Tag Archives: Alaska

A group of people stand in a parking lot

Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge fire crew warmly welcomed in Alaska after epic journey

Little did a fire crew from Maine know when they were called to a fire in Alaska that their journey would be more like an episode of The Amazing Race than a routine fire mobilization.

 The Type 2 initial attack crew, named MHR#1 for Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, was pulled together by Prescribed Fire Management Specialist John Meister of the refuge in Baring, Maine.  Besides employees from Moosehorn and Rachel Carson national wildlife refuges, crew members included firefighters from the National Park Service and the State of Maine, as well as “AD’s”; qualified firefighters sponsored by these agencies and hired on an as-needed basis.

A group of people stands out in a parking lot on a sunny day with puffy clouds in a blue sky.

Alaska welcoming party, left to right Tracey McDonell, Mitch Ellis, Holly Gaboriault, Polly Wheeler, Ken Slaughter and Doug Alexander. Credit: Jan Passek/USFWS

 On the afternoon of Friday, July 5th, Meister got word that his crew was one of eight 20-person hand crews from the Northeast expected to be in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at noon the next day to board a chartered jet to Alaska. For the next two hours Meister and fire dispatcher Mary Elliott from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, on detail at the Northeastern Interagency Coordination Center (NECC) in Maine, scrambled to find transportation for the crew to Harrisburg.

 Finally they found a bus company out of New Hampshire that would drive throughout the night. The crew boarded the bus at 11:00 p.m. Friday evening and breathed a sigh of relief when they arrived in Harrisburg at 10:45 Saturday morning—about an hour to spare before the jet’s scheduled departure.  

 But luck was about to run out for MHR#1. The jet contractor had misrepresented his aircraft’s capacity.

 According to Lauren Hickey, BLM Logistics Coordinator for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, the contractor for the jet “swore they could carry all 8 crews, no problem, but when push came to shove, it turned out that wasn’t true and they could only load 7 of them.  The Fish and Wildlife crew got bumped.”

 Dispatcher Mari Carello-Bigner of the NECC stepped up to book commercial airline tickets for all 20 crew members, who  had to split  into groups on different flights.. “We had people scattered across America for four days,” said Meister, who watched the drama unfold from back home in Maine.

 Moosehorn Refuge’s firefighter Libby Harriman and five others were the first to arrive in Alaska at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday. Her husband, Brandon Harriman, also a firefighter at Moosehorn, arrived with another five at 8:00 that night.

A group of people stand in a parking lot.

We made it! Libby Harriman (holding cup) is all smiles on firm Alaska ground. Behind her is Lynn Wolfe from Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jan Passek/USFWS

 Four more firefighters embarked a plane to Alaska via Denver and another four were initially stranded in Harrisburg waiting for an available flight. The latter group eventually found one and touched down in Alaska on Monday night. Meanwhile, the other group made it to Denver only to have their flight to Alaska cancelled due to mechanical problems. The airline put them up for the night and they finally reached the Alaska Fire Service in the early morning of July 9th.

 Said Hickey in an email to Doug Alexander, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Regional Fire Coordinator,“I encountered the last few arriving crew members at the airport last night and they were very professional . . . and represented Fish and Wildlife well.   Even though it was midnight and pouring rain at the time from a cell that had just moved in, they were thrilled they’d finally made it and were looking forward to their assignment.”

 As chance would have it, when all crew members reunited at the fire base in Alaska on Tuesday morning, Alexander was on site with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Chief of Refuges Mitch Ellis, Deputy Chief Polly Wheeler, and Refuge Supervisors Tracey McDonnell and Holly Gaboriault and Kent Slaughter, Manager of the Alaska Fire Service.

A group of people stands out in a parking lot.

Doug Alexander (center) chats with fellow firefighters. Credit: Jan Passek/USFWS

Alexander and the entourage warmly welcomed the firefighters to Alaska and thanked them for coming to work on the Stuart Creek #2 Fire. 

 “I was not aware these folks had traveled for 36 hours,” said Alexander.  “They looked professional, eager and ready to go.”  Lauren’s note and our opportunity in meeting them are a great credit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

MHR# 1 is working with hot shot firefighters on the southwest side of the 84,000-acre Stuart Creek #2 fire near North Pole, Alaska. They are burning unburned vegetation to keep the fire from spreading and holding the fire line along roads.

