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Trendsetters in the Tongass, continued

While the initiative is still in its beginning stages, Brucaya is excited about the progress made so far. "We're building relationships with people that we never would have before," she says.

"We're promoting the
world we want to see,
rather than fighting
the world we don't."

Bringing together unlikely partners with equal interest in an issue is an area where the organization has seen success.

"I work very closely with contractors and loggers," says Brucaya. "We're both learning from each other and finding that we have the same goals... They don't want this place destroyed; they hunt here, they recreate here. We have come to an understanding to make sure we're doing things as sustainably as possible."

The organization will focus on second-growth forest managed in a way that creates timber resources while providing habitat for deer, bears and other wildlife that depend on temperate rainforest.

Since the focus in the Tongass has been on old-growth timber, it is uncertain how second growth can be used. In hopes of finding ways to use second-growth timber and introduce it to the community, the organization plans to bring it into local school shop classes. Students will be able to get hands-on woodworking experience while their families and the community can see firsthand the quality of the timber.

Sustainable communities

The Sitka Conservation Society also dedicates time to working in schools and teaching young people about the need for sustainable management of the Tongass.

Zia Brucaya of Sitka Conservation Society
Zia Brucaya, conservation solutions coordinator
for the organization, is also a UW-Madison alumna.

"It's so important to get kids learning at a young age," Brucaya says. "The schools love the programs, we're helping with their educational programming, and they love to get kids out there with professionals."

Schools aren't the only source of positive feedback. "The community has responded incredibly positively and has seen how the work that we're doing brings the community together rather than drawing lines and divisions," says Thoms.

Thoms' staff and the diverse cross-section of collaborators that have developed around the conservation society are critical to the organization's progress. Heavy recruitment from the Nelson Institute has shaped it into an organization based on interdisciplinary action.

"We recruit heavily from Wisconsin and the Nelson Institute because the students have a background in applied knowledge," Thoms explains. "It's not just about academics; they have the ability to get something done on the ground."

This younger cohort is helping change environmental discourse, a shift Brucaya believes has created an identity crisis for old-school environmental organizations. Promoting assets instead of focusing on negatives has opened a window of opportunity for the Sitka Conservation Society and other progressive organizations to work with unlikely partners, making headway that would have seemed impossible in the past.

"We're promoting the world we want to see, rather than fighting the world we don't," says Mink.

Boat to table

Community-supported agriculture is turning to the sea, bringing wild Pacific salmon to tables in the Midwest, and Nic Mink is at the helm.

In collaboration with the Sitka Conservation Society, Mink has launched Sitka Salmon Shares, an initiative that combines entrepreneurship with sustainability. The community supported fishery, or CSF, will connect consumers directly with sustainable salmon producers and salmon fishers in Southeast Alaska. It's modeled after a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, where members receive weekly shares of a local farm's produce.

Interns prepare salmon
Sitka Conservation Society interns prepare salmon
from Sitka's Seafood Producer's Cooperative for
delivery in the Midwest. Photo credit Peter Bailleye.
"You know who caught it, how it was caught and when it was caught," Mink says. "You'll get a share every month, delivered to your home, and once a week you and your friends can have salmon."

A lack of transparency in the fishing industry is part of what encouraged Mink to create Sitka Salmon Shares.

"The statistics are horrendous," Mink says, referring to a University of Washington-Tacoma study showing that more than 38 percent of salmon sold in the Puget Sound area was labeled as wild Pacific salmon when it was actually farm-raised Atlantic salmon. A separate investigation by the Boston Globe found that nearly half of tested fish samples were being sold as the wrong species.

"It's a real health issue," Mink says, since mislabeling can put consumers at risk. "It's an issue that shows our system is broken. We're in need of a new model and that's what Sitka Salmon Shares intends to provide."

Sitka Salmon Shares was launched in Madison, Minneapolis, the Chicago metropolitan area and Galesburg, Illinois, in May. The first deliveries will take place mid-July, once the fisheries open in Alaska. Mink has also connected with CSA programs in Illinois that will offer Sitka salmon as a supplementary item, and he is hoping to sell the fish at local farmers markets. He believes this is the first community-supported fishery model operated in the Midwest.

With the project well underway, those involved see it as another step in promoting the positives Sitka has to offer while growing sustainable economies that support small producers, both in Alaska and the Midwest. And Mink is being recognized for his innovative idea: The Entrepreneurial Support Network of West Central Illinois recently named him Entrepreneur of the year for starting Sitka Salmon Shares.

"It's for consumers, it's for producers, it's for the environment," explains Mink. "We'll be funneling a percentage of the proceeds back into salmon habitat restoration and enhancement while putting more money into the pockets of small-boat family fishermen who subscribe to a set of production practices."

He says the stakes are high and the time is right. "The fish economy is a billion-dollar-a-year industry in Southeast Alaska, and we'd like to continue to see that grow in a sustainable manner by offering new, more transparent avenues on which it can thrive."

Sitka Salmon Shares follows on Mink's other efforts to promote sustainable fishing in Alaska, including Sitka Salmon Tours, which takes people for a behind-the-scenes look at the city's sustainable wild salmon industry. He has also authored a new book, Salmon: A Global History, which will be published in the fall.

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