By Robin Mayo
WISE is working with three local public libraries to make “Discovery Packs” so families can learn and do simple science experiments at home. We are starting with a few packs at Kenny Lake Public Library this week, and by the end of the year hope to have a total of 24 packs available at Kenny Lake, Glennallen and Valdez libraries.
The idea grew as we thought about how we can support local families through remote and home schooling, and keep up with our In-Class Science program in spite of the pandemic. Since libraries already have systems in place to check out materials, they were an obvious choice for partnership. Copper Valley Electric Community Foundation and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company have already pledged funds to support the program, and a request is pending with the Foundation for Rural Service via Copper Valley Telecom.
Although designed for elementary aged students, one of the goals is to include materials that will appeal to a wide variety of ages and interests. The electricity pack is one of the first we tackled because it is one of the core building blocks of the In-class Science program. Included are books (Ms. Frizzle and her Magic School Bus,) safety information, batteries and bulbs, and experiments with static electricity. The Renewable Energy Alaska Program (REAP) assisted with this pack, so we there are also materials to build your own wind generator, hook up solar panels, and measure energy use in the home.
The packs will be able to be checked out just like a book. They will include a checklist to help borrowers make sure they get everything back in the pack. Between uses, the librarians will check and replenish the contents, wipe things down, and let them rest for a few days to “decontaminate.” Since each library has developed their own procedure for Covid19 safety, please check with your librarian for the best way to choose and pick up materials.
We will start with some basic topics, including Simple Machines, Electricity, Sound, and Magnets. Then we will branch out with packs for Aquatic Ecology, Birdwatching, Mammals, Geology, and more. Some of the packs we will have three of so they will always be available at all locations, while others will rotate between the libraries every few months.
Public input is very welcome on this project! What topics or materials would you like? After you try a pack, we’d love to hear how it went, and how it can be improved. We’d love to continue to grow this project with your ideas.
Photo: The Electricity Discovery Pack includes experiments in static, current, and renewable energy, safety information, and books.
By Robin Mayo
In a year full of disappointments, last week we were able to complete a much needed project to clean up the Copper River Watershed. A team of volunteers joined heavy equipment donated by Cruz Construction to extract abandoned vehicles, fishwheels, and other debris from the Kotsina River floodplain, just upriver from the Copper River Bridge at Chitina. Nonprofits Copper River Watershed Project (CRWP) and Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) led the project, joined by Bureau of Land Management Glennallen Field Office, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Chitina Village Council, and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission. Even the weather cooperated, delivering a very low water flow which made the project easier and safer.
Although cleaning up this mess has been on the wish list for years, the estimated $40,000+ price tag was daunting. But a phone call in July changed all that, when Dave Cruz of Cruz Construction offered his heavy equipment to extract the debris. He was looking for nonprofit partners to help with organizing the project, and WISE and CRWP were excited to jump on board. We just needed to come up with the money to haul away and dispose of the junk.
CRWP launched a crowdfunding effort, and the response was overwhelming, with $15,000 raised in donations large and small. We also received funds from Chitina Village, Ahtna Inc., and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. The State of Alaska, Chitina Village, and Ahtna Inc. cooperated in issuing the needed permits.
Starting on September 29, two big rock-hauling trucks and an excavator worked the floodplain, pulling out debris. Many of the large vehicles were partially buried and had to be dug and lifted out, coming out in pieces. A team of volunteers organized by Dave Cruz operated the machinery and provided ground support. The grin on Dave’s face, especially when he tugged on one tire sticking out of the river channel and pulled up a whole chassis, echoed everyone’s satisfaction.
The debris, which included at least 6 vehicles and many derelict fishwheels, was hauled to a staging area near the road, and crushed to facilitate hauling. It was loaded into highway trucks and taken either to the landfill or a recycling facility.
On Saturday, a team of about 20 community volunteers tackled the smaller trash. Job one was cleaning up the staging area. The Styrofoam floats from many of the fishwheels broke into tiny pieces, which were patiently picked up. We did a sweep of area campgrounds and roadsides all the way down to Haley Creek. A crew also scoured the shoreline of Town Lake. The volunteer effort filled a pickup truck and 20 foot trailer with about 30 bags of garbage as well as tires, metal, and large debris.
Afterwards, the volunteers celebrated with a delicious lunch by Sarah Nelson of Copper Basin Creations, and collected Tshirts as thank-you gifts. One lucky volunteer went home with the “door prize,” a CRWP tote bag full of goodies.
At every stage of this project, we’ve had conversations about how to prevent this from happening again. Certainly all the landowners need to be proactive about educating and enforcing. Since a trashed area tends to attract more trash, quick cleanup of large and small messes is challenging but essential. Chitina Village does an outstanding area of keeping up with summer trash, but need help and support from all stakeholders. We hope to make signs, and the idea of having youth artwork on the signs was presented at the volunteer event. Cruz Construction has already volunteered to install the signs!
As I finished this article for submission to the paper on Monday, I received word that a large pile of household/construction debris had been dumped on the Kotsina Floodplain. Sadness, anger and disbelief flooded my mind. But Ahtna Inc. responded quickly, sending out a crew to clean it up. We remind everyone that littering in Alaska is illegal and punishable with fines of up to $1000 and up to 90 days in jail. Working together, we can prevent another mess on the Kotsina, and keep our whole watershed clean.
Photos Left to Right- Dave Cruz uses an excavator to extract a vehicle chassis from the Kotsina River. Oversize Rock trucks were used to transport debris across the river to the staging area. At the staging area, the debris was broken into smaller pieces for loading into highway trucks. Photos: Paul Boos, WISE. The volunteer crew that removed the large debris included Denny Wallace, Gene Kubina, Chris Watson, Jeff Keller, Dave Cruz, Mike Uher, and Kade Nelson. Photo: Lisa Docken, CRWP. As this article went to press, news came in that a large pile had been dumped on the Kotsina Floodplain. Ahtna Inc. quickly sent a crew to clean it up. We encourage anyone who knows anything about this mess to contact the Alaska State Troopers. Photo: Mike Christenson.
By Robin Mayo
WISE and Copper River Watershed Project are moving ahead with plans to remove abandoned vehicles and other debris from the Kotsina River and floodplain, just upriver from the Copper River bridge at Chitina. Dave Cruz of Cruz Construction has volunteered heavy equipment and a crew to do the removal, and a crowdfunding campaign and generous donations are getting close to the required amount for trucking and disposal fees.
Airplane and drone flyovers of the cleanup site have shown that several of the vehicles have disappeared, but we have not yet determined if they are broken up, covered, or already washed into the river. There are also many abandoned fishwheels and other debris to be cleaned up. The project team is hoping for lower water levels in the fall. Heavy equipment will be working in the area the week of September 28-October 2, and a volunteer cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, October 3. If weather or other factors don’t cooperate, we may have to adjust these dates.
Volunteers are needed to help pick up small debris from the removal and staging areas, and also do a clean sweep of area boat launch, dipnetting and camping sites. A cleanup in the fall of 2019 yielded two pickup loads of garbage. Chitina Village has been doing an outstanding job of managing trash and outhouses this summer, but there is still work to be done.
If you’d like to help with the volunteer event, please contact WISE at 822-3575, or email@example.com. Lunch and gifts will be provided for volunteers, as well as protective equipment. We will be practicing social distancing, and volunteers also have the option of signing up to clean an area any time they choose during the week of the cleanup. We request that everyone who plans to volunteer sign up, so we can plan accordingly and keep you informed if there are changes.
The response to our crowdfunding campaign has been amazing, with over 100 donors contributing a total of over $10,000. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company and Chitina Village have also contributed to the project. We are still fundraising to cover the trucking and disposal fees. Vehicles and recyclable metal will be hauled out of the area, and the remainder will go to the landfill in Gulkana. Costs are estimated to be about $15,000, not including WISE and CRWP staff time. The crowdfunding campaign can be accessed from the WISE website, www.wise-edu.org, or a check can be mailed to WISE at HC 60 Box 338A Copper Center, AK 99573.
Seven different teams are competing for the spot of top fundraiser, and right now the rising star is “In Remembrance of Jason Esler.” McCarthy resident Esler was passionate about creating waste solutions for the McCarthy/Kennecott area, and was tragically lost in an accident last fall.
The team is also hoping to have enough funds to design, purchase and install signs encouraging users of the area to practice good stewardship and help protect the area. A trashed area attracts more junk, while a clean, pristine landscape and good public education can help prevent another mess.
