Facebook icon Twitter icon Flicker icon You Tube icon

Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Stopping Wildlife Traffickers – The Gift that Keeps on Giving


Wildlife inspectors, says Shelia O’Connor, the Service’s Resident Agent in Charge for Oregon, “provide a real gift to the American public by protecting wildlife for future generations.”

Read about a day of inspections at Portland International Airport.

Going Batty Over Bats!

   father and daughter building bat house
Service employee Mitch Adams and daughter Elouise build a bat house. Photo by USFWS  

Bats need our help. Habitat loss, severe weather and the devastating disease white-nose syndrome are all wreaking havoc on bat populations. Fortunately, there are many ways to help, and recently D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery & Archives in Spearfish, South Dakota, went to bat for bats. 

The “Build a Bat House!” event last month attracted more than 50 people, many of whom were families with children. It kicked off with a very informative presentation by bat biologist Joel Tigner. Tigner conducts bat research and work all over the world. He shared information on bats in general, his international work and bats in South Dakota. South Dakota has 47 types of bats!

Following the presentation, people could help build a bat house or make a bat craft to take home. Parts for the bat houses were pre-cut and stained. Participants worked with volunteers and staff to assemble 16 bat houses. The houses will be installed on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acreage in western South Dakota. Participants could elect to build the bat house for the BLM to use (no cost to the participant), or they could pay $15 to build a bat house to take home with them to install on their personal property. Twelve bat houses were purchased for personal use; four will be put up on BLM land.

Oceans of Trash

litter on beach   Seaborne plastic debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in Papahanaumokuskea Marine National Monument in the Pacific. Marine debris — almost none of it locally generated — is a global problem threatening wildlife. Photo by Susan White/USFWS

Lots of the trash we toss on land doesn’t stay there. Each year, rivers and storm sewers carry millions of tons of it to the sea, where it joins a swirling mass known as marine debris. Abandoned boats and fishing nets add to the menace.

Even in the world’s most remote places, marine debris kills and injures wildlife. You may have seen the photos from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific, where albatross skim up bright plastic bits from the ocean surface and feed them to their chicks. The young birds starve, their stomachs filled with scrap.

Marine debris puts human health at risk, too. Plastics have entered the human food chain, through the water we drink and the fish we eat. The impact on human health is not yet full known.

cleanup crew on mound of trash on beach   A cleanup crew celebrates the removal of derelict nets from the northwest Hawaiian islands. Photo by NOAA

But we can do something about the problem. Some would argue we have to. Making a real dent in the problem requires action by all of us.

A photo essay from the National Wildlife Refuge System looks at efforts to address the problem and some of the things big and small we can do to help.

Among these: Join or lead a cleanup. Avoid excess packaging. Use cloth bags instead of plastic bags. Dispose of waste responsibly. Spread the word. Read more in the story.

 Look for a new online story about your national wildlife refuges every Wednesday on the Refuge System home page.

Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

Canvasback Connects ‘Sister Refuges’ in Alaska, California

 Heather Bartlett, wildlife refuge specialist; Julie Mahler, refuge information technician;Nathan Hawkaluk, deputy refuge manager;    Yukon Flats Refuge employees Heather Bartlett, wildlife refuge specialist; Julie Mahler, refuge information technician; and Nathan Hawkaluk, deputy refuge manager. Photo by USFWS

Heather Bartlett, wildlife refuge specialist at Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, tells about her visit to “Sister Refuge” San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California.

At first glance, an urban national wildlife refuge on the coast of California and a remote refuge in the interior of Alaska don’t seem to have much in common. Take a closer look and the connections become clear and important.

Canvasback. Photo by USFWS

The striking and regal canvasback, the largest diving duck in North America, is the primary species that connects Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California – both physically and through each refuge’s establishing legislation. In the 1950s and ‘60s, biologists banded thousands of ducks on what is now Yukon Flats Refuge. Of these banded ducks, 313 canvasbacks were recovered – and 89 of those were returned from the San Francisco Bay area. 

