On January 31, 2018, Trustees for Alaska filed suit in Anchorage Federal District Court on behalf of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and eight national environmental groups. This lawsuit challenges the legality of the land trade that would allow the construction of a road through the biological heart of designated wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula. The complaint alleges that this land trade by the Secretary of the Interior, which would trade up to 500 acres of designated wilderness in the ecologically sensitive Izembek Isthmus for non-refuge lands owned by the King Cove Corporation, violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. It also alleges that Secretary Zinke failed to perform the consultations required by the federal Endangered Species Act. In addition to these violations, this would be the first time that congressionally-designated wilderness lands would beremovedfrom the National Wilderness Preservation System, setting a precedent that would threaten all protected wilderness areas and all federal public lands in our nation.
This lawsuit is the latest episode in a 35-year campaign to build a road that would connect the fishing village of King Cove to Cold Bay, which has a major airport with direct service to Anchorage. Although road proponents claim that the road is needed for medical evacuations during frequent intense storms, a 30-year paper trail reveals that two Alaska governors, Senators Frank and Lisa Murkowski, and the Aleutians East Borough have promoted the road for commercial purposes to haul fish and workers for the largest cannery in Alaska that is owned by Japanese Peter Pan Seafoods. During this campaign, the 900 residents of King Cove have received at least $50 million federal dollars for upgrades to their health services, 17 miles of road with two hovercraft launch facilities, and the purchase of a $9 million hovercraft that performed flawlessly in 32 medical evacuations. They have since abandoned the hovercraft and refuse to consider other reasonable transportation alternatives evaluated bu the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers. Completion of the proposed road would cost at least another $20 million federal dollars and require extremely expensive annual maintenance that would likely fail to keep the road passable during winter storms. The former local medical director for Indian Health Services has stated that attempting to travel the proposed road during winters storms would jeopardize the lives of patients and emergency personnel.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed three major scientific evaluations and environmental impact studies, all of which concluded that the proposed road would do irreparable harm to the habitat and wildlife of the internationally-recognized Izembek Refuge. The latest evaluation was the environmental analysis required by the inclusion of the proposed land trade in the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. Following a 4-year, exhaustive scientific study, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the proposed road would cause unacceptable and irreparable damage to habitat and wildlife and was not approved. This decision was upheld by then Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. A federal lawsuit by the State of Alaska and local interests against the Secretary’s wise decision was eventually dismissed by the Court. Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and other environmental organizations had participated as intervenors on behalf of the the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Secretary in this successful effort to prevent this unnecessary and destructive road. Along with other organizations, we have taken the latest step in the decades-old battle to prevent the construction of an unnecessary, costly, and environmentally destructive road that not only threatens the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, but would set a dangerous precedent for all of our precious public lands.
Submitted by Lisa Hupp/ USFWS – Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
This February, three Kodiak High School students head to the big city of Anchorage to present at their first conference: the annual Alaska Forum on the Environment (AFE).
Hannah Villaroya, Keegan Ryder, and Leif King all served as crew members on the 2017 Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Youth Conservation Corp (YCC). They will share their summer experiences working with the Refuge, and will present about their leadership role for programs such as Pop-Up Salmon Camp. Pop-up Salmon Camp is an innovative way to bring the Refuge’s popular science camp to children of Kodiak at the summer lunch program. The teens each led two stations on topics of their choice; they took the initiative to study their topic, and then developed activities and hosted over 100 participants!
The Kodiak Refuge YCC program is a service learning program for students: as they learn, they are actively engaged in efforts to either teach others what they have learned and/or to make improvements on environmental issues or needs within public lands. For example, a biologist from the Sun’aq Tribe taught them about invasive species, and the crew then helped to remove invasive crayfish from the Buskin River. They received training on trail maintenance and then helped to improve a number of trails on the Refuge and on partner public lands such as Shuyak State Park.
As many as 1,800 people are expected to participate in the 2018 Alaska Forum on the Environment, a state-wide gathering of environmental professionals and leaders. In addition to presenting at the Forum, the teens will be staff the youth-track booth and will collaborate with other youth involved in environmental projects around the state. They are scheduled to present Tuesday February 13th at 9am, and plan to have a hands-on activity for participants to create their own reusable shopping bag out of a t-shirt (an activity they learned at Kodiak’s Threshold Recycling Center).
Environmental Education Specialist Shelly Lawson will work with the teens as they prepare their presentation, and will act as chaperone for their big trip. She is a strong advocate for their participation, observing, “youth are among the most popular presenters at AFE – I think it is due to their optimism and can-do attitude. They inspire and bring hope to all in attendance.”
The Friends provided financial support a trip to the Pacific Marine Expo this past fall in Seattle, to help educate the public about invasive species. Check out this report by Aaron Poe – Coordinator, Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands LCC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The impacts from introduced species like rats, foxes, cattle, and reindeer on the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge are far-reaching. These non-indigenous species damage the abundance and diversity of native species including seabirds through predation, competition, and habitat transformation. A decades-long effort led by the Refuge has restored ecosystems on many islands thanks to the work of a large team to meticulously remove species on an island-by-island basis.
This issue has been a key focus of the Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands Landscape Conservation Cooperative (ABSI), a public-private partnership composed of agencies, Alaska Native tribes, and nongovernmental organizations working on collaborative conservation solutions in the North Pacific. Since 2012, ABSI has worked closely with the Maritime Refuge and the University of Alaska, Anchorage to document the distribution of invasive species on islands in in the Aleutians and Bering Sea.
With funding from the North Pacific Research Board, researchers have had a chance to look ahead and prepare for lesser known potential threats from aquatic species inadvertently introduced by ships transiting through the Aleutians or from fishing fleets active in the region. These vessels can introduce species by exchanging ballast water or from species that grow on vessel hulls, known as “hull fouling”. A recent ranking analysis of marine invasive species completed by the University of Alaska and a number of partners identified a ‘Top 10’ group of marine invaders that could potentially infest the Bering Sea and Aleutians.
We know after decades of restoration work in the Aleutians that prevention efforts are a worthwhile investment. This study included a targeted outreach component focused on the maritime industry to spread awareness and foster some discussion about how industry can work with scientists and resource managers.
The Pacific Marine Expo held in Seattle each November is the largest gathering of marine industry professionals on the west coast. A team including Captain John Faris, Skipper of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service research vessel Tiglax, Aaron Poe (ABSI) and Melissa Good with (Alaska Sea Grant) staffed a booth for three days at this year’s expo to connect with vessel operators and owners.
The educational materials sponsored by Friends of Alaska Refuges for their www.StopRats.org website provided a vital messaging hook that drew people into our booth. Mariners revile rats and the problems they can cause on ships. This helped us underscore the importance of finding ways to prevent introductions of invasive species from becoming established rather than fighting them once they are in place.
Throughout the expo we reached more than 250 people, gave out hundreds of StopRats.org magnets and made key connections with potential partners from a range of industries. We hope that being able to reach this key audience in Seattle with messages of prevention can ultimately help protect the islands and waters of Alaska thousands of miles away.
This past November, Friends and Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival Coordinator Robbi Mixon traveled with USFWS Visitor Services Manager Kara Zwickey to one of the biggest birding festivals in the nation- Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. Located near the coastal border of Texas-Mexico, the area offered hundreds of bird species, many new friends and connections, and gave our organization many new ideas for our own festival.
Over the course of the 4-day festival, Robbi and Kara talked to hundreds of attendees about Alaska’s 16 National Wildlife Refuges and encouraged them to attend the Shorebird Festival. They met with the directors of both the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and the Space Coast Festival (Florida), as well as reconnected with previous Shorebird Festival Keynotes Noah Strycker and Kevin Karlson.
Our Alaska Friends Board and the Hawaiian Islands Friends Boards have been invited to a workshop on Kauai in January 2018. This opportunity will be funded by grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation (NFWF).
The main items on the agenda will be: Communications using social media, Member recruitment and engagement, Board development and retention. Five board members and our Coordinator will attend, joined by Steve Delehanty and Helen Strackeljahn of USFWS.
Friends expect to return to Alaska with fresh ideas and new tools to use for greater benefit to our Alaska Refuges. They hope that new or inactive members will be encouraged to take on leadership roles so they may also take advantage of ongoing training and educational opportunities both in and outside of Alaska.
Seventy-five years ago, [an Alaskan] National Wildlife Refuge was invaded by a foreign power when World War II came to the Aleutians and to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. This was the Battle of Attu.
Last week, Jeff Dickrell, retired history teacher, internationally renowned researcher and author of “The Center of the Storm: The Bombing of Dutch Harbor,” came to Homer to share photographs and stories from the Battle of Attu, when Japan attacked the Aleutians during World War II.
The Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor on June 3 to 4, 1942, and invaded the islands of Attu and Kiska on June 6, 1942.
“This was the only World War II battle fought on North American soil and is also known as the Forgotten War,” Dickrell shared during a presentation to fifth grade students at West Homer Elementary. “Why do we need to know about this? It’s important that we honor and learn from the past.”
Attu, a tiny village at the end of Alaska’s Aleutian chain, was home to 44 Aleut who lived a subsistence lifestyle and were a peaceful people. They raised foxes for the fur and were famous for the grass baskets they made. Taking the villagers by surprise, the Japanese took control of the island, and along with it, American soil in the first foreign invasion on American soil since the War of 1812.
Plans were drawn up to retake the island in 1943, known as the Aleutian Campaign. On May 11, 1943, after a lengthy air campaign, 11,000 American troops reached Attu, greeted by fog and silence.
“No one had ever fought in a place like Attu,” Dickrell shared. “It was far from the United States, cold and wet, with cliffs and rocky beaches, and no trees, and they weren’t prepared. When the Americans landed on the shores, it was like walking into a trap. The Americans didn’t know where to go and were completely blinded by the fog.”
Dickrell shared that it took the American soldiers four days to realize that they needed to leave the beaches and get to high ground if they were to find the Japanese soldiers. He shared the challenges that soldiers on both sides faced, including frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot, and that when a solider recovered a diary from a dead Japanese soldier named Nebu Tatsuguri who was a doctor, and the diary was translated, it read that the Japanese soldiers would not surrender, that they would fight to their death and commit suicide before being captured, which they did.
