Charlie Lean was interviewed on February 5, 2020 by Leslie McCartney and Katie Cullen at the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve offices in Nome, Alaska. In this interview, Charlie talks about his observations of environmental change throughout his lifetime living in Nome and working as a biologist in the region. He discusses changes in fish and fisheries, beavers, moose, caribou, crab, weather patterns, seasonal timing, ocean temperatures and salinity, sea ice, permafrost, and vegetation. He also talks about subsistence, his own snowmachine travels, and facilities and conditions at Serpentine and Arctic Hot Springs.
Digital Asset Information
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Personal background, education and work history
Observations of change in moose populations
Observations of change in beaver populations
Observations of change in salmon and crab populations
Observations of change in air and water temperature
Observations of change in snow depth and sea ice
Observations of change in ocean water salinity and effect on crabs
Observations of change in permafrost, pingos, tundra, and ground temperature
Observations of change in vegetation and trees
Observations of change in caribou populations and the lichen they depend upon
Effect of the introduction of reindeer
Observations of change in the timing of caribou migration
Observations of change in salmon and Dolly Varden populations
Increases in salmon and differences in fish in different places
Observations of change in salmon populations and water temperature
Effect of beaver dams on fish
Fish and beaver at Serpentine Hot Springs
Becoming a fisheries biologist
Working for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service
Conducting fish surveys
Fish in Kuzitrin Lake and Imuruk Lake
Current winter travels by snowmachine
Restoring facilities and runway at Arctic Spring
Fragility of the land, and changes in ice and timing of the seasons
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LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Today is Wednesday, February 5, 2020. I’m Leslie McCartney, and we are here at the National Park Service Bering Land Bridge National Preserve offices in Nome, Alaska. We have the pleasure of being with Katie Cullen and today with Charlie Lean. And if you could just introduce both of yourselves, and then we’ll get started.
KATIE CULLEN: Sure. I’m Katie Cullen. I’m the interpretation and education program manager here at Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, headquartered in Nome, Alaska.
CHARLIE LEAN: Yes. I’m Charlie Lean. I’m a long-time fixture in Nome, a professional fisheries biologist, mostly retired these days, so.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Great. Were you born and raised here, Charlie? You said there’s multiple generations of your family here.
CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. So I moved to Nome at three months of age and left -- and seven years later. And returned when I was twenty-eight. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And have lived here since 1981 at twenty-eight to today. I’m sixty-six.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And you said now that you have granddaughters here. You said you had four generations here or three generations? CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. Well, my dad was here in World War II. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And then, my first seven years, he was the mining engineer and then the civil engineer, first for the USSR&M, United States Smelting, Refining, and Mining Company. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Alaska Gold, or whatever you want to call it today.
And -- and then, had a falling-out with his boss and became the Bureau of Public Roads construction engineer for the Kougarok Road. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: So -- so I was too young to really remember much of the mining residency, but I was a little kid in the construction camps on the Kougarok Road. Um, and, you know, got into everything and caused all kinds of trouble.
And then, as a young man, I came back at twenty-eight as a fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Twenty-year career with Fish and Game, managing drainages north of the Yukon in Alaska, and then sport-fish, comm-fish, subsistence. Then five years as the OSM (Office of Subsistence Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service) Subsistence Fisheries Manager for the same.
And then, 2005 or so, I went to work for NSEDC (Norton Sound Economic Development Council) and became the director of fisheries research and development. And uh, in the last five years, I’m semi-retired.
And just a thorn in -- a backseat driver for various fisheries outfits. And -- and also wildlife. I’m active with the advisory committee, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and stuff like that, so.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. And you mentioned you had worked for the National Park Service, too. CHARLIE LEAN: I had worked for them.
So I was -- as OSM manager, I was housed at the Park Service. Roughly fifty percent of my job was US Fish & Wildlife managing fisheries, and roughly half was with the WEAR, Western Arctic Parklands, fisheries biologist. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: So I worked a lot in Krusenstern and in Bering Land Bridge. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Great. So you -- CHARLIE LEAN: And a little bit in Kobuk.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So you’ve seen a -- you’ve been here for a good chunk of time to see a good -- a good sort of change, perhaps, if changes have occurred in these fisheries. CHARLIE LEAN: I -- I -- I have the benefit of my father’s tenure as a gold miner. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: From 1949 to ’50 -- well, through my seventh year. So more than -- so I have a pretty good perspective on stuff from 1949 on.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Great. So let’s talk about -- CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Similarities or differences in land --
CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. So -- so, um, in the early '60’s, moose were colonizing the Seward Peninsula, and lots of funny stories about moose. You have to remember the era. That was the era of the Project Chariot. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And using nuclear weapons for civilian purposes, right? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So they were going to make a big port up at Red Dog area. And the Russians actually made a port on the -- one of the rivers over there, and it sterilized that river downstream of their port. But anyway, it was a real idea and very -- very nearly came to pass.
And my father was three kinds of an engineer: mining, mineral, civil. He was adamantly against it, and he would rant and rave, so I have some memories of my father’s impressions. I mean, I was too young to really know anything. I just knew that Dad would froth at the mouth if I pushed a button. Um, and so there was that.
So then, yeah, Dad -- Dad grew up in Alaska, as well. And I am myself, I'm a fourth-generation Alaskan. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: So -- so Dad grew up eating moose meat and off the road system, Kenai Peninsula, and then --
And so, when moose came onto the Seward Peninsula, people were thinking that maybe they were irradiated horses. This was just at the time when horses ceased to exist in Nome, but in the '50’s, there was still one or two horses in Nome that pulled wagons around, did delivery kind of jobs. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And stuff. And there was a whole, like half a block of horse-drawn wagons parked over on -- kinda behind where the community college is today. And that place smelled of horses, uh, for -- for years. Decades.
Anyway, but that was -- you know, we all knew what a horse was, but these -- there and then there were these moose, you know, and they looked like malformed horses to many people. And there was theories as why they looked like that, radiation being a big one.
And my dad thought that was hilarious. And he saw moose as a very edible animal. A valued wildlife species.
I draw the parallel today’s muskox issues to the moose of the 1950’s. "I don’t like those things, they look weird! They eat funny stuff. They compete with me in the wild." Well, yeah. That’s wildlife, right? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: So -- so anyway. I -- so anyway, moose came onto the Seward Peninsula.
Then in the early '80’s, I was a young fisheries biologist flying surveys, and I watched the -- the beaver sweep across the Seward Peninsula. So from 1982 -- I started flying in ’81. ’82 through the ’90 or so, watershed by watershed, the beaver colonized across the Peninsula, and then -- and then when the -- they’d kind of eat themselves out of house and home, and then the population there, the local population, would collapse to about half to two-thirds of what it had been, and it’s kind of leveled.
And so, now beaver are -- they aren’t at their peak, but they’re numerous, in my opinion. And relatively speaking, they’re very numerous. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So like, for instance, when -- at the end of World War II, my father told stories about trying to make a living that first winter when he came back from the army and didn’t have employment, he went trapping with another guy. And the seasonal limit for a trapper was two beaver a year. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wow. CHARLIE LEAN: Two. Today, it’s unlimited. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wow. CHARLIE LEAN: In comparison.
So they -- I mean, trapping was a real means of employment back then, but even at two beaver a year in 19 -- 1947, um, that wasn’t really enough to support a person. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: You know, but it was better than going broke.
So anyway, so beavers swept the Seward Peninsula. With beavers came big changes. What that did was it created overwintering ponds for coho salmon, juvenile coho salmon.
And it kinda, uh, not related to beaver, but pink salmon blossomed in that neighborhood, too. And we -- the combination of more pink salmon and overwintering habitat created silver salmon runs.
And today, in comparison to 1980, there’s four times as many coho salmon on the Seward Peninsula as there was then. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And I -- that’s -- I’m not sure that the beaver expansion was climate change, but it was something. It was a major change.
