The Alaskan Way of Life
The Sitka Conservation Society has the goal of connecting youth to the natural environment of the Tongass through hands on experiential education and leadership opportunities. The Sitka 4-H program is our primary tool for achieving that goal. Our program focuses on teaching youth how to live with the land and sea, the Alaskan way. The learning-teaching model facilitates leadership development as youth learn skills from elders then pass on those skills to their 4-H peers and their families back home.
SCS partners with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service to run the Sitka Spruce Tips 4-H Club. This club has many local adult volunteers who are committed to youth development and community service. In addition to the Alaska Way of Life programs, 4-H projects in Sitka currently include sewing, shooting sports, knitting, photography, and food and nutrition.
The Alaska Way of Life programs vary throughout the year. Thus, 4-H member participation is flexible due to interest and availability. Fall programs have included hiking, wild edible harvesting, and food preservation techniques such as jams, drying, and smoking. During winter, 4-H members have enjoyed workshops on risk management, survival skills, deer tracking and processing, using your senses, and repurposing crafts programs. Spring programs have included Leave No Trace camping skills, compass navigation, and Earth Day activities. In the summer, we keep 4-H members busy with gardening, hiking, kayaking, and art projects. Throughout the year, we work with community partners and local expert naturalists to learn about the natural history of the Tongass. These have included bird and mushroom identification, the role of herring in the food web, whales, stream ecology, forest ecology, nature art, bear aware skills, intertidal life, slugs, and so much more!
4-H members commit to learning together, sharing knowledge and giving back to the community. These opportunities are available to school aged children 5-18 years old. Thanks to community support, there is a very minimal cost.
Interested in joining 4-H? For questions or information about current programs, contact Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 747-7509.
“You know, this is the first time I’ve ever done any of this,” one elder exclaims, as she puts the finishing touches on a vegetable sushi roll. A group of 4-Hers scurry around the table, looking for sticky rice, slabs of seaweed, carrot and cucumber slices, as they assemble veggie sushi rolls with residents of the Pioneer Home.
4-Hers working on 2017 Parade of Species masks.
Grace and Martha work on animal masks for the 2017 Parade of the Species.
Emma, Lydia, and Madeline making snack recipe pouches.
The Sitka Spruce Tips “Alaska-Way-of-Life” 4-H program piloted a new program this past March involving a weekly engagement with elders at the Sitka Pioneer Home and 4-H youth. The Sitka Pioneer Home is an assisted living home located in the heart of downtown Sitka, adjacent to Sitka Conservation Society's office.
The mission of Sitka Conservation Society is grounded on building sustainable communities in the Tongass National Forest. Though the word “sustainable” has a variety of definitions, I believe an important component of cultivating sustainability is creating connections between young and old community members. Seeing how different members of 4-H have been able to do this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my year as a Jesuit Volunteer coordinating the 4-H program.
4-Hers and Pioneer Home residents eagerly await instructions for the day.
Tommy takes a turn at indoor Bocce Ball: one of the favorite activities during the series.
Lydia puts the final touches on sweet potato carrot apple muffins (recipe from Skye).
Do you know how to forage for food? If your answer is no then you could ask the 4-Her’s for some advice! 4-H Alaska Way of Life recently explored the many edible foods found in the wild of Southeast Alaska with their Wild Edible Series. Although 4-H is often famous for its focus on agriculture in the Lower 48, these Alaskan’s know that the best food comes from the wild. The Wild Edible Series enabled 4-Her’s to hone their foraging, harvesting and processing skills to utilize the bounty that surrounds them everyday.
4-Hers hike through a Muskeg in search of edible plants
The 4-Her’s began their experience by learning the importance of sustainable harvest and hard work while picking huckleberries and blueberries. The bear, birds and bushes all need berries too! Using their harvest, the 4-Her’s discovered the basics of jam-making, experimented with recipes and taste-tested the results.
4-Hers make and process jam
Mycologists Kitty LaBounty, Noah Siegel and Alissa Allen joined the series to reveal the significance of fungi as a food source and service to the Tongass. Fungi are an essential part of the nutrient cycle to break down trees and keep our forest alive. The mycologists stressed the importance of proper identification, teaching that even edible mushrooms must be cooked first in order to be safe to consume.
