Cora Demit shares her Alaska Native heritage with visitors to Tetlin Refuge

Early life for Cora Demit was defined by family and fish: two concepts that may seem disparate, but in Cora’s case they combined to create the foundation for a joyous childhood.

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Cora Demit. 📷 USFWS

“I was born in Northway south of Tok, but my four siblings and I grew up in a fish camp,” recalls Cora, an Upper Tanana Athabascan tribal member. “It was on an allotment my mother owned, about 20 miles from the village. My father died when I was three years old, so my mother and grandmother raised us. And that camp was our world.”

Only one other family — friends of Cora’s mother — lived on the allotment. Everyone toiled endlessly from late spring through early fall, harvesting whitefish, pike and suckers from adjacent waterways, drying the fish on racks, trapping and hunting. …


Sylvia Pitka shares Athabascan wisdom with visitors to Alaska

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Deadman Lake, Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. 📷 Michelle Flagan for USFWS

One of Sylvia Pitka’s earliest chores was caring for the family dogs. That’s not unusual in American households, but these dogs were more than pets: they were hard-working household members, essential to the family’s prosperity. And their health and well-being depended on Sylvia’s diligence.

Sylvia Pitka and Cora Demit
Sylvia Pitka and Cora Demit

Alaska’s Songbirds

Tiny Migrant Songbirds with Arctic Aspirations

A close up of a Townsend’s warbler showing a splash of yellow color on its chest
A close up of a Townsend’s warbler showing a splash of yellow color on its chest
Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi) is arguably the most striking warbler species that breeds in Alaska. 📷 Intermountain Bird Observatory/Zak Pohlen

Of fifty warbler species regularly found throughout the U.S. and Canada, 11 make their way to Alaska each summer to breed. Like many other migratory birds, warblers take advantage of abundant insects and prime nesting habitat to raise young in the U.S. and Canada, before traveling to warmer areas like Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean to spend the winter.

a boreal forest cut by the porcupine river in Arctic Refuge
a boreal forest cut by the porcupine river in Arctic Refuge
Several species of warbler breed in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the summer, all using the treed or shrubby habitats found in the southern portion as well as the Brooks Range and its foothills. Here, Arctic Refuge’s Porcupine River cuts through the surrounding boreal forest creating picturesque cliffs and canyons. 📷 USFWS/Callie Gesmundo

Migration is no easy task for any bird, let alone warblers, which average less than the weight of one AAA battery! Prior to our understanding of bird migration, people had many interesting ideas about where migratory birds went during the colder winter months. Centuries ago, people thought birds hibernated underground or underwater, while others proposed they transformed into new species (as people noticed seeing different birds at different times of the year). Some even thought birds flew to the moon and spent the winter there. …


Fall Equinox Color Palettes from the Far North

Alaska is famously called Land of the Midnight Sun in summer for its nearly endless daylight— and in the winter, there is the aptly-named Polar Night of lengthy darkness. But for a few days each year, these wild swings of light find momentary balance, hanging equally between night and day. This temporary truce happens during the fall and spring equinox, when we experience the same amount of sunlight no matter where we live. Fall equinox might officially mark the start of the season, but in Alaska, our fall colors are already well on their way:

Landscape of lake, mountains, and trees at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with color blocks of blues, yellows, oranges
Landscape of lake, mountains, and trees at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with color blocks of blues, yellows, oranges
When fall comes to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, a palette of rich rusts, burnt oranges and glowing yellows join the landscape’s evergreen and glacial blues for a vibrant (if brief) moment of time. A closer look shows this autumnal trend comes with stunning accessories: cranberry reds, deep mushroom browns and light moss greens 📷 Wild North Photography


From the Arctic to the Aleutians, Explore with Us!

Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges are vast, full of fascinating animals, and there’s always so much to learn. While we may not find ourselves in the same classroom together this fall, there are still plenty of ways to explore nature and wildlife with us — virtually!