And I think the pink salmon was climate change. Pink salmon burgeoning. And they feed the young coho salmon. That’s why that helps, too.
We’ve also seen, like, on the king crab -- so through the '80’s, commercial crabbers couldn’t -- couldn’t fish much east of Nome because the salinity of the Norton Sound was too fresh. King crab are absolutely intolerant of fresh water, and so if you bring ’em to the surface, they died.
And you can’t legally process, and there’s good reasons for it, because spoiled crab is terribly poisonous, so -- so everybody fished west of Nome.
And then, sometime in the early '90’s, the salinity switched. It was driven because there was less shorefast ice, and therefore, less stratification in the water, and less freshwater being reserved until spring when the ice melted.
Anyway, the salinity change resulted in an expansion of the crab population to the east, doubling the crab population. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And creating opportunity for subsistence and commercial, and -- and it was quite the -- another big change. And very much climate-driven.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And is it still like that today?
CHARLIE LEAN: And so today, we’re having management issues. In fact, just today I was beating up Fish and Game for their poor management. Anyway, so -- not that I have any hard opinions, but anyway. eah, so -- so but salinity-wise, yes. It’s very much the same.
And changing even -- now we’re seeing temperature changes. Back then, it was less temperature and more wind -- wind direction changes. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Water temperature or air temperature, or -- ? CHARLIE LEAN: Air temperature now. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Air temperature.
CHARLIE LEAN: Well, and it -- so air temperature drives the Alaska nearshore current. Comes all the way up through the Alaska Peninsula but gains a lot of mass in Bristol Bay, which is shallow and muddy and dark, and so it -- Bristol Bay soaks up a lot of heat.
And then, that water comes running up the coast, past the Kuskokwim and the Yukon Rivers, and their big deltas and the shallow areas, and then into Norton Sound, which is relatively shallow. And then, around the point at Wales and into Kotzebue Sound, which is shallow.
And it goes up beyond Point Hope and in the neighborhood of Wainwright, it goes offshore and creates a big bolus of warm water out in the middle of the Chukchi Sea.
And so that -- that has dramatically changed sea ice in the Southern Arctic Ocean, Chukchi Sea, and it creates this big, warm bolus of water that takes an extra month or two to warm -- or to cool in the fall and delays the formation of ice and is helping to -- to wipe out the multi-year ice on the Arctic Ocean. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: But that’s -- that’s kind of the mechanics of it. So you see that year-by-year.
I’ve listened to the weathermen and people, and they talk about how the average air temperature in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle circumpolar has gained five degrees Celsius on average here in the last few years as compared to say, the latitude of the continental US northern states, so like Seattle, Portland, Oregon, where they’ve gained two degrees. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So I mean, when it’s just two degrees, four degrees Fahrenheit, people are kinda going, "Well, you don’t think this is a real thing? I don’t know. It’s not that different from what I remember."
I can tell you here in Nome, it’s real different. Um, a lot of people are, you know, it just depends what you take as your average. So the average for me is my lifetime. Younger people have a shorter average.
Um, I remember in my childhood, um, the Batchelor’s house on, you know, First Street down by -- just beyond the college. Two-story, barn-shaped building facing the sea. And the seaward side being completely buried. And there was a rectangular hole in a snowdrift, and you walked into their entryway in their house. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And the back of the house stuck out of the snowdrift, but they really had no light for months. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: ’Cause they were buried. Their whole house. A two-story house. KATIE CULLEN: Wow.
CHARLIE LEAN: And uh, I have another vivid memory, about five years of age. We were visiting somebody over, you know, up on the -- on First Street. Not -- not down by the mini-convention, but one block back.
And we were inside. And I’m a little kid, and my mom’s having tea with some lady, and I’m getting bored. And there’s this noise outside. It’s winter. It’s dead of winter, twilight or dark. Twilight-ish. Late in the afternoon.