This project is a bright spot in an otherwise hard season, when we have had to say “no” to many things. Thanks everyone for your enthusiastic support, and especially Cruz Construction for making it possible.
By Robin Mayo
If you’ve ever crossed the Copper River bridge near Chitina, chances are you’ve noticed several half-buried vehicles, motorhomes, and other junk upstream from the bridge, where the Kotsina River joins the Copper River. And chances are if you’ve noticed, you’ve wondered why “someone” hasn’t done “something” about it!
Various local groups have been aware of the problem and looking for a solution for years, but it is a thorny one, with multiple landowners, a meandering river, and a huge cost. Legally, responsibility for removing abandoned vehicles falls to the owner, and after 14 days without a permit they are considered to be trespassing. In 2017 the State of Alaska contacted all of the vehicle owners requesting their removal, but received no response.
Why is this project important? As well as being an eyesore, the vehicles contain toxic fluids and materials which are washed into the river as they break apart. They create a hazard to safe boating and enjoyment of the area. And sadly, junk serves as an invitation for more junk, while a clean environment encourages users to be better stewards of the resource.
Another question we’ve been asked about this project is “Why doesn’t the state and/or vehicle owners (or someone else) take care of this? Why ask for donations to clean up someone else’s mess?” Yes, someone else should be cleaning it up, but they aren’t! At this point the cost of removal far exceeds the value of the vehicles. The challenges of cleanup and risk to the river increase with time, and we’d just like to be part of the solution.
Copper River Watershed Project has had this on its “wish list” for years, but funding has been a huge barrier. There was a breakthrough this summer, when Dave Cruz of Cruz Construction volunteered to provide machinery and a skilled crew to extract the vehicles. A local property owner, fish wheel operator, and lover of Copper River salmon, Cruz has a construction crew working in the area and saw it as an opportunity to do a public service and help protect the fishery.
With the Cruz Construction offer removing one of the biggest obstacles and many other projects hampered by Covid19 restrictions, this fall is great timing. The State of Alaska recently issued a permit for the project, and we are in the midst of conversations with other potential partners. WISE is providing local support and organizing a volunteer effort to help with removing debris that can be collected by hand. Last fall a cleanup of popular camping and dipnetting spots in the area yielded two pickup truck loads of garbage.
The meandering Kotsina River, which emerges from a canyon and flows across a wide flood plain before joining with the Copper, is one of the trickiest challenges of the project. For years it was confined to the west side of the flood plain by dikes, making a large area of riverbank upstream from the Copper River bridge easily accessible. But with the dikes no longer maintained, the Kotsina has rerouted, and the vehicles ended up on the other side, or in some cases right in the channel.
(At this point I’m going to diverge a little and explain that the Kotsina River was just doing what rivers do best: carrying sediments, depositing them, seeking low places to flow to, and meandering about on the flood plain. Having been restrained for a while, it was not a surprise that it shifted to the opposite side. For a detailed description of this process and man’s mostly ineffectual quest to manage it, I highly recommend John McPhee’s book “Control of Nature,” with a fascinating section about the Mississippi River and Atchafalaya Basin.)
If all goes to plan, the actual removal will take place in late September or early October, when low water levels will make everything easier. The vehicles will be extracted, any remaining fluids removed, and broken into pieces for disposal. We will also remove other debris such as derelict fishwheels. The team is looking into the possibility of recycling some of the metal.
And here is where the “someone” who should do “something” about this mess becomes YOU! The next big obstacle is finding funding to haul away and dispose of the estimated 50 cubic yards of debris. As well as asking for support from agencies and businesses, we are running a crowdfunding campaign so that everyone who loves the area can pitch in. Links to donate can be found on the WISE website (www.wise-edu.org) and Copper River Watershed Project website (www.copperriver.org) You can also donate via text message: text CLEANKOTSINA to 44-321.
Photo Credit: Copper River Watershed Project. This photo taken several years ago shows abandoned vehicles and fishwheel debris in the Kotsina River, just upstream of the Copper River bridge at Chitina.
By Moses Korth
Kids Don’t Float is a statewide project where lifeguard loaner stations are installed and serviced by local organizations. WISE fulfilled the wish of a local family by installing one at Pippin Lake. Hura for the joy of it.
