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Camp Goonzhii Volunteer Report

By Lynn Fuller, September 3-7, 2019

I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of Camp Goonzhii earlier this fall. The annual Science and Culture camp was held at the school in Arctic Village in early September. For three days, the students and teachers at the school, the camp instructors, and members of the community shared activities and stories about the environment, traditional culture and the refuge. 


The six instructors took turns filling in all the blocks in the school schedule, alternately doing activities with the different age groups. I led the session on Aquatic Macroinvertebrates, starting with a field trip to the stream by the school to see what we could get into our bug nets.


After our collected samples settled overnight, we observed and sorted what we found and talked about what the aquatic organisms needed to live, and what needed them, and their role in the river environment overall. The fast moving scuds and erratic water boatmen were by far the favorites!

Related activities included traditional fishing and how to build a fish trap and an art project where the students did invertebrate art based on what we saw in the stream. There were also class activities and games such as learning about lynx, soundscapes and plastic pollution.

A big thank you to Allyssa Morris and Katherine Monroe at USFWS for all the organizing, to the school for hosting us, and to Friends of AK Wildlife Refuges for sending folks out on these volunteer opportunities. The Friends group also supported a community dinner at the school.

There were a number of hugs from small people when school ended on Friday!




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Call for Artists: 5th Annual Art in the Arctic Show

  Call for Applications:

The 5th Annual Art in the Arctic Art Show

February 27, 2020

Fairbanks, Alaska

Application Deadline: Nov. 15, 2019

Notification Date:  No later than Dec. 6, 2019

THE SHOW: The Art in the Arctic Art Show is held each year in Fairbanks, Alaska. This Art Show celebrates three northern refuges based in Fairbanks, Alaska: Arctic, Kanuti, and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges. The scale, expanse, and wildness of Alaska’s Refuges distinguish them from most other Refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. These refuges protect habitats for wildlife, fish, and birds.

This year’s show celebrates the marvels of migratory birds. Over 200 bird species have been documented in these northern refuges. Birds migrate from all corners of the Earth to spend the summer and breed where long days produce an abundance of insects and plants, which serve as primary food sources. Birds breeding in these Refuges have ranges that reach all 50 states and 5 other continents. At the end of summer, breeding pairs and their young migrate along all four North American flyways to their wintering habitat. For both experienced and novice bird watchers, national wildlife refuges across the country are wonderful places to observe birds in their natural habitat. Through art, we will highlight the plethora of bird species that utilize Alaska’s northern National Wildlife Refuges.

This event is co-hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. 

THE DETAILS:

Date: February 27, 2020 – 5-8 pm

Location: VENUE, 514 2nd Ave, Fairbanks, AK 99701

Exhibition: Artwork will remain on exhibit at VENUE until March 27, 2020.

Selected artists will attend the February 27 event to share the inspiration behind their artwork. They will also be expected to draft a short narrative (2-4 sentences) to associate their art with the theme of the show. Narratives will remain on display with the art for the duration of the month-long exhibition at VENUE. Artwork will be available for sale to the public. Proceeds of sales will be split with VENUE (60% to artist, 40% to VENUE).

SPACE: Each artist may provide up to 5 pieces of art to be exhibited at VENUE. Original art will be prioritized in the selection process (prints accepted as space allows). Art that does not reflect the theme will not be exhibited.

ELIGIBILITY: The Art in the Arctic Art Show is committed to showcasing artwork that exemplifies the marvels of migratory birds that inhabit National Wildlife Refuges in northern Alaska. All work exhibited at the show must feature compositions or objects that have a nexus to 1) migratory birds documented on Alaska’s northern National Wildlife Refuges; 2) subsistence activities involving migratory birds; 3) migratory birds inhabiting wild landscapes; and/or 4) any activity (i.e.: bird watching, hunting, scientific research) involving migratory birds.

TO APPLY: Applicants must submit 3-5 images and an artist statement. The images must be representative of the work to be exhibited at the Art in the Arctic Art Show. Minimum image resolution should be 300 dpi and 1,400 x 2,000 pixels. The artist statement should be no more than 1,000 characters.

Applicants must describe in detail each piece (up to 5) they plan to exhibit.

In addition to the above application materials, please submit your 1) name; 2) mailing address; 3) phone number; 4) email address; 5) website (if you have one); and 6) a unique identifier for each of your submitted images.

APPLICATION SUBMISSION: Applications must be submitted by November 15, 2019.

Submit electronic applications to: Allyssa_Morris@fws.gov

Mail hard-copy applications to:

Allyssa Morris

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

101 12th Avenue, Room 262

Fairbanks, Alaska 99701

For questions about the application process or the Show, please contact Allyssa Morris at Allyssa_Morris@fws.gov or (907) 456-0224. 

ACCEPTANCE: All applicants will be notified about acceptance by December 6, 2019.




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Kodiak Refuge Week Events 2019

Poster Details:

Sunday September 29 4 pm – 8 pm:

Stamp with us @ the Salmon Life Celebration

Look for our table and join us for some salmon-inspired art projects! 

At the Fort Abercrombie Group Recreation Site.

 

At the Refuge Visitor Center, 402 Center Ave. All Events FREE:

Monday September 30 7 pm – 8 pm
From Arctic to Attu: A Photo Journey with Trivia

A slideshow-style presentation of landscape and wildlife photography from several Alaska Refuges with trivia challenge by Lisa Hupp, Refuge Outreach Specialist

 

Tuesday October 1st 5 pm – 7 pm
Art Night for All Ages: Watercolor Night Scenes  

Join our Education Specialist Shelly Lawson and paint your night fun! Option to enter paintings into the Arts Council Trading Card Show.

 

Wednesday October 2nd
10:30 am: 10:30 AM: Recycling F.U.N. Program (3-5 yr olds & families)

7 pm: Film – “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?”

This FREE award-winning film focuses on the politics of bags, single-use disposables, waste and recycling and the health of our oceans. Popcorn provided!

 

Thursday October 3rd 12 pm – 1 pm

Seabird Science: Die-Offs, Tern Tagging, & Surveys

Join Robin Corcoran, Refuge Bird Biologist, for an update about our seabirds and the science that monitors their health. Bring Your Own Lunch.

 

Friday October 4th 5 pm – 7 pm
Welcome to Wild: Photography & Art Show

Community show for First Friday with light refreshments.

We welcome submissions!

 

Ongoing:

Trash Pickup Challenge and lottery

Love Your Lands by cleaning up Kodiak and reducing waste!

Starting now – take a picture of your trash clean up and share it in order to earn entries into the lottery to win Refuge prizes!  You can enter a pic everyday by emailing your photo to Ranger Robins at evan_robins@fws.gov, and you can earn another entry by sharing your photo on social media with both #TrashChallenge and #KodiakTrashChallenge. We’ll draw for a winner every day during Refuge Week..




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Extreme Fire Behavior Torches the Kenai Refuge

By Poppy Benson, Outreach Chair

We last reported on the lightning-caused Swan Lake Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in July just as temperatures moderated, humidity increased, and the fire spread came to a crawl.  The Type 2 fire crew was sent elsewhere to battle more active fires and life on the Refuge returned to something near normal.

But then came August’s record heat and record drought.  In two intense days a 35 mile an hour wind gusting to 40 whipped up the fire, sending it racing across the landscape.  At 2 am on the night of August 17th as the winds howled, refuge staff began evacuating sleepy campers from campgrounds and cabins in its path.  Less than 24 hours later the fire jumped the highway and the Kenai River and overran the access roads to those campgrounds.  The Sterling Highway, the only road access to the Kenai Peninsula towns of Sterling, Homer, Soldotna and Kenai, shut down for more than a day.  For the next two weeks, the highway would be periodically closed due to hazardous conditions and pilot cars and long waits were often necessary to travel through the burn area.   Dense smoke invaded the communities even as far as Anchorage, and the towns of Cooper Landing and Sterling were put on notice that evacuation might be imminent.  Initial attack on the rekindling of the Swan Lake Fire was complicated by the other three fires burning in Southcentral all of which had the potential to take out many homes and one – the McKinley fire – did destroy more than 50 homes.  The Type 2 fire team that was in route to Swan Lake was diverted to the McKinley Fire because more lives and homes were at risk there.  A Type One (highest level) firefighting crew was then ordered and began to arrive on August 18.  The Great Basin Incident Management Team arrived to attack the r fire concentrating on protecting the towns and highway.  More bulldozers and aircraft were added to the fight although dense smoke shut down aircraft use on some days.  Refuge fire qualified trail crews worked on hand lines and saving the much-loved Refuge recreational cabins.  The Refuge had previously created defensible space around the cabins and that foresight coupled with the efforts of the crew saved all three cabins at risk.   Since July, acreage burned increased 60% from 100,000 acres to 160,000 acres but by Labor Day, the fire had once again slowed to a crawl and efforts moved from firefighting to mop-up. 

