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2/20/24 What We Think We Know: The Deep Past of the Ancient Unangan Aleut. With Archeologist and Author Debra Corbett

Tuesday, February 20, 5-6 pm AKT

Friends Membership Meeting, ALL welcome.
The Zoom Recording of this event can be viewed below.

We ALL thank you so much Debbie for sharing your experience and knowledge with ALL of us.  It was great! 

Since then, exploring and trying to understand the ancient human history of these islands has been an all-consuming passion.  Along the way I worked with amazing people and experienced transcendently beautiful land and seascapes. The past and old ways lie close to the surface if you listen. Ever so gradually we learned about the people, the culture and the rich history tied to this place.  I will talk about my experiences working in the islands for 30 years and hit some of the highlights of our research. 


Debbie Corbett photographing a site on Hawadax in 2001. pc WAAPP

For 9000 years people flourished in the Aleutian Archipelago, a 1000-mile chain of islands stretching from mainland America nearly to Asia.  The rich marine environment supported 40,000 people before the coming of the Russians compared to a scant 8000 today.  In spite of this long human history and complex and interesting social organizations of the ancient Unangax, very little archeological work was done in the Aleutians perhaps because of the remoteness or the weather.  Debbie’s work was pioneering, and she is considered the foremost Aleutian archaeologist today.  Most all of the Aleutians are in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  

Debbie’s hot-off-the-presses book that she coauthored with Diane Hanson, Culture and Archaeology of the Ancestral Unangax/Aleut of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, will be available for purchase and signing at the talk in Homer.  The book is available online from multiple sources. 


Biography by Debra Corbett

At age seven I decided I would be an archaeologist; no other option ever entered my mind.  I got my BA at the University of Arizona, and worked for a few years in Idaho and Arizona before heading north in 1983, to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  The job was investigating historic sites claimed by the newly created Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Native Corporations.

That summer BIA sent two crews to Adak Island.  Since I had actually been in a small boat, I was picked for one of the crews.  Of the 12 of us, ONE, not me, knew anything about the Aleutians and none of us had been there before.  My crew spent three months in a rat-infested cabin with an inflatable boat, in the Bay of Islands one of the most beautiful spots on earth.  I was completely enmeshed in the magic of the islands.

I worked for the BIA until 1989 then went on to get an MA in Fairbanks, studying–you guessed it–the Aleutian Islands.  One day my advisor approached me with a phone number on a scrap of paper and said “This crazy bird biologist in Kansas wants to find an Aleutian archaeologist.  Call him!” and my future was set.  After completing my degree, I went to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), largely because the agency manages the islands as part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  Unusual for any agency, FWS allowed me to participate in a multi-year research project with the crazy biologist, Dr. Douglas Causey, and some of his colleagues.  From 1997-2003 we were the Western Aleutians Archaeological and Paleobiological Project (WAAPP).  Along the way we experienced the best and the worst the Aleutians have to offer, shipwreck, injury, laughter, frustration, fear, transcendent joy, and unbelievable archaeology.  

In December 2012 I discovered I was eligible for retirement and left the best job in the world so I could spend more time doing research and writing on the prehistory of the Aleutian Islands.  Long time friend and colleague Diane Hanson here at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) talked me into writing a book on the prehistory of the Aleutians Islands.  We finished that book and here I am, to tell you all about 30 years in the Best Place in Alaska







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10/17 Membership Meeting: Waterfowl on the Yukon Delta

Tuesday, October 17, 5-6 pm AKDT, Randall Friendly, Waterfowl Biologist

This presentation was recorded; watch recording below.


Bethel – Randall, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Waterfowl Biologist, will be speaking live at the Refuge Visitor Center (across from the hospital) with potluck to follow. Bring your favorite dish to share.
Homer – Watch Party with snacks at Alaska Maritime’s Islands & Ocean Visitor Center
Soldotna – Watch Party at Kenai Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road
Kodiak – Watch Party at Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center

The vast, watery Yukon Delta Refuge nestles between Alaska’s largest rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim Rivers, where the tundra meets the Bering Sea. At 19 million acres, Yukon Delta has edged out the Arctic Refuge as the largest wildlife refuge in the country. Its diversity of habitats supports one of the largest aggregations of waterbirds in the world.  Presenter Randall Friendly was raised on this land, went off to college and has recently returned as waterfowl biologist for the Yukon Delta Refuge. Let him show you his homeland and hear from him why waterfowl has so inspired him. He will talk about how and why the refuge manages waterfowl from banding programs with Cackling geese and Brant and capture-mark-recapture with Emperor geese.


