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Pioneering Alaska Pilot/Biologist Jim King Takes his Last Flight.

by Patricia Heglund, Homer Friend and retired USFWS Biologist

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.- Margaret Mead 

Jim King was one of those people who changed the world.  Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges lost a staunch advocate and conservation leader with his death in March at home in Juneau at the age of 97. Jim was such a gift to me when I was starting my graduate work and throughout the remainder of my life.  Jim’s remarkable life and many awards and achievements are documented in a touching memorial from his family and a Fish and Wildlife tribute. I’d like to focus on one place and a couple of stories to help Friends better understand the significance of Jim’s work.

I met Jim King in 1984 when I was a graduate student planning to conduct research on the new, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Jim had a special knowledge of and affection for the Yukon Flats. He and his wife Mary Lou honeymooned at Fort Yukon while Jim flew aerial surveys and banded waterfowl. The work was for an environmental study of the potential effects of building a hydroelectric dam on the Yukon River at Rampart Canyon. As proposed, the dam would have flooded nine Alaska Native villages and tens of thousands of wetlands that were breeding grounds for 1 – 2 million ducks, geese and swans. The dam would have created a lake about the size of Lake Erie. Waterfowl that Jim and others banded at big lakes on the Yukon Flats, like Ohtig and Canvasback, were harvested in 46 states and over half of the Canadian Provinces. Based in part on Jim’s work, the US Fish and Wildlife Service strongly opposed dam construction and in 1967, Morris Udall, Secretary of the Interior, voiced his opposition to the dam. The project was canceled in 1971 eliminating the immediate threat to the people and waterfowl of the Flats and allowing for a different future for the land as a National Wildlife Refuge.

Jim King piloting N754 on a waterfowl survey. I was so inspired by flying with Jim that I got my pilot’s license.

Jim once told me a story of how he, and maybe others, photographed several areas of Alaska from his plane using a simple point and shoot camera. He created a picture book of recommended refuges, adding descriptions of the locations and details on the use of the area by breeding waterfowl. Jim took his book to Washington DC to the Secretary of the Interior. In 1980, several of the areas he documented were added to the National Wildlife Refuge System by President Jimmy Carter. I remember being amazed at how accessible someone like the Secretary of the Interior was to a flyway biologist back in the 1970’s. 

Jim King (right) and Bruce Conant taking a lunch break on the wing of N754, a deHavilland Beaver modified specifically for low level (less than 500 feet) wildlife surveys by the Fish & Wildlife Service.  This legendary plane, well-known all-over bush Alaska for over 35 years, now hangs in the Anchorage airport.

Jim’s and my friendship continued over the years. Jim hosted me at his house on Sunny Point and introduced me to his dear wife, Mary Lou, and their menagerie of waterfowl. In more recent years, Jim and I sat on a panel reviewing the biological program at Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Jim always sent me copies of his latest publications, including his last book, Attending Alaska’s Birds, fascinating reading for anyone who appreciates the history of Alaska. I last saw him at his home in 2019 when on his urging I finally brought my family to meet him.  Jim was developing dementia and I don’t think he really knew who I was. But nevertheless, Jim and Mary Lou welcomed us graciously. It’s hard to think of Jim as gone. When I think of him, I see him in a western-style shirt, scrimshawed bolo tie around his neck, smiling, relentless in his pursuit of conservation.   I am grateful to have known him.

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2024 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival! May 8-12

The annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer, Alaska is co-sponsored by Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge  and made possible by the staff and many volunteers!  

Thank You to all the Sponsors, Speakers, Guides, Instructors, Volunteers, who helped make the 2024 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival a success,

And Thank You to all who attended.
Looking forward to 2025!

View/Download the 2024 Bird Species List

Stay in touch, with your questions and your observations!
Birds connect the world.

The Red-necked Phalarope, chosen as the featured bird for the 32nd Annual Festival, breeds across the Arctic. They winter at sea in the open ocean, where they are most common in the Atlantic in the currents along the west coast of Africa from Morocco to Namibia. They are also found in the Pacific in similar currents off California and Peru.

Kachemak Bay (near Homer, Alaska) provides miles of shoreline and inter-tidal habitat for migrating birds. Kachemak Bay’s unique ecology, easy accessibility to beaches, and the scenic landscapes of Homer make this a prime location to experience this annual migration. Kachemak Bay’s 320 miles of shoreline and 30-foot tidal range create the substantial inter-tidal areas that attract shorebirds. The shoreline of Kachemak Bay is a prime stopover to keep them fueled for the next phase in their journey.

