Government, business and non-profits collaborate on workforce development Second Forestry Training Academy on Prince of Wales Island is underway

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 21, 2017

(Thorne Bay, AK)— This week on Prince of Wales Island, 13 students attending the second Forestry Training Academy are proof that collaboration can be more than just a buzzword. The Forestry Training Academy is two weeks of training to prepare students for local jobs in natural resources. The U.S. Forest Service, state Division of Forestry, state Division of Economic Development, Sealaska Timber, Spruceroot Community Development Fund and Sustainable Southeast Partnership are working together to support the academy for a second year.

Why are federal, state, private and non-profit groups all invested? Each share a common objective to support sustainably-managed forests and sustainable communities with healthy economies. The academy puts local people to work in local jobs, gathering valuable data about area timber stands. Land managers across the region have forestry jobs to fill and the partners believe that keeping jobs local is good for industry, good for communities and good for Alaska.

“We are interested in a strong regional economy and working forests managed by a trained, local workforce,” said Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott. “Maintaining a focus on sustainable harvests helps achieve that.”

The academy is an outgrowth of the Tongass Advisory Committee (TAC), a federal advisory committee formed while the Forest Service was amending the Tongass National Forest management plan. The TAC brought together stakeholders from the timber industry, environmental groups, Sealaska, and the State of Alaska to advise the Forest Service on how to support the transition to young-growth timber harvest and provide for a viable forest industry in Southeast Alaska. Among its final recommendations in late 2015, the TAC recommended investing in a skilled local workforce as an integral piece of developing a more sustainable timber industry.

“The workforce academy is a key element of the new Tongass Land Management Plan, put into action. It’s good for the region and it is an improvement in forest management,” said Andrew Thoms, a TAC member and executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society.

Last year, eight students graduated from the academy equipped with place-based natural resource skills and knowledge immediately transferable to local careers. The Division of Forestry immediately hired six graduates and Sealaska Timber offered a position to another. In December, two of the graduates working with the Division of Forestry on young growth inventory were offered long-term positions with the Forest Service.

Collaboration has proven essential for supporting the academy and the partners also believe that collaboration across land managers is good for sustainable and effective land management.

“This is part of the USDA’s All-lands approach to land management. The Forest Service is working together with the State of Alaska and adjacent land owners to develop a more robust and sustainable approach to forestry across our region,” said Beth Pendleton, Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service-Alaska Region, currently serving as the Acting Associate Chief of the agency in Washington, D.C. “The Forestry Academy also helps carry out the U.S. Forest Service Alaska Department of Natural Resources TAC’s recommendations to develop a local workforce and to support the inventory of young growth timber,” she said.

Harrison Voegili working on the Young Growth Inventory on Prince of Wales Island in 2016. Voegili was one of the graduates of the 2016 Forestry Training Academy. Photos can be credited to Kendall Rock, Sustainable Southeast Partnership. 

Alaska State Forester Chris Maisch added, “This team effort is producing impressive results in both the classroom and in the woods. No single organization has the required talent and capacity to accomplish the training and the ensuing project work on its own. The new hires have a great work ethic and pick up new skills rapidly through their work with our forestry team.” The second Forestry Training Academy started on Monday, March 20 and is underway until March 31. It will cover basic forestry skills, best practices, U.S. Forest Service safety requirements and Division of Forestry inventory protocol. The training will also offer students classroom and in-the-field instruction to practice, develop and test skills. Twenty-eight applicants competed for 13 openings this year. All 13 students are from Alaska: four from Ketchikan, one from Haines, one from Metlakatla and seven from Prince of Wales Island.

“Prince of Wales is my home and I am motivated to help sustain and safeguard what is left of the Tongass. I am ready for new challenges within the dynamic environment that the Forest Service represents,” said Christa Hambleton, an academy participant from Port Protection. Hiring local workers allows people in rural communities to stay, work, and raise families in their traditional homes. And many of the natural resource jobs are year-round and well paying. Hiring local allows more money to circulate in the economy and helps create more sustainable communities. Graduates will qualify for immediate employment opportunities with the Forest Service, Division of Forestry and others.

