In Spring 2015, one hundred fourth graders joined a brave team of volunteers on a quest to explore their backyard. Over the course of only six hours, the group documented all the different life forms they could find in and around the remote community of Sitka, Alaska. The Sitka ‘Junior Bioblitz’ was born.
So what is a BioBlitz?
Scott Harris is the Science Director at the Sitka Conservation Society.
“Bioblitz is a twenty-four hour blitz to document every species of flora and fauna surrounding a community,” says Harris.
The 2015 Sitka Junior BlioBlitz was adjusted to focus on engaging the community’s younger residents. Volunteer naturalists with specialties in everything from mycology and stream invertebrates to inter-tidal life and mammalogy, spent six hours with students finding, identifying and documenting all the species they could find.
However, programs like BioBlitz are about much more than just documenting species. BioBlitz is about banding together with community partners to strengthen connections between families and the health of their surrounding landscape.
Aaron Prussian works with Ecosystem Management at the US Forest Service on the Tongass National Forest in the Sitka Ranger District.
“This Bioblitz is about celebrating the natural diversity of Southeast Alaska. We are lucky to have one of the last remaining temperate rainforests in the world. The Tongass National Forest literally surrounds every community here in Southeast Alaska so, the Tongass serves as a great laboratory for kids, for children to explore their forest and natural environment outside of their communities outside of their home.”
At 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is America’s largest tract of public lands and communities in Southeast Alaska are inextricably connected to the abundant resources these lands provide. For example, our sustainable salmon fishery supports one in ten jobs in-region. The Tongass National Forest produces on average, 50 million of those salmon annually. Maintaining a healthy and functioning national forest is an absolute priority and programs like the BioBlitz give future generations the tools and experience to become effective stewards for these vital lands.
Rebecca Himschoot is a Science Specialist and teacher with the Sitka School District.
“Bioblitz is about a few things in my mind. One of the most important things is with preparing kids for the future. In my grade level it is too early to talk about climate change. But for students to understand climate change, they have to have a basic understanding of where they live and what it looks like now. Down the road, that understanding will help them as they take on some of those bigger topics,” says Himschoot.
Bioblitz is also about introducing students to environmental careers, as land managers, naturalists and researchers. However, one does not need to work directly in land management to appreciate the significance of maintaining a healthy landscape.
Tennie Bentz is a Wildlife Education Specialist for the State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“In Sitka we have families that are commercial fishermen. We have families that are in the sciences or coast guard and all of those different professions rely, somehow on healthy environments. So, if you can get a kid who comes from a commercial fishing family out in a stream looking at the aquatic invertebrates that they may someday end up catching for their livelihood you really start to get kids to appreciate what is around them and see the importance of everything in their backyard," says Bentz.
Our livelihoods, well-being, culture and pride as Southeast Alaskans is rooted directly to our landscape and its continued health. By giving students first-hand experiences in field science we prepare them as future caretakers of Southeast Alaska. Some students may pursue career tracks as scientists and land managers. Others may chase opportunities with our sustainable fisheries resources. Regardless of what formal future lies ahead for participants, a basic understanding of biodiversity and ecosystem health fosters respect to care for this landscape on a daily basis.
“When we are able to take young people outside and show them what healthy functioning ecosystems look like, we really empower them to be good stewards and caretakers of the land. In that way, we can continue to have sustainable and vibrant communities really indefinitely,”says Prussian.