Shades of Green: Rebuilding Our Home

[instrumental music] – Ah, a scallop. Scallops are probably best known for their beautiful shell, found in the works of Renaissance artists Botticelli and Titian. But one shell that you won’t find on Southeast Alaska beaches is an oyster shell. But oysters are becoming an important part of the economy for some towns in Southeast Alaska, towns whose timber-based economies were devastated with the closure of the pulp mills. Hi, I’m Pete Griffin. Let’s talk about oysters and logging on the Tongass National Forest. [chainsaws droning] For years, logging provided the economic bedrock for many Southeast communities. Naukati is an example. It’s a small town on the northwest side of Prince of Wales Island. – If you want to go anywhere outside of this area, you come through here regardless of whether you want fuel, you want to move a dump truck to an island, or you want to move people, ’cause all of them have to go through Naukati. So we set it up, and this is what we have. – Mall? [laughs] No, no. There’s no mall. I’d say the store is the focal point of the community. Everybody seems to be in and out of there quite often. The Post Office is in the store too, so everybody gets their mail there also. And that’s probably the hub, all right. – The people that are here in Naukati– it just amazes you. The entrepreneurs are probably I’m going to say the biggest factor of people. And that’s the ones that say, “Listen, I know I can go up there and I can do this or that,” and you know. And–but they’re all– the majority of them are all looking for the one thing, and that’s the lifestyle. That’s first. Of course, right very closely would be making a living. [helicopter flying] – Naukati began as a logging camp. When the logging company left in 2000, so did 25% of the local population. Marvin Peterson was one of those who lost his job. – You’d think it’s just nothing but a ghost town, you know, because there was no economy. And a few fishermen out, but they’re not based right here. There’s no facilities right here for fishermen. And no logging. There was just no industry. [dog barks] – Even with the loss of forest jobs, however, many Naukati residents wanted to stay. The state land lottery helped by attracting newcomers who wanted to build. State grants helped fund a road connecting the homes. The state also built a new school, and some small logging operations continued to provide local jobs. But residents of the community of fewer than 200 realized they needed a steady source of revenue. – What we have here on the north end and specifically here in Naukati is Sea Otter Sound. And Sea Otter Sound is abundant in all kinds of resources with logging. But the hunting and fishing and the shellfish is– the aquaculture industry– is what we’re basing our hopes and dreams on. – A few individuals got to thinking, “There’s got to be some other way to start something.” Some come up with oysters. [shells rattling] – Well, they’re still growing pretty fast, Art. – Yeah, they are. – A lot faster than I expected. – Art is Art King. Like others in town, he and his wife, Claire, diversify their work. They run a few small cabins and run the local laundry. Art King had a business career before moving to Naukati. He put that into practice when the then president of the homeowners’ association asked him to look into establishing a community-owned oyster nursery. – Had a few and now more oyster farmers in the area, and they had a very, very difficult time getting spat or getting quality spat. – That’s where Naukati saw an opportunity. A state grant paid for the construction of an oyster nursery, but they had to look elsewhere for money to buy the spat, the larval stage of oysters. – The Forest Service came through with their economic development people, Sandy Frost in particular and George Doyle, so we got our spat, and we started raising spat, and we didn’t know much about what we were doing, but we were studying and learning. [lively instrumental music] – The Naukati nursery buys the spat, each about the size of a grain of rice, and raises them in bins. A powerful paddlewheel circulates water through the bins. The water carries natural nutrients that feed the young oysters. After two years, the oysters are sold to Alaska oyster farmers. – He’s getting two years of labor knocked off of his cost, plus he’s getting his return on his investment two years sooner. So this helps him, and it helps us too. So we all benefit. The community has money to operate now. – And it’s more money than in the past– five times what Naukati had received under the old state revenue sharing plan. – The community only had– revenue sharing was about $3,600 a year coming in. They now have $20,000 so far this year. – Art and Bob work to make the oysters more appealing to the farmer and, ultimately, the consumer. One way is to shape the shells. – This is the size oysters that the farmers really like to get. And what we’re doing is shaping these so that this up and down here is a deeper cup, which produces more meat. And the way we do that is to knock this edge off that you see here. See how that comes off? When we rinse these oysters, we knock that edge off. And what happens then is, this oyster gets deeper. That oyster will slowly grow out to this size and slowly give more cup too. It makes a good-looking oyster on the plate. – Naukati residents believe their oyster nursery will provide an economic base for their future by meeting and increasing demand for seafood from the cold, clean waters of Southeast Alaska. – It’s gonna give the community a base and no need for taxes, because we’re an independent community with our own industry, actually. – I think it’s gonna be great. It’s gonna build– there’s more land coming up for sale. – We probably are going to have something that you could call substantial probably within the next five to seven years. – I look for Naukati and this area in Southeast to really be big in the aquaculture business. We have very pristine waters. All of the indicators I see is that we’re just gonna grow, grow, grow. [airplane engine hums] – Now, the Naukati projects won’t apply to every community, but they do show how people with an idea and the determination to carry it out can help improve their town’s economy. For the Tongass National Forest, I’m Pete Griffin.

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