CONTACT: Reporters interested in interviewing academy participants, going into the field or visiting the Forest Academy between March 20-31, 2017, should contact U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Dru Fenster at 907-209-2094 or dfenster@fs.fed.us. For photos from this year’s academy, please contact Sustainable Southeast Partnership Communications Director Bethany Goodrich at 907-747-7509 or bethany@sitkawild.org.

The Backdoor Café Installs Red Alder Benches: A Local Young Growth Success Story

Written by Chandler O’Connell

In Sitka, Alaska a favorite coffee shop among locals called the Backdoor Café did a little renovating this season. Alana Peterson, who is both the owner of the Backdoor Cafe and the program director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership installed brand new benches using locally sourced red alder wood. By sourcing local, Peterson supported local businesses, kept more money in the region, and showcased environmentally sustainable timber. The Backdoor Cafe is also modeling what a market for young-growth products looks like in Southeast Alaska, as the Forest Service moves to shift focus from old growth to young growth timber harvests.

The Tongass Transition, announced by the Department of Agriculture in 2011, is meant to bring an end to unsustainable old-growth logging and implement a more holistic management plan that focuses on young-growth trees that grow after clear-cuts, as well as integrating and valuing non-timber forest outputs. The Tongass Transition will ensure that the remaining old growth forests on the Tongass stay standing to provide wildlife habitat, sequester carbon, support subsistence lifestyles and recreation, and produce prodigious quantities of salmon. The transition also provides opportunities to develop new timber products.

Click through the posters that the Sitka Conservation Society created to hang in the Backdoor Cafe along with a local youth wood arts project to inform customers about the significance of these new benches. 

“Mills and entrepreneurs have successfully experimented with young growth forest products over the last few years since the transition was announced,” said Beth Pendleton, Regional Forester, Alaska Region-Forest Service. “They have found that there are applications for young growth wood products from the Tongass and that local utilization and manufacturing can be part of our regional economy. Red Alder is one of the Tongass Young Growth products that has a lot of potential for value-added applications,” she added.

The Backdoor Café worked with Icy Straits Lumber & Milling out of Hoonah, Alaska to source their red alder. Icy Straits is part of a cohort of local mills, including Tenakee Logging Company, TM Construction and Good Faith Lumber that offer a diverse range of second growth products. Local businesses and individuals planning their next construction project should check out these sourcing options – they may be surprised by the high quality and competitive pricing that is available right here at home. And they’ll enjoy the added benefit of knowing that by buying local they’ve kept more money circulating in the Southeast economy.

From Forest to Café: Art Display Inspired by Second Growth Benches

The red alder benches served as inspiration for a storytelling and art display currently showing at the Backdoor Café. The display, a project of the Sitka Conservation Society and the Alaskan Way of Life 4H Club, highlights the benefits of choosing local young growth products, and tracks the benches from forest to café, sharing stakeholder reflections at each step: management, harvest, construction and purchase. The 4H students contributed relief prints made from “cookie” cross sections of fallen trees and short stories on life as a tree on the Tongass.

Businesses: Save Energy, Save Money:  Last Chance to Sign up! 


 

Are you a business or commercial building owner interested in saving money on your heating and electric bills?  An energy audit will show you how energy is used in your facility and will recommend ways to reduce your use and save money.

Southeast Conference, Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) are offering 75% off commercial building audits through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.  There are limited seats left, so don’t miss this opportunity to sign up.

Last year, businesses and public facilities in Hoonah, Haines and Prince of Wales Island participated, receiving 29 Level I energy audits and 5 Level II audits. The 34 audited buildings totaled over 230,000 ft2. In all, the recommended energy efficiency measures total $382,701. These lighting, heating, ventilation and other recommendations will yield an estimated annual savings of $173,782! This means that it will take only a little over two years for these savings to pay for themselves.

Join the movement to save money and save energy for Southeast Alaska! Interested Southeast businesses should contact Robert Venables (energy@seconference.org) or Shaina Kilcoyne (s.kilcoyne@realaska.org). Communities will need at least three businesses to get them on the Auditor’s schedule, so talk to your neighbors! With an audit, businesses will be eligible for USDA’s Rural Energy for America grant and loan Program for renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Loan Guarantees are completed continuously throughout the year.

