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Sister Refuges: Yukon Flats, Alaska & San Pablo Bay, California

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.



Report filed by:
Heather Bartlett, Wildlife Refuge Specialist, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge





   

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Friends say “Goodbye” to Kristen and “Hello” to Helen


Congratulations to
 Kristen Gilbert on her new assignment- Kristen was offered and has accepted a position at USFWS Headquarters in Washington, DC. She is the new Chief for the Branch of Communications in Visitor Services. Kristen will take both field and regional experience to this position which is a huge asset.

Kristen is known for her regional work in AK as the Youth, Volunteers, Outreach, Urban, Friends Coordinator, Financial Assistance Warrior, and Techno Geek. Prior to coming to Alaska, she worked at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge complex in southern Colorado and at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, WY. Kristen has been recognized nationally for her leadership roles in digital communication and outreach and has been a member and/or filled a leadership position on several national teams. She has also been a key leader for the NWRS Communications Strategy and Branding Strategy. 

Kristen, your leadership and guidance to the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges has been invaluable.  You will be extremely missed.  Though you have moved onward, you are a Friend Forever!


Welcome Helen Strackeljahn, the new Youth, Volunteers, Urban, Friends Coordinator for Alaska U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, tentative start date of January 19, 2017.

Helen comes to us from the NPS and is presently an education specialist at the Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center (AAPLIC). Currently, Helen manages the education, outreach and Volunteer in the Parks program and has written and received numerous grants for youth programs in the State. A few of her recent achievements include forming a partnership with the 21st Century Afterschool Programs which helped the NPS offer conservation education programs at Title 1 schools in Anchorage, developing an MOU with the King Career Center which offered overnight and day camp learning experiences for Anchorage youth, introducing high schoolers to volunteerism, YCC, and SCA programs, as well as managing and training hundreds volunteers and interns. Prior to her AAPLIC assignment, Helen worked at Carlsbad Caverns NP, Glacier Bay NP, Everglades NP and Big Cypress National Preserve.

We look forward to working closely with Helen, on all things Refuge!