A lifetime on the land, a gift for finding the lost

Sonny Berry of Selawik National Wildlife Refuge receives Department of Interior’s Valor Award

U.S.Fish&Wildlife Alaska
6 min readSep 4, 2019


Selawik Refuge’s Sonny Berry (Jacqueline Cleveland for USFWS)

The Selawik National Wildlife Refuge looks like 2.15 million acres of taiga and tundra to a person who doesn’t know better.

It is a rich collection of a diverse ecosystem, for sure, with lakes, rivers, tundra, and forests. It holds an important migration route of the Western Arctic caribou herd. The area thrives with aquatic life, with fresh fish available year around within the river deltas.

To Frank “Sonny” Berry Jr., many places in the 150-mile swath of the Selawik basin have the history of his life, family, friends and the Iñupiat who have lived before them. There is the place where he shot a black wolf. Or where he found Frankie, who was lost. He can point to the last place he camped with his mom and dad.

The stories go so far back that Berry can point out the place where Qayak Man killed Copper Man, a story from Iñupiaq folklore.

Berry, like others whose ancestors have lived there for generations, knows the land because he lives from the land.

Sonny ice fishing on the Selawik River (Jacqueline Cleveland for USFWS)

“ My favorite job is being out on the land, out in the country,” said Berry, a maintenance worker for the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I like getting out to the land, camping, getting subsistence food for the elders. ”

(Jacqueline Cleveland for USFWS)

Berry knows the country so well that people who live near the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge depend on him for search and rescue. The twisting and interconnected rivers and sloughs are plentiful and the land is vast. No roads connect communities, and local residents travel mostly by boats and snowmobiles, depending on the season, to…



U.S.Fish&Wildlife Alaska

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