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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

INNOKO: Adventurous Volunteers Work for Conservation and Build Memories in Remote Alaska.

Region 0, September 27, 2012
Summer Volunteers headed into the Wilds of the Alaskan Interior.
Summer Volunteers headed into the Wilds of the Alaskan Interior. - Photo Credit: n/a
Volunteers headed out for a day on the refuge collecting biological data and making memories!
Volunteers headed out for a day on the refuge collecting biological data and making memories! - Photo Credit: n/a

High pitched bells could be heard ringing in the cool, spring, May air on the main road running through McGrath, Alaska. As the sound grew, the occasional shout or laugh became audible along with the sound of sliding rubber tires on the dirt road. Interrupting the regular quiet of the small town, riding bicycles, this group of raucous outsiders called themselves the BioHazards. Only in McGrath for three weeks these youthful individuals were training for their volunteer biological technician (BioTech) positions to be carried out at the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge for three and a half months. The BioHazards, excited for a summer of exciting possibilities, consisted of Tivous DeWeese (Tennessee), Genevieve Fuller (Colorado), Kelsey Lorberau (Washington), Laura McMahon (California), Kim Nichols (Hawaii), Tyler Saltmer (Pennsylvania), and Nathan Starzynski (Illinois).

Our goals for the summer of 2012 were to gather field data for several different projects carried out regularly in the Refuge. Land-cover Assessments were carried out to discover exactly what kind of habitat exists in certain points. The Moose Browse Surveys indicated the types and level of browsing the moose applied to the plant life of Innoko. These were the early projects using several boats on the Innoko River.

 

Beyond the work that we had to do, we enjoyed the splendors of living in the remote wilds of the Alaskan bush. We could be seen taking an icy cold swim in the camp lake as a mother moose and her offspring looked on indifferently. An occasional bout of stumbling over logs and bits of prickly rose would commence with the start of a game of kick ball in center camp. The savory smell of steak on a grill would waft from the kitchen cabin and draw all of us together joking and laughing.

After several weeks mostly isolated from the broader world, we found ourselves with a sudden influx of company. In early July, a group of Wildlife Biologists from the USFWS Migratory Bird Management Program came to stay at the field camp and band waterfowl on the refuge. Their float planes were the awe of our group. We were lucky enough to participate in the bird-banding and were extremely enthusiastic about it. Soaring above the Innoko River, lakes, bogs and the occasional hill in a float plane was more than we could hope for during our summer experiences.

When August was nearly upon us the need to migrate downriver grew too strong to resist. Three hours downriver we set up our tents and bear fences and prepared to collect new data. The first week sleeping on the ground was marred by the persistent clouds and general wetness making the collection of vegetation survey data uncomfortable. The small mammal trapping was also affected by the chilly weather. However, not too long after that the sun shone through and made living on a cut-bank much more enjoyable. The good weather also brought along the good fortune of a visit from a wolf on the opposite bank from spike camp. The excitement of such a sighting was almost too much to handle for a few group members.

As the summer grew to a close we became aware of how hard it would be to assimilate back into society and our usual lives. Even more so, how difficult it would be to say good-bye to one another. Though the BioHazards were forced to part ways, we will always remember the great times we had out in the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge.

Written by Genevieve Fuller

Contact Info: Bo Sloan, 907-524-3251, bo_sloan@fws.gov