So when refuge staff at Yukon Flats sought to establish a “Sister Refuge” relationship with a Lower 48 refuge - a relationship based on a shared resource - they followed the canvasbacks to San Pablo Bay Refuge in San Francisco’s North Bay. This pairing of refuges provides a tangible opportunity to educate residents in the Bay Area and the Yukon River Basin about how wildlife refuges function together as a national network of lands despite their apparent differences and the great distance that separates them. 

Last week marked the official start to the Sister Refuge partnership between Yukon Flats and San Pablo Bay Refuges. Three Yukon Flats Refuge employees – Nathan Hawkaluk, deputy refuge manager; Heather Bartlett, wildlife refuge specialist; and Julie Mahler, refuge information technician – migrated to the canvasbacks’ wintering habitats in the North Bay with a simple goal: to reach a new audience, and in doing so, get more people to recognize that Yukon Flats Refuge exists. Although a seemingly basic message, most people are unaware of this hidden and yet vitally important conservation gem in Alaska. 

Nathan, Heather and Julie took the first step toward this goal by presenting to Bay Area classrooms, refuge staff and Friends group members, and attendees of the 21st Annual San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival. These presentations showed how integral Yukon Flats Refuge is to the waterfowl flyways as well as to the residents who subsist on the refuge’s resources. 

   Nathan and Julie show homemade bootsNathan Hawkaluk and Julie Mahler with some homemade boots. Photo by USFWS 

Julie, who has spent her entire life within the Yukon Flats basin, captivated audiences young and old with stories about raising her family while living off the abundant, but challenging, resources in the wilds of Alaska.  Bay Area residents could only imagine the isolation and self-reliance that are the reality of living in such a remote place. A home without electricity, running water, a grocery store or a gas station – not to mention the nearest neighbor a 3-day boat ride away! Julie brought examples of her homemade handicrafts to demonstrate her and her family’s reliance on the Yukon Flats resources: a hat made of lynx fur, boots sewn from caribou and moose hides, and mittens she lined with beaver fur. 

   Julie with 4 high schoolersJulie Mahler shows off some Yukon Flats attire. Photo by USFWS  

Through the stories of Julie’s personal experiences and connections with the land, as well as the information about Yukon Flats Refuge presented by Nathan and Heather, Bay Area residents gained a better understanding about this treasured place in the heart of Alaska.  These stories revealed and confirmed that even today in modern America, wild and unaltered landscapes still remain for the American public to enjoy. This is the legacy of the Yukon Flats today – and tomorrow.

Providing Essential Migratory Waterfowl Habitat for 80 Years in Missouri

   mallardsMallards at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

Since 1937, Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which turns 80 today, has been an integral part of the state’s wildlife conservation history. With more than 3,000 acres of wetlands, the refuge provides habitat for hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, and other wildlife, such as river otter, white-tailed deer and more.

Maxie the Canada Goose. Photo by Brett Billings/USFWS

But it’s known for its waterfowl.

Many outdoor enthusiasts from Missouri will tell you they shot their first Canada goose at the refuge, and Sumner, the refuge’s hometown, has the world's largest Canada Goose statue in the city park. Maxie stands 40 feet-tall, has a wingspan of 61 feet and weighs 4,000 pounds! Sumner calls itself the "Goose Capitol of the World.”

Happy Birthday!