Live from New York, it’s Kali the Bear!

After a cross-country flight last week, Kali the orphaned polar bear cub was a bit tired, but seemed no worse for the wear.

He remained calm and alert during the trip from Anchorage to Buffalo, and enjoyed his regular feedings inflight.

Watch Kali play with Luna!

Four northeast region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees were on hand Wednesday morning to welcome the zoo’s newest resident. The Service has official responsibility and ownership of Kali, because polar bears are a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Tom Roster, refuge manager at nearby Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge; Kofi Fynn-Aikins, project leader at Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office; Scott Saunders, fisheries biologist; and D.J. Monette, Northeast Region Native American liaison, attended the press event.

“We arrived early and the director of the zoo gave us a special tour. We got to see Kali, a cute little cub,” said Fynn-Aikins, who spoke at the event on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Four men and a woman pose at the zoo.

Left to right: Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge refuge manager Tom Roster, The Alaska Zoo curator Shannon Jensen, UPS assistant chief pilot Captain Jon Burrows, Lower Great Lakes Fisheries project leader Kofi Fynn-Aikins, and Alaska Zoo executive director Patrick Lampi. Credit: D.J. Monette/USFWS

Kali will soon be sharing space with another polar bear cub, a female named Luna. “The zoo director told us that through their sense of smell and vocalizations that the two cubs are aware of each other,” said Fynn-Aikins.

But before they are introduced, Kali will get some rest without visitors to give him a chance to adjust to his new surroundings. Caretakers also want to observe him to make sure the stress from the trip did not trigger any medical issues.

Meanwhile, Luna entertained at the press conference, which was held in front of her enclosure. “She was having a lot of fun playing. She stole the show from us!” said Fynn-Aikins.

Kali is not the first polar bear cub rescued from the Northern Slope of Alaska and moved to the Lower 48. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously joined forces with the Alaska Zoo and UPS in 2011 to move “Qannik” — Inupiat for “snowflake” —  to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky.

Here comes Kali!

After two months of bulking up on special polar bear chow, daily workouts with his teddy bears, and lots of attention by veterinarians at the Alaska Zoo, the young bear cub named Kali is ready to move to his new home in Buffalo, N.Y.

See press release
Photo credit: John Gomes/Alaska Zoo

Photo credit: John Gomes/Alaska Zoo

The long-term survival of polar bears in the wild is threatened due to declining habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the protection of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, arranged for Kali’s care at the Alaska Zoo and his move east this week.

Kali was born on the remote Northern Slope of Alaska in a snow and ice den dug by his mother on the coast of the Chukchi Sea in the Alaskan Arctic. Polar bear cubs like Kali stay in the den with their mother during their first winter because when they are born they are too small to handle the harsh winter environment. In March, he became an orphan at two months old, when his mother, who had recently emerged from the den, was shot by a subsistence hunter. That same day, Kali was taken to a nearby Native Alaskan village named Point Lay. Inupiat villagers named him Kali, which means “Point Lay” in their native language. Local authorities then escorted him on an Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage.

Kali upon arrival to the Alaska Zoo
Photo Credit: Charles Hamilton

There, Kali began a new life learning to live around human beings. Just two months ago, he was a rolly polly 18-pound white puff ball. He quickly won the hearts of his caretakers and received hundreds of visitors. As his popularity grew, so did he, more than tripling his weight. Today, Kali is a robust and healthy 65 pounds, and is fit and ready for his move.

Yesterday, Kali made his last appearance at the Alaska Zoo. This afternoon, he will depart on a 4,400-mile red-eye flight to upstate New York. After he arrives at the Buffalo Zoo, he will have a few days to acclimate to his new surroundings before he meets Luna, a female polar bear cub who was born in captivity.

It is not every day that UPS gets to deliver a polar bear. As a “VIP package,” Kali will travel by jet with an entourage of caregivers, first to Louisville, Kentucky for a brief layover. After changing planes, the cub will arrive in Buffalo early Wednesday morning. A veterinarian from the Buffalo Zoo will be by Kali’s side during the journey to his new home.

Follow this story #KailiCountdown on Twitter

Read about Polar Bears