Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Guest editorial: Kenai Watershed Forum teaching love of the outdoors

Here in Alaska, we are blessed with a wealth of natural resources from oil to salmon, lumber to gold. Often, different groups of users have different ideas of what should be done with those resources. Many Alaskans stood proudly chanting “drill, baby, drill” as we watched our governor on a national stage calling for the development of Alaska’s oil fields, while many other Alaskans proudly display their “No Pebble Mine” stickers on their cars, trucks, bikes and mandolin cases. The views on how to make the best use of these resources are about as varied as the resources themselves.

The Kenai Watershed Forum is dedicated to protecting the many wonderful resources on the Kenai Peninsula and helping with responsible development and use of them. The Kenai Watershed Forum is also working on developing the most important resource in all of Alaska: its youth.

Through its education programs, the Kenai Watershed Forum is creating informed decision makers who will inherit the results of decisions made by adults today. Every school year, Kenai Watershed Forum staff works with local schools in the classroom and in the field to increase students’ understanding and appreciation of the places they live.

This year, the Kenai Watershed Forum is working on a monthly basis with 11 classes in six different schools through its Adopt-A-Stream program. These students are learning about water quality and watersheds in the classroom and in the field, traveling to streams for monthly water quality monitoring. By providing hands-on, field-based science opportunities, students are not only given the chance to explore their environment, but also to practice scientific procedure and application. Other classes have been involved in KWF educational programming on the subjects of watersheds, ecology, cold-weather safety and wetlands.

While the lessons taught by Kenai Watershed Forum staff strive to increase students’ awareness of their surroundings, the goal of the lessons isn’t to turn everyone into “tree-hugging dirt worshipers.” Instead, the educational programming is designed to offer a chance for students to increase their knowledge of what it takes to keep our watersheds healthy, and to foster an appreciation for their environment. In his book, “Beyond Ecophobia,” author David Sobel suggests, “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”

That is what the Kenai Watershed Forum strives to do, not only in the classrooms, but in the community, as well: to create an appreciation for the wonderful place in which we live, and to encourage exploration that leads to a better understanding of who we are and how we fit into the plan for our environment’s future.

Dan Pascucci is the education coordinator for the Kenai Watershed Forum.

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