The Forest Service fondly remembers the contributions of Dr. Walter A. Soboleff, a centenarian deeply revered and Tlingit elder, who died last month at the age of 102.
Located in Alaska, the Tlingit are a Native society that developed a complex hunter-gatherer culture in the temperate rainforest of the Alexander Archipelago in the Southeastern part of the state. The people in this society were the original caretakers of natural resources where the current-day Tongass National Forest exists.
“Many Forest Service leaders have rich memories of one-on-one conversations with Dr. Soboleff over the years,” Regional Forester Beth Pendleton said. “He was a gracious man who gave us wise counsel. We will miss him.”
The Forest Service family referred to Dr. Soboleff as a “Goodwill Ambassador” in appreciation for his willingness to share his cultural knowledge and help others have a better understanding of Southeast Alaska Natives and their ancient ties to the land. His way of life was deeply influenced by his appreciation of the Tongass National Forest’s beauty and bountiful resources.
In years past, Dr. Soboleff provided cultural training for the Chugach and Tongass national forests, and acted as an advisor on Forest Service projects involving tribes. Dr. Soboleff’s meetings with regional leadership helped pave the way for the acknowledgement of the Forest Service’s removal of traditional smokehouses, fish camps and cabins in the mid-twentieth century. A resulting acknowledgement ceremony in 2008 began a new era of trust between the Forest Service and the Southeastern Alaska Tribes.
In 2009, at the age of 100, Dr. Soboleff spoke at the ceremony to establish Pacific Northwest Station’s new experimental forest near Juneau called Héen Latinee, a Tlingit name meaning “Watcher of the River.” The experimental forest allows researchers from universities, government agencies, and Tribes to study climate change, timber production, carbon sequestration, salmon habitat, and the effects of recreational use on the forest.