(if you’re interested in volunteering, providing a tour or activity or have any questions, get in touch:

See you in May 2025; birds connect us all!

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Get Out on a Refuge, Do Some Good, Volunteer!

by Poppy Benson, Friends Vice President for Outreach

Want to get to the Pribilofs or Izembek? Discover Tetlin? Get your hands on a duck? Share your love for Alaska Refuges with friendly people?   Our Alaska National Wildlife Refuges are looking for our help as they are dealing with short staffs and small budgets.   Here’s a sampler of volunteer opportunities.  See all the projects (some are new since the last newsletter) on our volunteer web page here.  

  • Share your knowledge of Alaska at Tetlin’s Interagency Visitor Center 
  • Band ducks on the Tetlin Refuge.
  • Real science: aging black brant at Izembek.
  • Or come on down to Homer May 8 – 12 for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival co-sponsored by Friends and the Alaska Maritime Refuge.  Sign up for Friends outreach here and for festival events here.
  • Spring clean a refuge – Kenai April 26-27, Alaska Maritime Homer April 20
  • Spread the good word about refuges at Outreach Booths at events in Seward, Soldotna, and Homer. 

Some volunteer jobs are just a few hours commitment and others offer a chance to spend a month on a refuge.  Take some time this summer to experience a refuge through helping.   For more information go to the web page or contact us at  Volunteer applications are online.

it’s a lively job working the Friends Outreach Table at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird  Festival and we need 15 – 20 people to cover all the shifts.  Sign up here.  Friends Rosa Meehan of Anchorage and Board President Marilyn Sigman of Homer working the booth at the 2023 Festival.  pc Becky Hutchinson

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Conserving the Whole Lifecycle of Salmon: Gravel to Gravel in Alaska

Tuesday, April 16, 5-6 pm AKDT

Presented by Boyd Blihovde
Senior Advisor for Conservation, USFWS Alaska

This presentation was recorded.  Watch below:

Salmon have been in trouble in western Alaska and for a long time.  The people of the rivers who depend on salmon for much of their food resources and cultural identity are hurting.  Boyd Blihovde, head of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s new Gravel to Gravel Initiative, will share with us this situation and his hopes for what this new approach will bring.  Boyd, then manager of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge,  was in the thick of it in 2022 when salmon conservation discussions reached a peak in the villages of Western Alaska and beyond.  Protecting Pacific Salmon’s entire lifecycle (from the spawning grounds to the ocean, and back to the spawning grounds) was not a new concept.  

Yukon River smokehouse.  Putting up salmon for the winter.  pc  S. Zuray

However, during several hearings and listening sessions with villages and tribes, it became clear that rebuilding salmon runs across Alaska was critical for indigenous people and other rural subsistence users. Leadership from the Department of Interior heard this message from the Tribes and responded with Gravel to Gravel.  It is one of nine “Keystone Initiatives” in the United States that are being prioritized by the Department of Interior to focus agency attention and resources on priority conservation issues. The primary goal of Gravel to Gravel is, through tribal engagement and participation, to restore salmon streams and ensure food security to subsistence users within the lower-Arctic, Yukon, and Kuskokwim region of Alaska and into Canada.   However, Boyd added that “we hope our efforts just bring back salmon numbers for everyone and all users.”  Our vision is: “With Tribes centered, we unite to care for salmon, from gravel to gravel.

Fish drying racks and fishing boats are a key part of life in the salmon dependent villages of western Alaska pc USFWS

Bio: Boyd Blihovde is the Senior Advisor for Conservation at the USFWS Regional Office in Anchorage. He was the Refuge Manager at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge based in Bethel, Alaska, from 2020 to August 2023. Prior to moving to Alaska, Boyd was the Refuge Manager at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, located in Los Fresnos, Texas.  He began his Service experience in 1989 as a GS-3, Youth Conservation Corp member at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge eventually moving on to the University of Central Florida, receiving a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology.  Boyd studied and researched sea turtles on Archie Carr Refuge Canaveral National Seashore, and Puerto Rico and conducted research and wrote his thesis on the terrestrial behavior and site fidelity of gopher frogs.

More recently, Boyd and his wife Gisela have focused more attention on their twins (Ava and Taylor). Boyd writes “The kids have been a lot of fun and have changed our focus from work and self to family and fun.”