And there’s a sound like a locomotive rumbling outside. And we’re all looking at each other, "What’s that?"
Go outside, and we’re standing there in the street, and silhouetted on the horizon, you could see this pressure ridge building across -- across the horizon. And the next morning, you know, it was more than twenty feet tall. A great, big pressure ridge had formed from east to west. KATIE CULLEN: Oh, wow.
CHARLIE LEAN: And it just sounded like a -- it sounded like a freight train at my grandparents’ house in Oregon.
And um, we -- I also remember these monster icebergs. You know, they’d be as big as a one-story house, embedded in the otherwise flat, you know, ice that had formed on Norton Sound.
But those were -- those were multi-year icebergs that had come through the Bering Strait and ended up stranded on the beach here in Nome. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And -- and we would see these.
And I mean, they were frequent. I mean, not -- you know, they’re probably less than five percent of the ice mass out there, but there would be these blocks of ice that were monsters out there, embedded in the ice.
KATIE CULLEN: Wow. When was the last time you saw something like that? CHARLIE LEAN: Well, like, I mean, I left at seven years old, and I came back when I was twenty-eight, so -- KATIE CULLEN: Within that time? CHARLIE LEAN: It was, you know, the early '60’s. KATIE CULLEN: Mm. Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. And now today, I mean, just noticing here, it’s February. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And there’s very little snow. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah, that’s -- last year, there was a pile of snow, so. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok. CHARLIE LEAN: I’m not sure that I would say that --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I was just thinking about when you said, a house was completely covered, a two-story house.
CHARLIE LEAN: So, but even last year, people were going, "Oh, this is like the top -- " LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh. CHARLIE LEAN: "This is definitely in the top five of snowfalls."
And I went, "I don’t think so." Um, it depends what your frame of reference is. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yep. Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: So last year was a snowy year, but it wasn’t -- it was above average. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: But it was not a record. Nowhere close.
And -- and uh, yeah. I remember running up on the one-story house that we lived on, getting on the roof and getting yelled at. And getting chased off. Yeah. It was -- that was a common occurrence.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Can I just go back to the crabs? CHARLIE LEAN: Sure. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: ’Cause what you said was really interesting. I didn’t realize that they needed a lot of salinity.
So with -- with less ice, um, and a higher salinity, it’s actually increased the area that you can crab? CHARLIE LEAN: So -- yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Am I -- is that -- ?
CHARLIE LEAN: So -- so the -- so the water under the ice out here right now is probably thirty-four parts per thousand. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And -- and crab can tolerate fresh down to about twenty-eight parts per thousand. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: Your freshwater fish can tolerate ten parts per thousand. That’s roughly the equivalency of a fish’s blood or a person’s blood or a cow’s blood or whatever. So if you’re going to drown, you want to drown in ten parts per thousand water. Anyway, yeah, I’m getting off topic.
But -- but anyway, so when there’s shorefast ice, shelf ice, it’s not just the ice that’s stuck in place. It -- there’s these underwater freshwater springs that ooze up. And if you take a submersible or dive, it’s like a curtain of slush in places coming up.
These seeps will be half a mile long, and there’ll be a curtain of slush and comes up. And it -- freshwater floats on saltwater, so it plasters itself to the bottom of the shelf ice.
A good example of this is down at Hastings Creek, you know, eight, ten miles east. The shorefast ice always has a lobe that goes out around Hastings, because that’s the freshwater causing the ice to be more thick. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: ’Cause the saltwater’s at twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. Freshwater freezes at thirty-two, but saltwater freezes at twenty-eight. So -- so the -- like, in the fall you can see the viscous freshwater floating on the choppy saltwater. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: That’s -- that’s that freezing differential manifesting itself out there. So anyway, that -- that’s what happens.
So you get this big accumulation of freshwater. And also, the saltwater ice, when it freezes, it precipitates out to all the salt. Helps salinitify -- that’s not a word. Make it more salty below. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Salinate?
