SSP Reconnects in Juneau for Spring Retreat

Written by Paul Hackenmueller, Program Director

SSP’s annual spring retreat was in Juneau, March 7-9.  This three day workshop gave catalysts and partners a chance to reflect on the growth of the network, learn new tools to apply to their work, grapple with questions about growing SSP into the future, and (of course!) reconnect.  Over 35 individuals from 20+ organizations attended the event, from longtime partners and host organizations to new friends in new communities. As usual, this year’s spring meeting coincided with other regional gatherings in Juneau.  Many partners began the week at Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition’s Restoration Workshop and spent time with the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership’s technical team before spending two days with the whole network in downtown Juneau. The whole group spent Thursday night and Friday at the Shrine of St. Therese where we saw rain, snow, sun and sea lions in a serene setting overlooking Lynn Canal.

Each SSP retreat has a different flavor, if you will, and this spring we spent our time and energy thinking about the future.  As the network grows, we want to ensure partner communities, organizations, businesses, and individuals are empowered to participate in ways that contribute to our region’s resiliency.  Maintaining equity and inclusion while strengthening the network in an uncertain funding landscape is of critical importance to the network, and participants embraced these discussions with gusto.
 
We’re fortunate to make new friends each time the network gathers, and this year was no different.  Many catalysts have worked with Ecotrust on projects in SE, and several of their staff were able to come learn more about SSP in person. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s Emerald Edge Community Exchange program, several members of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative joined our discussion for the week.  PWI is a network in Washington state with a collaborative approach to community well being that’s similar to our own.  The relationships forged and insights gleaned from these new friends are already bearing fruit, and I expect them to continue well into the future. Learn more about their exchange by reading their reflection here.  TNC also supported the retreat with additional staff and facilitation from Reos Partners, a global firm with expertise in helping teams work together effectively.  
 
One other important event to come out of the week was the announcement of a new SSP Program Director.  Alana Peterson, SSP’s director for the last for years has decided to transition out. The SSP Steering Committee opened the position to existing SSP catalysts and selected me – hi, I’m Paul.  I’ve been working at Spruce Root as the Regional Catalyst for Economic Development for the past three years. I’ve worked closely with Alana and have learned a great deal about our southeast communities, collaboration, and trust from each of the catalysts I’ve met. It has been one of the true pleasures of my life to work with such this group.  I will be coming to all of the SSP communities in the coming months, and look forward to connecting with each of you soon.
 
On the ride home on the final day, I was exhausted, of course, by the intensity of the discussions, but invigorated and encouraged by the passion of the people in the room and filled with a sense that the work we’re doing just might be the start of something big.  Something that helps drive us toward a more resilient and, yes, sustainable Southeast.

Stewarding Klawock Lake Sockeye Salmon:  Conversations in Community Fisheries

Written by Christine Woll, Southeast Alaska Program Director of The Nature Conservancy 

Beach seining on Klawock Lake. Photo by Lee House

 

“What does sockeye salmon mean to Klawock?  I didn’t have to think that hard about that question.  Klawock is here because of sockeye salmon.”  Lawrence Armour, the mayor and tribal administrator of the Klawock Cooperative Association opened the Klawock Lake Sockeye Salmon Stakeholders meeting on November 14 on Prince of Wales Island.  This 2-day gathering brought together  community members, land managers, local government officials, fish and wildlife managers, tribal members, researchers and subsistence and commercial fishers in order to build a common understanding of the history and current status of sockeye salmon in the Klawock Lake Watershed.  Stakeholders identified opportunities to partner on shared goals that will help steward this critical resource.

As the mayor mentioned, sockeye salmon has long been the critical resource that brought people to Klawock.  Tlingit settlers from Tuxekan first used this area as a fishing camp during the summer, fashioning traditional fish traps, the remnants of which you can still see today in the tidal flats.  In 1878, one of the first Alaskan canneries was built in Klawock, and a significant commercial sockeye fishery operated out here through the late 1930s.  Today, sockeye continues to be of high value in the community – as Millie Schoonover, the president of the Craig village native corporation Shaan Seet, inc., stated “Sockeye is not just about subsistence – it is our traditional food.”

