By: Poppy Benson, Friends Vice President
By: Poppy Benson, Friends Vice President
By: Nancy Deschu, Friends member and retired hydrologist from Anchorage. She is the refuge liaison for Alaska-Peninsula/Becharof Refuges.
Our Friends’ trip to Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Memorial Day weekend was all about water. It was sunny and hot and the refuge was in flood stage. Our original plan to canoe and flag a trail along Desper Creek changed – the water was so high camp sites would be flooded and it would be impossible to paddle back upstream. After bringing breakfast to the refuge staff, we eight Friends helped Ranger Tim Lorenzini with the annual roadside cleanup. We then trailered refuge canoes to Deadman Lake for use by refuge visitors, and set up camp at Deadman Lake. Over the next four days, we made site visits to check on trails and flood conditions along the refuge’s north boundary all the way to the border of Canada.
Water from snow melt, glacial melt, and rainfall in the Nutzotin and Mentasta mountains drives the vast wetlands of the Tetlin Refuge. The Chisana River (meaning “Rock River” in Upper Tanana language) and the Nabesna River (meaning “Along the Muddy River” in Ahtna language) head in high peaks in Wrangell St Elias National Park and Preserve, then flow north about 70 miles, and pour into the refuge. Hot, sunny weather in May caused extreme melting in a year with high snowpack so we found high water wherever we went. The boat ramp at Scottie Creek was two feet underwater.
We estimated the high flow at the Scottie Creek bridge by dropping sticks from the bridge and timing the flow of sticks over a set distance with a stopwatch. We estimated the surface flow to be nearly three feet per second, which is quite fast for the low gradient and otherwise sluggish Scottie Creek. The lake level at Hidden Lake had risen so much that it floated and then swamped two jon boats stashed in the lakeshore spruce woods.
Friends in the birding blind in Tetlin Refuge’s Lakeview Campground. pc: Poppy Benson
We canoed the entire shoreline of Deadman Lake looking at birds and potential backcountry campsites. Highlights were several species of warblers flying out of spruce trees over the water to feed on insects, horned grebes, swans and Hudsonian godwits. We sighted 40 bird species on the refuge including a diversity of ducks. Ducks were abundant on Yarger Lake, but noticeably fewer were observed on Deadman Lake. No waterfowl were observed on Hidden Lake.
Nancy Deschu and two girls from the campground examine captured aquatic invertebrates. pc: Tom Chard
At Deadman Lake we sieved the shallows for aquatic invertebrates. A joyful happenstance was meeting two girls who were fascinated with invertebrates and netting their own trove. We exchanged specimens in our makeshift aquaria and spent considerable time identifying and observing the creatures. The girls’ knowledge was impressive!
Although our Tetlin trip was not what we had planned, we were able to contribute our observations on the refuge during unusually high water and enjoy camping and birding on the refuge.
By: Dan Musgrove; Soldotna, Alaska
In March of 2022 I joined Ralph Kiehl along with Ranger Tim Lorenzini of the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge for the purpose of maintaining remote cabins on the refuge. Over a one week period the work involved cutting firewood, repairing a cabin porch, inventorying cabin supplies, hauling propane and a generator and taking snow depths for biologists. The fun involved meeting new people, seeing a refuge I had not been to, ice fishing, snow machining and sharing meals.
Stuver Lake Cabin jhkhhhhhh Jatahmund Cabin
Once in Tok, Ralph and I attended a snow machine safety class, gathered gear for the trip and enjoyed eating at Fast Eddies, the one restaurant in town. Our destination for this project was approximately 80 miles towards the Canadian border, with our first stop for staging at the Seaton Roadhouse. Once the snow machines were unloaded and packed we proceeded along for another 25 miles, stopping along the way to take snow depth measurements that would help the biologists.
The first cabin we reached was the Stuver Lake Cabin with a stunning lake view. After two days at this cabin shoveling snow, cutting wood and making repairs we headed another 15 miles to Jatahmund Lake Cabin where we spent another 2 days. We were greeted with the sight of 15 caribou on the lake. At this cabin in addition to cutting wood, shoveling snow off roof structures, our repairs included building a new toilet seat for the outhouse!
Tim measuring snow depth. hhkkkkkkkkkkkhjkk Repairing Stuver Lake cabin porch floor.
Other duties as assigned. Dan builds an outhouse seat.
Dan was a wood-splitting machine.
Ralph stacking wood.
Jatahmund Cabin provided amazing mountain views, sunsets, and daily sightings of caribou near the cabin. The ice fishing here was incredibly fun! Maybe a few fish tales to tell!
