Visiting Forest Service Wildlife Technician, Gwen Baluss carefully loosens the tie of a little sac and slowly reaches in. Delicately grasping the fragile creature within, she reveals the dark eyed junco to a resounding “AWE” echoing across the classroom as students pile on top of one another to get a closer look.
For the third year in a row, Baluss has returned to Sitka to continue studying and teaching the community about bird ecology. While juncos and other songbirds may frequent our feeders and whistle familiar songs during our afternoon strolls, there is still ample mystery to these birds. Scientists and land managers know relatively little about their range, distribution and migration ecology for one. Secondly, very few of us have been lucky enough to encounter our skittish feathered friends up close. As one of the participants ruefully commented, “The closest I’ve ever been to one of these birds has been sweeping away the unfortunate remains the cat dragged in.” “Don’t worry,” she facetiously reassured the bird banding team, “This will be my last cat.”
Last week, Blatchley middle school students, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary classes, Sitka High students and the Sitka Conservation Society’s (SCS) 4-H program experienced a more pleasant close encounter with our beloved song birds. In the frosted garden behind Blatchley Middle school, Baluss and Scott Harris, the Conservation Science Director with the Sitka Conservation Society carefully and delicately untangle tiny trapped birds from the mist nets. Baluss bands their legs and the team begin taking measurements. Gwen’s enthusiasm for these often overlooked natural wonders peaks as she explains to wide-eyed students how the sheen of a junco’s eyes changes with age from gray to red, how males boast darker plumage atop their heads and how a surprising diversity between individual juncos exists if you just take the time to look carefully. Captivated students edge closer as she starts blowing tenderly on the bird’s belly to reveal yellow fat deposits visible beneath their paper-thin skin. The classroom is fully engaged.
Southeast Alaska offers diverse opportunities for scientific inquiry and exploration just a few yards from the school door. With the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest as our backyard, children here grow up immersed in this outstanding landscape. Experiences like Gwen’s visit, encourage our youth to approach exploring the environment from an academic or potentially career-driven perspective. Students continue to steward this project throughout the year. In the past, a Sitka High School student Naquioa Bautista, working with the Science Mentor Program coordinated by SCS, based her science fair project on studying the banded bird’s movement. From Naquoia’s study, we learned that Sitka’s winter juncos do not stray very far from their banding sites. On the back wall of Ms. Dick’s 6th grade science classroom, a modern twist on the infamous ‘wanted poster’ is displayed, showing each tagged bird and their band color combination. Students, families and all of Sitka’s residents are encouraged to keep a lookout for tagged birds on their feeders or fluttering about on the trails (please report sightings here).
This week, a few lucky students were given a particularly memorable experience. After a bit of fumbling, the student’s tiny hands encapsulated the virtually weightless fragile feathered mess, their tiny heartbeat pumping against the student’s palm. After taking a knee, the top hand would slowly lift and in an instant burst of energy, the birds would return to the trees of our backyards leaving only tiny soft floating feathers in the air and grins of admiration across each onlooker’s face.
This project is supported by the University of Alaska Southeast’s Natural History Seminar Series, the Sitka Charitable Trust, the Sitka Conservation Society and UAS Biology professor Kitty LaBounty. Gwen Baluss is a biologist with the US Forest Service in the Juneau Ranger District and a member of Juneau’s Audobon Society. Please report any banded bird sightings to email@example.com or report to the Southeast Alaska Long-term Monitoring Network (SALMoN) . To learn more about Sitka’s 4-H program including how to enroll visit our 4-H page.
Two weeks ago, youth volunteers from 4-H harvested apples that were grown as a result of one of the initiatives from the 2010 Sitka Health Summit. Volunteers and their parents came together once again to decorate fabric for mason jars and to cook applesauce. The aptly-named event, Applooza, was hosted by the Sitka Kitch at the First Presbyterian Church. Sitka Conservation Society, in conjunction with the Sitka Food Co-Op and the Sitka Local Foods Network, supported and promoted this event. SCS staff members Mary Wood and Sarah Komisar encouraged the engagement of youth volunteers, providing the 4H participants with an opportunity to make a valuable contribution to our community while educating them about the importance of local food production and consumption. The beautifully-decorated jars of applesauce were donated to the Swan Lake Senior Center and the Salvation Army.
To increase the future capacity for successful food projects like Applooza, SCS will be sponsoring the planting of additional apple trees in Sitka. Please join us for our ‘Apple a Day’ apple tree workshop next week. Our Yale Fellow, Michelle Huang, has been working with Jud Kirkness to plan the event. Jud will be on hand to present everything you need to know about apple trees. We will have ordering instructions on hand and encourage everyone to order a tree. We have a goal of increasing the number of apple trees in Sitka by 15 this year! SCS will also be ordering an apple tree for the Pacific High school campus.