It is well documented in Klawock traditional knowledge that sockeye salmon have declined over the last century.   The potential factors for these declines have been studied over many years, and are very complex and intertwined.  These factors include:

  • Commercial harvest of sockeye salmon in the past and climatic change may have permanently altered the ecology of the lake;
  • Significant timber harvest, road building, and other development have altered the health of the spawning habitat
  • A salmon hatchery, permitted before the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stopped permitting hatcheries on wild salmon streams, likely interacts with wild sockeye in unknown ways;
  • And commercial and subsistence harvest continues to impact run size.

The Sustainable Southeast Partnership’s community fisheries program focuses on ensuring that local priorities are central to fish and fish habitat management.  So when the organizers of the meeting began to plan this meeting, we knew that community priorities must take precedent to enable continual long-term stewardship and action.  As community member Harry Jackson stated, “We are the original stakeholders of Klawock Lake.”  Two community meetings and an online community meeting offered the general public a time to come, eat salmon, hear music and dance, and share their thoughts on how the community and managers should approach salmon stewardship. Over 100 people attended these events or responded to the survey.  Quinn Aboudara, the Klawock community catalyst, followed the Mayor in the agenda, and presented on the results of this outreach..  It was made clear that sockeye harvest continues to be a major subject of passion and survival.  Salmon habitat management, hatchery protocols, overharvest, and climate change were all voiced by participants as concerns.  Many respondents also offered possible solutions, ranging from raising sockeye salmon in the hatchery;  improving habitat; practicing traditional methods of predator control, and others.

The meeting also offered community leaders and members the opportunity to hear from managers and researchers on their current practices and information.  Meeting participants learned the process for influencing and changing regulations in subsistence and commercial fisheries. Participants discussed and debated hatchery practices with the hatchery managers and regulators.  And, they provided feedback on ongoing research into the ecology and habitat condition of Klawock Lake. 

It is hard to facilitate difficult conversations like these when so much is at stake.  These conversations require attention to power dynamics, avoidance of technocratic language, and the willingness to move past conflict. Luckily, participants acknowledged that they were all here for the same reasons – because they cared about sockeye.  This type of shared learning and understanding between the community and managers is often the first step towards solutions, and an essential part of successful community fishery programs. 

Meeting participants acknowledge that, in Klawock Lake, there is no “smoking gun.”  No one action or one person is going to bring back sockeye salmon to historical levels.  Brainstorming and discussions brought forth many great ideas and recommendations on ways to move forward – together. For example, participants recommended community-facilitated harvest reporting, watershed monitoring projects for students, and a community task force to develop recommendations on hatchery practices.  We hope that the relationships and trust built at this meeting will help catalyze these next steps into action – and lead to a thriving future for this community fishery.

Stakeholders gather in Klawock to discuss stewarding the critical salmon resource. Photo by Christine Woll.

This meeting was sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, the Southeast Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership, the Klawock Cooperative Association, and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership.  The meeting was funded by the North Pacific Research Board.  Thank you, Gunalchéesh, and Háw’aa to everyone who helped organize, facilitate, provide food and logistics, offer review and guidance, and share their knowledge before and at the meeting – all were essential to making this happen.  To learn more about the final synthesis from recent research and this meeting, please contact Christine Woll at cwoll@tnc.org

Growth Inside and Outside of the MOBY Greenhouse in Hoonah, Alaska

Growth Inside and Outside of the MOBY Greenhouse in Hoonah, Alaska

In April 2016, “MOBY”, the mobile student greenhouse, rolled off the ferry in Hoonah. The trailer-become-greenhouse had a mission in the small community of 750 – educate students and community members on to grow in a greenhouse and to inspire conversation around a larger, permanent greenhouse in Hoonah. Four months later MOBY had produced beans, peas, tomatoes, sunflowers, swiss chard, kale, spinach and more. The green growth experienced in the greenhouse is a metaphor for the growth in individuals and community.