Read More

FWS and Greening Youth Foundation Place Members of Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta in FWS Internships

   Lee Irvin and Kharisma Day Lee Irvin has spent two summers at Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Kharisma Day scouts the wildlife at Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. Photos courtesy of Lee Irvin and Kharisma Day

For several summers, Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex has hired interns through the Wildlife Refuge Exposure to Diversity (WiRED) Initiative at the Greening Youth Foundation, which reaches out to diverse, underserved and underrepresented youth to develop a new generation of natural resource stewards. WiRED is a Service-only initiative that placed 11 interns this past year.

backs of young bird watchers
  • From the Directorate: Connecting Our Constituencies
  • Harvesting the Power of Co-management for Bird Conservation in Alaska
  • Building Connections for Wildlife, People, Environmental Resilience in Baltimore
  • Arctic Youth Ambassador Wants Everyone to Feel ‘Power of Nature’
  • Increasing Native American Participation

Diane Borden-Billiot, the visitor services manager at the complex, says, “The Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex has been fortunate to host [these interns]. It is a great way to obtain and become familiar with different perspectives regarding what we do every day.”

In 2014, the Service joined forces with leading African American fraternity Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., to help youth experience the natural world and promote interest in conservation and the biological sciences. A year later, the Service inked a similar partnership with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., the sister organization of Phi Beta Sigma. Since then, refuges, hatcheries and other Service offices have teamed up with local chapters of the fraternity and sorority to engage youth in outdoor recreation, biological sciences and healthy activity in nature. Service leadership has also attended the groups’ meetings, with then-Director Dan Ashe speaking at Phi Beta Sigma’s International Conclave in 2015. The internships are an extension of this outreach.

Lee Irvin, a member of Phi Beta Sigma and student at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, has interned at the complex the past two summers. Fellow Pine Bluff student Kharisma Day, a member of Zeta Phi Beta, just finished her first summer internship.

Borden-Billiot encourages others in the Service to work with the Greening Youth Foundation or similar organizations to find candidates from diverse backgrounds for all types of internships. With the help of the foundation, the refuge complex placed interns enthusiastic about engaging in an immersive experience with the Service.

Meet Kharisma Day

   Kharisma Day
  Kharisma Day holds a dove. Photo courtesy of Kharisma Day

Day, from a small town in Arkansas, says, “I knew how to fish as well as farm since I was 6 years old. Pretty much our life was spent being outdoors.”

That’s not to say she hasn’t had obstacles. Day says she is highly allergic to red wasps. “It was a big fear of mine because being stung by those insects was a life or death situation.” But she overcame that fear “because being outdoors is something that I love.”

Kharisma’s love of nature was solidified through time spent with her grandfather on his farm. There, she picked purple-hulled peas and learned that cotton from the farm was used as material for clothes and other products.

“Our food, clothes, shelter and pretty much our way of life are connected to nature,” she says. “I just wish people would take the time out to spend a day outdoors.”

Her internship definitely made an impression. “I was so honored to have this opportunity to be able to do something I love to do on a professional prospective.”

And she is ready to dive into conservation as a career.

“I believe what drew me to conservation as a possible profession is that I will be actually making a difference,” she says, adding, “Being outdoors solidified the deal for me.”

While Day revels in her connection to nature, her friends are more hesitant.

They “have a new-found appreciation for nature when spending a day outdoors with me,” she says, adding, “Actually one of my best friends went hiking for the first time.”

Meet Lee Irvin

   Lee Irvin
Lee Irvin says the “coolest” thing he did in his internships was qualifying as a wildland firefighter. Photo courtesy of Lee Irvin

Growing up in a small town in Illinois, Irvin says, “I fished, hunted and observed nature every chance I got.”

It helped to have parents enthusiastic about his budding passion. “My parents loved the fact that I was so connected with nature so I was able to be outside more often.”

He says he always knew he wanted to protect wildlife.

Irvin remembers playing in the woods behind his parents’ home as a 9-year-old, “when I noticed a fallen bird nest. I picked it up along with four eggs and I climbed up the tree and placed the nest back from where it fell.” He says his parents saw this and stared at him. Thinking he was in trouble, he “asked what was wrong and they replied, ‘You are going to do great things for this world.’”

But, he says, “Little did I know until I became an adult there was a way to turn my passion into a successful career.”

