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USFWS Losing A Difference Maker In Conservation

Mike Spindler through the years. From top right, a close-up a few years ago; at Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge with colleagues in 2012; at the radio studio in the late 1990s; on Agattu Island in 1976. Photos by USFWS

The following is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s publication, Open Spaces:

With the retirement of Mike Spindler next month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is losing a consummate professional, an inspiring mentor and an extraordinary storyteller.

From his early days on the marine research vessel Aleutian Tern to his most recent work as Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge manager and co-chair of the Northwest Boreal Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Mike has profoundly shaped conservation in Alaska – a legacy that will continue far into the future.

When the Aleutian Tern was delayed, sometimes for weeks, the small crew on remote Agattu Island – now part of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge – survived by eating from the seashore. With no radio communications and difficult logistics, the crew still successfully worked to make the island nearly fox free, enabling the recovery of several bird species not long afterward. Mike was on that crew in 1976– it was his first Service job.

He went on to become the first wildlife biologist at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There he helped shape techniques for shorebird, sheep and moose surveys.  He also spent more than 400 hours with pilot and mentor Don Ross. When fog made it impossible to land where they wanted to and fuel was low, Ross found a clearing and landed in the hills, where they simply made camp for the night. This taught Mike that stopping is OK when it’s too risky to continue, and to be prepared for anything.  Mike didn’t know then that he would become a skilled instructor-pilot and mentor in his own right for more than two decades – but one senses that Ross probably did know.

In 1984, Mike flew Selawik National Wildlife Refuge’s first plane, making connections between inland waterfowl nesting areas and coastal estuaries; then he moved to Koyukuk and Nowitna National Wildlife Refuges, where he discovered a significant decline in white-fronted geese.  Mike worked hard to reverse the decline, but he didn’t know those efforts were truly successful until years later – when former chief of the village of Allakaket, P.J. Simon, pointed to Mike and said, “You, you brought back the geese – thank you.”

Those efforts led to a radio show. The show, Raven’s Story, co-created by Mike, encouraged elders to tell what they know – to benefit present and future generations. The late Catherine Attla, from the village of Huslia, once told Mike on the show, “I used to feel different. I used to hide with my belief because I was ashamed … but so many people tell me, ‘Your knowledge is as good as or better than what we know.’ ” She went on to become a respected author of traditional Koyukon Athabaskan stories.

Mentors like Mike help us learn the lessons worth knowing, and they inspire us to act on those lessons. I have worked with Mike at Kanuti Refuge for over a decade. His greatest lesson and greatest conservation accomplishment might be these three words: “Share our story.”

Mike taught me that stories, once shared, are infinitely and profoundly powerful. They can, and do, change minds, hearts, circumstances and the future.

-KRISTIN REAKOFF, Interpretive Park Ranger, Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge

Porcupine Caribou Herd Numbers Growing

Photo by ADFG


ADFG map

Alaska’s porcupine caribou herd – No. 21 on the map above, at the border of Alaska and the Yukon Territory – is at a record-high number in the most recent survey of the herd.

Here’s more from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

The new Alaska Department of Fish and Game census puts the herd’s population at 218,000, which is the highest since the state began monitoring the herd in the 1970s.

The Porcupine Herd received national attention this winter because its calving grounds are often on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the part of the refuge Congress and President Donald Trump opened to oil and gas leases last month as part of the Republican tax overhaul bill. Opponents of oil and gas drilling in the refuge often argue that oil exploration and extraction would hurt the herd and the people who rely on the herd for food.

The Porcupine Herd has the largest land migration in the world, according to the Department of Fish and Game. The herd migrates over a Kansas-size area in northeast Alaska and Canada’s Yukon and Northwest territories.

Caribou herds are known for dramatic population swings. Populations can collapse suddenly when herds overgraze available food. The Porcupine Herd was estimated to be as large as 178,000 animals at its last peak in 1989 and dropped to a low of 123,000 in 2001 before climbing to its current high.