As I write this the rains are falling, temperatures are dropping with the move into fall, and hours of daylight are decreasing by five minutes a day.  It is unlikely that this fire will kick up again this year given this seasonal change, but then again nothing about it has been typical.  From its beginning in June the Swan Lake Fire displayed extreme behavior such as burning in tundra above timberline, burning several feet deep into the duff, and burning over rock piles.  This can best be attributed to the extreme weather of this summer and the flammability of black spruce which has been referred to as “gasoline on a stick”.   According to Leah Eskelin, Kenai Refuge Public Information Officer, even winter won’t completely put out this fire and smoke from hot spots will be visible next summer and maybe even longer.  However, those hot spots will be within the burned area and are not likely to have the fuels available to spread.  She explained that the fire containment lines near the towns are being checked by infrared sensors and human hands to ensure there are no hot spots within 100 feet of the fire’s perimeter.

Thanks to the efforts of the fire crews, there have been no casualties.  However, the fire took an enormous toll on people, particularly those in Cooper Landing and Sterling, who feared for their homes. Smoke and highway shutdowns canceled all kinds of travel plans and events from medical appointments to schools to business meetings to the Friends Kenai River cleanup.  The tourist economy from Homer to Cooper Landing took a hit as visitors did not want to chance driving the highway or breathing smoke.  A big area of the refuge and the adjacent Forest Service lands as well as the famed Kenai River were closed to all recreational use for several weeks.  And, of course, fire suppression costs an incredible amount of public money which is yet to be tallied.  The good news is that no homes or lives were lost and the long-term risk of fire in these communities in greatly reduced now that the mature black spruce trees have been consumed by this fire.   

The refuge is just beginning to get a look at the results of the fire.  The cabins were spared but many popular hiking trails and recreational access roads were burned over resulting in downed and hazardous trees and areas where hidden pits of burning ashes pose risks to the public.  Dozer lines mar the landscape in many areas.  The once beautifully forested Skilak Lake Recreational Area is a little heartbreaking to look at now, but life will return with a new and wildlife-friendly young forest.  Mushroomers and moose hunters are enthusiastic about hunting prospects as a result of the burn and the regrowth to come.  Leah reports that bear and wolf cubs have already been spotted in burned over areas. “And, it is really easy to spot wildlife now,” she added.  “The mix of burned and unburned landscape means many more species are going to find their future homes inside the fire’s perimeter.”

For more information and more photos of this fire go to http://kpboem.blogspot.com




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2019 September Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update by David Raskin, Friends Board President

As battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments, the Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey and proposed Ambler road have been added to the list of threats to our Alaska refuges. 

Izembek NWR

We have no news on the August 7, 2019 suit filed in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the same eight conservation partners. This suit includes the numerous legal claims against the agreement, and we are confident that we will again prevail. Trustees also submitted to DOI “Notice of Violation of the Endangered Species Act Section 7 for Failing to Consult Regarding the Izembek Land Exchange” and intent to sue the DOI on behalf of the same plaintiffs. We will provide updates as these work their way through the legal process

Arctic NWR

There is much news concerning DOI plans to sell leases this year for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The BLM Final EIS is now expected in September, with a decision soon after the close of the 30-day comment period. Since the DEIS was so hastily done and grossly inadequate, without a new DEIS process it is likely that a Final EIS will be insufficient to withstand legal challenges. In the meantime, Joe Balash, who spearheaded the effort at DOI, resigned to take an executive position with Oil Search, a Papua New Guinea oil firm with development interests on the North Slope. His taking a job with the oil industry raised ethical questions, as well as concerns about his possible role in the suppression of scientific reports and alteration of federal agency analyses about the impacts of proposed oil development.