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Wildflowers

Alaska’s Summer Clock is Ticking

fireweed field at sunset, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
fireweed field at sunset, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
The sun sets over a meadow of fireweed in Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge 📷 USFWS/Lisa Hupp

Alaska’s short, sweet summer is usually in full swing by the time you really notice it. “Better hurry and enjoy it,” the fireweed says as blooms march up its stem. Another beautiful Alaska summer gone by, marked by fireweed flowers going to seed as salmon runs shift to Coho and start to dwindle. As the saying goes: “when fireweed turns to cotton, summer will soon be forgotten.”

anatomy of fireweed showing progression through summer — seed pods, flowers
anatomy of fireweed showing progression through summer — seed pods, flowers
Flowers start blooming at the bottom of the stalk. By the time they reach the top, winter is just around the corner (some people say six weeks to the first snow, to be exact) 📷 USFWS/Katrina Liebich

From The Ashes: Flower of Fire

If you’ve visited Kenai National Wildlife Refuge or taken a drive through the Kenai Peninsula recently, you’ll notice a contrast along the blackened scar left by the Swan Lake Fire of 2019: carpets of fireweed, easily visible from the Sterling Highway. …


U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Directorate Fellowship Program

How Alaska’s 2020 Directorate Fellows adapted and succeeded during a global pandemic

The Directorate Fellowship Program functions like the apprenticeships of past eras: a period of extended training that leads to secure employment. That’s especially the case in the conservation sphere, where the need for talented, diverse staff has never been greater.

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Linnea Eiben worked with supervisor Chuck Frost on a project titled “Fostering Data Stewardship and Education in Alaska”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners with multiple conservation organizations to identify and recruit approximately 100 participants annually for a rigorous, 11-week experience. Fellows are paired with supervisors and pursue projects that dovetail their interests and expertise with the Service’s needs.

The Fellows must be enrolled in an undergraduate program or graduate school, and must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. They’re provided housing, living and travel allowances, and participate in a week-long orientation course at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, before they’re dispatched to U.S. …


Stewardship & Action

Tackling Marine Debris At Home and Afar

Battered by the wind, lonely and remote, Tugidak Island faces into the brunt of North Pacific Ocean currents in the Gulf of Alaska. Though currently uninhabited, it catches and holds the evidence of humans: lines and nets from fishing boats, water bottles, food packaging, and tiny fragments of flotsam. Tugidak shares the fate of many Alaskan beaches along more than 46,000 miles of coastline (more than the entire continental United States combined). Trash, mostly plastic, arrives from around the world and washes ashore above the tideline to stay, perhaps for hundreds of years.

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Flying into Tugidak Island to assist Island Trails Network with a massive marine debris cleanup project. The State of Alaska has designated Tugidak as a Critical Habitat Area — home to many species of birds and historically one of the largest harbor seal haulouts in the world. Photo Credit: USFWS.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program

Healthy people, healthy fish and wildlife

Alaska has 46,000 miles of coasts — more than any other state — including 9,900 miles of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-managed National Wildlife Refuge coastline. Coastal habitats support fish, migratory birds, shellfish, marine mammals, and myriad jobs, recreational opportunities, and ways of life. Protecting unique coastlines and providing ecological, cultural and economic resilience through coastal habitat conservation is one of the most important landscape-scale conservation priorities of today.

Long Island (Kodiak, Alaska)

After over 20 years of hard work by many Kodiak residents, Leisnoi, Inc., Great Land Trust, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others, 1,259-acre Long Island was conserved in early 2019. …


Alaska’s Seabirds

Scientists track seabirds in Alaska’s changing seascape

It was a woman walking her dog on the beach near Seward late in the summer of 2015 who first noticed it: dead seabirds, mostly Common Murres, washing up on the shingle.

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A lifeless Common Murre that may eventually wash up on shore 📷 USFWS/Tamara Zeller

Similar reports began coming in from various locales around the Gulf of Alaska, and by December the number of incidents was “off the charts,” says Robb Kaler, the Alaska Seabird Die-off Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tens of thousands of dead birds were confirmed — common murres mostly, but other species as well, including Thick-billed Murres, Tufted Puffins and Black-legged Kittiwakes.

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Thick-billed & Common Murres in flight, Bering Sea 📷 USFWS/Marc Rauzon

Seabird die-offs have been recorded sporadically in Alaska over the years, but the magnitude and scope of the Gulf of Alaska die-off event made it extraordinary. And 2015 didn’t mark the end of the crisis. Similar die-offs occurred in the Gulf of Alaska in 2016, and in the Bering and Chukchi Seas in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with the list of impacted species expanding to Short-tailed Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, Crested Auklets and Horned Puffins. …

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U.S.Fish&Wildlife Alaska

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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