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Hoonah Stewards

Supporting stewardship and community resilience in rural Alaska

Hoonah is a small rural community on Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska. Many of the residents are Alaska Natives and many, to some degree, live a subsistence lifestyle. Industrial logging operations in the 80s and 90s provided jobs and economic growth, but when most of the easily accessible timber was extracted, jobs dried up and few opportunities have arisen since. To address the economic and environmental challenges faced by the community, a group of federal and state agencies, Alaska Native corporations, the Hoonah Indian Association, and private NGOs came together to create the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership (HNFP). The partnership is focused on improving the health of the watershed while also building a more diverse and resilient economy through a blend of timber, salmon, and deer harvesting.

A big goal of the HNFP partnership was to involve the greater community in decision-making around land and watershed management. To do so, the HNFP wanted to create a tool that would enable information exchange and better communication between landowners and managers and residents of the Hoonah community. Because of our experience building decision support tools, they reached out to Ecotrust to support these efforts.

Now, the Hoonah Stewards tool — a mobile-first platform that responds to needs of both land managers and community members alike — is currently in development.

The initial phase of our tool development process takes a variety of technical elements into consideration, but is still fairly analog: lots of listening. With focused outreach and multiple rounds of surveys, we were able to determine basic tool features and functions that satisfy the variety of needs identified and and prioritize future updates.

As a small Southeast Alaska community, Hoonah has relatively low cellular connectivity and little internet access. Most of the residents use mobile devices, either smartphones or tablets, to connect to the internet. Taking that into consideration, our tool is designed to be fully functional on a mobile device, with some additional functionality that can be accessed through a desktop web browser.

But building this kind of technology platform is only part of the challenge: tools like this only work when they speak the community’s language and make it easy for them to engage. When they first begin using the tool, users are invited to become a “Hoonah Steward” and join a network of fellow community members who are actively co-managing the land they rely on. The features of the tool echo elements of seasonal life in the community. They include updates and important information about road incidents and closures along with the ability to report new issues or other travel-related announcements. Users can also keep track of hunting and gathering activities in a logbook, which can be kept for personal use or shared with other users in the network. In addition, the tool includes a round-up of job opportunities in the area.

The land management side is designed to provide two key functions: Improving two-way communication and coordination between land managers, landowners, and community members. Both land managers and community members want more transparency into decision-making around land management and how those decisions affect hunting, gathering, harvesting, and job opportunities. To support these goals with the tool, land managers can upload data from field work; view and explore mapping data layers; design land management, road maintenance, and riparian restoration projects; facilitate community meetings to review, prioritize, or design projects; and share information with community about the watershed plan.

While we know that building this tool alone will not solve problems faced by the community and land managers, actively managing information and using the tool to collaborate can help people in Hoonah co-create a path forward.

Stay tuned! We’ll share more updates about the progress of Hoonah Stewards as the project continues.