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STOP RATS – Pacific Marine Expo, Nov. 2017

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.

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Friends Travel to Texas for Birding Festival

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Harlingen, TX

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.



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Canoeing & Communicating on the Kenai

Refuge Discovery Trip Report by Poppy Benson, FANWR Outreach Coordinator and Barb Veeck, Friends Member

The first ever Friends Discovery Trip to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was a success! Eleven Friends met on a rainy Saturday fall morning with the Kenai Refuge manager Andy Loranger and staff to learn about the unique volunteer opportunities within the Refuge: from front desk, to adopt a trail, to refuge advocacy.  This most visited and accessible refuge in Alaska has experienced budget and staff cutbacks.  Visitor center manager Leah Eskelin shared a laundry list of volunteer opportunities suitable for locals with an afternoon to spare or Anchoragites who could give a weekend.

The clouds parted just in time for us to drive through golden fall leaves to launch our canoes at the Swan Lake Canoe Route trail head, 20 miles north of Sterling.  We paddled across Canoe Lake to set up camp for our evening activities.  Lots of awesome Dutch oven cooking and late night fraternizing around the campfire followed, including Robert Service poems dramatized by Friend member Tom Choate.  We were accompanied by two refuge staff who coordinated our volunteer trail clearing. 

The next day, we paddled to Waterfall Lake to do some trail clearing and exploration of the lake and its’ lovely island.  The calm and clear waters offered a perfect reflection of the beautiful fall colors of the lake. 

 
(click to enlarge photos)

Barb Veeck reports, “As a new member, I felt that I gained awareness of the purpose of the Friends program and enjoyed meeting other members.  It was fun to discuss future volunteer and group trip activities such as this one. 

Prior to this trip, most of us were only familiar with 1-2 people in the group which hailed from Anchorage, Kenai, Anchor Point, and Homer.   By the end of the trip we all felt we had new “Friends” and were already planning our next refuge trip.”

As a Board member and trip organizer, Poppy Benson says, “I felt we met the objectives of familiarizing ourselves with at least part of the vast and wonderful Kenai Refuge and its volunteer opportunities, increasing communication and collaboration with the Refuge, and facilitating and building relationships between Friends.  I think refuge familiarization trips should be an annual part of the Friends program.   Email me with your ideas for future refuge trips at poppybenson@alaskarefugefriends.  This trip was cheap ($20) and easy because participants only needed a weekend and a way to get to Soldotna.  Other refuges such as the Arctic Refuge would take more time and money.”

We encourage all of you to get out on a refuge through Friends sponsored trips or volunteer opportunities or with your own family.   The Refuges need us and we need them.

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Dalton Highway Weed Pull – Kanuti NWR

Trip Report by Friends Volunteer Paul Allan

We just returned from our June 2017 week of pulling invasive weed species for the Friends of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. The volunteer work took us from Homer all the way north almost to the Arctic Ocean. It was a great experience and we hope we contributed to keeping invasives from spreading even more.


Monday morning we left Fairbanks early in two vehicles with the full weed pulling crew. A Fish & Wildlife biologist was the agency head for the crew, there was a summer intern working with him, and two other Friends volunteers. This is a typical view of the Dalton Highway or Haul Road.  The reason it is called the Haul Road–lots of big trucks bringing stuff up to and down from Prudhoe Bay.




Typical Black Spruce forest- some of these trees are 200 years old! Growing on permafrost tends to make for a hard life and stunted growth.












Made it to the Arctic Circle. We pretty much had 24 hours of daylight the whole time we were up there.








This is what we were looking for– white sweetclover. For about 150 miles of the highway, anywhere a river crossed the road, we pulled the clover we found. We split up into pairs and pulled weeds about 100 yards up from the bridges on both sides. The idea is to not allow the sweetclover to flower and go to seed so the seeds can’t travel down the rivers and invade the refuges. One mature sweetclover plant can produce 350,000 seeds and they are viable for 80+ years.






