Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges was just formed in 2005, but already they are working on invasive plant projects on six different refuges in Alaska. According to their website, they chose invasive plant projects because “invasive species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity (behind habitat loss). This unwelcome vegetation destroys natural habitats, reduces wildlife populations, decreases wildlife-related recreational opportunities, and causes great economic loss.”
During the summer of 2006, the Friends group sets up invasive plant education workshops and weed pulls around the state. Using e-mail solicitations along with radio and newspaper advertisements, the group was able to gather groups of volunteers for events lasting one to several day.
At Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, the first refuge along the Alacan Highway, volunteers from Anchorage and Homer, members of the community of Tok, Tok Boys & Girls Club, and the Tok Volunteer Fire Department joined seven Friends for a three-day seminar. The US Fish & Wildlife Service, University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, Alaska Department of Agriculture, Alaska Department of Transportation, and British Petroleum staff started off the event by describing how invasive plants got into the area (the highway is a pathway) and how to eradicate the unwanted plants. “We really learned what we are up against and it was a little discouraging to see how much some of the plants had taken over,” said Sharon Baur, vice-president of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.
Volunteers also learned how to identify invasive plants, like white sweet clover, and then spent some time pulling and bagging plants. The Highway Department was responsible for incinerating the bags of plants so their seeds wouldn’t spread. Baur added, “It was very satisfying to get your hands dirty and make a difference.”
The Friends don’t just pull weeds: they staff visitor centers, find funding for refuges, work with decision makers and legislators, and do other volunteer projects in Alaska’s sixteen refuges. Carla Stanely, former president of the Friends said, “There is a real camaraderie and we get to know the refuges and their staffs better so we can understand what their needs are.” Baur added, “The Friends group is demanding and time consuming, but we all do it because we love the refuges and the Refuge System.”
Learn more about volunteering at Alaska’s refuges:
Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges