2019 September Membership Meeting

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

In person: Anchorage (Loussac Library Anchorage, Moose Room).

Guest Speaker Presentation: Nicole Whittington-Evans, Defenders’ Alaska Program Director


Defenders’ Alaska Program Director, Nicole Whittington-Evans, started out her environmental career studying and working on wildlife issues.  During the 1990’s, she received an MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, where she focused on Alaska’s predator control efforts, served for a time as the Executive Director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, and was elected or invited to participate in a number of wildlife stakeholder groups, including an appointment to Alaska’s Board of Game by Governor Tony Knowles in 1997.  For the past twenty-one years she worked on public lands and wilderness issues at The Wilderness Society and served as the Alaska Director for the organization from 2009 to 2018. She also served for three years starting in 2007 on the board of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges as the Outreach Coordinator.  Throughout her environmental career she has blended science and policy to advance the strongest protections possible for wildlife and public lands conservation.  Nicole’s interest in environmental work began when she was an Instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School, and she has traveled throughout much of Alaska’s backcountry by foot, ski, raft and kayak.  As a mountaineer she was part of two successful summit teams on Denali (20,320’), including participating in the first all-women’s traverse of the mountain in 1988, and on Argentina’s Aconcagua (23,000’).  She lives with her husband and two daughters in the foothills of the Chugach Mountains, where she continues to recreate and enjoy wildlife with her family in Alaska’s unmatched wild country.
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Get Involved: Kenai River Clean-up, September 6 – 8, 2019

Do good, have fun and see more of the Kenai Refuge.  September 6-8.  Sportsmen’s Landing, Cooper Landing. 

Friends will join Alaska Fly Fishers in doing an end of season clean-up of Sportsmen Landing, and downstream beaches all of which are on the Kenai Refuge.  This is our second year partnering with the Fly Fishers, the Kenai Watershed Forum, the Refuge and the Forest Service on this event.  We had such a great time last year what with raft trips, free food, and live music,  we are making it an annual event. See our trip report from last year here.

Arrive Friday evening and set up your trailer or tent in the Sportsman Landing campground reserved just for this event.  Saturday morning, after a continental breakfast, teams will either float the river cleaning beaches or clean around the landing, campgrounds and parking areas.  The Kenai Refuge will bring several boats to take Friends downriver to clean refuge beaches.  That evening the Alaska Fly Fishers will put on a BBQ for all participants with prizes and live music!  Sunday morning, breakfast is followed by a Friends sponsored hike on a yet to be determined trail in the Skilak Lake Road area  

For more information and to sign up, contact Tim Shipman, trip coordinator, at tim.shipman@gmail.com or call (907) 252-8450

This promises to be a very fun event that will continue to help build an alliance with the Fly Fishers, Kenai Watershed Forum, the refuge, and other partners.

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2019 – May Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We are pleased to report the exciting developments in the battles to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments. These and other issues are discussed below.

Izembek NWR

On 29 March 2019, Friends and eight national conservation organizations scored a major victory when the Federal District Court in Anchorage granted the motion for summary judgment in our lawsuit that challenged the legality of the land exchange and road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. In her opinion that invalidated the land exchange, Judge Gleason ruled that the process for land exchange authorized by the Secretary of Interior was “arbitrary and capricious.” This decision halted all activity related to the transfer of Refuge land and the construction of a road. We are all extremely indebted to the staff of Trustees for Alaska who did an amazing amount of superb legal work that resulted in this wonderful victory after decades of battling to protect Izembek from this proposed destruction. However, this is not the final event, as the road proponents will continue to develop legal and legislative approaches to undue this rejection of the road. We and our conservation partners and legal team will closely monitor any such actions and will mount all available legal and legislative challenges to counter any attempt by the Department of Interior (DOI) to revive the unacceptable land exchange and destructive road. Check out the Trustees for Alaska press release for more information.

Arctic NWR

The DOI continues to press forward with plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. A major national effort resulted in an extensive set of technical comments that were submitted by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the numerous, serious deficiencies in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the BLM. Friends also submitted more general comments.  We await the release by BLM of data concerning the number and nature of comments received in response to the national campaign by conservation organizations, including Friends, to encourage their members and the general public to express their concerns about the hurried and flawed process by which the BLM and DOI are attempting to ram through this prosed desecration of the Coastal Plain.

A parallel campaign has been spearheaded by the Gwich’in people of the United States and Canada to prevent the desecration of this Sacred Land and their subsistence culture and way of life. They and scientists and conservationists recently provided powerful testimony on the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, H.R. 1146 introduced by Representatives Huffman and Fitzpatrick to prevent the proposed oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain. In furtherance of these goals, the Alaska Wilderness League lured our longtime refuge champion Desiree Sorenson-Groves from the National Wildlife Refuge Association to head the national coalition to protect and preserve the Arctic Refuge. We welcome her able and energetic leadership will continue to work closely with Desiree and the coalition.


The other dangerous aspect of the proposed oil and gas development is the plan to conduct an extensive and disruptive seismic exploration of the Coastal Plain. In spite of their frantic rush to further this program, those involved were unable to perform the necessary analyses required to obtain authorization for the seismic activity in time for 2018-2019 winter season. The current plan is to do the required analyses and issue findings to support seismic exploration in the coming winter season. The conservation community will closely monitor these developments and take whatever actions are necessary to prevent the undesirable impacts of seismic exploration. Interestingly, a recent New York Times investigation revealed that the closely-held and secret data from the only test well ever drilled on the Coastal Plain found little support for the presence of recoverable oil to justify oil and gas development.

Kenai NWR Predator Control Regulations

The proposed changes to the Kenai Refuge predator control regulations have not been released. Information from the FWS indicates that proposed drafts have gone back and forth between the Refuge, Regional Staff, and DOI regarding the extent to which the undesirable State demands will be incorporated into the published draft of the revised regulations. We anticipate that proposed regulations will soon be published in the Federal Register, and the conservation will closely monitor any development and be prepared to provide the responses necessary to protect the integrity and biological diversity of the Kenai Refuge wildlife.

 

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2019 April Membership Meeting

Please join us on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 5-6pm, for the Friends membership meeting.

In person: Homer (Alaska Maritime), Fairbanks (Watershed School, 4975 Decathlon), or Soldotna (Kenai NWR) Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747#

Guest Speaker Presentation: John Morton, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge –

Effects of a Rapidly Warming Climate on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
The Kenai Peninsula is one of the best-studied parts of the state for climate change effects and John Morton, a supervisory biologist for the Kenai Refuge,  has been a key part of that.  Managing the effects of rapid climate change on the 2 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge will be a challenge to its primary purpose of conserving natural diversity.  In 50 years, the treeline rose 50m in the Kenai Mountains, wetlands decreased 6-11% per decade, the Harding Icefield lost 5% in surface area and 21m in elevation, and available water declined 62%. Late summer canopy fires in spruce are being replaced by spring fires in bluejoint grasslands. Water temperatures in nonglacial streams already exceed physiological thresholds for salmon during July. Bird species are moving north and more than 130 exotic bird species have become established. Climate-envelope models portray a very different future landscape with alpine tundra replaced by forests and lower elevation forests replaced by hardwoods or possibly catastrophic deforestation.  How can the Refuge or any of the refuges manage for biodiversity under this scenario?

Download Presentation

Agenda:

Introductions and Discussion (5 minutes)
  • Introductions: Where do you live? (Tara)
  • New People: Why did you join the call today?
  • Reminder to please mute yourselves when you aren’t talking
Board Activities/Decisions
  • Refuge Projects and Reports (Betty)
Committee Reports (2-5 minutes each): Volunteer Report – (Betty) Membership/Outreach Events: Upcoming events (Tara) Advocacy Updates (David, Dave)
Speaker/Presentation (30-40 minutes) –
  • John Morton, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
  • Topic: “Effects of a Rapidly Warming Climate on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge”
Next Meeting: Tuesday, September 10th, 5-6pm Guest Speaker: TBA
SIX meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October
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2019 – April Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We are pleased to report the exciting developments in the battles to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments. These and other issues are discussed below.