Ranger Tim kept Ralph and me well-fed throughout the trip, cooking was done inside the cabins on propane stoves. Gathering clean snow for drinking and cooking was a daily occurrence.
Tim and Jahtumend Lake pike.
My favorite part of this volunteer opportunity was seeing new country and sharing in the work of maintaining a refuge. Volunteering with the Refuge was gratifying and satisfying. I highly recommend volunteering if an opportunity comes your way.
I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of Camp Goonzhii earlier this fall. The annual Science and Culture camp was held at the school in Arctic Village in early September. For three days, the students and teachers at the school, the camp instructors, and members of the community shared activities and stories about the environment, traditional culture and the refuge.
The six instructors took turns filling in all the blocks in the school schedule, alternately doing activities with the different age groups. I led the session on Aquatic Macroinvertebrates, starting with a field trip to the stream by the school to see what we could get into our bug nets.
After our collected samples settled overnight, we observed and sorted what we found and talked about what the aquatic organisms needed to live, and what needed them, and their role in the river environment overall. The fast moving scuds and erratic water boatmen were by far the favorites!
Related activities included traditional fishing and how to build a fish trap and an art project where the students did invertebrate art based on what we saw in the stream. There were also class activities and games such as learning about lynx, soundscapes and plastic pollution.
A big thank you to Allyssa Morris and Katherine Monroe at USFWS for all the organizing, to the school for hosting us, and to Friends of AK Wildlife Refuges for sending folks out on these volunteer opportunities. The Friends group also supported a community dinner at the school.
There were a number of hugs from small people when school ended on Friday!
Filed by Betty Siegel, Friends Volunteer Coordinator
Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge’s weed pulls on the Haul Road have taken place every summer since August 2006 with dozens of Friends volunteering for the 24 opportunities. After that initial project involving various agencies such as USFWS, BLM, NPS, AmeriCorps, and others, weed pulls occurred twice each year until June 2018 from the Kanuti River MP 105.8 (just south of the Arctic Circle) north to most recently the Dietrich River MP 207(north of the community of Wiseman), more than 100 miles. Recent efforts to eliminate all seed production were concentrated on all river crossings and culverts which moved westward toward the Kanuti Refuge. Staff and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges (Friends) and others were concerned these waterways would become routes for dispersal of invasive White Sweet clover (Melilotus alba) into the Refuge. This non-native plant readily invades open and disturbed areas and has established extensive areas along early successional, gravel river bars elsewhere in Alaska and rapidly colonized the Dalton Highway corridor. In addition, invasive Bird Vetch (Viccia cracca) is growing within the Dalton Highway Corridor and downriver. These populations are all expanding. Control efforts have focused on manual pulling, but have also included mechanical and cultural control.
The current political climate has resulted in decreased funding for refuges and other public lands. This translated to many staffing shortages and cuts to various programs each year. Now this shortage has made it impossible to continue the project in 2018. Additionally, refuge staff indicate future efforts may include conducting early detection/rapid response surveys along rivers downstream of the Dalton Highway and within the Refuge so any newly established colonies of invasive plants can be controlled and eliminated quickly. They hope to involve Friends as these plans are developed so that there may be some volunteer opportunities in 2019.
During the 14 years volunteers signed on to work outside along the highway removing white sweet clover and bird vetch for long hours in dirty, dusty, hot or cold, wet or dry, occasionally smoky, and frequently buggy conditions, sleeping in dry cabins, going without showers. Many returned to do it all again as the benefits were tremendous, primarily having the experience of just being up there. There were opportunities for berrying, wildlife viewing, fishing, cooling off in the rivers, hiking, traveling to the grandeur of Atigun Pass, visiting Wiseman, Galbraith Lake, and Toolik Lake, and spending time in the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center (AIVC) chatting to Haul Road tourists about refuges.
And then there was the food! Huge burgers and pulled pork sandwiches and shakes at the Hot Spot on the drive from Fairbanks to Coldfoot; breakfast and lunch makings and snacks provided by the refuge; and those fantastic Coldfoot Camp Buffets for dinner!
Perhaps the biggest rewards were the friendships that developed over the shared experiences: Staff from all three Fairbanks refuges, AIVC staff, and Friends volunteers worked side by side, from managers to seasonal interns, volunteers from age 16 to “in the 70s”, all with a commitment to protect our public lands and our wildlife for ourselves and future generations.
While I’m sad for this project to end suddenly, I look forward to hearing about alternative projects for monitoring/control. Stay tuned!
-Betty Siegel (So fortunate to have participated in 22 of the 24 weed pulls!)