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Alaska On Fire! (July 2019)

by Poppy Benson, Outreach Coordinator

Alaska is burning and so are Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.  Over one million acres in 400 separate fires are burning across the state.  Forty-five of these fires are on refuges with 200,000 acres aflame.  Almost every one of Alaska’s 16 refuges has had a fire with the majority of the fire activity on Kenai, Yukon Flats, and Arctic Refuges.  The largest refuge fire is the 100,000 acre Swan Lake Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  This fire was started by lightning in early June in a limited fire management area. Firefighting efforts are concentrated on protecting the towns of Sterling and Cooper Landing, the highway, and HEAs power line while allowing the fire to burn in the wild part of the refuge.   Backfires lit along the Sterling Highway and on the western edge of the fire have been very successful in boxing in the fire and preventing it from spreading in the direction of Sterling. 

A real benefit of this fire is that it is burning up heavy fuels which will make the towns and the refuge much safer for decades from the risk of a more catastrophic fire.    Kenai Refuge biologists learned in earlier studies that black spruce burns about every 80 years, and it has been 80 years since this area last burned.  In the higher elevations, the fire is burning up spruce bark beetle-killed white spruce.  It is a fire-dependent landscape and will adapt.  Positive impacts on wildlife will come as the fire will alter the habitat to an earlier successional stage where “moose food” such as aspen and birch will sprout in the burned areas.  The fire has exhibited some extreme fire behavior burning in the tundra and riparian areas.  The negative impacts of that on wildlife are yet to be determined.  The biggest human impact from the fire has been the smoke which has been particularly hard on communities east of the refuge.  Numerous refuge trails, campgrounds, and public use cabins have been closed due to smoke and fire crews working in the area but none have been damaged so far.  The famed Swan Lake Canoe Route, just west of the fire, has also not been impacted.  

Fire conditions have been extreme because a series of high-pressure domes parked on top of the Kenai Peninsula for weeks preventing rain, creating record temperatures, drying fuels and preventing smoke from rising into the high atmosphere.  According to USFWS Regional Fire Management Coordinator Doug Alexander, “I’ve been up here 10 years and I can’t believe how hot it is.  It is nearly 90 degrees every day on that fire.”   Record high temperatures have been recorded throughout the state with Anchorage hitting 90 degrees for the first time ever.  Fortunately, in just the last few days, the normal marine airflow has begun to return, giving firefighters a break by moderating fire behavior.  You can follow the progress of the Swan Lake fire here

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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 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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2019 February Membership Meeting – Feb. 12

Due to the ongoing possibility of another federal government shutdown, this meeting has been moved up a week (originally scheduled for Feb. 19th)

Please join us on Tuesday, February 12, 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:
Bill Carter – “A Permafrost Thaw Slump and Its Effect on Selawik River Inconnu (Sheefish) Spawning Recruitment”

In the summer of 2004, a retrogressive permafrost thaw slump (slump, mudslide) began dumping sediment into the Selawik River in northwest Alaska. It’s location above the spawning area of one of two Inconnu populations (Stenodus leucichthys) that share rearing and overwintering habitat in Selawik Lake, Hotham Inlet and Kotzebue Sound was cause for concern for local subsistence users and fisheries managers. The subsequent erosion of material from the slump has deposited more than 365,000 m3 (477,402 yd3) of sediment into the river, and the silt plume could be seen over 145 km (90 mi) downstream. The spawning area, only 40 km (25 mi) downstream, was threatened by heavy sedimentation. A population age structure study to explore the effects of the slump using otolith (ear bone) aging began in 2011, giving us pre-slump age data as the first recruits from the 2004 spawning event wouldn’t return until the age-9 (2014). Age structure data has revealed an interesting population dynamic not only in the Selawik River population but also in its sister population of Inconnu in the Kobuk River that is being used as an experimental control.