Noah teaches 4-Hers about mushroom identification
Alyssa and Kitty discuss fungi with 4-Hers
To follow up with the summer fishing clinic, 4-Her’s encountered ways to process Salmon, one of the most popular wild edible foods produced by the Tongass. 4-Her’s brined pink salmon, identified a pellicle and set up an electric smoker. In true cooking-show style, the participants worked together to make smoked salmon dip and enjoyed the delicious results.
4-Hers sample smoked salmon dip
4-Her’s also learned how to make fruit leather, a delicious and natural snack, with local Sitka Rose hips. Participants discovered that eating healthy does not mean sacrificing flavor as they tasted the fruits of their labor. One excited 4-Her even exclaimed, “This tastes better than the store bought stuff!”
4-Her harvests Sitka Rose hips
Encountering ways to live with the land in Southeast Alaska, provides 4-Hers knowledgeable skills and encourages healthy lifestyles. As we become familiar with wild edibles, we also grow in appreciation of our important local food systems while strengthening our desire to conserve the land and sea that surrounds us.
This past weekend 4-H collaborated with Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the Annual Fishing Clinic. Troy Tydingco and Matt Catterson, fisheries biologists from ADF&G, taught a group of 4-Hers fishing skills as a part of the 4-H Alaska Way of Life program.
4-Hers pick out beads to add to their lures.
In the classroom portion of the clinic, children learned how to tie the “improved clench” knot (commonly known as the fisherman’s knot) and created their own unique fishing lures courtesy of ADF&G. Each participant added a creative touch to the homemade spinners. 4-Hers sharpened their casting skills by practicing with both spin cast and spinning reels while using hooli-hoops for target practice.
Troy and Matt from ADF&G review casting technique while 4-Her’s practice their skills.
Troy from ADF&G demonstrates the anatomy of a chum salmon to 4-Hers
The beautiful weather allowed for an exciting fishing session at Eagle beach. 4-Hers got to put their new skills into action by tying swivels onto rods and casting with the hope of catching some Pink salmon. Additionally, ADF&G dissected a chum salmon with the children to demonstrate salmon anatomy and increase their understanding of this important resource.
4-Her reels in a Pink Salmon with the help of Matt from ADF&G. Photos by Mary Wood
The group even enjoyed some visits from humpback whales and a Steller sea lion. A special thanks goes out to ADF&G, especially Troy and Matt, for taking the time to teach us some practical elements to such an important aspect of Sitka’s way of life.
After graduating Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania with a Geoenvironmental studies degree, I began a yearlong service project through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, a nonprofit that "examines and acts on the causes of social and environmental injustice to promote peace and structural change.” JVC partnered with AmeriCorps in 2010 and I learned of the volunteer opportunity while exploring service options as a student at Shippensburg. JVC placed me with the Sitka Conservation Society in Southeast Alaska, where I have worked with community partners on programs that teach the community how to live with the land and surrounding ecosystem.
Entertaining 4-Hers at checkpoint during the 2015 Eco-Challange.
Leading the 2015 Earth Day Parade of the Species.
Assisting a 4-Her to package deer during our program with the Sitka Native Education Program.
Sending off a 4-Her to explore Swan Lake during this summer's 4-H Kayaking Camp.
During my year I have had the pleasure to work as a mentor with youth in Sitka through the Alaska Way of Life 4-H program and organize community events. Events have included the Earth Day Parade of Species and the Sitka Community Climate Change Bike Ride. The 4-H activities I've led have varied, which have incorporated berry-picking, preserving rose hips, hiking, kayaking, gardening and more. My hope is that by experiencing nature in a fun and safe way, these kids are learning to value the place they call home. As they grow, these 4-H members will be more likely to protect these special places and become advocates for public land. Although it is bittersweet to leave Sitka for now, I will carry with me the values of the Sitka Conservation Society and JVC Northwest wherever I go.
Last week, 4-H members had the opportunity to become Eco Explorers at the Sitka National Historical Park with the Park’s Rangers. The 4-Hers learned about three important ecosystems in Sitka: the intertidal zone, the temperate rainforest, and macro invertebrates..
Rangers teach the 4-H members about the intertidal zone
Intertidal zones offer many creatures to observe, such as mussels, sea stars, sea cucumbers and crabs. The 4-Hers discussed what adaptations these creatures have to allow them to survive the tides, and created their own super-human that is adapted to what is needed to survive the boundary between the ocean and land.
