residents who have spent their lives hunting, fishing and living off the land, working together with local tribes, corporations, government and other landowners and community members. The partnership represents a fundamental shift in how the community collaborates with partners both local and regional to address environmental issues.
This summer, KISFP is focusing on a stream restoration project at Big Salt Lake, located five miles outside of Klawock. The work is spearheaded by a group of local residents led by KISFP Coordinator Quinn Aboudara, who also serves as Stewardship Coordinator for Shaan-Seet Incorporated, the village corporation for Craig. Aboudara has been at the forefront of watershed restoration projects with measured impacts improving salmon returns and deer habitat, restoring balance to the forests that feed his community.
Aboudara says the current stream restoration work at Big Salt Lake includes creating structures in the stream to hold back sediment that will help create pools for salmon habitat. It is one of two restoration projects KISFP is working on this summer.
What started with just a few Klawock entitles collaborating to better serve their community’s needs has grown to include partners Shaan-Seet, Klawock Heenya Corporation, Klawock Cooperative Association, Prince of Wales Tribal Conservation District, Sealaska, Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and the U.S. Forest Service.
“KISFP was the result of a few landowners working together on a restoration site,” said Aboudara. “We said, we’re doing great things — because we’re working together. We would like to do even bigger, better things.”
And bigger, better things come, Aboudara continued, when more entities organize, overcoming differences to come together toward a shared vision. That’s a goal of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy (SASS), which was inspired in part by community- and Indigenous-led work like that done by the KISFP.
Fueled by partnerships throughout Southeast Alaska and this locally-led approach, KISFP is working to improve fish habitat and returns while providing full-time employment and training to people in regional communities as they strive to restore forests and streams in the surrounding “community forest”. This critical work interweaves centuries-old Indigenous knowledge with contemporary scientific approaches and the talent and passion of a skilled local workforce.
As a key collaborator of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP), KISFP plays a crucial role within the larger framework of the SSP, one from which other organizations can learn. As one of the key stakeholders of the SSP, Sealaska provides vital financial support to both KISFP and the SSP as a whole, recognizing the importance of investing in sustainable practices and the well-being of the community.
“Strengthening connection between people and planet, as we strengthen our communities, is work that Sealaska is honored to support,” said Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott. “When our communities succeed, we all succeed. We are proud of the incredible work the KISFP does to unite diverse organizations in service to the forests and watersheds that nourish their people.”
Click here to learn more about the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy and the ways in which partners of the SSP like KISFP are working to change how the Forest Service interacts with the people they serve.