For eight weeks during the summer of 2016, native Alaskan youth helped steward their public lands on Admiralty Island through the Youth Conservation Corps. For the four students from the village of Angoon, the opportunity provided paid employment, offered career building skills, taught them conservation lessons and exposed them to new outdoor experiences.

The program was implemented through a partnership between the Forest Service, National Forest Foundation, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and the Chatham School District. Along with Forest Service support, the program received funding through the Alaska Forest Fund from Hecla Charitable Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Hecla Mining Company. 

Kootznoowoo, in Tlingit, translates to "fortress of brown bears.”

The native village of Angoon, with a population of approximately 500, sits on the western coast of Admiralty Island. Currently there isn’t an airport on the island, and Angoon must be accessed by boat or float plane. The island, located south of Juneau, Alaska, is home to the 955,000 acre Admiralty Island National Monument. The Monument includes the Kootznoowoo Wilderness and is managed by the Forest Service as part of the Tongass National Forest. Admiralty Island is the ancestral home of the Kootznoowoo Tlingit group. Kootznoowoo, in Tlingit, translates to "fortress of brown bears”, which aptly characterizes the island even today, with brown bears outnumbering human residents by more than three to one. 

While there are not many local employment opportunities for the younger residents of Angoon, there is a great need for environmental stewardship on this 1646 square mile island. Marine debris is a major concern along the shorelines of the National Monument, causing problems for both terrestrial and ocean living wildlife. There are also recreational trails and cabins that require maintenance, cultural sites that need inventorying and invasive species to be eradicated. The four youth were able to assist in each of these areas, while also earning their first paychecks and experiencing many other firsts. 

Despite having grown up on the island, none of these youth had paddled a kayak, none had been hiking, and not one of them had slept in a tent. “I’ve never spent this much time outside in a single day,” remarked one of the youth. Through this program, the youth were able to go on camping trips into the wilderness, learn outdoor skills and conduct important conservation work.

The youth learned how to use cook stoves, bear spray and a cross-cut saw. They gathered marine debris that was littering the shoreline, including derelict fish net and line. They helped build a new outhouse, and assisted with trail maintenance by tearing out old bridges and lopping back brush. Travel to work sites on this island exposed the youth to over 50 miles of sea kayaking.

The youth also learned about the concept of wilderness and natural ecology and were given the chance to explore their ancestral island beyond the boundaries of their village, which none of them had previously done. The lessons that they each learned broadened their horizons and will help instill a respect for nature and a stewardship ethic that will last a lifetime.

The Alaska Forest Fund is a partnership between the National Forest Foundation and Region 10 Forest Service to conduct forest health projects and recreational enhancement projects on the Tongass and Chugach National Forests with the help of local partners. To support this work, please contact Dayle Wallien at [email protected]

National Forest Foundation