From October 15-19th, five Alaskan teens attended the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico as representatives of the Chugach Children’s Forest Youth Leadership Team.
The four Anchorage School District high school students and one freshman at the University of Alaska-Anchorage were among the youngest participants at the Conference, yet they made their voices heard in a variety of forums. The youth delivered presentations on their personal experiences in Wilderness, participated in panel discussions about how to maintain the relevancy of Wilderness for their generation, gave concrete suggestions to public lands managers regarding how to effectively engage youth in the outdoors, and networked with many Wilderness professionals and fellow youth attendees. One of the Children’s Forest youth, Gloria, had the amazing honor to introduce two illustrious speakers before their keynote speeches – Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and Sarah James, a Gwich’in environmental leader who has tirelessly fought for the protection of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.
The organizers of the National Wilderness Conference were intentional in their efforts to meaningfully engage youth in discussions about the future of Wilderness, and the attendees were eager to hear from youth directly about their perspectives. This was clear to the youth, who felt deeply empowered by their experiences at the conference. Youth Leaders, Anna and Calesia, said:
“I felt that the agencies were genuinely interested in what we, as youth, had to say, and I discovered that they care about our opinions. This was a very empowering realization as it means that I, alongside my peers, possess the power to influence and ensure the future of Wilderness.” – Anna
“I had an AWESOME time! I represented Alaska, but most importantly I represented the youth of this generation. I was once again was blessed with the opportunity to do/be apart of something profoundly remarkable.” – Calesia
The five youth were able to attend the National Wilderness Conference thanks to funding from the Alaska Region of the USDA Forest Service, the Association of Partners for Public Lands, and Alaska Geographic.