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.
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!
Meghan joins us this week on Voices of the Tongass, to share a story from when she was a little girl on the southern tip of Baranof Island. Meghan feels lucky to have grown up all over Southeast Alaska. To hear her story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Meghan and her dog, Barnacle, this winter break. Photo by Berett Wilber
We are very excited to announce that The Meaning of Wild has been accepted to the DC Environmental Film Festival!
Please join us for the event March 20th at 6:30pm at the Yates Auditorium (address below).
Washington, D.C. Premiere The Meaning of Wild is a documentary film that 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. Filmed in stunning HD,The Meaning of Wild, highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. Ultimately The Meaning of Wild celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates.
Shown with YOSEMITE: A GATHERING OF SPIRIT (Ken Burns)
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.
FREE. No reservations required.
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C St., NW
(Metro: Farragut West)
This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Ellen, Spencer, and their cats. To hear their story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Ellen and Spencer are working on a canning project…for their cats. Here they are with Poncho, one of the lucky felines. Photo by Berett Wilber
How many Alaskans do you know who came up for a summer job in their twenties and never left? This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Steve Abbott, who still thinks he’ll only be in the Tongass for a few more years…
Photo by Berett Wilber
Hundreds of people throughout the state have come out in opposition to House Bill 77, known also as the Silencing Alaskans Act.
The Sitka community joined in opposition to HB 77 this past Thursday as well. Around fifty people showed up to a meeting scheduled with Department of Natural Resources Representative Wyn Menefee to get a better understanding of the bill. Mr. Menefee was unable to attend due to snow but the meeting still continued.
Linda Behnken, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, helped frame the bill and answered questions posed.
“Is there anything in this bill that you like?” , moderator Eric Jordan read off a notecard given by a community member.
“If there are things that I like in this bill, I couldn’t point them out to you” said Behnken.” I do understand that DNR has interest in facilitating the permitting process so that there could be quicker decisions but I think they’ve gone way beyond that with this bill and that’s the message they need to hear from the people.”
That’s the message that was heard repeatedly at Thursday’s public discussion through the fourteen people that testified against the bill.
“Over 30 tribes have expressed opposition to HB 77 and Sitka Tribe is one of them,” said Michael Baines, Tribal Chairman of Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
“This bill attacks the basic constitutional guarantees of fish and wildlife protection. The public holds these resources in common yet [HB 77] gives priority to extractive interests that damage them,” said Matt Donohoe, board member of the Alaska Troller’s Association.
“I think a good example of things that happened when we didn’t have any kind of say about stuff was what the water used to look like when the pulp mill was operating”, said Kim Elliot, Alaska Department of Fishing & Game Advisory Council member. “We really have to think about what our future would look like if we didn’t have any rights to take care of the water upstream from our piece of property wherever that might be. People really deserve the right to question what the government is doing.”
Sitkans still want DNR to come to town and answer questions on HB 77, but this time it will be when we see the new amendments proposed on the bill. Right now behind closed doors, the Senate Rules Committee is proposing changes to the bill because of the hundreds of people that have outspoken against it. This reminds us that public participation IS in fact key to the way we manage our shared natural resources, and our rights as Alaskans.
For more information on House Bill 77, go to www.standforsalmon.org and join us in writing Governor Sean Parnell to let him know of your opposition to HB 77 and to the giveaway of your rights as an Alaskan.
Governor Sean Parnell
Alaska State Capitol Building
PO BOX 110001
Juneau, AK 99811-0001
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
This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from an Alaskan with an interesting perspective on place. Kathryn Medinger was born and raised in Alaska, but hasn’t always lived in the Tongass. To hear her story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Photo by Berett Wilber
Kathryn Medinger is not originally from the Tongass. Her family moved from Bethel to Sitka when she was thirteen, and to her it felt like moving to a big city. She had to adjust to paved roads, cell phones, and a lot more people. Another change to get used to was the dramatically different landscape, and the ability to be active outdoors year-round. The long cold winters of Bethel were the foundation for Kathryn’s basketball career, which she has continued into college.
“I remember my dream was always to play at our high school [in Bethel] – it was a huge deal. Everyone would go to the games. Growing up I remember that’s all I wanted to do… I always wanted to be a Bethel Warrior.” Kathryn wasn’t the only kid to become skilled in an indoor sport. “There’s people from Bethel who go to Division I schools for wrestling because that’s how much they do it. My high school crush is going to the U of M for wrestling.” Kathryn left Bethel before she was old enough to play a home game with the warriors, but she stuck with basketball and eventually her dream came true. “I finally got to play on that court – Sitka traveled to Bethel. And I remember the Sitka kids having trouble adjusting – to not having a cell phone, the cold, dressing up.”
While the environment of Kathryn’s hometown is hugely different from the Tongass, it does have the characteristic small-town charm of communities in Southeast. “I remember finally getting to play at home… The coach shook my hand and said ‘Welcome home,’ even though I didn’t remember him – Lara [my sister] played for him, they knew my parents. [The announcer] gave a shout out to my parents, welcomed me home even though I didn’t live there anymore.”