CHARLIE LEAN: And, you know, and fresh, brand new fresh sea ice, if you scooped the hoarfrost off the top and taste it, you’ll just pickle your tongue. It’s super salty.
Anyway, salt -- more salt that was in the ice falls. It gets real salty.
And so the crab go, "Oh hey, I haven’t been there in a long time." They come in shore, and they find food and resources that they -- were unavailable to them during the summer months when wind is mixing the freshwater layer with the saltwater layer, and you get this -- you get something less than twenty-eight parts per thousand clear out to minus thirty feet. That’s a mile off shore.
So crabs just don’t even come in close. Plus, anything less than twenty feet gets scoured by ice and torn up and plowed. There’s not a lot of food value in little, tiny animals. They want to -- rather eat big stuff. So yeah. So the -- but anyway.
So when we had more shorefast ice, we had this big layer of freshwater that lasted, sometimes, well into July. And then -- and so, when the crabbers brought the crab up through the freshwater, they all died.
There weren't crab, you know, crab at forty feet. But they only had -- they had a real low ceiling. They couldn’t -- they couldn’t go too far inland or else they’d get poisoned.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. So now, people can crab closer to shore?
CHARLIE LEAN: So in the winter, you know, when it’s well below freezing, then all the freshwater ice gets -- all the freshwater gets taken up in ice. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And so, it’s salty, and the crab are there.
And then, when it -- when it starts to get -- starts to flirt with freezing, you know, in late March, that’s when crabs start to move offshore.
They -- there’s places like Port Clarence where it’s kind of a basin. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And a few -- a few unlucky crab get caught in the basin, and then the ceiling comes down, and they’re trapped.
And then, over the summer, mixing and stuff, and they die a slow death of freshwater poisoning in the center of Port Clarence. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I did not know that about crab. CHARLIE LEAN: So. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So that’s really interesting. Thank you. Huh.
CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah, so um, yeah. So other climate change things I’ve seen are more geologic, I guess. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So you know, I’m -- as a young man in Southeast Alaska and stuff, I worked as a land and road surveyor. Mostly road surveyor, road inspector.
My dad was a road engineer for a big part of his life. He was the head BIA road engineer in Alaska, so you name the community, Dad built a street there, a road or something.
So got lots of broad perspective on road-building. So it’s real interesting for me to read reports of, like, when they built the Seward Peninsula Railroad. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And some of those.
Or the -- you know, I have some of my dad’s notebooks from when they built the Kougarok Road. And the issues they encountered, and the permafrost was so close to the surface, and gee, you didn’t want to -- you know, they didn’t have to do much to insulate the road to keep it frozen beneath.
And today, you know, big sections of the road are falling off the hillside. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Eh. CHARLIE LEAN: And things are liquefying and pingos have ceased to exist.
Do you know what a pingo is? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes, I do. CHARLIE LEAN: So there used to be a number of -- you know, in the '80’s on the Seward Peninsula, the pingos were a very -- you know, you could drive the Kougarok Road and see twenty of them. KATIE CULLEN: Oh, wow.
CHARLIE LEAN: And today, maybe you can find one. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And it’s all collapsed. It’s just the remnants of a pingo. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: And so, here in the last couple years, if you drive the -- drive out to the Sinuk River (Sinrock River), or if you drive north of Salmon Lake, you will find where the -- the hillsides are just collapsing.
And a little further out on the flat, you can see the -- what had been frost polygons. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Now they’re frost islands. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh. CHARLIE LEAN: You know, surrounded by a trench with water in it. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: And on the -- you know, the gentle slopes, just north of the Kuzitrin River Bridge, you used to be able to -- I’m getting older. But used to be able to bounce along and go berry-picking out off the road, miles. And now it’s bisected by six and eight-foot deep trenches with a mud bottom and sometimes running water. You know, and I’m afraid to put my foot in there, I might get quick-sanded away. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. CHARLIE LEAN: You know, it’s -- it’s a gooey mess. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: And it’s shocking to me how that just seemed to happen over a two-year period. And uh, I guess the tipping point was reached where the average temperature was above freezing in the soil. And it just -- just went away.
