Open post

Dalton Highway Invasive Plant Removal Effort Comes to an End with #24

Filed by Betty Siegel, Friends Volunteer Coordinator

Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge’s weed pulls on the Haul Road have taken place every summer since August 2006 with dozens of Friends volunteering for the 24 opportunities. After that initial project involving various agencies such as USFWS, BLM, NPS, AmeriCorps, and others, weed pulls occurred twice each year until June 2018 from the Kanuti River MP 105.8 (just south of the Arctic Circle) north to most recently the Dietrich River MP 207(north of the community of Wiseman), more than 100 miles. Recent efforts to eliminate all seed production were concentrated on all river crossings and culverts which moved westward toward the Kanuti Refuge. Staff and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges (Friends) and others were concerned these waterways would become routes for dispersal of invasive White Sweet clover (Melilotus alba) into the Refuge. This non-native plant readily invades open and disturbed areas and has established extensive areas along early successional, gravel river bars elsewhere in Alaska and rapidly colonized the Dalton Highway corridor. In addition, invasive Bird Vetch (Viccia cracca) is growing within the Dalton Highway Corridor and downriver. These populations are all expanding. Control efforts have focused on manual pulling, but have also included mechanical and cultural control. 

The current political climate has resulted in decreased funding for refuges and other public lands. This translated to many staffing shortages and cuts to various programs each year. Now this shortage has made it impossible to continue the project in 2018.  Additionally, refuge staff indicate future efforts may include conducting early detection/rapid response surveys along rivers downstream of the Dalton Highway and within the Refuge so any newly established colonies of invasive plants can be controlled and eliminated quickly. They hope to involve Friends as these plans are developed so that there may be some volunteer opportunities in 2019.

During the 14 years volunteers signed on to work outside along the highway removing white sweet clover and bird vetch for long hours in dirty, dusty, hot or cold, wet or dry, occasionally smoky, and frequently buggy conditions, sleeping in dry cabins, going without showers. Many returned to do it all again as the benefits were tremendous, primarily having the experience of just being up there. There were opportunities for berrying, wildlife viewing, fishing, cooling off in the rivers, hiking, traveling to the grandeur of Atigun Pass, visiting Wiseman, Galbraith Lake, and Toolik Lake, and spending time in the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center (AIVC) chatting to Haul Road tourists about refuges.

 And then there was the food! Huge burgers and pulled pork sandwiches and shakes at the Hot Spot on the drive from Fairbanks to Coldfoot; breakfast and lunch makings and snacks provided by the refuge; and those fantastic Coldfoot Camp Buffets for dinner!

Perhaps the biggest rewards were the friendships that developed over the shared experiences: Staff from all three Fairbanks refuges, AIVC staff, and Friends volunteers worked side by side, from managers to seasonal interns, volunteers from age 16 to “in the 70s”, all with a commitment to protect our public lands and our wildlife for ourselves and future generations.

While I’m sad for this project to end suddenly, I look forward to hearing about alternative projects for monitoring/control. Stay tuned!


-Betty Siegel (So fortunate to have participated in 22 of the 24 weed pulls!)

Open post

July 2018 Advocacy Update

July 2018 Advocacy Update
by Board President, David Raskin and Board Member, Val Glooschenko

Oil Drilling in the Arctic Coastal Plain

The Department of Interior (DOI) has completed the scoping hearings for the proposed sale of oil leases in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In spite of many formal requests to have additional hearings to allow testimony from those were not allowed time to speak at the hearings, DOI refused to extend the hearings, and the June 19 deadline for comments has passed. Conservation organizations estimated that at least a half-million comments were submitted in opposition to the lease sale and there were organized demonstrations at several hearings. We thank all of our members who submitted comments.  The DOI fast-track goal of completing a draft environmental statement (DEIS) in less than six months seems unrealistic if it is intended to comply with federal law. Conservation organizations are closely monitoring this process and will respond appropriately.

Izembek Land Trade and Road

The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness is working its way through the Anchorage Federal District Court as Trustees for Alaska continues its excellent legal work on behalf of Friends and eight other conservation organizations who filed the lawsuit against the proposed land trade and road.  Our legal brief is due on July 11, and the Department of Justice reply brief is due on August 22. We remain optimistic that we will prevail against this destructive, costly, and unnecessary project.

Of interest was a June 26 interchange between President Trump and Senator Murkowski during a meeting with senate Republican appropriators. Ms. Murkowski erroneously stated it is “a non-commercial road that we have been fighting about for 30 years,” although she has previously stated that the road is for economic development, and the language of her own legislation includes authorization for commercial transportation. President Trump replied that in the next couple of months the appropriations “will be complete and they can go ahead and build.” We have very different ideas!

Stop Alaska’s War on Wolves and Bears
by Val Glooschenko

The Department of the Interior has proposed allowing unethical hunting practices on lands managed by the National Park Service?In May 2018, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed the National Park Service to allow extreme hunting methods in Alaska’s national preserves, such as baiting brown bears, killing black bear mothers and cubs in dens, and killing wolves and pups by trapping during denning season.  It is also proposed to allow gunning down migrating caribou while they are swimming and baiting of bears with garbage or donuts.

This unethical attack on bears and wolves on represents a reversal of hunting regulations finalized in 2015 by the Park Service, banning these unsportsmanlike practices. The Park Service implemented its previous 2015 wildlife management regulations after an extensive, multi-year public engagement process in which more than 70,000 Americans spoke out against these shameful hunting methods. However under Ryan Zinke, the National Park Service is being asked to reverse its previous 2015 policy.  Zinke’s reversal, if implemented, would force the Park Service to surrender its authority to protect bears and wolves and return to these shameful and unethical practices

Under leadership of the National Park Conservation Association, a number of conservation organizations are working together to alert the public about this matter.  A strategy is being outlined to generate letters to the editor, opinion pieces, group letters and letters from individual Alaskans opposing the change in park regulations by the National Park Service.  This comment period ends on July 23.

Additional information on this matter is available from the following  websites provided by the National Parks Conservation Association and Defenders of Wildlife: .  

Concerns about the proposed new regulations can be submitted through the NPCA or the Defenders of Wildlife websites or sent directly to the address below: 

Andee Sears, Regional Law Enforcement Specialist, Alaska Regional Office, 240 West 5th Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501. Phone (907) 644-3410. Email: AKR_Regulations@nps.gov

Several sample letters follow:

From Members of the Public :

I am an Alaskan (personalize here if possible). Like so many of us, I came to Alaska partially for the opportunity to live in a place with bears and wolves in the wild. I am very disappointed that Secretary Zinke has proposed allowing the state to use extreme sport hunting methods like brown bear baiting to reduce predator populations on national preserves. Those lands were set aside to protect our resources for future generations, including balanced populations of predators and prey. Alaska will be worse off if our national parklands are treated like glorified game farms.

Hunter Letter:

 I am a hunter. It is an important part of Alaska culture.  And I am glad hunting is allowed on the 20 million acres of national preserves in Alaska.  But I don’t support extreme sport hunting measures like brown bear baiting, and I don’t support the state of Alaska’s efforts to reduce bear and wolf populations on national parklands.  That is not what our country’s national park lands are for. The National Park Service needs to stand strong and protect predators and balanced, healthy ecosystems for us and for our children.

Tourism Talking Points

  • Last year, 2.7 million people visited AK national parks and spent $1.3 billion in the state.
  • Those people come to see wildlife, particularly bears.
  • Seeing bears in the wild is a special experience that is transformative for so many visitors, and for so many Alaskans.
  • We need to make sure the Park Service can protect bears, wolves and balanced ecosystems so that visitors and Alaskans have a chance to experience iconic wildlife and so that our tourism economy continues to bring in money for Alaskans.
Open post

2018 Dragonfly Day

Trip Report by Friends Volunteer John Hudson, with photos by USFWS/Allyssa Morris

The 8th Annual Dragonfly Day took play on Saturday, June 23rd at Tanana Lakes Recreation Area, 11am-4pm.  Over 350 people attended this event, enjoying a variety of activities including: face painting, dragonfly balloon art, dragonfly temporary tattoos, various arts and crafts, live dragonfly larvae and other aquatic invertebrates in a touch tank, and dragonfly collecting. Participants caught adult dragonflies with nets and held them for a closer look and to learn about their ecology, biology, and life history.  The species list for the day included: Lake Darner, American Emerald, Northern Bluet, Boreal Whiteface, Hudsonian Whiteface, Belted Whiteface, Four-spotted Skimmer, Sedge Sprite, and Taiga Bluet.   

