Posted on 31 August 2011.
Getting a Glimpse
Denali, better known in the Lower 48 as Mt. McKinley
It’s not every day one gets a chance to make the long trip up to the state of Alaska, so when Defenders gave me the offer, I seized it! And in my ten days there, I did my best to see as much as I could of the state. But as anyone who’s been to Alaska knows, it’s a big place! I was fortunate enough to get a taste of what natural treasures the state has to offer, and squeezed in trips to Fox Island, Denali National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park. Between those unique, breathtaking places and my experiences below, this was truly a trip to remember.
During my trip, I visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC), a nonprofit that takes in displaced, injured or orphaned animals and works to return those they can to the wild. It was there that Dr. Jordan Schaul, the center’s conservation biologist and curator, gave me the offer of a lifetime: feeding some Kodiak brown bear cubs. Don’t be fooled (as I was) – these were no teddy bears. These “cubs” were 18 months old, each weighing more than 200 pounds! Discovered as orphans in the wild nine months ago, the center has been their home ever since. In addition to providing homes for bears, moose, caribou, wood bison and more, the AWCC provides education opportunities about Alaskan wildlife, and works on conservation efforts like the Wood Bison Reintroduction Project.
Making friends at the AWCC!
Our next stop was the Alaska SeaLife Center on Resurrection Bay. Alaska’s only public aquarium and ocean wildlife rescue center, it is dedicated to research, rehabilitation and education, and will be the key facility for the rescue of any marine animals and birds in the event of an oil spill in the area. While there, we were able to get a behind-the-scenes tour by center president Dr. Ian Dutton (husband to Defenders’ own Karla Dutton), who showed us a new energy system he just installed that uses sea water to heat and cool the building. When completed, the system will supply approximately 60% of the annual heating requirements of the center while reducing carbon emissions by approximately 1.3 million pounds.
Getting Some Perspective
As I said, one of the things that struck me the most about this trip was seeing firsthand just how vast Alaska is. For years, Defenders has been working to protect the Arctic Ocean from offshore drilling, and having been here I can’t imagine what anyone would do if there was an oil disaster in the state’s remote waters, particularly with the Arctic’s extreme and unpredictable weather. As of yet, the offshore drilling industry has not been able to prove they have clean-up technology should a catastrophe like the one that happened in the Gulf of Mexico last year take place. And with the nearest Coast Guard station 1,000 miles away, they won’t be able to count on the government for backup. Being here strengthened my resolve to fight risky drilling in the fragile Arctic Ocean, and protect the incredible wildlife I’d come to know.
Steller sea lions at Kenai Fjords National Park
The Alaskan Conservation Community/Rock Star Alaskan Citizen Advocates
Of course, the main purpose of my trip was work! In addition to building Defenders’ Alaska’s office outreach program with Karla Dutton and Theresa Fiorino, I conducted two outreach trainings in Anchorage and Mat Su Valley. The trainings themselves were incredible, with motivated people coming together to build their skills on strategic campaign planning, communicating with elected officials and federal agencies, working with the media and community organizing. I wasn’t the only one doing the training – one of the best parts of these two days was learning about the innovative ideas the local organizations and volunteers were already implementing to achieve their advocacy goals.
While it is apparent very quickly that Alaska is a different kind of place, it is also very clear that there are some incredibly dedicated people and organizations there working to protect all that makes it special. I came out of this experience feeling recharged and convinced now, more than ever, that by working together, we really can win the daunting conservation battles we are facing.
See what Defenders’ Alaska office is doing to protect the state’s unique wildlife and breathtaking natural places.
See more images from my trip below!