Unconventional. That is the only way to describe the rollercoaster of a year we're having. But even as Covide-19 tries to cripple the productivity of our community; WISE has adapted its methods. WISE has begun looking at our programs, changing them so that they're still relevant, but that they honor social distancing. Robin Mayo, (the executive director) has declared, “The world is a dynamic place, and I hope I’m able to continue to do my job, and continue to have a positive impact on the decisions being made.” We have been trying to protect our community from virus spread by leading by example, and to that end we have made many sacrifices. But just because we have stopped face to face programs that doesn't mean our mission has failed. On the contrary this wrench in the works just means we have to get a little...creative.
“Our mission is to provide science, and environmental education for all ages. Support for scientific research, and share the natural wonders of the copper river valley.” Robin told me during our interview. She said, “I’m motivated by a desire to share the outdoor privileges I had growing up with these kids.” And, “The knowledge that I can make a positive impact on them.”
To this end we took up this project. We hope that this will give more kids the chance to play at Pippin Lake with the safety equipment they need. These life jackets could save someone's life, and are already being used. Effectively eliminating one obstacle in the way of your family, and enjoying the outdoors at Pippen Lake.
This project was inspired and founded by the family of the late Sam Lightwood. It was his dream to build a swimming pool, but a pool would be too much up-keep, so his family compromised by using the money he left to found this, and other organizations. But keeping it stocked with life jackets is no mean feat. If you would like to become part of the effort to keep kids safe, and have extra flotation devices in good condition; then give us a call, at 907-822-3575. One more way you could help is to notify us when gear breaks. The last thing we want is to provide faulty equipment.
I’m the intern here at WISE, and when I first heard about this project I was super excited. I had never heard of Kids Don’t Float, and had no idea what went into setting up a kiosk. Building this sign has been a very educational experience. First I had to get permission from DOT, then I had to build a blueprint to find out what materials I needed, and after I had the materials I had to build it. I had lots of help along the way. My dad helped me build it and let me use his tools, and Robin, her daughter Elvie, and part of the Upstream Student Council helped install it. We ate pizza and had a blast.
I’d also like to thank everyone who was a part of making this a success. Especially BLM and the Lightwood family for funding, and Doug Vollman who obtained the life jackets. The Upstream student council, and my dad. Robin, Elvie, and Paul Boos who provided the trailer. And most importantly everyone who is using and enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Construction is complete.
By Robin Mayo
WISE and the Bureau of Land Management-Glennallen Field Office are continuing our tradition of offering summer activities to help local youth learn, grow, and get outside. For summer 2020, our activities will look different to help do our part to mitigate the spread of Covid19. We will also be hosting “Virtual Hikes” via video conference, starting with an exploration of the Alyeska Pipeline on Thursday, June 18th. Contact the WISE office for information on how to attend.
Hikes and activities will be available by request for families and small groups of up to ten people comfortable with being together. This could be several families, youth from a neighborhood who are already hanging out together, or anyone else in your “bubble.” You pick the topic, and we will work with you to figure out a good time and place to meet you and have an outdoor adventure together.
WISE and BLM staff will provide leadership, educational activities, and safety support, but unfortunately will not be able to offer transportation, food, or overnight camps. We will be following protocols set by the State of Alaska to prevent the spread of Covid19, and asking participants to also respect these guidelines. We hope that as the summer progresses we will be able to expand activities, but are also ready to cancel or adapt if Covid cases start showing up locally, or if state mandates change.
Available Activities—Please call the WISE office at 822-3575 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request activities for your family or group. We will work with you to schedule a day, time, and location that works for you. Most hikes will be about 2 to 3 hours, but we can be flexible depending on the group and activity.
Boreal Forest Hike- Tree ID, forest ecosystems, and how to read the story of a tree’s life in the rings.
Aquatic Ecology- Meet at a pond or stream to learn about macroinvertebrates, the water cycle, and fish ecology.
Mud Volcanoes- The somewhat rugged one mile hike to this local geological oddity is well worth it! Plan on wearing mud boots and old clothes.
Leave No Trace Hike- We will learn about the wonders of the Copper River Watershed, and how to be good stewards of the land with Leave No Trace games and activities.
