SEACC reaches out to community with ad campaign

Detractors say 'getting to know' environmental group funded by Outside interests isn't easy

Posted: Monday, February 22, 2010

The environmental organization that Juneau's conservatives love to hate is reaching out to moderates through a print ad campaign that encourages, "Get to know us," with pictures of board members and a bit of their biographical information.

But getting to know an organization supported and funded by Outside interests is nearly impossible, said the executive director of the organization whose members are Southeast Alaska Conservation Council's most vociferous detractors.

"They get their power from Outside money, Outside people trying to influence what happens to the people of Southeast Alaska," First Things First Alaska Foundation Executive Director Sara Chambers said. "... So are they local, are their friends? People should find that out."

Half of SEACC's budget comes from out-of-state.

Executive Director Lindsey Ketchel, who moved to the region from Vermont little more than a year ago, said she knew there was tension in the community about the organization but found a lot of common ground in the last year.

SEACC has moved closer to the middle and stepped back from some of the timber litigation and is working more closely with locals, Ketchel said.

"I'm more optimistic because I've been here for a year and I see those opportunities where we can build some traction," she said.

After a few successful projects, like one in Hoonah that secured a timber sale for Icy Straights Lumber, Ketchel said she felt it was time to make a more public effort to "change the conversation."

The organization will spend as much as $10,000 on the ads, which are appearing in newspapers around the region.

First Things First organized last year to educate the public on the benefits of natural resource development and, according to its Web site, to correct "inaccuracies" about environmental protection directed at Alaskans, purportedly by groups like SEACC.

Chambers challenged whether faces in the ads represent who the organization "really" is.

"Does that reflect funding? All of their board? Their contributions?" Chambers said. "It would be really easy to find five people and say 'we're local,' but then get half a million dollars to front your little local effort and destroy lives in Southeast Alaska."

SEACC played party to decades of litigation that helped bust the region's timber industry. It has opposed the mine and the Juneau access road.

But SEACC has been blamed for many negative things that are not deserved, Communications Director Mark Gnadt said, such as being named as a perpetrator of court cases to which it is not a party. It has become Juneau's scapegoat for any failed development effort, he said.

The media campaign isn't designed to attract the good graces of the far right but is aimed at the middle.

"We really want people to get to know SEACC, and not the SEACC in the headlines in the paper," Ketchel said.

So, is SEACC local? Gnadt lists a few facts not in the ads:

• Twelve of 13 staff members lived in the region before getting hired.

• Board members must be residents of Southeast.

• One-quarter of the $900,000 annual budget comes from individuals and businesses in the region, another quarter comes from Alaskan communities and foundations, and half is from private Outside foundations, from which SEACC gets funds through writing grants.

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