The Tyonek Tribal Conservation District (TTCD), the first of its kind in Alaska, was established in 2005 to preserve the natural resources of this southern Alaskan village in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The residents of Tyonek known as Dena’ina Atabascans, call themselves the Tebughna, or “beach people,” due to their reliance on salmon from the streams near their homes. The Tebughna have occupied Tyonek dating back 1,500 years and are dependent on the land and its resources for food, fuel, jobs, and their cultural identity. Founded by a cooperative effort between the Native Village of Tyonek (NVT), the Tyonek Native Corporation (TNC), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the TTCD was established to engage with an entire community and its stakeholders to see conservation goals become a reality.
Christy Cincotta, Executive Director, believes that “conservation efforts are most successful when local landowners and community members are engaged and involved in decision making. TTCD proves a way for landowners, community members, and stakeholders to get involved in managing their own resources.”
Tebughna, “Beach People”
Tyonek ancestors built their villages near several streams where an abundancy of salmon became the main source of food. In the late 1880s, canneries and the salmon industry became a means of trading goods and cash for the Tebughna. Up until the 1990s, commercial and subsistence fishing were the only means of economic stability for the village of Tyonek. Commercial fishing has seen a significant decline but subsistence fishing still provides a main food source.
Due to this rich history and a dependence on salmon, the Fish Passage and Habitat Program are a top priority for TTCD, the landowners, and their stakeholders. The NCT, the TNC, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have worked cooperatively to remove fish passage barriers, in the case of the Tyonek Creek Culvert Replacement and the Indian Creek Fish Passage Improvement, and are working towards future improvements, such as a Watershed Action Plan and Invasive Plant Survey and Control.
TTCD values a community-driven approach to conservation; Cincotta and the rest of the TTCD staff work with the community to achieve their goals: “By working directly with local landowners and community members to help them achieve their conservation goals, we are able to have a powerful impact. Through regular meetings with community members, stakeholders, and landowners, TTCD works with all interested parties to find common conservation goals and then develop strategies to achieve those goals. All of our current programs and projects have been derived from the goals of local individual and stakeholders.” Through the
Technical Assistance Program, TTCD works with USDA programs to achieve a variety of conservation goals set by the community. Previously, they have provided a free spay and neuter clinic for pets in their community, and they hope to develop a forest stewardship plan for all TNC lands as well as a feasibility study for a fish processing plant.
Through the USDA, Tyonek has also received funding to work with two other Tribal Conservation Districts in Alaska—Mountain Village and Kwethluk. TTCD has traveled to these other Tribal Conservation Districts to assist in program developments.
A Sustainable Future
A central focus of TTCD is the education of youth community members and engaging them in conservation efforts. As part of their Tyonek Youth Conservation Science program, TTCD staff work closely with the local K-12 staff in Tyonek teaching hands-on science lessons to all students. In addition, they partner with other organizations to host seasonal culture camps focusing on and directly engaging in conservation efforts.
The involvement of youth extends to Tyonek Grown, a successful agricultural program that yields fresh organic produce through sustainable means. Tyonek Grown “is unique”, says Cincotta. “It is an off the road system, in an Alaska Native community, run on renewable energy, organic and focuses on youth education. This innovative garden has inspired people within Tyonek, and has generated interest in gardening in other Alaskan communities.”
In 2014, TTCD hired 4 youth works to spend the summer in the Tyonek Garden, learning the aspect of garden management; this program will continue on this year and into the future. Students have also participated in both moose and salmon habitat restoration efforts. With only 180 people residing in Tyonek—and more and more people leaving for education or jobs—TTCD hopes that by engaging youth in their conservation efforts, such efforts will continue long into the future.
Cincotta emphasizes the importance of partnerships: “TTCD projects have been successful because we work on projects that are not only important to community members and landowners, but others as well. The trick is to find the groups and individuals that share your goal, and to work together to achieve something larger than you could achieve on your own as a small nonprofit. Our partners differ based on the particular project, but we’ve always found that if there is a project that we really care about, that there are others that share an interest.”
The Tyonek Tribal Conservation District is a non-regulatory organization whose mission is to conserve, enhance, and encourage the wise use of the natural resources in the District through cooperative relationships with any and all interested parties. The TTCD is guided by three core values: to meet the needs of district stakeholders, to form cooperative relationships, and to use what the earth has to give.
Jordan Smith is a recent graduate of NC State, holding her Master’s degree in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition