This is the continuation of an interview with Jeanette Koelsch on April 18, 2019 by Leslie McCartney and Katie Cullen at her office at the headquarters of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Nome, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Jeanette continues to talk about her observations of environmental change in the region and the effect it is having on animal populations and humans who depend upon access to wild resources for their food. She also discusses concerns about environmental disaster, the need for monitoring and response, and future resource management challenges faced by the National Park Service. She empahsizes the need to educate a wider public about environmental change in the north, to better plan for human adaptation, and her role as advocate.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Observing Change in Alaska's National Parks
Date of Interview: Apr 18, 2019
Narrator(s): Jeanette Koelsch
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Katie Cullen
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Observations of environmental change, differences in the freeze/thaw cycle, and the affect on human activities
Change in the timing of freeze-up and formation of ice, and the affect on animals and subsistence activities
Impact of late freeze-up on people in Shishmaref, and dangers and expense of changing subsistence patterns
Human adaptations and trying to prepare for the changes
Affect of environmental changes on access to food, and costs of goods, services and transportation
Changes in beaver population and their affect on vegetation and hydrology
Affect of thawing permafrost and lakes drying up
Changes in bird populations and migrations, and large die-off of murres
Affect of environmental change on local subsistence users, and educating the public about climate change
National Park Service efforts to reduce their local environmental impact
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve's education program, and cruise ships coming to Nome
Concern about ship-caused environmental disaster, and local monitoring and response
Need for modeling and predictive planning, and access to Native allotments
Future park management challenges, and local advocacy for planning for change
Importance of listening to local people, and doing scientific studies
Fears for the future of our planet and future generations
Passing on the love of living in Nome and its lifestyle to her children
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So today is Thursday, April 18, 2019. I’m Leslie McCartney, and we’re back in the National Park Service office in Nome with Jeanette and Katie to pick up where we left off yesterday.
And Jeanette, we were talking yesterday about adaptations and changes in landscape and how to minimize and protect resources from those damages.
We talked a little bit about the beavers coming up and changing the wetlands and grassland environment that way, permafrost thawing and the vegetation.
And then we talked about elodea, perhaps, in water when we were talking about invasive species coming up.
And so we just wanted to sort of branch out from there, talking about more environmental changes that you’ve seen or that you know that the park or natural preserve is experiencing.
So what comes to mind, other than those two things, when we’re talking about changes that you have heard or witnessed about in the last twenty years in the -- in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think definitely the difference in freeze and thaw seasons.
I think people talk about that a lot, as far as, for example, when I was a kid growing up here, winter was in September. By the time you went out to do moose hunt, there was usually a hard ground and some snow.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And what -- when would you go out for moose hunt? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um, in the fall. In September. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: In September.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: But now, at least from personal experience and discussions with others, it’s, um, it’s not frozen -- the ground’s not frozen. There’s usually not snow. And it’s usually raining. Where -- where normally, you would’ve had more snow.
And when I was a kid, I must have -- beginning at the age of twelve, which was in 1984, it was colder. And then we would -- snow and it would be cold until about June.
When I -- I remember finishing school at the end of May, and there still be snow patches all over. And um -- and having prom and wearing an actual jacket and boots to prom and then having to change.
But now in May, it could -- there could -- there’s less snow. And people are, you know, transitioning to spring, when that wouldn’t have happened until at least almost a month later.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And do you find it, now it’s more October, then, where the -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: October, November, sometimes even December.
And we definitely don’t get really good frozen ice for ice fishing or in the ocean until at least January now. So I remember the ice being out in November and December because we used to go down and tomcod fish at Nook, which is about, um, I want to say -- I want to say thirty miles on the coast.
And -- but now, you -- we go later to do that. If you’re lucky, I mean, if we’ve had a good thaw -- I mean, not thaw. Freeze-up? You can go, you know, like in December. But I remember, I feel like it was October when we were kids.
And then definitely I remember always having to wear full gear to go Halloween trick-or-treating. I mean, we had to wear snowsuit, everything. I remember my face getting painted, and it feeling like it was frozen. And now I send my kids out with a light jacket and rubber boots. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So that’s a huge, huge difference. And sometimes it’s raining at the end of October.
So it’s, uh -- I feel like that -- that -- I mean, and people might say, oh, a month or two. That’s not so bad. But for a place where people are used to doing things at certain times of the year where we’re dependent on life cycles and animals for hunting and their own, you know, calving, or when a moose is in rut.
We don’t kill certain animals when their -- when their life cycle has different things, right? And they -- they have the same rut. They have the same calving. They have the same pregnancy.
But the time that -- and the seasons that we go out are changing to be able to do those activities.
So it really impacts -- the weather really impacts -- and the climate, when we can go out to do those activities. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: If it greens up, too, in May, I mean, then you’re going out and you’re collecting greens a lot earlier than we used to in June.