People of all ages fanned out along the shoreline of one of the Tanana Lakes intent on capturing the fast-flying, colorful, and acrobatic dragonflies swarming about. Participants learned that it’s best to “swing from behind” as dragonflies use their huge eyes to see in almost every direction, but rearward. Lucky collectors reached into their nets and pulled the robust and sturdy insects out by hand, allowing them a closeup view of the holographic-like compound eyes, the spine-covered legs, and intricate wing venation. Certainly, everyone went home with a greater appreciation for dragonflies.

This popular event was sponsored by the three Fairbanks refuges: Arctic, Kanuti, and Yukon Flats, as well as the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, US National Park Service, Student Conservation Association, and University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Open post

Tiglax to the Barren Islands (Field Report)

Field Report filed by Friends Member Christina Whiting

On a beautiful spring evening in May, a small group of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges members joined a handful of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees aboard the FWS research vessel Tiglax on an overnight trip to visit the wild, remote Barren Islands. Located just 60 miles from Homer, between the tip of the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak, the Barren Islands are a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and home to the largest seabird colony in the northern Gulf of Alaska. During this 24-hour trip, FWS employees installed bird cams on one of the islands, while Friends members rode a zodiac to another island and spent a couple of hours hiking across sand dunes, through tall grasses and up to elevation with 360 degree views of the surrounding rugged, surreal landscape.

Invited to join the ship’s crew and FWS staff to visit this seldom-visited area of the refuge, on what might typically be an evening and day of weather, we enjoyed calm seas, beautiful skies, spectacular views, tasty meals and lots of time interacting with crew and staff during this unique and special opportunity to learn about a FWS project and a little glimpse into life aboard the ship.

The r/v Tiglax, Aleut for Eagle, provides critical support for biological work, management programs, and village outreach and education. Thanks to Refuge Manager, Steve Delahanty and the ship’s crew for allowing us on board.

Joining Christina Whiting on the ship were Friends members, Brenda Dolma, James Dolma, Louise Ashmun, David Schroyer and Anthony Munter and FWS staff Arthur Kettle, Aaron Christ and Jaclyn Lucas.

 

(All photos by Christina Whiting; exception Bird Cam by Jaclyn Lucas)
Open post

June 2018 Advocacy Update

June 2018 Advocacy Update
by Board President, David Raskin

Oil Drilling in the Arctic Coastal Plain
 The 2017 tax law mandated the sale of oil leases in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The proposed oil development would devastate the biological integrity and wilderness character of the crown jewel of National Wildlife Refuge System. It would violate the 1987 signed agreement between the governments of the United States and Canada to protect the porcupine caribou herd that is critical to the subsistence lifestyle and spiritual well-being of the Gwich’in people of Alaska and Canada.  The Department of Interior has fast-tracked this process with a goal of completing a draft environmental statement (DEIS) in less than six months. They have held scoping meetings in Alaska and Washington, DC to receive public comments on what should be included in the DEIS. Along with many others, I testified at the Anchorage hearing to express our opposition to the proposed drilling and to urge thorough examinations of the many issues and problems posed by oil drilling and production (see above). The deadline to submit comments is June 19. You can email them to: blm_ak_coastalplain_EIS@blm.gov

Click here to sign on to our petition demanding the suspension of this ill-conceived scheme or submit your individual comments regarding drilling in the Arctic Refuge to the BLM by clicking here. (the comment link is on the right hand side of the page under “Submit Scoping Comments” please submit comments on the Notice of Intent)
 
Predator Control
 The National Park Service has proposed amendments to its regulations for sport hunting and trapping in national preserves in Alaska. The proposed rules are published at https://federalregister.gov/d/2018-10735. These new rules would remove a regulatory provision issued by the National Park Service in 2015 that prohibited certain sport hunting practices that are otherwise permitted by the State of Alaska. The proposed rules are consistent with Alaska rules that allow taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting brown bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season (between May 1 and August 9); taking swimming caribou; taking caribou from motorboats under power; taking black bears over bait; and using dogs to hunt black bears. These methods are inconsistent with responsible wildlife management and are opposed by many biological experts, including those who formulated the rules previously adopted by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the current rules for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which are also being revised. The deadline to submit comments on the proposed Park Service rules is July 23, 2018.
 