After his summers with the Service, Irvin is more convinced than ever that he will go into conservation. “There are so many awesome experiences during both internships,” Irvin says.

The “coolest, hands-down,” he adds, was qualifying as a wildland firefighter, earning his “red card” in firefighting lingo. The toughest, he says, was the pack test for that red card. That’s a physical fitness test that measures minimum required aerobic endurance and muscular strength for wildland firefighters. It’s called a pack test because you must walk three miles in 45 minutes while carrying 45 lbs.

Reaching Everyone

With the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program and partnerships such as those with Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta, the Service is trying to engage diverse audiences and grow a more diverse workforce.

To reach more people and become a more diverse agency, Irvin says the Service should tell its story to students — grade school to high school — in diverse communities. “An early impression is a lasting one,” he says.

To reach her friends and others like them, Day also encourages outreach “that will help strengthen the ties to the local community.” She mentions afterschool programs as one idea.

Don’t be surprised if you see Day and Irvin “wearing the brown” of the Fish and Wildlife Service one day. “FWS would be an awesome employer,” Day says.

MATT TROTT, External Affairs, Headquarters

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Increasing Native American Participation

   students and mentorsNative American students with Dr. Serra Hoagland (back row, left), program coordinator and chair of the Native Peoples’ Wildlife Management Working Group, and Paige Schmidt (front row, left), mentor and NPWMWG secretary/treasurer of the Native Peoples’ Wildlife Management Working Group. Photo by DJ Monette/USFWS

Across Indian country one can find beautiful areas of untrammeled land, more than 100 million acres, stewarded by people who value their natural heritage.

“As tribal people, our relationship with the natural world goes back thousands of years. We’ve evolved with these resources and have an ingrained cultural, spiritual and ecological connection with them,” says John Banks, director of the Penobscot Nation’s Natural Resources Department.

But Native Americans who do get natural resources degrees generally find work in tribal organizations and are underrepresented in the larger conservation world.

In October, the Service, U.S. Forest Service, USDA-APHIS National Wildlife Research Center and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community brought 16 Native American students to the Wildlife Society’s annual meeting in an effort to change that.

backs of young bird watchers
  • From the Directorate: Connecting Our Constituencies
  • FWS and Greening Youth Foundation Place Members of Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta in FWS Internships
  • Harvesting the Power of Co-management for Bird Conservation in Alaska
  • Building Connections for Wildlife, People, Environmental Resilience in Baltimore
  • Arctic Youth Ambassador Wants Everyone to Feel ‘Power of Nature’

“What we are trying to do is get more Native Americans engaged in the Wildlife Society,” says Scott Aikin, the Service’s National Native American Programs Coordinator. In turn, Aikin hopes that will “engage more diversity within the field of natural resources or fish and wildlife conservation.”

The students, all pursuing degrees in natural resources or fish and wildlife management, “really got a lot out of the meeting,” Aikin says. The work the Service is doing to recover the Mexican wolf attracted a lot of interest, he says.

In addition to the wildlife aspects, the program allows students to share their experiences in the field, creating a kind of support network.

Talbrett Caramillo, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation attending San Juan College in New Mexico, told the Wildlife Society’s blog that at school “I just felt isolated. I haven’t met students here on campus that are really pursuing anything in wildlife.”

He told the blog that he had been thinking of leaving school. But after attending the conference, he said, “Being accepted is a big sign telling me to keep pursuing wildlife and stay in school.”

Aikin’s already excited about bringing students to Caramillo’s state next year. The meeting’s in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which Aikin says will be “an excellent opportunity to engage a lot of Native American communities that live in and around the Albuquerque area.”

Because the Service places great value in increasing diversity within the agency, Aikin says he expects the program to continue “as long as we have the resources.”

MATT TROTT, External Affairs, Headquarters

Fish & Wildlife News   This article appears in the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Building Connections for Wildlife, People, Environmental Resilience in Baltimore

restored habitat   Restored habitat at Masonville Cove. Photo by the National Aquarium.  

