Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
TOGIAK: Rocking on the Pungo River
Alaska Region, December 28, 2012
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Mariah Dray lends a hand with stream gaging.
Mariah Dray lends a hand with stream gaging. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Shawn Gardiner is all smiles over his catch.
Shawn Gardiner is all smiles over his catch. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Is that a coho or a chinook?
Is that a coho or a chinook? - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Shawn Gardiner and Caleb Nay show how to put together an inflatable raft.
Shawn Gardiner and Caleb Nay show how to put together an inflatable raft. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Float camp students try to demonstrate how to
Float camp students try to demonstrate how to "raise the thermostat" while camping. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Ugh... more paparazzi
Ugh... more paparazzi" thought the bear. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge

Summer 2012 saw the Togiak Refuge Summer Outdoor Skills and River Ecology Float Camp (called simply Float Camp for short) embark on a new river: the Pungokepuk, referred to by many locally as the Pungo. The Pungo River is a short river in the middle of Togiak Refuge that flows east out of a lake by the same name and eventually drains into the Togiak River. The Float Camp selects as many as six area high school students (nine area communities are eligible) to participate in this camp, and this year’s camp saw a full complement of six take part. The Pungo was selected for a number of reasons ranging from the fact it’s never been used for this camp before to the opportunity to assist with a refuge project involving stream gauging.


The camp took place during the week of August 6th through the 10th. Students and staff were transported from Dillingham to Pungo Lake by local air taxi floatplanes. Unlike this year’s other refuge sponsored camp, the Cape Peirce Marine Science and Yup’ik Culture Camp, which met with poor weather and travel headaches, the Float Camp went off without a hitch. In fact, it was the first camp in the history of the camp that did not experience any rain at all during the course of the camp- proving that the law of averages does eventually come into play.

Over the course of the camp the students participated in a number of activities and discussions aimed at expanding their knowledge of specific outdoor skills, the role of USFWS and what it’s like to work for the USFWS. Some of those activities and discussions included:

• Students were introduced to river rafting techniques and rafting safety. The Pungo is a fairly tame, remote river and provided an excellent backdrop for first time experience with river rafting. Obviously, in being a float camp, this was an ongoing skill for a large part of each day of the camp. Three rafts were used during the camp and each student was afforded many lengthy opportunities to put into practice what they were taught.

• Catch and Release Angling techniques were taught and used. Students were able to spend a lot of time fishing, and different fishing techniques and tackle was available and utilized. (spinning, spincast, flyfishing) Discussions centered on the importance of Catch and Release techniques to a sport fishery and managing refuge rivers for both subsistence and sport fishing. Species that were caught during the camp included rainbow trout, pink salmon, sockeye salmon, chinook salmon, chum salmon, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, and northern pike.

• Students used dip nets and minnow traps to capture and identify juvenile salmonids, other fish and aquatic invertebrates. A particular emphasis was given to differentiating between juvenile salmon species and identifying critical habitat to each type. Other species that were captured included sticklebacks, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and sculpins.

• The Togiak Refuge biological staff has an ongoing stream gaging project on several refuge rivers. The Pungo happens to have two data collection modules placed in it, and it was time to replace an internal data collection device. Students were able to perform this change out for refuge staff.

• Wilderness survival skills were taught during the camp. Students were taught varied techniques for different skills and then given the opportunity to practice them. Fires in particular received a lot of attention. Students learned to construct fires using a variety of methods, including matches, lighters, commercial fire starters (for example, Strikeforce by Ultimate Survival Technologies), steel wool/batteries and fire bows. Water was purified using different types of commercial filters, by boiling and by use of iodine tablets.

• Bear safety was taught and practiced throughout the camp. This was especially critical on the Pungo, as it’s home to a high concentration of brown bears. Several bears were seen over the course of the trip, some in close proximity. Creating a safe camp each evening received special attention, and an electric bear fence was used.

• Leave No Trace camping practices were discussed, stressed and practiced during the course of this camp. Discussions about stewardship and the role of special programs within the USFWS, such as the Togiak Refuge River Ranger program were highlighted to
demonstrate efforts that are in place to keep refuge lands pristine.

• Archery was taught and practiced. Students were introduced to the different types of bows, archery tackle and proper shooting form.

• Over several evening “classroom” sessions the role of the Service in preserving our country’s wild lands and careers with the USFWS was discussed in detail. Entry level opportunities for high school and college age students were talked about.

Again, the weather was a non-issue during this year’s camp, which lent a certain level of success to the camp of and by itself. But the true success of the camp was measured in what the students were able to see, learn about and experience. The Float Camp helped them to see up close the biological diversity to be found in riparian ecosystems on Togiak Refuge. It also provided them with an opportunity to connect with Togiak’s lands, helping to develop a deeper, truer sense of stewardship for the natural resources to be found around southwest Alaska. On a simpler level, the Pungo and days spent on it provided them with memories that will last an entire lifetime.

Contact Info: Terry Fuller, 907-842-1063 ext. 8419, terry_fuller@fws.gov
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