Registration for Southeast Alaska 2017 Farmers Summit Opens

Press Release

Share lessons learned and techniques for overcoming challenges of commercially growing food in Southeast Alaska; learn specific skills, technology, and research that contribute to commercial farming success and efficiency; connect with new and experienced farmers to build an inspiring network. 

Early bird registration is now open for the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit 2017, the 2nd biennial summit designed to bring together experienced and aspiring commercial growers and support agencies. The Summit will be held February 24 through 26, 2017, at the Chilkat Center in Haines, Alaska. A discounted registration rate is available to attendees who register on or before January 21st, 2017. Travel and registration scholarships are available.

The conference will feature presentations from experienced commercial growers and support agencies, and topical discussions and panels to share resources and lessons learned. Speakers include Doug Collins, Extension Faculty and Soil Scientist with Washington State University’s Small Farms Program; Megan Talley, Farm Manager and Educator at Alaska Pacific University; and experienced Farmers from Southeast Alaska; among others. 

“This will be an opportunity for commercial growers of Southeast Alaska to learn from each other, find opportunities to collaborate, and build a network that can leverage everyone’s efforts,” said Lia Heifetz, Local Food Director for Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition. “Many resources will be shared over the course of the weekend – from financial planning for small farms to innovative solutions for soil building, policy implications for agriculture, and much more.”

Other topics to be addressed at the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit include:

  • On Farm Food Safety
  • Building your Farm Community
  • Planning for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  • The Future of Seed Saving in Alaska
  • High Tunnel Applications and Innovations
  • Electric and Walk-in Cold Storage for your Farm
  • Biomass Heated Greenhouses and Aquaponics
  • Per Foot Crop Values for Market Sales
  • Using Local Amendments to Improve Soil Quality
  • Fruit Trees and Grafting Techniques
  • Policy and Initiatives
  • Building a Future of Farming with Internships and Education
  • Business Planning and Farm Finances

For more information and to register for the conference please visit: http://www.alaskawatershedcoalition.org/safs2017/

Back to School: Swapping Eggrolls for Rainbow Chard

Written by Bethany Sonsini Goodrich for Edible Alaska Magazine

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Across the country cafeteria trays aren’t often admired for their nutrition, freshness, or taste. In rural southeast Alaska, however, a dedicated school district and its greenhouse program are challenging that notion, while invigorating local economies, growing entrepreneurs, and gratifying taste buds.

Prince of Wales Island rests at the southernmost end of Alaska’s panhandle. The communities that make up this island are isolated, connected by seemingly endless miles of winding roads. The Southeast Island School District (SISD) is the major school district on Prince of Wales. It includes nine schools in unique communities from the small Haida village of Kasaan to old logging camps like Coffman Cove. All of these communities share some key challenges. Only one of them has a grocery store of considerable size, and the majority of the food is barged in. By the time these costly imported vegetables hit family plates, they are often wilted and unappetizing. Residents are in search of long-term economic solutions.

As in many small schools across the state, cafeteria lunches also lack crunch. “Small schools don’t have full time cooks and use mostly warming ovens to make eggrolls and burritos,” says Lauren Burch, the superintendent for Southeast Island School District on Prince of Wales Island. “That’s not what we should be feeding our kids.”

Those heat-and-serve lunches are not only uninspiring, they are costly too. “In my school district I lose roughly $100,000 a year even having a food program at all, and that’s gotta come from somewhere,” Burch says. The state’s purse strings aren’t loosening any time soon. Alaskans are witnessing the slicing and dicing of many key programs, including the whittling away of school funding. “State funding right now is traumatizing,” he admits.

But Burch—along with teachers, students, administrators, and community members of Southeast Island School District—is stepping up to face these challenges with gusto. What started with a few raised garden beds and a heat recovery system in one school has since grown into an island-wide phenomena. Kasaan, Naukati Bay, Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove have all replaced costly diesel generators with wood boiler systems and are using local wood to heat schools, greenhouses, and businesses. They are growing their own food, freshening up those lunch trays, and supporting the local economy as they revolutionize district thinking. This inspiring cohort is accomplishing all of this while giving the next generation of Alaska’s leaders a mouth-watering hands-on education.