MOBY’s Timeline in Hoonah 

April 17th, 2017 was planting day for the greenhouse. Melissa Thaalesen paired the greenhouse with her middle school health class. Students absorbed the sun rays outside of Hoonah City Schools where MOBY was parked. They got their fingers dirty and planted many flats of leafy greens. Once planted, the health class cared for the small plant starts each day.  

Three weeks after planting the greenhouse school ended for the summer. With the release of the students came a change in location and intent for the greenhouse. It was moved to the Hoonah Indian Association and paired with the Hoonah Community Garden. The exposure to the community garden members provided great outreach. Twelve of the community garden members used starts to populate their gardens.

For the rest of the summer, the responsibility of the greenhouse was spread among different people. Ian Johnson, Community Catalyst, worked with student Ted Elliot almost daily. Their work was boosted by Tesh Miller who worked with her student Duane Jack, and five other community members periodically helped with planting, watering, and care of MOBY throughout the summer.

“As a community member who was raised in a subsistence lifestyle, this has taken me back to the idea of clean eating and knowing where our food comes from.  After seeing MOBY my family has picked a place in our yard to build a greenhouse, and have begun talking about the items that will go into the greenhouse, how it will look, and how to make it yearly produce.” — Hoonah Community Garden Member

MOBY greenhouse engaged 17 students during the school and during the summer. These students had a great opportunity to be involved in the initial setup of MOBY, however, throughout the summer, one student maintained regular involvement with MOBY. In late June, 12-year old Ted Elliot took his first harvest of swiss chard, kale, and spinach home to his family. Soon after he was regularly snacking on peas draping from heavily laden vines and bringing those to his family too. The produce from the greenhouse was subsidized by Ted’s community garden plot and was well received by the Elliot family. His mom, Elleana, posted to Facebook several times to express her gratitude.

When asked whether a greenhouse could be viable part of Hoonah City Schools, Tesh Miller thought so. “Yes, I could see a greenhouse become a huge part of school.  Starting with growing our own produce to growing produce to share with our elders and also growing produce to sell.  I could become a class for students to take and learn.  The possibilities are endless.”, she said . Shery Ross from Hoonah City Schools added that the MOBY curriculum was useful to teachers and that integration was pretty simple in the classroom to get students interested. “The staff all have a copy of the [MOBY] curriculum. This has provided support for our teachers. The list of seeds and when planting occurs was extremely helpful to new gardeners. The elementary students planted within their own classrooms.” She also added that students were able to bring the successes home to their family, “Grandparents and parents were thankful to receive lettuces and herbs this summer from their student. We see an opportunity to supply fruits, veggies to our school cafeteria and culinary department. The students were very engaged and thoughtful with the planting process. We see this as a viable lifeskill in Hoonah; teaching our students how to plant, care for, share and preserve a garden.”

“I had three students involved with the greenhouse during summer.  I included it in their daily summer program session so their involvement depended on their attendance.  One of my students had a garden plot also which he was very proud of.  He was able to take produce from his garden plot (the starts came from the greenhouse) to his grandmother’s house one afternoon for a snack.  The pride in his eyes as he left to share what he had grown with his grandmother shined through his face.  He is still talking about going and watering the greenhouse and also is talking about the day he saw produce come from his garden and was able to share it.  Another student who helped water has discussed with her parent the possibility of growing her own veggies in the spring. She has talked to me about ideas for what she can grow in garden containers.”  — Tesh Miller, Hoonah City Schools

What’s Next?

