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My Turn: The Tongass National Forest as a classroom

Posted: April 6, 2011 - 8:43pm

Forests are outdoor classrooms.

This simple, yet powerful, statement drives home the U.S. Forest Service’s decades-long commitment to get kids outdoors, educate them about our natural resources and instill in them a life-long passion as future stewards of public lands. The vitality of these outdoor classrooms is behind the Forest Service’s investment of $1 million to leverage its current conservation education programs to increase More Kids in the Woods and Children’s Forests projects across the country.

With this funding, the Forest Service is able to designate and support the Tongass National Forest as a Children’s Forest. Kids in Southeast Alaska will have more opportunities to experience the great outdoors and gain first-hand knowledge and skill development about natural resources. This connection to conservation is vitally important for the future of our public lands and for the educational development of our youth — and it may even lead to future careers as forest stewardship leaders.

Tongass Children’s Forest programs will include more than 20 interpretive and educational programs and projects already being conducted, and add a new project linking audiences in small towns and villages with Alaska Native peoples; a bridging activity celebrating the International Year of Forests called the Forest of Words, which solicits literature and art from young people about the woods that are their “backyard.”

In addition, as a Children’s Forest the Tongass will continue partnering with the Alaska Teen Media Institute to train youth engaged in outdoor and environmental education programs in developing audio and video productions of their experiences in Alaska’s National Forests. The training not only enhances each youth’s experience by exposing them to new technologies and career opportunities, but harnesses youthful energy and creativity to increase broader public awareness, understanding of the benefits of Alaska’s forests. To allow efficient use of resources and sustainability over the long-term as wel1 as reaching the maximum number of youth, the training will be integrated with existing programs in Alaska, primarily through the Children’s Forest initiative and its existing emphasis areas, budget direction and staff commitments.

Kids that live in Southeast Alaska are familiar with the outdoors; they also appreciate the value of technology, and its ability to span great distances. They are also deeply bound by family and community traditions. To instill a value for these experiences is at the core of the Tongass Children’s Forest.

Nationally, more than 4 million young people participated in Forest Service conservation education programs last year. The Chugach Children’s Forest has been in existence in Southcentral Alaska since 2009, and it is encouraging to know that Southeast Alaska’s kids can now benefit from the Tongass Children’s Forest as well.

The Forest Service’s investment for this effort is enhanced by strong partner involvement. For the Tongass Children’s Forest, our partners include youth groups, school districts, state agencies, cities, environmental organizations, tourism companies, and Native organizations.

We are part of a growing national movement to bring kids to nature and nature to kids, an emphasis that requires much work to ensure that we are reaching as many children as possible with the best resources at our fingertips.

We are doing it for the kids. We are doing it for our great outdoors. We are doing it for our future.

• Pendleton has the overall responsibility for managing national forests in Alaska, including the Tongass National Forest — the nation’s largest.

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