Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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ALASKA PENINSULA/BECHAROF: With the Help of Birds, Volcanoes, and Tigers, the Refuge’s First Speaker Winter Series meets Success.
Alaska Region, May 16, 2011
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Pat Druckenmiller teaches students to walk like dinosaurs after a Bristol Bay School assembly, April 18, 2011.
Pat Druckenmiller teaches students to walk like dinosaurs after a Bristol Bay School assembly, April 18, 2011. - Photo Credit: Julia Pinnix, USFWS
Dick Russell (standing left) answers questions about the Ukinrek Maars eruptions at Refuge headquarters, April 1, 2011.
Dick Russell (standing left) answers questions about the Ukinrek Maars eruptions at Refuge headquarters, April 1, 2011. - Photo Credit: Tom Prang, USFWS

Alaska Peninsula/Becharof National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) launched its first annual winter speaker series February 20, and closed with a speaker on Earth Day, April 22, 2011. The speaker series brought science-based speakers covering refuge-relevant topics to the communities of King Salmon and Naknek throughout the winter. The refuge’s goal for the series was to increase the community awareness and understanding of the refuge, as well increase community through potlucks following the speakers. Students were also involved via a partnership with the Bristol Bay School in Naknek. By all measures the series was a resounding success.


The Refuge brought invited one outside speaker each month, but also took advantage of researchers travelling through the area as opportunities arose. Topics ranged widely from winter bird adaptations, to tigers to dinosaurs. A special thanks to Alaska Geographic which provided small gifts for each speaker in gratitude for their participation.


The series was kicked off by Susan Sharbaugh of the Fairbanks Alaska Bird Observatory.  She gave a fascinating talk on winter bird adaptations. At the potluck following her presentation, she remarked, “I really liked the opportunity to talk to people in the community about their own observations.”  The following day, Susan presented the topic of bird migration to elementary and secondary students at Bristol Bay School. Susan’s programs reached 166 children and adults.


Dom Watts, Refuge biologist, coordinated a lunchtime speaker session to encourage Katmai National Park employees to attend; this talk was held on March 4, followed by a potluck lunch with 20 attendees. Meghan Riley of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game presented her research on the Amur tigers of Sikhote-Alin, in southeastern Russia. The region has much in common with the Alaska Peninsula which made for some interesting comparisons.


The mid March speaker was Loukas Barton from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.  He discussed his archaeological research on the Alaska Peninsula for an audience of 25. The week prior, he had travelled to villages near the Refuge giving presentations to the public and local schools. Tom Prang, refuge volunteer, went along to assist. Tom, also an archaeologist, did five presentations for Bristol Bay School classes later in the month, bringing a hands-on learning opportunity to 90 students.


Dick Russell, a well-known local naturalist and retired biologist, gave an old-fashioned slideshow to a packed room of 38 on Friday, April 1. He chronicled the Ukinrek Maars eruptions which occured 34 years previous. These unique eruptions remain one of Becharof NWR’s prominent features. Response to the talk was so enthusiastic that a second talk was scheduled in Naknek on Earth Day, Friday, April 22 where 14 people attended.


Paleontologist Pat Druckenmiller from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, gave a presentation to a crowd of 35 on Sunday, April 17. His research into Arctic dinosaurs led him to the Alaska Peninsula last year, where, on the edge of Alaska Peninsula NWR lands, he confirmed the existence of dinosaur tracks 150 million years old. This is the oldest evidence of dinosaurs in Alaska—and also the oldest Arctic dinosaur remains in the world. On Monday, April 18, Pat spoke to a crowd of 180 at the Bristol Bay School. With a total of 215 attendees, Pat said, “I’ve just spoken to about 20% of the local population. That’s an incredible impact.”

Enthusiasm for the speaker series remains high. The school’s principal, Jim Dube, says, “I look forward to collaborating next fall.” One homeschool parent appreciates what a rare opportunity it is for students to interact directly with researchers. She remarked, “I never had a paleontologist visit MY school when I was a kid!” All the speakers enjoyed the potlucks, which allowed plenty of time for hearing from knowledgeable locals. Attendees liked the social aspect, providing a welcome change from winter routine. Paige Holloway, the Refuge’s Administrative Support Assistant, said this event has brought more people into the USFWS office than she has ever seen here before.


Next year’s Speaker Series is planned to begin in January and end in April, adding a month to this popular event. As opportunities arise to host speakers at other times, the Refuge is continuing to invite the public to come and learn. On Friday, May 13, for instance, employees of the Alaska SeaLife Center installed a camera at the Cape Seniavin walrus haulout while discussing their marine mammal research with a crowd of 28. Community enthusiasm is high even in this busy spring season.

Contact Info: Julia Pinnix, 907-246-1211, Julia_Pinnix@fws.gov
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