On June 27, 13 students will begin a month-long journey across Alaska. The trip is the field portion of a term-long course entitled Forests, Fisheries and the Politics of Wildlife.
Over the course of the trip, students will kayak across roughly 100 miles, participate in two restoration projects with the United States Forest Service and meet with a panel of Alaskan mayors.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Nic Mink designed and teaches the course. He was inspired by two years spent working in a variety of positions in Alaska before he came to Knox.
“Part of me wanted to share the experience and the connections I had with that community with Knox students,” Mink said.
For the class, students have been learning about resource conflicts in Alaska. These are conflicts between people that want to preserve the land and people that want to use it to extract valuable resources like timber and fish. They normally choose to extract these resources in ways that negatively affect other parts of the ecosystem. This interconnectedness is a main theme in this course.
“All these resources are very much intertwined,” Mink said, “and getting students to understand that is very important.”
Some students taking the course came in with pre-existing knowledge and opinions about the issues surrounding resource management. Sophomore Marie Anderson is one of those students.
“Coming into this course, I was really of the opinion that exploitation of resources is not a good thing, [and that] we really need to be preserving our natural environment because we need to preserve it for future generations,” Anderson said. “ … But I’ve come to realize that obviously this is a way of life for a lot of people, and it’s how they make their living.”
After a crash course in kayaking and outdoor survival, the students will begin a 10-day kayaking trip from Sitka to False Island. The kayaking portion of the trip is what initially drew sophomore James Fenner to the course.
“I’m really into wildlife and nature, so that really appealed to me … the adventure of Alaska sounds completely awesome,” Fenner said.
Another large portion of the trip will be devoted to two restoration projects, in which students will help the U.S. Forest Service.
“Students will work with the U. S. Forest Service to create [a] more dynamic and hospitable habitat for salmon in these streams that had previously been logged,” Mink said. “All those environments that salmon … need to have to be able to live and thrive oftentimes were destroyed by industrial-scale logging.For the forest habitat restoration, students will be doing some thinning, working with the forest service to create better habitat for Sitka black-tailed deer [and] northern goshawks. Both of those species need forests that have open understories.”
Along with the kayaking and restoration components, students will be meeting with several Alaskan mayors. This will give them an opportunity to talk to officials that are trying to solve various resource conflicts.
“I’m going to ask them what their challenges are in dealing with competing interests and what their kind of master plan for land use in Alaska is,” Anderson said.
The trip is ultimately meant to bring everything together and to combine what students have learned with what they will see and do. For Fenner, this is one of the more important parts of the experience.
“I think [the trip] is just going to bring it real. I’ll be able to see firsthand all of the damage that’s been done and see all of the beauty that everyone’s trying to protect,” Fenner said.