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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

KANUTI: Weeds, winds, waters, and wildlife challenge SCA crew of Alaska village students near Kanuti Refuge

Region 7, October 6, 2012
Two members of a youth crew from Anaktuvuk Pass, sponsored by Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and their SCA leader helped eliminate white-sweet clover from several critical sites along the Dalton Highway during July 2012.  Since 2006 Kanuti Refuge has worked with multiple partners to keep river crossings at the Dalton Highway free of invasive weeds.   Six major tributaries of the Koyukuk River cross the Dalton Highway and flow onto Kanuti refuge, providing a potential route for the spread of invasive weeds onto the currently pristine refuge.
Two members of a youth crew from Anaktuvuk Pass, sponsored by Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and their SCA leader helped eliminate white-sweet clover from several critical sites along the Dalton Highway during July 2012. Since 2006 Kanuti Refuge has worked with multiple partners to keep river crossings at the Dalton Highway free of invasive weeds. Six major tributaries of the Koyukuk River cross the Dalton Highway and flow onto Kanuti refuge, providing a potential route for the spread of invasive weeds onto the currently pristine refuge. - Photo Credit: n/a
Kanuti Refuge Manager Mike Spindler explains aviation's role in supporting conservation in Alaska refuges, and the particulars of managing Kanuti refuge to Anaktuvuk village students Robert Burris and Jalen Sheldon.
Kanuti Refuge Manager Mike Spindler explains aviation's role in supporting conservation in Alaska refuges, and the particulars of managing Kanuti refuge to Anaktuvuk village students Robert Burris and Jalen Sheldon. - Photo Credit: n/a
Youth crew members from Anaktuvuk Pass, AJ Spear and Jalen Sheldon, make a plaster cast of a wolf track on a gravel bar of the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk river during an SCA-sponsored project that assisted Kanuti Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and the Bureau of Land Management this summer.
Youth crew members from Anaktuvuk Pass, AJ Spear and Jalen Sheldon, make a plaster cast of a wolf track on a gravel bar of the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk river during an SCA-sponsored project that assisted Kanuti Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and the Bureau of Land Management this summer. - Photo Credit: n/a
In summer 2012 the SCA partnered with Arctic Slope Regional Corporation,  Kanuti Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and the Bureau of Land Management to provde an experiential outdoors education camp for students from the Inupiaq village of Anaktuvuk Pass in Northern Alaska.  The group learned about land management, helped control invasive weeds, and rafted down the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River.
In summer 2012 the SCA partnered with Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Kanuti Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and the Bureau of Land Management to provde an experiential outdoors education camp for students from the Inupiaq village of Anaktuvuk Pass in Northern Alaska. The group learned about land management, helped control invasive weeds, and rafted down the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River. - Photo Credit: n/a

Four high school students from a tiny village in the middle of Alaska’s Brooks Range joined up with staff of Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge and members of the Friends of Alaska Refuges to help control invasive weeds along the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the Koyukuk River just before it enters the refuge in north-central Interior Alaska. In the last decade, two highly invasive weed species have become established along the Dalton Highway: white sweet clover and bird vetch. This past summer the Student Conservation Association (SCA) partnered with the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), Kanuti Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and the Bureau of Land Management to fund and support a high school experiential crew that spent three weeks performing a mix of environmental education, outdoor recreation, and invasive weed control activities in northern Alaska. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation decided to fund a youth crew exclusively from Anaktuvuk Pass because they believe it is the most isolated and underserved village in the North Slope region.

 

The Anaktuvuk high schoolers were challenged to learn about biology, natural resources, and conservation issues, and even more so, were challenged to get outside of their village comfort zone. It’s ironic, but up until this summer’s trip, some of the students’ life experiences were not very rural at all. Nestled high in a Brooks Range pass, the village of Anaktuvuk is located more than 100 miles above the Arctic Circle, at an altitude of more than 2000 feet, and has some of the harshest winter conditions that Alaska has to offer. All four participants spend most of the year in the village in heated buildings, and their only travel opportunities include a once- or twice- a year trip to urban areas like Fairbanks or Anchorage. This SCA project allowed these students to experience the wildland environment surrounding their village in an outdoor educational setting.

Along the Dalton Highway the Anaktuvak SCA crew had the opportunity to visit the Toolik Arctic Research Station, the Coldoot Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, check out the insides of owl nest boxes, make plaster casts of animal tracks, and hike to the top of 4,193-ft. Sukapak Mountain to admire the spectacular scenery of the Brooks Range. The capstone of their experience was floating down a branch of the Koyukuk River from Coldfoot to Bettles, stopping along the way to check river bars for invasive weeds. At one spot, an old mining camp, the combined crew spent a half day eradicating a patch of bird vetch that seems to have moved off the highway and is approaching closer to Kanuti Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park. SCA crew leader Lauren Sinnott said “By fostering unique experiences, such as rafting down the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River, we were able us to show these students the dynamic, creative, and thoughtful ways to conserve their home. With the support of Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge we were able to successfully expose these students to what was in their very own backyard and show them first-hand the potential they have to make a difference in their community.”

Refuge Manager Mike Spindler, who accompanied the group on their float, remarked “I watched the students develop more confidence and initiative as they progressed on their raft adventure. Bugs, winds, rain, fire-making, camp chores, and the challenges of helping to paddle and steer the raft, all combined to help them get a better sense of their environment. A few mini-science lessons I gave along the way were met with keen interest and ample questions, and I hope that will inspire further curiosity about the wild environments surrounding their village."

SCA’s Alaska Program staff, Jillian Morrissey, will be working closely with ASRC to craft more conservation crew opportunities for village youth in 2013. Morrissey says, “Providing safe and fun crew experiences is paramount to SCA’s Alaska Native Youth program goals. We want Alaska’s northern-most village youth to be able to be comfortable living and working on the land and we provide the skilled leadership and logistical support to make that possible. We also endeavor to expose the youth to future opportunities serving their villages, working in government agencies or in the native corporations. We want to fulfill SCA’s mission, to help build the next generation of conservation leaders, right here, in the Arctic.”

SCA experiential crews undertaking projects like this occasionally pass through multiple federal land jurisdictions, and three Department of Interior agencies each stepped up to lend their in-kind support along the way: Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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