Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
May 2006

Rural Outdoor Skills Programs Teach Safety

By Jon Lyman
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Teaching fly casting in Yakutat.

For the past ten years the Department of Fish and Game has partnered in Southeast villages with Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program to deliver outdoor skills training focused on safety. The program has trained teachers and students from Hyder to Yakutat in a variety of outdoor skills and how to enjoy Southeast Alaska safely. In 2005, volunteers returned for the third time to Yakutat schools where over 600 students have received Hunter Education training since 2000.

Volunteers from the University of Alaska Southeast Fly Fishing Club will bring a refresher course and additional training in watershed health to Yakutat this spring.

The Rural Outdoor Skills course is based on the Juneau 4-H outdoor skills club, which has been active for the past 19 years. More than 500 kids and their parents have been club members in that time, learning firearms safety, camping skills, survival techniques, fly tying and fly fishing, decoy carving, fishing lure construction and rod building. The club members tied flies each week during March and April, and shoot every month in the Juneau indoor range as one of four rotating themes this year, thanks to support from the department and the Territorial Sportsmen. Every Father’s Day weekend, club volunteers sponsor a campout and cookout for senior men. Called the Father’s Day Fly In, club members hike canoes and gear into Windfall Lake north of Juneau and senior men from the Pioneer Home are flown in by Ward Air to fish with the kids. At the core of the outdoor skills program has been a commitment from Division of Sport Fish and Division of Wildlife Conservation staff to partner with 4-H volunteer leaders to provide long term mentoring support to students and their parents in Southeast.

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After several flytying classes, students are challenged to tie a wooly bugger blindfolded.

This partnership and a continuing commitment to long term mentoring energizes a team of up to 20 volunteers who take similar programs to villages each year. Besides hands-on delivery of programs to students, such as the courses in Yakutat, outdoor skills training may be provided to local teachers and interested adults. In 2002, 48 teachers and two dozen volunteers from Hyder, Sitka, and Prince of Wales Island came together in Craig for four days of work on courses involving firearms safety, boating safety, ocean kayaking, watershed health, fly fishing and gardening. Several of the clubs and in-school programs started by these volunteers are still active. Eight of the Craig volunteers came to Juneau in March 2006, for the regional Hunter Education training. They are part of the Prince of Wales Hunter Safety program, and are still mentoring Southeast youth. Department staff and 4-H volunteers have taught and initiated programs in the communities of Craig, Hoonah, Angoon, Juneau and Yakutat.

As the 4-H outdoor skills club in Juneau moves into its third decade, volunteer leaders are hoping to expand this effort to include a partnership being forged with Boys and Girls Clubs in Alaska. Long term mentoring efforts like these have proven successful in recruiting new anglers and hunters to outdoor sports.

Jon Lyman is an information officer with the Division of Sport Fish at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau.

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