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“I’ll just make some Native engineers.” ANSEP – Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program

By Poppy Benson, Vice President for Outreach

Engineer and professor Herb Schroeder,while working on sanitation projects in bush villages, was shocked to find there were no Native engineers.  Outsiders were coming in and making all the decisions in these villages.  Herb thought, I’m an engineering professor at UAA so why don’t I just make some Native engineers.  That was the beginnings of ANSEP – Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program – which was designed to funnel Native kids into STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).  Schroeder soon learned that it was a complicated task to recruit village students from graduating classes of 5 or 10 taught by a revolving door of young, inexperienced, non-Alaskan teachers and from families where no one had gone to college and turn them into successful college students.  Attracting them to the STEM field was only the first step as they also had to successfully apply to college, be ready for college level work and be culturally and socially supported in the University environment that was so different from their home villages.    ANSEP grew to address those issues expanding to a pathway and support system that starts in elementary school and goes all the way through a PhD.  Watch this heartwarming short video about ANSEP.

As an ANSEP partner, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) contributes paid internships plus $50,000 annually to the scholarship fund.  Karen Hyer, FWS subsistence office, who works with students at the Anchorage campus, said “Our target audience is rural kids.  They have the skill sets we want.”  She went on to say kids from the Delta speak Yupik, have field experience and frequently want to live and know how to live in rural areas.  She was quick to say that as a federally supported program, ANSEP is open to all kids but the majority of students are Native. About a half dozen former ANSEP students are now permanent FWS employees.  Meet two of them.

Randall Friendly said in an interview when he was in college “My family has lived in the Yukon Delta for 10,000 years. I love Alaska’s natural beauty and want to preserve its wildlife and resources for future generations. ANSEP is helping me achieve my career goals, which will help protect the land I love.

Randall Friendly, our October meeting speaker, came out of Tuntutliak on the Yukon Delta from a graduating class of 5. He is the first in his family to go to college.  He is the first in his family to go to college.  He got involved in ANSEP’s Acceleration Academy as a junior in high school and now is about to receive his Masters of Science from University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) having successfully defended his thesis on how wintering conditions for threatened spectacled eiders affect breeding success.  He just started his first permanent job as waterfowl biologist for the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. His recorded talk, Working with Waterfowl on the Yukon Delta Refuge, is online hereand listen to a podcastwhere he talks about his career. 

Keith Herron says he wanted to be a fisheries biologist because “I want to be a part in making sure they are always around so others can have the opportunities I have had. I have always had fish in my life”.

Keith Herron is a fisheries biologist and tribal liaison with the Fairbanks FWS Field Office.  Keith grew up from Bethel to Wrangell to Kenai but always around water and fishing.  Keith heard about ANSEP his senior year from a refuge employee.  He signed up for ANSEP’s Summer Bridge (to college) program.  Keith is finishing his masters in fisheries biology from UAF.  His work with Ichthyophonus, a fish parasite contracted by Chinook salmon, puts him in a hot spot in a region where fisheries have been closed or greatly limited for four years causing significant hardships to the communities of the Yukon River.  His research hopes to shed light on whether this parasite is responsible for less fish reaching Canada than expected.  He is hoping what he learns about this disease will help better inform crucial fishery management decisions.  Read more about his work here.

Karen Hyer noted that change is slow but ANSEP is a bright light with excellent student outcomes.  It is bringing to the FWS competent young Native professionals who will “normalize” fish and wildlife careers for the kids coming up behind them.  


The boat shaped ANSEP building on the UAA campus is a home base providing a supportive environment for studying and cultural events.  Keith Herron said the best part of ANSEP is “You are not doing school alone.  You are part of a community”

Secretary Haaland visits the Kenai Refuge

Sara Boario, USFWS Alaska Regional Director (left), and Andy Loranger, Kenai Refuge Manager, hosted the Secretary during her visit to the Kenai. “It means so much that the Secretary takes time to meet with us when she visits Alaska," Boario said. "On each of her three trips she has prioritized time to listen and learn from our employees and share her support and encouragement for our work.”  pc Lisa Hupp/USFWS
Sara Boario, USFWS Alaska Regional Director (left), and Andy Loranger, Kenai Refuge Manager, hosted the Secretary during her visit to the Kenai. “It means so much that the Secretary takes time to meet with us when she visits Alaska,” Boario said. “On each of her three trips she has prioritized time to listen and learn from our employees and share her support and encouragement for our work.”  pc Lisa Hupp/USFWS

Church friends who are drummers and spouses bringing in their famous salmon dip created a warm and homey welcome for Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s October visit to the Kenai Refuge.  She didn’t want a formal presentation so the refuge enlisted their friends the Heartbeat of Mother Earth drummers and called on their partners in the Kenaitze tribe including Tribal President Bernadine Atchison to help welcome the Secretary to the Refuge Visitor Center.  She was particularly moved by the drummers.  Staff reported she took the time to meet everyone and hugged elders and engaged children.  

Earlier in the day she visited an upcoming fish passage project on Ninilchik Native Association lands that will allow salmon to return to a tributary of Deep Creek that flows from the refuge.  Financed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), the project is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the Ninilchik Native Association Inc., and the Ninilchik Traditional Council. Ninilchik Tribal leaders, President Greg Encelewski and Executive Director Ivan Encelewski, spoke with the Secretary about vital cultural traditions and the importance of salmon to Indigenous people.  USFWS biologist Kyle Graham shared about the priority and need to increase habitat connectivity.  Borough Mayor Peter Micciche also added his support.

Later in the day, she visited the refuge’s newly improved access to Kenai River at Jim’s Landing, partially funded by the Great American Outdoors Act. The Secretary walked the edge of the river, took photos as a pair of bald eagles flew overhead, and witnessed the final salmon lifecycle stages typical of late fall in Alaska. 

Secretary Haaland (center) on her visit to the FWS booth at AFN in Anchorage
The Secretary also visited the Fish and Wildlife Service booth at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention in Anchorage, where she met Refuge Information Technicians and Tribal Liaisons from across the state. Crystal Leonetti, Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaska Native Affairs Specialist, reflected, “the Secretary so graciously shook each of our hands, asked us our names and where we work, and spent a few minutes with a youngster at one of the booth’s highlights – a kid’s coloring activity. It was a dream to spend just a few moments with her.

Even K9 Officer Togo turned out with all the Kenai Refuge staff to be photographed with the Secretary in front of the Kenai Refuge’s Moose.  pc  Lisa Hupp/USFWS

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Birding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with Bird Guide Aaron Lang

Monday, December 4, 5:30pm, AKT.
Live in Homer at Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge’s Visitor Center or on Zoom.
Please click HERE to join the webinar.

Aaron Lang will share stories and stunning photography at the Kachemak Bay Birders monthly meeting about the unique wilderness birding experiences to be found in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  All are welcome to attend or zoom in.  Aaron, widely considered one of Alaska’s top birding guides and a downright nice guy, will draw from his 21 years of exploring, birding and guiding in the Arctic Refuge.  Aaron is the co-owner of Wilderness Birding Adventures based in Homer and was the guide for the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges’ trip to the Marsh Fork of the Canning River in the Arctic Refuge last summer.  

Aaron collecting feathers from an abandoned nest cavity for Gray-headed Chickadees. No birds were found on the 2023 trip. The feathers were collected for possible DNA analysis. pc: Nancy Deschu

Approximately the size of South Carolina, the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has no roads or facilities. The lands and waters are a critical nursery for birds who migrate and winter throughout North America and beyond and is an important home for iconic resident wildlife such as caribou, musk oxen and polar bear.  The refuge presents a unique, wilderness birding experience and contains the largest designated Wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge System. Birds commonly found along the Arctic’s rivers include nesting shorebirds such as Wandering Tattler, Upland Sandpiper, and American Golden-Plover and Golden Eagles, Arctic Warbler and Smith’s Longspurs.

This program will be recorded and posted HERE within a few days.

Aaron began birding in southern Minnesota at age 11 when the curious behavior of a Northern Flicker caught his eye, and he’s been hopelessly addicted to birding ever since. Combining bird-related work with a passion for travel has led him to adventures in Brazil, Tibet, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bhutan. After settling in Alaska, Aaron spent several years running environmental education programs for the Prince William Sound Science Center in Cordova, all while scheming on how to turn his birding obsession into a career. In 2002, he began guiding for Wilderness Birding Adventures and, after 11 years, Aaron and his wife Robin bought the business.

Smith’s longspurs were frequently spotted on the Marsh Fork last summer. PC Jerry Britten

Aaron has served on the Alaska Bird Checklist Committee since 2009, the American Birding Association Checklist Committee (2015-2022), and the board of Audubon Alaska since 2019. He currently holds the Alaska Daydream Big Day Record for the most species of birds thought about in one 24-hour period. 

This Kachemak Bay Birder Meeting is cosponsored by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge with the zoom and recording capabilities provided by Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.

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Izembek Brant Project Report

by John  Sargent, Friends Volunteer

John Sargent volunteered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge assisting with the Pacific Brant Age Ratio Study during October 3 to 13, 2023. Nearly all of the worldwide distribution of brant stage at Izembek Lagoon during the autumn migration before moving on to warmer climates in California and Mexico where they spend the winter months. Izembek Lagoon is also one of the largest concentrations of eelgrass in the world and was the first in North America listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. 

The purpose of the study is to estimate the number of juvenile brant born this year relative to adults. This information will be used to determine the 2023 productivity of brant along the Pacific Flyway. By the end of the survey, we successfully met our goal of classifying 39,000 juvenile and adult brant in Izembek Lagoon! To access the lagoon we drove in pickups, walked in the tundra, boated in zodiacs and took side-by-side ATVs to get to more remote areas. 

The Izembek adventure was scheduled to start on October 2, but was delayed one day because of the looming government shutdown that did not happen. Then, a few days later, while awaiting at the Anchorage airport for his flight to Cold Bay, John learned that his flight would be cancelled because of eruptions of the Shishaldin Volcano in the Aleutian Island of Unimak, west of Cold Bay.  As the volcano calmed down, John and another volunteer, Catherine Trimingham, boarded the Aleutian Airlines flight to Cold Bay to finally start the Brant Age study adventure.  While attempting to make a landing, at Cold Bay the plane lifted off again, presumably due to strong cross winds to make another attempt, which the pilot safety did.  Such is life in one of the windiest and remote places in North America, and one of the most volcanically active regions in the world! Once at the refuge we settled in to the comfy house that served as the bunkhouse with full kitchen and hot running water.  

Acknowledgements: John would like to thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge staff, especially Wildlife Biologist Alison Williams, Refuge Manager Maria Fosado, Biological Science Technician Cristina Trimingham, Wildlife Biologist Michael Swaim, volunteer Catherine Trimingham, and USGS Field Assistant Technician Evan Buck for field support, sharing field work, and making my stay and experience most enjoyable and memorable.  Thank you all!

Bird and Wildlife Observed or reported on or near the lagoon:

Black brant (very abundant- 100s of thousands), cackling geese (abundant) northern pintail, mallard, harlequin duck, gadwall, Eurasian widgeon, green wing teal, emperor geese, white fronted goose (one), greater yellowlegs, large feeding flocks of rock sandpiper, dunlin sandpiper, bald eagles, short eared owl, marlin, peregrine falcon, glaucous wing gulls, juvenile Sabine’s gull, tundra swan, red breasted mergansers, Steller’s eider (one), black legged kittiwakes, snipe, fox sparrow (dark subspecies), willow ptarmigan, red necked grebe, Pacific loon, ravens, black billed magpies and Lapland longspurs.  Also, wolf, brown bear tracks, brown bear scats, and diggings for ground squirrels; arctic ground squirrels; red fox, Pacific walrus (hundreds sunbathing), harbor seals and sea otters abundant feeding in lagoon. Coho salmon carcasses in creeks.

Making our approach to the airport at Cold Bay to begin the Brant Age Ratio Survey. It was very windy!

Ahhh… we finally made it to Izembek Lagoon to start the Brant Age Ratio Survey! John Sargent counting brant. The weather was blustery and we lucked out to have only limited rainfall, mild temperatures (mid 40s) and no further substantial eruption of volcanos!

Mike wearing his comfy wool hat while characterizing brant juveniles and adults at Izembek Lagoon.

Brant geese at Izembek Lagoon.

Alison, Christina, Evan and Catherine counting a large flock of brant. Most birds where too far to count but with use of a zodiac we were able to access more out-of-the-way areas of the lagoon.

Zostera marina (eelgrass), one of many worldwide species of seagrasses. Brant forage almost exclusively on eelgrass leaves during their autumn in Izembek Lagoon. The seeds are an important food for dabbling ducks.

And the sun did shine a few times! This is the eelgrass beds during low tide. During low tide we walked the Zodiac to deeper water.  This was fortunate because it enabled us to get up close and personal with the eelgrass, the productive muds rich in detritus, and the abundance of shellfish and crabs that inhabit this important resource.  We also saw many sea otters and harbor seals in the lagoon, and a large group of sunning walrus near the entrance with the Bering Sea!

We rejoiced when Frosty Peak, a large volcano became visible on the last day of our survey.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Wildlife Biologist, Alison Williams surveying for brant at Izembek Lagoon. I thank her for her knowledge, skill at boat handling (especially in ocean swell near the outlet to the Bering Sea), and her kindness and graciousness during the survey work, planning, and making this a truly memorable experience.

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October Advocacy Report: Arctic Leasing UPDATES & ACTIONS for you to take!

by  Caroline Brower, Vice President for Advocacy

Two big things are happening this month: hearings and the comment period for the Draft Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Congressional shenanigans over funding of the federal government. 

First, public hearings are underway on the SEIS regarding oil leases in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. 

  • Virtual public meetings – October 11th at 5pm and October 17th at 1pm. 

  • Anchorage – October 16 at 5 pm at the Loussac Library

  • Fairbanks rescheduled to October 23 at 5 pm at a location TBD.  

The comment deadline is October 23.  Please attend virtually or in person if you would like to learn more or comment on the alternatives that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management are looking at. The schedule and more information can be found here.

For more background on this issue, see the companion article.  Need help preparing comments?  Write to us at and we will get back to you.

Please note that comments don’t have to be technical or detailed. You can simply express your preference for no leasing or drilling in the refuge, and state why you feel that way.

Second, funding for wildlife refuges is up in the air again. This next federal fiscal year runs October 1, 2023-September 30, 2024, and while refuges (and the rest of the federal government) are being funded by a bill that just extended last year’s funding by 45 days, this is not a permanent fix. All 16 national wildlife refuges in Alaska are underfunded to the point that many staffing positions are not being filled, and biological, management and visitor services work across Alaska is not being completed. 

It’s not just the current year’s funding issues that are a problem. Funding for refuges has been extremely low for more than a decade. In the past, refuges had enough staff to actually run programs. Each refuge had a biology team doing waterfowl, moose, or bear surveys. They had a visitor services team doing community outreach and education at the refuge and at community events and in schools. They had full maintenance teams to regrade dirt and gravel roads and maintain facilities and vehicles, or the R/V Tiglax. Today, refuges are facing losing their staff by combining with other refuges, known as “complexing”, and in most cases, they are already down to bare-bones teams of biologists and other staff members. Funding has been on the decline since FY2010, and the gap is only growing wider with the conflict on Capitol Hill this month. 

Alaska’s very own Senator Lisa Murkowski is the lead Republican on the Senate subcommittee that determines funding for Alaskan wildlife refuges. She needs to hear from her constituents that the current $541 million for wildlife refuges across the country is completely insufficient, and the true need for annual funding sits at $1.5 billion. We ask that you go to Senator Murkowski’s website and send her a message that refuges need an increase in funding. You can email her here. 

Thank you for continuing to be great advocates for Alaska’s wildlife refuges.

How did we get to oil leasing in the Arctic Refuge and what can you do about it?  Testify!

By Marilyn Sigman, Board President 

Oil and gas development has been threatening the Arctic Refuge since 1980, when Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Act (ANILCA) which protected much of the refuge but in Section 1002 opened up the possibility of oil development in the refuge’s coastal plain. In ANILCA, Congress also reserved the power to decide later whether to open it to drilling, a choice which was rejected for decades, until 2017. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to hold two lease sales no later than December 22, 2024, and added “provision of an oil and gas program” to the purposes of the refuge.   A Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was completed in September, 2019.

At the first lease sale, held on January 6, 2021, only 11 of the 22 tracts offered were sold.  After the sale, two of the bidders relinquished their leases, leaving the State of Alaska’s Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, as the sole lease owner.

Friends had joined a coalition that unsuccessfully sued the federal government to stop this first lease sale. We then intervened successfully in a lawsuit to defend the authority of the Secretary of Interior to suspend the leases in June 2021. Friends also signed on to a letter with other organizations urging the Biden Administration to: 1) cancel the 2021 leases; 2) prioritize completing a robust SEIS that will assess the climate impacts and compatibility with U.S. climate goals; and 3) recognize the human rights issues for the Alaska Native communities that rely on Arctic Refuge resources. 

Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland initially suspended the leases after a determination of an inadequate NEPA review and an illegal sale, and then canceled them outright on September 6, 2023. She said at the time: “With today’s action, no one will have rights to drill in one of the most sensitive landscapes on Earth. Climate change is the crisis of our lifetime. And we cannot ignore the disproportionate impacts being felt in the Arctic. We must do everything within our control to meet the highest standards of care to protect this fragile ecosystem.”

The second lease sale is now proceeding as required by the 2017 Tax Act.  The Supplementary EIS (SEIS) is the Department of Interior’s attempt to remedy the inadequacies of the first EIS which led to the cancellation of the first leases. 

What’s Being Considered in the SEIS and how should we comment?
The BLM has listed out 4 Alternatives.  Alternatives B, C, and D propose leasing over a range of acreage from 49 to 100 percent of the 1.56 million-acre Coastal Plain. According to the SEIS, each of these three alternatives balances the five statutory purposes of the Arctic Refuge, the oil and gas leasing program and the four original purposes of conserving animals and plants in their natural diversity, ensuring subsistence hunting and gathering activities, protecting water quality and quantity, and fulfilling international wildlife treaty obligations.

Alternative A is the No-Action or no leasing Alternative, and would be our choice. The BLM, however, has determined that Alternative A does not meet the ‘purpose and need’ of the SEIS because it does not meet the requirements of the 2017 Tax Act to hold a lease sale, and is therefore not considering it. Friends have long opposed leasing of the Arctic Refuge, and will submit comments supporting action with the least impacts to the purposes for which Arctic Refuge was established. A robust showing of support from Alaskans for the strongest possible environmental protection of the Coastal Plain in your SEIS comments could discourage future investments in oil and gas leases in the Refuge and hopefully encourage BLM to reconsider their approach to Alternative A.

The Record of Decision that will follow the SEIS review will not authorize exploration and development but will determine which lands will be offered for lease and under what terms. Please see our advocacy column above for the schedule of public meetings on the SEIS and ways to submit comments by the deadline of October 23, 2023.

Photo: The Porcupine caribou herd travels ancient trails and fords many rivers to get to and from their calving grounds on the Arctic coastal plain and their wintering area in the mountains of Alaska and Canada. It is the largest land migration in the world.  The calving grounds are under threat of oil and gas development in spite of the recent lease sale cancellations because of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which requires lease sales and made an oil and gas program a purpose. pc: Marilyn SIgman

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10/17 Membership Meeting: Waterfowl on the Yukon Delta

Tuesday, October 17, 5-6 pm AKDT, Randall Friendly, Waterfowl Biologist

This presentation was recorded; watch recording below.

Bethel – Randall, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Waterfowl Biologist, will be speaking live at the Refuge Visitor Center (across from the hospital) with potluck to follow. Bring your favorite dish to share.
Homer – Watch Party with snacks at Alaska Maritime’s Islands & Ocean Visitor Center
Soldotna – Watch Party at Kenai Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road
Kodiak – Watch Party at Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center

The vast, watery Yukon Delta Refuge nestles between Alaska’s largest rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim Rivers, where the tundra meets the Bering Sea. At 19 million acres, Yukon Delta has edged out the Arctic Refuge as the largest wildlife refuge in the country. Its diversity of habitats supports one of the largest aggregations of waterbirds in the world.  Presenter Randall Friendly was raised on this land, went off to college and has recently returned as waterfowl biologist for the Yukon Delta Refuge. Let him show you his homeland and hear from him why waterfowl has so inspired him. He will talk about how and why the refuge manages waterfowl from banding programs with Cackling geese and Brant and capture-mark-recapture with Emperor geese.

Greater White-fronted Goose, Kigigak Island, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge pc:  Kristine Sowl, USFWS

Biography by Randall Friendly.  I am from Tuntutuliak a Yupik village of about 800 people.  It is located along the Kuskokwim River on the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in western Alaska about 40 miles downriver from Bethel, the largest town on the Delta.  I grew up with a subsistence lifestyle of hunting and fishing with my family.  I found out I wanted to work with ducks and geese after my first season working as a technician for the US Fish and Wildlife Service working in remote places on the Yukon Delta. I saw how incredible it was to see the diversity of nesting birds like on Kigigak Island. Since then, I decided one day I wanted to continue working with waterfowl and learn more about them. With mentoring by ANSEP (Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program) I studied for my Bachelor’s at the University of Alaska Anchorage in biology.  I completed my Master’s from the University of Alaska Fairbanks this summer in wildlife biology.  My thesis was on threatened Spectacled Eiders and how their wintering conditions affect reproduction. While in college, I had a chance to work on Kodiak, and Arctic Refuges as well as Yukon Delta.  What I like most about my job is that I get to work with amazing people who are enthusiastic about wildlife and that I get to work outside of the office environment.

I recently moved to Bethel to work full time for the Yukon Delta Refuge as a waterfowl biologist.  I have been enjoying some family time after being away for college for quite some time. I like to spend time outdoors whether it is fishing, hunting, or gathering. Having moved to Bethel, I am looking forward to the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends.

Read an interview with Randall about how the ANSEP program welcomed a boy from the village and helped him realize his dreams. And hear from Randall in this podcast about his hopes for his work, a chance to inspire others and his masters work on spectacled eiders. 

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In the Field: Friends Volunteering

by Poppy Benson, Friends Board Vice President
It was a busy September for Friends with volunteers helping with the Walks for the Wild, our September meeting and our special event.  But three Friends were far afield with Meg Parsons of Anchorage and Mike Coffing of Homer at Izembek Refuge and Caroline Brouwer, currently from Hawaii, at Kodiak Refuge.  Here is what they had to say.

The Izembek Quonset Hut Hustle:  Wind, Wildlife and Wide-open Views
By Mike Coffing 

Winds of 37 knots with gusts to 60+ knots were my welcome to Izembek Refuge at Cold Bay! Although the winds were always blowing, they were usually not as strong and were much more friendly most of our stay. The warm smiles, friendly and supportive Izembek Refuge staff were absolutely amazing. We were there to help clear out a large, WWII era, Quonset hut located 10+ miles north of Cold Bay and near Izembek Lagoon. During each round trip with the pickup truck, hauling 15 loads of equipment and supplies from the Quonset to the Refuge HQ in Cold Bay, our eyes were scanning the roadside “tundra” and open horizons for wildlife. We were never disappointed. After the day’s work of lifting, loading, hauling and unloading supplies, the warm refuge bunkhouse with the full kitchen, hot showers and comfortable beds was most relaxing. 