I can -- I can say that my subdivision, I live in Icy View here in Nome, suffering very -- very similar related problems. You know, with many of my neighbors and I complain bitterly August through November about how our house was shifting. Had to level it every two weeks. It was just crazy, you know.
The pilings were pumping up and down, and nobody could -- you know, sheetrock was cracking, and I just painted the damn thing, and it’s all cracked up again. It’s very frustrating.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah, very. And every year, this is happening? CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah, it breaks sewer mains and water mains. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: And it’s a -- it’s hard on houses, and it’s just a -- it’s a mess.
And it -- I -- I -- in my lifetime, I’ve seen places that were blueberry patches turned into over-my-head willow patches that have copses of cottonwood. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: One of my favorite things is to go look for quaking aspen. It’s like an Easter egg hunt. I can -- I can tell you three or four places where quaking aspen are that nobody thought they lived.
Anyway, but you’re seeing these plants that require their roots to be in thawed ground taking off. White spruce, cottonwood, balsam poplar, same thing, and quaking aspen are all getting a foothold here. And you know, maybe in my granddaughter’s lifetime, there’ll be a little forest. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: Just like there is right behind the -- the jail where the mining artificially thawed the ground. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And today, there’s twenty-foot-tall cottonwoods.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. You mentioned you’re on the board with the caribou. CHARLIE LEAN: Um-hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um, can you talk about any changes that you’ve seen in the caribou. Perhaps migrations or where they’re going?
CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. Well, um, it’s difficult to do the cause and effect. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: But so, with the understanding that caribou are in roughly a fifty-year cycle. So every fifty years, they’re at a high, and every fifty years they’re at a low. And we’re right now, we’re just coming off a low. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: I think we’re about a year beyond a low, but I’m on, you know, my glass is half full. I don’t know how yours is.
Anyway, so um, right now, caribou are kinda scarce. And there’s not a lot of back-pressure to force them to migrate, so I think they’ve pulled back a little bit on their migration.
In addition, as I mentioned, you know, the tundra breaking up -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm. CHARLIE LEAN: -- and causing these trenches and so forth, that is an impediment for them.
The other impediment is that the, uh, vegetation change.
So caribou are very dependent on lichen, especially in the winter. And uh -- and so, when lichen just don’t -- you can burn up lichen and kill ’em that way, but basically, lichen are there. And big trees can come up through lichen, and there’ll still be lichen. And -- but they kind of get shaded out eventually.
If you -- if you read about the 1920’s and '30’s when the caribou -- Northwest Arctic Caribou Herd was in a high, you’ll also read about massive migrations crossing the Yukon that shut down steamboat traffic for days at a time. KATIE CULLEN: Oh, wow. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh, wow. On the rivers? CHARLIE LEAN: On the Yukon River. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: And that -- that herd doesn’t reach the Yukon River anymore. Hasn’t reached there in a hundred years. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And so, I think that’s a climate-driven change. I think that’s vegetation ’cause talking with people in Galena a few years ago, they were telling me how, "Oh, it used to be all blueberries over. Now it’s all black spruce. Just, you know, doghair thick, it’s terrible. Hard to get around in there." Stuff like that.
And I don’t doubt that at all. I -- my grandparents told me about the transition from caribou to moose on the Kenai Peninsula, and that -- that was caused by a fire, much like last year’s fire on the Kenai. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm.
CHARLIE LEAN: But um, so it probably was a combination of fire and climate change. And we’re seeing, um --
I have a lot of theories about caribou. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: So the -- Sheldon Jackson, 1870. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: Was a well-meaning missionary that brought reindeer to the Seward Peninsula. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: And that herd eventually was, um -- multiplied and grown, and he spread reindeer all the way to Bristol Bay to Barrow. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And they were very proud of themselves, and, you know, they did that because in the 1870’s, the caribou had crashed and there were no more caribou on the Seward Peninsula. And they make these wild claims that, "Oh, they’re extirpated. The poor people are going to starve to death."