The Porcupine Herd has grown as the Western Arctic Herd, in Northwest Alaska, has declined. The Western Arctic Herd was once unquestionably the largest herd in the state, with a population of 490,000 in 2003.But the herd dropped to 201,000 by the summer of 2016. The Western Arctic Herd was also photographed in the summer of 2017, but census numbers for that herd weren’t available Tuesday.

ADFG Hosting Ice Fishing Seminar

Photo by Bixler McClure

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

Don’t “trout” yourself; winter is the perfect time to go fishing. Beat the winter blues and get outside. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) staff is hosting a basic introductory seminar on ice fishing at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery (WJHSFH) on Wednesday, January 10, 2018, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.This seminar is being held in the WJHSFH conference room which is located at 941 North Reeve Boulevard, Anchorage.

This is a free event for all angler levels who are interested in learning about various ice fishing equipment including ice augers, ice fishing rods, tip ups, how to use electronics, and various types of tackle and bait. Anglers will also learn about ice safety, different destinations and strategies, and how timing plays a part in catching different species of fish. ADF&G staff will also discuss the current ice fishing regulations.

Advanced registration is required and space is limited, so sign up early! To register please contact the Anchorage Sport Fish Information Center at (907) 267-2218.

For those anglers who are interested in fishing but aren’t quite ready to commit to the required fishing equipment, the ADF&G offers a free rod loaner program throughout the year. During the winter anglers can borrow ice fishing rods, manual ice augers, buckets, and scoops. For more information, please contact the ADF&G Anchorage office at (907) 267-2218.

Homestead Rescue’s Marty Raney In Drone Conflict

Discovery Channel photo

Discovery Channel TV personality Marty Raney of Homestead Rescue,  who we profiled last year, got into a bit of a drone beef with a local neighbor in Alaska.

Here’s the Anchorage Daily News:

A star of the reality show “Homestead Rescue” acknowledged he broke a man’s drone on Saturday, saying it had flown over his property and tracked him for about 1,000 feet.

The incident boiled over on Facebook as Marty Raney, the star of the Discovery show, and Justin Pursley, the drone operator, shared their sides of the story.

Pursley filed a petition for a protective order against Raney on Tuesday, but it was not issued and the case is closed, Alaska online court records show.

The two sides apparently met later Tuesday and dropped the dispute, after Raney apologized to Pursley on Facebook and said he would replace the drone. …


Raney said on Facebook he was sharpening his chainsaw on his 40-acre homestead when he heard buzzing and saw a drone overhead. The drone hovered about 100 feet directly above him and his cabin, then came closer, he wrote.

 Raney went to grab a gun because “maybe that would get their attention,” he wrote. But after he couldn’t find the key to his front door, he instead began walking the long distance to his truck. The drone tracked him about 1,000 feet as he walked to the truck and then it disappeared, he wrote.
Up the road, Raney found two men he didn’t know — Pursley and his father-in-law, it turns out — landing a drone. They repeatedly denied filming him, and Raney called Alaska State Troopers and reported the situation, he wrote.

Going Digital For Better Accuracy In Caribou Counts

ADFG photo

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game: 

Counting caribou in Alaska’s largest herds has become more effective, thanks to a pair of newly acquired digital aerial camera systems. The systems replace World War II-era black-and-white film cameras previously used since the 1970s and enabled biologists last summer to pinpoint numbers for the Porcupine, Fortymile, Central Arctic, Teshekpuk, and Western Arctic caribou herds.

“At least three of those herds wouldn’t have been photographed (last summer) without the new system,” said Wildlife Biologist Nate Pamperin of Fairbanks.

Biologists have long monitored caribou by flying over herds with cameras mounted in small aircraft and taking photographs as animals aggregate briefly each summer. The old systems, which featured Zeiss RMK-A large-format film cameras, functioned poorly in low light conditions, covered limited ground swaths, and cost precious time by requiring pilots to periodically land and reload film.

The new digital systems each feature three medium-format 100-megapixel cameras in gyro-stabilized mounts with GPS and inertial measurement units to record position, pitch, roll, and yaw. The technology allows biologists to conduct photocensus work under low light conditions and to capture wider swaths of country.

