Please join us on Tuesday, March 20, for the Friends membership meeting. Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747#
Special Guest: Kristine Sowl, Yukon Delta NWR “The importance of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to shorebirds and recent efforts to obtain population estimates”
Kristine will present on the population estimates derived from the 2015-16 PRISM surveys and discuss how these may change some of the continental population estimates for several shorebird species.
Kristine Sowl is awildlife biologist who studies wildlife ecology in subarctic ecosystems. She currently is in charge of the non-game bird program (landbirds, shorebirds, raptors, and seabirds) at Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in western Alaska. She has spent over 25 years working as a biologist on public lands in Alaska, including Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, and brief stints at the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge and Aniakchak National Monument. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 1985 and completed a Master of Science in Wildlife Biology from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 2003. Currently, her work is focused on the breeding and migration ecology of Beringian shorebirds, including the bar-tailed godwit, black turnstone, bristle-thighed curlew, western sandpiper, and Pacific subspecies of dunlin.
Our Alaska Friends Board and the Pacific and Hawaiian Islands Friends Boards attended a workshop, along with USFWS and Refuge Association staff on Kauai this past January 2018. This opportunity was funded by grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation (NFWF).
Workshop topics included:
USFWS Leadership Panel
Services for Friends
How to Build Effective Relationships with Refuges
Membership Growth and Retention
Energizing and Engaging Communities
Refreshing an Uninspired Board
Crafting Refuge Stories
Fundraising and Development
and so much more!
We were also treated to two very special field trips, with visits to Hanalei NWR and Kilauea Point NWR & Light House.
We made lots of connections, learned new ways to support our refuges, and shared ideas, but most importantly, we made FRIENDS.
Please join us on Tuesday, February 20, for the Friends membership meeting. In person: Homer (Alaska Maritime) or Soldotna (Kenai NWR) Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747#
Special Guest: Patrick Walsh, Supervisory Biologist/Togiak NWR
Stories and Studies of Wolves at Togiak National Wildlife Refuge
We have formally studied wolves for the past 10 years at Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, focusing most effort on understanding the role wolves play in regulating moose and caribou populations. This presentation will provide the results of a completed study of wolf predation on a small caribou herd, and will provide preliminary results from an ongoing study of wolf predation on the refuge’s moose population. During the course of the formal studies, we have made a number of incidental observations on wolf life history and behavior that are worth telling. So, this talk will be a combination of studies and stories about the wolves of Togiak Refuge.
Submitted by Lisa Hupp/USFWS – Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
Legendary long distance travelers, both Arctic and Aleutian terns find a summer home along the coast of the Kodiak Archipelago. They float in from exotic southern seas and form nesting colonies in beach grass and meadows, raising their chicks on small fish and fending off predators. For Aleutian terns, the bays and islets of Kodiak are part of an important chain of coastal habitat that stretches from southeast Alaska to eastern Siberia, the only place in the world where they breed. A precipitous decline in their population – over 90 percent in three decades – has prompted concerned scientists to look for clues and study the potential for restoration at colony sites across Alaska.
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge has a long history of monitoring Arctic and Aleutian tern colonies on the Archipelago, beginning with population data collected nearly fifty years ago and surveyed intermittently ever since. In 2016, Robin Corcoran, avian biologist, and Jill Tengeres, bio-technician, began a multi-year project to study Aleutian tern nests using remote game cameras. Images captured by the cameras tell the story of nest fate: how many eggs hatched, the quality and quantity of food provided, and the fate of nests threatened by predators. This past year, they also incorporated nest habitat surveys into their study; understanding the sites selected for nesting over time can provide valuable insight to better protect colonies. In addition to nest monitoring, they continue archipelago-wide population surveys of Arctic and Aleutian terns as part of a nearshore monitoring program in June and August of each summer.
This January, Robin and Jill brought preliminary results of their work to the statewide Alaska Marine Science Symposium, hosted by the North Pacific Research Board. They created two posters to summarize their studies: a poster about Aleutian tern nest monitoring and a poster about the population surveys conducted from 2016-17. As part of the symposium, they will present at a two-day Aleutian Tern Conservation Planning Meeting, and will hear from other biologists who are currently studying the species. Several experts from outside of Alaska – statisticians and tern experts – will join the discussion to help coordinate and plan how to best monitor this imperiled bird across the state.
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.
On August 19th, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge unveiled a new bear statue. The community gathered to honor their history, reflect on their respect for bears and all that they mean to Kodiak, and to celebrate a new wildlife symbol for their island home.