Another major event is the sale of BP’s Alaska assets to Hilcorp of Texas. Hilcorp has an abysmal environmental record, having been fined $3 million for at least 68 environmental violations since the year 2000. However, the departure of BP is another indication of the lack of interest of major companies in the oil potential of the Coastal Plain. Other good news concerns difficulties for the proposed seismic exploration. A study from researchers at UAF indicates that low snow levels and warmer temperatures on the Coastal Plain pose problems for the operation of heavy equipment and construction of ice roads to support exploration and development. With each passing month, it seems that the potential for oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain weakens as more negative information comes to light.

The Restore Protections Bill (HR 1146) to  remove the tax bill provision that authorized the sale of leases in the Coastal Plain was introduced by Representative Jared Huffman and a record 182 cosponsors. It was reported out of committee, and a full House vote is expected in September. Although it likely will pass the House, the Senate is unlikely to pass it. Also, the Arctic Refuge Protection Act is expected to be introduced in the Senate on September 10. It would designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a wilderness area and protect its sensitive coastal plain from oil and gas leasing and development. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (CO); Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA); Sen. Tom Carper (DE); Sen. Ed Markey (MA); Sen. Charles Schumer (NY); and Sen. Tom Udall (NM). Friends joined a thank-you letter to these senators.

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The release of the proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations is expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the likely regulation to allow hunting of brown bears over bait.  At a minimum, Friends will urge the Kenai Refuge to develop a permit process to limit the areas of the Refuge and number of bears to be taken, consistent with mandated management practices and potential threats to the brown bear population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2019–2020 Station-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations, Proposed Rule (Regulation Identifier Number 1018-BD79) that was drafted by the DOI in Washington eliminated Alaska USFWS regulations that prohibit the taking of wildlife on the same day that hunters fly in. That regulation was designed to prevent illegal and unethical use of aircraft that could decimate wildlife populations. However, we have been informed by USFWS that the eliminated rule was redundant with the existing national regulation that still prohibits such same-day hunting.

Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey

Hilcorp is planning a seismic survey of its offshore lease site in lower Cook Inlet to search for untapped oil and gas deposits near Anchor Point and Homer. Such seismic blasting can reach 250 decibels and be heard for very long distances. This large number of high intensity blasts would cover 370 square miles, much of it within waters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Relying on the in-house analysis by Hilcorp of potential impacts on fisheries, marine mammals, including the endangered beluga whales, and other marine life, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released an environmental assessment that concluded there would be no significant impact of the seismic activities. Allowing no opportunity for public input, the Bureau claimed the seismic survey would have negligible effects on marine life and birds.  NOAA also announced provisions that allow Hilcorp’s proposed oil and gas activities in Cook Inlet by claiming to minimize harm to marine mammals over the next five years. 

Since the proposed activities are within the boundaries of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Hilcorp must receive a permit from the USFWS before proceeding with their plans this year. However, the Center for Biological Diversity just filed suit against the administration to stop Hilcorp’s plans that will disrupt the feeding and mating activities of endangered beluga whales and could drive them closer to extinction, in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

Ambler Road

The proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road is on an “unprecedented, extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. This road could have major impacts on national wildlife refuges and parks in northern Alaska. A DEIS meeting regarding the Ambler Road is scheduled in Anchorage on Tuesday, September 10 from 6-8 pm in the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center and in Fairbanks on Monday, September 23 from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Wedgewood Resort (see https://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/management/ambler-row.htm for more information). The draft EIS limited to 150 pages that lack details and fails to address anything outside of the road construction, e.g., impacts to the Dalton Highway or any mining actions.