So, how does it work? Let’s take a tour.

powgreenhouse_-52AQUAPONICS: FROM FISH TO FRESH VEGGIES
“Everything we do starts with those fish. All we have to do is feed them. We use their feces throughout the system as nutrients. We use the poop to grow the plants, in short speak,” explains Ieshia Searle. Ieshia is a senior at Thorne Bay High School and has been involved in the greenhouse since its’ inception.

Eager goldfish crowd the window of a big central tank as Ieshia sprinkles a bit of fish food from above. A pump moves nutrient rich water from this tank through colonies of bacteria that filter the solid waste and convert fish feces into a form of nitrogen the plants can use. The water is then funneled into a series of pools where rafts of lettuce float beneath energy efficient LED lights. Different varieties of lettuce reach down into the water, absorbing nutrients while filtering and cleaning the pool. Ieshia pulls up a raft of butter lettuce, carefully inspecting the long spindly roots. “These are beautiful roots!” she declares. “Normally we harvest once a week, if not more, depending how our crops turn out. We actually stay pretty busy at the Thorne Bay greenhouse.”

Over in Coffman Cove, the largest and most impressive of the school greenhouses is over 6,000 square feet. At full capacity Coffman Cove will be churning out 800 heads of lettuce a week. That’s a lot of greens.

But, greens aren’t all that these greenhouses produce. Water continues to move through the aquaponics system into a series of beds containing a very fine matrix material made of coconut husks, which fully filters the water. It then returns to the fish and the loop continues, nourishing everything from turnips and tomatoes to green onions and basil. The vegetables are packaged by students, served in school lunches, and delivered and sold to shops where they reach families throughout Prince of Wales.

INTEGRATED LEARNING: GROUNDING THE ‘COMMON CORE’
All four greenhouses are using adaptations of an aquaponics system. Originally, Thorne Bay tested hydroponics, but made the switch to aquaponics in order to diversify their crops and offer students more integrated learning opportunities. “We wanted to dive more into the process. Hydroponics felt like a mystery machine where you pumped chemicals in and lettuce came out,” says Megan Fitzpatrick, the SISD science teacher. “Aquaponics is more of a natural ecosystem approach to growing.” She is able to teach the nitrogen cycle, soil chemistry, plant biology and more. Students are also able to craft experiments. “It’s more engaging. There is a lot of flexibility,” Fitzpatrick explains.

powgreenhouse_-8The greenhouse does not replace the curriculum, it brings it to life. Students spend one hour of class time each day working with the program and experiential learning opportunities abound—for more than just chemistry and the life sciences. Students across the island are investigating ways to make their greenhouse programs as self-sustaining as possible, while learning how to conduct feasibility studies, identify niche markets, gauge supply and demand, and brand their products. They are also looking at ways to improve the system, exploring opportunities for saving energy while increasing food production.

“Working at this greenhouse, I’ve been able to learn how to grow food while also being able to learn how to manage a business and keep it running without having to depend on the school district. At the start, we had the school district buying the seeds and the supplies that we needed, but now we are able to pay them back and make a profit,” Ieshia asserts with pride.

The four greenhouses are part of a larger program that also includes raising poultry, growing apples, making and selling tortillas and pizza dough, and a student-run restaurant and storefront. This engaging combination of projects creates opportunities for teaching business skills, life skills, employment skills and responsibility in a meaningful and hands-on way. “When kids first started here they were so shy and didn’t want to talk about the greenhouse,” says Fitzpatrick. “Now, so many people come by and visit the greenhouse from the community and even the lieutenant governor has stopped by. Kids are learning public speaking skills,” she says. “When students are engaged, they retain and when they retain they are more confident.”

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AN IMPACT YOU CAN TASTE
Rural Alaska is hungry for fresh food and innovation. “Our schools absolutely are the heartbeat of the community and play a vital role in the sustainability of these communities,” attests Colter Barnes, the school greenhouse manager on the island. Southeast Island School District is looking at their students as powerful assets for building more resilient communities, supporting the local economy, and addressing food system challenges, while receiving a top-notch education.