The arrival of MOBY was paired with a tour of the biomass-heated greenhouses on Prince of Wales Island. The tour brought five people from Hoonah to review how the systems and lessons learned at Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay, Naukati, and Kasaan can be brought to Hoonah. Since the tour, the greenhouse group has met 6 times to lay the groundwork for a biomass greenhouse in Hoonah. Most recently, the greenhouse group hosted a MOBY outreach event which will show off the greenhouse through a MOBY greenhouse culinary demonstration. This was also a brainstorming session with the community to understand the opportunities and hurdles of a future greenhouse project.  In Hoonah, we believe MOBY is the stepping stone that Hoonah needed for future greenhouse projects that will positively influence food security issues in the long term.

Thinking about bringing MOBY to your community next year?  Here are some lessons learned in Hoonah that you can “grow” from. These are based on the advice from the community and school members who were involved in the project.

  1. I think MOBY’s biggest success was that it was highly visible – near the community center and on a walking path that many people use – such that community members and particularly children got to see it.  It was attractive, had informational panels, and was clearly of interest to many who wandered past.  Our family used a number of starts from MOBY that grew reasonably well and kept us from 1) purchasing expensive starts from Juneau, or 2) being behind the growing season because we direct seeded.  
  2. It seemed that there needed to be more clarity about who was watering, etc. as there were many, many days when it needed to be watered and wasn’t.  I was afraid to water because I didn’t know the schedule. Many starts were never planted and were consequently “wasted.”  Even unplanted starts can be used for salads, etc.
  3. The starts were “over-planted” so roots didn’t fully develop.  They likely should have been thinned considerably in the flats so they could develop a better root system before separating for planting.  
  4. Need to think through what the community will likely use the most of when planting.
  5. I love the idea of MOBY and wish the school could be more involved.  That said, it feels to me that we are sometimes overly ambitious with garden plans, etc. and when summer rolls around we are all overwhelmed.
  6. Hinderance was that it was a summer thing – and people are busy in the summer!
  7. The greenhouse needs to be a part of the school throughout the year. Moving the greenhouse down to the community plot was a great idea but the school staff and students lost the feeling of ownership. They were glad to share with the community but the learning process of how to work together needs further development and organization.
  8. I feel that MOBY was successful with those that knew and were involved with it.  To touch more people, the greenhouse needs to be shared, possibly hosting a few community classes on growing produce and having it more visible to the public from the beginning to the end, combined with the community garden plots could improve its community impact. 

Exploring Air Source Heat Pumps

Prince of Wales residents were invited to attend an Air Source Heat Pump Expo on this spring at the Craig High School. The Expo featured guest speaker Dana Fischer from Efficiency Maine, and included mechanical contractors, financial institutions, and experts statewide through a webinar.

The event was organized because the micro-grid that supplies POW residents with electricity will soon have more hydro power electricity on-line, than the island currently demands. Today most of POW residents use diesel oil to heat buildings; the new hydro plant may provide a unique opportunity for residents to convert to a more efficient and sustainable heating option.

What are Air Source Heat Pumps? Air source heat pumps (ASHP) use electricity to circulate air through a heat pump, this is the same technology used in your refrigerator, but in reverse. The heat pump extracts heat from the air outside and transfers it into the building. Even in cold climates, outdoor air contains heat. The efficiency of a heat pump will change with the temperature outside. High performance ASHP models have been shown to perform at, and below, 00F.

In southeast Alaska’s mild climate, heat pumps can have a coefficient of efficiency (COE) that surpasses other heating technologies. For example, a COE of 2 means that for every one unit of energy which goes into the heat pump system, two units of energy are produced. It is typical for a heat pump unit to deliver four units of heat for every unit of electricity at 50°F, but only deliver two units of heat for every unit of electricity at a temperature of zero.  However, a COE of two is still much better than the COE for heating fuel (COE of 0.85), or electric space heaters (COE of 1), neither of which change depending on temperature.