                                                   The crew working a particularly heavily grown-over area.




Our final morning and we headed north out of Coldfoot (the two previous days we worked to the south.) The mountains you can see are the start of the Brooks Range. The views were spectacular, like Sukapak (mountain – below).








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Kodiak Refuge Salmon Camp

June-August, 2017

The mission of Salmon Camp is to educate Kodiak’s youth about the natural and cultural systems that define Kodiak’s geography and empower learners to investigate their own connections to this special place through hands-on learning, self-reflection and group discovery.


Since 1996, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, in conjunction with Alaska Geographic and the Kodiak community, has sponsored the Kodiak Summer Science and Salmon Camp. Within two years of its inception, Salmon Camp became the largest science-based camp in Alaska. In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized Salmon Camp as one of its top five environmental education programs in the nation. This camp serves students from kindergarten through 8th grade.  The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges has supported the camp for several years, providing funding for educational experiences.


The camp kicked off in early June with “Fishing Day,” with 125 attendees.  Bird TLC from Anchorage was on hand with a live bird demonstration, featuring a merlin and a peregrine falcon. Check out some photos below.








(photos by Lisa Hupp/USFWS)
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Events Report: Spring Bird Walks (Kotzebue) & Fairbanks Film Night

May 20-23, 2017
Selawik National Wildlife Refuge hosted its annual Spring Bird Walks.  The Friends sent expert birder George Matz of Homer to Kotzebue to lead several walks.

“Thanks to everyone who ventured out on one of our bird watching events this weekend! We enjoyed looking at birds in their bright breeding colors, visiting with folks, and learning a bit more about the feathered travelers that are flying home to Alaska to nest. Thanks to Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges volunteer George Matz (center of photo above) for being a part of the fun!”
  -Susan Georgette, Selawik NWR Manager




June 3, 2017
Friends gathered for an encore screening of “The Million Dollar Duck,” with host Adam Grimm, at Morris Thompson Cultural Visitor Center in Fairbanks. Refreshments were served, duck stamps were sold, and fun was had by all!

BELOW: Friends in Action: Sarah Mathews, Joseph Morris, and Adam Grimm (signing duck stamps).  













 

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Growing New Birders & Public Lands Users at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival

What does it take to grow new birders and public lands users?  The U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with Alaska Geographic aim to figure this out through immersive experiences  for youth on and about public lands. In this spirit, a group of 9 young people, accompanied by Helen Strackeljahn of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Eileen Kazura and Reth Duir of Alaska Geographic, attended the 25th Annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival with generous support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The group of current high school and college students from Anchorage, Alaska, were all first time birders when they arrived in Homer for the Shorebird Festival. Over the course of the Festival, they learned how to use binoculars, spent time in kayaks, and discovered their own personal bird story in a workshop with keynote presenter J. Drew Lanham.  These activities and more were made possible through a generous grant from the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.

Throughout the weekend, the group spotted Sandhill Cranes, Western Sandpipers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, and many more migratory species. They also had a number of close-up encounters with Homer’s resident Bald Eagles.

Highlights of the trip included kayaking around Yukon Island, pictured above, which began with entertainment on the water taxi provided by Dave Aplin of World Wildlife Fund, and culminated in a kayak race back to the shore. The group also enjoyed exploring Homer and attending the On the Wing Concert, Birder’s Breakfast and Keynote Speeches. 

Many thanks goes to the array of partners and sponsors, who made it possible to connect these urban youth to their Alaska Refuges.


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Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Sends Teens to the 2017 Alaska Forum on the Environment

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge submitted a proposal for two teens involved in outreach at the refuge to present at the 2017 Alaska Forum on the Environment (AFE), February 12-16, 2017. After being selected and with financial support from AFE partners and assistance from Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, the Kodiak Refuge was able to secure funding for flights and per diem for Kodiak sophomore Nia Pristas and 2016 high school graduate Joshua Barnes to travel to Anchorage and participate in the Forum. Their presentation was about Kodiak Refuge Salmon Camp and Pop-Up Salmon Camp.  To help prepare youth for their presentations, AFE created a weekend of leadership and public speaking development for participating teens from all over Alaska. On Monday on the first day of the conference, Nia and Joshua presented to a packed and enthusiastic audience. They shared information about Kodiak Refuge Salmon Camp including giving a brief salmon lesson, leading a salmon hat craft and they even had the whole audience singing and acting out the Salmon Song. Joshua also had his short film about climate change impact on Kodiak’s natural resources in the AFE film festival.



(The Kodiak Refuge wanted to give a special shout out to Jason Sodergren with Friends of for his prompt assistance!)
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Kaktovik Polar Bear Conservation Project – Part 2

Part 2: Field report filed by Jaqueline Keating
(Read Part 1 here)

“Don’t walk out to the truck yet, there’s a polar bear under the porch.”

That’s something you don’t get to say to your roommates very often. But when it’s one o’clock in the morning and the local polar bear patrol needs help nudging bears out of people’s backyards, this is a logical conversation to have when one of those bears has moved under the bunkhouse porch (which has to be traversed in order to reach the truck used to assist with said patrol). It was not long before the bear moved to another location and we were able to get into our vehicle and assist with driving laps around the village in an effort to keep bears away from houses. As exciting as this moment was, at the time it felt like just another day in Kaktovik.

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(photo by Anita Ritenour, 2015) 

I am incredibly fortunate to have worked with Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Marine Mammal Management staff on the Kaktovik Polar Bear Conservation Project. Thanks to the support of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, I was able to spend over three weeks on the Arctic Coast assisting with this vital effort. Duties included partaking in daily bear counts, monitoring bear viewing activity on Arctic Refuge waters, meeting with visitors from around the world to share information about the Arctic Refuge and the challenges facing polar bears, teaching about bears in local schools, and working with the Kaktovik Youth Ambassadors in their effort to share their community with tourists.

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Early into my stay in Kaktovik, we counted 69 polar bears on a single morning count. While bears and people have coexisted in Kaktovik for a long time, a combination of decreasing sea ice and the availability of whale remains from the subsistence hunting that takes place in the fall has yielded a much higher density of bears near the village in recent years than ever before. Simultaneously, this village with less than 300 residents is suddenly seeing upwards of 1,000 people in a six-week time span to see the infamous polar bear. The physical and social climate could hardly be changing more rapidly.

I will soon be defending my Master’s thesis on human-bear interactions on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge on Kodiak Island. My time in Kaktovik reinvigorated my passion for my research, and the importance of understanding the inseparable role that people play in wildlife management. In addition to having the privilege to work with so many talented staff and volunteers in the Fish and Wildlife Service, spending time with the local community was truly a gift. Whether it was running up and down village streets with the kids after school, sitting with elders and listening to their stories, or standing with others on the edge of the village watching bears feed across the glassy Arctic waters, it was a joy to experience this community.

I could not be more thankful for Marine Mammal Management and Refuge staff members who have worked so hard to build positive relationships with such a special community. I am honored to have been able to witness and partake in this project. Thanks again to the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges for enabling this partnership and many others like it!

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Kaktovik Polar Bear Conservation Project – Part 1

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Part 1: Field report filed by Jaqueline Keating

The Kaktovik Polar Bear Conservation Project is a collaboration between the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Marine Mammal Management Program to address increases in polar bear concentrations and visitor use around the native village of Kaktovik.
Friends is sponsoring  Jacqueline Keating to volunteer for  three weeks, assisting with daily bear counts, visitor education, and school outreach. She is completing graduate work on managing bear viewing on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and is really thankful for the opportunity to experience a different type of bear viewing management.

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Read Part 2 here!

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