The battle to reclaim Attu was expected to take three days, but lasted 19. By the end of the battle, nearly 2,400 Japanese died and 549 Americans were killed in action, 1,148 were wounded in action and 2,100 had non-battle casualties, including frostbite and trench foot (foot rot). For every 100 Japanese on the island, 71 Americans were injured or killed. The village of Attu was destroyed and only 24 of the 43 Aleut who lived there survived captivity by the Japanese. The Battle of Attu was one of the deadliest battles in World War II, second only to Iwo Jima.
At the heart of Dickrell’s message was a desire to honor the men who fought this war.
“It’s surprising how little the general public knows about this war,” he said. “If you read books on World War II, the Battle of Attu gets like a half a page.”
Dickrell’s message is also about sharing the lessons learned from this chapter in American history. These lessons included learning what clothing and footwear were appropriate for the climate in order for soldiers to stay dry and to prevent hypothermia, the need for soldiers to be able to take their boots off on a regular basis in order to prevent foot rot and the knowledge that Japanese soldiers will not surrender.
“History is the story of everything that happened before now,” he shared. “It’s important that we learn what we did wrong so we don’t do it again, so we can learn from our mistakes.”
Today, Attu is abandoned, but the landscape remains littered with the debris of war.
As part of a joint venture between the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in Homer and the regional National Wildlife Refuge office in Anchorage, Dickrell was invited to Homer by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge to take part in National Wildlife Refuge Week, an event that is celebrated during the second week of October and all across the United States. There are 560 refuges nationwide and 16 refuges in Alaska. The National Wildlife Refuge existed on Attu before, during and after the Battle of Attu.
“Jeff is the guru for folks who know and understand Aleutian World War II History,” said Kara Zwickey, Visitor Center Manager at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer. “So many people don’t know that this war happened and Jeff spent years researching and corresponding directly with war veterans. He is an iconic individual who has the capacity to hear and share stories. Every year during National Wildlife Refuge week, we try to create awareness of, and promote, what’s happening on the refuge. We were delighted to be able to bring him here and have him tell this important story to the community.”
While in Homer, Dickrell gave presentations to students at West Homer Elementary School, McNeil Canyon Elementary School, the Homer High School, Homer Flex School and Kachemak Bay Campus. He also hosted a community presentation at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.
A history teacher in Unalaska for 27 years, Jeff retired from teaching last year. The author of “Center of the Storm,” photographs and interviews focused on the bombing of Dutch Harbor, Dickrell worked collaborately with individuals from all across the Aleutians, immersing himself in Aleutian history, serving as a Board Member with the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska and was given access to the National Archives Still Pictures Division in Washington, D.C.
Jeff’s book is currently out of print, but other books that discuss the war include “Attu Boy” by Nick Golodoff, a young Alaskan boy’s memoir of living among the Japanese soldiers, available at the Alaska Geographic Bookstore at Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, at the Homer Public Library and through the Homer Bookstore, “Last Letters of Attu”, available as an eBook at the Homer Public Library and at the Homer Bookstore, “One Thousand Mile War”, available at the Homer Bookstore and “Aleutian Echoes”, available at the library.
May 2018 is the 75th commemorative anniversary of the Battle of Attu and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge is working on plans to commemorate the anniversary at refuge areas around the state next year.
“This is a really big deal and we want to share this story with the community,” Zwickey shared.
Please join us on Tuesday, November 28, for the Friends membership meeting. (*Note: due to the Thanksgiving holiday, we’ve moved our meeting back one week) In person: Homer (Alaska Maritime) or Soldotna (Kenai NWR) Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747#
Special Guest: Nate Berg, Wildlife Biologist/Tetlin NWR
Northwest Boreal Lynx Project
Researchers in Interior Alaska at Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest, Tetlin NWR, Yukon Flats NWR, Kanuti NWR, Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko NWR, and Gates of the Arctic NPP as well as in Northwest Canada are working together to study the long distance movements of Canada lynx in relation to the 10-year cycle of their primary prey, the snowshoe hare. Lynx are being fitted with satellite GPS collars that allow us to track their movements. Collared lynx are showing us what habitats they prefer, where they choose to have their young, when and where they choose to disperse, which landscape features act as corridors and which might be barriers to their dispersal. In addition to GPS data we are also collecting hair samples for genetic and isotope analysis. We are using this information to better understand relatedness and origin of lynx and to develop landscape connectivity models that allow us to identify the areas most important for lynx conservation at the local, regional, and continental scale.
Follow the PowerPoint presentation here (or download a copy):
Please join us on Tuesday, October 17, for the Friends membership meeting. Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747#
Special Guest: Mandy Bernard The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
Kenai Mountains to Sea partners envision a landscape of connected private and public lands. They are working with willing landowners, agencies and tribal entities, and strengthening longstanding and effective private-public partnerships dedicated to voluntarily conserving and enhancing fish and wildlife habitats for the continuing economic, recreational and cultural benefits to residents and visitors of the Kenai.