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Get Out on a Refuge, Do Some Good, Volunteer!

by Poppy Benson, Friends Vice President for Outreach

Want to get to the Pribilofs or Izembek? Discover Tetlin? Get your hands on a duck? Share your love for Alaska Refuges with friendly people?   Our Alaska National Wildlife Refuges are looking for our help as they are dealing with short staffs and small budgets.   Here’s a sampler of volunteer opportunities.  See all the projects (some are new since the last newsletter) on our volunteer web page here.  

  • Share your knowledge of Alaska at Tetlin’s Interagency Visitor Center 
  • Band ducks on the Tetlin Refuge.
  • Real science: aging black brant at Izembek.
  • Or come on down to Homer May 8 – 12 for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival co-sponsored by Friends and the Alaska Maritime Refuge.  Sign up for Friends outreach here and for festival events here.
  • Spring clean a refuge – Kenai April 26-27, Alaska Maritime Homer April 20
  • Spread the good word about refuges at Outreach Booths at events in Seward, Soldotna, and Homer. 

Some volunteer jobs are just a few hours commitment and others offer a chance to spend a month on a refuge.  Take some time this summer to experience a refuge through helping.   For more information go to the web page or contact us at  Volunteer applications are online.

it’s a lively job working the Friends Outreach Table at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird  Festival and we need 15 – 20 people to cover all the shifts.  Sign up here.  Friends Rosa Meehan of Anchorage and Board President Marilyn Sigman of Homer working the booth at the 2023 Festival.  pc Becky Hutchinson

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Do You Want to Visit a Refuge? Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer!!!

Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer!!! by Poppy Benson, Vice President for Outreach

Setting up a Starlink solar system, deploying rat traps in the Pribilofs and teaching first aid in McGrath are three of the most unusual volunteer requests from the refuges this year.  And that always fun project of banding ducks for a week on the Tetlin Refuge is back for a 4th year as well as brant aging surveys on the Izembek Refuge in October.  Tetlin Refuge is also looking for visitor center help in Tok in 30 day shifts over the summer. Shorter term projects include helping with an Anchorage public meeting on rat eradication in the Aleutian Islands, building rat traps in Homer for the Alaska Maritime, a cleanup at the Maritime Visitor Center on April 20 (and expect one on the Kenai Refuge in May dates, TBD), and two big events – the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival and the Kenai Sports and Recreation Show.  

Friends cosponsors the Festival, May 8 – 12 in Homer, and volunteers are needed for Friends outreach– staffing our Outreach Table and the Birders’ Coffee–and for Festival events.  The Festival is our biggest project and traditionally our best source of new members and, its really fun.  Come on down to Homer and help out.  May 4 and 5 is the Kenai Sports and Recreation Show in Soldotna.  Friends are needed to help the Kenai Refuge with its activities and to do outreach for Friends and the Refuge.  

Some of these projects need help right away so don’t delay in checking them out  – the Starlink system, rat trap assembly and the first aid instructor for Innoko Refuge would ideally happen in March – April.  You can find all projects listed here including who to talk to for more information.  Applications are needed for most projects and you must be a member for most projects.  You can join or renew here. 

In addition, refuges with visitor centers – Kodiak, Kenai, Yukon Delta in Bethel and the Alaska Maritime in Homer – can always use help.  Contact the refuge.

Yes, there are fewer volunteer opportunities this year than last as only five refuges requested our help as opposed to seven last year.  I can only speculate that this is due to the refuges not having a budget as Congress only passed the budget last Friday.  And then there are the significant staff shortages.  It takes staff and money to plan projects.  Hopefully, with the budget resolved we might yet see some more projects for this year.


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Izembek Brant Project Report

by John  Sargent, Friends Volunteer

John Sargent volunteered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge assisting with the Pacific Brant Age Ratio Study during October 3 to 13, 2023. Nearly all of the worldwide distribution of brant stage at Izembek Lagoon during the autumn migration before moving on to warmer climates in California and Mexico where they spend the winter months. Izembek Lagoon is also one of the largest concentrations of eelgrass in the world and was the first in North America listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. 

The purpose of the study is to estimate the number of juvenile brant born this year relative to adults. This information will be used to determine the 2023 productivity of brant along the Pacific Flyway. By the end of the survey, we successfully met our goal of classifying 39,000 juvenile and adult brant in Izembek Lagoon! To access the lagoon we drove in pickups, walked in the tundra, boated in zodiacs and took side-by-side ATVs to get to more remote areas. 

