The value of the forest

By Melissa Thompson

Sophia Polasky is spending her summer crusading to help conserve the Tongass National Forest and other wild areas in the southeast region of Alaska. As an intern assisting a grassroots coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Sophia works to ensure that Alaskans and others remember to preserve that area’s natural beauty.

Polasky spends her days on a variety of tasks including research, making phone calls or clipping newspaper articles which pertain to the council’s work. “There is the flexibility to explore the kinds of work I like to do,” Polasky said. “The tasks I get are never something that doesn’t need to be done.”

Her current project is drafting a business letter which local businesses can choose to sign. The letter aims to garner support for an amendment to a federal spending bill. The bill would balance funding for Tongass National Forest by cutting subsidies for building logging roads through the forest. Polasky said in an email that it does not make sense for the government to so heavily supports a logging industry which is neither economical nor profitable. She is passionate about the issues the council works on because she sees how they affect the land in which she has grown up.

The staff at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is a small, close-knit group which Polasky enjoys being a part. “The office has a really friendly feel,” she said. “People do stuff together outside of work, too.” The council has a director, three grassroots coordinators who work on mining issues, transportation issues and timber sales issues, a lawyer who assists with the many legal issues that arise in their work, several research assistants and, in addition to Polasky, a few legal interns.

When Polasky started the internship she found herself a little out of the loop as far as some of the verbiage was concerned. “There is an office lingo which I was behind on,” she said. “The daily tasks I do help to catch me up.”

Polasky finds that her environmental studies major assists her in coming up with the energy to tackle her work. However, more than anything, Sophia credits her Alaskan heritage for helping her to obtain and successfully complete her internship. “They were looking for someone who doesn’t need a lot of instruction,” she said.

However, she counts herself as lucky because the council does not typically hire undergraduate interns. The usual candidates are people who are able to commit an entire year because they are out of school. Polasky asserts that one would not have to be an environmental studies major to do this type of work successfully.Polasky does not find that there is a part of the internship which is overly tedious. Her daily tasks help to familiarize her with issues that are important to her and to the council. She is excited to be there because she is working for something with which she completely agrees.

“I really love the opportunities I get here,” Polasky said. “I’ve had the chance to see a lot of new places even though I grew up here. We get the opportunity to go camping. I went to Berner’s Bay and went kayaking, things like that.”

Anyone interested in the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council’s work can find more information on their Web site at