Arctic Refuge Welcomes Trustees for Alaska

Trip to the Aichilik River Inspires Conservation

Jul 06, 2015
Lisa Oakley

In June 2015 several Trustees for Alaska board members and donors traveled to the Aichilik River Valley in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Executive Director Vicki Clark accompanied (and cooked for) the group. This is her story:

Aichilik River Valley in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of James Spitzer.

Aichilik River Valley in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of James Spitzer.

As we set up our cook tent, a small herd of caribou wandered across the foothills just across the river from us. We all stopped setting up camp, pulled out our binoculars and watched in awe as the cows and calves browsed the tundra and made their way across the Aichilik River Valley. Our small group of Trustees for Alaska donors and board members had just arrived in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What a great welcome to be greeted by the iconic species central to our protection efforts for the Refuge!

Photo courtesy of James Spitzer.

Photo courtesy of James Spitzer.

We set up a base camp on a large gravel bar in the Aichilik River in the foothills on the north side of the Brooks Range, just a few miles from the Coastal Plain. The weather was warm and sunny and to our relief relatively mosquito-free.

Jacob's ladder image courtesy of James Spitzer.

Jacob’s ladder image courtesy of James Spitzer.

We day hiked for the three full days we were there. On the first day, our progress was slow as we stopped to identify the many beautiful wild flowers—shooting stars, Siberian flocks, lousewort, moss campion, lupine, Jacob’s ladder, Arctic poppies, and heather. We were all in awe of the color around us. It was hard work crashing through thick willows, but luckily, that was a very small part of the day.

Thawing permafrost creates a sinkhole where the ground settles unevenly. Ice can be seen in the right hand edge of the hole. Photo courtesy of James Spitzer.

Thawing permafrost creates a sinkhole where the ground settles unevenly. Ice can be seen in the right hand edge of the hole. Photo courtesy of James Spitzer.

On the second day, we found a thermokarst, which is an area of melted/melting permafrost, creating a hole. This one seemed fairly new and was not filled with water. We climbed in to look at the icy permafrost below. We wondered how much of the area would melt like this as climate change progresses and how fast.

In the evenings, we had a wonderful time discussing the day’s finds and also Trustees for Alaska’s work. One evening, Trustees for Alaska board member and trip leader, Bob Childers discussed the unique topography of the Arctic Refuge and its importance to birds and wildlife as a birthing ground for so many species. Bird species come from all over the world to breed in the Arctic Refuge. We talked about the current efforts by the State of Alaska to do exploratory drilling on the Coastal Plain and Trustees’ representation of nine groups opposing that effort. We also celebrated Trustees’ recent victory before the Alaska Supreme Court requiring public notice and analysis of the mining exploration activities for the Pebble Project in Bristol Bay. Our conversations were lively and brought forth some very thoughtful ideas.

We spent our evenings talking about the day's adventures and Trustees for Alaska's efforts to protect the Arctic Refuge. Photo courtesy of Rika Mouw.

We spent our evenings talking about the day’s adventures and Trustees for Alaska’s efforts to protect the Arctic Refuge. Photo courtesy of Rika Mouw.

This trip demonstrated what I have learned in the past year and a half as Executive Director: our donors are committed to conservation and offer a wealth of information and ideas on protecting Alaska. I will continue to connect and meet with as many of you, our donors, as possible in person. I hope to have other opportunities, like this trip, to get out with you, Trustees most valuable supporters, and enjoy the landscapes and species that we are working so hard to defend.

 

 

 

Learn more about Trustees for Alaska’s work to protect America’s Arctic.

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