Electric Rates and Conversion to an ASHP: Hiilangaay Hydropower is expected to come online in 2018. The 5-megawatt hydropower project near Hydaburg will eliminate the need for diesel powered electric generation (except during times of maintenance), and result in a surplus of clean energy available for future growth on the island. Growth in electric demand will actually result in utility fixed costs being spread over a larger sales base, resulting in downward pressure on rates.

Prince of Wales residential customers currently pay $0.25 per kWh, $0.23 per kWh with Power Cost Equalization (PCE). Heat pump use and the related cost will vary by household circumstances. AP&T strongly encourages customers to do their own research and analysis based on the cost of heating fuel, electricity, heating habits, and the age/ efficiency of the old heating system.  

It can be challenging for consumers to predict the cost comparison over time, because today’s fuel and electric prices are unlikely to be the same as tomorrows. One advantage offered by ASHPs on Prince of Wales Island is that they provide more stable, predictable pricing due to the fact that they use locally available hydropower. The price of hydropower is relatively flat, and is not susceptible to global events which impact the supply and price of oil.

Homeowners are encouraged to maintain a back up heat system for very cold temperatures. This allows consumers to use fuel if diesel prices temporarily fall, allowing residents to take advantage of temporary price swings. Some consumers also choose to keep wood stoves or propane heaters as supplemental heat sources.

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center has done a lot of research on the effectiveness of ASHP’s in Alaska, and specifically in SE Alaska. For more information, including contact information for mechanical installers and financial institutions, visit AP&T.  To request an Air Source Heat Pump financial calculator, email s.kilcoyne@realaska.org

 

 

 

Workforce development programs: Investing in Southeast Alaska’s Future

Written by Sienna Reid for Capital City Weekly 

As a lifelong Sitkan I have grown close to our coastal rainforest. As I head off to my first year of college this fall, I know I will miss this place. However, I can’t help but wonder — how much will it change?

Having just graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School, a boarding school that serves students across Alaska, I have heard many stories of successful hunts and summers spent at fish camp, but I also hear stories of quickly changing ecosystems. Every community in Southeast Alaska depends on natural resources in some way. Whether it’s harvesting wild foods or building homes out of local wood, our people depend on the land. In order to maintain our unique way of life, it is important that rural Alaskans have opportunities to pursue meaningful careers that promote sustainable living and wise management of these resources.

Today, many Southeast Alaskan communities are home to a variety of youth workforce development programs. These programs help prepare the next generation of Alaska’s scientists, field crews, and resource managers with the experiences, drive, and skills to pursue careers in their backyards, whether on the water or in the woods. This summer I visited three of these programs — in Sitka, Klawock, and Kake — to get an inside perspective on the impact they are having on our region.

Ocean Acidification Mentorship

On a drizzly Sunday morning I hopped in the car with three girls and a tote full of water sampling equipment. We made our way from the Sitka Sound Science Center to the sampling site, walked down a slippery dock, and got to work.

The team used a niskin bottle to collect water samples at five feet, both from the surface and at the ocean floor since acidity can vary throughout different depths. After transferring the water into a tinted bottle to lessen light exposure, the water temperature was recorded and mercury was added to poison the sample. Mercury kills all of the living organisms in the water to preserve the exact conditions at the time of collection; for example, it would stop processes like photosynthesis which could potentially alter the results of the test.

Through this mentorship program with the Sitka Sound Science Center, Lily Hood, Muriel Reid, Gabrielle Barber and I had been testing Sitka’s waters to get baseline information on the acidity of our ocean. High acidity poses a threat to the marine food chain, putting our fisheries at risk. Later this fall, the team will process their samples, interview local fishermen, and present their findings at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium.

Muriel Reid, 16, appreciated the chance to learn through fieldwork this summer.

“In classrooms…whenever you’re confused the teacher is right there to help you, and so it’s a good thing for a learning environment, but it’s not necessarily good for jobs — learning how to be good in a job,” Reid said.

She said her favorite day was learning about calcium carbonate chemistry with mentors Lauren Bell and Esther Kennedy.