Preparing for Unveiling:
“We had lots of help from members of the team and community, including the mayor of the borough, the deputy manager of the city, three bear guides, retired ADF&G biologist, and the honorable Judge Roy Madsen looking on.”
The Unveiling & Celebration:
“We had a really lovely program: Mike Brady, Refuge manager, started the program reflecting that the refuge was established on this day 76 years ago thanks to the concern of guides, sportsmen, and conservation groups who were concerned about the declining population of bears, Paul Chervenak spoke about the importance of the project, Dan Rohrer, the borough mayor, spoke about how the sculpture welcomes visitors from all over the world who come for Kodiak bears and the economic importance of bears to the community, Shari Howard, daughter of Alf Madsen, spoke about the family history of guiding and the old statue, Dr. Alisha Drabek spoke about the cultural relationship of the Alutiiq people and bears and we had a beautiful performance by the Alutiiq dancers, and Dr. Larry Van Daele closed the program speaking to the future needs of bear conservation.”
“This extraordinary event was well attended by over 200 people, including community leaders, the Alutiiq people, locals, and conservationists. Distinguished guests spoke about the importance of the project and what is means for the local economy, community, and wildlife heritage of Alaska.”
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which contains the world’s most dense population of brown bears, attracts 65,000 people a year. The reveal of the bear statue reflects the importance and appreciation of the wonderful conservation partnership between the Kodiak community and local, state and federal governments. The Refuge is honored to host the new Kodiak bear sculpture, and would like to give our heartfelt thanks to many people, including Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
At first glance, an urban national wildlife refuge on the coast of California and a remote refuge in the interior of Alaska don’t seem to have much in common. Take a closer look and the connections are clear and important. The striking and regal canvasback is the largest diving duck in North America. It’s also the primary species that connects Yukon Flats Refuge in Alaska to San Pablo Bay Refuge in California – both physically and through each Refuge’s establishing legislation. In the 1950s and 60s, biologists banded thousands of ducks on what is now the Yukon Flats Refuge. Of these banded ducks, 313 canvasbacks were recovered – and 89 of those banded canvasbacks were returned from the San Francisco Bay area.
So when refuge staff at Yukon Flats sought to establish a “Sister Refuge” relationship with a Lower 48 Refuge – a relationship based on a shared resource – they followed the canvasbacks to San Pablo Bay Refuge in San Francisco’s North Bay. This pairing of refuges provides a tangible opportunity to educate residents in the Bay Area and the Yukon River Basin about how wildlife refuges function together as a national network of lands despite their apparent differences and the great distance that separates them.
Last week marked the official start to the Sister Refuge partnership between Yukon Flats and San Pablo Bay Refuges. Three Yukon Flats Refuge employees – Nathan Hawkaluk, deputy refuge manager; Heather Bartlett, wildlife refuge specialist; and Julie Mahler, refuge information technician – migrated to the canvasbacks’ wintering habitats in the North Bay of San Francisco. The goal of this visit was simple: to reach a new audience, and in doing so, get more people to recognize that Yukon Flats Refuge exists. Although a seemingly basic message, most people are unaware of this hidden and yet vitally important conservation gem in Alaska.
Nathan, Heather and Julie took the first step towards this simple goal by presenting to Bay Area classrooms; refuge staff and Friends group members; and attendees of the 21st Annual San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival. The focus of these presentations was to demonstrate how integral Yukon Flats Refuge is for feeding the waterfowl flyways as well as sustaining the residents who subsist on the refuge’s resources.
Julie, who has spent her entire life within the Yukon Flats basin, captivated audiences young and old with stories about raising her family while living off the abundant, but challenging, resources in the wilds of Alaska. Bay Area residents could only imagine the isolation and self-reliance that are the reality of living in such a remote place. A home without electricity, running water, a grocery store, or a gas station – not to mention the nearest neighbor a 3-day boat ride away! Julie brought examples of her homemade handicrafts to demonstrate her and her family’s reliance on the Yukon Flats resources: a hat made of lynx fur, boots sewn from caribou and moose hides, and mittens she lined with beaver fur.
Through the stories of Julie’s personal experiences and connections with the land, as well as the information about Yukon Flats Refuge presented by Nathan and Heather, Bay Area residents gained a better understanding about this treasured place in the heart of Alaska. These stories revealed and confirmed that even today in modern America, wild and unaltered landscapes still remain for the American public to enjoy. This is the legacy of the Yukon Flats today – and tomorrow.