Ten Essentials Hike - What should you pack for your adventure? We will explore ways to be safe and prepared for any outdoor trip, then enjoy a hike.
Outdoor Art-- We will combine a hike with an art project to grow creativity and observation skills.
Tracks and Scats– Learn how scientists and naturalists use tracks and scat to read the story of the natural world.
Skins and Skulls- Using WISE’s collection of skins and skulls, we will learn about local mammals, then explore the nearby forest looking for signs of their presence.
Other Ideas? We are open to suggestions. If there is a topic you’d like to learn more about, or a local trail you have always wanted to explore, ask!
COVID19 Risk Management Our first priority is the safety of our staff and program participants. Here are the procedures we will be following, and what we will be requesting of our participants.
We will ask that participants be free of any new or unexplained symptoms associated with Covid19, including fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, etc. Participants should not have travelled from outside the state within 14 days, or had close contact with anyone who could be carrying Covid 19.
WISE and BLM staff will wear face coverings whenever we are in close proximity with others, and as much as possible stay 6 feet away. Participants will be encouraged to also follow these practices.
We will be limiting sharing of items, and using wipes and hand sanitizer to clean throughout the program. Adults accompanying the children may be asked to help with activities to minimize close contact between WISE/BLM staff and participants. If the Covid19 risk for our area changes, we will cancel or adapt programs as necessary.
We are looking forward to some adventures, and hope to hear from you!
For more information or to request an activity:
Contact WISE at 822-3575, or email email@example.com.
By Robin Mayo
The Covid-19 situation has forced some big changes of WISE events in the near future, but we want to keep providing opportunities to learn, grow, and get outside. It has been discouraging to have so many cancellations and changes to much-anticipated programs like Family Ice Fishing Day, but we are also excited to be working creatively with partners and looking for ways to say “YES!”
Earth Discovery Day usually brings crowds of 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center in early May for a hands-on day of outdoor learning. Faced with cancellation, we decided to keep the spirit of the event alive by joining the students in their classroom video conferences the week of May 11-15. Sessions will include a visit with a short-eared owl at the AK WildBird Rehabilitation Center, a walk in the woods with a forester, Park Rangers, and fish biologists dissecting salmon.
All Students in grades 4, 5 and 6 with Copper River School District and Upstream Learning will have a chance to participate. Look for information from your classroom teacher!
We will also be hosting a science lecture on wolverines with Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Mike Harrington on May 8 at 7pm. The multi-media presentation will describe the research on wolverine movements that will provide valuable data for estimating their populations, and to help game managers ensure healthy populations and sustainable harvests. The presentation will explain all aspects of wolverine biology and ecology, including reproduction, activity, habitat preferences, home range sizes, and interactions among their species.
The Science Lecture will be held via video conference. If you’d like to attend, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the WISE office at 822-3575.
Summer programs such as WISE/BLM hikes and Science Camps are still uncertain, but we are working on finding alternatives such as creating guides for family hikes, and hosting virtual events. Updates will be posted on the WISE website (www.wise-edu.org) and Facebook page, or call the office.
By Robin Mayo
Every year, WISE recognizes a youth who exemplifies leadership, stewardship, and community service. This year, we are honoring Cassidy Austin-Merlino of McCarthy. She has participated twice in Copper River Stewardship Program, and used that experience as a springboard to get involved in statewide youth advocacy.
Cassidy first came to the Wrangells in 2012, when her family started McCarthy River Tours and Outfitters. Of summers in McCarthy, she said “The most important childhood memories were here, with the community and going on adventures. Because of that I fell in love with the environment, wanting to find different ways to explore it, and preserve it for future generations.”
WISE first met Cassidy when she joined our inaugural Geology Camp in 2016. It was the first time we gathered youth from the Copper Basin and McCarthy to explore and learn together. For Cassidy, it was a chance to meet a larger circle of youth and introduce them to her beloved home.
The next year, she came on Copper River Stewardship Program, spending 10 days with a cohort of youth from diverse communities. Cassidy quickly emerged as a leader with her knack for making friends, infectious enthusiasm, and eagerness to learn.
“That trip was super life changing for me…..it inspired all of the activism I do now. I started falling more in love with the watershed I live in.”
