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


Tuesday, April 16, 5-6 pm AKDT

Presented by Boyd Blihovde
Senior Advisor for Conservation, USFWS Alaska

Friends Membership Meeting
ALL welcome!

Join us at the following locations:

  • Anchorage – LIVE at BP Energy Center, Spruce/Willow Room,1014 Energy Ct. Speaker reception begins at 4:30 with light refreshments.

  • Homer – Watch Party at Alaska Maritime Refuge Visitor Center (Islands & Ocean), 95 Sterling Hwy.

  • Soldotna – Watch Party at Kenai Refuge Visitor Center, 33398 Ski Hill Road

  • ZOOM link will be posted HERE before the event – join the meeting from anywhere

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

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

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


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

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

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




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

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



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

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

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

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

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


David Zabriskie on the Selawik Refuge

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




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2/20/24 What We Think We Know: The Deep Past of the Ancient Unangan Aleut. With Archeologist and Author Debra Corbett

Tuesday, February 20, 5-6 pm AKT

Friends Membership Meeting, ALL welcome.
The Zoom Recording of this event can be viewed below.

We ALL thank you so much Debbie for sharing your experience and knowledge with ALL of us.  It was great! 

Since then, exploring and trying to understand the ancient human history of these islands has been an all-consuming passion.  Along the way I worked with amazing people and experienced transcendently beautiful land and seascapes. The past and old ways lie close to the surface if you listen. Ever so gradually we learned about the people, the culture and the rich history tied to this place.  I will talk about my experiences working in the islands for 30 years and hit some of the highlights of our research. 


Debbie Corbett photographing a site on Hawadax in 2001. pc WAAPP

For 9000 years people flourished in the Aleutian Archipelago, a 1000-mile chain of islands stretching from mainland America nearly to Asia.  The rich marine environment supported 40,000 people before the coming of the Russians compared to a scant 8000 today.  In spite of this long human history and complex and interesting social organizations of the ancient Unangax, very little archeological work was done in the Aleutians perhaps because of the remoteness or the weather.  Debbie’s work was pioneering, and she is considered the foremost Aleutian archaeologist today.  Most all of the Aleutians are in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  

Debbie’s hot-off-the-presses book that she coauthored with Diane Hanson, Culture and Archaeology of the Ancestral Unangax/Aleut of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, will be available for purchase and signing at the talk in Homer.  The book is available online from multiple sources. 


Biography by Debra Corbett

At age seven I decided I would be an archaeologist; no other option ever entered my mind.  I got my BA at the University of Arizona, and worked for a few years in Idaho and Arizona before heading north in 1983, to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  The job was investigating historic sites claimed by the newly created Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Native Corporations.

That summer BIA sent two crews to Adak Island.  Since I had actually been in a small boat, I was picked for one of the crews.  Of the 12 of us, ONE, not me, knew anything about the Aleutians and none of us had been there before.  My crew spent three months in a rat-infested cabin with an inflatable boat, in the Bay of Islands one of the most beautiful spots on earth.  I was completely enmeshed in the magic of the islands.

I worked for the BIA until 1989 then went on to get an MA in Fairbanks, studying–you guessed it–the Aleutian Islands.  One day my advisor approached me with a phone number on a scrap of paper and said “This crazy bird biologist in Kansas wants to find an Aleutian archaeologist.  Call him!” and my future was set.  After completing my degree, I went to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), largely because the agency manages the islands as part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  Unusual for any agency, FWS allowed me to participate in a multi-year research project with the crazy biologist, Dr. Douglas Causey, and some of his colleagues.  From 1997-2003 we were the Western Aleutians Archaeological and Paleobiological Project (WAAPP).  Along the way we experienced the best and the worst the Aleutians have to offer, shipwreck, injury, laughter, frustration, fear, transcendent joy, and unbelievable archaeology.  

In December 2012 I discovered I was eligible for retirement and left the best job in the world so I could spend more time doing research and writing on the prehistory of the Aleutian Islands.  Long time friend and colleague Diane Hanson here at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) talked me into writing a book on the prehistory of the Aleutians Islands.  We finished that book and here I am, to tell you all about 30 years in the Best Place in Alaska







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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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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




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    30 Years Later: Are Spectacled Eiders still a Mystery? 4/18, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKDT)

    Presented by Dan Rizzolo, Endangered Species Biologist.

    Tuesday, April 18, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m.  AKDT
    Dan’s presentation was recorded.  Watch below:

    Spectacled eiders were in rapid decline in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in 1993 when they received the protection of the Endangered Species Act by being listed as a Threatened species. They were a mystery then. Western science knew very little about this sea duck species with the spectacled plumage. We knew they made their nests in the coastal tundra along the Bering Sea and Arctic coasts of Alaska and Siberia, but not where they molted their feathers or spent the winter. How many were there? What did they eat? And, importantly, why were they in such rapid decline? In the 30 years since they were listed, we have learned much about this tough duck that winters among the pack ice in the Bering Sea. In this 50th anniversary year of the Endangered Species Act, join us for Dan’s review of what has been learned since listing, including how spectacled eiders are responding  to changes in sea ice in the Bering Sea. But knowledge does not always bring recovery and with ongoing anthropogenic climate change, the spectacled eider continues to face an uncertain future.

    ‘   Dan, Mist Netting birds on the river.  pc Mark Lindberg

    Dan Rizzolo is a wildlife biologist who works with a great team of biologists and support staff in the Endangered Species Recovery program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based in Fairbanks. He found his way to Alaska from the east coast for a summer job after finishing his undergraduate studies and has remained in the Great Land since, working as a biologist throughout the state, primarily with birds. Dan enjoys spending time in remote areas of Alaska, both for work and for play. In Fairbanks, you will often find him pedaling his fat tire bike up O’Connor Creek trail, or at local ice rinks cheering on his favorite hockey players, his wife Adrian and son Gavin.






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      Canoeing Yaghanen; Canoe Trails of the Kenai Refuge, 3/21, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKDT)

      Presented by Dave Atcheson author, fly fisherman, canoeist


      Dave will be in person at the Kenai Refuge with a book signing at 4:30 pm, talk at 5 and reception at 6.  A watch party will be at the Alaska Maritime Refuge in Homer with Dave’s books available for purchase.

      Come learn about the vast canoe country of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with Dave Atcheson, author of the newly released book, Canoeing Yaghanen.   Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe trails, just north of Sterling, Alaska, cover over 100 miles with more than 70 lakes, two river systems and portage trails.  These routes are a national treasure having been recognized as Water Trails within the National Recreation Trail System.  The Swan Lake trails and most of the Swanson River trails are within designated Wilderness, closed to motorized equipment and boats.  All you will hear will be loon calls, beaver tail slaps, swans honking and wind in the spruce.  Dave will share his images and thoughts on what makes this place so special, its wildlife and waterbirds, incredible trout fishing and of course, how you can plan your own adventure into this wonderful network of wilderness trails and waterways. From easy family weekend trips to weeklong adventures, paddlers of all abilities and ages will enjoy this unique wilderness experience.

      ‘    Portages varying in length from a hundred yards to nearly a mile connect the lakes of the canoe system.  Dave Atcheson portaging. pc Cindy Atcheson

      Dave Atcheson is an avid canoeist, sports fisher and hunter and has spent much of the last 30 years exploring the Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe systems.  Dave writes that the canoe trails are one of his favorite places, not only in Alaska, but anywhere.  He also writes that “this still-water wonderland contains some of the finest lake fishing Alaska has to offer.” (from Canoeing Yaghanen) Dave has written for a variety of periodicals from Outdoor Life to Boy’s Life to Alaska Magazine and is a past contributing editor to Fish Alaska.  He is the author of the memoir of his commercial fishing days,  Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas.  He also wrote National Geographic’s Hidden Alaska, Bristol Bay and Beyond and the guidebook Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Dave teaches fly fishing and has run the Kenai Fishing Academy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula College.  Originally from upstate New York, Atcheson has traveled all over Alaska and lives in Sterling close to the canoe country. 


      Dave Atcheson with Kenai River rainbow.  pc: Lee Keuper

      Canoeing Yaghanen (the Good Land): A Guide to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Systems was published by Alaska Geographic and is available from their online store here or at the Alaska Geographic bookstores at the Kenai Refuge and Alaska Maritime Refuge Visitor Centers.  




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        From Aahaaliq to Ulu: Culturally relevant environmental education. 2/21, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKT)

        Presented by Brittany Sweeney, Outreach Specialist, Selawik Refuge

        Tuesday,  February 21, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. AKDT


        What should environmental education be like on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges that are simultaneously public lands and homelands for Indigenous peoples? Iñupiaq residents in northwest Alaska have deep knowledge and longstanding connections to these lands that are now part of Selawik Refuge. In their environmental education program, Selawik Refuge centers cultural relevance, uplifting traditional stewardship, and building community partnerships. The annual Selawik Science-Culture Camp is a key example of this approach, but you can also see it in all of the refuge’s outreach and management approaches.


        Brittany Sweeney has lived in Kotzebue, in the homeland of the Iñupiat, since 2010, with her husband and two kids. Brittany grew up in Yupi’k communities around Alaska refuges, first in Stebbins on the Yukon Delta Refuge, then in Dillingham where she started working for Togiak Refuge as a college student in 1998.



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          Few Moose, Few Wolves: What is the Story on the Yukon Flats Refuge? 1/17, 5pm-6pm (AKT)

          Presented by Bryce Lake, Wildlife Biologist, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge

          Speaker Reception with Bryce and light refreshments: Morris Thompson Cultural Center, 101 Dunkel Street, Fairbanks, or join others at Alaska Maritime Refuge Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Hwy or Kenai Refuge Visitor Center, 33398 Ski Hill Road or Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center, 402 Center St.

          Doors open at with light refreshment at 4:30pm, presentation begins at 5pm at all 4 locations!


             

          Bryce Lake with sedated wolf after the radio collar was attached. His red coat was a deliberate choice so the helicopter capture crew could  easily find Bryce in the expansive landscape to deliver a wolf to him for collaring.

          Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is unique because wolves and moose occur there at some of the lowest densities in North America. With moose the only large prey available to wolves on the Yukon Flats, how does the low prey density change the wolves behavior?  Do wolves eat fewer moose when moose are scarce (wolf kill rate)?  How do wolves adapt to few prey (search behavior)?  Join Yukon Flats Wildlife Biologist Bryce Lake to hear his stories about his four years of field work trying to answer these questions.   He will share moose numbers, wolf numbers, and what he has learned about this unusual predator/prey situation.


          Yukon Flats Refuge, a vast complex of wetlands, is the third largest refuge in the country.. pc: USFWS

          Bryce Lake says the most rewarding aspect of his job is the inspiration he draws from interacting with and learning about the hidden ways of nature, some of which he will share in this talk. Bryce has been a wildlife biologist for the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge since 2008.  He has broad experience in Alaska having spent 13 summers from 1998 to 2008 living in a tent and working as a field technician on the Copper River Delta, North Slope, Yukon Delta, and the Interior. He has had prior experience on other Alaska National Wildlife Refuges including Yukon Delta Refuge and as an intern at Kanuti Refuge. Bryce’s job as a wildlife biologist is to conduct biology to inform management decisions. This usually means aerial surveys to count wildlife, capture and radio collar birds and mammals, and band ducks. His latest experiment is using trail cameras to monitor furbearers, particularly lynx. You can read about surprising things that Bryce has discovered with his trail cameras in the Science Corner of our February 2021 issue of our newsletter. 

          Bryce holds a master’s degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His thesis focused on how early environment shapes the growth of goslings. In his spare time, he enjoys all things outdoors, usually fishing, camping, hunting, and hiking with his two dogs. He also enjoys watching a close hockey or football game. Bryce lives in Fairbanks.

           

          Moose and wolf research takes place during the lovely but often brutally cold winter with temperatures frequently below zero. pc: USFWS



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