SEACC hires new executive director

Vermont woman says she'll continue with Tongass collaboration

Posted: Thursday, January 08, 2009

Being an activist in Vermont was too easy, said Lindsay Ketchel. Everyone was progressive.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"I want to be on the front lines, where there's real opportunity to change," she said.

She'll now get her chance. Ketchel is the new executive director at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, an organization that has been through war in this community over timber and mines. But in the last several years, SEACC has been retooling itself as a body of listeners and compromisers.

"Times have changed," Ketchel said. "We don't necessarily need the intensity of the approach before. That's why I came here."

SEACC was founded in 1970, and is a coalition of 13 Southeast conservation groups. It has 2,166 individual members, of whom 62 percent are Alaska residents. The membership has grown 63 percent since 2002.

Compromise was a focus for outgoing director Russell Heath, who brought SEACC to the Tongass Futures Roundtable, where loggers and environmentalists began to look for common ground in a lower-drama environment.

Consensus is not the only strategy. Ketchel is inheriting legal battles, including the years-long fight over the Kensington Mine tailings plan that will be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

But compromises have begun to emerge, too. This year, Tongass interest groups started to hash out a big plan for the Tongass. It's still nebulous, said Heath, and no one has endorsed anything yet.

Areas will include some acres that are conserved, a "stewardship forest" of areas needing restoration, a "working forest" managed under U.S. Forest Service plans - land that would leave the Tongass and become a private timber trust - and acres to fulfill Southeast's regional Alaska Native corporation Sealaska's land entitlement.

"The concept will only move forward with broad support," Heath said.

Navigating among the many Tongass users - loggers, miners, hunters, fishermen, recreational users, Alaska Natives and others - will be a big part of Ketchel's job as compromise-seeker in this and other projects.

But with no experience in Alaska, she has a steep learning curve. The transition has helped; Ketchel spent the last month with Heath still around. And she'll be traveling in Southeast as much as she can, starting in the spring, to get to know rural residents.

At times, Ketchel speaks as if she were leading a development organization. She talks about jobs, improving transportation and lowering rural energy prices. That is in line with the recent SEACC emphasis on small-scale timber harvests and other projects that meld conservation and development.

"It's about maximizing every ounce of resource," Ketchel said. "You can have more jobs - it just takes creativity."

Ketchel also will be hunting down resources for SEACC. Foundations account for a substantial portion of SEACC's $1 million annual budget, and nationwide most of them have lost assets recently. SEACC is well funded, she said, but the next several years are uncertain for many such organizations.

Ketchel has experience in nonprofit management and activism, particularly in rural economic development. She last worked for Heifer International, a nonprofit that gives animals to poor people around the world so they can raise their own food.

She's also the third generation in a family of homesteaders and, until she left Vermont, a herder of rare Navajo sheep.

They taught her patience, among other things.

"You take what's given to you," she said. "And from the sweat equity, there can be a tremendous amount of rewards."

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or

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