4-Hers searched for crabs underneath rocks
While learning of the temperate rainforest, the 4-Hers played organism bingo. The 4-H members were divided into teams to see or hear as many of the species of animals and plants on the bingo sheet as possible. Another hands-on game was played to emphasis the relationship between resources and wildlife.
4-Her marking down what animal they saw in the Park
Learning about macro invertebrates started with becoming one! Each 4-Her was given a card that described one of three macro invertebrates with characteristics such as number of tails, length of the antennae and shell. After they were all dressed up, each discovered whether they were a mayfly, stonefly or a caddis fly. After, the 4-Hers got to do some hands on exploring of what they could find in a stream.
The 4-Hers learned why evaluating what macro invertebrates are living in a stream is important- because they can be measures of water quality and pollution!
4-Hers dressed up as a Stonefly
Each day, the 4-H members got to fill in their journals with what they learned and saw. The journals offered an opportunity to recall some of the things they learned throughout the week. By the end of the camp, 4-Hers had a better understanding of the term biodiversity and the importance of biodiversity here in the Tongass. On the last day, each 4-Her got to graduate as an Eco Explorer and received a certificate for their hard work.
Photos by Alana Chronister
Many thanks to the Sitka National Historical Park Service for providing this amazing camp for the 4-Hers!
On July 9th, I had another exciting experience during my 3-week internship at SCS. After focusing on learning about the natural history and management of salmon, this week I got to help at a salmon-canning class with the 4-Hers!
Some preparatory work was required before we would be ready to show the kids how canning works.
Sophie brought us the fish – generously provided by local fisherman Eric Jordan - one pink and one coho. Wonderful Renee showed us how to filet the salmon, and let us have a try (our knife work was not in the same skill realm as Renee’s).
Renee and Sarah filleting our salmon
The guidelines we used for prepping our salmon were provided by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. After fileting and cutting the fish into pieces, we soaked the fish in saltwater for 45 minutes. Then we smoked the fish for about 2 hours. These steps were to add flavor to the fish before canning. They were not sufficient to preserve the fish (that’s what the canning was for).
We took all our fish and materials to the middle school and met up with 13 eager kids!
After introducing ourselves, we talked about salmon. These kids know a lot! Most of them have caught salmon, and all of them have eaten it! We talked about different ways to preserve salmon (smoking, freezing). Then we talked about canning as a way to preserve the bounty of salmon that can be caught in the summer.
On to the action! Everyone washed their hands, and lined up to fill a jar with the prepared salmon. There was a visible difference between the pink and the coho, and a few intrepid kids who know which was which!
Photo By Lione Clare
While Sophie and Sarah got the pressure cooker started, I shared some stories and pictures with the kids about my time at the Redoubt Lake fish weir. I told them about what the weir is for, how we count the fish, how we catch and measure some of the sockeye salmon, and about all the creatures around that want to eat the fish. They asked lots of great questions!
Photo By Lione Clare
We talked about all the things that a migrating salmon might have to overcome to make it to its birthplace river to spawn - bears, eagles, otters, orcas, steep waterfalls, and people! Their imaginations and artistic talents were on display as they used crayons and paper to draw some of the obstacles a migrating salmon has to avoid.
Since it takes two hours for the salmon to cook in the pressure cooker, we had some already-canned salmon to taste. Consensus – delicious!
Photo By Lione Clare
It was my first 4H class ever, and I had a great time! I learned a lot from Sarah, an Alaska Way of Life 4-H Leader, by watching how wonderfully she works with the children. I now have another Alaskan salmon experience to remember!
The beginning of the 4-H Alaska Way of Life kayaking camp was on land. The kayakers learned the parts of the boat, the safety equipment and what to do if tipped over. Then they were ready to get on the water! Majority of these 4-H members had never been in a kayak before.
Photo by Lione Clare
The next three days at Swan Lake, the 4-her’s got to try out technical skills like forward and backward paddling strokes and using the rudder with foot pedals. With double kayaks, the 4-h members partnered and worked on communication and teamwork to get their kayak moving the right direction. As a group, everyone worked on kayaking together in a called a pod.
Photo by Lione Clare
Rough winds kept us at Swan Lake an extra day, but even wind and rain could not dampen our spirits! The 4-H members discussed why high winds would be a very bad combination for kayaking on the ocean. We all agreed that conditions were much safer on the Lake!