The Izembek adventure was scheduled to start on October 2, but was delayed one day because of the looming government shutdown that did not happen. Then, a few days later, while awaiting at the Anchorage airport for his flight to Cold Bay, John learned that his flight would be cancelled because of eruptions of the Shishaldin Volcano in the Aleutian Island of Unimak, west of Cold Bay.  As the volcano calmed down, John and another volunteer, Catherine Trimingham, boarded the Aleutian Airlines flight to Cold Bay to finally start the Brant Age study adventure.  While attempting to make a landing, at Cold Bay the plane lifted off again, presumably due to strong cross winds to make another attempt, which the pilot safety did.  Such is life in one of the windiest and remote places in North America, and one of the most volcanically active regions in the world! Once at the refuge we settled in to the comfy house that served as the bunkhouse with full kitchen and hot running water.  

Acknowledgements: John would like to thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge staff, especially Wildlife Biologist Alison Williams, Refuge Manager Maria Fosado, Biological Science Technician Cristina Trimingham, Wildlife Biologist Michael Swaim, volunteer Catherine Trimingham, and USGS Field Assistant Technician Evan Buck for field support, sharing field work, and making my stay and experience most enjoyable and memorable.  Thank you all!

Bird and Wildlife Observed or reported on or near the lagoon:

Black brant (very abundant- 100s of thousands), cackling geese (abundant) northern pintail, mallard, harlequin duck, gadwall, Eurasian widgeon, green wing teal, emperor geese, white fronted goose (one), greater yellowlegs, large feeding flocks of rock sandpiper, dunlin sandpiper, bald eagles, short eared owl, marlin, peregrine falcon, glaucous wing gulls, juvenile Sabine’s gull, tundra swan, red breasted mergansers, Steller’s eider (one), black legged kittiwakes, snipe, fox sparrow (dark subspecies), willow ptarmigan, red necked grebe, Pacific loon, ravens, black billed magpies and Lapland longspurs.  Also, wolf, brown bear tracks, brown bear scats, and diggings for ground squirrels; arctic ground squirrels; red fox, Pacific walrus (hundreds sunbathing), harbor seals and sea otters abundant feeding in lagoon. Coho salmon carcasses in creeks.

Making our approach to the airport at Cold Bay to begin the Brant Age Ratio Survey. It was very windy!

Ahhh… we finally made it to Izembek Lagoon to start the Brant Age Ratio Survey! John Sargent counting brant. The weather was blustery and we lucked out to have only limited rainfall, mild temperatures (mid 40s) and no further substantial eruption of volcanos!

Mike wearing his comfy wool hat while characterizing brant juveniles and adults at Izembek Lagoon.

Brant geese at Izembek Lagoon.

Alison, Christina, Evan and Catherine counting a large flock of brant. Most birds where too far to count but with use of a zodiac we were able to access more out-of-the-way areas of the lagoon.

Zostera marina (eelgrass), one of many worldwide species of seagrasses. Brant forage almost exclusively on eelgrass leaves during their autumn in Izembek Lagoon. The seeds are an important food for dabbling ducks.

And the sun did shine a few times! This is the eelgrass beds during low tide. During low tide we walked the Zodiac to deeper water.  This was fortunate because it enabled us to get up close and personal with the eelgrass, the productive muds rich in detritus, and the abundance of shellfish and crabs that inhabit this important resource.  We also saw many sea otters and harbor seals in the lagoon, and a large group of sunning walrus near the entrance with the Bering Sea!

We rejoiced when Frosty Peak, a large volcano became visible on the last day of our survey.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Wildlife Biologist, Alison Williams surveying for brant at Izembek Lagoon. I thank her for her knowledge, skill at boat handling (especially in ocean swell near the outlet to the Bering Sea), and her kindness and graciousness during the survey work, planning, and making this a truly memorable experience.

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In the Field: Friends Volunteering

by Poppy Benson, Friends Board Vice President
It was a busy September for Friends with volunteers helping with the Walks for the Wild, our September meeting and our special event.  But three Friends were far afield with Meg Parsons of Anchorage and Mike Coffing of Homer at Izembek Refuge and Caroline Brouwer, currently from Hawaii, at Kodiak Refuge.  Here is what they had to say.

The Izembek Quonset Hut Hustle:  Wind, Wildlife and Wide-open Views
By Mike Coffing 

Winds of 37 knots with gusts to 60+ knots were my welcome to Izembek Refuge at Cold Bay! Although the winds were always blowing, they were usually not as strong and were much more friendly most of our stay. The warm smiles, friendly and supportive Izembek Refuge staff were absolutely amazing. We were there to help clear out a large, WWII era, Quonset hut located 10+ miles north of Cold Bay and near Izembek Lagoon. During each round trip with the pickup truck, hauling 15 loads of equipment and supplies from the Quonset to the Refuge HQ in Cold Bay, our eyes were scanning the roadside “tundra” and open horizons for wildlife. We were never disappointed. After the day’s work of lifting, loading, hauling and unloading supplies, the warm refuge bunkhouse with the full kitchen, hot showers and comfortable beds was most relaxing. 

Meg Parsons added:The Quonset hut is huge- unlike any I have seen previously. It was full of an assemblage of Refuge materials- research equipment and building supplies which was very like many homesteads I have experienced.  One keeps things since it could be possible to use in the future. pc: Meg Parsons

We got in on one of the biggest local events of the year, the 3-day Labor Day Silver Salmon Derby, where we helped by weighing in fish. A kickoff “Ribs/Chicken and ALL the fixings” dinner, a polar plunge, a bonfire and potluck added to the fun.This annual fundraiser supports the Cold Bay Emergency Services.

Meg Parsons at Russell Creek with her first ever silver salmon.  She said of her arrival at Izembek, “I flew from Anchorage to Cold Bay with the view of cloudy blue skies opening up to view the terrain of water, remote islands, and volcanoes. A great start to an area new to me and my excitement was exhilarating!” pc. Laticia Melendez/USFWS

Our last day we accompanied refuge staff when they gave a Refuge tour, using two small busses and two pickup trucks, to arriving passengers on the Alaska Ferry Tustumena from town to Grant’s Point, located at the edge of Izembek Lagoon. Meg added that “I enjoyed extending enthusiasm and appreciation of Izembek to the ferry passengers.”

Working at Izembek Refuge was a great experience. Thanks to Matthew and all the Refuge staff for having us.
An Incredible Time at Kodiak:  Bears, Coast and a Wonderful Staff
By Caroline Brouwer

L-R Caroline Brouwer, Sierra Speer, Erin Strand, Patricia Prince, Natalie Fath, Danielle Fujii-Doe in the Kodiak Visitor Center. pc: USFWS

Overwhelmed with cruise ships at a low staff time of the year, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge asked for a Friends volunteer to help in September at their Visitor Center. Alaskan brown bears, whales, and talking about the National Wildlife Refuge System are some of my favorite things, so I jumped at the opportunity to apply and was lucky enough to be selected by the refuge.

I got to Kodiak Island just in time for the silver salmon run to start and the frenzy of bears feasting on salmon, fattening up for the winter. It’s been a dream of mine for years to go see the island, the refuge, and its bears. The bears, I saw, in droves. But Kodiak Refuge is so pristine partially because its not on the road system, so I spent my free hours hiking on non-refuge lands and gazing in awe at the beautiful islands and coastline. 

Four out of the 10 days I was on the island, were cruise ship days with passengers flooding the town. Over 1,600 passengers passed through the Visitor Center on those four days, which was a great opportunity to talk about refuges and wildlife. One of the glorious things about the Refuge System is that refuges are not as highly visited as National Parks, offering a more solitary experience than parks. The downside is that many people have no idea what a refuge even is, or that there is this incredible System of public lands set aside for wildlife of which Kodiak is just one piece.

Education is part of our Friends mission: teaching visitors about wildlife refuges, and the importance of refuge habitat and species protection. They can then become stewards and advocates for refuges.

The Kodiak staff were incredible and capable, but, like most refuges, they have lost much of their capacity to complete critical tasks due to budget cuts. It was valuable to me as Friends Advocacy Committee Chair to see this for myself.  Our advocacy column in this same newsletter is devoted to the budget, so please click on that article as well to hear how the funding fiasco currently happening in Washington, DC is affecting refuges on the ground. 

Many, many thanks to the talented Kodiak Refuge staff, particularly Mike Brady, Danielle Fujii-Doe, Natalie Fath, and Amy Peterson and hardworking, generous and knowledgeable volunteers and seasonal staff– Sierra, Patricia, Nicole, Jan, and Stacey.  A special shout out to Erin Strand whom I credit with keeping me alive by teaching me everything I know about bear safety, as we staffed a community event at the Coast Guard base. Thank you to everyone for making this trip so incredible. I hope I was able to give back as much as I received!

My last night was the most exciting (terrifying? incredibly stupid?) part of the trip. I went to the Buskin River to catch one last glimpse of the magnificent bears. The only bear I saw was in the process of expelling a huge tapeworm from his rear end.  Fascinated,  I watched him while he ate salmon. I lost sight of him, then heard him splashing loudly in the river too close to me. I hustled out of the area and turned on the video on my phone as I walked away, and then  – well, see for yourself

For an explanation of tape worms in Alaskan bears … check out thisarticle


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In the Field: Friends Volunteering

by Poppy Benson, Friends Board Vice President

On a river and lakes and mountainsides, Friends were helping Refuges this past July-August.  Read the reports of three members about their work on Kodiak, Yukon Delta and Tetlin Refuges.

Saw Some Amazing Fish
by Michelle Beadle, Palmer member

I spent a week in July helping the Fish and Wildlife Service Fisheries crew at the Kwethluk Fish Weir in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Due to high water lingering into summer, the weir had only been “fish tight” for a couple days prior to my arrival. Having fish identification experience myself, I spent lots of time helping with the fish counts to free up the crew for buttoning up other projects. Fish passing through the weir are counted and monitored by video 24 hours a day. Chinook, sockeye, and chum made up the bulk of the fish observed with occasional pink salmon and whitefish showing up as well. 

Saw Some Amazing Fish by Michelle Beadle, Palmer member

My time at the weir was great fun. I learned a lot about what it takes to run a weir on a large river system. The crew lead from the Kenai Fisheries Office, Derek, and the workers from the nearby village of Kwethluk were a pleasure to work with and shared a wealth of knowledge. The peacefulness offered by the remote tundra and adventure of traveling along the rivers rounded out the experience. I am looking forward to many more adventures in Western Alaska!

The fish trap is also closed for a short time each day, which allowed us to live capture fish to record age, sex, and length before releasing the fish upstream.  pc: Rory Spellman

Rory Spellman, Soldotna Friend, and Ryan Peyton, Anchorage Friend, also volunteered at the weir.

Would I do it Again?
In a Heartbeat:  Berry Monitoring on Kodiak Island

by Moira O’Malley, Fairbanks Friend

You may have heard of Exploratory Botanist Steve Perlman “going to extremes by descending remote cliff faces to save Hawaii’s most endangered native plants from extinction”.   Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge has their own Extreme Wildlife Biologist- Bill Pyle.  Bill is on a mission to help save the Kodiak bears by monitoring berries- salmon, blue, elder, and devil’s club. I assisted him for 3 1/2 weeks this summer. 

Berry monitoring with Bill is not for the faint of heart. First of all, you have to get to the remote sites by a Beaver Cub float plane; weather permitting, of course. It’s often a waiting game. Once at the site, be prepared to stay in a public use cabin with no running water (Uganik), a teepee (Red Lake, my favorite), the ‘posh’ Camp Island (Karluk), and the bunkhouse (Kodiak). Then the fun begins. Kodiak bushwhacking features steep climbs, scrambling through stinging nettles, burning poochki (wild celery), tussocks, ‘root grabbers’, all while under relentless attack by mozzies (mosquitoes), no-see-ums, white socks, and biting flies.  And dealing with cold soggy fingers and keeping the data dry! On one site, I was perched on a 140-degree slope barely hanging on by the ‘skin’ of my boots with my heels dug into the wet, muddy, slippery soil to keep from sliding down the incline!

My job was writing down data as it was given to me, often shouted from a distance. Alders became my friend. They not only provided shade, but the branches offered a comfortable place to sit while collecting data.

Oh, the views, wildlife, and flora of Kodiak Island! What an unforgettable experience!  Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

The Set Up Crew:  Banding Ducks was a Bonus
by John and Lyn Kennedy, Soldotna Friends

We spent the first three days of our week building and setting up the duck banding traps in Deadman and Yarger lakes at Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. The traps consisted of 40 foot long rolls of chicken wire prepped with a door to be used by banders to enter the trap and retrieve the ducks. We boated the materials to the desired area in the lakes and held the traps in place with ground rods. Then an opening was fashioned to allow the ducks to swim into the trap and bird netting was attached creating a roof so the ducks weren’t able to fly out. Traps were baited with barley and corn and fingers were crossed hoping the ducks would come.

