James Marcus brought 250 red currant bushes and several dozen Saskatoon berry bushes to communities in Southeast Alaska over the last year. The bushes were part of an effort to spread the word about the Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District, an organization that hopes to serve as a kind of clearinghouse for information and resources to support agriculture and fight invasive species in the region.
“We sold them at the wholesale price,” Marcus said. “The idea was to get out into communities without nurseries.”
Marcus is the district manager for the organization, which gets some funding from the state but is also supported by grants. The district was chartered into the Alaska Association of Conservation Districts in September. Before that, Marcus said, Southeast was lumped into a large conservation district with other unorganized parts of the state. Marcus said having a conservation district focused on solutions that work in Southeast would be good for communities in the region. He said the district will work with existing organizations in the region and is seeking additional project ideas from the public.
“What we’re trying to do is connect folks and see if we can leverage our resources in smaller communities so not everyone is reinventing the wheel,” Marcus said. “We’re looking at existing efforts that could use additional support or projects that are just coming to into fruition and maybe we can help kick-start them. It could be agriculture education or developing a co-op model for shellfish farming.”
Marcus said the district is open to any ideas that are in line with its mission.
Marcus said the district has already partnered with the cooperative extension service at the University of Alaska Southeast, the City of Gustavus and the Haines borough. He said the organization is also working with the Southeast Conference and the Southeast Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership.
The district has set new goals in its 2014 work plan. Some of those goals include researching and testing plots of fruit-bearing plants that will thrive in Southeast, supporting mariculture development in rural communities and contributing to efforts that fight invasive species.
“We’re just now getting to the stage where we’re on relatively sure footing from an organizational standpoint,” Marcus said. “We’re always looking for input from the public.”