A Ton of Junk Removed from Togiak National Wildlife Refuge

Oct 12, 2016

This summer a clean-up effort in Togiak National Wildlife Refuge removed more than a ton of junk from the area.

Kara Hilwig, Togiak National Wildlife Refuge pilot and biologist
Credit via flickr Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This summer a clean-up effort in Togiak National Wildlife Refuge removed more than a ton of junk from the area. Jennifer Johnston was the Student Conservation Association Directorate Fellow this summer, and she helped coordinate the effort. 

They focused their efforts on several sites that were full of what she describes as, "the left overs from old hunting camps or equipment that had broken down and was abandoned." She says the sites were full of "snow machines, or generators, things like that, you know, and other equipment--buckets, barrels and fuel containers. Just things that served their purpose, and then people left them where when they broke down or people no longer needed them."

She and the others involved in the project had to do a bit of reconnaissance. She spoke with refuge personnel and area residents to get a sense of where these sites were located. Then they had to find the sites by plane. Kara Hilwig is a pilot and biologist at the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, flew with Johnston to find a number of these sites.

"So when we go and do one of these cleanup efforts usually its a pilot and a biologist or an intern," Hilwig says, "We go out there, fly over the site, and identify where all of the trash may be."

But it wasn’t all chit-chat and aerial observation. The clean-up itself was hard manual labor. The sites they cleaned this summer were all plane accessible, so they would land, process the debris, and load it up in airplanes.

"With the metal stuff, we actually take electric saws all out there, and cut the lids off of it, and then jump on it,"  smash it down as flat as we can get it, you know, so that it's a consolidated, crushed up bunch of metal." Hilwig explains. Then they "put a nice tarp down in the airplane, so we don't get dirt and garbage in the airplane, then load it up with all of this crushed debris and take out to the landfill where it belongs instead of out in the wilderness.

To date, five sites have been cleaned up. But there’s still a lot to do. More than two dozen sites still need cleaning, and Hilwig says that she continues to spot new sites as she flies in the area. Some of them will only be accessible by raft.

"I think it's just going to be an ongoing project. It seems as though every time I  go out and fly, I see something else, and something else, and somethinig else," Hilwig says.

The refuge is looking into grants and debris removal methods that will allow them to continue the clean-up effort in 2017.

Reach the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.