Izembek NWR

On 29 March 2019, Friends and eight national conservation organizations scored a major victory when the Federal District Court in Anchorage granted the motion for summary judgment in our lawsuit that challenged the legality of the land exchange and road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. In her opinion that invalidated the land exchange, Judge Gleason ruled that the process for land exchange authorized by the Secretary of Interior was “arbitrary and capricious.” This decision halted all activity related to the transfer of Refuge land and the construction of a road. Click on the link to view the press release and court opinion. We are all extremely indebted to the staff of Trustees for Alaska who did an amazing amount of superb legal work that resulted in this wonderful victory after decades of battling to protect Izembek from this proposed destruction. However, this is not the final event, as the road proponents will continue to develop legal and legislative approaches to undue this rejection of the road. We and our conservation partners and legal team will closely monitor any such actions and will mount all available legal and legislative challenges to counter any attempt by the Department of Interior (DOI) to revive the unacceptable land exchange and destructive road.

Arctic NWR

The DOI continues to press forward with plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. A major national effort resulted in an extensive set of technical comments that were submitted by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the numerous, serious deficiencies in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the BLM. Friends also submitted more general comments [please add link].  We await the release by BLM of data concerning the number and nature of comments received in response to the national campaign by conservation organizations, including Friends, to encourage their members and the general public to express their concerns about the hurried and flawed process by which the BLM and DOI are attempting to ram through this prosed desecration of the Coastal Plain.

A parallel campaign has been spearheaded by the Gwich’in people of the United States and Canada to prevent the desecration of this Sacred Land and their subsistence culture and way of life. They and scientists and conservationists recently provided powerful testimony on the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, H.R. 1146 introduced by Representatives Huffman and Fitzpatrick to prevent the proposed oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain. In furtherance of these goals, the Alaska Wilderness League lured our longtime refuge champion Desiree Sorenson-Groves from the National Wildlife Refuge Association to head the national coalition to protect and preserve the Arctic Refuge. We welcome her able and energetic leadership will continue to work closely with Desiree and the coalition.

The other dangerous aspect of the proposed oil and gas development is the plan to conduct an extensive and disruptive seismic exploration of the Coastal Plain. In spite of their frantic rush to further this program, those involved were unable to perform the necessary analyses required to obtain authorization for the seismic activity in time for 2018-2019 winter season. The current plan is to do the required analyses and issue findings to support seismic exploration in the coming winter season. The conservation community will closely monitor these developments and take whatever actions are necessary to prevent the undesirable impacts of seismic exploration. Interestingly, a recent New York Times investigation revealed that the closely-held and secret data from the only test well ever drilled on the Coastal Plain found little support for the presence of recoverable oil to justify oil and gas development.

Kenai NWR Predator Control Regulations

The proposed changes to the Kenai Refuge predator control regulations have not been released. Information from the FWS indicates that proposed drafts have gone back and forth between the Refuge, Regional Staff, and DOI regarding the extent to which the undesirable State demands will be incorporated into the published draft of the revised regulations. We anticipate that proposed regulations will soon be published in the Federal Register, and the conservation will closely monitor any development and be prepared to provide the responses necessary to protect the integrity and biological diversity of the Kenai Refuge wildlife.

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2019 March Membership Meeting

Please join us on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, 5-6pm, for the Friends membership meeting.