The berries seem to be off a little bit, a couple weeks, but berries seem to have been a little bit more consistent to me, anyway.
And maybe because I don’t pay all that much attention to berries. When they come out, they come out. But I do feel like they haven’t changed that much.
Someone might -- who really pays attention to berries might say something different. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: But definitely hunting is -- is -- is different. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So, yeah. Hunting’s different.
So you were saying yesterday that a lot of the people from Shishmaref use the National Preserve for subsistence. So are you hearing a lot of the same things from them?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. They worry about not being able -- if it -- if their inlet doesn’t freeze, ’cause they’re on a little island, um, they can’t cross it by snowmobile.
And there’s no way to cross by boat, and then do -- do what? Walk on the tundra? I mean, um, there’s just no way for them to access during times of the year that they normally would if that inlet’s not freezing.
And there’s no way to get anywhere if the ground’s not frozen and there’s no snow. So even if there are plentiful moose or caribou or muskox, they can’t get to them.
And it’s the same is true for the ice, too. And the way walrus and seals are dependent on the ice floes.
If there’s no ice, there is -- there are no animals for them to go and hunt. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Or they have to go way far out, which endangers them because the ocean is -- it -- it -- with the lack of emergency response, it can be a dangerous place.
So where you used to go out just a mile, people are going out five miles, ten miles, farther, to get to the marine mammals that they would’ve normally gotten closer to home.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. So not only dangerous, but more expensive. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. Yes.
And then if you ever hunt, subsistence or anything in our region, you know how -- people know how expensive it is to go and not get anything. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And so, while the activity’s fun and enjoyable, to come home empty-handed is really a shame when you would normally know where to go.
You would normally know if it was a good hunting spot in the past. What kind of -- how many animals might be there. If all that’s changing, you have to adapt, but it’s -- it’s also really concerning.
And I do think people are -- are suffering from that unknown. But also they have a lament to -- when I discuss things with them, about these rapid changes to their environment, it makes them sad.
And they can’t -- they can’t do anything to make it stop or -- or -- so it gives you this feeling of, you know, like helplessness. But they also know that they’re adapting.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: What are some of the adaptations, then, that people are making? JEANETTE KOELSCH: They -- they are asking for different hunting seasons, for seasons to stay open longer or be open sooner, so they can go by boat.
It’s hard, because, like I said, the biological animal issues make it hard, too. Because you don’t want to hunt pregnant caribou. I mean, um, or necessarily, um, moose in rut.
Or how do you hunt moose when their antlers have fallen off, and you can’t tell a male from a female sometimes.
So that -- that’s the other thing. So people are asking for different windows of opportunity.
I think that people are trying to be safe by purchasing expensive technology, like, SPOTs and inReaches to help. I think, um --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Is there any federal assistance for purchasing something like that? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I don’t know. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: No?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I don’t know. I think their search-and-rescue folks are trying to get more money for those off-seasons that people aren’t used to.
The fact that people are falling through the ice, because normally, that would be frozen. And we’ve had deaths already this year, here and up in the Kotzebue area, for people falling through the ice.
And then they’ve had search-and-rescues, of course, in the Bethel area earlier than we have.
I think -- I think people are trying their best to prepare for the changes.
I just -- I think people -- I mean, everybody longs for what was good in the past. And I think for local people, it’s particularly sad that these things can’t be changed by them, that they --
they can’t influence climate change at a local level because they’re not the ones that are having a big influence on that type of --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So in a community where sharing is -- is a large part of the distribution of food, um, have you seen any changes in that? When people bring back caribou or moose, is there still large sharing?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think everybody shares, and I think they give to elders. I think they help people who can’t hunt still.
I -- I think -- I think there’s still a lot of that going on because everybody considers everybody family, in a way.
So I think -- I think one thing that would help, and they talk about this is, how to get goods and services that aren’t so expensive that supplement subsistence foods at the store so that they’re not spending so much if they need to buy something at the store.
The problem is, is the cost of goods and services, because transportation costs are so high, really inhibit healthy foods or other foods purchased when they can’t get, you know, more healthy subsistence foods.
And that -- that needs to be discussed, too. How do you -- how do you, um, -- how do you work through that also, so people can eat nutritionally and afford it?
When -- when their environment is changing, where they’re having a hard time getting the more healthy, nutritious foods from the land.
I think that -- that conversation for food security in both ways, um, I think people are working toward that discussion.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So it’s currently being on-going discussion, then is it? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: It has been entered into. Yes.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. 'Cause if you’ve ever been to a village, even Teller, that’s on the road system, you know that -- I mean, Nome is double the price of Anchorage. Teller is almost double the price of Nome. And how people can afford that --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. JEANETTE KOELSCH: I don’t know. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: But it’s a lot of probably buying cheaper, pre-made foods, rather than healthier fruits and vegetables. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Because of that cost.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yep. Right. You had mentioned that you first started going out to the Preserve in 1994 as a, um -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Park ranger. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Park ranger, yeah.
Have you been going back to the same places over the years at all, or because you’re superintendent, you’re more based now in Nome? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes, I’m a superintendent. I don’t get to go anywhere. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: But the thing is, is, I do go to a lot of village meetings and community meetings, but, um, we only have so much budget.
So in my mind, it really helps to get the interpreters out, biologists, all the people that need to advise me.
I would love to have the funding to go out, but a lot of times, I try to save that for staff.
And I trust their, um, you know, their knowledge to tell me what they’re seeing and what people are saying, and then making management decision on that.
But it would be really nice to be able to afford to go to some of these places and see if they’ve changed. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: That was going to be my question. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Or, yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: You know, what have -- what did it look like then? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Or,yeah -- or to see, um, yeah. I -- I do get to go to Serpentine every once in awhile, even though that’s even been a couple of years. And I’ve seen changes there from when I used to go in the ’90’s.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So what did it look like in the ’90’s, and then what have you witnessed is changing today?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: The big changes today are, well, before the beavers, was we were getting -- we were getting taller willow growth and shrubs. And we’ve had to cut back the airstrip, in particular, for more willow growth.
And then when I was there in the early ’90’s, there weren’t alders or cottonwood trees growing on the banks, and they weren’t as tall as they were. Now those are gone.
I mean, I think they’ll grow back, because, you know, those all have really unique root systems.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: How are they gone? What -- were they just -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: The beavers. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Beavers cut them down. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Beavers just took ’em out.
KATIE CULLEN: From one year to the next. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Really? Those trees?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Just, they were gone. One year they were there, and now they're gone. The beavers just took ’em out.
And the other thing is the hydrology. The hydrology of that valley has changed and is different.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And due to the beavers. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Due to the beavers. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And I think beavers are -- I don’t know if biologists will agree with me, but I do think beavers are a product of climate change.
They need bigger wood, more wood, to survive, and when you had a really strict tundra environment, they didn’t have that.
But now, as the environment’s changing, you know, trees, willows are -- are -- are supporting that change.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: It’s their food source. JEANETTE KOELSCH: It is. So now they’ve got food source. And as that change is going farther north --
And beavers can change an environment really quickly. I mean, they are environmental changers. Or maybe not environment, landscape changers. You know. They create lakes. They dam up rivers.
And so that’s something, I think, that people are going to have to pay more attention to, is how beavers are affecting that landscape.
And we’re definitely -- the Park Service is definitely going to have to learn to manage Serpentine for that change. It was -- we never talked about a beaver management plan or a hydrology plan until just, like, five years ago.
We started going, oh my gosh, we can either let beavers manage Serpentine and lose the hot spring, or we can start thinking of how do we do this?
And starting small, like when I’m talking about a possible beaver trapping clinic so that local people can start trapping beaver and utilizing them for subsistence food and teaching them that, is kind of a small way that we thought would be a great start to that.
And then having a hydrologist go out there and say, if you take out that dam, it’s going to take out all this. So how do you -- how do you do that in a way that doesn’t damage the hot spring pool itself or the facilities that are there. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: It’s going to be a challenge for us, because we were used to it being a certain way for a really, really long time.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. Yeah. Do you have a hydrologist on staff, then? JEANETTE KOELSCH: There’s one in the regional office. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And he’ll come from Anchorage.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So interestingly enough, when we’ve spoken to, especially Tahzay, he was saying that because the permafrost is thawing, a lot of the small, shallow lakes are also draining and going away -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And becoming now grasslands and dry. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So have you noticed the same thing more inland? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. Yes, and they’ve taken -- well, mostly out into -- from the coast out. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm-mm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: But they -- they take a lot of photos of those, and they’ll show -- be gone -- yeah, it’s the permafrost thawing, and the water just dissipates into the tundra.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. And then it becomes very dry. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. And then it’s grassland. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: In a way, the grassland that is described during ten thousand years ago through the Ice Age is -- it’s -- it’s like, possibly little mini grasslands. KATIE CULLEN: Oh, more like a tundra steppe. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Steppe. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Steppe. Mm-mm. KATIE CULLEN: Interesting. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. Very interesting.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: On a large scale, I have no idea what that’s going to look like.
KATIE CULLEN: The wooly mammoth will roam again.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: We brought the muskox back, I mean, you never know. Well, they didn’t go extinct. They were just extinct in our region, but then, you know, they were reintroduced. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So. We didn’t have to genetically engineer fake muskoxen.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So with the season and the winter season being shorter, have you noticed, or, um, any of your staff noticed, the migrations of birds changing? The types of birds or the timing?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I haven’t -- I haven’t thought of that. And that isn’t one of the things that we’ve asked local people, although I’m sure they might.