This is something SCS, Sitka Kitch, Sitka Local Foods Network and the Sitka Food Co-op would like to see become an annual event. Special thanks to all the Sitkans who supported this event through donations of jars, time, knowledge and offered up their apple trees for harvesting, including the trees at KCAW.
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4-H learned of wild edible food in Sitka! The 4-H members spent six weeks gaining knowledge of edible plants such as huckleberries, mushrooms, and rosehips. 4-Hers learned how to preserve local foods by making jam and fruit leather. They also enjoyed huckleberry granola bars and pine needle tea. Each 4-H member recorded the processes and recipes in their journals so they can make these wild edibles at home. Understanding the local bounty is an essential skill of the Alaskan Way-of-Life.
Our first foraging adventure this fall took place on three different trails in Sitka on the search of red huckleberries! 4-Hers learned how to identify the plant by its square stem and observing the leaves and distribution of berries. We practiced respect for the forest and conservation by leaving enough berries for the plant, animals, and other humans.
During our second week, 4-Hers learned the processing of preserving berries by transforming them into jam. Many kids were surprised that the recipe only called for four ingredients: berries, lemon juice, pectin, and sugar.
4-H members kept recipe jourals of ingredients and directions throughout the series on how to make jam, fruit leather, huckleberry granola bars, and pine needle tea.
Kitty LaBounty, UAS biology professor and mycologist, joined 4-H as a special guest speaker on the 4H mushroom hunt during our third week of Wild Edibles. We were able to find winter chanterelles and various russulas and identified their cap, stalk, teeth or gills. The kids learned how the fungi work with forest in decomposition and were amazed to hear the uses of some mushrooms, such as tie-dye!
The wild rose grows in many parts of Alaska, including Sitka’s gardens. Many parts of the this plant are edible: shoots in a spring salad, petals in tea in the summer, or rose hips in the fall. Rose hips are the bright red fruit of rose, which can be eaten as a snack, or used in jelly or fruit leather.
Halfway through the Wild Edibles series, our Alaska Way-of-Life 4H club learned how to harvest rosehips and preserve them into fruit leather. The kids worked hard mashing the rose hips in a food mill to create a puree which was then dehydrated for the fruit leather.
4-Hers explored the Tongass and learned of even more Wild Edible food during a day hike. Fiddlehead ferns, pine tree needles, licorice root and spruce tips were identified. We also discussed uses of mosses for insulation or dressings, skunk cabbage for salmon smoking, and hemlock for herring roe.
4-H enjoyed pine needle tea from muskeg pine trees and granola bars which featured huckleberries from our first harvest.
We concluded the series by giving our hands to larger service by giving our jam back to community members.
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4Hers are learning by doing and giving back to the community. The more experiences they have in our Tongass National Forest, the more appreciation they will have for the Alaska way-of-life. They harvested from the land and built community while making new friends during our series. Since they have their own recipes books, the 4-Hers will be able to share their knowledge with family and friends. These 4-H members are now able to identify the plants in the muskeg, forest, urban settings, and make food from what they find. It was wonderful to see their thoughtfulness while giving to community members at the Sitka Pioneer’s Home and those who helped make this series possible.
The Alaska Way of Life 4-H project had a fun summer of gardening, exploring the forest and beach, listening to birds, kayaking in the Sitka Sound, and learning how to sew; all while creating a sense of belonging among new friends in Sitka! This fall we will get dirty harvesting Sitka's Wild Edibles and learning some basic food preservation skills.
The new 4-H year is just around the corner! It is time to wrap up current projects andthink about updating member registration. For new and old members, the forms to complete registration are below:
What is 4-H? Check out the brochure link below!
"Living with the land" means having knowledge and familiarity with the natural environment that surrounds you. Part of that knowledge is knowing what are the edible plants in the environment and when they are ready for harvest. On the outer coast of Alaska in the Tongass National Forest, that also means knowing what seaweeds are edible. Knowing Seaweeds means knowing when they are in best conditions for harvest, how they are processed, and what they can be used for.
Although there are great books on identifying plants and seaweeds and recipes for preparing, sometimes the best information (and most locally pertinent), comes from spending time with elders and listening to what they have learned over their lifetimes.
In this video, SCS staff Scott Harris, Tracy Gagnon, and Adam Andis spent a morning with long-time SCS board member Bob Ellis and absorbed some of his wisdom about seaweeds in the intertidal zones of the Sitka Sound.
The Alaska Way of Life 4-H is gearing up for Summer!!
Cloverbud Adventure:Tuesdays, 10 - 11:30am
4-H members will be able to explore various 4-H projects throughout the summer including hiking, intertidal life, plant identification, and much more! Open to grades K-3.
Cloverbud Gardening: Fridays, 9-10am
Kids will be able to get their hands dirty every week at St. Peter's Fellowship Farm while learning gardening techniques and skills. Open to grades K-3.
4-H Cooking: Wednesday, July 2, 9, 16 from 10:30am - 12:30pm
4-H members will be able to explore various cooking with wild greens, salmon, and garden harvest. Open to grades 3-6.
4-H Land and Sky: July 7-11 from 3-4:30pm
Partnering with the National Historical Park, 4-H will explore learning wild edible identification, bird behavior and migration, intertidal life, and macro invertebrates. Open to grades 4-8.
4-H Kayak Adventure: July 22-25 1:30-4pm
This club will incorporate classes on tides, tying knots,inter-tidallife, water safety, and kayaking. Open togrades 4 and above.
Register with Mary by calling 747-7509 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I ask that 4-H members strive for 95% attendance if signing up for the activities. Our program is about building community as well as living with the land, which is achieved by attending each activity in the series. Please Register by May 31.
2014 Earth Week wrapped up with the first annual Youth Eco Challenge. The event, hosted by the National Historical Park, had five teams engaged in various challenges that tested their living with the land skills as well as teamwork and communication.
The event began with a fire building task on the beach. Teams made a Leave No Trace fire below high tide using Usnea (old man's beard), kindling, and 3 matches. They then worked as a team to guide blind folded members to the next task in a Trust Walk. At the Battlefield site, teams worked together to move a tent pole 10 feet using only their index fingers. They engaged in effective communication, teamwork, and patience.
At the Fort site, teams were sent on a scavenger hunt with their compasses to spell a four-letter word that was mapped out in the grass. One team member reflected on how he learned that it is easier when the whole team is working together and listening to each other.
Next, teams practiced bear safety as they walked down the path to find a bear hiding in the woods. The kids "got big" with each other and calmly talked to the bear. After successfully going around the bear, teams were ready to make a safe, weather proof shelter with items from their safety kit. One team even made a natural lean-to shelter with insulation!
The event wrapped up with a native plant identification game with Ranger Ryan Carpenter from the National Historical Park.
A very well deserved THANK YOU goes out to Jen Grocki, co coordinator for the Eco Challenge. Jen inspired the event and saw it through to fruition. Also, a thank you to Sea Mart for donating healthy snacks, Russell's for their help with purchasing compasses and survival kits, Ryan Carpenter and the National Historical Park for hosting the event as well as adding a native education task, and AmeriCorps member Xaver and Kelly for helping with the event.
Thanks to everyone who attended the 13th Annual Parade of Species!The Parade of Species is an annual celebration of Earth Day organized by the Sitka Conservation Society. Families are invited to dress up as their favorite plant or animal and swim, slither, fly, or trot through town. Community partners offer games and activities after the parade and donate prizes for "Best Costume" contest winners.
SCS would especially like to thank the following organizations and individuals who donated their time and resources for the activities after the parade:
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Troy Tydingco & Patrick Fowler
- Park Service: Ryan Carpenter, Christina Neighbors, Kassy Eubank-Littlefield, Anne Lankenau, Andrea Willingham, Jasa Woods & Janet Drake
- Kayaani Commission: Judi Lehman & Erin Rofkar
- Forest Service: Marty Becker & Perry Edwards
- Sitka Tribe of Alaska/Herring Festival: Jessica Gill & Melody Kingsley
- Sitka Sound Science Center: Madison Kosma, Ashley Bolwerk, Michael Maufbach & Margot O'Connell
- Kettleson Memorial Library: Tracy Turner
- Cooperative Extension: Jasmine Shaw
- Stream Team: Wendy Alderson, Amy Danielson, Nora Stewart, Al Madigan, & Levi Danielson
- 4H: Mary Wood
- Fish to Schools: Jess Acker
- Harry Race: prize tokens to soda fountain
- Botanika Organic Spa: delicious earth-friendly treats
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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 Alaskaway of lifein 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.
Want to get involved with 4H? 4H is a positive youth development program to get youth civically engaged and apply leadership skills at a young age.
Our 4H Adventure Seriesstarts February 18!!This series will beTuesdaysthrough May from4:15 - 5:45pmfor ages8 to 13. Skills we will explore are: map and compass navigation, using survival kits, GPS and geocaching, fire building, shelters, knots, water purification, Leave No Trace Wilderness ethics, bear awareness, and other skills to prepare for an overnight trip!
New 4H members are encouraged to join! Please share with friends who may be interested.
Attendees must be 4H members. Please complete the registration forms before the 18th. Copies are available at the Sitka Conservation Society.
Registration is open for this series by e-mailing Mary or Tracy or by calling SCS at 747-7509.
Get outside and explore!