Intensive Study: Natural Resources Sustainability

420.705 Natural Resources Sustainability: Field Study in Alaska

Date: August 3-13, 2020 in conjunction with the Sitka Sound Science Center

420.705 Natural Resources Sustainability: Field Study in Alaska

Sitka Sound and Harbor, photo by Dr. Burgess, 2019.

Course Backdrop

Infused with wildlife, spectacular scenery, and a unique blend of cultures, there is simply no place like southeast Alaska to focus on key ecological challenges from energy to fisheries. This course will home base in Sitka, a part of the inside passage community, and flanked by majestic peaks like Mount Edgecumbe, and the Pacific Ocean. We will take advantage of the quintessential coastal Alaskan environment, creating an interdisciplinary and experiential approach to learning. Taking advantage of nature’s backdrop, we’ll delve into a diverse range of fieldwork that will vary from geologic field trips around Baranof Island, to hiking the temperate rainforest of Tongass National Forest (the largest in the U.S.), to exploring the intertidal environment near the Alexander Archipelago. There is no doubt that in Alaska one can view nature’s full might. We will revel in the exuberant Arctic summer while deeply analyzing global questions of sustainable resource management in an anthropomorphically impacted area through a field-based exploration of Southeast Alaska.

420.705 Natural Resources Sustainability: Field Study in Alaska

Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, photo from Google Commons.


This course also fulfills the ESP Residency Requirement.

Eligibility and Prerequisite

This course is open to all JHU alumni, graduate students, and undergraduates that are EPS or ENVS majors in their Junior or Senior year.

420.705 Natural Resources Sustainability: Field Study in Alaska

Mt. Verstovia and Sitka Sound. Photo courtesy of Dr. Burgess, 2019.

Course Description

This interdisciplinary field-based course examines the natural history, culture, resource management, and fisheries and wildlife in the ecosystems of Southeast Alaska. Through class lectures/discussions and field excursions, students will obtain an understanding of integrated resource management and sustainability in protected areas while assessing options for addressing impacts and perturbations in habitats where species have and continue to be affected. The course will emphasize a variety of disciplines including marine science and fisheries, wildlife management, geology, energy resources, forestry, botany, eco-tourism, and anthropomorphic impacts to biodiversity and marine and wilderness areas.

Tentative Course Syllabus (PDF)

420.705 Natural Resources Sustainability: Field Study in Alaska

Brown Bear, Photo from Google Commons.

Field Excursions, Activities, and Learning Objectives

  • Hike the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world.
  • Get hands-on aquaculture training in one of Alaska’s oldest salmon fish hatcheries.
  • Tour the local hydroelectric dam and power plant and learn about rural Alaskan sustainable energy systems.
  • Explore the taiga, muskeg, and lava fields of Mt Edgecumbe, a leaky transformer volcano; hike 3200 feet to its summit; spend the night camping on its slopes.
  • Visit the Raptor Center to learn about and view the rehabilitation and release of native raptors and the human impacts affecting them.
  • Watch for brown bears while hiking by pools of spawning salmon.
  • Experience subsistence living by foraging for your lunch with a local edible plant expert.
  • Take identification photos on a whale-watching cruise through Sitka Sound and hear whale vocalizations from a hydrophone.
  • Practice intertidal research methods with an invertebrate ecologist – first on the beach at low tide, followed by cold water snorkeling at high tide (wetsuits provided).
  • Tour the docks and talk with local fishermen about gear, conservation, and politics.
  • Observe over 500,000 nesting seabirds at St. Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge and learn to identify seabirds at this nearby Refuge.
  • Enjoy guest lectures, panels, and fireside chats with local experts from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Sitka Conservation Society, the U.S. Forest Service, University of Alaska, the Native Tlingit Clan, and many more.

Course Schedule

Pre-Trip (Summer 2020)

Before the onsite portion of the course begins, students will gain access to Blackboard in July 2020, a month before arriving in Alaska. There will be some online reading assignments to complete before the trip.

Students will meet via Zoom Meeting for a pre-trip session in mid-July from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm EDST for a pre-departure overview of the course, class syllabus, readings, and logistics.

  • See Draft Syllabus for Course Details
  • July 15 – Zoom pre-trip question and answer session
  • mid-late July – Students study background readings and start formulating topics for a conference-style scientific presentation (15-20 minutes in length plus Q&A)
  • August 3 – Students arrive in Sitka, field portion officially begins at 6 pm in the Fine Arts Center
  • August 13 – Course concludes at 6 pm
  • August 14 – Students fly home


Students will make their own travel arrangements to and from Sitka, AK. The University is not responsible for refunds, penalties, or other fees that may be incurred or lost for changes or cancellations of airfare. Trip insurance is recommended.

420.705 Natural Resources Sustainability: Field Study in Alaska

Lodging at Sitka Fine Arts Center, photo by Dr, Burgess, 2019.

Expenses and Registration

Registration for the course will open on March 1, 2020, and close on June 1, 2020. Students will register for this course in SIS. Payment of trip fee and tuition is due at the time of registration (tuition $4,214 + course fee $3,000). If a student decides to drop this course, $500 of the tuition is non-refundable, regardless of a student’s payment method choice (financial aid, employer assistance, tuition remission, etc.). Please note: this course does not follow the regular tuition refund schedule and ALL tuition and fees for this course are NON-REFUNDABLE after the course closes at the beginning of June.

The course needs 15 people to run. Complete refunds will be made if there are not enough students to run the course. The maximum number of people for the course is 20. Registration will be on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to ESP degree candidates.

Do not purchase travel or make other investments in your trip until you hear from the course faculty (Burgess, Beer-Kerr, and Manville). This will be determined by June 1, possibly earlier.

Trip Costs

Tuition $4,214 (subject to change)
Trip fee ~$3,000.
This includes all ground transportation during the field portion of course, all lodging/camping sites, food (breakfast, lunch, dinner), and entrance fees. Roundtrip flights to Sitka, a cost of the hotel prior to Aug 3 (if needed), snacks, and other incidentals are not included (you may be required to pay for 2 dinners out during the week (cost less than $30@). Students are required to bring their own field gear: sleeping bag, pad, tent (can be shared), backpack, etc. A complete list of field gear can be found below.
Travel Do not purchase plane tickets until AAP confirms with you that the course will run.

Exclusions (not part of the trip fee)

  • Roundtrip airfare
  • Overnight hotel in Sitka (for August 2, if needed)
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Personal expenses
  • Tips to crew/guides
420.705 Natural Resources Sustainability: Field Study in Alaska

Whale Fluke and Mt. Edgecumbe. Image courtesy of Dr. Burgess, 2019.

Student Mobility, Health, and Fitness

Good health, physical fitness, and mobility are essential (we will be on the move in this course, and hiking ability is expected). This course is physically strenuous and requires a 4 hour, 8-kilometer hike both on and off of Mt. Edgecumbe. Students should consult with their doctor to determine their physical fitness before registering for this course.

Student Emergency Contact Information

Students must update their emergency contact information in SIS by following these instructions:

  1. Log in to
  2. Hover over the “Personal Information” tab
  3. Select “Emergency Contact”
  4. Complete “Emergency Contact” information

Important Form

All participants must complete:

420.705 Natural Resources Sustainability: Field Study in Alaska

Dr. Manville removing ocean plastic, photo by Dr. Burgess, 2019.