Few trails, fewer roads, and endless adventure: For Alaska Panhandle residents Stéphanie Hayes and Josef Quitslund, volunteering to collect samples of yellow-cedar trees means battling spiny devil’s club, balancing on mossy logs suspended over the forest floor, and island hopping through the temperate rainforest they call home.

The duo were collecting samples for our Timber Tracking project. We’ve partnered with scientists who are using the leaf and wood cores from volunteers to build chemical and genetic databases that can pinpoint the source of illegally harvested timber, ultimately protecting our forests.
Stéphanie and Josef live in Petersburg, Alaska, in the middle of the Tongass National Forest, along the Inside Passage. From December to January, they collected 81 samples of yellow-cedar and Western redcedar.

“We are really in the prime range of yellow-cedar,” Stephanie told us. “Some areas we just knew right off the bat that there are a slew of old growth cedars — like 1000 year old specimens.”

The volunteers island hopped via kayak and boat, hiked up steep terrain, navigated cavernous ravines and cliffs, and followed old logging roads.

They heard wolves singing and spotted wolf tracks. They also found one old yellow-cedar tree with a long strip of bark removed from about knee height to as far as either Stéphanie or Josef could reach above their heads. The tree was a “culturally modified” tree, evidence of human interaction with nature. Indigenous and First Nations peoples, including the Lingít Aaní (Tlingit) and Dënéndeh whose traditional lands are in that area, have long used yellow-cedar bark to create baskets, clothing, hats, and many other items.

“It’s very wild and very remote, you need to bushwhack,” Stéphanie says. “But when you are really admiring the environment you are in, you really start to feel the grandness of the ecosystem here and you feel a part of it.”
Stéphanie and Josef, your efforts put us over the finish line for completing our yellow-cedar work. A huge thank you to you and to all our volunteers for their incredible dedication, hard work, and willingness to adventure for science!

The yellow-cedar phase of our Timber Tracking project has wrapped, but you can sign up to be the first to hear about the next tree species we’ll be working to protect here: https://www.adventurescientists.org/timber.html