The migratory bird person that works with the Migratory Bird Council is at Kawerak. And I think that’s Austin Ahmasuk, but I’m not sure.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I think we tried to interview -- is that Austin that we tried to -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, he’s -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: He’s out of town right now. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um, he -- that could be him. But that would be an interesting question for local folks because they not only hunt birds, but they also collect -- collect eggs. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. Yeah.
KATIE CULLEN: There have been, through the LEO network that Jacob had mentioned as well, there’s -- there have been a few different, uh, reports from what I’ve seen, about -- about some birds that have been -- they’ve just been kind of hanging out for the whole winter.
And so, kind of differences in things happening. Not necessarily right here, but throughout the Arctic. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. Interesting.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: That is interesting. And then, you know, we’ve been really concerned about the, um, the murre die-off. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh. JEANETTE KOELSCH: The large die-offs.
And I think the biologists are contributing that to starvation. With ocean temperature change, the fish that they eat are swimming farther down. And they’re having a harder -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Deeper, you mean? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Deeper in the ocean, and the birds are having a hard time getting those fish.
And they’re dying off the coast and then washing up onshore.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So these fish must like cold water, then? And the upper water is warming, and so they’re going deeper. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Hm-mm. And they -- they --
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) did say that the Bering Sea warmed, I think, last summer in some spots by four degrees, which is enough to change migration patterns, and, uh -- for fish and mammals. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Even marine mammals. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So birds are -- I -- from what they -- from the carcasses they’ve collected, I believe -- our biologist, Stacia Backensto, that works on this project, believes that it’s from starvation.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Have you had a lot of sea mammals, too, washing up on yo -- on the shores? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Not -- not many more than normal. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: No. But a good person to ask would be Gay Sheffield. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes, we’ve been trying to contact them.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: About Gay. And then Gay is a good person. She also knows about the bird die-off, which, unfortunately, I think we’re going to expect more of those in the future, um, because those ecosystems are highly dependent on temperature of the water.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. Any other major changes, then, that we haven’t discussed at all, Jeanette?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Hm. I think -- I think that’s it. I mean, I -- I think that we talk about the environment a lot with animals and stuff, but I -- I can’t downplay the significance to the local indigenous people and how it affects them at an everyday level.
As far as erosion, the foods they eat, the times they hunt, the times they utilize the Preserve for subsistence and recreation and also going from village to village, travel and getting to their own camping areas.
It really -- I really think like it impacts them daily.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So that brings me to the -- a bigger, more global question is, how do we make others aware of this and make it important to them?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think through education. I -- I feel that there should be a larger coordinated effort. I think we piecemeal things into different agencies.
There was an initiative through Fish and Wildlife Service called Landscape Conservation Cooperatives that was funded through the Obama administration.
Those were unfunded, and they were an excellent forum for federal land managers and tribal people to get together and discuss these issues and create partnerships.
And you might say, oh, why can’t we just do that on our own? But this supplied one staff person that would organize monthly meetings. I know that sounds, like, oh, that can’t be that hard.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh, yes, it is. In these communities. Yes.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. And they sent notices out. They took the minutes.
They had one annual in-person meeting. They created landscape strategies with everybody.
They -- even some landscape conservation cooperatives had project funding you could apply for to help get data or create educational materials and solutions.
And even at a DOI (Department of Interior) level, that was excellent. And now we’re struggling to continue that effort without staffing throughout these landscape conservation cooperatives.
Some have just disappeared. Others, like in the state of Alaska, are being funded through grant funding through agencies like the Alaska Conservation Association.
I think -- I think through the efforts of many, I think we would -- we would do better. And we wouldn’t be duplicating things that others are doing.
Even if there was at least that forum for cooperation and coordination and -- and time for people to talk about their projects and what they’re doing.
I think it also provided tribal input in an equal playing field with the federal agencies, so it really -- it was -- I really enjoyed that coordinated effort and that funding for these landscape conservation cooperatives. But they -- but unfortunately now they, um, -- they no longer exist at the same level.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. Katie, you had a couple of questions I know that you wanted to ask Jeanette.
KATIE CULLEN: Yeah, kind of -- I guess kind of as an extension of what we were just talking about, I was curious to hear your thoughts on, like, if you were in -- having a chat with youth in New Hampshire, for example, what -- what message would you want them to take home regarding kind of two things, like changes that you’ve observed and actions that they could take to help out.
’Cause, you know, like, in New Hampshire the impacts are being experienced not necessarily on a daily basis like up here, and in a different -- very different manner and way.
So yeah, what -- what message would you want to share with them?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think my message would be is to think globally. I feel like we’re in an age now where we’re very nationalized.
But thinking globally allows people to empathize, but also make larger changes to their environment. Even in Alaska, I think I would say that to local students.
Become an environmental engineer. Become an engineer that works with wind or solar or wave power. Look at careers that would help the environment, and -- and -- and move toward that direction.