It was early in the season so we went with the expectation that we would just be setting things up and not actually banding any ducks, so for us it was a bonus.  Lin Kennedy prepping duck for banding.

On the fourth day, we actually caught some ducks.  Deputy Refuge Manager Ross Flagen was in his element teaching how to determine if it was a juvenile or a mature duck, male or female.   After that a band was put around a leg, and they were sent along their merry way.   As John and I were newbies to this and have no birding experience, it was very educational.

 It was a fun, informative week.  We enjoyed being able to experience the Tetlin Refuge.  The staff we encountered were all very friendly, excited and appreciative to have “Friends” at their refuge.  John and I would both be more than happy to go back again.

Great Weather if You like it Hot with Thunder and Lightning.
by Dan Musgrove, Soldotna Friend

Our second week team of Dan Musgrove and Jerry Hupp had to be very adaptable to the extreme weather conditions.  The three teams after them were canceled due to the high water making it impossible to trap ducks.  Hear what Dan had to say. 

Dan Musgrove with the outhouse he was building as part of the Scottie Creek historic cabin’s transition to a public use cabin.

Due to the hot weather and high water levels duck banding was not good and we only got three ducks the first day. We ended up adding a couple more traps on Deadman Lake for later on in the season.  After that we switched gears and started working at Scottie Creek Cabin.  The Tetlin Refuge was turning this historic cabin into a public use cabin. We helped build an outhouse and enhanced the trail going into the cabin. We lined the trail with sawdust, which took two large dump trailers full from Tok.

We had great weather if you like it hot with thunder and lightning.  Thermometer in the shade of the Northway gas station showed almost 90 degrees!  I had a great time volunteering and would recommend it to everyone. Thanks again for these opportunities.

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Reports from the Field: Friends Volunteers in Action

by Poppy Benson, Friends Board Vice President

We have over 20 volunteers out this summer and fall and here are the early reports.

Galbraith Lake Bunkhouse – The area “is to die for”, said Friends volunteer Bev Cronen about her work site at Galbraith Lake in the Arctic Refuge. “There aren’t very many places you can look in every direction and see wilderness and beauty.”  Bev and her husband Louis Dupree of Homer drove their camper up the Dalton Highway to help the refuge assemble the insides of a new bunkhouse.  Bev went on to say that they really enjoyed the refuge people and volunteers they worked with and were glad to be a part of this.  She praised their supervisor Paul Banyas for his flexibility and adaptability as they had several surprises when they arrived at Galbraith Lake after a long day of packing the trailer with furniture parts, tools, and supplies and pulling it up the Haul Road.  They arrived at 11 pm, only to find that the bunkhouse still had carpenters working in it and the old bunkhouse was full of archeologists.  Thank goodness Louis and Bev had their camper but Paul made it all work. 

First meal on the newly assembled table in the new Galbraith Lake bunkhouse. From L to R – Refuge Intern Clay, hired carpenters Zack and; Nathan, Refuge maintenance worker Paul Banyas, Friend Louie Dupree, and refuge volunteer Ken. It was an amiable group that finished the work in time  to go hiking. pc:: Bev Cronen.

Kenai River Festival, Soldotna. Every year we help the Kenai Refuge at their booth and do outreach of our own at the Kenai River Festival in early June.  Volunteer participation was great this year under Marie McConnell’s leadership. Seven friends volunteered: Marie, Lynne Schmidt, Dan Musgrove, Becky Hutchinson, Anna Haylock, Carolyn Weathers who helped with the refuge activities and Michelle Semerad who came from Anchorage to help.  Marie reported attendance at the festival seemed to be down and more of a tourist audience than in prior years.   

Marie McConnell and Lynne Schmidt of Soldotna at the Friends outreach table at the Kenai River Festival in June. pc: USFWS

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From Bethel to Soldotna to Homer to Fairbanks; Friends were reaching out in April and May.

by Poppy Benson, Friends Board Vice President

From a Ducks Unlimited Banquet in Bethel to The Month of the Military Child in Fairbanks, Friends were reaching out to new and old audiences spreading the word about Friends and Alaska’s incredible 16 National Wildlife Refuges.  

Birders flocked to the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer in early May giving us our biggest opportunity to recruit new members and talk up all the refuges beyond the Alaska Maritime with which we cosponsor the festival.  Sixteen Friends from Soldotna, Anchorage, Homer and Colorado worked our outreach booth for 4 days signing up 40 new and renewing members.  Most also volunteered with other Festival events as well.  Beyond the booth, we had opportunities to reach out to this audience of Alaskans and lower 48 birders at the keynote event and again at the Birder’s Coffee which we host.  

Friend Susan Watkin’s painting of a moose crossing through the refuge’s Sterling Highway wildlife underpass served as a photo booth and a highlight of the Kenai Refuge exhibit at the Sports and Recreation show in Soldotna.  Five Friends under Marie McConnell’s leadership worked at a Friends table co-located with the Kenai Refuge allowing Friends to help with fun refuge activities, share their knowledge of the Kenai Refuge and recruit members.  This was a different audience with important ties to the Kenai Refuge and 12 new members were recruited.

Becky Wick and Tim Shipman work the Friends booth at the Soldotna Sports and Recreation Show.  The 12 new members recruited at the Show bring Friends membership in the Kenai/Soldotna area to 50.  pc: Marie McConnell

Also on the Kenai, the refuge’s Greenup, Cleanup service project turned into an outreach event when Friend Becky Wick showed up with 10 members of her hiking group.   Plenty of opportunities to chat about Friends while cleaning up three refuge campgrounds and access roads on Saturday and the refuge’s muti use trail on Friday.  Tim Shipman, long time Team Friends organizer, remarked that the campgrounds were cleaner this year.  

Although not technically an outreach event, our members turned the Kenai Refuge Greenup, Cleanup into one by inviting friends, family and a hiking club.  L to R Dan Moultrie, Becky Wick, Dan Musgrove and Robin Musgrove.  pc: Marie McConnell

Ten people flying from Alabama to Bethel for dinner was just one unexpected twist to our first ever Bethel outreach event.  When Yukon Delta’s Refuge Manager, Boyd Blihovde, told his new Friends liaison, Ryan Peyton, that he wanted to see Friends do an event in Bethel like a Ducks Unlimited (DU) banquet, he was talking to the right guy.  Ryan, a long time DU member, quickly saw the benefit in developing a relationship between the waterfowl rich refuge and the waterfowl group who has done so much for habitat conservation.  Ryan hosted a Friends’ outreach table at the DU banquet adjacent to the refuge’s information table.  The DU banquet is the biggest conservation event in Bethel with over 125 people attending including the 10 from Alabama.  Ryan hopes he set the stage for a greater role in next year’s event and other cooperative activities with DU.

Ryan Peyton, a long time Ducks Unlimited (DU) member and Yukon Delta Refuge liaison, staffed our first ever outreach effort in Bethel at the Bethel DU Banquet.  About 125 people attended including people from out of state.  pc: Laurie Boeck/USFWS

Military children and families are an important part of the Fairbanks community.  Due to refuge staff transfers, the northern refuges were at risk of being a no-show at the community event marking Month of the Military Child.  Arctic Refuge’s Friends liaison Jeff Walter came to the rescue and singlehandedly ran the northern refuges’ booth which was visited by at least 90 people, half of them children.  The focus here was not on Friends recruitment but interesting the kids and families from Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base in wildlife and wildlife refuges.

Jeff Walters, Friends Arctic Refuge liaison, was the sole staffer for the northern refuges booth at a Fairbanks community event celebrating the Month of the Military Child.  About 90 people, half of them children, stopped at his table.

This spring was an exciting time of growth for Friends outreach due to the new audiences, diversity of locations and sheer numbers of Friends who volunteered.  Thanks to all who helped.

Volunteer! Volunteer! Volunteer!

Friend Sharon Baur teaching at the Shorebird Festival; pc: USFWS

Teaching in Arctic Village; duck banding in Tetlin, maintenance at Galbraith Lake and on the Kwethluk River, event planning, spring clean-ups, hosting an art show, showing kids the great outdoors and reaching out to the public  – the refuges are asking for our help in a big way!  Refuges from Alaska Maritime to the Yukon Delta have come back from the pandemic drought in volunteer projects to requesting our help with more than 15 projects.  Most of these are now posted on our Volunteer Page along with the Volunteer Application

Friends duck banding on Tetlin Refuge in 2022; pc: USFWS

Please consider donating some time to help a refuge this year.  You could make a big difference.  Projects range from a 10 day commitment at Izembek to a two hour shift at an outreach table in Homer, Soldotna, Kodiak, or Fairbanks.  How about spring in Homer at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, May 3 to 7.  Friends cosponsors the Festival and we need volunteers as bird guides, Friends outreach table, event help and much more.  If you are in Anchorage or Fairbanks, help is needed for outdoor schools for upper elementary children.  Opening a child’s eyes to nature is really our only hope for the future of wild places and wildlife. The outdoor schools are coming up quickly as well.  Closing dates for applications vary but some are as soon as March 30.  

There truly is something for everyone in our project list.  In addition, both the Kenai and the Alaska Maritime Refuge will have projects not yet listed that will need help throughout the year.  Watch for those. For more information go to the Volunteer Page or contact us at

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Kodiak Report: What a great trip!!

By: Leslie Slater, Friends Kodiak Refuge Liaison

Let me back up and tell you all about the trip that Friends’ Vice President Poppy Benson and I as Kodiak Refuge Liaison had the pleasure of taking in October around National Wildlife Refuge Week.

The Refuge had asked us to come help with events, but we also had things we wanted to accomplish with several local groups. The Friends group has a small footprint in Kodiak and we wanted to increase that by telling folks what our mission is, how we can help them, and encourage them to join Friends.First up was a volunteer appreciation event cohosted with the Kodiak Refuge that acknowledged the efforts of people who contributed their time to Kodiak Refuge projects. The refuge normally held these events annually, but had been unable to do so over the past two years due to the pandemic. More than 30 people attended on a blustery, rainy evening, and we helped lure them in by providing locally catered finger foods. Most of the refuge’s volunteers have been assisting with projects for several years, and one began his association with refuge projects in the 1970s!

The following day, with only an occasional bit of precip falling and the tiniest bit of blue sky taunting us, we set up a Friends table under a tent shared with the refuge at the “Walk for the Wild” event. The refuge visitors services staff set up a walking route that had trivia questions posted throughout and a photo scavenger hunt. Walkers set off with their clip boards and answer sheets to win rewards based on the number of correct answers. With 103 participants, this was the largest Walk for the Wild in Alaska. Many, many families with small children participated and all seemed to have a very good time. And personally, there was a bonus…. I even ticked a bucket-list item off: donning (and dancing in!) the brown bear costume that the refuge keeps on hand for such events.

Kodiak Refuge Manager Michael Brady; bear; Kodiak Volunteer Coordinator Erin Strand, with the photo stop at the Walk for the Wild banner.  pc. Poppy Benson

The next day we were part of a small group who conducted a beach clean-up at White Sands Beach.  It’s a few miles out of town and gets a lot of use… many firepits contained a lot of nails leftover from burning pallets.  It felt good to leave the site much cleaner than it had been.

The “loot” from beach cleaning efforts with Ranger Gretchen Mominee. pc Erin Strand

Our last big public event was hosting the October Friends meeting, Tracking Puffins Across the Kodiak Archipelago.  It was an electronic challenge in linking three remote locations (Portland, Homer, Soldotna) and a zoom audience to the live meeting occurring in the Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center, but it seemed to have gone off without a hitch.  Twenty-six attended in Kodiak with a total audience from all locations and zoom land of 115.   

 Kodiak Refuge Avian Biologist Robin Corcoran presenting to the Friends monthly meeting live to the Kodiak audience as well as the zoom and watch party audiences.  Pc Poppy Benson

Poppy and I also met with the Kodiak Audubon Chapter’s board of directors, the refuge’s new Community Affairs Liaison, Amy Peterson, at her office at Koniag and the president of the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust to encourage further communications, and hopefully, partner with them on future conservation projects.

Lastly, we had a sit-down meeting with refuge staff, to outline what Friends could do for them and discuss what they most need from us.  We gained five new members on this trip but planted lots of seeds for future partnerships.  And, did I mention, the party at the Refuge Manager’s house?

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Tim Shipman, event leader and Outreach Committee member, always makes sure his crew gets fed. Building the fire for the hot dog roast. pc: Wally Hufford

Always a Good Day to Help a Refuge

By: Poppy Benson, Friends VP, Homer

Under the able leadership of Soldotna Friend Tim Shipman, seven Friends plus friends of Friends did their part in the Kenai Refuge’s Green-up, Clean-up on May 13 and 14.  We spruced up two campgrounds and the multi purpose trail and Ski Hill road.  A hot dog roast under sunny skies rewarded the trash pickers.

Nikiski Friends members Elizabeth and Wally Hufford tackling campground trash. pc Tim Shipman

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