“That really shined (a) light on a lot of things that people don’t touch on in regular schools,” she said. “It’s definitely important to have connections to scientists in your area so that you can learn more easily, and not just be confused by a bunch of numbers on a page.”

By speaking with the participants, it was made clear that programs that get kids out of the classroom and into the field make the lessons learned in school more tangible. When science is applied, carbon chemistry is no longer a question on a test, it is a challenge that may affect the fisheries that feed our families. The opportunities this mentorship provides make science more relevant to the next generation of homegrown Alaska scientists.

Training Rural Alaskan Youth Leaders & Students

South of Sitka by 134 miles, I had the privilege of meeting a team of seven young Alaskans who were spending their summer in Klawock learning to work outdoors in the challenging conditions of the temperate rainforest. These hardworking teens and young adults were part of the Training Rural Alaskan Youth Leaders & Students (TRAYLS) program.

Founded to help youth learn workforce skills, many partners were involved in making TRAYLS a success. Bob Girt, environmental compliance and liaison specialist with Sealaska Timber Company, as well as one of the founders of TRAYLS, considers partners as those who donated resources, offered access to land for work, or in some way “provided major thrust for the program.”

Those partners include native organizations such as the Bureau of Indian affairs, Native American Fish & Wildlife Society, Organized Village of Kasaan, Sealaska Corporation, Sealaska Timber Company, LLC, Klawock Cooperative Association, Organized Village of Kake, and Kake Tribal Corporation; as well as other groups such as the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, USFS Ranger Districts Petersburg & Prince of Wales Is., State of Alaska – Division of Economic Development, City of Thorne Bay, and the City of Hydaburg.

This year marked the launch of the pilot program, one that partners and participants hope will continue for years into the future. The five crew members, aged 16-22, and their two crew leaders whisked me up a mountain to show off their hard work on the newly revitalized One Duke Trail. They pointed out the work they had done along the way.

“We want it to be friendly to everyone that wants to go on the trail,” explained crew leader, Talia Davis, 19, from Kake.

Although they were proud of the work they had done, Davis admitted that the labor was difficult in the beginning.

“You’re working in the mud in Southeast weather and you’re just questioning it all. But you know, if you make it through the first couple weeks it’s really rewarding… I’ve definitely decided that I want to work outdoors after this summer.”

The entire crew agreed that working outdoors was important to them. Crew member Yahaaira Ponce, 17, from Klawock, commented that TRAYLS had changed the way she saw her future.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted, going into college, to study something to do (with) outdoors or not, because I was kind of in-between. But after this, I think I’m definitely looking to a career outdoors.”

This was exactly what Girt hoped the students would gain from the experience. Getting the young participants involved and excited about the work can have long lasting benefits for the towns they live in, explained Girt.

“I think it’s important that communities stay resilient, and the way they stay resilient, one of the ways is, they keep talented people that have some passion and ambition, and those people don’t go away and live in some other state or some other country,” Girt said. “They might go away for a while to get their training and get their skills, but they eventually will come back and…help their communities.”

Resilient communities need sustainable resources and a local workforce to manage those resources. But pursuing a career outdoors in Southeast Alaska can be daunting and folks are often unsure whether they would actually enjoy being out in the elements all day. As Girt and the students explained to me throughout the visit, programs like TRAYLS provide students a unique opportunity to try out these professions, all while gaining experience and valuable life skills that will benefit them no matter what career path they go down.

Sea Otter Research

Sonia Ibarra is a Ph.D. student originally from California, but has been living in Alaska for the past five years. Through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, she has been working in the rural villages of Southeast to study the effects of sea otter predation on shellfish. I visited Kake on a low-tide week so I could follow Ibarra and her three field assistants, who were recruited from rural Southeast villages, through the data collection process.