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Ft. Yukon Culture Camp Experience

My name is Lindsay, and I’ve been working as an artist in residence with USFWS for four years.  You have supported a few of my projects in the past, and I’m so grateful.  Most recently, you reimbursed my airfare to and from Ft Yukon so that I could attend and assist Julie Mahler in her Culture Camp at 8-Mile for one week.  I wanted to send a quick writeup on what was accomplished there, a few photos, and express my gratitude for your continued support for my work in Alaska.  
Julie’s camp is 8 miles outside of Ft Yukon, located on a slough off the Porcupine River.  This is what the backyard looks like 🙂
Recently, Julie’s cabin burned down, but this didn’t stop this intrepid woman from bringing 14 kids out to camp to learn, play, practice their Gwich’in culture, and enjoy the magnificent land.  Here’s a shot of Julie in the outdoor kitchen where we cooked every meal every day: 
The wood burning stove, made out of a split oil can, served as both the provider of food and a space for gathering. 
We all camped in tents, and the elder who joined us to teach Gwich’in language and sewing to the kids, Freeda, stayed in a canvas tent with a wood burning stove. We all piled in there to do art and listen to stories on a particularly rainy day.  Otherwise the kids were outside from morning to night, playing traditional Gwich’in games, building forts in the forest, swimming in the river, learning about the native plants, fishing, and more.  
I even taught the kids (and the adults) yoga!  Here’s a pic of Stella, the camp dog, enjoying her version of yoga too.  
Julie taught them about some of the edible and medicinal plants that are found in the area on a nature hike, and the kids brought back specimens and learned how to draw them.  
I brought a bunch of art supplies with me, and we did drawing every day.  We stitched together a massive quilt of their drawings that showed their love for Culture Camp at 8 Mile! 
I absolutely loved my time at 8-Mile.  I learned so much from both the adults and the children and enjoyed sharing the skills that I can.  Here’s to many more successful years of Culture Camp at 8-Mile.  Thank you for your support! 
Sincerely,

Lindsay Carron



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2019 September Membership Meeting

Please join us on Tuesday, September 17, 2019, 5-6pm, for the Friends membership meeting. 

In person meetings:
Anchorage Loussac Library Anchorage Moose Room-reception begins at 4:30pm
Homer Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Highway
Soldotna Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Ski Hill Road
Fairbanks Watershed School 4975 Decathlon

For those outside these cities: you can download the presentation from this page the day of the meeting and call in a few minutes before 5pm (866) 556-2149, code 8169747#

Guest Speaker Presentation: Nicole Whittington-Evans, Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Program Director and former Friends’ Board Member

Wildlife and Wildlands in These Trying Times

What are the prospects for our Alaska environment and wildlife given recent reports, administration actions, regulation changes and proposed projects? How will key species and wildlife areas be affected? How do we keep from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of these changes and proposed projects competing for our attention and response? Nicole, one of Alaska’s most dedicated wildlife advocates, will give her perspective on where we are now and what we can do as individuals and groups to face these alarming proposals and predictions for our state and our planet.  

Defenders’ Alaska Program Director, Nicole Whittington-Evans, started out her environmental career studying and working on wildlife issues.  During the 1990’s, she received an MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, where she focused on Alaska’s predator control efforts, served for a time as the Executive Director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, and was elected or invited to participate in a number of wildlife stakeholder groups, including an appointment to Alaska’s Board of Game by Governor Tony Knowles in 1997.  For the past twenty-one years she worked on public lands and wilderness issues at The Wilderness Society and served as the Alaska Director for the organization from 2009 to 2018. She also served for three years starting in 2007 on the board of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges as the Outreach Coordinator.  Throughout her environmental career she has blended science and policy to advance the strongest protections possible for wildlife and public lands conservation.  Nicole’s interest in environmental work began when she was an Instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School, and she has traveled throughout much of Alaska’s backcountry by foot, ski, raft and kayak.  As a mountaineer she was part of two successful summit teams on Denali (20,320’), including participating in the first all-women’s traverse of the mountain in 1988, and on Argentina’s Aconcagua (23,000’).  She lives with her husband and two daughters in the foothills of the Chugach Mountains, where she continues to recreate and enjoy wildlife with her family in Alaska’s unmatched wild country.

