Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
INNOKO: Seasonal employees depart after successful and memorable field season.
Alaska Region, September 30, 2011
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2011 Innoko National Wildlife Refuge Summer Seasonal Employees.
2011 Innoko National Wildlife Refuge Summer Seasonal Employees. - Photo Credit: Innoko NWR
Seasonal employees assisting with Greater White-Fronted Geese banding project.
Seasonal employees assisting with Greater White-Fronted Geese banding project. - Photo Credit: Innoko NWR

On May 23, 2011, six new seasonal employees arrived, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in warm and sunny McGrath. Hailing from nearby Takotna to faraway Texas, the seasonal employees—a combination of STEP students, volunteers, and SCA interns—were eager to spend their summer in the vast, wild expanses of Innoko National Wildlife Refuge. Although the sunny weather would not last, the fond memories and the valuable experiences the crew gained that summer will last for a lifetime. After two weeks of extensive training, we at last flew to the refuge’s field camp—a collection of comfortable cabins—before heading downriver to set up our first spike camp. The shores of the Innoko River would be our home for the coming months, and we quickly adapted to camp life.

We spent the first half of the summer assessing land cover, a new project for Innoko this year. Hiking to several points per day, we classified the habitat using keys, identified the dominant plant species, and took photographs. This on-the-ground habitat information will be compared to existing satellite imagery, and any disparities modeled, providing a framework for improving knowledge about the refuge’s rich habitat resources. For the seasonals, this meant hiking several miles per day through terrain few humans had traversed before. Whether wading in knee deep marshes, slogging through spongy bogs, or hiking through a tranquil birch forest, there were plenty of opportunities to witness untouched interior Alaska and its abundant wildlife, including moose, black and brown bears, beavers, otters, wolves, bald eagles, osprey, sandhill cranes, and a whole host of waterfowl.

Midsummer, our routine was punctuated by the opportunity to work with USFWS Migratory Bird Management on their Greater White-fronted Goose banding project. Always eager to acquire new skills and experience, our crew had a great time assisting in the corralling and banding of over one thousand greater white-fronted geese. It was certainly a highlight of the summer to get up-close and personal with these birds we had only seen from a distance, as well as to work with new and interesting people in a different branch of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

For the latter half of the summer, our crew split into two separate groups; an intensive vegetation sampling crew and a small mammal trapping crew. Working in grass and sedge meadows, both crews gathered important data about the current condition of the refuge’s meadows in preparation for the potential introduction of wood bison near the refuge. This half of the summer brought new challenges, including the premature departure of two crew members due to illness and injury, but we persevered and accomplished our summer’s goals, while still finding time to catch some monster northern pike in the process.

While we each had different expectations of what the summer would bring, we certainly all left with many unforgettable experiences. Whether witnessing a pair of moose swiftly swimming across the river, watching a black bear feeding on vegetation, landing a 40 inch pike, or swimming in the chilly waters of the Innoko, everyone has their own favorite memories from the summer. No matter where our futures bring us, we’ll always have our pictures and fond memories of our summer on the Innoko Refuge.

Contact Info: Jerry Hill, 907-524-3251, jerry_hill@fws.gov
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