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April Advocacy Report

by Friends Advocacy Committee

Out of Control Predator Control Imperils Refuge Wildlife

The mission of Friends is to support the 16 national wildlife refuges, which of course includes advocating for the wildlife that make these refuges their home. We are extremely concerned by the current predator control actions of the State of Alaska on state lands, which directly impacts adjacent federal lands and the animals that live on and migrate through wildlife refuges. 

Last year, the Alaska Board of Game expanded a plan for predator control in game units adjacent to Togiak and Yukon Delta national wildlife refuges to include wolves and both brown and black bears. The Mulchatna Intensive Management Operational Plan was developed in response to a very real problem: the collapse of the Mulchatna caribou herd.  It should be noted that the decline of the Mulchatna herd has continued despite the killing of over 450 wolves for predator control. Biologists are clear that the cause of the caribou population collapse is much more complex than the predator-prey dynamic and in fact, studies suggest a stronger link to forage quality and quantity resulting in lower pregnancy rates and higher caribou calf mortality.  These issues are compounded by higher incidence of brucellosis, causing higher abortions and stillbirth rates.  Despite these facts, an expanded predator control plan was implemented in 2023 with a plan to kill an estimated 15-20 brown bears. 

Sadly, in just the first year of the plan, 94 brown bears, including several year-old cubs and 11 younger still-nursing cubs, were killed.  This represents an estimated 74% of the brown bear population in the plan area, and significantly more than the planned take of 15-20 bears. In addition, five black bears and five wolves were killed.  While the control program may not have taken place on the refuges proper, bears don’t know boundaries and roam widely so it’s very likely that bears of Togiak and possibly Yukon Delta refuges were killed during this 17-day killing spree. 

In an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News on August `14, 2023, 34 retired Alaska wildlife managers and scientists including several of our members said they did not believe the Mulchatna predator control decision was underpinned by the best available science, nor was it adequately vetted with the public prior to implementation.

This expanded predator control plan is scheduled to continue through 2028. The wildlife of Alaska is its most precious resource and this indiscriminate killing can’t be allowed to continue. 

We urgently ask our members who are Alaska residents to contact your state representatives and

     1) express your outrage that the implementation of the Intensive Management plan for Caribou Units 9B, 17, 18, 19A and 19B has resulted in the deaths of nearly 4 times the projected number of bears in the plan and that the Board of Game should scale back the plan accordingly and:

     2) that Legislators ensure new members better represent the diverse interests of Alaskans and wildlife as the current Board of Game (BOG) is heavily weighted to hunting and trapping interests (the Governor appoints and Legislators approve all BOG members).  

You can read the profiles of the Board of Game members here.  There are no working biologists on the Board of Game. The opportunity to remedy this situation could lie with the two members of the BOG whose terms are up this June.  You can also express your concerns to Fish and Game Commissioner Douglas Vincent-Lang or ADFG Director of Wildlife Conservation Ryan Scott regarding the problems with this specific Intensive Management plan.

We will continue to update you on this situation.

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Do You Want to Visit a Refuge? Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer!!!

Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer!!! by Poppy Benson, Vice President for Outreach

Setting up a Starlink solar system, deploying rat traps in the Pribilofs and teaching first aid in McGrath are three of the most unusual volunteer requests from the refuges this year.  And that always fun project of banding ducks for a week on the Tetlin Refuge is back for a 4th year as well as brant aging surveys on the Izembek Refuge in October.  Tetlin Refuge is also looking for visitor center help in Tok in 30 day shifts over the summer. Shorter term projects include helping with an Anchorage public meeting on rat eradication in the Aleutian Islands, building rat traps in Homer for the Alaska Maritime, a cleanup at the Maritime Visitor Center on April 20 (and expect one on the Kenai Refuge in May dates, TBD), and two big events – the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival and the Kenai Sports and Recreation Show.  

Friends cosponsors the Festival, May 8 – 12 in Homer, and volunteers are needed for Friends outreach– staffing our Outreach Table and the Birders’ Coffee–and for Festival events.  The Festival is our biggest project and traditionally our best source of new members and, its really fun.  Come on down to Homer and help out.  May 4 and 5 is the Kenai Sports and Recreation Show in Soldotna.  Friends are needed to help the Kenai Refuge with its activities and to do outreach for Friends and the Refuge.  

Some of these projects need help right away so don’t delay in checking them out  – the Starlink system, rat trap assembly and the first aid instructor for Innoko Refuge would ideally happen in March – April.  You can find all projects listed here including who to talk to for more information.  Applications are needed for most projects and you must be a member for most projects.  You can join or renew here. 

