New Book Celebrates 25 Years of Collaborative Science

Chevak elder Leo Moses (left) stands with traditional council chief James Ayuluk (right). Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage.
Chevak elder Leo Moses (left) stands with traditional council chief James Ayuluk (right). Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage.

A new book celebrates 25 years of collaborative research and science between the Cup’ik people of Chevak, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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The title, Banding Together to learn and Preserve, 25 years of goose banding at old Chevak lays out the premise of this year book style collection of pictures and science information gathered during the decades of bird banding.

USGS Biologist Craig Ely. Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage.
USGS Biologist Craig Ely. Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage.

The work was prompted by declines in Cackling, White Front, Emperor and Black brant geese.

USGS wildlife biologist Craig Ely got young people from Chevak involved to herd the geese. He says it helped alleviate mistrust by locals about what the feds were doing and whether it was harming the geese.

“So once you get to know them, maybe you’ll be able to believe a little bit more what they say,” Ely said. “So when we tell them, oh, it doesn’t bother the birds, they’re more likely to trust us as individuals, so that was a big benefit of the project as well.”

Chevak elder Leo Moses worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on banding projects for many years along the banks of the Kashunuk river. The nearly 81-year-old teaches Cup’ik culture at the Chevak high school.

He says traditionally people herded the geese into nets and caught them to butcher and dry. He showed the biologists how to use the method to catch the birds for banding.

“We learned to work together. Which is good,” Moses said. “And when the children started helping herd and band them and learn to sex the birds and stuff. Well that’s educational.”

Moses traveled from Chevak with James Ayuluk, who also teaches at the school and is the chief of the traditional council. Ayuluk remembers hunting the geese when he was younger, rounding them up and catching them in nets. It meant survival for Cup’ik people generations ago to be able to harvest the geese, now Ayuluk says the harvest is restricted, plus there’s new food in the area.

Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage.
Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage.

“Like moose, 50 years ago wasn’t there. Beaver, 30 years ago wasn’t there. But we do catch geese, yes. I try not to catch them as much,” Ayuluk said. “I want my grandchildren someday to appreciate them as well. So, one dinner a month, that’s good enough. I have beaver meat over here, there’s moose meat over there. Other sources, if I want modern food, I go store maybe have a burger or pizza.”

USGS biologist Ely says an early 80s accord between local Native people and state and federal agencies resulted in the Yukon Delta management plan that he says was one of the first major agreements between indigenous people and agencies to manage through limited harvest. He says the results are clear.

“There’s five times as many Cackling geese as there used to be and White Fronted goose numbers were down, there’s too many of them now, they’re trying to figure out how to get rid of them now basically,” Ely said. “Emperor Geese and Black Brant, we banded those also. They haven’t done quite as well, but they’re still improving.”

A copy of the book will be presented to all households in Chevak.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori