Nov 2011. On an autumn Saturday afternoon, a group of kids gathered around a deer hanging in the Sitka Sound Science Center barn. At first they stood a few feet back, taking the deer in slowly with curious gazes. They got more comfortable as Jack Lorrigan, the father of one of the children, began to explain how to skin the deer and butcher it into choice cuts of meat. Over the next two hours, Jack, the Subsistence Biologist with the Forest Service, demonstrated the various cuts and allowed kids and parents alike to wield the knife. Jack also shared stories of how he learned to hunt from his mother, carrying on indigenous traditions, and he offered important ecological considerations from his work as a subsistence biologist. Andrew Thoms, executive director at the Sitka Conservation Society, helped Jack teach the lesson. Andrew shot the deer along with Joel Martin and Paulie Davis on Kruzof Island about 10 miles from Sitka.
For the people of Sitka, Alaska, subsistence hunting and gathering is an important part of life. The Tongass National Forest that surrounds Sitka provides many of these resources. SCS works to protect the resources of the Tongass as well as helping pass along the conservation skills and values that will allow us to live as part of this landscape forever. The Alaska-way-of-life 4H club is part of the ways that Sitka youth are learning about their environment and being part of the community.
We will follow the deer from forest to plate in the month of February. Members will learn how to tan hides from Ed Gray at his local tannery and will can deer stew for future enjoyment of this local food source.
Note: In following with time-honored subsistence traditions passed down from peoples who have occupied this landscape for millennia, at least half of the deer meat from this activity was shared with neighbors, friends and elders.
For the month of January, the Alaska way-of-life 4H club focused on tracking and trapping in the Tongass National Forest. These important skills further connect us to the natural environment as we notice the habits of the animals and birds in our shared ecosystem. Tracking as a skill gives us more capacity to understand the workings of the forest and thus the compassion to protect it. Traditionally this activity was fundamentally crucial, and continues to be, as a source of food and animal pelts (for clothing, warmth, and trade).
We began the unit earlier this month by gathering around a table overflowing with animal pelts. We identified the animals native to the island and began matching each animal to its print. Ashley Bolwerk from the Science Center taught us the steps involved in tracking animals: 1) know your location and the animals native to it, 2) note the size, pattern, and type of track, 3) check for distinguishing details like number of toes, nails, etc., 4) note other animal signs like scat, fur, feathers, eating patterns, etc.
In addition to learning the basics of tracking, Kevin Johnson and Tyler Orbison, both local trappers, met with the older 4H group to show them the fundamentals of tracking mink and martens. They got to practice setting up the different traps (more difficult than one may think) and directed question after question to our guests.
On Saturday, we got to put study into action. We had a blast roaming the coastline and snowy forest searching for tracks and signs of animals nearby. We successfully saw the tracks of deer, mink, marten, squirrel, raven, and swan including scat and signs of grazing. The older kids were joined once again by trapper, Kevin Johnson, who demonstrated where and how to place traps in the forest. He also, to our delight, showed 4H members how to skin a marten in the field. Everyone was awe-eyed and attentive as he quickly removed the hide from body, an excellent lesson in anatomy.
Check out the pictures—they tell a better story than words ever will. These activities would not have been possible without the help of: Kevin Johnson, Tyler Orbison, Jon Martin, Kent Bovee, Ashley Bolwerk, Andrew Thoms, and the Science Center. THANK YOU!
**Although a bit out of order, 4Hers have learned how to identify deer tracks, skin and butcher a deer, and in February will learn how to tan hides and can deer stew. A forest to plate series!
This winter, students from Sitka High’s Field Science Class worked with the Sitka Ranger District to target wildlife habitat restoration activities. We mapped occurrences of Vaccinium species (Blueberry) and other deer forage plants in young growth forests. We then used data analysis and mapping technologies to identify potential locations where the Forest Service can create canopy gaps. Gaps provide more light to the forest floor and encourage the growth of plants deer eat to survive snowy winters.
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H Club seeks to connect youth to their natural environment through a number of hands-on, outdoor activities. Through parent and volunteer-led activities, youth are taught the skills to feel equipped while out in the Tongass National Forest. They are taught skills that relate to safety, like building survival kits and shelters, to wild-food harvest and preservation, to outdoor hobbies like bird identification. As with all 4H Clubs, our group seeks to incorporate elements of the 4H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. We also strive to develop a healthy community through family and youth participation.
For the 2012-2012 school year, we will focus on a variety of topics: mushroom hunting, berry picking, cooking, shelter building, tracking, plant ID, survival kits, and food preservation.
We meet the first and third Tuesday of the month and every last Saturday. There are two groups: Cloverbuds, ages 5-8 and 4H, ages 9+. The cost to join is $20.00, which is divided between registration to National 4H, insurance, and the Activity Fund. If cost is an issue, please ask us about scholarships.
Check out our briefing sheets for more information:4H Briefing sheet
Please contact Tracy Gagnon at email@example.com or call 747.7509 if you are interested in joining!
5:00pm (note time change)
Kettleson Memorial Library, Sitka
Adam Andis from the Sitka Conservation Society leads the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. The project seeks to involve the community to monitor on-the-ground conditions in local Wilderness Areas. In the summer of 2011, the SCS Wilderness Crew spent countless hours bushwhacking in the field, including pioneering a new route across Baranof Island.
The route paralleled the southern boundary of South Baranof Wilderness Area and followed two watersheds from sea to source. To cover the terrain, the team used packrafts, lightweight backpacking techniques, and lots of chocolate.
