Juneau could get a new cooperative extension agent this fall, University of Alaska Fairbanks officials said last week.
UAF Cooperative Extension Service Director Tony Nakazawa announced at a meeting with community leaders in Juneau that a nationwide search was beginning for someone to replace Extension Land Resources Agent Jim Douglas. Since he retired last June, his position has been vacant.
Douglas had been in the post for 20 years and became a fixture in the community, working with youth and gardeners, he said. Douglas wasn't replaced because of rising costs, Nakazawa said.
Getting an agent for Juneau and northern Southeast Alaska will require financial support from the communities he will serve, he said.
"They're going to find novel ways to fund the position," said Associate Extension Director Bill Butler.
Ed Buyarski of the Juneau Master Gardeners said he believes there is enough support for an extension agent to return to Juneau. The gardeners already are looking for inexpensive office space for the agent, and through his landscaping business, he is one of the people who has committed to a donation.
The Master Gardeners lobbied for the university to hire a new extension agent and even talked to state Rep. Bruce Weyrauch of Juneau, Buyarski said.
The passion for gardening in Juneau makes the position important, but an agent means more to Juneau, as well as such communities as Skagway, Hoonah and Angoon, he said. The agent serves as coordinator for 4H clubs, which serve more than 700 youths and adult leaders, he said.
"He works with small businesses like mine," Buyarski added. "Jim (Douglas) helped me when I came to this community. He helped with getting the community garden going."
Initially, there was disappointment at the idea that the community would be asked to help financially support the new extension agent. But Bethel already is being asked to financially support its agent, he said.
Butler said that when a vacancy occurs in Anchorage, the community will face the same budget constraints. Elsewhere in the country, counties are asked to pick up part of the tab for university extension agents, he pointed out.
Nakazawa said local funding is fundamental to continuing the extension agent program.
"Federal funding has been stagnant for years," he said, adding that state funding cuts have compounded the problem. "It was these budget realities that led to the decision not to fill Douglas' position when he retired."
In an official statement, UAF officials said community members will participate in selecting the new agent by helping to screen applications and interview candidates.
Buyarski said that because the new agent will have to work closely with the community, he is looking for someone good at dealing with people.
"I hope the Master Gardeners are involved in the interviews," he added.
Tony Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.