Download Presentation:
PowerPoint version:  1909-friends-of-alaska-nwrs-presentation

PDF version:

Agenda:

Introductions and Discussion (5 minutes)
  • Introductions: Where do you live?
  • New People: Why did you join the call today?
  • Reminder to please mute yourselves when you aren’t talking
Board Activities/Decisions
  • Refuge Projects and Reports 
Committee Reports (2-5 minutes each): Volunteer Report – (Betty) Membership/Outreach Events: Upcoming events (Tara) Advocacy Updates (David, Dave)

Speaker/Presentation (30-40 minutes) –
Nicole Whittinton-Evans
Topic: Wildlife and Wildlands in these Trying Times 

Next Meeting: Tuesday, October 15, 5-6pm Guest Speaker TBA
Six meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October



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Togiak Refuge 5k Salmon Color Run

Togiak National Wildlife Refuge partnered with the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation in the Annual 5K Salmon Color Run held this year on Saturday, July 27th in Dillingham, Alaska.  There were 203 registrants for the free event which featured free t-shirts emblazoned on the back with the meaning of each color – one for each featured health and wellness topic.  For example, green is for smoking cessation. 

Walkers and runners were able to view informational signs along the route with health facts that incorporated Refuge and outdoor themes.  For example, in the red section for substance abuse avoidance, there was a sign showing hikers on Togiak Refuge and the message is “Get a Natural High – Visit a National Wildlife Refuge!”





At the end of each section, walkers and runners were doused with colored corn starch powder that showed up well on the predominantly white t-shirts.  After completing the course, participants were treated to free fruit provided by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, along with plenty of fresh water to drink.


Togiak Refuge Artist-in-Residence Penny Creasy provided an art activity for young people before the run officially began at 1:00 pm.  Penny donated one of her prints of a sleepy bear (she completed the original in pastel) and the drawing for the print was won by a young Haven Mae Chapman.



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2019 Dragonfly Day

The 9th annual Dragonfly Day was a huge success. The all-outdoor event was held on a warm and sunny day and welcomed 481 attendees to Tanana Lakes Recreation Area. Attendees were able to meet co-author of Dragonflies of Alaska, John Hudson. John led nature walks and shared tips on how to catch dragonflies using an aerial net. Some of the common species caught included the Boreal Whiteface, Lake Darner, and Alaska’s state insect, the Four-spotted Skimmer.

After catching and identifying dragonflies, participants had an array of activities and games to choose from including Dragonfly Twister, dragonfly q-tip art, face painting, or taking a photo with Puddles the Blue Goose at the photo booth.

The Fairbanks Market Grocery and Deli donated an array of fruits and vegetables for youth to make their own dragonfly-inspired snack! Friends Joseph Morris and Moira O’Malley were on site answering questions regarding Friends memberships and projects. Joseph and Moira also sold Dragonflies of Alaska field guides. All proceeds from the sale of the field guide was donated to the Friends group from John Hudson.


Blue Flame food truck was on site with food for purchase. This event was made possible by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Fairbanks North Star Parks and Recreation, National Park Service, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Fairbanks Co-op Market Grocery and Deli. Hope to see you at Dragonfly Day 2020!



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Bird Banding in an Alaskan Heat Wave

By Vera Stein

It’s 85 degrees in Bethel, Alaska, and we’re sitting in the back of a hot van in June, banding tree swallows, getting pooped on by the birds, and getting bitten by mosquitoes. Thinking I would escape the sweltering Florida summer, I instead arrived in the middle of an Alaskan heat wave.  Banding these beautiful, iridescent, freestyle-flying birds was a dream come true for this former Alaskan.  I had the time of my life, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Traveling long distances, aerial insectivores (which includes tree swallows) have seen significant population declines.  They are being monitored statewide and nationwide to determine if climate impacts, habitat loss, pollutants or pesticide usage has changed hatch timing, or insect abundance, which is the tree swallows’ main source of food.  The Bethel project is the westernmost range of the tree swallow study in North America.

The birds migrate north in the summer, and have a short window of time to mate and hatch their chicks.  The bird banding takes place during the mating season in June, and both the adults and chicks are banded. 

