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YUKONFLATS: Working Together to Keep Alaska’s Aquatic Ecosystems Pristine
Alaska Region, January 6, 2016
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Totchaket Slough - National Park Service employees Amy Larsen and Heidi Christenson surveying flow at the start of the Elodea infestation. August 2015
Totchaket Slough - National Park Service employees Amy Larsen and Heidi Christenson surveying flow at the start of the Elodea infestation. August 2015 - Photo Credit: Delia Vargas Kretsinger
Tochaket Slough Elodea infestation. September 2015
Tochaket Slough Elodea infestation. September 2015 - Photo Credit: Delia Vargas Kretsinger
Aditi Shenoy with Fairbanks Soil and Water District recording a NONE for Elodea presence/absence on a Tanana River wetland. Survey crews, equipment and funding provided by the National Park Service, Yukon Flats NWR and Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office, Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District, University of 
Alaska Fish and Wildlife Research Co-op Unit (Kristen Sellmer, research technician and boat driver), UAF Bonanza Creek LTER, and USDA Forest Service. September 2015
Aditi Shenoy with Fairbanks Soil and Water District recording a NONE for Elodea presence/absence on a Tanana River wetland. Survey crews, equipment and funding provided by the National Park Service, Yukon Flats NWR and Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office, Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District, University of Alaska Fish and Wildlife Research Co-op Unit (Kristen Sellmer, research technician and boat driver), UAF Bonanza Creek LTER, and USDA Forest Service. September 2015 - Photo Credit: Delia Vargas Kretsinger
2015 Elodea survey results.
2015 Elodea survey results. - Photo Credit: Heidi Kristenson, NPS
Aditi Shenoy (Fairbank Soil and Water District) Sampling submersed aquatic vegetation for Elodea presence using a throw rake. September 2015
Aditi Shenoy (Fairbank Soil and Water District) Sampling submersed aquatic vegetation for Elodea presence using a throw rake. September 2015 - Photo Credit: Delia Vargas Kretsinger
An example of a pristine aquatic habitat with native aquatic vegetation, in a wetland complex connected to the Tolovana River. Clear cold water with little or no flow make this wetland vulnerable to Elodea establishment. September 2015
An example of a pristine aquatic habitat with native aquatic vegetation, in a wetland complex connected to the Tolovana River. Clear cold water with little or no flow make this wetland vulnerable to Elodea establishment. September 2015 - Photo Credit: Delia Vargas Kretsinger

In August 2015 Elodea, an invasive aquatic plant, was discovered in Totchaket Slough, a clear water stream of the Tanana River, located 12 miles downstream of Nenana, which is 54 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska. Elodea is an aggressive invasive aquatic plant that was first documented in the Cordova region in the early 1980’s, found in the Fairbanks North Star Borough in 2010 in Chena Slough, and later on the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage area lakes. In Alaska, Elodea infestations can be expected to increase sedimentation, displace native aquatic vegetation, reduce biodiversity, degrade sensitive fish habitat, and interfere with safe river travel. A quarantine established at the boundaries of Alaska by the State Department of Natural Resources in 2014 underscores the gravity of this threat. Elodea can be spread readily via boats and floatplanes, and because it reproduces vegetatively, a single fragment is all that is needed to start a new infestation.

 

The Totchaket and Chena Slough infestations represent the most complicated infestation within the state because they reside in streams that are connected to the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. Fragments from these infestations have the potential to travel hundreds of miles downstream to sloughs and wetlands in remote regions of the state, including aquatic habitats in five of Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges, where they can establish additional infestations.

The Totchaket discovery launched an intensive survey effort, spearheaded by the National Park Service, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) - Yukon Flats NWR and Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office, and the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), to document the distribution of Elodea in the Tanana River watershed.

Boat-based Elodea surveys occurred September 2015, during the middle of moose hunting season, allowing us to outreach to subsistence and sport hunters about Elodea, between Fairbanks and Manley Hot Springs along the Tanana River (a tributary of the Yukon River), and up the Tolovana River to Minto Village. Surveys were also conducted in popular lakes, streams and floatponds between Fairbanks and Delta Junction. The good news is that Elodea was not detected in any of the 127 waterbodies surveyed which indicates that treating the two interior Alaska infestations, with the goal of eradication, is a feasible and effective management strategy for interior Alaska.

The early detection rapid survey was one of several tasks identified in the “Integrated Pest Management Plan to Eradicate Elodea from Interior Alaska.” Now the FWS is working with the Fairbanks SWCD and the Fairbanks Elodea Steering Committee to prepare an environmental assessment and a pesticide use permit to evaluate the use of herbicides, proven to be successful in treating Elodea in other parts of the state, as well as acquire sufficient funding to begin the first year of treatment on Totchaket and Chena Sloughs.

Keeping refuge aquatic habitats free of invasives requires working across jurisdictional boundaries and collaboration with the following groups: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office and Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko and Kenai NWRs; Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District; Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Fish and Game; National Park Service Yukon Charley NP and Gates of the Arctic NPP; USDA Forest Service, State and Private Forestry - Forest Health Protection; Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation; City of Fairbanks Public Works Department; Tanana Chiefs, City of Nenana, Nenana Native Village, Toghotthele Corporation, Manley Village Council, Manley Hot Springs, Native Village of Minto, University of Alaska Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research program, Institute of Arctic Biology, Alaska Fish and Wildlife Research Co-op Unit and Cooperative Extension Service; Center for the Environmental Management of Military Lands, Colorado State University; Harding Lake and Chena Slough Land Owners Association; the Fairbanks Cooperative Weed Management Area - Elodea Steering Committee; and in consultation with SePRO Corporation.


Contact Info: Delia Vargas Kretsinger, 907-456-0419, delia_vargas_kretsinger@fws.gov
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