In 2018 Cassidy participated in Alaska Forum on the Environment with her Copper River Stewardship Program cohort, and Alaska Youth for Environmental Action’s Civics and Conservation Summit. “It was youth from all over the state bringing in different perspectives, from the Arctic and Indigenous Communities, that was super eye opening for me.” From her winter home in Anchorage, she started getting involved with statewide campaigns such as salmon habitat conservation. She led the committee that organized the student Climate Strike last September, and was featured in a story on KTUU News.
In 2019 Cassidy once again came on Copper River Stewardship Program as youth leader, with additional tasks including organizing media files, leading group discussions, and mentoring other students. At home in McCarthy she worked long shifts as a dishwasher, organized a community action group, and still found time for boating, biking, making art, and exploring the wilderness.
When I spoke to Cassidy in late March, her family was in McCarthy, taking advantage of the isolation there to ride out the coronavirus. Although lamenting the loss of senior year rituals, she looking forward to attending Western Washington University in the fall, planning to major in Political Science with a minor in Environmental Studies.
Asked how the present pandemic is going to change her life, Cassidy chose to take a big-picture view. “I think it could definitely help people realize that we need to live more sustainably, and take good care of our resources… When you walk into a grocery store and it’s empty, for a lot of people it may be the first time realizing that we don’t always have all of the resources we need, so we need to be really careful of what we use and what we waste.”
When asked for advice to pass on to other youth, Cassidy encouraged them to get out activities like Copper River Stewardship Program, to learn about their home. She also encouraged them to “use your voice, speak up, it is extremely powerful.”
Thank You Cassidy for stepping up as a leader, we are proud of you.
Copper River Record March 12, 2020
By Robin Mayo
This time of year, it’s easy to get stuck in the doldrums and imagine that breakup and summer just cannot come soon enough. Instead, why not celebrate the season for the miracle that it is—all the good aspects of winter supplemented by a whole lot more warmth and light. It’s the perfect time to get outdoors, soak in that incredible sunshine bouncing off the snow, and enjoy nature as it wakes up.
WISE would like to invite you to join us for a favorite spring ritual, Family Ice Fishing Day! For 11 years now we have been teaming up with BLM for this event. It is always the first Saturday in April, the same day as the annual Chitina Ice Fishing Derby organized by Uncle Tom’s Tavern in Chitina.
Family Ice Fishing Day 2020 will be Saturday, April 4th, from 10am to 3pm at Silver Lake, Mile 10ish on the McCarthy Road. Everyone is welcome, and we especially invite beginners who would like to try out the sport but may not have all the gear, or could use some tips from experts. We will have holes already drilled in the ice, equipment to loan including rods, scoops, buckets, and bait. Hot drinks and lunch will also be available. There is no charge, but donations are gratefully accepted to help support this event and our other education programs.
Plan to park on the McCarthy Road and walk about a quarter mile down to the lake. There will be signs to follow. Ice fishing involves patiently sitting still and it can be chilly on the ice, so plenty of warm layers are recommended. Other items you may want are ice cleats for your boots, folding chairs or pads to sit on, a reusable mug or water bottle to help us reduce trash, bags to take home your fish, and a sled to shuttle your gear and tired kids. Those 18 and older (and non-residents of Alaska 16 and older) need to have a fishing license. If you to bring your dog, please plan to keep it on a leash.
Silver Lake is known for wonderful rainbow trout fishing. This year we are focusing on how to best enjoy the eating as well as the catching. We will have demonstrations on cleaning and filleting, recipe suggestions, and a chance to try some freshly cooked trout. The BLM crew will bring an under-ice camera to give a peek into the aquatic world.
As always, we will be awarding prizes to kids! As well as recognizing the anglers who catch the biggest fish, awards go to youth who have great attitudes, help out, and inspire us with their enthusiasm.
Your fish can then be entered in the Chitina Ice Fishing Derby, which welcomes fish caught that day from all area lakes. Fish need to be presented for weighing at Uncle Tom’s Tavern in Chitina by 5pm. The top prize is a power auger! They will be providing “grilled protein” for the community dinner that follows, and ask everyone to bring potluck side dishes or desserts.
