Sitka Conservation Society
Jul 25 2013

Alaska Way of Life 4H Summer Clubs!

After a summer of exploring, examining, and identifying, kids in the Alaska Way of Life 4H clubs are walking away from these 7 week clubs will a whole new skill set. During June and July, clubs in gardening, hiking, and kayaking met every week to build community, interact with their landscape, and learn new skills.

Gardening club spent every Monday at St. Peter’s Fellowship farm learning how to plant, weed, water, harvest, cook, and de-slug. Every Thursday we explored other gardens in Sitka to learn different gardening techniques. We learned how chickens are helping Sprucecot Garden, saw how bees are pollinating plants at Cooperative Extension’s Greenhouse, and the many different styles of gardening present at Blatchley’s Community Garden. Kids walked away a little dirty and wet, but with smiles and plants in hand.

Kayaking Club incorporated more than just how to paddle a boat. We learned how to tie bowlines, clove hitches, and double fishermen knots. We had another 4H’er teach us how to build survival kits. Every kid learned how to use and put together their own kit to keep us safe on our kayaking journeys. Rangers at Sitka National Historical Park showed us why we have tides and how they change during the course of the day. Finally, after weeks of preparation, 4H’ers learned how to put on gear, get in and out of their boat, and paddle before we took to the water at Swan Lake and Herring Cove.

This summer’s hiking club learned how to interact with the Tongass in new ways. We learned foraging skills and how to properly harvest spruce tips and berries. We collected leaves and flowers and created plant presses to preserve them. The kids learned flora and fauna of the muskeg before gathering labrador tea leaves. For our final hike, we learned how to use a compass and GPS to find treasure hidden in the forest. Even after learning all these new skills, we made time to hike seven different trails in Sitka.

25 kids participated in these three Alaska Way of Life 4H clubs over the summer with ages ranging from 5 to 12. These clubs were a great way to get outdoors and understand more about the amazing wilderness we live in. Look for more Alaska Way of Life 4H programs in the future!  For more information or to sign up for 4H email

Enjoy photos from the summer programs! For the full album, visit our facebook page.

Jun 04 2013

Conservation in the Classroom

Did you build your own water filters out of cotton balls and coffee filters, make homemade rainwater catchment systems, or simulate oil rigs with sand and straws when you were in third grade? Neither did I. Third graders in Chris Bryner’s class got to embark on a journey to learn all about water conservation in and around the Tongass over the course of the last few months through a project called Conservation in the Classroom. This new program, created by myself and Chris Bryner, aimed to teach kids everything about water conservation and how it relates to their lives. Throughout two months, I taught lessons on how water conservation relates to things like pollution, waste, energy, water filtration, and more.

Chris’s classroom is unique in that he uses the model of project based learning. This non traditional and adaptive teaching style gave me the freedom to let kids learn by building and being creative instead of talking at them. They learned how hydropower works by building their own water wheel. They compared this to oil rigs as they created their own ocean with layers of sugar and sand to represent oil and the ocean floor. They saw as they pulled the “oil” out of the water with a straw, the “ocean floor” was disturbed. Instead of me telling them, they got to create the simulation on their own. They could see how hydropower is a clean source of energy and understand how our Blue Lake Dam works.

We talked about the importance of protecting watersheds, which is a huge concept for third graders! Kids crumpled up paper to create miniature mountain peaks. I sprayed water on all of the peaks and they watched it trickle down to create this big watershed. We did the same thing with food dye and saw how far it could travel if you dump a pollutant at the top of a mountain. The kids watched it happen in front of their eyes instead of being told what might happen. After that, the kids asked f we could have a trash pick up day to remove all the garbage from Cutthroat Creek to stop it from spreading.

Sitka Conservation Society’s advocates for protecting the Tongass and promoting ecological resiliency. By teaching third graders why conservation matters, they will have a better understanding of why the Tongass is worth protecting. Through these projects and others that the kids created, we all learned how even though water is abundant here, it relates and impacts other things in the Tongass and should be monitored and protected.