Izembek Land Trade and Road
 Recently, the Alaska Department of Transportation inquired about a permit for additional survey work in the proposed road corridor that would involve drilling into the substrate and construction of facilities. The Fish and Wildlife Service informed them that would not be possible as long as the land remains in federal ownership. The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness is pending in the Anchorage Federal District Court as Trustees for Alaska continues its excellent legal work on behalf of Friends and eight other conservation organizations who oppose the proposed land trade and road.  This process is working through the many necessary legal steps, and we remain optimistic that we will prevail against this destructive, costly, and unnecessary project.

Open post

Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival; a first timers experience

by Lisa Kennedey, 2018 Festival Presenter

It was my first time in Homer and a first-time experience for the shorebird migration in the Kenai area. I have to say, Homer is a great place to see shorebirds, moose, visit fun eateries and cafes as well as enjoy the phenomenal Islands & Ocean Visitors Center. The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival draws in a substantial number of people, with a town that can house you comfortably and provide lots of food and drink options. The event was well organized and I felt that the Keynote Speaker, Noah Stryker, gave a fabulous, comical and enticing talk encapsulating some unique and inspiring moments in his Global Big Year. For those really keen on birding, be sure to check their species board for updates on new or rare species sightings in the area. I had several lifer species including Eurasian Teal, which definitely bumped up the cool factor for our trip. Without the species list and where the bird was seen (at the Visitors Center) we probably would have missed this fun sighting. So, a big thank you to the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival Committee in helping us collectively celebrate the wonder of shorebird migration in Alaska. Until next spring, Happy Birding!

Main photo: photo credit Nicholas Docken, Lisa Birding at Beluga lake; looking for the Eurasian Teal!
Bottom photo: photo credit Nicolas Docken Lisa giving her talk; Bears, Weather and Birds. Life in a remote Arctic field camp in Nunavut Canada.
Open post

2018 Tetlin NWR – Refuge Discovery Trip Report

Refuge Discovery Trip Report – by Meg Jensen, Friends Member

Over a long Memorial Day Weekend, a 12 member cadre of refuge friends from around Alaska embarked on an exploration of Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. The group included some new friends as well as “old timers.” The group met up at Refuge Headquarters in Tok. On Thursday afternoon, Mary Timm, the retired Tetlin Refuge Educator and her husband Hank, invited us to their home to visit and chat about “all things Tetlin.” Over pizza and salad, they shared their extensive knowledge about the wildlife refuge. Mary and Hank homesteaded in the area years ago, and were a great source of information about Desper Creek, our destination for our canoe trip. A fun evening was shared by all.

Friday morning the group met with Refuge Manager Shawn Bayless and his staff. Over a yummy breakfast, topics covered included: an overview of refuge programs and priorities, including the refuge’s boreal lynx project; priorities and staffing challenges in a declining budget environment; potential opportunities for Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges to help the refuge; and the Friends upcoming weekend canoe trip on Desper Creek. A number of ideas were generated for assistance friends could provide, including help with bird banding and river patrols, as well as assistance putting on the May migratory bird festival. A friends refuge visit includes a volunteer project – so after our breakfast get together we helped refuge staff pick up litter on its “Adopt a Mile” mile along the Alaska highway. 

After lunch, the group headed out to the Refuge Visitor Center, located on the Alaska highway a few miles from the Canadian border. Cora and Sylvia, two long-time refuge employees who grew up in nearby Northway, shared their extensive knowledge of the refuge and its resources with us.  What a wonderful visit we had with these two ladies!

Our home for the night was Deadman Campground, in Tetlin where we spent the evening bird watching and socializing.

SaturdaySunday and Monday we explored Desper Creek by canoe. This was a great way to immerse ourselves in Tetlin NWR. Our home for two nights was a beautiful camping spot 3 miles in, on a narrow peninsula surrounded by Desper Creek.  We set up camp under a raven’s nest, filled with four young birds who looked like the were ready to fledge. What a noisy group they were, especially  when Mom or Dad brought them food(which happened all hours of the day and night)!  The layover day gave us time to explore on foot and by canoe the nearby refuge areas.