In the initial stages, the adult birds are banded.  This is done fairly quickly to ensure the adults return to feeding their young as soon as possible.  Each bird is banded.  The beak length, wingspan, weight and sex determination (male or female) is done within the span of a few minutes. Over the coming days as the chicks reach maturity, we start banding the chicks.  At times the broods are large, sometimes up to 5 or 6 chicks.  At the end of the two-week period, nearly all the birds in the 40 or so boxes had been banded.  Information will be analyzed and sent to the Alaska Songbird Institute and its network of cooperators.

It is always exciting to capture a bird that has previously been banded.  We came across several banded birds this year, and they were really happy occasions for us.

Citizen Science – The Education Component of the Tree Swallow Project

In order to encourage residents of Bethel, particularly youth, to get involved and learn more about their natural environment, USFWS partnered with the 4H Club to assemble the bird boxes that were distributed throughout town.  Residents throughout town agreed to put boxes near their homes, where they could enjoy watching the swallows’ activities right in their own backyards.  Children in particular were enthralled with the birds, and enjoyed watching us band them. The Boys and Girls club joined us one afternoon while we were banding the chicks, and the kids were fascinated. It was fun to have them around, and see and feel their enthusiasm.  An important element of the project, their involvement helps generate interest in nature for the next generation. 

Salmon Fishing on the Kuskokwim

One Saturday afternoon there was a fish opener on the Kuskokwim River, and it felt like the entire city of Bethel was out on a boat that day! The parking lot for the fishing boats was jam-packed with trailers and trucks.  We were out on the water in mid-afternoon, and it was a productive and fun few hours.  A net was put up, and we waited for a signal. The water started to bob around a couple of the buoys. In all, four Chinook (Kings), and a couple of Sockeye (Red) salmon were caught. A good day’s catch !! And a lot of fun.

The year before, I had the opportunity to visit a few Native fish camps along the river, and talk to Bethel residents about catching, cutting up salmon, and smoking the fish in the traditional way.  We also discussed the shorter amount of time that residents were allowed to get on the water to fish, and the types of fish that were being rationed.  What an incredible lifestyle. Family time out on the water, and delicious fresh fish cooking on the camp stoves. It was heartening to see salmon drying in the yards of the fish camps, with the knowledge that there would be fish to eat throughout the winter.

We were invited to have fresh salmon stew at one family’s camp, which was an honor, and truly memorable.  Not to mention that the stew, cooked up with onions and vegetables, was delicious.

Museum and Gallery

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a small museum attached to the offices, and it is packed with wonderful information about fish migrations throughout the state, as well as specimens of various wildlife that inhabit the area.  It’s well worth a visit. 

Things I Enjoyed Doing Around Town

Many boardwalks meander throughout Bethel, and being on foot is a great way to see the town.  There are lots of beautiful lakes and sloughs, all across town. Walking along the Kuskokwim River was very meditative.

There is a new, state-of-the-art swimming pool and sports complex, and it’s a fun way to spend an evening (or two).  This particular Floridian wasn’t used to cold pool water any more, but the hot shower afterwards more than made up for it.

Bethel is not known for its Four-Star dining experiences, but regardless, there are lots of restaurants to choose from. (In an ironic twist, one cannot find fresh fish on the menu).

The Bethel Farmers Market, an organic farm, is open Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Their homegrown strawberries, sweet and delicious, are to-die-for.  Their potatoes are incredible- sweet, hearty, and firm.  Their lettuces are wonderful too.

I was told by a coworker to go to the hospital for lunch.  While initially a bit skeptical, I went anyway one afternoon and had a delicious caribou stew.   

Saturday mornings, there is a birdwatching tour, leaving from the Fish and Wildlife Service office. On visits to the sloughs, we caught glimpses of a few songbirds and waterfowl.

QUYANA (Thanks)

Many thanks to Jason Sodergren and Betty Siegel of the Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, and Patrick Snow from the Yukon Kuskowkwim National Wildlife Refuge in Bethel.  I hope our studies will be part of a larger body of research to help better understand the decline of bird populations and other species worldwide.




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