In addition, refuges with visitor centers – Kodiak, Kenai, Yukon Delta in Bethel and the Alaska Maritime in Homer – can always use help.  Contact the refuge.

Yes, there are fewer volunteer opportunities this year than last as only five refuges requested our help as opposed to seven last year.  I can only speculate that this is due to the refuges not having a budget as Congress only passed the budget last Friday.  And then there are the significant staff shortages.  It takes staff and money to plan projects.  Hopefully, with the budget resolved we might yet see some more projects for this year.


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The Art and History of Unangax Bentwood Hats, workshop with Patty Lekanoff-Gregory

This event was held on Saturday, March 9, 6 – 7pm 


Alaska Maritime Refuge Visitor Center, Sterling Highway, #1, Homer.

Join us for a special visit and lecture from Unangax artist Patty Lekanoff-Gregory. Patty is a world-renowned artist and one of the leading craftspeople helping to promote the once-lost tradition of bentwood hat making. Come learn more about the cultural and historical significance of this intricate craft!

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Three Amazing Rivers of the Central Yukon Watershed with Refuge Manager David Zabriskie

Friends Membership Meeting
This event was held on Tuesday, March 19, 5-6 pm AKDT

Friends joined us at the following locations: 
– Watch Party at Alaska Maritime Refuge Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Hwy.

Soldotna – Watch Party at Kenai Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road

Anchorage– Watch Party at BP Energy Center, Spruce/Willow Room,1014 Energy Ct.

Three wildlife-rich refuges along the central Yukon River are named after the rivers that define them – Koyukuk, Innoko and Nowitna.  Ecologically speaking, these rivers are the heart and lifeblood of the three National Wildlife Refuges.   They are also the primary access to the refuges for the people of the central Yukon and beyond. Refuge Manager David Zabriskie who is the manager for all three refuges, will share with us his work to protect the Nowitna River, a National Wild and Scenic River, and more broadly the role all three of these rivers play in the lives of the wildlife and the people of the Central Yukon River Watershed.  For a preview of this beautiful river David will be sharing with you, check out this two minute video.
The Nowitna River with the Kokrine Hills in the background.  pc: USFWS

David Zabriskie’s Bio: After working as a U.S. Navy Aviation Electronics Technician for four years, David pursued his passion for conservation, completing a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife/forestry and began his Fish and Wildlife Service career through the Student Career Experience Program at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. From there, he gained valuable experience working in the diverse landscapes of Mississippi, remote Pacific Islands, Tennessee, Alaska, and Arizona before returning to Alaska to work in Galena as the Deputy Manager and now Refuge Manager.  

David Zabriskie on the Selawik Refuge

David’s travels have provided him with the opportunity to work with diverse partners and communities across the country on amazing rivers like the Tennessee River and Colorado River. He has also led the Alaska Region’s first Comprehensive River Management Plan for the Nowitna Wild and Scenic River. In his spare time, David’s interests in photography and herpetology often lead him to remote locations around the planet for new discoveries.

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March Advocacy Report

by Caroline Brower, Vice President for Advocacy

Fish and Wildlife Service Funding Passed

Fish and Wildlife Service Funding Passed  and  Proposed Rule:  National Wildlife Refuge System; Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health. Two big things regarding refuges have hit this week- news regarding federal funding for all refuges across the country, and our advocacy for a proposed rule change strengthening protections for biological integrity and diversity in the refuge system.  

Five months into the fiscal year, Congress finally passed a budget for the Department of the Interior last Friday night, and it was signed into law by the President on Saturday. This bill was not, however, great news for refuges. Friends  has lobbied for a significant budget increase for the Refuge System, for a near tripling of the current, ridiculously low budget that barely allows refuges to keep staff on the ground, never mind do the ground-breaking biological and scientific wildlife work the Refuge System is known for.

While funding for Alaska’s 16 refuges is still to be determined, we know that the National Wildlife Refuge System as a whole took a 14.5 million dollar cut, down about 2% from the previous year budget. This cut, combined with a 5.5% employee pay increase, stresses an already underfunded system of public lands. This dramatically underfunded system is at risk of being unable to accomplish its critical conservation mission.  