Greater White-fronted Goose, Kigigak Island, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge pc:  Kristine Sowl, USFWS

Biography by Randall Friendly.  I am from Tuntutuliak a Yupik village of about 800 people.  It is located along the Kuskokwim River on the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in western Alaska about 40 miles downriver from Bethel, the largest town on the Delta.  I grew up with a subsistence lifestyle of hunting and fishing with my family.  I found out I wanted to work with ducks and geese after my first season working as a technician for the US Fish and Wildlife Service working in remote places on the Yukon Delta. I saw how incredible it was to see the diversity of nesting birds like on Kigigak Island. Since then, I decided one day I wanted to continue working with waterfowl and learn more about them. With mentoring by ANSEP (Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program) I studied for my Bachelor’s at the University of Alaska Anchorage in biology.  I completed my Master’s from the University of Alaska Fairbanks this summer in wildlife biology.  My thesis was on threatened Spectacled Eiders and how their wintering conditions affect reproduction. While in college, I had a chance to work on Kodiak, and Arctic Refuges as well as Yukon Delta.  What I like most about my job is that I get to work with amazing people who are enthusiastic about wildlife and that I get to work outside of the office environment.

I recently moved to Bethel to work full time for the Yukon Delta Refuge as a waterfowl biologist.  I have been enjoying some family time after being away for college for quite some time. I like to spend time outdoors whether it is fishing, hunting, or gathering. Having moved to Bethel, I am looking forward to the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends.

Read an interview with Randall about how the ANSEP program welcomed a boy from the village and helped him realize his dreams. And hear from Randall in this podcast about his hopes for his work, a chance to inspire others and his masters work on spectacled eiders. 




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Membership Meeting: Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (9/23)

The Most Amazing Refuge You’ve Never Seen: The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Presented by Jeff Williams, Deputy Refuge Manager

This presentation was recorded.  Watch below:

 

In Homer and Soldotna – bring sides or desserts to the soup/chili after gathering or just come.  Refuge staff will share upcoming winter events and volunteer opportunities.

by Jeff Williams

Remote.  Difficult to access.  Harsh weather. Thousands of Islands. Millions of Birds.  Erupting volcanoes.  You’ve heard about it, but few people have actually had the privilege of visiting this spectacular refuge.  Spanning in extent from southeast Alaska, west to the end of the Aleutian Chain, and north above the Arctic Circle,  a distance equivalent to that from the East Coast to the West Coast of the lower 48, the 4 million acre refuge is comprised of several thousand islands.  It’s also home to 80% of all the breeding seabirds in North America – we guess that is over 40 million birds, but our tally counters don’t go that high. Oh, and don’t forget the hundreds of thousands of seals, sea lions, and otters too.  Remote field camps on uninhabited islands and the largest ship in the Fish and Wildlife Service, the 120 foot R/V Tiglax, carry out the work of the refuge. The Refuge’s Islands and Ocean Visitor Center is in Homer at refuge headquarters.  Jeff will provide an overview of the unique scenic beauty of the refuge and give you a look into the current refuge projects from the biological program to tribal engagement, ship operations and more.

Most of North America’s seabirds nest on this one refuge and crested auklets are some of the coolest.  PC USFWS

Jeff came to the Alaska Maritime Refuge in 1990 when the refuge was only 10 years old.  He has worked for this refuge probably longer than anyone else working his way up from Biological Technician, to Biologist, to Refuge Operations Specialist, to Assistant Manager and now Deputy Refuge Manager. Jeff says he remains passionate about the refuge after all these years because the work is always new, people and projects are interesting, and the refuge is a spectacular crown jewel in the refuge system. He even met his wife working for the refuge.  In his current position, Jeff oversees the day-to-day operations of the refuge and staff, serves as supervisor and scheduler for the R/V Tiĝlax̂, and wishes he could do more surveys in a skiff. Jeff was based in the Adak office for 12 years and moved to the Homer office in 2001. Jeff enjoys spending time with his family, reading widely, working in his shop on projects and woodworking.


