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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@alaskarefugefriends.org.  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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Conserving the Whole Lifecycle of Salmon: Gravel to Gravel in Alaska


Tuesday, April 16, 5-6 pm AKDT

Presented by Boyd Blihovde
Senior Advisor for Conservation, USFWS Alaska

This presentation was recorded.  Watch below:

Salmon have been in trouble in western Alaska and for a long time.  The people of the rivers who depend on salmon for much of their food resources and cultural identity are hurting.  Boyd Blihovde, head of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s new Gravel to Gravel Initiative, will share with us this situation and his hopes for what this new approach will bring.  Boyd, then manager of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge,  was in the thick of it in 2022 when salmon conservation discussions reached a peak in the villages of Western Alaska and beyond.  Protecting Pacific Salmon’s entire lifecycle (from the spawning grounds to the ocean, and back to the spawning grounds) was not a new concept.  

Yukon River smokehouse.  Putting up salmon for the winter.  pc  S. Zuray

However, during several hearings and listening sessions with villages and tribes, it became clear that rebuilding salmon runs across Alaska was critical for indigenous people and other rural subsistence users. Leadership from the Department of Interior heard this message from the Tribes and responded with Gravel to Gravel.  It is one of nine “Keystone Initiatives” in the United States that are being prioritized by the Department of Interior to focus agency attention and resources on priority conservation issues. The primary goal of Gravel to Gravel is, through tribal engagement and participation, to restore salmon streams and ensure food security to subsistence users within the lower-Arctic, Yukon, and Kuskokwim region of Alaska and into Canada.   However, Boyd added that “we hope our efforts just bring back salmon numbers for everyone and all users.”  Our vision is: “With Tribes centered, we unite to care for salmon, from gravel to gravel.


Fish drying racks and fishing boats are a key part of life in the salmon dependent villages of western Alaska pc USFWS

Bio: Boyd Blihovde is the Senior Advisor for Conservation at the USFWS Regional Office in Anchorage. He was the Refuge Manager at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge based in Bethel, Alaska, from 2020 to August 2023. Prior to moving to Alaska, Boyd was the Refuge Manager at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, located in Los Fresnos, Texas.  He began his Service experience in 1989 as a GS-3, Youth Conservation Corp member at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge eventually moving on to the University of Central Florida, receiving a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology.  Boyd studied and researched sea turtles on Archie Carr Refuge Canaveral National Seashore, and Puerto Rico and conducted research and wrote his thesis on the terrestrial behavior and site fidelity of gopher frogs.

More recently, Boyd and his wife Gisela have focused more attention on their twins (Ava and Taylor). Boyd writes “The kids have been a lot of fun and have changed our focus from work and self to family and fun.”




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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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Three Amazing Rivers of the Central Yukon Watershed with Refuge Manager David Zabriskie

Friends Membership Meeting
This event was held on Tuesday, March 19, 5-6 pm AKDT



Friends joined us at the following locations: 
Homer
– Watch Party at Alaska Maritime Refuge Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Hwy.

Soldotna – Watch Party at Kenai Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road

Anchorage– Watch Party at BP Energy Center, Spruce/Willow Room,1014 Energy Ct.

Three wildlife-rich refuges along the central Yukon River are named after the rivers that define them – Koyukuk, Innoko and Nowitna.  Ecologically speaking, these rivers are the heart and lifeblood of the three National Wildlife Refuges.   They are also the primary access to the refuges for the people of the central Yukon and beyond. Refuge Manager David Zabriskie who is the manager for all three refuges, will share with us his work to protect the Nowitna River, a National Wild and Scenic River, and more broadly the role all three of these rivers play in the lives of the wildlife and the people of the Central Yukon River Watershed.  For a preview of this beautiful river David will be sharing with you, check out this two minute video.
 
The Nowitna River with the Kokrine Hills in the background.  pc: USFWS

David Zabriskie’s Bio: After working as a U.S. Navy Aviation Electronics Technician for four years, David pursued his passion for conservation, completing a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife/forestry and began his Fish and Wildlife Service career through the Student Career Experience Program at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. From there, he gained valuable experience working in the diverse landscapes of Mississippi, remote Pacific Islands, Tennessee, Alaska, and Arizona before returning to Alaska to work in Galena as the Deputy Manager and now Refuge Manager.  


David Zabriskie on the Selawik Refuge

David’s travels have provided him with the opportunity to work with diverse partners and communities across the country on amazing rivers like the Tennessee River and Colorado River. He has also led the Alaska Region’s first Comprehensive River Management Plan for the Nowitna Wild and Scenic River. In his spare time, David’s interests in photography and herpetology often lead him to remote locations around the planet for new discoveries.




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Do You Want to Visit a Refuge?! Let’s go to the Aleutians

Do You Want to See the Aleutians? by Poppy Benson, Vice President for Outreach

February 2024’s presentation on the Aleut prehistory of the Aleutian Islands, might get you thinking, I want to go there.  So how?  Yes, the Aleutians are remote and stormy with minimal transportation but it is possible to visit at least a part of this fabulous volcanic island chain of seabirds and seals, wild flowers and wind, ancient ways and WWII history.  Nearly all of the Aleutians are in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Although there were hundreds of villages precontact there are only five now: Akutan, Unalaska, Nikolski, Atka and Adak, there are only 5 now.   Each has some form of commercial air transportation, but it may not be often and can be unreliable due to weather. Dutch Harbor/Unalaska and Adak are the easiest to access.   

Unalaska has it all: birds, whales, fish, culture, history, hiking, kayaking, volcanoes and fine accommodations.  The ferry Tustumena makes a monthly 3 day trip from Homer stopping for a full day in Kodiak with a chance to visit the  Kodiak Refuge and an afternoon in Cold Bay where Izembek Refuge staff may take you on a tour of refuge lands. Other village stops in Chignik Bay, Sand Point, King Cove and False Pass are brief but memorable.

Unalaska is famous with birders as the easiest place to see the whiskered auklet, a bird found only in the Aleutians and adjacent Russian islands.

Give yourself time to experience Unalaska by staying a few days and flying back.  A fine hotel, the Grand Aleutian, other lodging options and numerous restaurants make visiting comfortable.  Local guides can take you birding or to WWII sites.  Culture and history abound here with a historic Russian Orthodox Church, the Museum of the Aleutians, and the World War II Historic Site and Museum.  Most of the island is in the refuge.

Adak, 450 miles farther out the chain, is a very different experience.  Once a military base that was home to over 5000, only about 170 live there now.  The abandoned, crumbling base would make a good set for a zombie movie.  But the island boasts beaches, a lagoon packed with otters and Emperor geese, hiking trails, rare birds blown in from Asia, fishing and caribou and ptarmigan hunting.  Constructed almost overnight during WWII, Adak was an important base right up to the 1990s.  Alaska Air flies twice a week and mileage tickets can be cheap.  Former military housing, now privately owned, can be rented but bring your food as shopping is minimal.  The Alaska Maritime Refuge has a satellite office with a few exhibits.  Bird companies lead tours to Adak for the fall and spring migration. 


Dutch Harbor, Unalaska’s port, is the number one fishing port in the US and the burly fishing fleet, popularized in the reality show Deadliest Catch, adds a unique element.

The small villages of Akutan, Nikolski and Atka are much harder to visit.  Grant Aviation flies but weather can shut them down for days on end.  Nikolski has a small lodge but in the other villages you need to speak to the village corporation to find out about housing.   This would be quite an experience for the self-sufficient and culturally aware person.  

To visit any of the other 70 plus islands in the chain you will have to find a boat.  In some years, a cruise ship will pass through the chain visiting uninhabited islands.  Search online because no company does it regularly.  Attu, the holy grail of birding and WWII history, is nearly impossible to get to since the Coast Guard left in 2010 leaving the island uninhabited with no maintenance on the runway.  Attu, the last island in the chain, was occupied by the Japanese and the site of a major WWII battle. A fascinating place but I just don’t think you can get there now.  But visit what you can of this wildlife refuge so unique in wildlife, land forms and history.  




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Nunivak Island: Home on the Range

By Kyra Neal, Wildlife Biologist, Yukon Delta Refuge

About 30 miles offshore from where the Kuskokwim River meets the Bering Sea, nestled in Shoal Bay, there is a small island village called Mekoryuk, home to around 200 mostly Yup’ik and Cup’ik people. In this place, the mayor is the same person who takes the trash trolley to the transfer station, the city office workers are the same people who teach kindergarten, the reindeer caretaker is the same person who jump started your ATV, and the elders stop by the roadside to share wisdom of their years growing up and to welcome you to their community on Nunivak Island.Data gap plot on the western side of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea.

Nunivak Island is also home to 700 muskox and 3,000 reindeer. Grazing has occurred on Nunivak Island for hundreds of years, first by caribou until they were extirpated in the late 1800s and then by introduced reindeer and muskox in the last century.  The condition of their range was evaluated intensively in 1989 with 10 trend plots involving 40 quadrats and two transects for each location.
Kyra Neal pulling fall dandelion near the Mekoryuk sewage lagoon road.

Since 1989, Nunivak Island has become increasingly connected to mainland Alaska with more flights, boating, muskox hunting, and tourism. Consequently, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2022 and 2023 to reevaluate the range condition and survey the island and village of Mekoryuk for invasive species at two different spatial scales. One is a fine-tooth comb and the other is more of a broad-stroke brush.


Reindeer at the facility in Mekoryuk
Let’s start with combing the luxurious locks of the tundra. Arriving at each plot via an R-44 helicopter, we applied the same methodology to evaluate range that was used in 1989. Within these 40 20×50 cm quadrats, we estimated ground cover for each species including lichen, shrubs, forbs, grasses, bare ground, rocks, and even scat. In 10 of these quadrats, we measured production by a double sampling clip and weigh method. Changes in ground cover and productivity will tell us how grazing has affected the range. Certain lichens are favorites of reindeer and can be depleted to bare ground exposure when overgrazing occurs. For invasives, we scouted disturbed areas in Mekoryuk by foot and in our monitoring areas, combing the tundra for anything out of place. Roads, barge ports, ATV trails, airstrips were all observed by foot in search of non-native species and plots with a high percentage of bare soil. 

Pulling out our broad-stoke brush, range was surveyed between the established transects. Using NRCS reconnaissance methods, we scored range conditions based on evaluating the amounts of lichen, bare soil, presence of grazing and scat on two acres between transects.  For our invasive species broad brush, we evaluated bare soil vectors for invasive species to get to the interior of the island. We used aerial imagery of ATV trails and disturbed areas to help us identify potential hot spots for introduction of non-native plants to the ecosystem. 

One of our 20×50 cm quadrats used for sampling ground cover to assess the condition of the range.  

What did we uncover? Well, good news and bad news. The good news is there are no invasive species on the Yukon Delta Refuge. The bad news is we did find some fall dandelion on the road leading to the airport and up to the sewage lagoon in Mekoryuk. We removed as much of the fall dandelions as could be done by hand and notified the village council president of our finding. Our range evaluation showed that the western side of Nunivak was heavily grazed, but the rest of the island has high quality grazing range for reindeer to enjoy!

Plot transects laid out by Karin Sonnen and Katie Schmidt (L) while Blaine Spellman collects data (R) on an established transect.  All three work for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.




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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.




Open post

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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