Copper River Basin Symposium: Tradition, Science, and Stewardship Take Root

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A geologist,  a biologist, and an archaeologist walk into a room….it sounds like the start of a joke, but it really happened in

Robin Mayo, CRWP Board President
Photo Credit: Luke Schmidt

late February at the inaugural Copper River Basin Symposium at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Visitor Center.  And the results were inspiring!

The idea first appeared at a CRWP staff meeting in 2018.  The Copper River Delta has a long-running science symposium which focuses on the region as a system.  Could we help create a similar forum for the Copper River Basin? Like a snowball, the seed of an idea picked up layers as it was rolled around, adding partners and scope.  How about including and honoring traditional ecological knowledge? What if we dug deeper on a keystone topic, salmon habitat? What partners would share the vision and help make it a reality?

Settling on a theme of Tradition, Science, and Stewardship, the idea took root. The two-day symposium included keynote speakers, 26 short presentations, and a poster session.  A panel discussion delved into opportunities and challenges in working with indigenous communities. Ahtna elders provided wisdom in daily welcomes, and there was a presentation by Copper River Stewardship Program youth.

Topics ranged widely from fisheries to archaeology to geology, but all related closely to the Copper River Basin.  As well as sharing knowledge, participants shared meals, personal connections, stories, and ideas. Moose stew and salmon chowder nourished and rooted us to the land.

From the perspective of a board member, this event represents the heart of CRWP:  convening people and knowledge, celebrating our commonalities, finding bridges across our differences.  Like so many of our programs, it simply could not have happened without a team of partners: Ahtna Heritage Foundation, Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, Wrangell Mountains Center, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

The symposium was a celebration of the region, and the hard work done by the people who study, manage, love, and rely on our resources. It inspired growth and cooperation between diverse groups, and helped raise awareness of the roles of science and tradition, and the importance of stewardship.

Change is everywhere, in natural systems and in human systems.  Sometimes it is subtle and sinuous, like a meandering river, and sometimes it happens in a flash.  This month I am transitioning away from six years of service on the Copper River Watershed Project board, an experience of growth and inspiration for which I am grateful.   The world is facing profound challenges unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Copper River Watershed Project, with our values of collaboration, education, partnership, and resilience, is here to be part of the solution.

Read about the Prince Willam Sound Science Centers’ participation at the Symposium and the Copper River Harvesters Round Table here. 

Written by Robin Mayo on behalf of CRWP as the Board President.