Because I think a whole generation can change some of the things we’ve been doing. But we have to think globally, and we have to reach out globally because the United States can do these things. It can be meaningful.
But less industrialized countries can still have a huge impact. And continuing to discuss those global issues is important, and having students know that them reaching out globally is also important, and not just --
I mean, small ways, too, like recycling and other things, are super important. But we need to have those people who can think globally and learn other languages. Learn other people’s cultures.
Be willing to do those types of outreach efforts so that people in other countries understand that they also need to work toward this agr -- these agreements about the -- about the world in general.
We all have one planet, and it’s our only planet, so it’s really important to think globally. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah, I agree.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, we have that problem. Like, we think about our park a lot, but I think one thing that we -- I really am proud of our staff here, is we think about our entire Seward Peninsula and Alaska a lot, too.
Like, I mean, sometimes we don’t totally go beyond Alaska, but we just don’t think of our park as some island that we’re influencing. So I really -- I really think that’s important.
And then through Katie’s education efforts, through getting distance education going, that helps think globally and more about education to students.
Our web presence is extremely important, because that’s global. And ensuring that that is up to date and it has the messages that we want on it is significantly important.
I think in those ways, I think we can make a difference. If we didn’t think that, we wouldn’t be doing what we do.
But um, it -- it would be -- it would behoove the United States, I would say, to think globally about these issues.
KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. That was my -- my big question. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: That was your big question?
KATIE CULLEN: That got me to thinking about the, like, yeah, just how, for me it’s become, really, like, I really started to think about my own daily actions and like how I can best, you know, make those decisions that are going to, you know, like, reach beyond.
If that's possible. You know, reach beyond here. JEANETTE KOELSCH: The park does it, too. Like we try to buy sustainable products. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. Um-hm. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And things like that.
I -- we think a lot -- I think a lot about, like putting solar at the bunkhouse, and how do we engineer that?
How do we work with the City of Nome so we can use some of that power? Where would we put a battery back -- bank?
Having an engineer involved in putting a project together for that, you know. Stuff like that.
So, um, yeah. And that would be another -- another way to, you know, um, to reduce that footprint.
KATIE CULLEN: Just kind of thinking about how every action is significant. You know, it’s -- it’s --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. So your education program here, just because that’s what this fits into. Is it -- you were saying it’s both local in the various schools here. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um-hm. Um-hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And then for a visitor, um, when visitors come to visit Nome, especially on the cruise ships, do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Because that’s also a way of educating, not just people here, but people coming in, as to what’s actually happening in the environment. The Seward Peninsula and as part of Alaska.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, we talk a lot about that, right? Because the cruise ships are coming because of climate change.
And having those -- many are extremely well-to-do folks -- understand why they get to take this cruise now is really important.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: When did the cruise ships start docking? Was it last year or the year before? KATIE CULLEN: Oh, it’s been a number of years. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh, has it?
KATIE CULLEN: But it has increased in numbers, I would say. So this summer, we have currently on the schedule from what I’ve seen, there should be about eleven cruise ships visiting Nome. Which in the past, it’s been -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Four. KATIE CULLEN: Five, yeah four or five or so. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Four or five.
And in the past-past, it was like, one. And they were really small, more like yacht things, with really lower, um, cruisers.
Like 100 people on that boat, or 75 people on a boat. But now they’re bigger. Some of them are bigger boats, and there’s more of them.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Like a hundred? Couple of hundred? KATIE CULLEN: Two-three hundred or so passengers. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. Yep.
And then we had the 1500-passenger one, a couple years ago.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So this is a great opportunity to educate those people and have a take-home message.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: We’re told that they get that education, but I think it’s important that we continue to do that.
But one of the things that’s impeding us a little bit is a lot of these are foreign travelers, and while Katie and Lupi are very great at Spanish, we don’t have interpreters that speak, um --
KATIE CULLEN: Primarily French and German. JEANETTE KOELSCH: German. KATIE CULLEN: Yeah. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. Yeah.
And we usually get quite a few Korean tours, too, so that level of how do we interpret that and figure out how to do that when we don’t have the -- a language interpreter.
And a lot of our materials are -- are written in -- all of our materials are written in English, but -- we have some Russian, but the Russian folks aren’t cruising around, at least not in our waters.
How are we gonna adapt to those different types of languages is another thing that we keep talking about. How do we do that? KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And for our small park, it’s about applying for project money and getting a project a grant. Or to help us convert some of those materials.
And then what do we convert? What do we -- what do we make for them? KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: You know, stuff like that. We have to go through the discussions.
KATIE CULLEN: Yeah, I think in the next couple of years, ’cause it is a very present and growing opportunity. So the next couple of years, it’ll be --
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And if we have the data to prove that we’re going to get, like French cruise ships in, or mostly French or mostly German, then we would put announcements out for German-speaking interpreters in the future or French-speaking interpreters.
Or if it’s -- if it changes demographics to Korean or whatever, um, having that up-front knowledge of what type of -- where are these people coming from and what language do they primarily speak would be good for us.
KATIE CULLEN: Or an international volunteer -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, an international volunteer. Yep. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: There’s lots of different -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Lots of different ways.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: But it’s just such a great opportunity from people who have not ever visited this type of an environment to really show first-hand the -- how fast things are changing. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And how much adaptation is going to be required. Like, it’s such a great home-global message to these people.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: We have to do it in a good way, too, though. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes. JEANETTE KOELSCH: So they don’t feel guilty about their cruise. KATIE CULLEN: Right? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Right?
’Cause studies have shown certain boats do also contribute to climate change, so -- And, yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Is there concern with these cruise ships coming up about any type of environmental disaster that could have -- from them? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh, yes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So how are discussions going? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Well, not just them, but -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: The larger ships? JEANETTE KOELSCH: -- other larger ships and other ships. Yeah.
Um, there is a Bering Sea Coalition, and they work to try to get -- and they have, um, things like vessel traffic monitoring, engaging with the Coast Guard, working on plans for environmental hazard mitigation, and things like that.
There is -- the Coast Guard has started doing arctic drills, because if you get a cruise ship sink with even just 200 people. I mean, 200 people is larger than the village of Wales, right?
So all of that plus any spillage of -- of fuels or there needs to be -- and I think they’ve worked really well on laws in place for discharge of waste.
Although I did just read an article about Glacier Bay National Park and Carnival Cruise Lines, I think it was. And they found out that they had discharged and were non-compliant with the discharge of waste on their cruise ships.
So, and then, you can put those all in the place, but who’s going to check and monitor it in such an arctic region where the Coast Guard is in Kodiak.
So there needs to be -- I mean, the planning is coming along, but I do think that the Coast Guard needs a station in the -- in the Arctic.
Not -- I mean, I guess you could consider Kodiak in the Arctic ’cause it’s in Alaska, but in that tight -- tight, tight little Bering Strait, that is where accidents could occur.
So I think that that -- and the Russians. And to monitor the Russian and international traffic is important, too, because we hear of large fuel vessels, and the Russians have created a brand-new nuclear water power plant. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. JEANETTE KOELSCH: That is on the water, I guess.
And the Chinese are following suit.
So there’s, um -- there’s stuff that’s going on internationally that needs to be looked at when you’re considering environmental impact.
’Cause we are so close to Russia that if they get a major spill, we’re gonna get it, too. Um, and --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And, I mean, if that happened, how would -- how would the City of Nome cope? I mean, there’s nothing here for that.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: No. There’s -- there's some measures, but they’re for smaller spills.
I mean, we talk a lot about more boats coming into Nome and how the -- the small discharge, the incidental discharge of fuels through small accidents can accumulate even in the harbor or even right outside of the Snake River.
And who’s monitoring that, and who’s ensuring that that environment is mitigated in that area, because the Snake River is a place where people fish and salmon-fish and do subsistence activities also.
So there’s a lot of -- there’s a lot of worry and discussion about that. KATIE CULLEN: Right.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So another challenge for the future. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, and people are by and large, um, I think, are working through as many channels as they can to get these issues discussed. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: But, I just, I think the Arctic’s gonna be a different place in the future, and I think we need to do some modeling and some predictive planning, you know, to adequately ensure a good environment and a safe environment, even if that environment’s changed.
We still need to consider many of those things. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And especially access to subsistence -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Is -- is high. I mean, that’s a huge priority.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: It is, yes. Yes. So I -- and that would take some predictive modeling, too, and people have looked at what species win, and what species will lose.
And I think that that’s another discussion to openly have with communities. What access do they think they’re going to need in the future is important.
Because the last thing I think that I would want to do is because they can’t snowmobile, um, just say, well, boo-hoo to you. You can’t get in the park, then. Go buy an airplane.
I mean, no. That just doesn’t happen. You see what I mean? Like, there’s got to be a way to -- to have this further discussion and -- congressionally or whatever needs to happen, have that broader discussion about access.
And also access to allotments. There are private lands within the preserve.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh, is there? I did not realize that. JEANETTE KOELSCH: There’s many private lands in the preserve. Alaska Native allotments.
And they are suffering, because they’re coastal, from erosion. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So what happens when someone’s allotment can no longer support their little cabin ’cause it’s eroded? Do we just say, oh, too bad for you. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: They’ve lost their -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: You don’t get to go camp over there anymore.
I mean, there needs to be these discussions about, if this is something that they can’t control. They didn’t lose their allotment because they did something. Because it eroded.