After exploring these things, the kids got to break up into groups and focus on a final project they were most interested in. One group investigated the benefits and drawbacks of the Blue Lake Dam Expansion Project. They went on a tour of the facility, interviewed key people from the project, and talked to Sitkans about what they thought. Another group wanted to know how to proper filter water. They did a Skype interview with a woman who builds filters for families in Africa. The kids were creative, inquisitive, and had incredible results. Conservation in the Classroom was a terrific collaboration between SCS and Chris Bryner’s class. Students walked away with a better understanding of their landscape and how to protect it.

May 16 2013

SCS & JVC Northwest: Rooted in the Same Values

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest has placed volunteers in various organizations all over Sitka for nearly two decades, focusing on issues of social and ecological justice. This year, I joined the Sitka Conservation Society team as their first Jesuit Volunteer (JV). Many of the core values of the JVC Northwest program align closely with those of Sitka Conservation Society. Social and ecological justice are important aspects of the work I do at SCS and are crucial values in the JVC Northwest program. My position, Living with the Land & Building Community Jesuit Volunteer, works toward ecological and social justice in several capacities.

My involvement with the Fish to Schools program at SCS is one of many examples of these two organizations, JVC Northwest and SCS, working to achieve the same goal. Fish to Schools coordinates local salmon and rockfish to be served in five Sitka schools. This program promotes not only social justice by allowing students with free and reduced lunches–who may not always have a balanced diet– a chance to eat a healthy local meal at school, but also ecological justice as well. By supporting our local fishermen and teaching students about sustainable fishing, we are influencing students to work towards ecological justice. Aside from my projects, the Sitka Conservation Society has a myriad of programs that advocate and work for ecological justice. Programs like Stream Team, where 7th graders get to spend 3 days outside learning about restoration and proper land management, is only one example in a long list of programs that SCS has created to encourage ecological justice.

Another core value of the JVC Northwest program is community. I live with three other Jesuit Volunteers who are placed at other non-profit organizations in Sitka. We live together, share food, have meals as a community, and support one another. Helping to foster a sense of community continues from my home into my projects at SCS. I lead Alaska Way of Life 4H classes at SCS. One of my main goals is to create a sense of community within our groups. Before every class we play a game or do an activity that allows us to learn about one another. Having weekly classes allows 4H kids to get to know their peers and makes them feel more invested in the community that they are helping to build. After these community building activities, we get to learn and practice new skills together that teach kids how to live with the land. The Alaska Way of Life 4H program has taught kids everything from harvesting wild edibles to tracking.

I am currently working on a project with a third grade class at Keet Gooshi Heen called Conservation in the Classroom. Many aspects of my lessons tie in to the value of simple living from JVC Northwest. My lessons are focused on water conservation in the Tongass. Our projects always take a hands on approach with “project based learning”. The students have done everything from building water catchment systems out of recycled materials to making their own water filters. We do all of our projects of recycled materials to live more simply and sustainably.

Social and ecological justice, community, and simple living are three values that JVC Northwest and the Sitka Conservation Society share and both works towards. It’s been a great opportunity to be a part of SCS and see the parallels between the two organizations.

Mar 15 2013

Students at Blatchley Love Local Fish Lunches

Over the last several weeks, Fish to Schools has been teaching 7th graders at Blatchley Middle School about salmon’s journey from the stream to our plates. The students learned about salmon management, gutting and filleting salmon, how local processors operate, how to smoke salmon, and more. After learning this process, the students had incredible things to say about the local fish lunches they eat at school. Listen and read what these insightful students said:

Listen to what students to Blatchley said about the local fish lunches!

“I like it because it takes amazing, it’s fresh, and it comes from our local fishermen that spend time and

money to go get it for us”

“I like it because it’s healthy and it’s nice that the fishermen do this for our school”

“It tastes really really good, and it’s a good chance for people to try new things”

“I eat it because it’s a way of saying thank you to the fishermen who catch the fish”

“Because it’s healthy and good for you, and you feel good after you eat it”

“It supports our economy and it tastes good”


Jan 08 2013

Celebrating an Amazing Year of 4-H!

