[wpcol_2third id="" class="" style=""]Five months ago I was one of thirteen undergraduate students from Knox College (located in Galesburg, IL) to travel north to Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest with the Sitka Conservation Society. This trip was the final component of a trimester- long course entitled "Alaska: Forest, Fisheries, and Politics of the Wilderness.'"Prior to our Alaskan adventure, our class spent ten weeks reading and writing about the history and policy of the land management practices in the Tongass National Forest. Once we got to Alaska we spent 15 days kayaking 100 miles along the beaches of the Tongass Forest. We finally reached False Island where we helped the United States Forest Service with restoration of key salmon habitats. After that we spent an additional week in Sitka learning and talking to local policy makers and stakeholders. This unique experience gave my classmates and I a hands-on look at the complex ways nature, policy, and the public are inextricably intertwined.
When I was in the Tongass it became clear that it is one of the few remaining wild places in America. It is an ecosystem with a deep cultural significance, beauty, and wonder. During the time we spent in Sitka we were able to meet fisherman of the charter, commercial, and subsistence trades alike. We were able to meet with community members and local politicians to see the importance salmon and the Tongass forest have on each of their daily lives and the community's economy as a whole. We were also fortunate enough to witness the amazing and significant work many individuals and advocacy groups are doing to see to it that there are lots of opportunities to use, enjoy, and care for the lands and waters of the Tongass.
Despite being over 3,000 miles away in Galesburg, IL, I wanted to continue to show my support for the prioritizing of watershed restoration and salmon habitats in the Tongass. I started talking to my classmates who had come to Alaska with me and we decided to talk to others who have never been there, and informed our peers about the Tongass and its salmon. It turns out that the message was pretty simple- we told students about the two-fold mission statement of the Forest Service: (a.) to make sure that America's forests and grasslands are in the healthiest condition they can be and (b.) to see to it that you have lots of opportunities to use, enjoy, and care for the lands and waters that sustain us all- and we told them about what we saw in the Tongass and the surrounding communities. The response was empowering. We soon held a Salmon Advocacy Party where admission was free aside from personal advocacy. Each student was asked to write a letter to the Chief of the Forest Service describing why the Tongass and particularly salmon habitat restoration was important to them. This event helped many students, who otherwise would not have been engaged by this particular environmental issue, become interested and engaged in advocating for the health of the Tongass and the surrounding community.
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