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ALASKA USFWS:Youth, Future Neighbors, Citizens, Leaders
Alaska Region, October 28, 2011
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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge YCC Crew learning practicing bear safety skills.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge YCC Crew learning practicing bear safety skills. - Photo Credit: USFWS
YCC Enrollee, Ithaca Sorensen teaching children at Sand Point Stewardship Camp.
YCC Enrollee, Ithaca Sorensen teaching children at Sand Point Stewardship Camp. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge's YCC crew loading rock for building on a refuge trail.
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge's YCC crew loading rock for building on a refuge trail. - Photo Credit: USFWS

My favorite part of the job was going out to Halibut Bay. . .The work we did was bigger than we are, cleaning up beach debris and just making a difference for the island was the best part of my experience at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.
~Kodiak NWR YCC Enrollee, Maryna Darminio.

Alaska high-school aged youth helped the Service on a variety of projects all summer; whether it was the entire high school in Arctic Village, the eight randomly selected applicants in Soldotna, the small corps in Northway, Kodiak, Sand Point and Homer, or the herds of youth in Anchorage.  A myriad of field stations and partners made these unique work-learning experiences possible for more than 50 Alaskan youth. These programs focused on high returns by providing memorable outdoor experiences, developing a conservation ethic among local youth, cultivating early job skills, and completing much needed wildlife conservation work. 

Youth Conservation Corps
The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) remains our most valuable tool to engage youth on public lands. This summer, five refuges hired 29 YCC enrollees. Participating refuges continued to innovate and improve YCC programs to benefit the Service’s mission and the career and character development of enrollees. 

In just a few short years, Alaska Maritime and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuges have thoughtfully grown YCC programs. These successful programs integrate multiple refuge programs; provide learning experiences; and foster creativity for enrollees to find their own voice for conservation. The success of both programs is best seen and heard through the new media products the Corps produced. 

Youth Conservation Voices
Throughout the season, the Kodiak YCC crew conducted interviews of all youth coworkers.  They also created a short video on an environmental topic relevant to their summer work. One particularly powerful video was created by enrollee Wendi Castellon demonstrating how each of us can make a difference with marine debris.  Her video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyjeWhO-Jpk. YCC Supervisor, Lacy Squartsoff (STEP student) also created a playful and scenic recruitment video found at http://youtu.be/vh0eVkWkhqE

The Corps at Alaska Maritime NWR  sharpened their interpretive, scientific, and construction skills on a variety of projects. The centerpiece of their summer was traveling through the Aleutian Islands on the research vessel the M/V Tiglax, an adventure most seasoned biologists can only dream of taking. They then stopped at Sand Point to teach science programs for 75 campers at the two-week Stewardship Camp. Two videos capture their amazing experiences.  In the video, YCC: It’s a Trip, Traven Apiki marvels, “There is a sea lion out there in the water, two of them, three of them, four of them, six of them, they keep multiplying. Oh, they are roaring at us, let’s see if we can hear them.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCd46_0BOMo  In the video, YCC: It’s Intense, the team chronicles teaching children in Sand Point, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k59OF9E2Yck

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge hosts the largest and longest-running YCC program. The Refuge has employed an average of eight enrollees annually for the last two decades. Kenai’s spike camp based program provides unforgettable experiences paired with developing a strong work and conservation ethic. The YCC trail crew roves to the far corners of the refuge to complete much needed campsite, cabin and trail work while learning Leave No Trace principles and technical work skills. 

Although Kenai enrollees only experience one aspect of the refuge (recreation maintenance), leaders purposefully integrate the work projects into the bigger refuge picture.  At the beginning of each project, leaders facilitate discussions where enrollees are asked to think critically and creatively about the purpose of a project. Leaders also take advantage of ‘teachable moments’ to share information. 

Arctic and Tetlin National Wildlife Refuges enlist youth in the remote communities of Arctic Village and Northway.  In Arctic Village, all the high-school aged youth were employed to work on community and visitor services projects. Both crews received valuable safety and natural history training from a variety of refuge staff and local elders. This year, the Arctic crew’s crowning experience was a flight over Arctic Refuge which they see across the East Fork of the Chandalar River, but rarely have the opportunity to  visit.

Partner Youth Corps Programs 

We don’t just stop with the YCC program, other stations engaged partners to target similarly aged youth in urban and rural communities. In the small village of Venetie, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge enlisted youth ages 9 to 15 to conduct annual wetland monitoring.  The program provided hands-on biological experience to local youth, and an opportunity for the Refuge to more effectively monitor significant resources on private lands, and improve working relationship with village residents.

The Anchorage Fish and Wildlife Field Office’s Coastal Program once again supported 20 employees in the award winning Youth Employment in Parks (YEP) program in partnership with the Anchorage Parks Foundation.  YEP aims to create a meaningful “first job” experience and career pathways for diverse youth to work in natural resources. YEP employees assisted on a variety of riparian habitat restoration projects for the Service around Anchorage. 

The Fairbanks Fish & Wildlife Field office designed a similar program. Fifteen Fairbanks youth ages of 12 to 16 participated in this summer’s three-week program. Over the course of the program youth removed over 400 pounds of invasive weeds from project sites, surveyed more than 21 miles of the Chena River for invasive plants, and restored native plants to multiple sites.

Employing high school-aged youngsters can sometimes be challenging.  Many may be experiencing their first “job”. Because of this, some need to be taught the basics of being on time, arriving prepared, and staying on task for an entire eight-hour work day. Also those under 18 years old are limited by policy on the types of equipment they can use. And don’t forget the extra paperwork and logistical hurdles to surmount when taking them to remote field camps. 

Although it is more challenging for supervisors to create and run these programs, it is worth the investment including the amazing energy, perspective and creativity youth bring to the Service. These programs introduce hundreds of neighbors to the mission of the Service, inform future citizens about issues relevant to wildlife conservation and provide experiences to spark the next Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold into a career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   


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Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, kristen_gilbert@fws.gov



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