I am serving as the Living with the Land and Building Community JV/AmeriCorps member at the Sitka Conservation Society. I mostly serve the youth in Sitka, leading the Alaska Way-of-Life project 4-H club, and volunteering with the Fish to Schools program and Stream Team. Every day is different at SCS which keeps life fun and interesting! I am able to get outside with youth almost every day sharing the importance of our place and our ability to live with the land. My hope is that the youth I serve gain a value of stewardship that will last a lifetime.
The programs I offer through SCS are unique to life in Southeast Alaska. We live in a special place where snow-capped mountains meet the sea, where it rains over 100 inches each year, and where people have a strong sense of community with each other and the land. The 4-H members are engaging in experiential education to get outside, explore the world around them, and learn about how they can live with the land.
The 4-H motto of “learning by doing” is very much part of my role here. I am walking with the youth, learning the “Alaska way of life” with them every day. We are able to explore the world around us through genuine curiosity. I do not always have answers, not growing up in Alaska myself, but that is what a strong community is about: finding the answers together. I have been able to improve my sense of belonging in Sitka and lean on community members to share their knowledge of “Living with the Land” with the 4-H members I serve. We have pulled in stream ecologists, and mammal and fisheries biologists to learn more about brown bears, whales, herring, birds, and salmon. Living with the land and building community really is the Alaska way of life in Sitka.
In the fall, I did a series of classes that focused on outdoor safety and survival. We talked about water purification, shelter building, first aid, staying warm, and what to bring with you in a day pack. Many of the 4-H members went home and made their own safety kits which they now bring with them to 4-H hikes so they are prepared for wilderness adventure. A 4-H parent told me, “this is a very important series; chances are this class will save someone’s life.” The wilderness is our backyard here in Sitka. Exposing youth to outdoor skills at a young age will keep them safe while they explore the natural environment around us.
I am serving in the Tongass National Forest, a coastal temperate rainforest, the largest national forest in the United States. The future of the Tongass is in our hands to protect for generations of people and wildlife to come. This is one of the most magical places I have ever been to, which I now am able to call home. It is through wild places that we are able to connect to the true beauty of the world and find ourselves. We are able to see how life is interconnected here, how the salmon thrive because of the trees, and the trees are nourished by the salmon. It always comes back to how we can be stewards of our natural environment and live with the land and learn from the land.
Sitka is alive with activity! The herring have returned to our waters to spawn. Fish, fishermen, whales, birds and sea lions are crowding our oceans and coasts and the streets are starting to smell fishy.
Check out this little video SCS helped produce with Ben Hamilton that showcases our deliciously fresh fisheries-from stream to plate!
It’s here! Hot-off-the-press is the Fish to Schools Resource Guide and Stream to Plate Curriculum! Fish to Schools, a program that gets local seafood into schools, began as a grassroots, community initiative in the fall of 2010. Sitka is one of the first districts in the state to serve local seafood through the National School Lunch Program and has become a leader in the State of Alaska to get local foods into schools. In the last three years, the number of schools interested in serving local seafood has increased ten-fold. And it makes sense—this is a program that not only addresses child nutrition but also food justice, community sustainability, and conservation.
In an effort to support regional and state-wide efforts to serve local foods in schools, the Sitka Conservation Society developed a “how-to” guide to serving fish in schools. Using Sitka as a case study it outlines procurement and processing strategies, legalities, tips, and recipes. Also included are case studies from around the state that offer tips and suggestions based on the success of their programs.
In addition to this guide is the “Stream to Plate” curriculum, a unit of seven lessons that connect salmon to the classroom. The lessons address the ecological significance and human relationship to salmon. These lessons have been trialed and refined the last three years with third graders at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. Chris Bryner, teacher and collaborator on the salmon unit said, “The Fish to Schools curriculum connects my classroom to the community. Students not only learn about a resource relevant to their daily lives, but come away with an understanding that learning happens inside and outside of school.”
We’ve been working on this guide since the inception of our program, tucking away tips and pieces information that have been particularly useful to get Fish to Schools up and running. I hope it inspires and supports your efforts to get local foods in schools.
Thank you to all the funders who have made this possible: SEARHC Community Transformation Grant, Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program, Alaska Farm to School, and the Crossett Foundation. And thank you to all of the countless volunteer hours the community of Sitka has put in to make this possible!
When serving local seafood in our schools became a community health priority in the 2010 Sitka Health Summit, the Sitka Conservation Society recognized the opportunity to apply our mission to “support the development of sustainable communities.” Now all grades 2-12 in Sitka serve locally-harvested fish at least twice a month, reaching up to 1,500 students. In just three years over 4,000 pounds of fish have been donated to Sitka Schools from local seafood processors and fishermen.
Fish to Schools is a grassroots initiative that builds connections and community between local fishermen, seafood processors, schools, students, and families. It’s a program that we would like to see replicated across the state—that’s why we created a resource guide and curriculum (available March 1st!). And that’s why I went to the Capital.
Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools is a state funded program that reimburses school districts for their Alaskan food purchases. This $3 million grant allows schools to purchase Alaskan seafood, meats, veggies, and grains that would otherwise be cost prohibitive to school districts. It also gives a boost to farmers and fishermen with stable, in-state markets.
Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools was introduced by Representative Stoltze and has been funded the last two years through the Capital Budget. I went to Juneau to advocate for this funding because it’s a way to ensure funding for local food purchases state-wide. Locally this means sustained funding for our Fish to Schools program.
I met with Senator Stedman, House Representative Kriess-Tomkins, and the Governor to tell them how valuable this grant has been for schools, food producers, and students around the state. I will continue my advocacy and ask you to join me. It is through your support that Fish to Schools exists in Sitka—let’s take that support and make this thing go state-wide!
The Sitka School District took the lead by passing a resolution to support “multi-year” funding of Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools. Let’s join them and advocate for a program that revolutionizes school lunches and catalyzes local food production. Please sign this letter and tell Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins you support state funding for local foods in schools.
Ask Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins to support sustained funding for Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools
Designating land as Wilderness is the ultimate step to ensuring its protection in the long-term. Wilderness designation protects critical habitat from mining, logging, and development while still allowing people to use the land for hunting, fishing, subsistence gathering, recreating, and even making a living from guiding and operating tours.
Wilderness was integral to SCS’s formation and we’ve maintained that commitment to Wilderness ever since. You can see the whole story of SCS’s formation in the short documentary Echoes of the Tongass. But the short story is that in the 1960s large, industrial pulp mills were clear-cutting huge swaths of the Tongass with no end in sight. A small group formed in Sitka to fight the rampant logging surrounding their home. They saw the recent passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as a way for them to protect at least some of the Tongass. They drafted a proposal to designate the western third of Chichagof Island as Wilderness because of its diverse habitats, intact old-growth forests, and pristine wildlife habitats. It took 13 years of effort, but in 1980, the West Chichagof Wilderness became the first citizen initiated wilderness in Alaska.
Through the politics of the designation process, the extractive interest groups for the timber and mining lobby managed to carve large sections of some of the best habitat out of the designated land. Some of those excluded parcels like Ushk Bay and Poison Cove are currently being managed for logging. As the Forest Service puts it, these areas are managed for “Intense Development” which means they “Manage the area for industrial wood production…and maximum long-term timber production.”
These areas were excluded because they are the best, most iconic old-growth rainforests in the world and provide habitat for important species like the coastal brown bear, Sitka deer, and pacific salmon. Unfortunately, that also means that they are the areas where clear-cut logging is cheapest and easiest.
But, since the 60s, the pulp mills have closed their doors. Nowadays, the timber industry only employs about 200 jobs. Our economy in Southeast Alaska has shifted to tourism and fishing which employ 10,200 and 8,000 jobs and contribute almost $2 Billion to the economy annually. Wilderness designation directly benefits tourism and fishing because it preserves both the habitat, which salmon need for spawning, and viewsheds the tourists flock to Alaska to see.
This year the Wilderness Act is 50 years old and we think it is a perfect time to finish the job our founders began almost a half century ago to designate ALL of West Chichagof as Wilderness. Please join us by sending a note of your support to our senators using the form below.
Ask Senators Begich and Murkowski to Fulfill Wilderness Designation in West Chichagof
SCS will present the Sitka premiere of The Meaning of Wild Sunday, March 9, 2014 from 6-8pm at the Sitka Performing Arts Center. Tickets $7 available at Old Harbor Books (2/14/2014). Free for kids 10 and under.
The film will be accompanied by a selection of wilderness-themed short films, a photography exhibit and silent auction, and door prizes.
Meaning of Wild (25:00)
Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography
The Meaning of Wild takes viewers on a journey through one of our nation’s most wild and pristine landscapes – The Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The film follows wildlife cameraman Ben Hamilton as he travels by boat, plane, kayak and foot to capture and share the true value of Wilderness. Along the journey Ben encounters bears, calving glaciers, ancient forest, and harsh seas but it’s the characters he meets along the way that bring true insight to his mission. The film highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. Ultimately The Meaning of Wild celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates. Visit the Meaning of Wild website.
Background: Sitka Conservation Society has been partnering with the USDA Forest Service for over 5 years to monitor and steward Wilderness areas in the Tongass. Part of SCS’s mission is to educate and inspire community members to take care of their local public lands through projects like the Meaning of Wild.
This film was made possible through support from the Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, and the contributions of over 100 community members all of whom we would like to thank for making this film a reality.
Big Bear Country (26:11)
Film by Ben Hamilton, Pioneer Videography
Follow wildlife biologist Jon Martin, big game guide Kevin Johnson, conservationist Andrew Thoms and filmmaker Ben Hamilton as they travel by foot and packraft through the rich habitats of West Chichagof Wilderness. The team seeks out the coastal brown bear, a keystone species, to unravel the importance of protecting large tracks of intact habitat for wildlife population. Their journey takes them through the Lisianski-Hoonah Sound corridor, an area proposed but ultimately removed from the original citizen-intiated Wilderness proposal and a prime wildlife area, and over the Goulding Lakes, within the Wilderness boundary. Prepare yourself—you’re about to enter into Big Bear Country.
Running Wild (4:00)
Film by Alexander Crook
Getting out into wilderness, feeling the moss underfoot, legs pumping uphill, breathing clean air, and taking a minute to reflect at the top of a climb—these are the things that inspire backcountry trailrunner Nick Ponzetti to travel to designated Wilderness areas. Follow Nick on a run through the heart of Wilderness to find out how his love of running has inspired a passion for protecting wild places.
Film by Adam Andis
This short film, shot in South Baranof Wilderness area shows how designated Wilderness is integral to us all.
Photos by Adam Andis
Photographer Adam Andis has been exploring the remote Wilderness areas of Southeast Alaska for the past 8 years as a private kayak guide and manager of the Sitka Community Wilderness Stewardship Project. This collection of photos includes 24 images depicting the raw beauty of 14 Wilderness Areas in the Tongass. Prints will be available to purchase through silent auction at the event with a portion of the proceeds being donated to SCS.
Attendees can enter their ticket stubs into a drawing for a number of great door prizes donated by local businesses including:
2 REI Flash Packs from REI Anchorage
Coupon for Whale Watching tour from Aquatic Alaska Adventures
Gifts from Sound Sailing
2 copies of The Meaning of Wild DVD
Want to get involved with 4H? 4H is a positive youth development program to get youth civically engaged and apply leadership skills at a young age.
Our 4H Adventure Series starts February 18!! This series will be Tuesdays through May from 4:15 – 5:45pm for ages 8 to 13. Skills we will explore are: map and compass navigation, using survival kits, GPS and geocaching, fire building, shelters, knots, water purification, Leave No Trace Wilderness ethics, bear awareness, and other skills to prepare for an overnight trip!
New 4H members are encouraged to join! Please share with friends who may be interested.
Attendees must be 4H members. Please complete the registration forms before the 18th. Copies are available at the Sitka Conservation Society.
Registration is open for this series by e-mailing Mary or Tracy or by calling SCS at 747-7509.
Get outside and explore!
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H club had a full year of getting youth outside, civically engaged, and exploring the Tongass National Forest. In 2013, young Sitkans explored the Tongass by foot and kayak, and gave back to community elders. 4H is a prime example of how SCS is meeting its goal to educate people to be better stewards of the Tongass and to live in a sustainable relationship with the natural world.
Out of our network of over 70 families, 46 active 4H members in Sitka explored the Tongass forest in 2013. They learned how to identify and process wild edibles: spruce tips, Lingonberries, Huckleberries, Labrador tea, mushrooms, and rose hips. We made jams, jellies and fruit leather that were donated to elders at the Pioneers Home to give back to the community. A night hiking series stretched the members to explore the night and use their sense of smell, hearing, and sight with a new focus. In addition to hiking club, summer programs included gardening club, kayak club and a fishing clinic. The youth cultivated and harvested vegetables in the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, learned the basics of kayaking safety and technique and paddled the Sitka Sound, and learned how to make a lure and tie it to a fishing pole. The year rounded out with an outdoor survival series educating youth how to be prepared and stay safe for outdoor adventures in the Tongass.
4H is open to youth ages 5 to 18. 2014 marks the adoption of the national 4H community club structure. There will be monthly meetings with all the project clubs, such as Alaska Way-of-Life and Baking, leadership opportunities, and public speaking. Want to get involved in 4H? The Alaska Way-of-Life project is going strong with the Living with the Land Naturalist series on Fridays and gearing up with a new Adventure Series starting February 18 for ages 8-13. Check out the SCS events calendar for specific dates and times. We are always open to new members curious to explore the Tongass and learn with us! Contact Mary at 747-7509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get inspired by getting a snapshot of what we did in 2013!
Last week, after much anticipation, SCS was able to get the Young Growth bike shelter installed at the Sitka Sound Science Center. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, we encourage you to do so. It’s the product of multiple community partnerships and hard work. This summer SCS produced a video about the bike shelter and it features time lapse footage of the shelter going up and an interview with Randy Hughey, the instructor at Sitka High who designed the shelter along with local craftsman Dan Sheehan.
To celebrate, we will be holding a small dedication celebration on Tuesday, January 28th, at 3:00 PM. If you are interested in a bike ride, meet up at Totem Square at 2:45 for a quick ride down to the shelter. We will be thanking people who have helped along the way and have some light refreshments.
We can’t thank all of these great people enough for their help with this project!
National Forest Foundation, CCLS program
Randy Hughey and Dan Sheehan
Sitka Sound Science Center
Chris Pearson and Coastal Excavation
City of Sitka Parks and Recreation
Mike Litman – Precision Boatworks
US Forest Service
Good Faith Lumber
Keith Landers H & L salvage
Baranof Island Brewing Company
SCS members, staff, interns and volunteers