“I think the progressive districts are out there saying, how can we do more with less funding, how can we generate revenue? I have a thousand students in my building, how can I give them real learning opportunities that are connected to standards, their diploma, their interests, and strengthens our community, but also generates revenue. There is so much you can do with kids, they want to engage,” Barnes says.

“We need to teach kids healthy eating skills. They need to use knives to cut their food, enough of these heat-and-serve open boxes,” adds Megan Fitzpatrick. “I saw these kids when they first started in the greenhouse. They weren’t eating the stuff and now they’re fighting over it. Seeing kids recognize the healthy benefits of eating fresh vegetables and recognizing that they can do this at home, that is a life skill they can carry on through their adult life. That to me is the most rewarding.”

Back at the school cafeteria, the rewards keep on growing as more and more students swap egg rolls for rainbow chard.

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Annual Retreat Helps Chart Path Forward for Partnership

By Alana Peterson

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One key element to a successful partnership is communication. In the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, our partner organizations model deliberate communication that results in action. We meet on a monthly basis through Google+ video hangouts where we share ideas and information to strengthen our collaborative efforts. We also participate in daily dialogue on our Google+ community page. Our blog posts, emails, phone calls, and community visits all contribute to a network of individuals and organizations that are highly collaborative, sharing resources, and learning from each other along the way. Finally, we commit to communicating through in-person visits as frequently as possible and commit to two full partnership meetings twice a year (once in fall and once in spring).

This year’s autumn retreat took place in Hoonah, Alaska from October 3-7th. We used this time to develop year-long work plans for our individual and collective projects, learn about projects in Hoonah, and strategize ways to grow and strengthen the partnership in 2017.

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Our retreat included a site visit to the new deep water dock and Icy Strait Point, a cruise ship destination that includes adventure options, a zip line, restaurants, a museum and shops. The group was not only inspired by the expansive project that is unique to see in a small SE village, but was also excited to learn about how cultural values and the community have been a priority through the development and implementation of the tourism site. Our group was led by a local Huna Totem shareholder, Brittany who started working at ISP as a ticket taker, and has moved up in the ranks to now working administrative functions in the office. It was clear she has pride in her work, and impressed our entire group in her knowledge and ability to answer all of our questions. We learned that decisions at ISP are made based on a filter of authenticity. Icy Strait Point was built to be as true to the culture and community it represents as possible.

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We also spent time learning about the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership, a powerful new model for land management in SE Alaska.

The retreat also included a day-long workshop for community engagement. The workshop, led by Element Agency, gave each partner new skills and tools to plan successful community events such as meetings, workshops, etc. We put the new tools to use by planning and facilitating a community meeting in Hoonah. The goal of the community meeting was to introduce our partnership and outline the current projects in Hoonah. We then opened up discussion to the participants to learn about priority projects that the community has identified, and support those efforts through the SSP network. The meeting concluded with a beautiful performance from the Mt. Fairweather dancers who also prepared a tasty dinner for the event.

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Other outcomes of this years retreat included a review of 13 successes from last year’s projects. Between all SSP partners, over 50 projects are taking place in 2017. A full list of those projects can be viewed by clicking here. The partners also dedicated four hours to identifying four priority areas to strengthen the SSP in 2017, they include:

(1) Promote the SSP collective impact model and Triple Bottom Line approach to economic development in each of our communities through direct outreach.

(2) Catalysts & Partners will engage the community, new partners and new demographics to increase community ownership of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership.

(3)  All partners will work towards making SSP self-sustaining by improving and implementing our metrics to communicate success for potential funders and by building capacity to fundraise within partner organizations (this includes capacity building activities).

(4)  All partners will demonstrate success in projects this year through strategizing community outreach through each communications output and achieving one clear project success in each community this year.

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For each of these four initiatives, each participant wrote down one or two actionable steps they will take as individuals this year to move the partnership forward on each initiative. Though tired and drained from a long week of collaborative work, each partner left Hoonah reinvigorated and excited about the year of work ahead.

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