After a great weekend (including delicious Dutch oven cooking by friends member Dave), we all set off for home. What a wonderful time learning how we may be of assistance to Tetlin NWR, exploring the outdoors in Alaska, and making new friends.  I am already looking forward to the next Refuge Discovery Trip, organized by our fun & fearless leader Poppy Benson.

Contact Poppy with your ideas for future trips at poppy.b.ak@
gmail.com

Open post

Stop Arctic Refuge Drilling

The Trump administration has launched the process to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. In April, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiated the first step in that process with an environmental review which is preceded by a public comment period which is open until June 19th

Click here to sign on to our petition demanding the suspension of this ill-conceived scheme or submit your individual comments regarding drilling in the Arctic Refuge to the BLM by clicking here. (the comment link is on the right hand side of the page under “Submit Scoping Comments” please submit comments on the Notice of Intent)

Read the Notice of Intent here.



Suggested Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Talking/Commenting Points from the Wilderness Society

  • The Arctic Refuge is an amazing wilderness area that provides essential resources for the Gwichi’in and other Alaska Natives, and recreation opportunities for the general public.
  • The Arctic Refuge is one of the country’s most treasured and beautiful landscapes which should not be destroyed by oil and gas development.
  • The coastal plain is extremely important and globally significant habitat for caribou, migratory bird breeding, wolves, and denning polar bears, as well as other Arctic and Alaskan species.
  • Oil and gas drilling would have devastating impacts on this fragile coastal ecosystem due to the massive and polluting infrastructure needed to explore, produce and transport the oil. This includes sprawling roads, pipelines, drill pads, worker facilities and other infrastructure.
  • Oil drilling infrastructure likely will sprawl over vast stretches of the narrow coastal plain, adversely impacting wildlife and subsistence. Caribou females with calves often avoid infrastructure, and the narrow coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge may limit their ability to shift away from infrastructure like they can do in wider areas near Prudhoe Bay.
  • Oil production will produce greenhouse gases and black carbon which will further harm the Arctic, an area currently warming at twice the rate of most other parts of the planet.
  • The new oil and gas development purpose of the Arctic Refuge conflicts with the other purposes of the refuge. Oil and gas development will degrade subsistence resources and access to those resources including wildlife, plants, water, and air quality, among others.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015, after an extensive analysis, recommended wilderness protection for the coastal plain to Congress.
  • The U.S. and Canada have a 1987 treaty to protect the Porcupine Caribou Herd and that treaty’s obligations must be honored. The BLM needs to coordinate with the Canadian government and indigenous nations on this treaty’s requirements.
  • The Environmental Impact Statement must not be rushed. Procedural and scientific integrity, not political expediency, should drive the timeline. The EIS must utilize best available scientific information and traditional and local knowledge, and obtain data to fill baseline data gaps.
  • Given the major impacts a lease sale(s) will have on wildlife, the Gwich’in people, and others with connections to the Arctic Refuge – in combination with the lack of public debate on the tax law – we request a 60 day extension to the comment period.
Open post

2018 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival

Over 1,000 participants joined us in Homer for the 26th Annual Festival: Thursday, May 10th- Sunday, May 13th, 2018.

This Festival is co-sponsored by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and USFWS/ Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  Alaska’s largest wildlife viewing festival honors the return of spring and it’s breathtaking bird migration. Homer’s  seaside setting is perfect for spotting over 130 migratory bird species, as well as numerous other resident species.  This event takes a village- the Friends and USFWS coordinated over 70 volunteers and had help from several area organizations such as Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, Cook Inletkeeper, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Pratt Museum, the Homer Chamber of Commerce, Homer News, and many more!

 Our Keynote Speakers included Noah Strycker and Iain Campbell. Our distinguished guests presented a variety of workshops and lectures, including presentations on Strycker’s new books, Birding Without Borders.  Campbell offered daily photography workshops as well.  This year’s very popular artwork was created by Homer’s own Erin Rae D’Eimon.  Junior Birders learned valuable birding skills during a variety of school-aged themed workshops and presentations.  

(photos by Brandon Hill, Robin Edwards, Carla Stanley)

After our Saturday Keynote Address, Friends Member Dave Aplin, along with the help of some of the audience showed support for protecting the Arctic Refuge, holding handmade signs and completing petitions:


#DefendtheSacred

Posts navigation

1 2 3 4 5 6 7