Jeff Williams on Segula Island in the Aleutian Islands. pc: USFWS




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    30 Years Later: Are Spectacled Eiders still a Mystery? 4/18, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKDT)

    Presented by Dan Rizzolo, Endangered Species Biologist.

    Tuesday, April 18, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m.  AKDT
    Dan’s presentation was recorded.  Watch below:

    Spectacled eiders were in rapid decline in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in 1993 when they received the protection of the Endangered Species Act by being listed as a Threatened species. They were a mystery then. Western science knew very little about this sea duck species with the spectacled plumage. We knew they made their nests in the coastal tundra along the Bering Sea and Arctic coasts of Alaska and Siberia, but not where they molted their feathers or spent the winter. How many were there? What did they eat? And, importantly, why were they in such rapid decline? In the 30 years since they were listed, we have learned much about this tough duck that winters among the pack ice in the Bering Sea. In this 50th anniversary year of the Endangered Species Act, join us for Dan’s review of what has been learned since listing, including how spectacled eiders are responding  to changes in sea ice in the Bering Sea. But knowledge does not always bring recovery and with ongoing anthropogenic climate change, the spectacled eider continues to face an uncertain future.

    ‘   Dan, Mist Netting birds on the river.  pc Mark Lindberg

    Dan Rizzolo is a wildlife biologist who works with a great team of biologists and support staff in the Endangered Species Recovery program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based in Fairbanks. He found his way to Alaska from the east coast for a summer job after finishing his undergraduate studies and has remained in the Great Land since, working as a biologist throughout the state, primarily with birds. Dan enjoys spending time in remote areas of Alaska, both for work and for play. In Fairbanks, you will often find him pedaling his fat tire bike up O’Connor Creek trail, or at local ice rinks cheering on his favorite hockey players, his wife Adrian and son Gavin.






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      Canoeing Yaghanen; Canoe Trails of the Kenai Refuge, 3/21, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKDT)

      Presented by Dave Atcheson author, fly fisherman, canoeist


      Dave will be in person at the Kenai Refuge with a book signing at 4:30 pm, talk at 5 and reception at 6.  A watch party will be at the Alaska Maritime Refuge in Homer with Dave’s books available for purchase.

      Come learn about the vast canoe country of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with Dave Atcheson, author of the newly released book, Canoeing Yaghanen.   Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe trails, just north of Sterling, Alaska, cover over 100 miles with more than 70 lakes, two river systems and portage trails.  These routes are a national treasure having been recognized as Water Trails within the National Recreation Trail System.  The Swan Lake trails and most of the Swanson River trails are within designated Wilderness, closed to motorized equipment and boats.  All you will hear will be loon calls, beaver tail slaps, swans honking and wind in the spruce.  Dave will share his images and thoughts on what makes this place so special, its wildlife and waterbirds, incredible trout fishing and of course, how you can plan your own adventure into this wonderful network of wilderness trails and waterways. From easy family weekend trips to weeklong adventures, paddlers of all abilities and ages will enjoy this unique wilderness experience.

      ‘    Portages varying in length from a hundred yards to nearly a mile connect the lakes of the canoe system.  Dave Atcheson portaging. pc Cindy Atcheson

      Dave Atcheson is an avid canoeist, sports fisher and hunter and has spent much of the last 30 years exploring the Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe systems.  Dave writes that the canoe trails are one of his favorite places, not only in Alaska, but anywhere.  He also writes that “this still-water wonderland contains some of the finest lake fishing Alaska has to offer.” (from Canoeing Yaghanen) Dave has written for a variety of periodicals from Outdoor Life to Boy’s Life to Alaska Magazine and is a past contributing editor to Fish Alaska.  He is the author of the memoir of his commercial fishing days,  Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas.  He also wrote National Geographic’s Hidden Alaska, Bristol Bay and Beyond and the guidebook Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Dave teaches fly fishing and has run the Kenai Fishing Academy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula College.  Originally from upstate New York, Atcheson has traveled all over Alaska and lives in Sterling close to the canoe country. 


      Dave Atcheson with Kenai River rainbow.  pc: Lee Keuper

      Canoeing Yaghanen (the Good Land): A Guide to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Systems was published by Alaska Geographic and is available from their online store here or at the Alaska Geographic bookstores at the Kenai Refuge and Alaska Maritime Refuge Visitor Centers.  




