Craig Local Joins Southeast Alaska Conservation Council - P.O.W. Report

Monday, September 6, 2021

Craig Local Joins Southeast Alaska Conservation Council


Dear Friend,

The SEACC team is growing!

After a busy summer searching for the right candidates to join our team and help us continue to protect this special place we call home, we're delighted to introduce our new team members!

Please join us in welcoming SEACC's new Communications Lead Lauren Cusimano, new Environmental Policy Analyst Katie Rooks, new Inside Passage Waters Program Manager Aaron Brakel, and new Office Manager Raylynn Lawless.

While I could tell you all the reasons why we, after pouring over countless applications from across Alaska and the Lower 48, chose these four new team members, allow me to … allow them to introduce themselves.

Lauren Cusimano, Communications Lead

Look, this is my dream job — Communications Lead at SEACC. Let me tell you why.

I have a heavy journalism and content background, but my personal interest has for many years been in conservation. As a public land and wildlife fan, I’ve traveled cross-country (Alaska is my 47th state) visiting parks and forestland. I’ve volunteered with the National Park Service at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument as a ranger and content creator and cared for burrowing owls with Audubon Southwest. I’ve had clients like Tennessee State Parks, Arizona State Parks, and Niagara Falls USA. But I was envious of these people!

I’ve been searching for a job where I could truly combine my journalism training with my passion for wildland. Joining SEACC ended like a 10-year search for me.

I moved to Juneau this summer from my home of 25 years — Phoenix, Arizona. And Southeast Alaska, the lands and home of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people, is more beautiful than I have the room to describe here.

I still haven’t processed how my “job” is writing, posting, editing, and communicating on behalf of irreplaceable old-growth and waterways, and the people of the forests, waters, and land of Southeast. You already know this, but the Tongass stores some 40 percent of the carbon contained in U.S. national forests. I can't believe I get to work in and for such an important place.

And my goal as Communications Lead is to help shine more light on it.

Looking ahead, when I’m not “working,” I’ll be off exploring my new home — by bike touring, hiking, and hunting for good hot wings.

To get in touch with Lauren or just say hello, email!

Katie Rooks, Environmental Policy Analyst

I arrived in Southeast Alaska, Prince of Wales Island, in 2004, but I grew up in Northfield, Minnesota. I earned an undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College in 1999 but decided shortly after graduation to pursue an occupation that included work in the outdoors — my primary passion. 

One day I saw a random job posting for a recreation position on the Tongass on POW. Upon stepping off the ferry, I fell in love with Southeast and the Tongass National Forest. My first summer on POW was perhaps the best summer of my life. This is where I combined my love of working with young people and my love of outdoor work as a Youth Conservation Corps crew leader. 

While making my way up the ladder, and holding several different positions at the Forest Service, I earned a master’s degree in Recreation and Park Management from Frostburg State University in 2015. 

But in 2017, I left the Forest Service to start my own Outfitter-Guide company — Prince of Wales Excursion Outfitter! However, I was still eager to protect and work for the Tongass, because I had seen large tracts of old-growth forests continue to be logged while living on POW, and had seen the consequences first-hand. 

Now, I am thrilled to be part of the SEACC family and plan to put my knowledge, skills, and expertise to good use from POW as we move forward into a new era of forest management in Southeast Alaska. 

In my free moments, I am easy to find outdoors — on the ocean, camping in Forest Service cabins, hiking up to alpine areas, and doing lots of subsistence fishing, hunting, and gathering. I am becoming a birdwatcher and photographer, too, and find no shortage of subjects in this beautiful rainforest. I try to learn, live, and love each day. Living on the Tongass makes that easy.

To get in touch with Katie or just say hello, email!

Aaron Brakel, Inside Passage Waters Program Manager

It was probably no surprise when I was brought on at SEACC to officially work for water protection. In fact, most of my friends were probably wondering what took me so long. 

I have been a SEACC volunteer since the 1980s. My involvement with mining and water quality work started in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I've worked on the Alaska-Juneau and Kensington mines permitting processes, and on turning out public support for forest issues, extensively as a volunteer.

My passion for protecting Southeast Alaska is a family affair. My stepfather, noted naturalist Greg Streveler, was a long-time SEACC board member. And my mother, Judy Brakel, was a renowned wilderness guide who also served as the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission’s representative to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. They are now happily supporting SEACC from Gustavus these days.

Growing up in Southeast Alaska, I’ve seen things that I want to be able to pass on to the coming generations. Things like clean water, healthy habitat, and robust wilderness can support the cultures and economy of this amazing place for the long term.

I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up on Auk Kwaan land in downtown Juneau. My mother and I were adopted into the Kiks.ádi clan’s Clay House by Matushka Emily Williams in the 1990s at the memorial ḵu.éex' for my brother Ḵaax'aachgóok, Robert Williams. To me, upholding the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples, and the cultural values and languages that are part of this place will always pay off in the long run.

As the Inside Passage Waters Program Manager, I hope to play a useful role in protecting the waters and the habitat of this amazing place we call home. In my off time, catch me on the soccer field, reading, or spending time with family.

To get in touch with Aaron or just say hello, email!

Raylynn Lawless, Office Manager

Though I was born down south in Oregon, I fell in love with Juneau and the Tongass National Forest when I would come up here to visit family for the summer and winter holidays. In fact, I decided when I was 15 to relocate from the high deserts of Oregon to the lush temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska — where the love of nature and adventure runs deep.

In 2008, I graduated from Juneau Douglas High School and immediately began traveling between Oregon, Sweden, and New Zealand. But eventually, I returned to Alaska to began pursuing my passion for gardening. In addition to now managing an office full of SEACC team members, I also attend the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine to become an herbalist and Medicinal Herb Farmer. I am also a novice beekeeper and have been keeping healthy happy bees in our temperate climate.

When not playing in the garden, harvesting medicinal herbs, or loving on my bees, I can be found fishing, camping, and adventuring with my two amazing dogs and wonderful husband.

Welcome to the team Lauren, Katie, Aaron, and Raylynn! [Source]

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