Download Bill Carter’s Presentation
Download Bill Carter’s Presentation (widescreen version)

*SIX meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October

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)

  • Refuge Discovery Trip Report out
    • Trips in the Works
    • Art in the Arctic & Alaska Bird Conference
    • Details for all on our EVENTS tab – on website; we’ll send more updates via newsletter
  • Advocacy Updates (David Raskin & Dave Aplin)
    • Arctic Drilling

Speaker/Presentation (30-40 minutes) –

  • Bill Carter, Togiak National Wildlife Refuge
  • Topic: “A Permafrost Thaw Slump and Its Effect on Selawik River Inconnu (Sheefish) Spawning Recruitment”

Next Meeting: Tuesday, March 9th, 5-6pm/ Guest Speaker TBA
SIX meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October

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Alaska Refuges, Friends, and the Public Suffer from Shut Down: What You Can Do

by Poppy Benson, Friends Outreach Coordinator

What on earth does “the wall” have to do with Tetlin’s lynx research project,  a school children’s Discovery Lab in Homer or a snowshoe walk in Kenai?  Well these programs and so much more are being held hostage to the budget fight in Washington.  The federal government shutdown, now in its third week, has shuttered all Alaska Refuge visitor centers and offices, canceled environmental education and public programs, postponed meetings and agreements, delayed hiring even of volunteers, postponed commenting on the Arctic Refuge oil leasing EIS, and postponed the start of winter biology projects such as the lynx project and moose counts. 

Only 21 employees in Alaska were deemed “essential” and they are working without pay mainly to protect facilities and carry out the shutdown.  All others have been sent home as the Fish & Wildlife Service, without a budget, has no authority to pay employees.  Two Friends events have already been cancelled due to the shutdown and several others are at risk.  We can’t meet with Refuge staff if they aren’t on the job.  Below is a list of some closures, cancellations and postponements that we know about.  It is hard to get information on the scope of the cancellations when there are no refuge staff available to talk to.  We also do not know if refuge wildlife and lands are suffering damage such as is reported for the Lower 48 National Parks and Refuges.  All lands remain open to public use but the public is warned they are on their own.

CLOSED:

  • Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, Homer (Alaska Maritime Refuge)
  • Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Soldotna
  • Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Kodiak
  • Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Bethel
  • All Alaska Public Information Centers

CANCELED:

  • Friends Strategic Planning Workshop &  “Meet the Managers” events 
  • Environmental education programs – all Refuges

NOT MAINTAINED:

  • All Refuge Facebook pages, web pages and other social media communicating with the public.
  • Refuge trails, roads and cabins

AT RISK:

  • Friends Membership meeting on January 15.  Won’t have a speaker if shut down in effect.
  • Friends Discovery Trip to the Dolly Varden Cabin on the Kenai Refuge, February 1 – 3
  • Friends opening of the Coldfoot Visitor Center for aurora watchers, February 15 to April 15.  The issue here is whether or not the extensive background checks can be completed in time.
  • Yukon River Fishery Decisions – State Board of Fish Meeting son the Yukon & Kuskokwim finfish – January 15 – will be no Yukon Delta Refuge staff or FWS fisheries participation
  • Arctic Refuge comments on oil and gas leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – February 11
  • Alaska Marine Science Symposium January 28 – no FWS or NOAA participation if the shutdown continues.
  • The hiring of refuge summer seasonal staff and volunteers.
  • Winter biology projects.
  • Rural children’s Migratory Bird Calendar Contest
  • UAF Oral History Project planned for several Native communities

TAKE ACTION:

Contact our Congressional Delegation and the President and tell them to quit holding Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges hostage over a budget fight.   Tell them:
this shut down is costing all of us taxpayers money and opportunities to enjoy our public lands, programs, and facilities; the impact of this shut down will extend well beyond a return to work as our hardworking refuge staffs will be hard put to make up for this time lost from the job; and it is a breach of faith to not pay employees especially those who are still required to work.

It doesn’t take but a minute to fill in the email forms on our delegations’ web pages:

Senator Lisa Murkowski

Senator Dan Sullivan

Representative Don Young

President Trump

Not from Alaska?  Find links to your representatives and updates on the shut down at the National Wildlife Refuge Association here.

 

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2019 January Membership Meeting – Jan. 15 (CANCELLED)

Due to the ongoing federal government shutdown, this meeting has been canceled. We hope to have Bill Carter present at a future membership meeting.

Please join us on Tuesday, January 15, 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:
Bill Carter – “A Permafrost Thaw Slump and Its Effect on Selawik River Inconnu (Sheefish) Spawning Recruitment”

In the summer of 2004, a retrogressive permafrost thaw slump (slump, mudslide) began dumping sediment into the Selawik River in northwest Alaska. It’s location above the spawning area of one of two Inconnu populations (Stenodus leucichthys) that share rearing and overwintering habitat in Selawik Lake, Hotham Inlet and Kotzebue Sound was cause for concern for local subsistence users and fisheries managers. The subsequent erosion of material from the slump has deposited more than 365,000 m3 (477,402 yd3) of sediment into the river, and the silt plume could be seen over 145 km (90 mi) downstream. The spawning area, only 40 km (25 mi) downstream, was threatened by heavy sedimentation. A population age structure study to explore the effects of the slump using otolith (ear bone) aging began in 2011, giving us pre-slump age data as the first recruits from the 2004 spawning event wouldn’t return until the age-9 (2014). Age structure data has revealed an interesting population dynamic not only in the Selawik River population but also in its sister population of Inconnu in the Kobuk River that is being used as an experimental control.

Check here for presentation materials, closer to the meeting date.


*SIX meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October
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Selawik Art Night and Open House – Fall 2018

Selawik National Wildlife Refuge: Art Night & Open House, October 17, 2018 

In celebration of Refuge Week, we hosted an Art Night and Open House event. About 25-30 people of mixed ages young children, teenagers, parents, and elders, attended. We hosted activities like plant printing on stationery, acrylic painting on small canvases, and “blind drawing” of various items (antlers, skulls, etc.). Many of the people in attendance had never been in our office before. One of the National Park Service seasonal staff assisted us with the event as well. We greatly appreciate the refreshments that Friends provided—everyone in attendance enjoyed them!




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Battle of Attu 75th Anniversary Commemoration

Friends welcome and assist special guests of the Battle of Attu 75th Anniversary Commemoration

May 2018 marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Attu. The forgotten battle on a wildlife refuge in Alaska was the only ground battle of WWII to take place on American soil. Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge partnered with National Park Service and many other organizations to sponsor and organize three days of free public events at five venues in Anchorage. Alaska Maritime requested Friends advertise on our website for recruitment of volunteers to greet visitors, hand out programs, and escort special guests to reserved seating and deal with any special needs of the guests who included nine Battle of Attu Veterans, Attu Village survivors and descendants, and Japanese soldiers’ descendants. Three Friends members (Chuck Iliff, Tom Choate and I, Betty Siegel) volunteered and worked the full three days to help things run smoothly.

Some highlights included:

  • Meeting and assisting the veterans who ranged in age from 95 to 102 years. They were humble, interesting, funny, and appreciative;
  • Watching the Unangax dancers and hearing the Unifying Peace Messages by the Attu veteran, the grandson of a Japanese soldier, and a Unangan elder at the Loussac Library program;
  • Attending the World Premiere of the documentary “When the Fog Clears,” by award winning Japanese film-maker Tadashi Ogawa, meeting him and talking with him about the film;
  • The Closing Ceremony at the Alaska Aviation Museum. This was a very moving event, especially the presentation of Colors, the Wreath Presentation, and the beautiful renditions of the Japanese Anthem by violinist Hiroko Harada and our National and Alaska anthems by Kyle Schneider.

We three Friends Members were honored to have these and many other wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and fond memories and the opportunity to make the Attu 75th Anniversary Commemoration a success.

(Report submitted by Betty Siegel; photos by Lisa Hupp/USFWS & Betty Siegel)

 

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2018 March Membership Meeting

Please join us on Tuesday, March 20, for the Friends membership meeting.
Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747# 

Special Guest: Kristine Sowl, Yukon Delta NWR
“The importance of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to shorebirds and recent efforts to obtain population estimates”

Kristine will present on the population estimates derived from the 2015-16 PRISM surveys and discuss how these may change some of the continental population estimates for several shorebird species.

Kristine Sowl
is a wildlife biologist who studies wildlife ecology in subarctic ecosystems. She currently is in charge of the non-game bird program (landbirds, shorebirds, raptors, and seabirds) at Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in western Alaska.  She has spent over 25 years working as a biologist on public lands in Alaska, including Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, and brief stints at the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge and Aniakchak National Monument.  She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 1985 and completed a Master of Science in Wildlife Biology from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 2003.  Currently, her work is focused on the breeding and migration ecology of Beringian shorebirds, including the bar-tailed godwit, black turnstone, bristle-thighed curlew, western sandpiper, and Pacific subspecies of dunlin.

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