Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
YUKON FLATS: Employing and Educating Youth to Document Invasive Plants
Alaska Region, August 15, 2010
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Ann Marie Crow and Angelica Baalam enter data.
Ann Marie Crow and Angelica Baalam enter data. - Photo Credit: n/a

The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge held its first Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program this summer in collaboration with the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, The Yukon Flats School District, and the University of Alaska Interior-Aleutians campus.  Additional volunteer support was provided by Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. 

The five week long program hired local high school students from Yukon Flats to conduct invasive plant surveys.  The first week of the program consisted of a new 2-credit course entitled “Field Techniques for Natural Resource Studies” for the UAF Tribal Management program that was developed and taught by refuge staff Kimberley Maher and UAF professor Falk Huettmann.  The course covered the scientific method, research sampling design, plant identification, ethnobotany of local plants, use of Global Positioning System (GPS) units, and hands-on experience creating and manipulating maps with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  Through the class, students developed the skills necessary for their field work while earning college credit.

Invasive plants surveys were conducted in Fort Yukon, Circle, and Beaver.  These three villages were selected as survey locations because they are within the refuge’s exterior boundary and all three villages sit on the Yukon River which means that they could become gateways for invasive plants to spread down the river corridor onto refuge lands.

While working in Fort Yukon, the YCC crew took time from the field schedule to volunteer and attend the Gwich’in Gathering.  This biennial event brings together leaders and members of the Gwich’in Nation from both sides of the Alaskan-Canadian border to discuss issues concerning the Gwich’in people to share traditional skills and celebrate their culture.

The logistics for conducting such a project in remote villages whilst supervising and chaperoning high school students for five weeks proved challenging with many unanticipated hurdles.  The project succeeded in providing natural resource education and summer employment to the participating students as well as establishing a valuable dataset for the presence and absence of invasive plants in the Refuge.  This dataset will be incorporated in the Alaska Exotic Plants Information Clearinghouse website, a state-wide database that is maintained by the Alaska Natural Heritage program.  Additionally, while walking around the villages conducting field work, crew members provided information about native and non-native plants to community members and were even recruited a number of times over to people’s yards to help identify unknown plants.

The lessons learned this summer will be beneficial for planning future Youth Conservation Corps projects for the Refuge.

Contact Info: Nicole Gustine, 907-456-0386, nicole_gustine@fws.gov
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