A Summer with My Land - Environmental Stewardship through the eyes of Sealaska Natural Resource Intern

by McKenna Hunt, Sealaska 2018 communications summer intern

Picture this. You’re trekking through the deep brush on Prince of Wales Island, fighting off the mosquitos, basking in the dry Alaskan summer sun, all the while stopping now and then to take comfort in the intrepid silence that comes with setting foot onto the resilient land of Southeast Alaska. The fresh air fills your lungs, resulting in a clear mind, sense of freedom and inner peace. You think of your ancestors and all of a sudden become acutely aware of the vital responsibility you have to the land, air, and sea.
 
To be a natural resources intern for Sealaska isn’t your average day job. From island hopping on Prince of Wales to analyzing salmon species in Klawock to mapping streams in Hydaburg, work opportunities are vast and fall short of being monotonous. 
 
For forestries assistant and Sealaska natural resource intern Liz Castillo, stewarding the land is more than work - it’s her heritage, responsibility, and familial duty to her Haida ancestors.
 
As a sophomore at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Castillo is majoring in mathematics but was interested in trying something a little different for her internship this summer.
 
“I've been focusing on math, but I'm getting a little tired of that,” Castillo said. “I wanted to get this new experience and connect back with my family here in Hydaburg.”
 
As far as work goes, Castillo said she is doing something new each week.
 
“The first week I worked with Sealaska doing tree measurements on Prince of Wales, so I was just measuring tree diameter and height,” Castillo said. 
 
The following weeks Castillo was able to work with organizations like the Klawock and Hydaburg Cooperative Associations diving into hands-on work involving native species analysis. Castillo and fellow intern Talia Davis learned how to lavage salmon, which causes them to throw up, allowing to study what the fish were eating. Castillo also worked on a sea otter study with the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in order to see where the overpopulated animals were congregating in Southeast, wreaking havoc on shellfish populations. Mapping streams with the Forest Service, taking apart ill-placed beaver dams and maintaining trails with the TRAYLS program were other additions to Castillo’s opportunities.
 
Bob Girt, Sr. Environmental Compliance & Liaison Specialist for Sealaska Timber, has been involved with the Sealaska intern program since its beginnings and has witnessed individuals come and go on to be successful in their own endeavors.
 
“I’m a proponent of giving young people a broad range of experience early on in their career so they can get a good sense of direction,” Girt said. “I want to help them make a clear path of which direction they want to go.”
 
Castillo said that in addition to gaining a broad range of biology experience within the intern program, she has also rekindled a special connection to her Haida homeland through spending time with her family in Hydaburg picking berries, tea leaves and simply being outside. Witnessing her family's struggle to harvest enough fish for the season first hand was also enough for Castillo to consider changing career paths.
 
“I know personally my family and Hydaburg has been struggling with getting enough fish this season so it's kind of sad that the charter fishermen are coming in, taking all the fish and then leaving,” Castillo said. “That made me want to get more into oceans and fisheries so I could help the land.”
 
As Castillo reflects on her time during the internship program, she said the experience has overall been a great one full of diverse opportunities and cherished memories. 
 
“It’s really cool to be outdoors and learning something new, even if it's just different plant names," Castillo said. "Be prepared to be outdoors, but it’s a great experience. You get paid to hike!”
 
The Sealaska internship program lasts 10 weeks. Intern applications open January 1 of each year including opportunities like Castillo's and many others. Find out more information on Sealaska's intern program page.