Alaska Youth for Environmental Action Gather to Address Elected Officials

from Wildlife Promise

Student delegates at the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action Civics & Conservation Summit in March with Governor Sean Parnell. (Photo courtesy of AYEA)

Displaying initiative I couldn’t have imagined as a teenager, 24 young activists (ages 13-18) from around Alaska gathered in Juneau last month for the 12th annual Civics and Conservation Summit, sponsored by Alaska Youth for Environmental Action(AYEA, an NWF project).

The theme for the Civics & Conservation Summit was “Local Food & Wild Salmon,” but its purpose went far beyond that.

During the training, delegates worked on talking to media; talking to elected officials; how to read a bill; and how to impact decisions leaders make about the environment. They also honed their public speaking skills through skits and group presentations.

The students had a chance to meet Governor Sean Parnell and honor AYEA’s Legislators of the Year (State Senators Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak), Hollis French (D-Anchorage) and Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage)), but the most important aspect of the summit was the time student delegates spent advocating for some issues vital to the future of the state’s natural resources.

See a few of the delegates in the video below talking about their reasons for loving Wild Alaskan salmon, or listen to this story by Juneau’s KTOO “Young Conservationists learn about legislative process.”

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Some issues on AYEA’s docket, from AYEA Program Manager Megan McBride:

  • Senate Bill 3 – An Act providing for state funding for school lunch and breakfast. Alaska is one of just a few states that don’t provide any state funding to match federal funds. For several years, AYEA teens have been advocating for more local Alaskan food to be served in schools. Two years ago, AYEA advocated for the Farm to School Bill that facilitates locally grown products to be served in Alaskan schools. Given the tight budget school food is on, however, it’s been hard to make progress since that bill has passed.
    • Madeline Rafferty (Age 17, Fairbanks): “This bill is essential in providing healthier meals to students all across the state by incorporating locally grown and caught food in school lunches. Not only would this improve the quality of school lunches, but it would support the local businesses providing this food. It is well known that eating a healthy breakfast increases academic performance and doing so will raise test scores.”
  • House Bill 100 – The bill outlaws growing or cultivating genetically engineered fish in the state. GE salmon has been a topic at the federal level after a company submitted a request for a permit to grow and sell GE salmon in the US. Alaska’s federal delegation – Senators Murkowski (R) and Begich (D) and Representative Young (R)- have all sponsored or signed on to legislation to ban GE salmon in the US. Alaska’s state legislators are on the same page, and AYEA teens are behind them!
    • Hunter Doan, Youth Trainer (Age 15, Seward): “If one of these GMO fish were to escape in to the wild, it would be disastrous to the ecosystem. GMO fish are bred to grow faster and eat more than wild fish. Since they eat so much, they would eat all of the wild salmon’s food. If House Bill 100 passes, it will prevent big fish farming companies from coming in and taking the jobs of local commercial fisherman.”
  • Senate Bill 152 – The bill mandates legislative approval for mining operation that could affect water in or flowing into or over the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. It is intended to slow down or stall the Pebble Mine project, and for good reason—Bristol Bay is Alaska’s richest commercial fishery and “one of America’s most spectacular places.” The region’s pure waters, healthy habitat and breathtaking wilderness setting generate millions of dollars for the local economy, attract trophy salmon and trout anglers from all over the world, and support the centuries-old subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Natives—all jeopardized by mining operations
    • Bill Sponsor Sen. French: “[I]t’s an important conversation starter. It’s important for them to know that they have people in the building who are willing to advance ideas that may not always get there. But you have to have the dialog, you have to have the debate, and so I’m proud to be a part of that.”
    • Read more: Yes on 152 Juneau Empire Letter to the Editor by Mariah Savoie (Age 15, Anchorage)
  • Senate Bill 27 – The bill would phase out the use, sale and manufacture of products containing toxic flame retardant chemicals (PBDEs, which are used in furniture and household appliances and may actually make fires more deadly). Though Alaska has very little chemical manufacturing in-state, these chemicals concentrate in the arctic through a process of bioaccumulation and Alaska ends up with disproportionately high amounts.
    • Bill sponsor Sen. Wielechowski: “They knew what they were talking about. They had done a lot of research […] They asked me some very pointed questions about it, which showed they really had been studying it.”
    • Rowan Heinemann (Age 17, Fairbanks) summed it up nicely: “We know the risks that PBDEs present, and now we have a chance to protect ourselves and future generations from these hazardous materials.”
    • Read more: Ban PBDEs Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Letter to the Editor by Youth Trainer Emily Brease (Age 18, Healy)