I have spent my last couple of days in Fort Yukon, Alaska. I was gathering data for my thesis as well as some data to fulfill some granting deliverables. As proof of that I offer you this key piece of evidence:
This was my first time into truly remote Alaska. In fact, Fort Yukon has no roads into it. It is far from the system of pavement which means your options are dogsled, snowmachine or airplane. I chose the latter. An interesting tidbit – villagers do drive cars, and the cars get there by barge when the Yukon is open and flowing. The flight up to Fort Yukon was very special because I got to experience the sunrise coming over the mountains. I attempted to capture the sunrise in my flight to Fort Yukon video. I will just warn you that the technique I used was a bit ‘experimental’. I wanted to shoot the video as a timelapse so I could get the sun rising as well as the plane in flight. That part worked; the sun definitely rises and the plane certainly moves. However, I didn’t account for the jerkiness of the plane when using a timelapse. I’ve done my best to edit to a smoother product, but you’ll still get tossed around a bit! It isn’t for the weak stomach :p. For a ‘smoother’ version of the flight, have a look at the flight from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks at the bottom which I think is a very cool video.
Small Antedote. For those who know my woes with laptops. I got off the plane in Fort Yukon and jumped into a vehicle with a stranger. Her name was Hannah. She thought I was someone else and I thought she was just picking me up for the office. So, off we went, but neither of us knew where we had to go :S . It didn’t take me long to figure out that I should head back to the airport and meet up with my actual pick-up. I had extra incentive though, I had left my laptop ON THE PLANE wedged between the plane and the seat. I talked to the Fort Yukon office and they weren’t able to contact the plane, but did put in a contact to the next village. That was lucky enough. On top of that I was fortunate that my plane was to return in 1.5 hours to pick up some freight before heading back to Fairbanks. When they arrived at 11:25 (and yes, minutes count when you are watching the time so closely) I was OVERJOYED to see the pilot step out of the plane with my laptop. Crisis averted!
THE FLIGHT TO FYU (Smoother flight at bottom 🙂 )
MY GRADUATE WORK
The purpose of this trip was to gather data for my graduate work. I’ll put down my current proposed thesis, so someday I can look back and read this. I’m sure I will have a good laugh. Currently I’m looking at competition between humans and wolves for the common resource of moose, in the Yukon Flats of interior Alaska. In this area moose populations are as low as anywhere in the U.S. or even the world. These low moose densities are unexpected, with exceptional habitat existing throughout the Yukon Flats. Moose in this system are thought to be controlled by wolves, which keep them at densities well below the carrying capacity of the land. This has been dubbed the ‘predator pit’. To get at competition I’m utilizing a collared wolf dataset through collaboration with the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) from the Council of Athabascan Government. Those data – which comprise the purpose of my trip to Fort Yukon- were collected during interviews in the mid-2000s and serve as a useful tool to understand landscape usage by the villagers. My intent is to understand where they harvest moose. By comparing the two datasets using resource selection functions in GIS I am hoping to gain insights into competition based on how humans and wolves use the landscape when pursuing moose. I can’t thank enough CATG and FWS the opportunity to work with their data.
FORT YUKON AT NIGHT
Fort Yukon is a really cool place. Due to its location (the middle of nowhere) the night-scapes that occur there are second to none (but probably tied with many). I went out into the night and wandered around Fort Yukon passing through snow covered trees and by quiet houses. The full moon lit the landscape up so that in these pictures it appears to be daytime. You certainly could have read a book by it!
Unfortunately I did not get to partake or see much of life at the Fort Yukon. I spent most of my time indoors going through data and maps. However, before leaving I got a small tour of town. Here’s just some of the things to catch my eye.
By the way, I had this pronounced to me many times. If there is someone reading this who could phonically write it out for me that would be a huge help. I’m having a hard time getting it.
THE FLIGHT TO FAI (smoother video! :D)
The flight home was a much different flight. It started out clear, but then below us a cloud bank formed. However, just after we got past the Yukon Flats (as denoted by a rising mountain range) the skies cleared again and created a beautiful juxtaposition of clouds, light, and shade.
On the way home I met a really unique and talented individual. His name is Donovan Felix and he is currently on a mission to revive native tanning practices (brain tanning) in the interior. He was pulling on a chunk of moose hide while the flight was happing to make it supple part of his cargo for the trip was a caribou hide he had just been given. He specializes in caribou, but in recent years has started tanning moose asl well. Donovan is obviously very passionate about what he does and his mission. He was constantly giving me tips on how to tan hides, and what he was doing with the hide. In fact, what he is is doing is so novel that he was covered by www.culturesurval.org . Click the link to read the story. Also, if you are interested in learning about brain tanning UAF holds a workshop! http://www.uaf.edu/iac/traditional-learning/animal-hide-tanning/. This is certainly something that I will be looking out for this spring. I ended up giving Donovan a ride to town after we got off the plane.
The planes that bring people back and forth are not that big. They are carry as much freight and cargo as they do people. At each stop cargo is loaded and unloaded quickly and planes do not stay around long. I must say though their service is excellent and is needed by the villages. During my ride to Fort Yukon I sat next to Dr. Pepper and milk. Here’s a picture of the plane that got me back to Fairbanks.
Here’s the last bit. I’m really happy how this video turned out of the flight to Fairbanks. Have a look and let me know what you think!
6 thoughts on “Come Fly With Me! : Fort Yukon, Alaska”
Thanks for taking me along on your adventure in your typically untypical fashion!
You’re welcome… but isn’t something ‘typically’ untypical make it… normal? Normally unormal?
Very Cool! What type of plane was used? Looks like maybe an otter but I’m not sure. Your thesis looks like a great way to better understand the interactions of people and wolves on the moose. Personally, I think since the 90’s when Jim Shockey started making hunting films about Alaska Yukon Moose hunting, many people from all over the world fly in and put a great deal of pressure on the area. Have you looked at the harvest statistics from 1960-present day? I would be curious to see, but keep in mind that the harvest reporting in that area most likely is not correct. I imagine a great deal of under reporting. I’ll be curious about your findings!
Thanks Jarred. I’m not sure actually on the type of plane. I just tried to find it on the website, but no luck. Next time I head out there I’ll be sure to find out!
The hunting dynamics have certainly changed a lot due to trophy hunting, and you are dead on the head for reporting. not many of the moose that are shot are reported formally. However, they can be recorded through these interviews. The interviews are a very important resource due to that! Data like these haven’t really been used in the way that I’m suggesting before, so it will be a steep learning curve as I start forward. Thanks for the support!
Ian, thanks for including us in your studying and travels. It is amazing how vast that part of the country is! I loved the song by John Denver. Your study makes me wonder what the impact on Moose here in Maine is by wolves.
Yeah! Wolves (or any topy predator) are highly beneficial to the systems. In many studies top-down regulation on prey by wolves has been shown to be beneficial. However, the presence of wolves in Maine is the great debate. There are those that argue they are already in Maine, but it is generally agreed that there is no breeding population (although that too would depend on who you ask). This article from the Bangor Daily in January 2014 takes a quick look at the issue of wolves in Maine. https://bangordailynews.com/2014/01/02/environment/chances-of-wolves-debate-continues-over-making-maine-a-wolf-habitat-and-whether-theyre-already-here/