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Can You Help Move Friends Forward?

By Poppy Benson
Vice President for Outreach

We just finished out a great year of volunteering, educating, and advocating for refuges.  But it takes a lot of us volunteering to run Friends so that we can create opportunities for you and offer real help for the refuges.  We need YOU to help make it all happen for 2024. 

Our biggest immediate need is a Treasurer as Jason Sodergren is stepping down from the Board after 16 dedicated years.  Fiduciary responsibility is a key Board function, and this position is part of the executive committee.  Anybody out there with a love of refuges and a comfort level with budgets?  And no, you don’t have to stay 16 years!  A two-year commitment is all we ask.  

We also need three new Board members of which the Treasurer would be one to bring us to 11.  With 16 refuges and 76 million acres we have a lot to keep track of.  We need a Board big enough to balance this work load.  Our only employee, Melanie Dufour, has most of her time allocated to running the Shorebird Festival which means we are a working Board.  The advantage of being on our Board?  We know what’s going on with monthly briefings from Refuge Managers and other staff.  We get to know Refuge staff, the issues and the land.  We know our refuges are worthy of our time.  We know we are doing a good thing in lending our talents to help carry out our mission of educate, support and advocate for Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.

Meet our newest refuge liaison:  Karyn Murphy for the Alaska Maritime Refuge.  Karyn writes, “Living on Kachemak Bay, I have been a naturalist guide, local scientist-in-residence and an artist incorporating the natural elements of the coast into my creations. Because of this, the Maritime Refuge has always been close to my heart and I am thrilled to become more involved in representing this amazing area and the people doing research.”

We also need refuge liaisons for Izembek and Selawik refuges.  Izembek is so important and so isolated.  A friendly voice checking in with them and carrying their needs to the Board will be much appreciated by the refuge.  The same with Selawik.  They have a fun staff but Friends has not been very responsive to them because we just don’t have “A Person” watching out for them.  A liaison checks in with “their” refuge once a month and prepares a brief report on what is going on with them and any needs they have.  A liaison is the bridge between a refuge and the Board.

Want to serve on a committee?  Have communication skills?  We need a communications committee to work on the newsletter and other communication methods.   This would be a brand-new committee.  The outreach committee could use somebody in Kodiak or Bethel or an additional member to help Pam Seiser in Fairbanks or Meg Parsons in Anchorage.  Both our finance and advocacy committees could use another member or two, and we don’t even have a fundraising/grant committee and need one.  Last year the refuges asked us for $50,000, and we don’t have that kind of money.  Yet we want to start a scholarship for Native youth and pay for interns on understaffed refuges and . . . . .and. . . 

We are a fun and very dedicated bunch dealing with the best of Alaska.  Join us!  Contact us.

Board News! transitions…

By: Friends Board
At our June 6 Friends’ Board meeting, Marilyn Sigman was appointed as President. replacing long time President, David Raskin. Marilyn joined the Board in 2022. She is a retired wildlife biologist and science and environmental educator who has previously chaired the Boards of Alaska Geographic (under its previous name, the Alaska Natural History Association), the Alaska Conservation Foundation, and the Alaska Natural Resources and Outdoor Education Association.

Caroline Brouwer was appointed to a new position of a second Vice-President which we amended our bylaws to include. Caroline has served on the Board since 2020 and has been involved in advocacy for the National Wildlife Refuge System since 2008, lobbying on behalf of funding increases for the Refuge System and policy changes. She spent 14 years working in Washington, DC on behalf of public lands advocacy and national wildlife refuges with Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

 Marilyn Sigman, Board President  Caroline Brouwer, 2nd VIce-President

In other actions, Tara Schmidt was reappointed as Board Secretary, a position she has served in for six years. Since being appointed to the board in 2017, Tara has served as a liaison, first with the Kenai Refuge and is now working with the Innoko, Nowitna, Koyukuk Refuge Complex. She is active with the Outreach and Education Committee and the Shorebird Festival Committee.

Tara, Poppy Benson, and Jason Sodergren were reappointed as Board members, with Poppy continuing in her role as a Vice-President and Jason as Treasurer. Elections for these positions will be held in February next year.

We thank David Raskin for his long and dedicated service as a founding Board member, Board President, and tireless advocate for Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.   

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Founder David Raskin, Retires

By: Friends Board

After nearly two decades of service as a founder, President for 16 years, and Advocacy Chair, David Raskin has retired from the Board of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.  We thank David for his many years of dedicated service, and his passionate advocacy for Alaska’s wildlife refuges. This organization would not be what it is today without his tireless efforts to support and to protect refuges from the coastal plains of the Arctic Refuge to the rich wetlands of the Izembek Refuge and everything in between.  