What began as the restoration of an abandoned area near Baltimore Harbor has grown into a nationally recognized partnership connecting Baltimore City residents to the outdoors.

The Service designated Masonville Cove as the nation’s first Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership on September 26, 2013. But even before that, work to mitigate the construction of the Masonville Dredged Material Containment Facility was underway. The local community worked with the Maryland Port Administration on three objectives: restore Masonville Cove, establish an environmental education facility at the site and secure seed funding for environmental education.

The Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center opened in 2009. In October 2012, a portion of Masonville Cove’s nature area was opened to the public. The nature area includes walking trails and offers opportunities for bird watching and fishing from a designated pier. A floating dock was installed for kayakers and canoeists.

   working in a community gardenPeople work on a community garden in Baltimore. Photo by the National Aquarium 

“Masonville Cove enables the Brooklyn and Curtis community to participate in the watershed cleanup program,” says Rodette Jones, Curtis Bay resident and garden manager of the Filbert Street Garden, a one-acre community garden, native plant conservation project and education space. “The community is now fully aware of pollution and how it affects the streams surrounding the land.”

Since Masonville Cove’s designation as an Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, the Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office and Patuxent Research Refuge, Living Classrooms Foundation, the Maryland Port Administration, and the National Aquarium have matched more than $1.9 million in partner contributions with either funds or in-kind support. Approximately 14,500 students and more than 660 teachers have participated in environmental education programs. Students and residents took part in planting rain gardens to treat runoff, creating schoolyard habitats for birds, butterflies and other wildlife, and improving coastal resiliency with shoreline plantings.

And the partnership has expanded.

“Investing in green space is the key to revitalizing Baltimore communities,” says Heide Grundmann, steward, neighbor and user of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park in southwest Baltimore.

“Just as Masonville Cove was transformed from an industrial site to a natural area now used by students and families, existing and future green spaces in Baltimore have the potential to improve the quality of life for area residents and wildlife alike,” she adds.

resident pose with painted storm drain   Students from Curtis Rec Center and adults show off a decorated storm drain. Photo by Karen Mullin/Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition

Access to green spaces can improve residents’ health, provide educational and recreational opportunities for young people, foster a sense of community and entice more businesses to build a vibrant local economy. They also provide vital habitat for wildlife while increasing a city’s sustainability by reducing storm-water run-off and protecting streams and rivers from pollution.

But many green spaces and parks in Baltimore are not well-used because of a lack of funding, staff or both, leaving them less attractive as destinations for local residents. And, though Baltimore sits on the Patapsco River and has dozens of smaller tributaries and streams, many families cannot access these bodies of water, which could and should provide recreational and economic opportunities for all residents.

backs of young bird watchers
  • From the Directorate: Connecting Our Constituencies
  • FWS and Greening Youth Foundation Place Members of Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta in FWS Internships
  • Harvesting the Power of Co-management for Bird Conservation in Alaska
  • Arctic Youth Ambassador Wants Everyone to Feel ‘Power of Nature’
  • Increasing Native American Participation

Given the success of Masonville Cove, the partnership began to look at similar conservation efforts in and around Baltimore City. Several other initiatives including the South Baltimore Gateway Master Plan, Middle Branch Master Plan and Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition shared this vision of providing more community access to nature.

Encouraged by the enthusiasm for this common vision by other neighborhoods, the team created a plan for an expanded “Rivers to Harbor” Urban Refuge Partnership. Collaborating with community-based organizations, government agencies and other institutions, the Service will connect more Baltimore residents with green corridors and Chesapeake Bay waters.

Building stronger connections to nature and wildlife enhances the social and economic vitality of Baltimore communities and provides the foundation for a shared regional ethic of environmental stewardship.

Over the course of the next 10 years, the partnership will extend from the communities around Masonville Cove and Middle Branch into surrounding watersheds such as Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls and the Patapsco River. The Baltimore Rivers to Harbor Urban Refuge Partnership will focus on:

  • Expanding youth employment opportunities and conservation careers;
  • Enhancing connectivity and accessibility of green spaces; and
  • Restoring and protecting green space through habitat restoration and land protection projects that provide wildlife habitat, climate change resiliency, and community recreation and education.

KATHY RESHETILOFF, Chesapeake Bay Field Office, Northeast Region

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Arctic Youth Ambassador Wants Everyone to Feel ‘Power of Nature’

   Keemuel Kenrud Keemuel Kenrud drives a boat in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Keemuel Kenrud

Keemuel Kenrud comes to conservation naturally.

His grandfather, Pete Abraham, works for the Service at Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. He raised Kenrud to respect the land and its natural inhabitants.

Kenrud quickly found a new world opening up. “I would explore the wilderness and observe birds and game to learn how they lived their daily lives. What came from those experiences was something I couldn’t learn from a book,” he says.

   Keemuel Kenrud Kenrud fishing in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Keemuel Kenrud

This past summer, Kenrud joined his grandfather, as a Refuge Information Technician (RIT) for Togiak Refuge, a job he loves and respects. As an RIT, he plays an important role both to the Service and to Alaska Natives by being the physical and cultural bridge between the two. 

He teaches Service staff about cultural issues and acts as a translator, adviser, biology technician and outreach specialist. In addition, he participated as a youth facilitator at several coastal resilience workshops in Alaska.

And he serves as an Arctic Youth Ambassador, playing a critical part in this unique program established by the Service, State Department and Alaska Geographic.

As an Arctic Youth Ambassador, he builds conservation awareness at home and abroad about lives in the Arctic and some of the issues impacted by climate change. One key topic for him is his Native culture and values.

His grandfather gave him a deep understanding and appreciation of them, and now he seeks to instill them in others.

   Keemuel Kenrud “Being outdoors is important to our Yup’ik culture,” says Kenrud. Photo by USFWS

backs of young bird watchers
  • From the Directorate: Connecting Our Constituencies
  • FWS and Greening Youth Foundation Place Members of Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta in FWS Internships
  • Harvesting the Power of Co-management for Bird Conservation in Alaska
  • Building Connections for Wildlife, People, Environmental Resilience in Baltimore
  • Increasing Native American Participation

Being an Arctic Youth Ambassador “gives a 19-year-old like me the opportunity to voice my opinions and beliefs about my culture, and why it is important to spread the knowledge of who we really are.”

But, as fewer people embrace the outdoors, Kenrud says, “My Yup’ik culture is slowly washing away.”

That’s where the Service and the RIT program come in — reaching Alaska Natives and others no longer at home in nature.

Kenrud says he thinks the Service does “a good job reaching out to people.”

But, as with everything, he adds, “there is room for improvement.”

He mentions several ideas to help children find their connection with nature, including “having more school visits.”

   Keemuel Kenrud Kenrud escorts Togiak National Wildlife  Refuge Supervisor Ronnie Sanchez on a trip on the Togiak River. Photo by USFWS

He’d also like to help Togiak with a program Abraham started, “River Ranger for a Day.” The program is intended to get children to feel the connection to nature by exposing them to the beauty of the Togiak River and its diversity of wildlife.

Programs such as River Rangers and Arctic Youth Ambassadors make Kenrud’s hope for future generations — “that they get to experience the power of nature, in the same way I’ve experienced it, and our grandparents before us” — possible. 

MATT TROTT, External Affairs, Headquarters

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Harvesting the Power of Co-management for Bird Conservation in Alaska

   chldren run around over bird puzzlesChildren play at an AMBCC event in Barrow. Photo by AMBCC

The Migratory Bird Treaty between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) set the foundation for bird conservation in North America. While the prohibition on hunting from March 10 to September 1 that resulted was a critical provision in protecting birds while they breed and raise their young, it made the traditional spring-summer subsistence harvest of migratory birds by northern indigenous peoples illegal.