For more information on WISE/BLM Family Ice Fishing Day, check the website (www.wise-edu.org) and Facebook page, or call the office at 822-3575. If you have questions about the Chitina Ice Fishing Derby, you can call Uncle Tom’s Tavern at 823-4040, or awesome organizer Beth at 823-4040.
Photo Courtesy of WISE: Kenton, Russ, and Joella Scribner caught this big rainbow last year.
Copper River Record February 27, 2020
By Robin Mayo
A geologist, a biologist, and an archaeologist walk into a room….it sounds like the start of a joke, but it really happened last week at the inaugural Copper River Basin Symposium at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Visitor Center. And the results were inspiring!
The theme of the symposium was Tradition, Science, and Stewardship. In this article I’ll mostly review the science aspect, and plan to address tradition and stewardship in the coming weeks.
At many science symposiums, participants get together for big events like keynote speeches, but then have a choice of several different tracks. You have to make hard choices about which presentations to attend, and often end up learning mostly about your own discipline. This makes sense in some ways, but shortchanges the idea of thinking about our system as a whole.
For the recent symposium, the time for each presenter was short, but everyone had the chance to see all of the speakers. The topics were very diverse, but were grouped into sessions, blocks of 2 or three presentations with a common theme. Themes included Climate Research and Modeling, Glaciers, Hydrology, Archaeology, Working with Indigenous Communities, Wildlife, Collaborative Conservation and Human Dimensions, and Fisheries.
About 90 people total attended the symposium, some travelling from as far away as Texas and staying the entire time, as well as locals who stopped in for part of a day. Attendees ranged from experts in their fields, to Ahtna elders, to youth getting their first glimpse of some of the topics.
From the start, it was evident that local science is already embracing a cross-discipline approach. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Archaeologist Lee Reininghaus presented on exciting finds of ancient campsites along the shores of ancient Lake Atna. To start looking for the sites, she consulted geologist Mike Loso, whose experienced eye helped pick out the remnants of shoreline now high in the hills. In a reciprocal benefit, carbon dating from campfire remnants can now help geologists.
As Fisheries Biologist Matt Piche gave a talk on Native Village of Eyak’s chinook salmon tagging project in Baird Canyon, he mentioned that one of the benefits of the expensive study is that other studies can be added without incurring significant extra costs. In questions after the talks, and many informal conversations, ideas were sparked for more cooperation. What can biologists learn from the bone remnants found at archaeological sites? How can linguistic studies of place names help geologists learn about the formation of our landscape? How can a climatology study be used by fish biologists concerned about the effects of warming ocean waters? The possibilities are endless.
One of the most fascinating topics for me was Geolinguistic Evidence of Dene Presence at High-Water Levels of Glacial Lake Ahtna by James Kari of University of Alaska Fairbanks. Full confession: I did not begin to really understand 90% of his information! Trying to condense years of research and insight into a 15 minute presentation is nearly impossible. However, the rich heritage of Ahtna names in our landscape, vividly descriptive words packed with meaning, was abundantly clear. This led to conversations about restoring traditional place names and being mindful of the ancient traditions that infuse our whole valley.
Trenton Culp of Ahtna, Inc. and Dusin Carl of Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission gave a talk titled Bear Density of the Tazlina River Drainage, on sampling the DNA of our local bear populations. In designing the study, they tested and rejected the idea of live trapping, settling on a method of collecting hair samples with barbed wire. As well as being far less invasive and much cheaper, this charmingly low-tech solution is also far less stressful on both bears and researchers. They have already collected DNA samples from far more bears than they initially expected, and will continue the study.
I wish I had space and time to summarize every one of the amazing presentations at the Symposium. Words are also failing me in expressing the feeling of being in the same room with so much love for and knowledge about this place we call home.
Thanks to the partners who made this event possible: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Copper River Watershed Project, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission, Wrangell Mountains Center, Ahtna Heritage Foundation, and WISE. Thanks also to the sponsors who provided funds or in-kind support: Alyeska Pipeline Company Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Alaska Geographic, US Bureau of Land Management, and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission.
Paul Boos Photo. Students from Copper River Stewardship Program presented “Adventures in the Watershed Classroom. L to R, Braden Beckett, Cordova, Arthur Bishop, Kenny Lake, Grace Reyes, Cordova, Josie Beauchamp, Slana, and Jesse Hale, Kenny Lake.
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.