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Dalton Highway Invasive Plant Removal Effort Comes to an End with #24

Filed by Betty Siegel, Friends Volunteer Coordinator

Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge’s weed pulls on the Haul Road have taken place every summer since August 2006 with dozens of Friends volunteering for the 24 opportunities. After that initial project involving various agencies such as USFWS, BLM, NPS, AmeriCorps, and others, weed pulls occurred twice each year until June 2018 from the Kanuti River MP 105.8 (just south of the Arctic Circle) north to most recently the Dietrich River MP 207(north of the community of Wiseman), more than 100 miles. Recent efforts to eliminate all seed production were concentrated on all river crossings and culverts which moved westward toward the Kanuti Refuge. Staff and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges (Friends) and others were concerned these waterways would become routes for dispersal of invasive White Sweet clover (Melilotus alba) into the Refuge. This non-native plant readily invades open and disturbed areas and has established extensive areas along early successional, gravel river bars elsewhere in Alaska and rapidly colonized the Dalton Highway corridor. In addition, invasive Bird Vetch (Viccia cracca) is growing within the Dalton Highway Corridor and downriver. These populations are all expanding. Control efforts have focused on manual pulling, but have also included mechanical and cultural control. 

The current political climate has resulted in decreased funding for refuges and other public lands. This translated to many staffing shortages and cuts to various programs each year. Now this shortage has made it impossible to continue the project in 2018.  Additionally, refuge staff indicate future efforts may include conducting early detection/rapid response surveys along rivers downstream of the Dalton Highway and within the Refuge so any newly established colonies of invasive plants can be controlled and eliminated quickly. They hope to involve Friends as these plans are developed so that there may be some volunteer opportunities in 2019.

During the 14 years volunteers signed on to work outside along the highway removing white sweet clover and bird vetch for long hours in dirty, dusty, hot or cold, wet or dry, occasionally smoky, and frequently buggy conditions, sleeping in dry cabins, going without showers. Many returned to do it all again as the benefits were tremendous, primarily having the experience of just being up there. There were opportunities for berrying, wildlife viewing, fishing, cooling off in the rivers, hiking, traveling to the grandeur of Atigun Pass, visiting Wiseman, Galbraith Lake, and Toolik Lake, and spending time in the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center (AIVC) chatting to Haul Road tourists about refuges.

 And then there was the food! Huge burgers and pulled pork sandwiches and shakes at the Hot Spot on the drive from Fairbanks to Coldfoot; breakfast and lunch makings and snacks provided by the refuge; and those fantastic Coldfoot Camp Buffets for dinner!

Perhaps the biggest rewards were the friendships that developed over the shared experiences: Staff from all three Fairbanks refuges, AIVC staff, and Friends volunteers worked side by side, from managers to seasonal interns, volunteers from age 16 to “in the 70s”, all with a commitment to protect our public lands and our wildlife for ourselves and future generations.

While I’m sad for this project to end suddenly, I look forward to hearing about alternative projects for monitoring/control. Stay tuned!


-Betty Siegel (So fortunate to have participated in 22 of the 24 weed pulls!)

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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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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).