Environmental Hero: Wanda Kashudoha Loescher Culp
Mother and grandmother, Wanda Kashudoha Loescher Culp is a climate warrior who has devoted her life to advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples. She is a Chookeneidí Brown Bear from inside Glacier Bay in Alaska, but her ancestry ties include the surrounding territories as her grandfather was a L’uknax.ádi and her grandmother, a Kashudoha, “the one who came to us from Glacier Bay” and whose name she inherited. Growing up in Juneau, her employment throughout her life has been dealing directly with tribes and she spent many years working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She has boldly been a critic of the Alaska Native regional corporate system, which was born out of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Her major concern is that corporations are usurping power to greedily pillage the land for resources without any concern for the traditional rights of Indigenous ownership or for the health of the forests themselves.
This passion for Indigenous rights expanded to include gender equality and protecting nature from global temperature rise. Wither her lineage being matrilineal, Culp believes that women need to be leaders in addressing climate change. This coupled with the fact that women are responsible for half of the world’s food production, are the primary curators of seeds and agricultural biodiversity, and that Indigenous and Black women from low-income communities are disproportionately affected by global temperature rise, she knew women are key to solving the climate crisis. She also knew this meant her community must be empowered. Her focus became uniting them and the surrounding forest they hold sacred.
The Tongass forest is a vital ecosystem that provides sustenance for Indigenous and local communities. As one of the world’s largest forests, it stores more than 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon while insulating an additional 10 million metric tons annually. It’s a habitat for hundreds of species like salmon, bears, and deer that support local economies and accounts for 25% of employment. For nearly 20 years, Alaska’s Tongass forest was protected by the 2001 Roadless Rule which conserved nearly 50 million acres of its forest. However, in 2019, the Trump Administration rescinded the Roadless Rule in a bid to open millions of acres to industrial logging which would destroy important carbon stores, kill off salmon populations, and negatively impact the Indigenous tribes and locals who rely on the Tongass for their livelihoods.
Culp and the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), who she is a Regional Coordinator for, organized multiple action campaigns and participated in protests concerning upcoming timber harvest plans. WECAN then partnered with Earthjustice to send four Indigenous Women of the Tongass to Washington DC to advocate the protection of the 2001 Roadless Rule. Donning their ancestor's attire, they visited 16 offices in two days presenting first-hand education about the importance of the Tongass and how important it is for the Indigenous to repair the forest back to homeostasis. It made a huge impression.
As of July 20, 2021, the Biden administration pledged to restore Tongass National forest protections putting the Roadless Rule back into effect. This huge win will inhibit corporations from large-scale logging and road construction in more than half of the 16 million-acre forest, including five million acres of old-growth trees nearly 800 years old. In addition, the plan also includes $25 million in federal spending on local sustainable development in Alaska and projects to improve the health of the forest. With Alaska warming at twice the rate of the globe, maintaining the Tongass is vital to mitigating climate change. It also serves as example of Indigenous women successfully leading and organization climate change policy, which Culp and WECAN hopes to spread worldwide.