At 4:30 a.m. the first morning, we headed to the harbor with buckets and yawns. From the boat we scouted out a good sample location. Moving quickly down the zero tideline, quadrats were laid out, holes were dug, and clams were sifted into buckets. When we returned to Ibarra’s house it was time to sort and measure the clams and shells. It took a lot of work, but it also made great field experience.

Sarah Peele, 19, from Hydaburg, said the chance to get real-world research experience got her interested in this job.

“Working with Sonia, she’s showing me how to pair traditional knowledge with science,” she said.

I noticed the emphasis put on this idea while I was in Kake. In the living room of Ibarra’s house, where the floor was covered with medicinal plants laid out to dry, Ibarra explained how she had been criticized on her work; people had told her that speaking with locals wasn’t ‘real science.’ However, not only has she been gathering different perspectives, she has been backing them up with data collection.

“A lot of research in rural communities, and specifically native communities, you have a researcher come in, get their data, and leave,” Ibarra said. “And to me it’s very disrespectful to live life that way, or to do research that way.….I do research together with people in the community.”

By hiring these students from rural Southeast, she is keeping the work local and inspiring them as well. Shawaan Jackson-Gamble, 19 from Kake, has been working with Ibarra for the past three years.

“I wasn’t really looking for a biology job,” he said, “but it opened my eyes a little more, and by my next year working with her it’s what I wanted to do.”

With his family roots in Kake and growing up with a traditional lifestyle, he hopes to return to Southeast after college to work for his tribe with a focus on subsistence. Programs like Ibarra’s are encouraging local students like Jackson-Gamble to see how science can be a tool in answering questions that are important to their culture, families, and communities.

After a summer spent traveling around Southeast Alaska, I was reminded of how fortunate we are to live surrounded by natural resources. I also discovered the significance of this human resource; young, eager learners who are preparing themselves to take on the challenges of managing these lands and waters. These programs require time, money, and the dedication of everyone involved. However, the opinions of the young participants indicates the work is well worth the effort. Youth workforce development programs like the ones I visited this year are more than just a summer job. They are an investment for the future of Southeast Alaska.

TRAYLS program creates job experience for rural Southeast Alaska youth

The 2017 TRAYLS crew. Rear, left to right: Ryan Billy (Kake), Chad Ward (Kake), and Sealaska Intern Talia Davis. Front, left to right: Bob Girt (Sealaska), Crew leader Terrie Ward (Kake), Yajaira Ponce (Klawock), Noah Rasmus (Hydaburg), Skyler Peele (Hydaburg), and Stephen Hill (Kake). Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

Written for Alaska’s Capital City Weekly

I had the opportunity of meeting the small group of youth and young adults as they assembled at the head of a trail leading into the mist wrapped mountains of Prince of Wales. The trail is in reality an old logging road, overgrown in many places by tall green alder trees and thick salmonberry bushes. The bridges and culverts were removed when the road was closed in the mid-1990s and is often overlooked as residents drive past. But the young crew of the aptly named TRAYLS program is working to change that.

The Training Rural Alaska Youth Leaders and Students (TRAYLS) program was launched on June 5, 2017, as a pilot program designed to train rural Alaskan youth and young adults in various forestry related skills.

Bob Girt of Sealaska dubbed the project “The One Duke Trail,” referencing the trail’s location by Duke Creek and playing on the name of another local trail called “The One Duck Trail.” The trail will consist of approximately one mile of reconstructed logging road and nearly an additional mile of new trail construction that will provide access to alpine areas, as well as areas for berry picking and possibly even viewing stations. The project itself, which is entirely on Sealaska Corporation land, is expected to take at least two weeks of dedicated work to complete.

TRAYLS mentors Bob Girt and Frank Peratrovich sharing a laugh while overseeing work on the One Duke Trail. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

“This trail is a public usage project really,” Girt explained, “It was originally a logging road, and has since been used by local residents for primarily subsistence use. It’s a great trail to work on because it’s wide enough for ATVs and hiking up to the alpine; we’re going to clear out the brush, make the trail safer, and put in a few culverts and even construct a bridge suited for ATV and foot use.”

