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KANUTI: Pulling Together We Can Win!
Alaska Region, July 9, 2010
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Troy and Lori Zaumseil's presentation about the threats invasive, non-native weeds pose to wildlife habitat in Alaska was well-received by an attentive audience in Allakaket. June 19, 2010. FWS photo.
Troy and Lori Zaumseil's presentation about the threats invasive, non-native weeds pose to wildlife habitat in Alaska was well-received by an attentive audience in Allakaket. June 19, 2010. FWS photo. - Photo Credit: n/a
Troy and Lori Zaumseil, the founders of Citizens Against Noxious Weeds Invading the North (CANWIN), a non-profit organization in Anchorage, Alaska that is devoted to public outreach and education on noxious, invasive weeds. June 19, 2010. FWS photo.
Troy and Lori Zaumseil, the founders of Citizens Against Noxious Weeds Invading the North (CANWIN), a non-profit organization in Anchorage, Alaska that is devoted to public outreach and education on noxious, invasive weeds. June 19, 2010. FWS photo. - Photo Credit: n/a

It hit me in the pit of my stomach during the small bush plane ride from Allakaket to Bettles. . . looking out over the vast 1.6 million acre Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge, sunlit wetlands stretched towards the horizon as far as my eyes could see, a moose grazing on the willow bar still free of invasive weeds seemed not to notice the swans flying in tandem looking for a place to nest…nature unaltered, nature as it always has been here in the far north. I realized for the first time how much Kanuti Refuge could lose if we don’t act now to stop the threat of invasive weeds moving into the refuge.

I was lucky to be traveling with Lori and Troy Zaumseil, two private citizens who live in Anchorage and could be considered true “weed warriors.” For the past three years they have been working hard to help educate the public about the dangers of invasive weeds. We had just finished an outreach event for the communities of Allakaket and Alatna, two small villages near the western border of Kanuti Refuge, where Lori and Troy spent time teaching the community about the dangers of invasive weeds. Community members were aware that refuge staff are actively working to keep invasive weeds out of the refuge, but were appalled to learn that invasive weeds can potentially take over landscapes, greatly affecting plant food and habitat for animals and birds, can harm wildlife and other native plants through toxins, can clog streams so that salmon can’t travel up river to spawn, and can completely change a natural habitat so that nothing native remains...shocking, shocking stuff. 

Even more shocking is how serious this threat truly is. Right now, Kanuti Refuge is at the tip of a fulcrum. We will either win this battle through collective, community efforts and partnerships, or without concerted efforts may even lose the battle.  Since 2005, weed pulling efforts conducted by refuge staff, the Friends of Alaska National Refuges, and the Bureau of Land Management have managed to keep invasive white sweet clover out of Kanuti.  However, as the number of roadside infestations increases significantly annually, so does the risk to the refuge.  During a weed pull this June, highly invasive white sweet clover was again unfortunately discovered growing near the banks of two rivers that flow directly into the refuge.  Weed warriors once again removed the weeds, buying just a little more time, but with each adult white sweet clover plant releasing approximately 350,000 seeds its clear our efforts in this war must be expanded for us to win.

Lori and Troy’s community presentation was educational, told with experience and humor, and just plain interesting, but what really impacted the residents of Allakaket and Alatna was their earnest passion and their take home message. “Everyday, ordinary people like us can make a huge difference in the battle to stop invasive weeds from damaging Alaska’s precious land, waters, fish and wildlife, and we can help cull the threat together through prevention and locally based actions.  We don’t have to sit idly by and watch our communities be overrun by unwelcome, harmful and noxious weeds.”  Their encouragement to the public was clear: armed with a little knowledge and a big desire to help the places we love, anyone can help protect Alaska from this very real threat. 

Lori and Troy ought to know! When they meet folks for the first time, they proudly say they consider themselves more as “everyday ordinary Alaskans” and merely “accidental activists.”  Lori is a 911 dispatcher and Troy is a State corrections officer.  It all started for them when they found invasive weeds in plants they purchased for their home at a local big box store and decided to do something about it.  Three years later, they now lead the non-profit organization they created (Citizens Against Noxious Weeds Invading the North or CANWIN), and the two have risen to work on the issue of invasive weeds at the state and national levels.

As we flew towards Bettles and Evansville, two more small communities just north of Kanuti, I thought about Lori and Troy’s deep and sincere dedication.  They had volunteered to take a week of unpaid leave from their regular jobs to share their message with the six tiny communities that lie near Kanuti refuge.  After the two outreach events in Allakaket/Alatna and Bettles/Evansville, they then flew to the villages of Coldfoot and Wiseman to complete a third outreach event. After a whirlwind trip spreading their message to the neighbors of Kanuti Refuge, you’d guess that they’d be tired and ready to rest before flying home.  Nope!  En route back to Anchorage, Lori and Troy also met with the Fairbanks local public radio station (KUAC) and the local television station (KFXF Channel 13) and completed two interviews! 

What drives everyday people to do so much for the land they call home?  My guess is that when they found invasive weeds in the plants they bought at an Anchorage retail store, something deep inside them was stirred up in the same way I felt hit deep in my stomach while looking out over the vibrant and yet completely vulnerable refuge lands.  It’s a feeling similar to when a bird hits a window in flight.  You don’t need to think about it; you just act. You get up from your desk or chair, you go outside, you reach down to help, and you pick up the hurt bird and let it rest in your palm until it can fly away.  We all know this feeling. It’s supposed to be there because we are a part of nature too and we have a natural desire to take care of the wildlife and lands that we care so much about.  Refuge lands can’t stop weeds from coming in, but we can, and together we can protect the refuge from the insidious threat of invasive weeds.

 

If you would like to learn more about Troy and Lori Zaumseil’s non-profit organization CANWIN and what you can do to help, please visit their website at http://weedwar.org, or listen to their KUAC interview at http://aprn.org/2010/06/25/alaska-couple-battling-invasive-plants/. If you would like to learn more about the work the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing to stop the threat of invasive weeds, see our website at http://www.fws.gov/invasives. (Submitted by Kanuti Refuge Interpretive Park Ranger, Kristin Reakoff).


Contact Info: Joanna Fox, (907) 456-0330, joanna_fox@fws.gov



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