Story last updated at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, October 24, 2002

Homer students address conservation conference
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

Attendees at the Alaska Association of Conservation Districts' fall conference at Land's End Resort Thursday morning heard a couple of strong messages on the environment and education from the group of high school students from Homer who competed in the 2002 Canon Envirothon held last summer in Amherst, Mass.

First, if you're comfortable with Kachemak Bay's cool summer breezes, stay away from the East Coast during high summer. Temperatures during the July 28-Aug. 3 event were well into the 90s, Envirothon team member Cameron Poindexter said. It was so unbearable that he said he was forced to seek relief by crawling into a refrigerator, twice.

"Man, it was hot," Poindexter said.

Since they were participating in a biannual gathering of nearly 70 conservation district employees and other guests, the students had another, more poignant message -- that education in natural resource science and management is a major benefit to Alaska students.

That argument had particular resonance for Len Wheeles of Anchorage and Al Poindexter of Anchor Point, who are both education coordinators for their conservation districts.

"These kids are the people who are going to be filling these seats in the years to come," Wheeles said during a speech proposing the creation of a statewide education coordinator who would help the districts ramp up education outreach.

He noted that, among other things, a state-level education coordinator could direct a push to get the state of Alaska to institute a natural resources curriculum for state schools.

He also pointed to the kind of hands-on learning the Homer Envirothon team participated in with the 49 other teams from the U.S. and abroad.

The need for more hands-on learning with natural resources technology prompted Al Poindexter to team up with Homer Community Schools to offer a class that is part natural sciences, part vocational education.

Started this fall, that class meets twice a week and, like the Envirothon program, it focuses on the fundamentals of natural resources studies -- with components in soils, aquatics, forestry and wildlife management.

But along with the sections on agriculture, biotechnology and natural resource tools and equipment, Poindexter said, the class has a number of sections that are more specifically tailored to Alaska, such as a study of fisheries that includes a visit to a salmon hatchery.

The 12 kids in the class also recently took to the Kenai Nation Wildlife Refuge by canoe for a weekend trip that combined the outdoor recreation and leadership skills components with the aquatics discipline.

And like the Envirothon, there will be some focus on how natural resources and their development affect the communities of the Kenai Peninsula.

"What was interesting at the Envirothon was that its focus was on real life issues that the city fathers (of Amherst) are facing," said Poindexter, who also is the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District forester. "They used this young think tank to develop a plan for how to utilize a $220,000 federal grant."

Getting the kids up to speed with the changes that are under way in Alaska's natural resources economy is important not just for the kids, Poindexter said, but for Alaska society as whole.

"We have been trying to diversify Alaska's economy, and I think it's failed miserably," Poindexter said. "The only way is to give these young minds a glimpse of a sense of opportunity."

He emphasized that the economic future for Alaska's kids depends on their recognizing that natural resources are not just a matter of economic production, but need to be managed responsibly.

Student Brad Hayes, who was also an Envirothon team member, said he guessed that as the natural resources technology class progresses, it would begin to deal with some of the local problems facing resource managers, government officials and the residents of Homer.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer