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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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Arctic Village Science and Culture Camp Goonzhii

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Friends Volunteer Brenda Dolma had the opportunity to work with youth, refuge staff, and community elders of Arctic Village, during their annual Science and Culture Camp.  Camp Goonzhii (meaning “wisdom and knowledge” in Gwich’in) took place in late August 2016.  Thirty youths ranging from kindergarten through twelfth grade participated. The Science and Culture Camp includes curriculum in western science and traditional ecological knowledge, combined with indoor and outdoor learning experiences through demonstrations and hands on environmental education activities. Community elders share their wisdom about the land and animals, while Refuge staff offer exposure to new technologies.   Some camp topics and activities included:
  • Migratory birds
  • Animal tracking and drawing
  • Archery
  • Dog sled construction
  • Skin sewing
  • Caribou butchering and processing
  • Blueberry picking
  • Plant identification
dolma2I had the opportunity to meet Sarah James [community elder and Friends member], who has been speaking to protect the habitat for the future.   It was a treat to get out on the field trips and experience the beauty of Arctic Village in fall,” says Brenda.

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  To learn more about the Camp, check out this article by News Miner, in Fairbanks. The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges provided funding for nightly community dinners and Brenda’s travel. Membership comes with the chance to Volunteer. Check out our current opportunities.
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Friends Atigun Gorge Float in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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(Photos by Lione Clare)

Board Friends, past and present, joined current and prospective Fairbanks members and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to float several miles into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge via the Atigun River from the Dalton Highway. The outing,proposed by National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) Director David Houghton, had a two-fold mission:
  1. Reward members for long-time Board service, and
  2. Recruit and engage Fairbanks individuals as active Friends members
This intrepid and diverse group of 14 met in Fairbanks on July 15, 2016 and ventured up the Dalton Highway in a van and several pick-ups, first stopping at the Hot Spot Cafe for the establishment’s notably huge burgers, and then touring the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot. After a night camping at Marion Creek, the group drove on to the Atigun River, where they inflated rafts and prepared for the three hour boating journey.  

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The following photos exemplify some of the beautiful scenery and exciting moments experienced, as well as the challenges of enduring mosquitos, rain, and an arduous hike back to the road the next day.

Everyone felt this event achieved its goals in every way, as the camaraderie and shared experience reinvigorated the Board, past and present, while Fairbanks members brought new ideas and commitment to the Friends organization. A huge thank you goes to NWRA and the Wilburforce Foundation for encouraging and funding the trip, and to Steve Berendzen and Barry Whitehill of Fairbanks for planning and coordinating logistics and equipment for the float.

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#Hiking in ANWR. @lioneclarephotography

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Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge 75th Anniversary Celebration

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Friends Vice President Henri Balland and member Tom Balland traveled from Homer to Kodiak to help with the Refuge’s 75th Anniversary Celebration.  Friends members worked directly with Kodiak Outreach Specialist Lisa Hupp, to help pull off an awesome event. friendsgroup75th Saturday, August 20th, was packed with a community BBQ, guest speakers, live marimba music, photo booth, exhibits, face painting, appearances of “Puddles the Blue Goose” and “Kodiak the Bear”, and a celebratory cake for the more than 500 people in attendance.   Henri and Tom contributed volunteer time, helping with set-up, clean-up, running errands, and greeting staff, volunteers, and a few Refuge System VIPs, Cynthia Martinez, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System and Mitch Ellis, Alaska Chief of Refuges. They also hosted the Friends Outreach Table, where they met and familiarized community members about the Refuge and the Friends organization.  

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Learn more about Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge’s 75th Anniversary Celebration!