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Tiglax to the Barren Islands (Field Report)

Field Report filed by Friends Member Christina Whiting

On a beautiful spring evening in May, a small group of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges members joined a handful of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees aboard the FWS research vessel Tiglax on an overnight trip to visit the wild, remote Barren Islands. Located just 60 miles from Homer, between the tip of the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak, the Barren Islands are a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and home to the largest seabird colony in the northern Gulf of Alaska. During this 24-hour trip, FWS employees installed bird cams on one of the islands, while Friends members rode a zodiac to another island and spent a couple of hours hiking across sand dunes, through tall grasses and up to elevation with 360 degree views of the surrounding rugged, surreal landscape.

Invited to join the ship’s crew and FWS staff to visit this seldom-visited area of the refuge, on what might typically be an evening and day of weather, we enjoyed calm seas, beautiful skies, spectacular views, tasty meals and lots of time interacting with crew and staff during this unique and special opportunity to learn about a FWS project and a little glimpse into life aboard the ship.

The r/v Tiglax, Aleut for Eagle, provides critical support for biological work, management programs, and village outreach and education. Thanks to Refuge Manager, Steve Delahanty and the ship’s crew for allowing us on board.

Joining Christina Whiting on the ship were Friends members, Brenda Dolma, James Dolma, Louise Ashmun, David Schroyer and Anthony Munter and FWS staff Arthur Kettle, Aaron Christ and Jaclyn Lucas.

 

(All photos by Christina Whiting; exception Bird Cam by Jaclyn Lucas)
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2018 Tetlin NWR – Refuge Discovery Trip Report

Refuge Discovery Trip Report – by Meg Jensen, Friends Member

Over a long Memorial Day Weekend, a 12 member cadre of refuge friends from around Alaska embarked on an exploration of Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. The group included some new friends as well as “old timers.” The group met up at Refuge Headquarters in Tok. On Thursday afternoon, Mary Timm, the retired Tetlin Refuge Educator and her husband Hank, invited us to their home to visit and chat about “all things Tetlin.” Over pizza and salad, they shared their extensive knowledge about the wildlife refuge. Mary and Hank homesteaded in the area years ago, and were a great source of information about Desper Creek, our destination for our canoe trip. A fun evening was shared by all.

Friday morning the group met with Refuge Manager Shawn Bayless and his staff. Over a yummy breakfast, topics covered included: an overview of refuge programs and priorities, including the refuge’s boreal lynx project; priorities and staffing challenges in a declining budget environment; potential opportunities for Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges to help the refuge; and the Friends upcoming weekend canoe trip on Desper Creek. A number of ideas were generated for assistance friends could provide, including help with bird banding and river patrols, as well as assistance putting on the May migratory bird festival. A friends refuge visit includes a volunteer project – so after our breakfast get together we helped refuge staff pick up litter on its “Adopt a Mile” mile along the Alaska highway. 

After lunch, the group headed out to the Refuge Visitor Center, located on the Alaska highway a few miles from the Canadian border. Cora and Sylvia, two long-time refuge employees who grew up in nearby Northway, shared their extensive knowledge of the refuge and its resources with us.  What a wonderful visit we had with these two ladies!

Our home for the night was Deadman Campground, in Tetlin where we spent the evening bird watching and socializing.

SaturdaySunday and Monday we explored Desper Creek by canoe. This was a great way to immerse ourselves in Tetlin NWR. Our home for two nights was a beautiful camping spot 3 miles in, on a narrow peninsula surrounded by Desper Creek.  We set up camp under a raven’s nest, filled with four young birds who looked like the were ready to fledge. What a noisy group they were, especially  when Mom or Dad brought them food(which happened all hours of the day and night)!  The layover day gave us time to explore on foot and by canoe the nearby refuge areas.

After a great weekend (including delicious Dutch oven cooking by friends member Dave), we all set off for home. What a wonderful time learning how we may be of assistance to Tetlin NWR, exploring the outdoors in Alaska, and making new friends.  I am already looking forward to the next Refuge Discovery Trip, organized by our fun & fearless leader Poppy Benson.

Contact Poppy with your ideas for future trips at poppy.b.ak@
gmail.com

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3rd Annual Art in the Arctic Report

The 3rd annual Art in the Arctic show was held on March 8, 2018 at VENUE. Seven local artists were featured including Randall Compton, Lindsey Copelin, Sandy Jamieson, Lynn Larsen, Klara Maisch, Jennifer Moss, and David Personius. In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,  this year’s show connected the public with the significance and history of Wild and Scenic River designation, especially within national wildlife refuges in Alaska. Artwork will remain on exhibit until the end of March. 
 
Art in the Arctic is co-hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management,  WildLandscapes International, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.  



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Māhuahua pū Friends Workshop Report


Our Alaska Friends Board and the Pacific and Hawaiian Islands Friends Boards attended a workshop, along with USFWS and Refuge Association staff on Kauai this past January 2018. This opportunity was funded by grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation (NFWF). 

Workshop topics included:
  • USFWS Leadership Panel
  • Services for Friends 
  • How to Build Effective Relationships with Refuges
  • Membership Growth and Retention
  • Energizing and Engaging Communities
  • Refreshing an Uninspired Board
  • Social Media
  • Crafting Refuge Stories
  • Indigenous Perspectives
  • Fundraising and Development
  • and so much more!
We were also treated to two very special field trips, with visits to Hanalei NWR and Kilauea Point NWR & Light House.


We made lots of connections, learned new ways to support our refuges, and shared ideas, but most importantly, we made FRIENDS.




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STOP RATS – Pacific Marine Expo, Nov. 2017

The Friends provided financial support a trip to the Pacific Marine Expo this past fall in Seattle, to help educate the public about invasive species.  Check out this report by Aaron Poe – Coordinator, Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands LCC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


The impacts from introduced species like rats, foxes, cattle, and reindeer on the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge are far-reaching.  These non-indigenous species damage the abundance and diversity of native species including seabirds through predation, competition, and habitat transformation. A decades-long effort led by the Refuge has restored ecosystems on many islands thanks to the work of a large team to meticulously remove species on an island-by-island basis.

This issue has been a key focus of the Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands Landscape Conservation Cooperative (ABSI), a public-private partnership composed of agencies, Alaska Native tribes, and nongovernmental organizations working on collaborative conservation solutions in the North Pacific. Since 2012, ABSI has worked closely with the Maritime Refuge and the University of Alaska, Anchorage to document the distribution of invasive species on islands in in the Aleutians and Bering Sea.

With funding from the North Pacific Research Board, researchers have had a chance to look ahead and prepare for lesser known potential threats from aquatic species inadvertently introduced by ships transiting through the Aleutians or from fishing fleets active in the region. These vessels can introduce species by exchanging ballast water or from species that grow on vessel hulls, known as “hull fouling”. A recent ranking analysis of marine invasive species completed by the University of Alaska and a number of partners identified a ‘Top 10’ group of marine invaders that could potentially infest the Bering Sea and Aleutians.

We know after decades of restoration work in the Aleutians that prevention efforts are a worthwhile investment. This study included a targeted outreach component focused on the maritime industry to spread awareness and foster some discussion about how industry can work with scientists and resource managers.

The Pacific Marine Expo held in Seattle each November is the largest gathering of marine industry professionals on the west coast.  A team including Captain John Faris, Skipper of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service research vessel Tiglax, Aaron Poe (ABSI) and Melissa Good with (Alaska Sea Grant) staffed a booth for three days at this year’s expo to connect with vessel operators and owners.

The educational materials sponsored by Friends of Alaska Refuges for their www.StopRats.org website provided a vital messaging hook that drew people into our booth. Mariners revile rats and the problems they can cause on ships. This helped us underscore the importance of finding ways to prevent introductions of invasive species from becoming established rather than fighting them once they are in place.

Throughout the expo we reached more than 250 people, gave out hundreds of StopRats.org magnets and made key connections with potential partners from a range of industries. We hope that being able to reach this key audience in Seattle with messages of prevention can ultimately help protect the islands and waters of Alaska thousands of miles away.

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Friends Travel to Texas for Birding Festival

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Harlingen, TX

This past November, Friends and Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival Coordinator Robbi Mixon traveled with USFWS Visitor Services Manager Kara Zwickey to one of the biggest birding festivals in the nation- Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  Located near the coastal border of Texas-Mexico, the area offered hundreds of bird species, many new friends and connections, and gave our organization many new ideas for our own festival.

Over the course of the 4-day festival, Robbi and Kara talked to hundreds of attendees about Alaska’s 16 National Wildlife Refuges and encouraged them to attend the Shorebird Festival.  They met with the directors of both the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and the Space Coast Festival (Florida), as well as reconnected with previous Shorebird Festival Keynotes Noah Strycker and Kevin Karlson.



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Canoeing & Communicating on the Kenai

Refuge Discovery Trip Report by Poppy Benson, FANWR Outreach Coordinator and Barb Veeck, Friends Member

The first ever Friends Discovery Trip to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was a success! Eleven Friends met on a rainy Saturday fall morning with the Kenai Refuge manager Andy Loranger and staff to learn about the unique volunteer opportunities within the Refuge: from front desk, to adopt a trail, to refuge advocacy.  This most visited and accessible refuge in Alaska has experienced budget and staff cutbacks.  Visitor center manager Leah Eskelin shared a laundry list of volunteer opportunities suitable for locals with an afternoon to spare or Anchoragites who could give a weekend.

The clouds parted just in time for us to drive through golden fall leaves to launch our canoes at the Swan Lake Canoe Route trail head, 20 miles north of Sterling.  We paddled across Canoe Lake to set up camp for our evening activities.  Lots of awesome Dutch oven cooking and late night fraternizing around the campfire followed, including Robert Service poems dramatized by Friend member Tom Choate.  We were accompanied by two refuge staff who coordinated our volunteer trail clearing. 

The next day, we paddled to Waterfall Lake to do some trail clearing and exploration of the lake and its’ lovely island.  The calm and clear waters offered a perfect reflection of the beautiful fall colors of the lake. 

 
(click to enlarge photos)

Barb Veeck reports, “As a new member, I felt that I gained awareness of the purpose of the Friends program and enjoyed meeting other members.  It was fun to discuss future volunteer and group trip activities such as this one. 

Prior to this trip, most of us were only familiar with 1-2 people in the group which hailed from Anchorage, Kenai, Anchor Point, and Homer.   By the end of the trip we all felt we had new “Friends” and were already planning our next refuge trip.”

As a Board member and trip organizer, Poppy Benson says, “I felt we met the objectives of familiarizing ourselves with at least part of the vast and wonderful Kenai Refuge and its volunteer opportunities, increasing communication and collaboration with the Refuge, and facilitating and building relationships between Friends.  I think refuge familiarization trips should be an annual part of the Friends program.   Email me with your ideas for future refuge trips at poppybenson@alaskarefugefriends.  This trip was cheap ($20) and easy because participants only needed a weekend and a way to get to Soldotna.  Other refuges such as the Arctic Refuge would take more time and money.”

We encourage all of you to get out on a refuge through Friends sponsored trips or volunteer opportunities or with your own family.   The Refuges need us and we need them.

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Dalton Highway Weed Pull – Kanuti NWR

Trip Report by Friends Volunteer Paul Allan

We just returned from our June 2017 week of pulling invasive weed species for the Friends of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. The volunteer work took us from Homer all the way north almost to the Arctic Ocean. It was a great experience and we hope we contributed to keeping invasives from spreading even more.


Monday morning we left Fairbanks early in two vehicles with the full weed pulling crew. A Fish & Wildlife biologist was the agency head for the crew, there was a summer intern working with him, and two other Friends volunteers. This is a typical view of the Dalton Highway or Haul Road.  The reason it is called the Haul Road–lots of big trucks bringing stuff up to and down from Prudhoe Bay.




Typical Black Spruce forest- some of these trees are 200 years old! Growing on permafrost tends to make for a hard life and stunted growth.












Made it to the Arctic Circle. We pretty much had 24 hours of daylight the whole time we were up there.








This is what we were looking for– white sweetclover. For about 150 miles of the highway, anywhere a river crossed the road, we pulled the clover we found. We split up into pairs and pulled weeds about 100 yards up from the bridges on both sides. The idea is to not allow the sweetclover to flower and go to seed so the seeds can’t travel down the rivers and invade the refuges. One mature sweetclover plant can produce 350,000 seeds and they are viable for 80+ years.






                                                   The crew working a particularly heavily grown-over area.




Our final morning and we headed north out of Coldfoot (the two previous days we worked to the south.) The mountains you can see are the start of the Brooks Range. The views were spectacular, like Sukapak (mountain – below).








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Kodiak Refuge Salmon Camp

June-August, 2017

The mission of Salmon Camp is to educate Kodiak’s youth about the natural and cultural systems that define Kodiak’s geography and empower learners to investigate their own connections to this special place through hands-on learning, self-reflection and group discovery.


Since 1996, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, in conjunction with Alaska Geographic and the Kodiak community, has sponsored the Kodiak Summer Science and Salmon Camp. Within two years of its inception, Salmon Camp became the largest science-based camp in Alaska. In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized Salmon Camp as one of its top five environmental education programs in the nation. This camp serves students from kindergarten through 8th grade.  The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges has supported the camp for several years, providing funding for educational experiences.


The camp kicked off in early June with “Fishing Day,” with 125 attendees.  Bird TLC from Anchorage was on hand with a live bird demonstration, featuring a merlin and a peregrine falcon. Check out some photos below.








(photos by Lisa Hupp/USFWS)
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Events Report: Spring Bird Walks (Kotzebue) & Fairbanks Film Night

May 20-23, 2017
Selawik National Wildlife Refuge hosted its annual Spring Bird Walks.  The Friends sent expert birder George Matz of Homer to Kotzebue to lead several walks.

“Thanks to everyone who ventured out on one of our bird watching events this weekend! We enjoyed looking at birds in their bright breeding colors, visiting with folks, and learning a bit more about the feathered travelers that are flying home to Alaska to nest. Thanks to Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges volunteer George Matz (center of photo above) for being a part of the fun!”
  -Susan Georgette, Selawik NWR Manager




June 3, 2017
Friends gathered for an encore screening of “The Million Dollar Duck,” with host Adam Grimm, at Morris Thompson Cultural Visitor Center in Fairbanks. Refreshments were served, duck stamps were sold, and fun was had by all!

BELOW: Friends in Action: Sarah Mathews, Joseph Morris, and Adam Grimm (signing duck stamps).  













 

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