Copper River Record September 6,2018
By Robin Mayo
WISE staff and volunteers spent last Saturday up at the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility in Gakona, helping out with their open house. About 300 guests from near and far attended, and it was a fun chance to learn about some of the cutting-edge science that University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is facilitating there.
Several locals asked me why WISE was there, and how we are connected with HAARP. The answer goes a long way back, right to the origins of WISE. In 2001, a group of local educators who had been talking about the need for environmental education in the area decided to get together for a meeting and make a plan of action. One of these people was Dr. Daniel Solie, a physics professor at UAF who had worked on Mt. Wrangell as part of a UAF Geophysical Institute research team.
At the time HAARP was operated by the US Air Force. Dr. Solie worked as an outreach educator for the facility, going to local schools with hands-on physics experiments. When the meetings led to the formation of a nonprofit to help coordinate and expedite science and environmental education, Dr. Solie volunteered to serve on the Board of Directors. Although he lives in Fairbanks, he served on the WISE board until 2014, helping guide the organization from an idea at a kitchen table to a busy organization with full-time staff. He still serves on the advisory board and is a generous donor.
Meanwhile, HAARP was going through some changes as well. The Air Force left the facility, turning over the keys to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. UAF was faced with the task of transitioning the facility to a University-run project, and one of the first priorities was making it more available for the public to visit and understand. If you have an instrument called the “Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar” there is a pretty good chance most of us don’t understand it, and would like to take a closer look.
Under the Air Force, HAARP had become the subject of a wide range of conspiracy theories. Armed with open minds, an eagerness to share the truth, and a sense of humor, UAF has held an open house every year, giving a chance to see the generators, control room, antennae array, and other facilities first hand. They have even designed a fun logo giving the facility the nickname “area 49,” which they print on t-shirts and shotglasses.
Adding a nice dash of serendipity, the Public Information Officer at the Geophysical Institute just happens to be an old friend of mine from Fairbanks, Sue Mitchell. In the 1970s we were riding our ponies in the Boreal Arboretum just behind the Geophysical Institute. So when they were looking for help in connecting with local resources for the first UAF HAARP Open House in 2016, Sue called WISE. We help with publicity and scheduling, suggest local resources to help with event logistics, and generally be there to help our partner with this big event.
Do I understand all the science that is going on at the facility just northeast of Gakona? No, not even close. My brain is not nearly big enough or stretchy enough to wrap itself around those cool feats of atmospheric physics and advanced electrical engineering. But I relish visiting the array and attending lectures by HAARP scientists, because their passion and commitment to a science which cannot even be seen is an inspiration.
When asked about the conspiracy theories, I like to repeat the answer given by Dr. Christopher Fallen at a talk on HAARP several years ago. He said that he couldn’t prove that they were NOT doing something, science just doesn’t work that way. What we can do is show and tell everything they are doing, and help people understand the real science that happens at this unique facility. For more information on HAARP, I recommend the Geophysical Institute’s website: www.gi.alaska.edu/haarp.
A group from WISE strikes a silly pose after touring the antennae array
Copper River Record August 16, 2018
By Robin Mayo
The office is quiet this morning, and full of ghosts. Last week WISE said goodbye to two staff members, Americorps Volunteer Mikaela Dalton, and Environmental Education Intern Matthew Roman. They gave their tremendous talents, energy and enthusiasm to WISE, and will be greatly missed. Their leaving stirred up memories of other WISE staff who have filled this office over the years. Matt, Lyda, Jamie, Kiana, Tim, Tommy….we miss you too!
Mikeala Dalton arrived last August, and spent a full year with WISE as an Americorps Service Member. She was part of a program sponsored by RurAL CAP, a statewide profit which focuses od improving the quality of life for rural Alaskan residents. The Resilient Alaska Youth program sends Americorps volunteers all over the state to work with our most valuable resource, our youth. Mikaela graduated from University of Vermont with a degree in Global Studies. With experience in Outdoor Education as both participant and instructor, she was the perfect person to get our new Outdoor Wilderness Leadership Skills (OWLS) program up and running.
“I grew up loving the feeling of awe; a reverence and wonder for the world around us. That feeling when you’re alone in a tall woods, or on top of a mountain you struggled to climb…It’s that feeling that sends shivers down your spine, makes your hair stand on end, and gives you goosebumps.” Mikaela Dalton
As well as writing the curriculum for OWLS, Mikaela helped plan and implement WISE programs old and new during her year. Since her marching orders included spending as much time with youth as possible, she was able to teach snowshoeing at Kluti-Kaahs spring break program, camp out for a week at Chosen Frozen, and hang out with the preschoolers at Copper River Native Association. Whenever possible she put on her favorite costume, a fuzzy fox onesie, and used her creativity for skits and engaging hands-on lessons.
Mikaela’s greatest accomplishment by far was developing the OWLS program. Starting with brainstorming, a detailed logic model, presenting a proposal to the School District curriculum committee, and capturing a full set of lesson plans, this new program simply would not have happened without her talent and commitment.
Matt Roman was with us for just 10 weeks, but we definitely filled those weeks! Florida is home to Matt, and he is a student at Columbia University in Manhattan, so taking up residence in the rustic cabin at WISE for the summer was definitely a change of pace. Matt is a natural teacher and full of enthusiasm, a great fit for jumping into a myriad of programs. He took on a wide variety of tasks, from maintaining the van to giving WISE’s digital presence some much needed attention, to holding the hands of our youngest hikers as they explored.
“The past few months have been much more than some internship I can sum up on a resume….Life is just different out here, the sense of community is one of the strongest I’ve ever felt…We all may have a clear idea of the beauty of the natural world, what I’ve come to realize is that it can really change the way we think and feel. It can make us more aware, more connected with ourselves and others, and on the whole more complete.” Matthew Roman
Most importantly, both Mikaela and Matt embraced their roles as members of the WISE and Copper Valley communities. They volunteered their time to work on the new bridge at Wellwood Nature Preserve, and took advantage of many opportunities to be a part of daily life here.
How will WISE fill the gaping holes left by these two? After the summer season is done, we will assess our finances and decide what help is needed for the upcoming year. Chances are very good that we will once again host an Americorps Volunteer, we’ve had some amazing people through this program, and really like to be a part of RurAL CAP’s Resilient Alaska Youth network. And hopefully we will host another intern next summer. As programs like OWLS and Copper River Stewardship Program nurture local teens in outdoor and leadership skills, it is our hope that Copper Valley youth will fill these roles.
In the meantime, I’m getting used to the empty desks, and reminding myself to check the oil!
Copper River Record August 9, 2018
By Janelle Eklund
It was a cloudy drizzly rainy kind of day but that didn’t deter people spreading their wings to flock to Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve’s (WRST) Wings Over the Wrangells. Four learning stations gave participants the opportunity to experience firsthand the lives of birds.
The picking apart of owl pellets to discover all kinds of little bones and skulls was a major attractant for the young crowd and some oldsters at the Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) station. Equipped with gloves, tweezer, a pointed stick, and a hand lens there was some very meticulous picking apart and serious discovery going on. The excitement of finding a small jaw with tiny teeth, or a whole intact skull was thrilling to watch. A sheet of paper identifying the various bones was taped next to each person so as they picked the bones out of the pellet they could lay them on the correct picture, which was labeled with the type of bone. Parents of the young ones were just as fascinated and worked right along with them digging and probing for bone treasures.
Some wanted to take their pellet and/or bones home and continue the joy of finding something new.
Contrary to popular belief an owl pellet is not something that comes out of the hind end of the bird. It’s actually regurgitated matter. The owl uses its beak to take apart a vole – like us cutting our meat – and consumes it along with any bones. The meat and soft tissues get digested. The bones don’t and the owl needs to get rid of them, so they are regurgitated and come out in a pellet looking similar to a winter moose dropping, but usually a little bit bigger. Sometimes the bones are pretty intact within the pellet and if one is very careful, as some of the participants were, the whole skull can be extracted from the rest of the pellet.
A live Great Gray Owl and Red Tailed Hawk from the Bird Treatment and Learning Center also drew attention where their life style and habits were discussed. These birds had been injured in some way and could not be returned to the wild because they wouldn’t survive. So they become teachers!
At another station anyone was also able to make their own bird out of craft materials and/or spruce cones. Everyone seemed to enjoy the afternoon of scientific bird discovery with the new found knowledge giving their own wings a wider span! Thanks to WRST for putting on this enjoyable event.
Kids and parents enjoyed discovering what remained of an owl's meals inside the pellets they cough up at the WISE learning station as part of Wings Over the Wrangells at the NPS visitor center. Photo: Courtesy of Janelle Eklund
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.