Alaskan Youth Stewards’ TRAYLS Crew Returns for the 2021 Season

The Training Rural Alaskan Youth Leaders & Students or TRAYLS crew is back in action! Four Hoonah youth, Ted Elliott, Kelly St. Clair, Susan Bradford, and Leif Gray, were hired to assist in various natural resource management projects over the ten-week TRAYLS season. We will work with many local and non-local partners to collect data, monitor changes to natural resources, restore the environment, and engage in traditional Native culture around town through various projects. During the first three weeks, the crew was introduced to the program during the training week and jumped into the field season by working with the US Forest Service (USFS), collecting data for other partners, and helping continue some of HIA Environmental’s ongoing projects.

Training Week

Our training week was jam packed with teamwork building exercises, discussions about program expectations, zoom meetings to introduce project partners, and wilderness first aid training. After learning more about the TRAYLS program and the broader Alaskan Youth Stewards program it’s a part of, the TRAYLS crew got to know each other a little better through personality tests, discussing season goals, and playing team games. Sprinkling these throughout all our zoom meetings made time go by a little more quickly! The zoom calls were great to introduce our nonlocal project partners, including Elizabeth Graham who studies entomology (the study of insects) and Greg Wiles and Ben Gaglioti who study dendrochronology (the study of the past through tree rings). By collecting data here in Hoonah for their projects and others’, we can learn about their career fields/the work they do as well as learn how Hoonah’s natural resources might be impacted or change in the future. We also got our wilderness first aid certifications during training week to help ensure all students are prepared to work in the field throughout the summer!

Working with the US Forest Service

Every year we get to work with the US Forest Service (USFS) on several ongoing projects throughout the field season. After only three weeks we have already helped the USFS on a handful of diverse projects! We first helped them clear out some salmon fish passes at Suntaheen and Pavlov. The Suntaheen fish pass was blocked with rocks and debris and, while it took some time, was relatively easy to clear. Pavlov’s fish pass, however, was blocked by a huge fallen tree that took a chainsaw and more to remove! It was great to see the students work together to complete the projects to help our salmon return and spawn this year.

Later, we helped Neal Shoenfelder (Fisheries Biologist with the USFS) survey the effectiveness of one of the culverts out the road. Culverts are big tunnels that run under roads, connecting both ends of a stream so salmon can make it home. We took many measurements of the culvert and the stream beds up and downstream of the culvert to complete the survey. The purpose of culvert surveys is to measure their effectiveness or how well they work: do they carry enough water for salmon to make it through the culvert? How might the culvert be impacting the stream up or down river, and how would that affect salmon? These are just some of the broad questions we try to answer when conducting these surveys.

One project the TRAYLS crew helps the USFS with annually is recreation site maintenance. We visited Freshwater Bay first to maintain the recreation sites there, which includes lopping overgrowth, picking up trash, cleaning tables, and fixing fire rings. Another aspect to recreation site maintenance is invasive species removal, this time in the form of oxeye daisies. After maintaining the recreation sites the TRAYLS crew pulled all the oxeye daisies they could find. Invasive plants such as these are bad for local flora because they take a lot of nutrients from other plants and aren’t used by other organisms in the ecosystem. Not only that, but they have a high reproduction rate and can withstand a lot of environmental stress, making them useless yet pervasive pests. Although pulling daisies is monotonous it helps native plants grow that have a lot more to offer. We also maintained the recreation sites at False Bay, lower Suntaheen trail, Whitestone harbor, and Wukukluk trail and had lots of fun in the process!

The TRAYLS crew also got to help the USFS collect eDNA samples from a muskeg pond near False Bay to identify any frog species present. There are native and invasive frog species in Hoonah so the USFS is trying to figure out which ones are where. After taking and filtering pond samples we surveyed the areas for frogs, but we didn’t find any!

Lastly, we got to help decorate the USFS vehicle for the 4th of July parade! It was fun to go through and put up all the decorations, but even more fun to be in the parade! We met with other USFS employees and threw candy and other toys to the crowd that eventful day. We even took first place in the parade’s float competition! Thank you Hoonah ranger district for letting us in on the 4th of July fun!

Working with the IGAP Department

The TRAYLS crew continued a few ongoing projects for HIA Environmental’s Indian General Assistance Program (IGAP) department, one of which is shellfish biomass surveys. Jeromy Grant, the IGAP Coordinator, started conducting these surveys in 2018 to assess the abundance and distribution of shellfish populations like cockles and butter clams in a popular shellfish harvesting spot. We counted and measured the shellfish found along five transects to add to the data we’ve collected over the years; that way over time we can see how shellfish populations are changing. As a significant subsistence resource here in Hoonah, that information will be very useful to have in the future.

Another IGAP project we helped with was stream temperature monitoring. HIA Environmental is recording stream temperatures at several locations to help monitor salmon habitats and help plan for future restoration projects. We went out to Game Creek watershed with Jeromy and deployed stream temperature monitors at three sites there so we can see how temperatures change over time.

Lastly, we began water sampling for the IGAP department. Every week HIA Environmental takes water samples from two locations in town to see which and how many phytoplankton are present in our water. Phytoplankton are microscopic, plant-like organisms that float in the water, producing oxygen and getting eaten by marine invertebrates and filter feeders along the way. However, they also produce toxins that can be harmful to humans. We want to identify the types and amounts of phytoplankton present to help monitor for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), a dangerous side affect of consuming shellfish with high concentrations of toxin-producing phytoplankton. The TRAYLS students will regularly take water samples to help ensure our community stays safe.

Tree Coring

The TRAYLS crew is fortunate to continue gathering tree core data for our partners at the College of Wooster and University of Alaska Fairbanks. By collecting tree cores and sending them to our partners, we can see how old the trees are and how climactic conditions have impacted their growth. So far the TRAYLS crew has collected data at three sites: Pavlov, Game Creek, and Long Island. It’ll be interesting to see how old our trees are and how they’re growing! By collecting this data we hope to identify what challenges trees may face in the future, and what conditions are ideal for successful tree growth, as the climate continues to change.

Marine Invasive Species Monitoring

Additionally, we got to assist HIA Environmental’s Coastal Program Manager Sean Williams in looking for marine invasive species in Hoonah harbor. This entailed setting up and deploying monitoring plates off a harbor dock. Specifically we are monitoring for an invasive tunicate that’s popped up around Southeast; it grows rapidly and can have negative impacts on marine habitats and fisheries. Once enough time has passed we can pull the monitoring plates to see if any marine invasive species are present.

Light Penetration Index Surveys

One new fun activity for the TRAYLS crew this year was helping with light penetration index surveys! Through these surveys, HIA’s Environmental Coordinator Ian Johnson can evaluate how much light is hitting streams through the forest canopy. This is important because light creates plant/algae growth, which allows insect populations to flourish near streams. Insects are important food for fish fry, so by surveying how much sunlight is hitting the stream we can actually get a good understanding of how much adequate fish habitat there is in our streams! The TRAYLS crew worked with Ian to take measurements, photos, and other data to complete the surveys.

The TRAYLS crew has already helped with a lot of projects, and the season has only just begun! We’re excited to continue developing skills, gaining experience, and collecting data while having fun during the rest of the season.

Written by Arianna Lapke
Youth Engagement Coordinator and TRAYLS Lead

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