Alaska Region shares USDA and Forest Service awards with Southeast Alaska

    Provided by the USDA

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - A redefinition of what federal business as usual means in Southeast Alaska and the breaking down of barriers with a focus on collaboration can now be called ‘award-winning.’

    The Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy is centered around a commitment to listen first and lead with local voices. For the past year and a half, a OneUSDA team has been focused on the expansion of opportunities in economic development and improved quality of life in rural and tribal communities, along with partners and tribes who have been doing this work for decades.

    In recognition of this stance, the team was named a USDA Secretary’s Honor Awardee and a winner of a 2022 Forest Service Chief’s Award too. Both accolades come on the heels of a Regional Forester award for the same project and team during the Alaska Region’s annual employee awards in October 2022.

    The investment effort began in 2021 when USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy. The strategy was comprised of four components– restoring the 2001 roadless rule, ending large-scale old-growth timber sales on the Tongass National Forest, strengthening relationships with Tribal Nations, and identifying local short- and long-term investments.

    To meet the investment intent, the team, comprised of members from the Forest Service, Rural Development, and the Natural Resources Conversation Service, worked to invest $25 million in home-grown, locally-driven sustainability projects in the region.

    The real force behind the initiative’s success was being able to engage in meaningful consultations with Tribal Nations and Alaska Native Corporations and implement a robust public engagement plan to seek input. Local voices drove the effort to identify project ideas and allocate investments based on community priorities, diverse needs, and equity for wide geographic and community distribution.

    “Listening first made all the difference,” said Alaska Region Regional Forester Dave Schmid. “It was a process of discovery, innovation, and learning that led to relationships that share a common goal.”

    By fall 2022, nearly 70 Southeast Alaska projects were awarded and are now in the implementation phase.

    The USDA Secretary’s Honor Awards recognize noteworthy accomplishments that significantly contribute to the advancement of the department’s strategic goals, mission, priorities, and service to people.

    The 2022 Forest Service Chief’s Honor Award recognizes employees and teams for outstanding efforts toward the agency’s goals. This award, for Goal 2 – Delivering Benefits to the Public, was presented on March 14.

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