Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Polar Careers: The Alaskan Busch

Perks of the job - Encounters Producer, Lisa Busch, records a Humpback whale in Southeast Alaska. Photo: Lisa Busch

“Want to visit Alaska, but don’t have money for gas?”—College newspaper ad for Encounters podcasts served up at the Encounters website.

Lisa Busch wears many hats. She’s the co-founder of Sitka Trail Works, an organization which develops and maintains trails near Sitka, Alaska, volunteer for the Sitka Fine Arts Camp for K-12 students, and member and founder of the Sitka Tree and Landscape Committee—and that’s in her “free time” (did I mention she’s also a wife and mother of two).

Busch’s day job?  She has two.

When it comes to science in Southeast Alaska, Busch has your back. She is the Executive Director of the Sitka Sound Science Center, a hatchery and aquarium with a strong focus on community education and research on the Gulf of Alaska. Busch also produces Encounters: Experiences in the North, a radio program based at Sitka’s public station, KCAW-FM (Raven Radio). Now broadcast on the XM Satellite Channel, Remix Radio, the Alaska Public Radio Network, and on thirty college stations nationwide, Encounters brings the natural sounds of Alaska’s wild country (and beyond) to urbanites all over the world.

In the last few years, Busch has expanded the program to include more of the world’s wild places. Now in its eighth year of production, Encounters airs weekly half-hour segments that engage listeners with lively and wondrous field audio of calving glaciers, screeching bald eagles, and the associated sounds of the social dynamics of Humpback whales. Pre-production research keeps the listener educated with relevant scientific and cultural tidbits to accompany a cacophony of wild sounds.

Hence the show's title: PI Richard Nelson encounters a polar bear. Photo source: Encounters Facebook

Richard ‘Nels’ Nelson, a cultural anthropologist and author originally from Madison, Wisconsin, began Encounters in 2004. Before moving to Sitka, Nels lived in the Alaskan wilderness recording the cultural history and traditions of Alaska’s native peoples.  With funding from a National Science Foundation grant for the last three years, Nels has been wandering around the Alaskan bush with a microphone recording all kinds of natural sounds to share with listeners. Nelson recently teamed with the University of San Francisco’s Cultural Anthropology department in his creation of the Encounters Down Under series. In the wild lands of Tasmania and Australia, he explores the human and physical connections, like the migration of birds and animals, between the northern and southern hemispheres

Award-winning journalist Elizabeth Arnold also contributes to Encounters as a senior reporter. Arnold began her career at Juneau’s KTOO in 1985 then moved to Washington D.C. where she has been a national correspondent for NPR for 15 years. Now on faculty with the University of Alaska in Anchorage, Arnold expands Encounters programming to the circumpolar Arctic, particularly the Berengia region (the Aleutian chain and Russia’s Commander Islands, for example) and Canada—wild lands not usually in the media’s limelight. A background in political coverage gives Arnold the unique ability to consider Alaskan issues in the context of national perspective as she explores such topics as Steller’s Curse (in development).

Busch is also bringing her own voice to the show these days along with twenty years of freelance writing and producing experience. An east coast native, Busch majored in Geology and Environmental Science at Tufts University. Following graduation, she acquired a taste for public radio and the West while working at KUAC in Colorado. Next was a big move to Sitka to work for KCAW and launch a career specializing in Alaskan science. After a blip back in D.C working for U.S. News and World Report, Busch returned to Sitka, married Davey Lubin, captain of the Esther G. Sea Taxi, and made Southeast Alaska her home.  Listen to Busch’s recent program on Frontierism in which she thoughtfully considers the state motto from Coldfoot, Alaska, -40F, population 10.

Stop by the Encounters website to listen online. Visit the ‘new educational wing’ (under development) where teachers, students, and armchair adventurers can learn more about Alaska and beyond. –Marcy Davis

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