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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.


  • 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


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


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


  • 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


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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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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2018 February Membership Meeting

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

Special Guest: Patrick Walsh, Supervisory Biologist
/Togiak NWR
Stories and Studies of Wolves at Togiak National Wildlife Refuge

We have formally studied wolves for the past 10 years at Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, focusing most effort on understanding the role wolves play in regulating moose and caribou populations. This presentation will provide the results of a completed study of wolf predation on a small caribou herd, and will provide preliminary results from an ongoing study of wolf predation on the refuge’s moose population. During the course of the formal studies, we have made a number of incidental observations on wolf life history and behavior that are worth telling. So, this talk will be a combination of studies and stories about the wolves of Togiak Refuge.

Download Powerpoint Presentation

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Concerned for Terns: Biologists Meet About Monitoring Aleutian Terns in Alaska

Submitted by Lisa Hupp/USFWS – Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge

Legendary long distance travelers, both Arctic and Aleutian terns find a summer home along the coast of the Kodiak Archipelago. They float in from exotic southern seas and form nesting colonies in beach grass and meadows, raising their chicks on small fish and fending off predators. For Aleutian terns, the bays and islets of Kodiak are part of an important chain of coastal habitat that stretches from southeast Alaska to eastern Siberia, the only place in the world where they breed. A precipitous decline in their population – over 90 percent in three decades – has prompted concerned scientists to look for clues and study the potential for restoration at colony sites across Alaska.

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge has a long history of monitoring Arctic and Aleutian tern colonies on the Archipelago, beginning with population data collected nearly fifty years ago and surveyed intermittently ever since. In 2016, Robin Corcoran, avian biologist, and Jill Tengeres, bio-technician, began a multi-year project to study Aleutian tern nests using remote game cameras. Images captured by the cameras tell the story of nest fate: how many eggs hatched, the quality and quantity of food provided, and the fate of nests threatened by predators. This past year, they also incorporated nest habitat surveys into their study; understanding the sites selected for nesting over time can provide valuable insight to better protect colonies. In addition to nest monitoring, they continue archipelago-wide population surveys of Arctic and Aleutian terns as part of a nearshore monitoring program in June and August of each summer.

This January, Robin and Jill brought preliminary results of their work to the statewide Alaska Marine Science Symposium, hosted by the North Pacific Research Board. They created two posters to summarize their studies: a poster about Aleutian tern nest monitoring and a poster about the population surveys conducted from 2016-17. As part of the symposium, they will present at a two-day Aleutian Tern Conservation Planning Meeting, and will hear from other biologists who are currently studying the species. Several experts from outside of Alaska – statisticians and tern experts – will join the discussion to help coordinate and plan how to best monitor this imperiled bird across the state.

Read more about current and previous Arctic and Aleutian tern studies and explore the 2018 research posters.

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Kodiak Youth Present at the Alaska Forum on the Environment

Submitted by Lisa Hupp/ USFWS – Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge

Image result for Alaska Forum on the EnvironmentThis February, three Kodiak High School students head to the big city of Anchorage to present at their first conference: the annual Alaska Forum on the Environment (AFE).

Hannah Villaroya, Keegan Ryder, and Leif King all served as crew members on the 2017 Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Youth Conservation Corp (YCC). They will share their summer experiences working with the Refuge, and will present about their leadership role for programs such as Pop-Up Salmon Camp. Pop-up Salmon Camp is an innovative way to bring the Refuge’s popular science camp to children of Kodiak at the summer lunch program. The teens each led two stations on topics of their choice; they took the initiative to study their topic, and then developed activities and hosted over 100 participants!

The Kodiak Refuge YCC program is a service learning program for students: as they learn, they are actively engaged in efforts to either teach others what they have learned and/or to make improvements on environmental issues or needs within public lands. For example, a biologist from the Sun’aq Tribe taught them about invasive species, and the crew then helped to remove invasive crayfish from the Buskin River. They received training on trail maintenance and then helped to improve a number of trails on the Refuge and on partner public lands such as Shuyak State Park. 

As many as 1,800 people are expected to participate in the 2018 Alaska Forum on the Environment, a state-wide gathering of environmental professionals and leaders. In addition to presenting at the Forum, the teens will be staff the youth-track booth and will collaborate with other youth involved in environmental projects around the state. They are scheduled to present Tuesday February 13th at 9am, and plan to have a hands-on activity for participants to create their own reusable shopping bag out of a t-shirt (an activity they learned at Kodiak’s Threshold Recycling Center).

Environmental Education Specialist Shelly Lawson will work with the teens as they prepare their presentation, and will act as chaperone for their big trip. She is a strong advocate for their participation, observing, “youth are among the most popular presenters at AFE – I think it is due to their optimism and can-do attitude. They inspire and bring hope to all in attendance.”

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