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