Sitting at just above $500 million in annual funding, Congress expects these monies to cover 570 units of the Refuge System across 95 million acres of land and 750 million acres of ocean. 80 million of the land acres are in Alaska, yet staffing and project shortages mean there are so few biologists and pilots that on-refuge research and wildlife surveys frequently do not happen.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently directed its staff to do a study of all refuge acres and come up with a realistic number for how much is actually needed to operate the Refuge System in a way that would maintain healthy lands and waters, robust wildlife populations, and recreational access for people. That number was $1.5 billion, triple the current funding. 

Senator Lisa Murkowski is the Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior lands. She has the ability to assert her desire to see Alaska’s refuge lands funded. Her Anchorage office is (907) 271-3735. Friends are sure that if enough people call her office and ask for increased funding for Alaska’s refuges, she will follow through. 

Proposed Rule:  National Wildlife Refuge System; Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health

Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges submitted comments in collaboration with other Alaska-based conservation groups in support of this proposed rule. We expressed our support for (1) policy updates to better protect wildlife species threatened by climate change, (2) a prohibition on predator control on refuges in Alaska and nationwide, and (3) a requirement for refuges to cooperate with and coordinate with tribal entities and local communities. You can read the entirety of our comments in the attached letter.  

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Do You Want to Visit a Refuge?! Let’s go to the Aleutians

Do You Want to See the Aleutians? by Poppy Benson, Vice President for Outreach

February 2024’s presentation on the Aleut prehistory of the Aleutian Islands, might get you thinking, I want to go there.  So how?  Yes, the Aleutians are remote and stormy with minimal transportation but it is possible to visit at least a part of this fabulous volcanic island chain of seabirds and seals, wild flowers and wind, ancient ways and WWII history.  Nearly all of the Aleutians are in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Although there were hundreds of villages precontact there are only five now: Akutan, Unalaska, Nikolski, Atka and Adak, there are only 5 now.   Each has some form of commercial air transportation, but it may not be often and can be unreliable due to weather. Dutch Harbor/Unalaska and Adak are the easiest to access.   

Unalaska has it all: birds, whales, fish, culture, history, hiking, kayaking, volcanoes and fine accommodations.  The ferry Tustumena makes a monthly 3 day trip from Homer stopping for a full day in Kodiak with a chance to visit the  Kodiak Refuge and an afternoon in Cold Bay where Izembek Refuge staff may take you on a tour of refuge lands. Other village stops in Chignik Bay, Sand Point, King Cove and False Pass are brief but memorable.

Unalaska is famous with birders as the easiest place to see the whiskered auklet, a bird found only in the Aleutians and adjacent Russian islands.

Give yourself time to experience Unalaska by staying a few days and flying back.  A fine hotel, the Grand Aleutian, other lodging options and numerous restaurants make visiting comfortable.  Local guides can take you birding or to WWII sites.  Culture and history abound here with a historic Russian Orthodox Church, the Museum of the Aleutians, and the World War II Historic Site and Museum.  Most of the island is in the refuge.

Adak, 450 miles farther out the chain, is a very different experience.  Once a military base that was home to over 5000, only about 170 live there now.  The abandoned, crumbling base would make a good set for a zombie movie.  But the island boasts beaches, a lagoon packed with otters and Emperor geese, hiking trails, rare birds blown in from Asia, fishing and caribou and ptarmigan hunting.  Constructed almost overnight during WWII, Adak was an important base right up to the 1990s.  Alaska Air flies twice a week and mileage tickets can be cheap.  Former military housing, now privately owned, can be rented but bring your food as shopping is minimal.  The Alaska Maritime Refuge has a satellite office with a few exhibits.  Bird companies lead tours to Adak for the fall and spring migration. 

Dutch Harbor, Unalaska’s port, is the number one fishing port in the US and the burly fishing fleet, popularized in the reality show Deadliest Catch, adds a unique element.

The small villages of Akutan, Nikolski and Atka are much harder to visit.  Grant Aviation flies but weather can shut them down for days on end.  Nikolski has a small lodge but in the other villages you need to speak to the village corporation to find out about housing.   This would be quite an experience for the self-sufficient and culturally aware person.  

To visit any of the other 70 plus islands in the chain you will have to find a boat.  In some years, a cruise ship will pass through the chain visiting uninhabited islands.  Search online because no company does it regularly.  Attu, the holy grail of birding and WWII history, is nearly impossible to get to since the Coast Guard left in 2010 leaving the island uninhabited with no maintenance on the runway.  Attu, the last island in the chain, was occupied by the Japanese and the site of a major WWII battle. A fascinating place but I just don’t think you can get there now.  But visit what you can of this wildlife refuge so unique in wildlife, land forms and history.  

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