Over the last year, the Sitka Conservation Society has offered lots of exciting Alaska Way of Life 4-H programs! In 2012 4-H kids learned how to track deer, make devils club salve, identify wild mushrooms, harvest berries, and much more! 4-H kids were able to walk, touch, eat, and experience everything the Tongass has to offer. 4-H is an amazing program that focuses on four H’s: head, heart, hands, health. Head refers to thinking critically, heart focuses on caring, hands involves giving and working, and finally health emphasizes being and living. Every 4-H class builds community and enhances our understanding of our natural environment by learning these skills together through hands on activities in the Tongass.

By living in Sitka, we must be invested in the Tongass because hurting it would mean damaging our own home. 2012 was filled with dedicated 4-H members who wanted to dive into the Tongass and learn all about its beauty and complexities. As a community, we all were able to experience these things through Alaska Way of Life 4-H clubs. Thank you to all 4-H participants for a terrific year! Please enjoy a sneak peak of our slideshow celebrating the wonderful skills we learned together in 2012! To see the full album with all the pictures from the year check out our facebook page.

It’s never too late to get involved with 4H! We are always excited to welcome new members to participate in our clubs and workshops that explore the natural world. In the next few months, members will get to go on night hikes, identify wild edibles, monitor beaches, and much more! If you are interested or want to get involved in 4-H please contact Courtney at or 747-7509.


Dec 13 2012

Reducing Runoff & Saving Salmon: December’s Chemical Challenge


Sitka has brought a myriad of new experiences for me in the short amount of time I have been here. I’ve learned I can home make my own jam or fruit leather from berries. I can process my own deer and have meat. I can harvest mushrooms and use them for a meal. These things were never a part of my upbringing. If you saw a berry on a bush in Chicago, you probably only ate it if you were dared. I have the opportunity to interact with the Tongass in more ways than just hiking the trails. Home making my own products seems much easier now than ever before.

To build off the idea of making my own foods or products, the other JV’s and I have decided to try a chemical challenge for the month of December. There are too many harsh products with destructive properties in household items. We are spending one month exploring alternatives to these products. To help protect our streams and ocean from these harsh chemicals that will inevitably make it there after it’s sent down the drain, we will create our own environmentally friendly products.

We are making one new homemade product or cleaning supply each week. This will include things like counter disinfectant, shampoo, toilet bowl cleaner, and more. After some research, we have found some common threads in homemade cleaning supplies, such as baking soda and vinegar. We have started collecting these types of ingredients to create some new cleaning supplies. Each week we will build off the previous product so by the end of the four weeks we will be consistently using four new cleaning solutions. Our goal is produce less harmful runoff and less of a footprint on our environment.

Salmon is an integral part of our community and it is the underlying backbone of what sustains us here in Sitka. Fisherman, processors, and fish eaters all have an investment in the livelihood of salmon in Alaska. Approximately 48 million wild salmon are caught every year in the Tongass. In order to keep our salmon healthy and safe, it is crucial that we protect our waters. Salmon are obviously hurt by trash and litter in the waterways, but chemicals are also effecting them. This could be overlooked because at a glance a river would look healthy and safe, but chemicals leaving our homes through the pipes or trash are making there way to the water. The EPA considers runoff to be the largest threat to water quality in the country currently. Investing in environmentally friendly products will help not only salmon, but the whole Tongass ecosystem. Check back at the end of the month to hear all about our new products and to get recipes to do this yourself!

Dec 03 2012

Light returns to the JV House: An end to November’s Energy Conservation Challenge

“Do you know what the best part of energy fasting day is? When you open the refrigerator and there is light!” This is what my roommate told me as we sat in a dark kitchen with a few White E and homemade candles burning. This rather permanent state of darkness we had created for ourselves was starting to have its effects on us. As the sunlight got shorter and shorter every day, I had noticed my patience for darkness was doing the same. I loved being challenged by only using one light after 5pm, but it was not an easy way to live for a month. It is the best way to learn how often you use lights or energy. Even on the last day of November, I still would forget to take my headlamp into my dark room and would have to feel around for what I needed.

We only made one exception to our set of guidelines. We decided that on Thanksgiving we could use one main light and a bathroom light, but not before we had a long conversation as a community about changing our rules for a holiday. For every other day, it didn’t matter if a friend stopped by or if we had a guest staying with us, we made everyone play along with our challenge. Reactions to this new way of life were mostly positive.