The One Duke Trail project is only one of a number of possible projects slated for this summer, other projects include the maintenance of several other existing trails, and it’s hoped by TRAYLS program coordinators that the crew will have the opportunity to begin development of at least one new trail along a recent stream restoration project. But trails, aren’t the only projects that the coordinators hope to tackle; they hope to actively engage in a stream restoration project.

“That’s what sets this program apart from others,” said Stephen SueWing, Development Specialist with the State of Alaska’s Division of Economic Development. “We aren’t just teaching the participants how to build trails or clear brush — we’re getting them involved with an entire gamut of resource management possibilities and basic employability skills. Yes, they’ll get work experience in building trails and the like, but they’ll also get experience in many other fields. We hope that the variety of experiences that the students will be exposed to will inspire some of them to pursue careers in these fields.”

The TRAYLS crew getting their morning briefing. Left to right: Bob Girt, Terrie Ward, Stephen Hill, Noah Rasmus, Chad Ward, Ryan Billy, and Corey Peratrovich. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

There is already potential of SueWing’s vision forming with 16 year old Noah Rasmus of Hydaburg, Alaska. Noah spent three years attending Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, and will be finishing his senior year in his home town; after, he plans to enter college, preferably Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to begin pursuing a degree in civil engineering.

“I’m excited to build the bridge on this trail,” Rasmus said, “It’s something that I’m already interested in, and being able to gain experience in engineering through this program will look great when I apply for college after my senior year.”

Other participants simply enjoy the fact that much of the learning is hands on, and immediately applicable. Crew leader Terrie Ward and her son Chad are two such participants. Terrie supervises the TRAYLS crew when they’re off shift as well, ensuring that their housing as well as health and hygiene are cared for. Chad, at age 14, is the youngest member of the TRAYLS crew but works just as hard as the others.

“I like working outside,” he said. “I learn better this way, when I can see how it’s done, then do it.”

Yajaira Ponce clearing and leveling a section of trail. Photo by Quinn Aboudara

“It’s a great opportunity for these young folks,” Terrie said. “They’re developing a good work ethic, learning that if they work hard then they’ll get paid. In the evenings everyone is tired. We’ve worked all day, but they’re learning that when they get home someone has to cook, and someone has to clean. These are good skills to have, especially for the ones that are going to be going on to college and will be on their own.”

Another component to the TRAYLS Program, an opportunity to teach good work ethics as well as combining applicable life skills and resource management skills to provide the students with a good foundation to enter the workforce and lead happy, productive, and healthy lives.

The program was initiated by the Organized Village of Kasaan through a grant funded by the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Youth Initiative Program, as well as a Summer Intern Scholarship from the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society. Additional funding was also provided by a Challenge Cost Share Grant agreement the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has with the State of Alaska Division of Forestry. The State of Alaska Division of Economic Development, who is tasked with workforce development under this agreement, also contributed.

The Organized Village of Kasaan partnered with the Organized Village of Kake, Sealaska Corporation, and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership with support from the Klawock Cooperative Association, the USFS, and The Nature Conservancy.

TRAYLS crewmember Ryan Billy clearing a scenic area for future trail users. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

The crew completed their first month in Kake, where they worked closely with the USFS on a variety of projects, including stream and culvert surveying, documenting an archaeology site, and training in USFS Safety Standards. On July 6 the crew arrived on Prince of Wales Island, where they will spend the remainder of the summer.

Loretta Gregory, the Community and Economic Development Specialist for the Organized Village of Kake and a Community Catalyst with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership expressed her gratitude to the many people and organizations that helped make the first month in Kake a success.

“The TRAYLS program had a few bumps but we were able to land on our feet, figure it out and continue,” Gregory said, “A big thank you to Alaska Seaplanes for their generous help in getting groceries and supplies to Kake and for their generosity in helping transport the TRAYLS crew from Kake to Klawock!”

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