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By Dan Rudy 

Girl Scouts present at state environmental forum


Submitted Photo

Along with Apryl Hutchinson, Wrangell-area Girl Scouts Sophie O'Brien, Laura Helgeson and Jing O'Brien celebrate their inclusion at the annual Forum on the Environment at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage.

Three of Wrangell's Girl Scout Troop 4156 were able to experience a unique opportunity, traveling to Anchorage Feb. 7 to participate in the annual Alaska Forum on the Environment at the Dena'ina Center. It was a first for Wrangell's troop, and the girls were the only group representing Southeast.

Jing O'Brien, Sophie O'Brien and Laura Helgeson made the trip along with some chaperones. At the forum, the three delivered a presentation about their findings during last summer's "Camp'Phibian," a four-day examination of amphibious life around the Stikine River.

"They were citizen scientists," said the troop's leader, Diane O'Brien.

The girls located, identified, measured, weighed, sexed and collected other data on local frogs and toads for the Alaska Herpetological Society.

"Amphibians are the canaries in the mine," Sophie explained. Their porous skins are sensitive to changes in water quality, and a depleted population can be indicative of other issues.

The Society already has a formal monitoring plan for the Stikine, to which the Scouts' data was added.

"We were continuing that monitoring," said O'Brien.

"It was a good learning experience," Helgeson said of their presentation. "I thought it went well. You kind of do it better when there's an audience, because then you know you can't mess up."

"They did a great job," O'Brien said.

The forum was an opportunity to gather new ideas as well, with other presentations to learn from and people to network with.

"It was inspiring," Sophie commented. The girls were particularly interested in marine debris, how pollution enters food chain, and how to mitigate the problem. It may even develop into a Wrangell-based project of their own in the near future.

"It was just an amazing group to be around," O'Brien said.

Like other youth groups participating in the forum, Troop 4156 took part in the Nike Reuse-A-Shoe program.

The girls were challenged to collect the most athletic shoes from their communities. If in nice enough condition, these would then go to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. Those well beyond getting additional mileage will be sent down to Nike in Oregon as part of its "Reuse a Shoe" program, for recycling into new sahoes, gym floors, playground surfaces and the like.

Collection boxes were put out at local schools, the rec center, Forest Service office, Stikine Inn, and Angerman's. They collected 102 pairs of athletic shoes in all, or five bags' worth.

"A big thanks to Wrangell for donating those shoes," O'Brien commented.

The United Fish and Wildlife Service provided the girls with $500 for traveling to Anchorage, but the Girl Scouts raised the rest themselves. With the forum now behind them, O'Brien said they will start raising funds for this summer's Camp'Phibian.

"Now that Anchorage is behind us we can start to plan," she said.


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