“Our Western Arctic herd count would not have happened with film last summer because of poor light on the second day,” said Pamperin. “In several other situations this year the larger ground swath of the new system allowed us to photograph large groups that were rapidly moving or widely scattered – situations that were problematic for the film systems.”

The digital cameras produce superior color images that can be inspected immediately for quality. In addition, new software enables individual images to be stitched together and georeferenced so that each caribou group can be viewed as a single image mosaic. In the past, staff had to manually lay out 9-inch by 9-inch printed photographs, delineate overlap, and determine which parts of each photo were to be counted. It was a tedious process that sometimes took weeks to accomplish.

Photocensus counts are important caribou management tools that help biologists track and manage herd population trends. Findings are used by advisory and regulatory boards as well as state and federal wildlife managers to help determine bag limits and hunting seasons. Biologists are completing the counts of various herds photographed last summer, and results of those counts will be available soon.

The new systems were purchased with funds generated by hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts through payment of federal taxes on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment, and through state hunting license and tag fees. For more information about caribou photocensus work, contact Nate Pamperin at (907) 459-7377 or nathan.pamperin@alaska.gov.

They Said It: 2017 ASJ Quotes Of The Year



Happy 2018, everyone!

It was, in many ways, a difficult 2017 to get through given how divisive and tension-filled our country is. But that’s a debate I don’t have the patience nor spirit to tackle right now.

In the pages of our magazine, a lot of interesting Alaskans or those with ties to Alaska quoteed some stuff over the past year.

Here’s our annual sample of he said/she said for 2017:

“THE BIG BULL CAME straight in and stopped 18 yards away and facing me. He looked nervous standing there for what seemed like forever. The other bulls mingled and fought each other while taking turns at the waterhole. Finally, he turned to go and I thought he was leaving, but he only circled the water to come in from behind to the other side. He was 22 yards from me, quartering away hard. I knew this was it, my moment of truth. “

-ASJ writer Paul Atkins, remembering not an Alaskan hunt for a moose or caribou but while our Arctic adventurer was tracking a Cape buffalo in South Africa.  -January, 2017

Photo by Paul Atkins

“I scanned the water again, spying the bundled-up passengers who’d paid thousands of dollars for a guided fishing trip after flying to Alaska, paying for a rental car and a hotel, and were looking to catch the same fish I was reeling in. And here I was supposed to be at work! I was not sure how the day could get any better.”

-Correspondent and “Chef in the Wild” Randy King, while trout fishing on the Kenai River. February, 2017

Randy King

“One of the comforting things about flying in Nepal (compared to Alaska) is, you can be flying around Alaska where you’re the only helicopter within six hours of you, which is the closest (point of) rescue away; that’s a horrifying thought. But you go to Nepal, and yeah you’re remote, but you look down and there are villages everywhere all the way back to base camp.”

-Rescue helicopter pilot Ryan Skorecki, comparing to his days as a pilot in Alaska compared to his expeiences flying on and around Mount Everest as depicted on the Discovery Channel series Everest Rescue. 

Ryan Skorecki/Discovery Channel


“I tried my hand at fishing, but unfortunately Lynx was starting to fuss. Bixler tended to him as I watched a large Dolly Varden ignore my latest lure selection. Lynx was not calming down and Bixler mentioned that he might be hungry again after thumbing through the layers to check his diaper. I grabbed him and coordinated feeding a baby while fishing, a necessary skill in Alaska. Soon I felt a familiar tap and set the hook. Lynx hardly flinched, but I had to hand the rod to Bixler to fight the fish. Another solid rainbow had taken the bait and was soon in the bucket for dinner. “

-ASJ writers Krystin and Bixler McClure during an ice fishing adventure with their infant son (and future Alaskan outdoor junkie) Lynx. March, 2017

Krystin and Lynx McClure

-“I look back now and whenever I go home, I kind of take for granted realizing that, ‘Wow! I grew up here.’ I know not a lot of kids get to experience what I did. So it was a special place, remains a special place and is a cool place to call home.”

-Anchorage native and NHL forward Nate Thompson – then with the Anaheim Ducks, now skating with the Ottawa Senators, on growing up fishing and hunting in his home state. April, 2017

Nate Thompson

Matt Mauno/Wikemedia

“It was a long process to go from Dorchester to the West Coast, and then to (British Columbia) in Canada and the progression into the woods, and then eventually to Alaska and the Tozitna River (his cabin there has been featured frequently on YukonMen) and where I started living.”

“And now I’ve been living around there for the last 40-something years. When I got there I realized that’s what I wanted. Once I was there I thought, ‘This is it,’ and something I’ve wanted for a long time, from when I was a little kid in a vacant lot catching snakes at 8 years old.” 

Stan Zuray of Discovery Channel’s Yukon Men on fleeing the chaos of his native Boston for the wilderness around Tanana, where the show depicts life far off the grid.

Stan Zuray photos by Discovery Channel

“It’s a place where the pictures just don’t do it justice. It’s kind of like the Yukon [Shockey, a Canadian, is from Vancouver Island in British Columbia]. You just don’t get the feeling of it until you’re there – when you’re smelling it and feeling the damp air and seeing the eagles fly by in front of your face. It’s just something where the hunt itself is cool and the animals are amazing. But I love the trip, because the minute you leave your front door until the minute you walk back through your front door, it’s an adventure. You’re kind of at the will of Mother Nature and it depends on what she feels like doing. And you really just can’t plan for a lot of it. The beauty up there is something that I can’t describe. I wish that everybody could get up there and see with their own eyes and smell it with their own noses. You can’t imagine it until you see it for yourself.”

-Hunter, TV personality and now author Eva Shockey, on what hunting in Alaska has meant to her. Shockey’s new book, Taking Aim, shared a harrowing deer hunt incident in the Aleutians.  September 2017

Eva and her dad Jim Shockey glass for bull moose in the Yukon. (SHOCKEY ENTERPRISES)

“Close to some open water where the ice shelf had broken off we spotted some nice bears hunting along the open water,. We were a long way out and in Russian territory. My guide picked out a landing spot behind some big ice chunks about a quarter mile from the bears. It looked smooth from the air but it wasn’t. The ice was very rough under the snow. After we stopped, we stamped out a runway with our snowshoes so Bill and his guide could safely land. It was very cold work. After we were all together we started working our way towards the bears.”

-Retired Air Force Col. George T. Boone, to writer Conrad Jungmann recalling a 1960s Cold War-era polar bear hunt when it was still legal in Alaska.  October 2017

George T. Boone

“My dad and me and Matt had to sleep on this side of the cliff for a couple hours, with no tent, of course, and we only had one sleeping bag, And we had to think about it really logically. We’d say, ‘OK, Dad, you’re the biggest and you go on the bottom, because you’re going to roll down on top of us.’ Matt was in the middle and I was on top, and we were just sandwiched in. I don’t what the point was because you don’t sleep; you just close your eyes for a second.”

“Alaska is a very challenging place; it’s very harsh and cold. Maybe we don’t  know any better but it’s the best place on Earth; it’s paradise. Even now when you do know better it’s still a special place. No place for the weak, that’s for sure. It takes a special type of person to love it in their hearts. I love Alaska. It’s your home. It was really challenging. It’s a challenging place that expects a lot out of you. Growing up in Alaska I think I was destined to have a good time.”

Homestead Rescue’s Misty Raney. who along with her dad Marty and brother Matt come to the aid of struggling off-the-grid residents on the Discovery Channel series, discussing her Last Frontier upbringing. November 2017

Misty Raney and the Discovery Channel

Misty (left) with dad Marty and brother Matt. (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

“Our family is so scattered, and Thanksgiving is one of the times of the year when we do get together. It is sort of a time when almost all of us are together, compared to just a few here and a few there. It’s a celebration of all the projects you’ve done … I think we just take that moment to appreciate where our food came from, and sometimes we hear some pretty crazy stories.” 

-Otto Kilcher, one of the homesteaders on Alaska: The Last Frontier, discussing the Kilchers’ holiday traditions. November 2017


“In the last 33 years, I have watched my oldest son, Mason, ride behind his grandpa through the enormous valleys and foothills of the Alaska Range, shooting spruce hens and gutting a moose. I have watched my youngest son, Fischer, sing and carry on so loudly while riding the packhorse that Grandpa turned around and gave him the moose call. Little Fischer started wailing away on the horn and a little spike bull came right out of the alders.”

-Correspondent Megan Corazza, reminiscing about hunts with her family’s multiple generations of Alaskans. December 2017

Megan Corazza

“No … yes! There it is at the top of that huge chalkboard. First place for the whole state of Alaska. My name: Atz Kilcher!”

“That moment, that precise moment, is still a part of who I am. It opened new horizons and gave me a glimpse of what I could be, of who I really was. And in some way, it forever aligned me with the underdogs, the ones who can’t afford the best but somehow make it work, all the ragamuffins out there without much more than a hope and dream.”

-Kilcher patriarch Atz in an excerpt from his new book, Son of a Midnight Land. December 2017

Photos courtesy of Atz Kilcher

Here’s hoping for more great soundbites for 2018. Happy New Year, everyone!

New Prince William Sound Fishing Regulations Announced

Prince William Sound photo by Bixler McClure

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

The Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) met in Valdez from December 1–5, 2017, and adopted sport fishing regulations for the Prince William Sound (PWS) Management Area. This is not a comprehensive list of all of the changes but a summary of the BOF decision’s that will impact the sport fishing regulations in PWS. A complete list of BOF decisions can be reviewed on the BOF webpage. These changes will be included in the 2018 Southcentral Sport Fishing Regulation Summary booklet available for distribution in early April.

Starting in 2018, the bag and possession limit for PWS lingcod, is one lingcod that is a minimum of 35 inches in length with head attached or 28 inches or greater in length with head removed. This will align the lingcod bag and possession limit in PWS with North Gulf Coast, except for Resurrection Bay which remains closed to the retention of lingcod.


The BOF established a new bag and possession limit for rockfish. Starting in 2018, the rockfish bag limit is four fish with a possession limit of eight fish of which only one can be a nonpelagic rockfish. The mandatory retention provision for nonpelagic rockfish has also been removed from regulation. This would be a good time to refresh your knowledge of rockfish species identification. The regulation summary has a handy guide to help identify commonly caught pelagic and nonpelagic rockfish species. Still to be discussed at the upcoming Anchorage BOF meeting scheduled for March 6–9, 2018, is a BOF proposal regarding the use of a deepwater release mechanism when releasing rockfish. Visit ADF&G’s Rockfish Conservation and Deepwater Release webpage for additional information about rockfish conservation.

The Clear Creek drainage, at mile 42 of the Copper River Highway, near Cordova, is now open to fishing for salmon. The bag and possession limit is three salmon other than king salmon. This is now in alignment with PWS Fresh Water Special Regulations; all freshwater drainages crossed by the Copper River Highway from Eyak River to the Million Dollar Bridge.

These regulation changes will go into effect for the 2018 fishing season. Please read the regulations closely prior to going fishing. If you have questions about a regulation, please contact the Anchorage Sport Fish Information Center at 907-267-2218.

Juneau Area Shrimp Fisheries Shut Down

ADFG file photo

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today that the sport and personal use (PU) shrimp fisheries in the Juneau area will remain closed until further notice. The closed area consists of all marine waters of Section 11-A (see attached map) north and west of a line extending from a regulatory marker near Point Bishop at 58° 12.33’N. lat., 134° 10’W long., to the Coast Guard marker and light on Point Arden at 58° 09.55’N. lat., 134° 10.69’W. long., south of the latitude of Little Island Light, and east of a line from Little Island Light to Point Retreat Light.