I learned that this month took some preparation. Every Wednesday our community did a complete energy fast using only the refrigerator and heating. Anything else that had to be plugged into the wall or used energy was off limits for those 24 hours. On Tuesdays we made food that we could eat cold the following day. Usually that consisted of cold rice and vegetables or tacos. We learned our lesson after not preparing for our first energy fast and some major scrounging had to happen in order to eat dinner.

Sitka relies on hydropower from dams to give power to the city. This is an amazing opportunity that we receive. We are not forced to use coal, and we only rely on a limited amount of oil. Most of the country does not have the opportunity to use something as environmentally friendly as hydropower. Sitka still has experienced times of energy shortages. In times like those it is important to remember that energy challenges are completely doable. It is possible to live for a month with one light and without power once and a while. It is a challenge that everyone should try to help promote conservation and to come to a better understanding of how many lights are on in a home at any given time. Look out for more updates on next months challenge!

Nov 16 2012

Headlamps and Energy Fasts: The JV’s Lightless November


A new month has brought an end to bucket showering and replaced it with an energy challenge for the JV community.  As the sun sets earlier and earlier in Sitka, we have all realized how frequently our lights are utilized. So we thought, how about we take a dark month and make it a little bit darker. After many discussions about what was tolerable and what was going to compromise our sanities, we decided that everyday at 5pm we would limit ourselves to one light on at a time in the house. So if one person is making dinner in the kitchen and another has to go to the bathroom, someone needs to get a headlamp. We chose 5pm because that is when most of us get home from volunteering at our sites. This has proved to be an interesting challenge that can immediately show someone how often they flip a light switch. Aside from the one light on in the house, we can use candles, headlamps, or flashlights.

But we thought this was a little too easy to do all the time, so we have added one day per week of total energy fasts. This means from the moment you wake up no lights, stove, microwave, toaster, space heaters, phone chargers, nothing. This also means that we have to plan ahead with charging our computers or phones, having food that we can eat without cooking at all, and having candles ready. Both of these energy limitations have really showed us how dark November can be. So far I have realized that bucket showering really only impacted 10 minutes of my day, but living with very littlelight for several hours a day is a constant reminder of our challenge. It has mostly made us all want to go to sleep at unreasonable hours because we get tired when we sit in darkness for too long. It has also helped to bring our community together. We find ourselves spending more quality time with one another. We also flock to our one light like moths.

Energy consumption is a topic that many people in Sitka can relate to. The expansion of the blue lake dam has been a point of conversation for quite some time. It is a good source of energy that required expansion to meet the needs of our community. Sitka relies on the two dams for the bulk of our energy. The JV House is hoping to remove some of that burden in the month of November to further our goal of becoming a sustainable community that works towards conserving resources. It has been a very informative, fun, and frustrating challenge thus far. Just doing it for one night can show someone how many light switches they flip after the sun sets. I encourage  everyone to try this challenge, even just for one night, to understand the amount of energy a household uses between lights, laundry, and cooking. Check back for an update at the end of the month to hear about our funny stories and progress.

Nov 07 2012

Water Conservation Challenge Coming to an End

I haven’t consciously thought about water as frequently as I have in the last four weeks. There has never been a time where I have counted the seconds it takes me to wash my hands or cringed at running water so much. This month has been long, informative, and pretty cold, but has been made me realize how much water people use on a daily basis. Bucket showering was definitely something I was dreading in September, but I have to admit I have learned to love them. I enjoyed being challenged by them and it has helped me tremendously to really appreciate having running water.

I think I have perfected the art of bucket showering. Here are some tips I have learned along the way:

  • Hold the bucket up in the air as close to the shower head as you can while filling it up. Then the water will stay warm through the whole bucket shower
  • Have a cup to pour the water from the bucket onto yourself.
  • Have patience. Bucket showering is a very slow process. It takes much longer to wash shampoo out of hair when water pressure is pretty much non existent.

My roommates and I wanted to explore water conservation even beyond bucket showering. We wanted to start flushing our toilets with rainwater since it is available almost constantly in Sitka. Regular toilets use anywhere from 3.5 to 5 gallons of water every time you flush. Low flow toilets even use about 1.5 gallons of water. To harvest water we bungee corded five gallon buckets to the outside of our deck to catch rainwater, which worked perfectly at first. We took that water and transferred it into the bathroom to use for flushing the toilet. We learned that pouring water down the toilet quickly is enough to flush it. It took about a gallon of rainwater to do this. This was a foolproof system until the weather turned and Sitka had a week of beautiful cloudless days with freezing temperatures. We ended up with five gallons of ice. Even though there were some glitches in the system, we are excited to learn that harvesting rainwater is something we can continue to do throughout the year.

During this month of my water conservation challenge I have experienced a whole array of emotions towards the project. There were days where I really wished I never brought up the idea of bucket showers and other times when I thought I might be able to do this for the rest of the year. Overall, it has been a wonderful month that has brought our whole JV community together. It is very motivating to have a community of people supporting one another to accomplish this goal. It has taught me that these small acts can be done by anyone who wants to help conserve water or just challenge themselves. Although we live in a city where water is more prevalent than almost anywhere else in the world, water is still a precious resource. We have an outstanding opportunity to take our rainfall and repurpose it. There are places within our country’s borders that don’t have the luxury of a long shower because they live in drought stricken environments with no extra water to spare. I think we can empathize with them by trying to conserve water in our own community.

During this month of water challenges and research I have learned that it takes approximately 250 gallons of water to create 1 gallon of hot water. This gives the issue of water conservation a whole new dimension: energy. November will be a month of energy conservation for the JV House with plenty of candle making and headlamps. Look out for an update.

Oct 12 2012

JV Water Conservation Challenge

For the last two weeks I have stood in my shower cherishing every moment because I knew it wasn’t October yet. But September has passed and October will bring lots of rain, or so every Sitkan has warned me of, and new changes in the Jesuit Volunteer House. We have decided to take challenges every month to live a more simple and sustainable lifestyle. For our community, that means being mindful of the way we live. We want to leave the smallest footprint on our world and live in a manner that uses fewer resources.

We begin this challenge by looking at our water consumption. Many ideas were tossed around for this water theme, but the one that stuck was bucket showers. It is in part to see if we could all accomplish this, but most importantly it is about forcing us to really think about our personal consumption and be more aware of the choices we make when consuming water.

My interest in water consumption began in college when I learned that the majority of the world does not have access to water like we do. Many countries can’t turn on a faucet and have clean running water. I thought I understood and appreciated this. I would always make sure to turn off the water when I wasn’t using it, but never had I thought about how much I was potentially wasting in the shower. I started looking at my own water usage, but not enough for me to really change my showering habits, not until now. I needed the support of a community who was willing to not only bucket shower with me, but keep me motivated to continue.

I started timing my showers in September to see how many minutes a typical shower lasts. We had no way of determining how many gallons of water we were using during a shower, so we based everything off time. My showers averaged out to be seven minutes, which I would consider a fairly short shower, but I knew that bucket showering would take considerably less time. This morning I found out how short it was. One minute and forty five seconds was the time it took to fill up one kitchen bucket. It only took one bucket to do the same thing that seven minutes of running water takes. Was it pleasant? No, not really. It was cold and kind of uncomfortable, but that was the point. We are trying to push ourselves to feel a little more uncomfortable to understand how to live more simply and sustainably.

Water availability is probably not on the forefront of everyone’s mind in one of the wettest climates in the world, but it’s been on mine. What if every person in Sitka decided to flush their toilet one less time a day, turned off the water when they brushed their teeth, or took a shorter shower? What if every person did just one thing every day to conserve a little water? Think of how much that could be when 8,950 people decide to conserve just a little more than usual. Think of how many thousands of gallons of water we, as a community, could conserve together every day. Could everyone make themselves a little more uncomfortable one time a day? The Jesuit Volunteer House has promised 31 days worth of bucket showers to limit our water consumption. What if the entire community would take the challenge with us? Think of the possibilities. Stay tuned for updates.


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Keep up to date on all of the issues. Check out "The Southeaster" Blog.

  • Hungry for Huckleberry Pie, Venison Stew, or Fresh Greens? Come to the Wild Foods Potluck Nov. 2!
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  • Encouraging Local Natural Resource Stewardship on the Tongass: Kennel Creek
  • Teaching the Alaska way of Life: 4-H in Sitka
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