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        From Aahaaliq to Ulu: Culturally relevant environmental education. 2/21, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKT)

        Presented by Brittany Sweeney, Outreach Specialist, Selawik Refuge

        Tuesday,  February 21, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. AKDT


        What should environmental education be like on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges that are simultaneously public lands and homelands for Indigenous peoples? Iñupiaq residents in northwest Alaska have deep knowledge and longstanding connections to these lands that are now part of Selawik Refuge. In their environmental education program, Selawik Refuge centers cultural relevance, uplifting traditional stewardship, and building community partnerships. The annual Selawik Science-Culture Camp is a key example of this approach, but you can also see it in all of the refuge’s outreach and management approaches.


        Brittany Sweeney has lived in Kotzebue, in the homeland of the Iñupiat, since 2010, with her husband and two kids. Brittany grew up in Yupi’k communities around Alaska refuges, first in Stebbins on the Yukon Delta Refuge, then in Dillingham where she started working for Togiak Refuge as a college student in 1998.



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          Few Moose, Few Wolves: What is the Story on the Yukon Flats Refuge? 1/17, 5pm-6pm (AKT)

          Presented by Bryce Lake, Wildlife Biologist, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge

          Speaker Reception with Bryce and light refreshments: Morris Thompson Cultural Center, 101 Dunkel Street, Fairbanks, or join others at Alaska Maritime Refuge Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Hwy or Kenai Refuge Visitor Center, 33398 Ski Hill Road or Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center, 402 Center St.

          Doors open at with light refreshment at 4:30pm, presentation begins at 5pm at all 4 locations!


             

          Bryce Lake with sedated wolf after the radio collar was attached. His red coat was a deliberate choice so the helicopter capture crew could  easily find Bryce in the expansive landscape to deliver a wolf to him for collaring.

          Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is unique because wolves and moose occur there at some of the lowest densities in North America. With moose the only large prey available to wolves on the Yukon Flats, how does the low prey density change the wolves behavior?  Do wolves eat fewer moose when moose are scarce (wolf kill rate)?  How do wolves adapt to few prey (search behavior)?  Join Yukon Flats Wildlife Biologist Bryce Lake to hear his stories about his four years of field work trying to answer these questions.   He will share moose numbers, wolf numbers, and what he has learned about this unusual predator/prey situation.


          Yukon Flats Refuge, a vast complex of wetlands, is the third largest refuge in the country.. pc: USFWS

          Bryce Lake says the most rewarding aspect of his job is the inspiration he draws from interacting with and learning about the hidden ways of nature, some of which he will share in this talk. Bryce has been a wildlife biologist for the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge since 2008.  He has broad experience in Alaska having spent 13 summers from 1998 to 2008 living in a tent and working as a field technician on the Copper River Delta, North Slope, Yukon Delta, and the Interior. He has had prior experience on other Alaska National Wildlife Refuges including Yukon Delta Refuge and as an intern at Kanuti Refuge. Bryce’s job as a wildlife biologist is to conduct biology to inform management decisions. This usually means aerial surveys to count wildlife, capture and radio collar birds and mammals, and band ducks. His latest experiment is using trail cameras to monitor furbearers, particularly lynx. You can read about surprising things that Bryce has discovered with his trail cameras in the Science Corner of our February 2021 issue of our newsletter. 

          Bryce holds a master’s degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His thesis focused on how early environment shapes the growth of goslings. In his spare time, he enjoys all things outdoors, usually fishing, camping, hunting, and hiking with his two dogs. He also enjoys watching a close hockey or football game. Bryce lives in Fairbanks.

           

          Moose and wolf research takes place during the lovely but often brutally cold winter with temperatures frequently below zero. pc: USFWS



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            Climate Scenarios for Alaska’s Refuges: Projections, potential impacts, and science for adaptation. 11/15, 5pm-6pm (AKT)

            With Dr. Jeremy Littell of the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center

            This presentation was recorded.  View below:
            How might climate change affect Alaska’s national wildlife refuges?  Climate change is already affecting the high latitudes, including Alaska, in profound ways – warming in the Arctic is now three to four times faster than the average for Earth as a whole. How and how fast the climate will change in the future varies considerably across Alaska, and how those changes will affect the ecosystems, habitats, and species are a critical science need for refuges attempting to adapt to and plan for these futures. Littell will discuss what we know about likely future changes, the impacts that are likely to occur, and how those vary among Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges. Along the way, he’ll describe how we develop climate projections for the future and where the uncertainties about those futures come from.