In Arctic and sub-Artic regions, fall, and its attendant bird migrations, come earlier than in more southerly latitudes, and by September, many birds are already gone. Prior to 1918, when the treaty was enacted, the traditional spring-summer harvest had occurred for thousands of years as an integral part of the northern peoples’ subsistence way of life and thus continued despite the closed season. Efforts to enforce the treaty in Alaska resulted in hardship for the subsistence communities and created conflict between indigenous peoples and government agencies.

   AMBCC logo
The AMBCC logo features a Yup’ik mask by artist Katie Curtis from Toksook Bay, Alaska. It depicts a Canada goose surrounded by eight feathers, which represent the steps to implement a legal, regulated spring subsistence bird hunt: Notify people of the intent to form management bodies, meet to share ideas, send out ideas and listen, choose the form of management bodies, start rule-making, recommend rules for Alaska, link with management in other U.S. Flyways, and link with the nation.  

To remedy this situation, Alaska Natives and others worked to successfully amend the treaty in 1997. The amendment authorizes a regulated spring-summer subsistence harvest of migratory birds in Alaska and improves bird conservation by including subsistence harvest in the management system. The amendment also states that subsistence harvest is to remain at traditional levels relative to bird population sizes and that subsistence harvesters are to have a meaningful role in harvest management and bird conservation. This inclusion of Alaska Natives as true partners in the management of migratory birds returns to them a sense of ownership, thereby improving bird conservation in Alaska, in the Pacific Flyway and across the nation.

To implement these provisions of the amendment, the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council (AMBCC) was formed in 2000 as a co-management partnership among the U.S. government (represented by the Service), Alaska (represented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game) and Alaska Natives (represented by the Native Caucus, which includes Alaska Native representatives from 10 geographic regions across the state). The AMBCC considers recommendations for subsistence harvest regulations and other topics related to bird harvest and conservation. These proposed regulations are based on traditional and cultural practices of Alaska Native peoples as well as western science. Traditional Ecological Knowledge is also a key component in both the development of regulations and the review process.

   men at table People buy Duck Stamps during a festival in Barrow. Photo by AMBCC

“The AMBCC is one of the best examples of co-management in the state of Alaska today,” says Patty Schwalenberg, AMBCC executive director. “Alaska Natives have ownership in this process because they are included as an equal partner, and their advice and expertise is seriously considered when issues begin to be discussed.”

By working together, these three partners have been able to successfully engage Alaska Natives in 1) the development of regulations; 2) the review and approval of the proposed regulations; and 3) in the implementation of the regulations during the spring-summer subsistence season.

backs of young bird watchers
  • From the Directorate: Connecting Our Constituencies
  • FWS and Greening Youth Foundation Place Members of Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta in FWS Internships
  • Building Connections for Wildlife, People, Environmental Resilience in Baltimore
  • Arctic Youth Ambassador Wants Everyone to Feel ‘Power of Nature’
  • Increasing Native American Participation

As a result, the AMBCC’s first management plan was approved last September. This plan will guide the harvest of emperor geese, which haven’t been harvested in nearly 30 years.

“Co-Management, collaborative management, cooperative management, call it whatever you want. All we know is what we have at the AMBCC works. It works for all partners and most importantly, it works for the conservation of the migratory birds we all enjoy,” says Schwalenberg.

The first legal Alaska subsistence harvest season was just 13 years ago in 2003. The AMBCC partners have made much progress since, and continue to work together to fine-tune harvest regulations and related processes and to heal from the decades of conflict. Though challenges remain, much progress has been achieved through this unique partnership — a truly collaborative approach to manage harvest and conserve migratory birds for current and future generations.

TAMARA ZELLER, Migratory Bird Management, Alaska

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

More Entries