The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is under heavy attack by the Trump Administration!
The BLM released a Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) for Oil Leasing in the Coastal Plain. Comments are due by February 11, 2019. (Click here)
This DEIS addresses only the leasing portion of this horrible plan. BLM plans to prepare an additional DEIS for on-the-ground activities and drilling that may occur following projected lease sales. Also, preparation of a separate BLM environmental assessment of potential impacts of seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain and wildlife is underway. We expect to see that soon and will keep people informed when that is released for what is expected to be a 30-day public comment period.
We are working with many organizations to prepare comments on the Oil Leasing DEIS, which should be in the preliminary draft later this month. In the meantime, organizations are preparing information and talking points that we will make available for individuals to prepare and submit their comments. It is crucial that large numbers of concerned citizens let the BLM know that desecrating the Arctic Refuge would be a major environmental and social disaster. Please check our website and your emails for notices and information that will be provided as they become available.
This is the most important battle ever waged to save the Arctic Refuge, its wildlife, and the Gwich’in way of life. We need your involvement and commitment. We need your help.
January: We had a Friends Board Retreat and 5 of us went to Hawaii for the Peer to Peer Workshop with the Friends of the Pacific Islands Refuges
February: No Report
March: has been a busy month as the Friends have approved the Refuge Requests to date and new Volunteer Opportunities have been posted on our website. Friends had a table at Homer’s Volunteer Fair at Islands & Ocean on March 21 and 22. The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival Volunteer Sign-up recruitment at the fair resulted in a dozen or more members and interested non-members signing on to help. To date, 21 individuals have volunteered for 62 events. Of the 21, at least 13 are current members while the rest are interested in joining Friends or receiving more information about our organization.
April: Volunteer recruitment for for Dalton weed pull, Camp Goonzhii: Christina Whiting, and for Tree Swallow Banding; Volunteers recruited for Shorebird Festival, 41 at this time, with over half being Friends members; Other volunteers recruited for Attu 75th in Anchorage and Mat-Su Valley area, but these go directly to the Attu 75th coordinator.
May: has been a very busy month for Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and Friends volunteers at two major events: Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer (May 10-13) and Battle of Attu 75th Anniversary Commemoration events in Anchorage (May 17-19).
As the Volunteer Coordinator for the Shorebird Festival, I utilized 45 volunteers in various jobs throughout the four days, including the Viewing Stations, Friends Coffee, and event management duties for workshops, lectures, programs, bird walks, and much more. They put in more than 150 volunteer hours and received a free festival poster and a complimentary ticket to a keynote address. The festival could not occur without the support of these awesome volunteers. Thank you, one and all! (Probably half were Friends members!)
For the Attu 75th events, I advertised and recruited volunteers to assist Susan Churchill, the event volunteer coordinator. Although this was not a Friends volunteer opportunity, three Friends did work all three days for a total of 30 hours each. Thank you Chuck Iliff and Tom Choate! We three were honored to have been a part of this memorable event organized by Alaska Maritime NWR (and various other partners).
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge requested our help in advertising and recruiting volunteers for two events in June: Trail’s Day and Kenai River Festival. We recruited the leaders and all the volunteers for both events. Thank you Tony Munter, Sharon Baur, and Tara Schmidt!
USFWS Region 7 requested advertising and recruitment on our website for the Watershed/Salmon Education Project in Anchorage (April and May). Three Friends volunteered: Susan Pope, Jim Theile, and Dave Schroyer. Thank you!
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: We advertised and recruited applications for Camp Goonzhii (August/Sept), Christina Whiting and Cindy Sisson.
Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge: We advertised and recruited for the two Dalton weed pulls (June and July), receiving applications from two new Friends members, one for each month.
June: Kanuti NWR sponsored the 24th Dalton Highway Invasive Plant project the week of June 18-22. Three Friends volunteers pulled white sweet clover and bird vetch along the Haul Road river crossings between the Kanuti River just south of the Arctic Circle to the Dietrich River, north of Wiseman. This will be the last year of this project. Staffing shortages and cuts in many programs continue even as the invasive plants proliferate in the absence of more drastic strategies. The plans for next year will likely only involve monitoring down-river from the highway in a few rivers or creeks each summer.
Dragonfly Day was held on June 23 in Fairbanks with a local Friend (Joe Morris) staffing the Friends table and selling books for the dragonfly expert John Hudson. John contributed 50% of the sale price to Friends. This popular event was sponsored by the three Fairbanks refuges: Arctic, Kanuti, and Yukon Flats, with funding provided by Friends for the venue, advertising, and other expenses. There were @ 350 in attendance.
July. A previously approved project, Dalton Invasives- July, was canceled. The Kaktovik Polar Bear Viewing project was filled. Preparations for travel for Arctic’s Camp Goonzhii are underway for the two volunteers. Discussion continues with Tina Moran of Kanuti for winter opportunities at the Coldfoot Winter V.C.
August: Camp Goonzhii in Arctic Village, was postponed until Sept. 12 due to a death in the village.