David was there when Friends was created at a meeting at the Kenai Refuge in 2005.  He volunteered to be the first president and has been the only president for all but two years of our history.  During his tenure, Friends grew from an organization of a few dozen people to the 315 members we have today.  Our volunteer, advocacy and education programs have increased exponentially under his leadership.  

David (on left) at the founding of Friends in 2005 at the Environmental Education Center at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  pc.USFWS    

In his advocacy work, David has attended many meetings with the Alaska Congressional delegation, testified before Congress and at public meetings in Alaska, submitted many beautifully written and persuasive comment letters on refuge planning documents and issues under review  and formed alliances with other conservation partners. He was the author of advocacy column in this newsletter which sought to keep all of us up to date on refuge issues. Principal issues he was engaged in included proposed oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge, the proposed road through Izembek Refuge and a proposed gutting of Kenai Refuge regulations.  He made a point of visiting many of Alaska’s 16 refuges and cultivated relationships with Fish and Wildlife staff in the Anchorage regional office and on individual refuges. David’s first-hand knowledge of refuge lands and the people responsible for managing them, increased our effectiveness in advocacy and support of the Refuges. 

David (on left) receiving the Outstanding Friends Group of the Year Award in 2010 in Washington D.C. from  the National Wildlife Refuge Association.   David’s wife Marga is next to him and founding “mothers” Sharon Baur, Ginny Harris, Betty Siegel and Patricia Wood.  Then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is behind Ginny. pc:USFWS

In recent years, he was honored as the recipient of two prestigious awards in recognition of his work—the 2022 Refuge Advocate of the Year from the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the 2021 Celia Hunter Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions from the Alaska Conservation Foundation. Read more about how David got into conservation work, what drew him to Alaska and why he embraced  the National Wildlife Refuge System HERE.
David came to conservation work through his love of fishing.  Here David  is leading a “fishing meeting” in 2020  on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge where he and Board Vice President Poppy Benson sought to convince Mike Schantz (left) to join our board.  It worked!  pc: Friends

We as a Board will miss the wise counsel and deep knowledge that David has contributed to our work for the last 18 years. His passion for wildlife refuges and the success of the System in Alaska has been an inspiration to us all.

Thank you David!

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Friends Hire New Program Director

We are happy to announce that Melanie Dufour will be starting work for us this month as our part-time Program Director.  Melanie is replacing two part time employees, Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival Coordinator Mallory Primm, who left for a full time job, and media specialist Chessie Sharp who has left the state.  Thank you Mallory and Chessie for your great work for Friends.  We are hoping that by combining the jobs, both Melanie will be better supported with more hours and Friends will have more of her attention.  It is a huge job attempting to manage the largest wildlife festival in the state and support 16 National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska with just a volunteer Board, a few committee members and a part time employee. 

Melanie is a long time Homer resident and well connected in the Homer environmental education community.  She will be able to hit the ground running on the Shorebird Festival.  Melanie has this to say about her new job. “I am so excited to be working with all of the Friends!  Sharing the natural wonders of our Refuges and the incredible birds who make the journey to our shores each year is so important for conservation of the same and the gifts that those give to each person who walks on this land, Alaska.  I look forward to both sharing new ideas and implementing steps that will assure success and sustainability of  Friends of Alaska National WIldlife Refuges.”

Welcome Melanie!

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Our Conservation Hero Turns 85

By: Poppy Benson

Long time Friends President and Advocacy Chair David Raskin celebrated his 85th birthday last week and his 61st Anniversary with his wife Marga.  It is timely to reflect on his long involvement with Friends and the conservation struggle.

David came to conservation through fishing.  He developed his love of the outdoors by fishing with his dad as soon as he was big enough to hold a pole.   Decades later, when he was a professor at the University of Utah, it was fishing that brought him to his first conservation fight.  Hiking out after a great day of fly fishing for brown trout on Rock Creek in the Uinta Mountains, he encountered a stranger who remarked, “Enjoy it while you can because they are going to dewater that river.”  That’s when he learned about the Central Utah Project Plan to dewater all the trout streams on the south slope of the Uinta Mountains and transfer the water to develop desert agriculture.  David jumped into the battle against the Bureau of Reclamation plans as conservation chair for the Sierra Club.  This fight lasted years and some rivers were lost but many saved.  Although a dam was built on Rock Creek, this was the last proposed inter basin transfer of water in the country.

Meanwhile, Marga challenged the 5 coal power plants proposed for southern Utah’s red rock country, playing a major role in stopping the infamous Kaiparowitts Power Plant Project.   Both Raskins worked with the Escalante Wilderness Committee that helped to establish Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

A three-month camping trip brought the Raskins to Alaska in 1975, and David bragged that they spent all but two nights sleeping out.  When they arrived in Homer and lookied down on Kachemak Bay, David exclaimed “Brigham Young was wrong.  This is the place”.  They promptly bought land in Homer, but it was 20 years later before David could retire from the University and build their home overlooking the bay.  

David’s first involvement in Alaska conservation was as Board President of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies.  A chance meeting with Evan Hirsche, then head of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, was his first exposure to wildlife refuges.  David was invited to attend the organizing meeting of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges in November of 2005 at the Kenai Refuge.  At that meeting, he was chosen as our first president.  Except for two years, David has served as president and advocacy chair ever since.

For someone who knew little about refuges prior to that meeting, David jumped in with his usual enthusiasm.  He says the best way to learn refuges is to visit them.  He has visited 6 of the 16 refuges, including 16 days on the Alaska Maritime’s research vessel the Tiglax,  rowing a raft on the Canning River in the Arctic Refuge on a week long trash cleanup, and eradicating invasive plants at Izembek.  He has testified before Congress several times on behalf of refuges, written most of our position letters on Environmental Statements and federal actions and formed strong working relationships with other Alaska conservation organizations.  David has waged many conservation battles for Friends of which he thinks Izembek has been the most gratifying.  That fight to protect the Izembek Wilderness and globally significant eel grass beds from road development has gone on his entire tenure with Friends.  The recent court decision that preserved the Izembek Refuge was a sweet victory, although it may not be the last word.

Is David slowing down?  Well, he just decided to quit the contract work he has done for 50 years.  When I called him about this article, he was busy working in the engine room of his 36-foot boat.  He was thinking of selling it but decided he would miss the water so much that he is repairing it instead.  He just churned out five pages of thoughtful and technical comments as the Friends response to the proposed Kenai Refuge regulations.  I think we can expect to have his tenacious advocacy on behalf of National Wildlife Refuges for some time.  Happy Birthday David, and Happy Anniversary Marga and David.  Thank you so much for all your efforts on behalf of the wild and the beautiful. 

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Board Welcomes New Member:  Caroline Brouwer

Caroline Brouwer, from Rockville, Maryland, is a long time wildlife conservation professional who will add a unique DC perspective to the Board.  Caroline serves as the Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Wildlife Refuge Association working on federal conservation policies in Congress and with the Administration, focusing on funding and legislation affecting the National Wildlife Refuge System. She leads the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), a coalition of organizations that fights for increased funding for wildlife refuges. Her previous positions have been with Ducks Unlimited in Washington, DC, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, a private attorney, and family court prosecutor.

“Wildlife has always been my passion, and Alaska is rich with wildlife. I have been to Alaska a number of times and work closely with the Fish and Wildlife staff in the region. The Kenai and Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuges are two of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.  The day I saw a pod of humpback whales breaching off the coast of Sitka, was one of the greatest days of my life.   I am thrilled to be working with the Friends Board, and encourage anyone interested in preserving wildlife habitat and populations to become advocates for our public lands.”

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Interested in Promoting an Alaskan Refuge?

Did you know that as a Friends member you have the opportunity to assist and promote a Refuge by participating as a Refuge Volunteer Liaison?  We are actively seeking a few members who would enjoy working directly each month with a Refuge Manager and staff.  The benefits of developing a personal relationship with a Refuge, learning about special programs as well as daily activities that make our Alaskan Refuges unique is a life-enhancing experience. 


Liaisons in the past have been treated to personal tours of a Refuge, worked with biologists, environmental educators, visitor center staff and Refuge managers.  For a monthly time commitment (ranging from 1-3 hours) a Refuge Liaison works with Refuge staff to 1) discuss Refuge news, projects, issues; 2) participates in identifying Refuge volunteer needs, funding, outreach assistance; 3) gathers information from the Refuge for newsletters, Facebook posts, blogs and membership meeting programs.  The Refuge Volunteer Liaison will have the support of the Liaison and Membership Chairs for training, mentoring, and for assistance in submitting documentation such as brief monthly reports. 


If you would like to learn more about the opportunity to serve as a Refuge Volunteer Liaison and to see if you might be match for one of our Refuges, please reach out to Betty or Sandy.  We would be happy to share information and work with you to enhance and strengthen your ties with Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. 


Come join us in our stewardship efforts!


Betty Siegel, Refuge Volunteer Liaison Chair

Sandy Kerns, Membership Chair

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Introducing our New Board Member!

Sandra J Kerns, MEd., MSW, LCSW
Animal Assisted Activities/Therapies & Equine Facilitated Wellness Professional

Volunteering weekly and for special projects and events with the Friends of Alaska (since June 2018) at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center is a significant part of my commitment to support efforts to protect the nature of Alaska. I’m passionate about advocating for our land and marine ecosystems and the mammals, birds, plants and invertebrates that inhabit Alaska. I care about preserving Alaska and our planet for generations to come. As a board member, I strive to work towards increasing public awareness and education on the values and stewardship in caring for public lands and waters.

Backed by solid credentials and 34 years of professional experience, I bring strength and expertise in program, personnel, and system development to The Friends of

Alaska National Wildlife Refuges organization. With my prior business management experience for Providence Alaska Medical Center, National Association of Social Workers, and numerous academic entities, I am well versed in public speaking, team building and leadership, risk management, fiscal planning, and program design.

I am a lifelong learner, educator and career social worker. Through my counseling practice, Winter’s Grace Guidance Center situated on 10 acres of meadow and woodland located in Soldotna, Alaska, I mentor others towards healing experiences. Connecting children and families with nature and animals is a central focus of my work. l love spending time on trails, at the coast and high on alpine meadows. On the home front I enjoy companions Icelandic horse Kisi and mini pony Breezy, canine friends Ruby, Hadley, Daisy and Lily and feline Clementine.

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Friends Need Friends

By: Tara Schmidt and Poppy Benson

Friends came to visit, and it was invigorating!  Thirteen Friends Groups from throughout the Pacific plus Fish and Wildlife staff descended on Homer in September for a 4 day “Tanax Agliisada” conference aimed at teaching us all new skills and sharing best practices.  Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges hosted the conference at the Alaska Maritime and Kenai National Wildlife Refuges.  A grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation brought the 60 attendants to Homer from Alaska, Hawaii, coastal Washington and Oregon, Midway Island and the Marianas Trench.

Building stronger boards, board recruitment and retention, improving community relationships, and empowering our organizations to ensure the success of the Refuge system as a whole were some of the topics covered in. Breakout groups allowed for brainstorming, sharing experiences and goal setting. We learned many of the issues we faced were not unique to us.

We all were fascinated although pretty depressed learning about the Washington D.C. scene from Caroline Brouwer of the National Fish & Wildlife Association and Desiree Sorenson-Groves of the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign.  At least I came away convinced we, Alaska Friends, do need to make a trip to DC once a year to keep our concerns in front of our representatives, and we do need to form a stronger alliance with the National Fish & Wildlife Association.

The National Wildlife Refuge chiefs from both the Alaska and Pacific regions, shared insight on national priorities, departmental directives, long term planning goals and ways we can work together on a panel titled “Impacts of National and Regional Priorities”. Understanding Refuge system priorities will help us work together to successfully develop programs and projects, which should in turn build community awareness and support of the refuge system.

In a small group meeting of the 10 Alaska Friends in attendance we hammered out these goals for the board for this year: 1) create a  membership committee and recruit a chair committed to recruiting/following up with members who have indicated an interest in participating at a higher level in our organization; 2) improve our communication efforts to highlight our work, promote our projects within the communities that are benefiting from our financial support of programs tied to the Alaska Refuge system; and, 3) send two from the Board to DC during the budget months of February or March.

Our fellow Friends were very interesting and fun people making for a stimulating four days.  Our hosting role went flawlessly thanks to our extraordinary conference organizer, Friends volunteer Anna Sansom.   Our visitors loved getting to visit two refuges – Alaska Maritime and Kenai, see their first moose, eat smoked salmon and moose we provided and even participate in Homer’s iconic “Burning Basket”.  We hope we have gained new allies in the fights to save Alaska’s Refuges.

Two takeaways from this conference are 1) we are part of a larger organization; and, 2) together we can be a strong coalition for advancing the mission of Wildlife Refuges. This was in line with the goals set for the conference – increase effectiveness and strengthen relationships across refuges. We need to work with other Friends Groups to achieve economies of scale, continue to share know-how and cross sell.

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