I’m a Southeast Alaskan first, Alaskan second. There’s something about the land and sea here that seeps into your bones, something just as pervasive as the rain wicking up your sleeves. For me, it’s the feeling of living on the edge. My hometown, Juneau, is a tiny smear of civilization scrunched between the edge of the sea and the foot of the mountains. Waves lick beneath the docks on one side, while, a few blocks away, avalanches and landslides push at our backdoors. It’s an extraordinary place. But, as I’ve come to appreciate, the land is not the boundless, untouched wilderness it appears to be. The wild places we have left aren’t there because we can’t push in. They’re there because we decided to stay out.
This summer, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, in partnership with the United States Forest Service, will be sending me to one of the wildest places we have, the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness. SEACC has been striving to protect the vibrant Tongass National Forest that all Southeast Alaskans call home for nearly fifty years, often disagreeing with the Forest Service in how to do so. So why are we working together?
Our wild lands are threatened like never before. With increasing pressure from climate change and tourism, decreased funding for the forest service, and a strong push to pull land away from the public for development, places like Tracy Arm need all the help they can get. SEACC has stepped up to work for a common goal: protecting our land and promoting Wilderness/land stewardship.
Together with kayak rangers Chrissy Post and Sean Rielly, I’ll be providing the often invisible work that goes into keeping this area feeling wild. The two Forest Service rangers with me are responsible for tending to an area of almost 650,000 acres, and they do it almost entirely via kayak. Tasks include minimalizing the human footprint by packing out and cleaning up any signs of previous visitors (Leave No Trace), counting seals, and going shipboard to reach out to our visitors from around the world. Each day will have different goals and challenges that could change as quickly as the tides.
It’s a rare opportunity. Most people enter Tracy Arm-Fords Terror for less than a day. It’s part of what makes wilderness special: it’s a place where people don’t remain. It doesn’t rely on people to remain as it is. Or does it? Follow me as I find out.