Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
April 2006

Outreach in Rural Alaska

By Jon Lyman
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Jason Lynch has been working for Sport Fish Division since he was a sophomore in high school. He is currently a fisheries student at the University of Idaho. Photo courtesy Jason Lynch.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish staff have provided aquatic education to schools throughout rural Alaska for more than a decade. The division is now partnering with other divisions and agencies to identify high school students who are interested in the biological and social sciences, and to help them toward careers in the field of their choice. This effort is part of a much broader ongoing effort statewide on the part of Fish and Game to recruit the next generation of fish and wildlife researchers and managers from today’s Alaska youth. Commissioner McKie Campbell wants to assure that the department’s manpower needs are met with well educated and dedicated Alaskans. To do this, we are cooperating in several partnerships across Alaska.

In Southcentral, Region II, the intern program employs four of the region’s young people each year on division research projects. Since 2001, 11 high school age interns have worked for the division, and at least seven of these have moved on to college intern positions and/or the Fish and Wildlife technician series. These intern positions are highly competitive in recruiting from area schools, with students working in Soldotna, Palmer, Anchorage, Homer and Dillingham this year.

“We’ve had a great deal of success with interns,” says Saree Timmons, Region II Regional Information Biologist, “They gain experience in one or two summers with us to make decisions on what they want to do with their lives. Interns have competed successfully for and are employed as fish technicians on a seasonal basis now.”

In rural Alaska, many of the seasonal positions with the department are located in the Commercial Fisheries Division. A working group formed by Commissioner Campbell is attempting to determine how the school programs supported by Sport Fish staff can identify qualified high school students for internship positions to provide the experience needed to compete for the entry level Commercial Fisheries jobs. In rural areas this is not as easy as it might be in urban Alaska. There are fewer jobs that do not require training, students must have housing and transportation covered outside their work, and high school age students may need additional support from field staff. Even so, the idea is to fill the niche between school programs and university degree programs with meaningful seasonal employment with the department.

A similar effort is planned with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Prince of Wales Island for the summer of 2006. Rural students will be trained in the skills needed to take fish and wildlife technician jobs with a broad variety of agencies. For information on this program, contact Glenn Chen with the BIA at (907) 271-4111.

Two programs at the University of Alaska promise to help seasonal fish and wildlife employees in their work toward degrees in biology. At the University of Alaska Anchorage, a very rigorous scholarship program exists in the School of Science and Engineering for rural students. Those who are selected for the program are supported during their freshman summer in Anchorage, where they work for sponsoring agencies and businesses in their field and must perform at college level to maintain their scholarships. At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, the School of Fisheries has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to identify and recruit rural students. NOAA has committed $50,000 to this effort this year. The Fish and Game Outreach working group expects to cooperate with both of these programs to provide students in urban and rural areas the support they need to become Alaska’s next generation of biologist and social scientists.

Jon Lyman is an information officer with the Division of Sport Fish.

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