Many Friends have been busy, however, organizing outreach events, writing grants, planning a workshop for 2019, advocating for Refuges, and getting out the newsletter and social media posts.
September: There was one volunteer opportunity, Camp Goonzhii, which Cindy Sisson attended. Thanks, Cindy, for representing Friends for this annual Arctic Refuge project: the science and culture camp in Arctic Village.
In early Sept. I was invited to Fairbanks to accompany Tina Moran, Acting Manager of Kanuti NWR, and Kris Fister, National Park Service Chief of Interpretation, Gates of the Arctic and Yukon Charley National Parks and Preserves, on a two day trip to Coldfoot to discuss/brainstorm staffing and operation strategies for the Coldfoot Field Office (CFO) Winter Visitor Center.
We discussed Staffing (both Refuge personnel and volunteers), Operation dates and times, Housing, Activities, Transportation, Alaska Geographic, Security considerations, etc. This is a potential Friends Volunteer Opportunity once all the details are worked out. The tentative dates are February 16 through April 6, 2019 when Arctic NWR’s new visitor services position filled Two Volunteers would greet the tour company vans of Aurora Viewing visitors from all over the world who come up to Coldfoot and Wiseman. This will be an exciting opportunity for volunteers to have the same aurora experience these visitors have at no cost! Stay tuned for more information as plans progress.
October: We have received notices from 12 interested members who would like to volunteer for the winter visitor center in Coldfoot next Feb.-March-April. These included 5 couples and 2 single individuals. Thanks to all who wish to volunteer! We will attempt to accommodate as many as possible during the approximately 7 week period the center will be open.
November: No new projects. I have been working out the scheduling for the Coldfoot Winter Visitor Center with the 16 Friends who have volunteered or expressed an interest in staffing it for a week or more at a time.
It was my first time in Homer and a first-time experience for the shorebird migration in the Kenai area. I have to say, Homer is a great place to see shorebirds, moose, visit fun eateries and cafes as well as enjoy the phenomenal Islands & Ocean Visitors Center. The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival draws in a substantial number of people, with a town that can house you comfortably and provide lots of food and drink options. The event was well organized and I felt that the Keynote Speaker, Noah Stryker, gave a fabulous, comical and enticing talk encapsulating some unique and inspiring moments in his Global Big Year. For those really keen on birding, be sure to check their species board for updates on new or rare species sightings in the area. I had several lifer species including Eurasian Teal, which definitely bumped up the cool factor for our trip. Without the species list and where the bird was seen (at the Visitors Center) we probably would have missed this fun sighting. So, a big thank you to the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival Committee in helping us collectively celebrate the wonder of shorebird migration in Alaska. Until next spring, Happy Birding!
Main photo: photo credit Nicholas Docken, Lisa Birding at Beluga lake; looking for the Eurasian Teal!
Bottom photo: photo credit Nicolas Docken Lisa giving her talk; Bears, Weather and Birds. Life in a remote Arctic field camp in Nunavut Canada.
The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges were asked to assist in a unique project, the Climate Stewards Workshop, which took place in Fairbanks in July. Two Friends, Jason Sodergren (Treasurer) and Barry Whitehill, Fairbanks Friend, spent many hours in preliminary tasks associated with acquiring a venue and housing as well as setting up the registration process online, and handling the registration and payments for the workshop expenses.
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has a mandate to educate in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines (STEM).
NOAA’s Climate Stewards Education Project (CSEP) was created to increase educators’ understanding of climate science and to reach youth as the beginning of a long-term strategy to make communities more resilient to climate change impacts. Over 1,000 educators participate in an online community that connects them with webinars with experts, regional workshops, and educational resources.
The NOAA Climate Stewards Education Project provides formal and informal educators working with elementary through university age students with sustained professional development, collaborative tools, and support to build a climate-literate public actively engaged in climate stewardship. CSEP also provides support for educators to develop and execute climate stewardship (mitigation and/or adaptation) projects with their audiences to increase understanding of climate science and take practical actions to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Comments from Peg Steffen, Education Coordinator, NOAA National Ocean Service
“My sincere thanks to all of you for making the STEM workshop a reality and a success last week. I heard many great comments about the quality of the presentations, the engaging activities and the experiences that you provided to the educators.UAF was a wonderful place to hold the workshop. Who could not be impressed with the view of 501 IARC (International Arctic Research Center)? Having low-cost housing and excellent catering was essential to making the workshop affordable to many. The local field trip options (natural areas, Permafrost tunnel, local scientific laboratories) provided amazing glimpses into the work of scientists.
Also, thanks to the Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges for serving as the fiscal agents for all of the expenses. It made planning so much easier.”
This summer I volunteered for the weed pull along the Dalton Highway. I am a 16-year-old rising-Junior at West High School in Anchorage Alaska. The team consisted of a Chief Biologist, five Friends (including my grandfather), and three interns. We were looking for two specific types of invasive plants: Bird Vetch and White Sweet Clover. These species grow around river crossings. It is a threat because the rivers and streams along the Dalton run into the Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge. The seeds of these plants are transported along the Dalton mainly by vehicle traffic. This makes the job even more important because of the sheer number of big rigs taking supplies and equipment to and from the oil fields on the North Slope.
We worked for five days with the first and last day dedicated to traveling 260 miles between Fairbanks and Coldfoot. A typical day started at eight in the morning and ended at five in the evening. We lived in dry cabins and packed our lunches every morning; usually a sandwich, some chips, and maybe an apple. Sometimes we would travel hundreds of miles and comb each section of the river in two-man groups and come back around to clean up what the first group might have missed. In the evening, we ate at the Coldfoot Camp buffet and there was always something new to eat. After dinner, we would head back to the cabins and read or talk until we would try to go to sleep despite the sun never setting. My grandfather and I had such trouble that we put up towels in front of our window to block the sun.
Kanuti River, Crossing Dalton Hwy
This was my second year volunteering for this project. The only difference between this year and last year was that there appeared to be much less White Sweet Clover and Bird Vetch. This made me hope that our efforts were really helping protect the refuge.
Additionally, during my past year at West High School I made a presentation to my English class describing last year’s invasive species project and urged my classmates to join Friends and volunteer for future projects.
Hopefully, given my busy upcoming academic schedule, I will be able to continue to volunteer to Friends in future projects.
Kanuti’s Annual Winter Celebration, held recently in Allakaket, AK, was attended by over 60 people from Allakaket and Alatna and was once again a hit with kids and adults alike. This year, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve helped support the effort. Marcy Okada, the Subsistence Coordinator for Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, and Maria Berger, the Lead Education Specialist (NPS) at the Fairbanks, Alaska Public Lands Information Center, attended the event and provided a well-received after-dinner presentation about Gates and NPS, and a craft table that was very popular with the youth.
Kanuti truly enjoyed partnering with NPS during this event, and very much appreciated the support NPS provided. The community seemed to greatly enjoy being able to learn so much in one stop. UAF representatives were also at the School during the evening event, providing excellent information about their programs and a table of information and free items. The community had a full night of fun! Of course, one of the most enjoyed parts of the evening, was the Taco dinner, provided by Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and fully prepared by Friends Volunteer Sarah Matthews, who worked hard during the entire event to make sure everything we needed was taken care of – thank you Sarah for your hard work making a wonderful dinner for so many! And thank you to UAF for providing a great dessert! In the spirit of doing more with less, working together can fill in gaps while also strengthening ties. Kanuti looks forward to continuing to work with partners and the communities of Allakaket and Alatna in the future.
by Leah Eskelin, Park Ranger (all photos by USFWS)
Celebrating 75 years of conservation at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Refuge staff hosted an evening celebration on Friday, December 16th at the new Refuge Visitor Center in Soldotna. Sponsored by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Alaska Geographic and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Retirees Association, the party showcased the Refuge’s diverse landscapes through artwork by volunteer photographers Tom Collopy and Mary Frische, family activities and a centerpiece cake that, well, took the cake.
Seventy-five years ago, on the heels of the attack on Pearl Harbor that led the United States into World War II, the President signed the document that created the Kenai National Moose Range. Later, in 1980, the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) would change its name to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and broaden its purpose. A grassroots effort to protect wildlife being over harvested on the Kenai Peninsula resulted in this federal action, and without it the landscapes that are so beloved by residents and visitors alike would have been lost long ago. With this protection, wildlife habitats, recreational opportunities and the integrity of salmon-rearing streams that are the linchpin of much of the local fishery have survived the decades, and will endure beyond our years here.
More than 200 guests attended this event, where they dressed as their favorite Kenai animal in the photo booth, “became” moose, the Refuge’s signature wildlife, by designing moose headbands and decorated reusable canvas tote bags. It was a great celebration and one that would have been impossible without the support of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. Refuge staff send their thanks to each member of the Friends organization, for this and other efforts to spread the word about these majestic public lands across the state.
Friends Volunteer Brenda Dolma had the opportunity to work with youth, refuge staff, and community elders of Arctic Village, during their annual Science and Culture Camp. Camp Goonzhii (meaning “wisdom and knowledge” in Gwich’in) took place in late August 2016. Thirty youths ranging from kindergarten through twelfth grade participated.The Science and Culture Camp includes curriculum in western science and traditional ecological knowledge, combined with indoor and outdoor learning experiences through demonstrations and hands on environmental education activities. Community elders share their wisdom about the land and animals, while Refuge staff offer exposure to new technologies.
Some camp topics and activities included:
Animal tracking and drawing
Dog sled construction
Caribou butchering and processing
“I had the opportunity to meet Sarah James [community elder and Friends member], who has been speaking to protect the habitat for the future. It was a treat to get out on the field trips and experience the beauty of Arctic Village in fall,” says Brenda.
To learn more about the Camp, check out this article by News Miner, in Fairbanks.
The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges provided funding for nightly community dinners and Brenda’s travel. Membership comes with the chance to Volunteer. Check out our current opportunities.