What Comes With Light

In the north, we give special thanks for Winter Solstice, the season when daylight begins the slow crawl back to the leading edge of morning and filters through winter birch branches and across frozen rivers. This season is a balance between stillness and sentience. It is a time of reflecting back and forward as one year gives way to another.

With light, comes the opportunity to see new objects and paths, and re-envision those that were already visible. Our film project, Understory, enters its full moon phase - available now to anyone and everyone for screening parties and showings. The film became a “Staff Pick” on the public viewing channel Vimeo, and it's been watched nearly 100,000 times across platforms. The partnership on this film includes Alaska grown companies like Sitka Salmon Shares, and conservation partner companies like Peak Design. The film is narrated, designed, and led by Elsa Sebastian, in close consultation with Marina Anderson, two daughters of Taan, or Prince of Wales Island, in the heart of the Tongass. Mara Menahan is one of my former students, and together, we created a women-led project to highlight the stories of a place we love and cherish, and are excited to help usher in a new season of light as the USDA Forest Service begins the public process to reinstate the Roadless Rule, and designs a new sustainability strategy for the region.

This month we also supported the release of Paving Tundra, a film by Jayme Dittmar, a producer, amazing Alaska dog musher, and good friend to Audubon. We first gave an early viewing of this film to a packed house in an Anchorage brewery before the start of the pandemic. Now, we are excited to elevate the voices of communities and leaders who are pushing to prevent this infrastructure project from finding new legs with support from the state of Alaska. Audubon recently co-authored a study on the wilderness impacts of the Ambler road and the paper explains how values such as “wilderness character” are measured by the National Park Service, and how these values will be diminished by the construction of the Ambler Road. Wilderness becomes a way to defend places and ways of life.

Finally, our journey into the light encompasses one of reflection as an organization. We continue to build on our work for a just and meaningful path for the present and future of conservation. In recent weeks, we have been able to meet with Biden administration leadership, supporting their commitment to build renewed government-to-government relationships with Sovereign Tribal Nations, acknowledging their indigenous stewardship of the lands and waters across our state and country, and their “first in right” rights holding to these lands and waters. This work means that traditional conservation groups do not always lead, rather, we support, learn and listen. You will see our commitment to this work now and in the future, as we work to strengthen partnerships and do our work, in the words of our friend Sarah James, “in a good way”.

As this year comes to a close, we reflect forward on the ways we will leap into a new year together. Please come along with us for this journey.

The Chilkat Range
The Chilkat Range. Photo: Natalie Dawson

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