I am happy to be reporting from the land of the midnight twilight where I have had a spectacular introduction to the Alaskan wilderness. I came here to work with plants, but with the impact of bear, moose, salmon and mosquitoes on life in Alaska, it appears my association with the animal kingdom is inevitable.
This summer I will be working for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park with the Exotic Plants Management Team. To shortly describe our summer activities, we will be focusing our efforts on surveying for the aquatic invasive Elodea spp., periodic management/surveying for newly discovered and prior existing invasive terrestrial plant populations, monitoring of aspen phenology and leaf miner damage, community outreach efforts and native seed collection for our restoration projects… We are certainly not void of projects. The last few weeks have been primarily focused on mandatory all-personal park training (aviation, bear and ATV training), and also specialized work training to get familiarized with navigating the NPS network drives and managing GPS and GIS data. It was a tremendously long process, but we are finally getting out into the field!
The two most recently visited field sites happen to be accessed by the mere two roads into our park, Nabesna and McCarthy. Given that Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest park and preserve in the United States with 13,275,799 acres, this presents a bit of a problem. The answer? Aviation. This park is SO remote that we will be flying via bush planes/floatplanes with frequency to backcountry field sites inaccessible by The Nabesna and McCarthy Roads (I’m quite excited about this).
Nabesna Road was our first destination where we convoyed ATVs into the backcountry to the Copper Lake Trail-Crew Camp. The trail is undergoing a serious rerouting project and we were there to assess the habitat damage during its construction and map potential sites for restoration and re-vegetation on unused or expired off-road vehicle and equipment trails. We even got our hands dirty cleaning up light inhibiting debris that was successfully choking out vegetation on many of these trails (see before/after photos).
In Alaska, many environmental hazards exist that have the power to seriously harm or kill if unprepared. Whether it’s the wildlife or weather (rain and freezing temperatures), it seems that this rugged wilderness is always testing the most seasoned of outdoorsmen/women. Despite these challenges, I’m convinced that insanity driven by mosquitoes is the most daunting obstacle in Alaska. Somehow the experience of 200+ tiny dipterans piercing their proboscises of 21 micrometers in diameter through a material layer and into the flesh causes folks to lose their cool. The DEET-less summer is going to be more difficult than I ever imagined.
After Nabesna area our team visited McCarthy and the Kennecott Mines to scout more potential restoration sites along with a manual treatment of a Leucanthemum Vulgare population. From the mine are phenomenal views of the Kennicott Glacier, Root Glacier and Stairway Icefall.
In our spare time we have been busy botanizing, gardening, picking spruce tips and traveling outside the Copper River Basin. I arrived in Alaska during the pasque flower bloom and was lucky enough to stumble upon a calypso orchid my first week here.
Life is sweet in Alaska and I am learning something new every day. Truly ecstatic to meet the other CLMs at training next week!