Photo by Lione Clare
Luckily, the next day gave us beautiful weather! The last day at Mosquito Cove held new challenges for everyone. The ocean provided the waves and currents that kept everyone paddling hard. Everyone put in his or her best efforts, and as the 4-h motto reminds, from here out, their best will only get better!
Photo by Lione Clare
Along with learning the practice skills of kayaking safety and teamwork, this camp allowed 4-H members to enjoy nature in a new way, especially at such young ages. The youngest 4-H members were going into kindergarten this fall, and have already spent a 4 days of kayaking! Having a personal connection with nature inspires youth to become stewards of the Tongass.
To start the 4-H Outdoor Skills series, the Alaska Way of Life 4-H project members learned about water filters and what to carry in a first aid kit! The 4-H members experimented using sand, pebbles and gravel as filters for water. They discovered that water filters have different pores sizes. They learned how to set up a gravity filter and watched as the stream water was filtered. 4-Hers also had a discussion about where a person should get their water, even if it is going to be filtered. The 4-H members then learned what to carry in a first aid kit.
Photo by Lione Clare
As the series continued, the 4-Hers gathered twigs and sticks for a beach campfire. Down on the beach, the 4-Her’s practiced Leave No Trace ethics while learning how to build a fire. Our campfire was built below the high tide so the waves could wipe away all traces! Once the fire was going, everyone enjoyed some yummy roasted marshmallows. After the fire building, the 4-H club worked together to find a campsite, set up a tent, and carefully put it away.
Photos by Lione Clare
4-Her’s got to try their hand at tying knots: an essential wilderness skill. After practicing the square knot and the slipknot, we walked to find the perfect tree for a bear hang! A great way to keep bears away from food while camping. With the completion of this series, these 4-Her's have some of the necessary skills to explore the Tongass!
Photo by Sarah Komisar
Sitka Conservation Society and Sitka Native Education Program teach Sitka’s youth how to respect and process deer
The Sitka Conservation Society’s Alaska Way of Life 4-H program (SCS) and Sitka Native Education Program (SNEP) partnered this January to teach Sitka’s youth how to process one of Sitka’s local bounties: deer. The children from the 4-H program and SNEP Culture Class learned from Chuck Miller (SNEP Youth Program Coordinator) as he removed the hide from the animal and taught much more than just how to butcher a deer.
Miller shared with students what the customary traditional practices of deer processing entail. The first thing he pointed out was that the head of the deer was missing. Chuck explained that the brain of the deer could be mixed with urine and used to tan the hides long ago. Chuck said,
“It is important to not waste, and it is disrespectful to the animal to say ‘eww’ or ‘that’s gross’ because that animal gave up its life for you, so you can live.”
The children were certainly not squeamish. No ‘ew’s resounded from the audience of eager and fascinated onlookers. The children learned that the hoofs could be boiled down and used for rattling sticks to dance with. The hide was removed carefully, and the kids discovered that it could be used for clothing or drums. The children eagerly peered over each other to get a look at the heart, liver, and stomach. Chuck explained that the tendons are so strong that they have been used for battle armor, dream catchers, and to latch many things together.
The class also discussed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations and the importance of limitations on does for protecting fawns to conserve the population.
Miller shared with students how to respect the animal by properly processing the meat, as well as by not wasting parts of the deer. He then explained how respecting the animal transfers to respect for the community; the first deer you get for the year should never be kept to yourself.
“You give it away to somebody who is a widow, an elder, or both. You want to make sure you take care of people in the community who cannot hunt for themselves and our elders.” One of the boys in the group whispered to his friend “I’ll give it to my grandma”.
The class was able see the deer processing steps all the way from removing the hide to wrapping the meat in freezer paper. The kids shared stories of their own deer hunting experiences and favorite recipes as they packaged the meat. Students were enthralled and walked away with both a practical understanding of the deer butchering process as well as a stronger respect for this treasured resource.
The Sitka Conservation Society looks forward to partnering with the Sitka Native Education Program in the future to teach Sitka’s youth how to live with the land and build community.
Chuck Miller shows a captive audience the importance of respecting the animal and native traditions through the sacred process of butchering a deer.
Students were enthused to see the steps of proper deer processing all the way from removing the hide to wrapping the meat in freezer paper while learning values of respect and community.