In person: Homer (Alaska Maritime) or Soldotna (Kenai NWR) Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747#

Guest Speaker Presentation: Ray Born– “Yukon Delta NWR – A Complex and Wonderful Place”

Birds fill the skies of the watery vast world of the Yukon Delta. The 19.3 million acre refuge is the country’s most important shorebird nesting area. Add in a million ducks and half a million geese plus 40,000 loons and 100,000 swans and you can see why it is considered one of the world’s largest aggregations of nesting waterbirds. But it isn’t just about birds. The refuge is famous for trophy rainbow and salmon fishing since the Yukon, the Kuskokwim and their tributaries such as the Kisaralik flow through the refuge. Even muskox are found on Nunivak Island. The Delta is also noted for its thriving Native villages where the Yupik language and subsistence culture flourish. Come discover the Delta and learn what Refuge projects we Friends may be able to help with.   DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION

Agenda:

Introductions and Discussion (5 minutes)
  • Introductions: Where do you live? (Poppy)
  • New People: Why did you join the call today?
  • Reminder to please mute yourselves when you aren’t talking
Board Activities/Decisions
  • Refuge Projects and Reports (Betty)
Committee Reports (2-5 minutes each): Volunteer Report – (Betty) Membership/Outreach Events: Upcoming events (Poppy) Advocacy Updates (David, Dave, Mallory)
Speaker/Presentation (30-40 minutes) –
  • Ray Born, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
  • Topic: “Yukon Delta NWR – A Complex and Wonderful Place”
Next Meeting: Tuesday, April 16th, 5-6pm Guest Speaker: John Morton/ Kenai NWR
SIX meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October
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Discovering Kenai’s Snowbound Cabin: Refuge Discovery Trip Report (Feb. 2019)

by the “Dolly Varden Cabin Gang,” Poppy, Sandy, Ellen, Rose and Tim Snow fell soft and deep as we snowshoed back across Dolly Varden Lake after an awesome Friends’ Discovery Trip to the Kenai Refuge’s Dolly Varden public use cabin.   The February 1 – 3, weekend didn’t turn out quite as planned because the community ice fishing event we were there to help with was canceled because of the shutdown.  However, the cozy cabin was already reserved for Friends, so we weren’t going to waste that opportunity.  Five Friends from Anchorage, Soldotna, Homer and Indiana including intrepid leader Tim Shipman made the trek in.   What did we discover?  Sandy Kerns from Soldotna, said “A hidden lake, snowshoeing abilities, how much weight can we pull in a sled across a frozen lake, babbling water in an open creek, how good food tastes prepared camp style, new friends, and that planning service projects for Alaska Wildlife Refuges makes one feel connected to the land and community.”   Yes, we talked into the night about future fun and good work we can do on the Kenai and other refuges.  Kenai is the drive to refuge for Kenai/Soldotna, Homer, Anchorage and the Valley.  Stay tuned for more Discovery Trips and Volunteer Projects on the Kenai. The Kenai Refuge cabins have opened up the refuge to use in winter.  Many are easily accessible.  All are cute and cozy and make winter activities fun. And we had fun!  Rose Lahti of Anchorage on her very first Friends event said “The best outdoor experiences are with like-minded souls and there are no strangers when it comes to sharing what we enjoy doing, just “friends”.   I look forward to another “friends” activity and the memories I made at Dolly Varden cabin are precious.” 
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2018 Outreach Summary

by Poppy Benson, Outreach Coordinator

It was a great year for Outreach with membership skyrocketing and new folks stepping up to help out at events.  From Fairbanks to Homer and Anchorage to Soldotna we staffed outreach tables at 9 events spreading the word about Refuges and Friends and always gaining at least a couple of new members.  Sportsman Show, River Festival, and even the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu – we were there talking up Friends.  The Shorebird Festival which is co-sponsored by Friends brought in nearly 70 new members.  It is always fun to talk to the public about the work Refuges and Friends do, and we had new tools to do that with this year.  With the help of a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, we were able to buy identifying vests, a new pop-up display, a tablecloth, and a screen to show images all of which gave us a much more professional look.   We put an outreach emphasis on the Kenai-Soldotna area this year to build support for the Kenai Refuge.  We started off in April with the Kenai Peninsula Sportsman Show and went right through Wildlife Refuge week in October.  We now have 25 current members in that area and many willing volunteers.  A good start for sure.

(Becky Hutchingson, Soldotna, and George Hedrick, Sterling,  work the table at the Kenai River Festival in June)

(Tara Schmidt, Homer,  working the Kenai Peninsula Sportsmans Show)
Taking it Up a Notch & Creating Direct Engagement, with Refuge Discovery Trips
We know our members want to get out on the refuges so in the fall of 2017 we hatched the idea of Refuge Discovery Trips with a Kenai Refuge canoe trip.  This year we took that up a notch with 12 Friends journeying to the Tetlin Refuge on the Canadian border for 4 days of learning about the refuge, volunteering and best of all a 2-night canoe trip.  Participants came from the Kenai Peninsula, Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Copper Center to experience the Tetlin and see how we can do more for them.  With good weather (no bugs), lots of waterfowl,  and great company it was a very fun time on a beautiful refuge that none of us had experienced before.  We quickly left all signs of civilization behind and saw no other people after launching the refuge canoes on Desper Creek at the Alaska Highway boat launch.  Tetlin is very accessible and virtually unused wilderness.  We also camped a night in their lovely campground at Deadman Lake and spent time at the refuge’s  border visitor center, the first place highway travelers stop when entering Alaska.  Meeting with the refuge staff was a key part of the experience because out of that has come so many more ideas for trips, volunteer projects and supporting the refuge with a grant application.  We were all shocked that a refuge the size of Rhode Island has only 6 permanent staff.  They need help.  Stay tuned for more trips to the Tetlin as the refuge staff would like our help with signing a canoe route, demolishing old buildings on newly acquired highway frontage and helping with their 4th of July.  These would all be great opportunities for Fairbanks Friends as Tetlin is your drive-to refuge and one of only 2 in the state that is road accessible.

(Desper Creek on a two-night canoe trip)
Kenai is our other road accessible refuge, and we took advantage of that easy access with a September trip to help the Alaska Flyfishers clean up the Kenai River.  We got to float the Kenai with refuge staff cleaning beaches and admiring bear tracks on a bright and sunny day.  The next day, we hiked the Hidden Creek trail to lovely Skilak Lake.  With the easy access, rich wildlife and varied experiences possible on the Kenai Refuge, we will always host at least one Discovery Trip there annually.  Next up is a ski in cabin trip on the Kenai for the first weekend in February (see description above).  For next summer, more Kenai and Tetlin trips will likely happen but we are mulling expanding to off-road refuges with perhaps a trip to Adak on the Alaska Maritime Refuge or possibly Yukon Delta.  These trips will be announced in this newsletter and on our Refuge Discovery Trip webpage.


(All smiles after a great day on the Kenai River Clean-up)

(Soldotna, Homer and Indiana Friends floating down the river with Ranger Scott)



Contact Outreach Coordinator Poppy Benson at poppyb.ak@gmail.com with your ideas or questions about 2019 Discovery Trips.
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2018 National Wildlife Refuge Week

It’s celebration time! 

National Wildlife Refuge Week, observed the second full week of October each year, celebrates the great network of lands and waters that conserves and protects Americans’ precious wildlife heritage.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides vital habitat for thousands of native species, including sandhill cranes, bison and sea turtles.  Refuge Week is a wonderful time to discover the outstanding recreational opportunities available on national wildlife refuges. Tens of millions of Americans visit refuges each year to enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking and wildlife watching.

Wildlife refuges also improve Americans’ comfort and safety by curbing flood risk and wildfire damage, providing cleaner air and water, and supporting local communities. Refuges generate $2.4 billion per year and more than 35,000 jobs to regional economies.

The Refuge System includes 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts covering more than 100 million acres of lands.