            Jeremy Littell is a climate impacts ecologist at the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center (USGS). He conducts research at the intersection of climate change, ecological responses, and science needs of resource managers and decision makers and works to provide climate information that is relevant to decision makers’ adaptation to climate change. He has 20 years’ experience in climate impacts research. Jeremy grew up in southcentral Alaska, studied and worked outside, and returned in 2012. His doctoral work at the University of Washington focused on ecological and climatic controls on wildfire in the western U.S. and the role of climate in Douglas-fir tree growth across its climatic range. He also worked as a research scientist at the UW Climate Impacts Group, collaborating with resource managers in Federal and state agencies to better understand and use climate information in planning and adaptation.   When he’s not working (and sometimes while working), he can be found trying to find out how much of Alaska can be crossed via human powered locomotion in a day or spending time with his family.



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              Tufted puffin bringing a bill load of fish to feed its puffling (chick). Pc Robin Corcoran

              Tracking Puffins in the Kodiak Archipelago. 10/18, 5pm-6pm (AKDT)

              The bobbing orange and yellow bills of Tufted and Horned Puffins are signs of summer off the coast of Alaska. These beloved birds have sometimes been called “clowns of the seas” due to their playful appearance. However, little is known about where these iconic species overwinter when they spend eight to nine months at sea away from breeding colonies. Join Robin Corcoran and Katie Stoner to learn about the ecology of Tufted and Horned puffins. Discover the habitats of Kodiak’s puffins and hear how Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, in cooperation with Oregon State University, is working to better understand and investigate factors that might be impacting populations of these two charismatic seabirds within the Kodiak Archipelago.
              Katie Stoner “grubbing” puffins on Chiniak Island. It takes a long arm to reach into the puffin burrows. pc:Robin Corcoran/USFWS
              • In Kodiak, join us for the presentation at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center with a speaker reception starting at 4:30. 
              • In Soldotna, a watch party at 5 p.m. at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road followed by volunteer orientation for those interested.
              • In Homer, a watch party at 5 p.m. at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge’s Islands & Ocean Visitor Center followed by an opportunity to join Friends and learn about volunteer opportunities with the Refuges.

              Robin Corcoran has said that it is a dream come true that part of her duties  as Avian Biologist for Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge are the same things that she would do in her free time – watch and photograph birds.  In spite of  growing up on Long Island outside of New York, she got to play unsupervised in a woods, a marsh and shore where she developed her passion for all wild things.  She particularly likes birds because they are more diverse than mammals.  Since Robin started working at Kodiak Refuge in 2009, she has studied everything from Kittzlitz’s Murrelets nesting on rocky mountain tops, to the rapidly declining Aleutian Tern. Robin oversees an annual songbird mist netting and banding program and spends much of each summer navigating the Kodiak Archipelago coastline by skiff to count nearshore marine birds.   Hear more about Robin’s interesting career on this podcast.  


              Katie Stoner is an Oregon State University PhD student working in collaboration with Kodiak Refuge for her dissertation research assessing the conservation status and threats to Tufted and Horned Puffins breeding in the Kodiak Archipelago within the Gulf of Alaska.  She developed a passion for wildlife and birdwatching while attending summer camps with the Audubon Society of Portland in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology and Natural Resource Ecology from the University of Vermont. During her undergraduate degree, she had the opportunity to volunteer for Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge on the refuge’s Kittlitz’s Murrelet Nesting Ecology Project, and she used data from her fieldwork on this project to complete her undergraduate thesis. 

              After graduating, Katie gained experience studying avian ecology as part of several different research programs. She contributed to the conservation of threatened and endangered petrels and shearwaters in the tropical mountains of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast and monitored tree nests of the Marbled Murrelet in Oregon’s coastal forests. She lived in remote field camps for her work including in the backcountry of the Kodiak Archipelago, on Chowiet Island in the Gulf of Alaska, and on the windy slopes of Cape Crozier on Ross Island, Antarctica studying Adelie Penguins for Point Blue Conservation Science. 

              Katie is thrilled to return to Alaska and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to learn the secrets of Alaska’s “clowns of the seas.”




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