By Jenny Neyman
There’s hiking, and then there’s hiking with a purpose. Siddiq Touré, wildlife volunteer coordinator with the Chugach National Forest, is hoping to recruit Kenai Peninsula residents interested in doing the latter.
“A lot of tasks are wildlife surveys, as well as other ecological projects. There are some things like nonnative invasive pulling of weeds, things like this, different things that they do where they don’t have the Forest Service staff to take care of these tasks,” Touré said.
He’s organizing a Wildlife Volunteer Corps. of ecology-minded outdoors enthusiasts to help the Forest Service with various projects throughout the year, including bird surveys, planting vegetation and interacting with visitors. It’s work that needs to be done, but that the Forest Service doesn’t always have the staffing to accomplish in a park as big as the Chugach, covering an area roughly the size of New Hampshire.
So the Forest Service is asking for help in the form of local volunteers. The program is open to all ages, outdoors experience levels and residencies, though the goal is to get people involved in their own backyard. For 2015, with projects planned in the Moose Pass, Cooper Landing and Hope areas, that means Kenai Peninsula residents.
Help with wildlife surveys is the immediate need. Volunteers are wanted to help survey ptarmigan, bats, owls and goats. Survey areas include Palmer Creek Road, Summit Creek and Skyline Trail. Surveys involve hiking a certain area, looking and listening for signs of the target species, as well as taking stock of their environment.
“While you’re surveying them you are paying attention to their environment, their habitat, making sure everything is OK and hunky dory,” Touré said.
Volunteers can request certain survey areas and have some leeway to decide when to go, though surveys do need to be done at certain times of the year in order to correlate with data from previous years. For instance, a ptarmigan survey will be conducted in the month of May.
A survey walk generally takes a minimum of four hours, though volunteers are certainly welcome to sign up for more. Other projects, like planting vegetation, can take as little as an hour.
Volunteers go through orientation, so they know where to go, what to do and how to stay safe.
“All of our programs are coupled with training, so nobody is going out on their own. We have orientations where we go over the logistics and dynamics of what you’re going to be doing,” Touré said.
And they’re encouraged to work in groups. That’s more fun, anyway, to have someone to spot wildlife with.
“When you volunteer like this you automatically have a sense of camaraderie, you’re going to form a team. You’re not just going to go out on your own, you’re going with a purpose but with a group so it’s a really different dynamic than exploring out on your own,” Touré said.
Touré is hoping to amass a database of volunteers who can be called up for projects throughout the year and in years to come.
It’s good for the forest. It’s good for the Forest Service to have a little extra help and to encourage stewardship in its neighbors. And it’s a good way for residents to get involved in the great outdoors.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to see wildlife you probably wouldn’t see on a regular basis. You get to travel to places you probably wouldn’t go on a regular basis, and you get to interact with your Earth and your environment in a different way than you do on a regular basis,” he said.
The registration deadline had been set for Thursday but applications are still being taken. For more information, call Touré at 907-754-2322.