Due to declining commercial fishery catch per unit of effort (CPUE) indicating low spot shrimp abundance in Section 11-A, the commercial, sport, and personal use fisheries were closed July 1, 2013 to allow the shrimp population in this area to rebuild. Creel census data from 2003–2007 indicated that the PU/sport fishery harvests were approximately equal to commercial harvests during this time. Therefore, closure of all pot fisheries that harvest spot shrimp in this area are necessary to rebuild the population.

The intention of these closures is to allow spot shrimp abundance to rebound to a sustainable level. The department will continue to monitor the Section 11-A shrimp resource. The personal use and sport pot fisheries will remain closed until data indicates spot shrimp abundance can again sustain harvests.

The department plans to conduct a survey in Section 11-A in the spring of 2018 to gather information on spot shrimp stock abundance.


ADFG Releases 2018 Chinook Forecast For Several Southeast Rivers

Chinook photo by ADFG

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (department) has completed 2018 Chinook salmon run forecasts for Situk, Chilkat, Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers. These forecasts use sibling models in which the runs seen in 2016 and 2017, representing production from spawning events in 2012 and 2013, were used to predict the total cumulative run of 5- and 6-year-old fish in 2018.

The forecasts are as follows (in numbers of Chinook salmon):

Chinook Stock 2018 Run Forecast Avg Run (07-16) 2017 Escapementa Escapement Goal Range
Lower Upper
Situk 730 660 1,187 450 1,050
Chilkat 1,030 2,830 1,231 1,750 3,500
Taku 4,700 28,700 7,000 19,000 36,000
Stikine 6,900 24,550 10,000 14,000 28,000
Unuk 865 3,780 1,203 1,800 3,800
King Salmonb n/a n/a 85 120 240

a Escapement values in 2017 are preliminary
b Harvest and run are not assessed for the King Salmon River stock and only escapement is available annually

With the exception of the Situk River, where the 2018 Chinook salmon forecast is slightly above the recent 10-year average, these forecasts project the lowest runs on record using historical information spanning many decades. Inseason estimates and associated run projections produced in the spring and summer of 2018 will ultimately supersede these forecasts.

Reduced productivity of Chinook salmon stocks is a major concern in Southeast Alaska and select areas of the state. This information is being provided to raise public awareness of poor 2018 Chinook salmon forecasts and provide notice the department intends to manage 2018 fisheries that encounter Chinook salmon in a conservative manner.

During the Alaska Board of Fisheries (board) work session in October 2017, the department provided stock status updates for Southeast Alaska salmon stocks including Chinook salmon stocks listed above. The update included an evaluation of salmon stocks relative to guidance contained in the Policy for the management of sustainable salmon fisheries. Based on that evaluation, the department recommended to the board that Unuk River, King Salmon River, and Chilkat River Chinook salmon stocks be adopted as stocks of “management concern” and received concurrence on that recommendation from the board.

In response to these stock of concern recommendations, the department drafted action plans describing recommended management measures to reduce harvest of these stocks and criteria for eliminating stock of concern status. These action plans are available for review on the Alaska Board of Fisheries website (see links below). Draft action plans are being provided prior to the board public comment deadline (5:00 p.m. December 28, 2017) to allow public consideration of the department’s recommendations and provide opportunity for thoughtful engagement prior to and during the board’s Southeast and Yakutat Finfish meeting in Sitka, Alaska (January 15-23, 2018). For more information about the Board of Fisheries meeting and how you can participate, please visit the Board of Fisheries January 11, 2018 Meetingpage.

It is important to note that while other Southeast Alaska Chinook salmon stocks, including Stikine, Taku, and Situk river stocks, are not designated stocks of concern based on Policy for the management of sustainable salmon fisheriescriteria, low abundance of these stocks warrants very conservative fishery management in the near term. Management actions to conserve those stocks will also be considered during the January 2018 board meeting in Sitka.

Links to Southeast Alaska Chinook salmon action plans:

Chilkat River and King Salmon River King Salmon Stock Status and Action Plan, 2018 (PDF 2,039 kB)

Unuk River King Salmon Stock Status and Action Plan, 2018 (PDF 2,050 kB)