Check out these awesome events going on around the state at Alaska’s 16 National Wildlife Refuges:

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
10/25 – Thursday:  9am Welcome Brunch for Friends and refuge staff at Islands and Ocean.  Join us to welcome Ray Hudson and his wife to Homer and enjoy an opportunity to socialize with them, refuge staff and other Homer area Friends.  Please RSVP to poppyb.ak@gmail.com

6pm Talk, Reading, Book Signing and Reception:  “Fact, Fable, and Natural History; Writing about the Aleutians with Ray Hudson” – Enjoy a talk by author and long time Aleutian educator Ray Hudson.  Hudson lived in Dutch Harbor for more than 20 years and knew the old generation of Aleuts documenting their culture in Moments Rightly Placed.  Hudson will speak and read from his newest book, Ivory and Paper: Adventures In and Out of Time, followed by a book signing with an opportunity to purchase books and a reception hosted by Friends.


Arctic, Kanuti and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges
10/18 – Thursday
4 to 6 pm, Art Talk: A week (and More) on Beaver Creek Wild and Scenic River-  Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center.   Artists in Residence Margo Klass and Frank Soos will share their art and experiences from a float trip on Beaver Creek  last summer.  A portion of their journey was on Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and the event celebrates both National Wildlife Refuge Week and the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  Soos is a former Alaska Poet Laureate and Klass is a mixed medium artist who often incorporates fish skins in her work.  A reception sponsored by Friends will follow.

10/20 – Saturday
2 to 4 pm, Super Saturday – The Fairbanks Children’s Museum.  Free with museum admission ($8)  Kids will make nature cards, explore furs and skulls, jump in a canoe and learn about the Arctic Refuge.  Friends is funding the supplies.

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge – Events All Week
10/16 Tuesday
Noon-1pm: Opening Reception. Stop by our Visitor Center to enjoy coffee and cookies, meet our Refuge managers, and check out a photography exhibit of landscapes by Jeff Jones and wildlife by the local Kodiak Camera Club.

10/17 Wednesday:
10:30 am – 11:15 pm: a special refuge themed FUN program for little nature lovers and their families.
5 pm-7 pm: Nature Journaling with Shelly – explore nature with your creative side!

10/18 Thursday:
Noon-1pm: Year of the Bird: The 2018 Photo Log of a Kodiak Bird Biologist with Robin Corcoran

10/20 Saturday:
2pm-3pm Movie and popcorn! Take a visual tour through Alaska Wildlife Refuges with a series of short films.

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Doing Good and Having Fun in the Sun: Kenai River Clean-up

Refuge Discovery Trip Report by Poppy Benson

On the stunning, golden weekend of September 7, 14 Friends and 3 friends of Friends took part in the Kenai River Clean-up sponsored by the Alaska Fly Fishers , the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  About 60 people in all helped in the effort to clean beaches and roadsides around the Russian River Ferry.  The Friends concentrated on Refuge beaches as everything downstream from the ferry is in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.   We floated the river in two refuge rafts and a drift boat manned by Kenai Refuge staff.  Along the way, particularly on the “combat fishing” beaches across from the ferry, we picked up loads of monofilament line, sinkers and hooks, all potentially deadly to wildlife and all likely to be swept downstream into the refuge. 

Being on the river in such beautiful weather would have been reward enough but the Alaska Flyfishers know how to have fun.  There was free food all day, door prizes, and three blue grass bands playing in the evening.  We all camped right at the Russian River ferry where events centered around a big event tent with great silver salmon fishing right on our doorstep.  On Sunday, we sponsored a hike on the Refuge’s Hidden Creek trail which leads to a sunny beach on Skilak Lake.   We couldn’t keep our hands off of the high bush and low bush cranberries that lined the trail and several of us came home with bags full.  And if all this wasn’t good enough, we recruited three new members, got an offer to speak at an Alaska Flyfishers meeting and bonded with Refuge staff members and our fellow Friends from Homer, Soldotna, Sterling and Anchorage.  The Alaska Flyfishers want us to be a full partner next year and I think this should an annual event.

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