How do we -- how do we help them to still utilize the land? And a lot of people go to their campsites. And if those are being impacted by climate change, I think the Park Service needs to look and discuss those issues.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So whether changing the allotments to somewhere else within the park, but, that -- yeah, those are huge Washington discussions, aren’t they?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: They are. And a lot of times, people think a park manager can make those decisions, but we -- we can only follow the laws that are currently in place for us, and then advocate for different things. At least that’s how I feel.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: How many allotments are in the park? Is there a clear number? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh, there’s a lot. I’ve never sat and counted them, actually. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Like, hundreds? JEANETTE KOELSCH: At least hundreds. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Really?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: A hundred. At least -- there may not be a cabin on those allotments, or a structure, but people use them.
They might tent-camp there, or they might just go there to picnic or hang out or do subsistence activities overnight. I mean, I’ve never counted. That’s something like -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I mean, they mostly occur on the coast, of course.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And that’s where people would have wanted their allotments because it’s -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um-hm. It’s where their -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Subsistence. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Subsistence activities are happening. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And it’s just beautiful, too.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: When were they allotted? Back in the 1970’s and ’60’s, or when did those allotments get -- ? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think they were during, I want to say ANCSA. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: ANCSA? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yep.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So they’re trust land through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And so they’ve been there for -- for several decades? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um-hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. Yep.
And under ANILCA, those are considered private property. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So to access to allotments is an important part of ANILCA. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. Interesting. I did not know that.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And when you had good coastal areas, access is easy, right? But as access changes, how do we provide that access without damaging the environment?
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And the cultural and natural resources that are there that we discussed yesterday.? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. Yep.
It’s going to be a challenge. Definitely. And we’ve -- the Park Service has done some modeling, or also, um, climate change planning.
And we did that about ten years ago, but it’s time to re-look at that plan because I think that even in ten years, it’s changed.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah, from what it -- you’ve said, yeah, it’s -- the change has been so rapid -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: That ten years, although ten years isn’t long, it’s actually quite long for some of these, especially erosion changes. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. Yes.
And the -- the good thing is, we have these erosion maps that are coming out so people can look at them.
And that would be a great update is to our climate change scenario planning with local people, is to take the maps out, show them where land is building and where land is receding.
Then have them discuss, um, through the scenario planning, what changes they see -- um, are seeing and what they think they’re going to see in twenty years.
And see what they would like to see out of the Park Service in regard to their private allotments, but also the land that they depend on that’s a Preserve.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So when these issues come up, and like, you said, you’re superintendent, you can’t do anything, how do you lobby for this? Or what do you have to go through to make others hear these issues?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: We talk to our regional office a lot, and they -- a lot of the regional office employees are on larger national committee groups or even global -- work through global organizations. So they go back, and they talk about policy.
It just takes a while to get policy and regulation changes.
So I think people are doing what they can and what, um, it’s just going to take a while. But I am -- I am reasonably sure that those kinds of things will be addressed.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: You feel like you’re listened to when you bring these issues to regional? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. But I also think that our local Alaska Native groups do it, and if anything, they’re listened to by our congressional delegation at a very high level.
Me, as a government employee, I can’t walk into Lisa Murkowski’s office and tell her what I think, you know? I don’t think I can, anyway.
But, you know, Melanie Bahnke can, as the president of Kawerak, can set up an appointment and provides this information to her through Austin and everybody else, and they provide recommendation. And I think, um, that those types of interactions happen regularly with the congressional delegation, and I think that they do hear a lot of those groups.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So their voices are being heard. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um-hm. And I feel like they get heard better through those types of groups than me as a government employee.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: But, perhaps, once the Park Service has done some sort of a study, then it, it just corroborates what people are saying with scientific data? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um-hm. Um-hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And I’m not the type that wants to corroborate what people say with scientific data. I see what they say as the truth. I am not the type of person that’s like, we must go prove what they say.
Um, I just think they should be treated equally, and it’s all good information. It’s all relevant.
It’s just some people are like, oh, they say this, but is it true? We should go prove it. And I’m like, we don’t need to prove it. It’s true. They’re not making these things up.
You know, but there’s a lot of people who are like, show me the data. And I'm like, well, I could take you to Shishmaref, and you could see what they see, and we wouldn’t need to spend thousands of dollars on data. Right?
So I’m a little bit different when it comes to people’s knowledge because I don’t think people need to be proven. I believe them. And I don’t think we need to spend the money on proving what they say is true.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I agree with you. It’s just that as it goes up further up the chain. JEANETTE KOELSCH: They --they want it, yes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: They want it. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. But I think that they -- they should spend more time interacting with the people that are facing these issues.
And a trip to a village and out into the Preserve costs a lot less than thousands and thousands and thousands of dollar studies or the time it takes, in my mind, to have a paper published and written about it.
I mean, I think we have to have that, too. Don’t get me wrong. We have to have that, too. But, um, but the faster way, and also to get more data, is to have people go see it for themselves.
Because until you do, the impact is -- is -- is -- is not as significant. I think.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So have you been successful in bringing people up and showing them? JEANETTE KOELSCH: The villages have. The villages and the Native corporation have.
I think by and large, the National Park Service knows. I mean, we -- we talk about it a lot. There’s no convincing.
We don’t need to convince National Park Service scientists or others in the service. It’s -- it’s -- it’s the work, I believe, that the Native corp -- the Native organizations, the tribes, the Native corporations are doing with their congressional delegations, with their state legislators to bring these issues to the forefront. And the communities themselves, especially with erosion. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yep.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, so. I really -- I think to get stuff done, we have to involve them, and because they have -- they have a really good door to those folks that can make changes.
And then how -- do we do that while also working with the oil and gas industry is -- is -- is always a struggle in Alaska, right? So.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Is there anything at all, Jeanette, that you would like to talk about that we haven’t addressed in this? JEANETTE KOELSCH: No. I --
I guess my big thing for everybody is I really want --
I know these impacts are happening locally, but we need to reach out globally and get the message across to many different people to effect change in the climate.
And to be open to other and different suggestions for energy, um, access. I think -- I think that’s really important.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Great take-home message. Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. I -- I -- I worry about our future generations and what we’re leaving them.
And I feel like some people who have the power to make big change, um, aren’t worrying as much.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And why do you think that is? It’s not that they’re not aware. Is it that they’re not aware, or that they don’t believe?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I don’t know. I think it’s a combination of a lot of -- of disbelief or unaware in some people.
There are some people that only think about their time here on our planet and don’t have the foresight to think about future generations.
Or people -- maybe they don’t care. Or they -- or they think their one little thing won’t do something bad.
Or -- or -- or perhaps what we’re doing to the environment is completely natural, part of the worldview, and it’s all gonna be fine. Or something.
I have no -- I have no idea why people would choose to not care. I think people have their thoughts, but I really -- I don’t see why they wouldn’t care.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Katie, did you have any other questions at all or queries?
KATIE CULLEN: Mmm, just a final, um, like a -- I was just thinking of a little fun question of what is your favorite part of being superintendent of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: My favorite part. I think my -- KATIE CULLEN: If you could choose one. JEANETTE KOELSCH: If I could choose one.
I think it’s being able to live and work in the town that I grew up in. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And help -- hopefully help shape an area for which my children will choose to live.
I really think about that. And their children’s children.
And that they could do the things that I got to do, and they could, you know, have the opportunities I have.
You know, I just -- I really -- I like that I am somehow working toward that goal of ensuring that -- that, um, you know, people’s lives, this place, can be the way it was or the way it is, you know.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And how do you do that with your children?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh, I just -- I give ’em, like -- we go out in the country. I live out in the country, you know.
We just do fun activities. Berry picking, green picking, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, boating, all that stuff.
You know, get ’em out, have fun. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. Things like that.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And you did say that your son was twenty-one. So is he still here in town? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. He’s here. He’s here, and he plans to stay here. So it’s really nice.
And then my daughter plans to come back. And she’s in college in Anchorage. So.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And what is she studying? What does she hope to do? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um, she is -- her major currently, although she’s a freshman, it might change, is international studies.
And one of her things was to come back and help Alaska deal internationally with international commerce and other situations. So it’s kinda cool.
She wants to learn about other countries so that she can work in a field where she can help our state better internationally work with others.
I hope she still does that. You never know. She’s only a freshman, so you know how people’s majors change?
So right now it’s like that, but she could end up doing something completely different by her senior year. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: But so --
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Or decide she’s gonna go do something else. You never know.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: But so far your children are -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. We have two younger, younger kids, too. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Uh-huh.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So, yeah. But so far, it’s really nice. Yeah.
I just -- the opportunities in Nome are really -- I think they’re really good. And it’s a wonderful place to live, I think.
So, and I just don’t want it to change so drastically that -- I mean, change is inevitable. But I just, I want them to be able to have a wonderful life here, you know? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. KATIE CULLEN: Yep.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Well, Jeanette, I know you’re such a busy woman, and I want to thank you so much for two hours of your time for this. It’s been absolutely wonderful.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh, you’re welcome. It’s good.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Thank you very much. And thank you, Katie.
KATIE CULLEN: Yeah. Thank you. I was -- the other thing I was thinking, I was like, I’m very thankful to be guided by Jeanette.
Your leadership, it’s -- it’s -- yeah, it’s just wonderful. It’s -- I love working here.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh, I like working with everybody here. It’s awesome. KATIE CULLEN: Yeah. Yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I think everybody’s very fortunate, Jeanette, that you are here.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And I'm fortunate that my staff’s so great. I think. Yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Well, thank you again, Jeanette. I'm going to -- I'm going to close now. Thank you.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: All right. You’re welcome.