Come learn a little bit more about your local Wilderness areas and join in the expedition Across the Island!
Four Sitka High students were recently selected to participate in the Science Mentor Program. This program pairs students with professional mentors to conduct ecological field studies. From left to right: Program Coordinators Scott Harris, Ashley Bolwerk, and Kent Bovee, Tahnee Curran will be work with Wildlife Biologist Chris Leeseberg at the US Forest Service, Spencer Combs will be working with Fisheries Biologist Troy Tydingco at the AK Dept. of Fish and Game, Justine Webb will be working with Botanist Kitty LaBounty at the University of Alaska Southeast, and Sarah Rasmussen-Rehkops will also be working with Chris Leesburg. The program is funded by the Sitka Conservation Society and the Secure Rural Schools Act.
SCS’s Salmon Curriculum Project recently conducted a Teacher Training Workshop in Tenakee. Because that only means 2 teachers, we decided to involve the entire student population of 10 as well! So far, SCS has conducted 5 of these workshops in communities throughout Southeast Alaska. Our goal is to provide teachers with the tools (field equipment) and resources (lesson plans) to teach about the value of habitat and water quality for wild Alaska salmon. Ed Ronco from Raven Radio joined us.
Click here for the radio story that was aired on the Alaska Public Radio Network.
In 2011, with funding from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, we developed the Salmon For All Ages Project. Now that the year has ended, we can tally our success at spreading the word about the value of our Alaska Wild Salmon and Salmon Habitat to people throughout Southeast Alaska. We developed a curriculum resource guide for teachers, conducted teacher training workshops, aired public service announcements, and developed a university-level course in watershed ecology. Some of our 2011 key statistics:
756 potential number of K-12 Southeast Alaska students exposed to the curriculum
1,342 number of PSA’s aired
14 number or radio stations involved
5 number of teacher workshops conducted in different communities
5 number of school districts involved
25 number of teachers involved
Click on this link to hear an example of one of our radio PSAs.
The Alaska Wild Salmon Teachers’s Guide was created by teachers for teachers.
This 237-page Guide provides curriculum resources that meet Alaska State Performance Standards and Grade Level Expectations for math, science, writing, and cultural requirements. The Guide provides detailed lesson plans for middle school teachers and additional information and resources for elementary and high school teachers.
This Guide was inspired by the successful partnership between the Sitka School District and the US Forest Service. Each year over eighty 7th graders in Sitka participate in a week of classroom and field-based salmon and stream ecology education. The Sitka Conservation Society designed this Guide with a grant from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund to share these lessons with other Southeast Alaska communities.
Check out some sample pages below. Download the 4 MB guide here, or obtain a copy from the Sitka Conservation Society by contacting Scott Harris at (907) 747-7509 or (907) 738-4091.
With so many programs already dedicated to teaching students about fish biology and lifecycle, The Sitka Conservation Society chose to take a different angle. We wanted to answer the question, “How did fish end up on our dinner plate?” Modeled after the Farm to School program, we developed a series of interactive lessons to illuminate the steps fish take from stream to plate. We invited a number community members and organizational partners into the classroom to share their part of the story.
We began with third graders in early October by teaching students about fishing methods. We answered the question, “How are fish caught?” Through a number of silly, hands-on activities, students learned the differences between commercial, sport, and traditional harvesting methods. To reinforce commercial methods, local fishermen were invited to give presentations on their chosen method(s). One fisherman father, Dan Falvey, went so far as to have students set a longline with baited hooks (magnets). After a good soak, students landed their catch… of paperclips!
Fishing, a familiar pastime for many of the students, was well understood. But less known was what to do with them next. Students were invited on a tour of Sitka Sound Seafoods, a local seafood processor, where they saw a boat unload fish, a halibut fillet demonstration, shrimp, crab, and sea cucumbers processed and packaged. Back in the classroom, Alaska Native Tom Gamble, took students through the process of gutting, filleting, and preserving the catch. He shared native traditions and emphasized respect for the salmon throughout the entire process for feeding him and his family.
Next in line was cooking, a final and very important step in the journey from stream to plate. Students gathered around wisps of steam as they watched Alaska Native, Charlie Skukla Jr., place fire-hot rocks into a traditional bentwood box. In less than minute the water began to boil chunks of local fish. Boiled fish couldn’t be simpler and the students loved it. One class got to work with Chef Colette Nelson of Ludvigs Bistro. Together students created delectable tastes of sesame salmon and toasted rockfish. Paired with cooking, we taught students why fish is good for their bodies. They all seemed to know that seafood was good for them but few could articulate why. Students learned a simple mantra–that “fish are healthy for our head, heart, and make us happy.” This really stuck; over 70% of participating students increased their health knowledge after the program.
The underlying thread that connected all of these steps was conservation. After playing a game to demonstrate a salmon food web, students learned how fish are connected to the livelihood of other plants, animals, and habitats. They learned that salmon feed the Tongass, not because the forest has teeth but because it absorbs all the nutrients of the salmon carcasses that act as a fertilizer. Students were also asked to consider what would happen if people overfished. Along with extreme answers like, “We would die,” were other answers like, “Other animals need fish to survive,” and “They won’t be able to reproduce.” It is our hope at SCS that students feel more connected to the food they eat and that they now know it is our responsibility to protect and care for the habitat and waterways that are home to these incredible animals. –Dec. 2011