Come Fly With Me! : Fort Yukon, Alaska

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:

Examining a map of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) at the CATG, NR office in Fort Yukon, AK
Examining a map of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) at the CATG, NR office in Fort Yukon, AK

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.

DOH!

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 🙂 )

The Yukon River just outside of Fort Yukon, AK
The Yukon River just outside of Fort Yukon, AK
You can see many hundreds of years of stream morphology here. See the "oxbow" lakes (remants of stream bed) scattered throughout the area? The Yukon Flats is marked by old stream channels and small lakes.
You can see many hundreds of years of stream morphology here. See the “oxbow” lakes (remants of stream bed) scattered throughout the area? The Yukon Flats is marked by old stream channels and small lakes.
You really can't stop looking, it's all SO beautiful!
You really can’t stop looking, it’s all SO beautiful!
When flying small charter planes there is just you, the luggage, the pilots and a few passengers. It's cozy, but comfortable!
When flying small charter planes there is just you, the luggage, the pilots and a few passengers. It’s cozy, but comfortable!

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!

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Full moon night at Fort Yukon,AK
CATG Natural Resources Office Lit up by a full moon
CATG Natural Resources Office Lit up by a full moon
Back-lit trees during the big full moon.
Back-lit trees during the big full moon.
Full moon night at Fort Yukon,AK
Full moon night at Fort Yukon,AK
There was some wind out this night. Notice the tops of the trees? That blurring is a ruffling of the branches.
There was some wind out this night. Notice the tops of the trees? That blurring is a ruffling of the branches.
Out for a hike! AK survival gear : canvas boots, facemask, down jacket, fleece lined pants
Out for a hike! AK survival gear : canvas boots, facemask, down jacket, fleece lined pants

VILLAGE HIGHLIGHTS

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.

The wind out on the Yukon River looked COLD!
The wind out on the Yukon River looked COLD!
This place has not always been called Fort Yukon, and some still refer to it as the place that it was. Gwitchyaa Zhee

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 yukon is wide at the Fort Yukon landing (pictured here). It is amazing it is a river at all, could be a long lake just by the size of it.
The yukon is wide at the Fort Yukon landing (pictured here). It is amazing it is a river at all, could be a long lake just by the size of it.
This old school was one of the first (maybe the first?) in Fort Yukon. It lies along the river and is boarded up now. The square logwork still looks tight though and it is a very, very cool old building.
This old school was one of the first (maybe the first?) in Fort Yukon. It lies along the river and is boarded up now. The square logwork still looks tight though and it is a very, very cool old building.
I am not sure of the owner of this house. It was along the river and had so much character you had to love it!
I am not sure of the owner of this house. It was along the river and had so much character you had to love 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. 

Here's some of the mountain scenery coming from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks.
Here’s some of the mountain scenery coming from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks.
A juxtaposition of clouds and valleys. Shadows and light. It is quite stunning when you are up there looking down on it.
A juxtaposition of clouds and valleys. Shadows and light. It is quite stunning when you are up there looking down on it. Here’s the edge of the Yukon Flats. The mountain range that rises up is controlling the cloud cover pretty effectively.
We flew into Birch Creek for a pickup and some cargo. Here's a few as we were flying back out. Not many people living in Birch Creek!
We flew into Birch Creek for a pickup and some cargo. Here’s a few as we were flying back out. Not many people living in Birch Creek!
Going over the Yukon heading south this time. What a huge, daunting river!
Going over the Yukon heading south this time. What a huge, daunting river!
Fort Yukon Aerial
Fort Yukon from the air.

BRAIN TANNING

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.

Here, Donovan is twisting and pulling the moose hide to break down the fibers and make it supple.
Here, Donovan is twisting and pulling the moose hide to break down the fibers and make it supple.

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.

Wright Air standard issue plane
Wright Air standard issue plane

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”

  1. 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!

    1. 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!

  2. 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.
    Peter

    1. 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/

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