Meg Parsons added:The Quonset hut is huge- unlike any I have seen previously. It was full of an assemblage of Refuge materials- research equipment and building supplies which was very like many homesteads I have experienced.  One keeps things since it could be possible to use in the future. pc: Meg Parsons

We got in on one of the biggest local events of the year, the 3-day Labor Day Silver Salmon Derby, where we helped by weighing in fish. A kickoff “Ribs/Chicken and ALL the fixings” dinner, a polar plunge, a bonfire and potluck added to the fun.This annual fundraiser supports the Cold Bay Emergency Services.

Meg Parsons at Russell Creek with her first ever silver salmon.  She said of her arrival at Izembek, “I flew from Anchorage to Cold Bay with the view of cloudy blue skies opening up to view the terrain of water, remote islands, and volcanoes. A great start to an area new to me and my excitement was exhilarating!” pc. Laticia Melendez/USFWS

Our last day we accompanied refuge staff when they gave a Refuge tour, using two small busses and two pickup trucks, to arriving passengers on the Alaska Ferry Tustumena from town to Grant’s Point, located at the edge of Izembek Lagoon. Meg added that “I enjoyed extending enthusiasm and appreciation of Izembek to the ferry passengers.”

Working at Izembek Refuge was a great experience. Thanks to Matthew and all the Refuge staff for having us.
An Incredible Time at Kodiak:  Bears, Coast and a Wonderful Staff
By Caroline Brouwer

L-R Caroline Brouwer, Sierra Speer, Erin Strand, Patricia Prince, Natalie Fath, Danielle Fujii-Doe in the Kodiak Visitor Center. pc: USFWS

Overwhelmed with cruise ships at a low staff time of the year, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge asked for a Friends volunteer to help in September at their Visitor Center. Alaskan brown bears, whales, and talking about the National Wildlife Refuge System are some of my favorite things, so I jumped at the opportunity to apply and was lucky enough to be selected by the refuge.

I got to Kodiak Island just in time for the silver salmon run to start and the frenzy of bears feasting on salmon, fattening up for the winter. It’s been a dream of mine for years to go see the island, the refuge, and its bears. The bears, I saw, in droves. But Kodiak Refuge is so pristine partially because its not on the road system, so I spent my free hours hiking on non-refuge lands and gazing in awe at the beautiful islands and coastline. 

Four out of the 10 days I was on the island, were cruise ship days with passengers flooding the town. Over 1,600 passengers passed through the Visitor Center on those four days, which was a great opportunity to talk about refuges and wildlife. One of the glorious things about the Refuge System is that refuges are not as highly visited as National Parks, offering a more solitary experience than parks. The downside is that many people have no idea what a refuge even is, or that there is this incredible System of public lands set aside for wildlife of which Kodiak is just one piece.

Education is part of our Friends mission: teaching visitors about wildlife refuges, and the importance of refuge habitat and species protection. They can then become stewards and advocates for refuges.

The Kodiak staff were incredible and capable, but, like most refuges, they have lost much of their capacity to complete critical tasks due to budget cuts. It was valuable to me as Friends Advocacy Committee Chair to see this for myself.  Our advocacy column in this same newsletter is devoted to the budget, so please click on that article as well to hear how the funding fiasco currently happening in Washington, DC is affecting refuges on the ground. 

Many, many thanks to the talented Kodiak Refuge staff, particularly Mike Brady, Danielle Fujii-Doe, Natalie Fath, and Amy Peterson and hardworking, generous and knowledgeable volunteers and seasonal staff– Sierra, Patricia, Nicole, Jan, and Stacey.  A special shout out to Erin Strand whom I credit with keeping me alive by teaching me everything I know about bear safety, as we staffed a community event at the Coast Guard base. Thank you to everyone for making this trip so incredible. I hope I was able to give back as much as I received!

My last night was the most exciting (terrifying? incredibly stupid?) part of the trip. I went to the Buskin River to catch one last glimpse of the magnificent bears. The only bear I saw was in the process of expelling a huge tapeworm from his rear end.  Fascinated,  I watched him while he ate salmon. I lost sight of him, then heard him splashing loudly in the river too close to me. I hustled out of the area and turned on the video on my phone as I walked away, and then  – well, see for yourself

For an explanation of tape worms in Alaskan bears … check out thisarticle


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Membership Meeting: Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (9/23)

The Most Amazing Refuge You’ve Never Seen: The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Presented by Jeff Williams, Deputy Refuge Manager

This presentation was recorded.  Watch below:


In Homer and Soldotna – bring sides or desserts to the soup/chili after gathering or just come.  Refuge staff will share upcoming winter events and volunteer opportunities.

by Jeff Williams

Remote.  Difficult to access.  Harsh weather. Thousands of Islands. Millions of Birds.  Erupting volcanoes.  You’ve heard about it, but few people have actually had the privilege of visiting this spectacular refuge.  Spanning in extent from southeast Alaska, west to the end of the Aleutian Chain, and north above the Arctic Circle,  a distance equivalent to that from the East Coast to the West Coast of the lower 48, the 4 million acre refuge is comprised of several thousand islands.  It’s also home to 80% of all the breeding seabirds in North America – we guess that is over 40 million birds, but our tally counters don’t go that high. Oh, and don’t forget the hundreds of thousands of seals, sea lions, and otters too.  Remote field camps on uninhabited islands and the largest ship in the Fish and Wildlife Service, the 120 foot R/V Tiglax, carry out the work of the refuge. The Refuge’s Islands and Ocean Visitor Center is in Homer at refuge headquarters.  Jeff will provide an overview of the unique scenic beauty of the refuge and give you a look into the current refuge projects from the biological program to tribal engagement, ship operations and more.

Most of North America’s seabirds nest on this one refuge and crested auklets are some of the coolest.  PC USFWS

Jeff came to the Alaska Maritime Refuge in 1990 when the refuge was only 10 years old.  He has worked for this refuge probably longer than anyone else working his way up from Biological Technician, to Biologist, to Refuge Operations Specialist, to Assistant Manager and now Deputy Refuge Manager. Jeff says he remains passionate about the refuge after all these years because the work is always new, people and projects are interesting, and the refuge is a spectacular crown jewel in the refuge system. He even met his wife working for the refuge.  In his current position, Jeff oversees the day-to-day operations of the refuge and staff, serves as supervisor and scheduler for the R/V Tiĝlax̂, and wishes he could do more surveys in a skiff. Jeff was based in the Adak office for 12 years and moved to the Homer office in 2001. Jeff enjoys spending time with his family, reading widely, working in his shop on projects and woodworking.

Jeff Williams on Segula Island in the Aleutian Islands. pc: USFWS

    Open post

    In the Field: Friends Volunteering

    by Poppy Benson, Friends Board Vice President

    On a river and lakes and mountainsides, Friends were helping Refuges this past July-August.  Read the reports of three members about their work on Kodiak, Yukon Delta and Tetlin Refuges.

    Saw Some Amazing Fish
    by Michelle Beadle, Palmer member

    I spent a week in July helping the Fish and Wildlife Service Fisheries crew at the Kwethluk Fish Weir in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Due to high water lingering into summer, the weir had only been “fish tight” for a couple days prior to my arrival. Having fish identification experience myself, I spent lots of time helping with the fish counts to free up the crew for buttoning up other projects. Fish passing through the weir are counted and monitored by video 24 hours a day. Chinook, sockeye, and chum made up the bulk of the fish observed with occasional pink salmon and whitefish showing up as well. 

    Saw Some Amazing Fish by Michelle Beadle, Palmer member

    My time at the weir was great fun. I learned a lot about what it takes to run a weir on a large river system. The crew lead from the Kenai Fisheries Office, Derek, and the workers from the nearby village of Kwethluk were a pleasure to work with and shared a wealth of knowledge. The peacefulness offered by the remote tundra and adventure of traveling along the rivers rounded out the experience. I am looking forward to many more adventures in Western Alaska!

    The fish trap is also closed for a short time each day, which allowed us to live capture fish to record age, sex, and length before releasing the fish upstream.  pc: Rory Spellman

    Rory Spellman, Soldotna Friend, and Ryan Peyton, Anchorage Friend, also volunteered at the weir.

    Would I do it Again?
    In a Heartbeat:  Berry Monitoring on Kodiak Island

    by Moira O’Malley, Fairbanks Friend

    You may have heard of Exploratory Botanist Steve Perlman “going to extremes by descending remote cliff faces to save Hawaii’s most endangered native plants from extinction”.   Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge has their own Extreme Wildlife Biologist- Bill Pyle.  Bill is on a mission to help save the Kodiak bears by monitoring berries- salmon, blue, elder, and devil’s club. I assisted him for 3 1/2 weeks this summer. 

    Berry monitoring with Bill is not for the faint of heart. First of all, you have to get to the remote sites by a Beaver Cub float plane; weather permitting, of course. It’s often a waiting game. Once at the site, be prepared to stay in a public use cabin with no running water (Uganik), a teepee (Red Lake, my favorite), the ‘posh’ Camp Island (Karluk), and the bunkhouse (Kodiak). Then the fun begins. Kodiak bushwhacking features steep climbs, scrambling through stinging nettles, burning poochki (wild celery), tussocks, ‘root grabbers’, all while under relentless attack by mozzies (mosquitoes), no-see-ums, white socks, and biting flies.  And dealing with cold soggy fingers and keeping the data dry! On one site, I was perched on a 140-degree slope barely hanging on by the ‘skin’ of my boots with my heels dug into the wet, muddy, slippery soil to keep from sliding down the incline!

    My job was writing down data as it was given to me, often shouted from a distance. Alders became my friend. They not only provided shade, but the branches offered a comfortable place to sit while collecting data.

    Oh, the views, wildlife, and flora of Kodiak Island! What an unforgettable experience!  Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

    The Set Up Crew:  Banding Ducks was a Bonus
    by John and Lyn Kennedy, Soldotna Friends

    We spent the first three days of our week building and setting up the duck banding traps in Deadman and Yarger lakes at Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. The traps consisted of 40 foot long rolls of chicken wire prepped with a door to be used by banders to enter the trap and retrieve the ducks. We boated the materials to the desired area in the lakes and held the traps in place with ground rods. Then an opening was fashioned to allow the ducks to swim into the trap and bird netting was attached creating a roof so the ducks weren’t able to fly out. Traps were baited with barley and corn and fingers were crossed hoping the ducks would come.

    It was early in the season so we went with the expectation that we would just be setting things up and not actually banding any ducks, so for us it was a bonus.  Lin Kennedy prepping duck for banding.

    On the fourth day, we actually caught some ducks.  Deputy Refuge Manager Ross Flagen was in his element teaching how to determine if it was a juvenile or a mature duck, male or female.   After that a band was put around a leg, and they were sent along their merry way.   As John and I were newbies to this and have no birding experience, it was very educational.

     It was a fun, informative week.  We enjoyed being able to experience the Tetlin Refuge.  The staff we encountered were all very friendly, excited and appreciative to have “Friends” at their refuge.  John and I would both be more than happy to go back again.

    Great Weather if You like it Hot with Thunder and Lightning.
    by Dan Musgrove, Soldotna Friend

    Our second week team of Dan Musgrove and Jerry Hupp had to be very adaptable to the extreme weather conditions.  The three teams after them were canceled due to the high water making it impossible to trap ducks.  Hear what Dan had to say. 

    Dan Musgrove with the outhouse he was building as part of the Scottie Creek historic cabin’s transition to a public use cabin.

    Due to the hot weather and high water levels duck banding was not good and we only got three ducks the first day. We ended up adding a couple more traps on Deadman Lake for later on in the season.  After that we switched gears and started working at Scottie Creek Cabin.  The Tetlin Refuge was turning this historic cabin into a public use cabin. We helped build an outhouse and enhanced the trail going into the cabin. We lined the trail with sawdust, which took two large dump trailers full from Tok.

    We had great weather if you like it hot with thunder and lightning.  Thermometer in the shade of the Northway gas station showed almost 90 degrees!  I had a great time volunteering and would recommend it to everyone. Thanks again for these opportunities.

    Open post

    September Advocacy Report: Significant developments

    by Friends Advocacy Committee

    Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
    By far the most significant advocacy update this month was the cancellation of the oil and gas leases sold to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) back in January 2021. These leases were sold in an illegal lease sale during which no major oil companies bid. Two other smaller companies bid but later backed out of their leases, leaving AIDEA as the sole lease owner.  Fortunately, the Biden Administration took action on September 6th to protect the coastal plain and canceled the leases. The State of Alaska has challenged this cancellation, but Friends, along with many conservation organizations and Tribal governments, have applauded this step. 

    Friends issued the following statement regarding the cancellation of the lease sale: We are thrilled that the Biden Administration has canceled these illegal leases. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to a rich biodiversity of wildlife that depend on the large stretches of intact habitat found in the coastal plain and beyond. We thank the President and Secretary Haaland for their support for protecting this jewel of the Refuge System.

    Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
    Since the March 14, 2023, decision by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to withdraw the proposed Trump administration land exchange that authorized a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Wilderness and the subsequent dismissal of the court case, we have continued to watch the next steps at Izembek. 

    A Notice of Intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact  Statement (SEIS) was issued in May 2023, and Friends submitted comments to the Administration. As of the first week of September, the Department of the Interior (DOI) is still reviewing those comments and preparing their team to move forward on the SEIS, which is tentatively due in the summer of 2024. 

    Friends remain concerned that Secretary Haaland could propose an alternative land exchange now that the previous case has been dismissed.  One of the major deficiencies cited by the Secretary in her March withdrawal was an absence of impact on subsidence resources associated with the proposed land exchange. The implication being that a land exchange may still be on the table, rather than a focus on non-road alternatives. 

    Friends and the entire Izembek coalition firmly believe that any manner of land exchange outside of a Congressional or Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) framework is illegal as it threatens both critical habitat on the refuge as well as the nearly 150 million acres of federally protected conservation lands in Alaska protected by ANILCA.  Accordingly, we are asking that non-road alternatives to address the needs of King Cove be strongly considered just as they were in the original Environmental Site Assessment. We continue to speak with USFWS in Alaska and at Headquarters in DC regarding the SEIS. 

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