And people were starving to death. Not to -- not to belittle that. I mean, that’s -- the interior Seward Peninsula peoples apparently migrated to Unalakleet. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: I mean, I know individuals that told me about their parents’ and grandparents’ migration. So I’m -- I believe that.
But, be that as it may, I believe that the reindeer displaced the very few caribou that were left on the Seward Peninsula. And I think the caribou on the Seward Peninsula were a satellite herd, very much like the herd up by Barrow, the Teshekpuk Lake Herd, which is a satellite herd.
And then, there’s all these other herds across the Central Arctic and the east, you know, Eastern Arctic herds, and blah blah blah.
And they’re all genetically related. They all look the same. I mean, if I put one of those next to the -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Porcupine caribou. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. You'd not know. There’s woodland caribou, and there’s -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yep. Yes. CHARLIE LEAN: -- barren-ground caribou. And the barren-ground caribou are interbred and genetically the same, really. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So the reindeer that came from Norway would be about as genetically different as you could get, as a caribou. They put ’em here, and in my childhood, the reindeer on the Seward Peninsula were monsters. And there’s still some big guys out there.
I mean, their hybrid vigor. Thriving, huge animals. That’s not reindeer. Sorry. I mean, yeah, it might be eighty percent reindeer, but they mixed with the caribou, and that’s why they’re genetically vital and so healthy.
And as a biologist, that’s -- there’s a credibility gap. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: I believe what happened was that the reindeer herds were predominant, and the reindeer herders were conscientious zealots. Maybe zealot's not the right word.
But conscientious, hard-working people that -- and any animal that resembled a reindeer was herded. Or -- and even if it became a problem and tried to run away all the time, they took a year or two before they made that determination and terminated it.
And so, they introduced this mixture. And they basically assimilated the wild caribou.
And now -- now we’re having trouble with the Northwest Arctic Herd coming down, and the reindeer running away with -- there’s a lot of people that think, "Oh, they just don’t make it. You know, they can’t keep up with those animals."
Well, some do. Some don’t. But, to me, it’s a -- we’ve basically decided to call some caribou wild and some tame. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And it’s -- I’m not saying that’s good or bad, socially. That’s just what happened. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. KATIE CULLEN: Interesting.
CHARLIE LEAN: And so, you have to look at where the range of reindeer are, as well as where the official Northwest Arctic Herd is.
What I can tell you is, they -- when I started flying surveys in the '80’s, there were 100-year-old rein -- caribou tracks all over the headwaters of the Unalakleet River. And only twice in my memory have caribou crossed the Unalakleet to the south.
There are reindeer down there, at Stebbins and St. Michael, but -- and some of ’em get away, and they get shot on the Yukon. And the Yukoners and the Stebbinsites are mad at each other about that.
But anyway, there’s -- caribou are pulling back further and further north. They’ve -- they’ve in the last hundred years have -- barren-ground caribou no longer get close to the Yukon.
Woodland caribou have intruded to the interval between where the barren-ground abandoned. And now, there’s woodland caribou on the east side of the Nulato Hills, all the way up almost to the Kobuk drainage.
And there’s a little mixing, but -- I mean, a little overlap of range, but I don’t really believe that there’s much mixing between woodland and barren-ground. I think if you did some genetic sampling, you’d find that. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So I -- I hear that on the North Slope, even, they’re -- and on the -- definitely on the Kobuk, we’re seeing the same kind of permafrost meltdown that we saw here on the Seward Peninsula. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And I’m -- I think the jury’s still out what -- what’s happening there, so. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
KATIE CULLEN: What are your thoughts on the changes -- and I’ve only heard -- I don’t think I’ve heard the full, kind of, story about, um, changes at Onion Portage with the herds crossing through that area. In the past couple years, right, there have been some changes in timing, potentially, and/or -- ?
CHARLIE LEAN: Well, definitely timing change is going on. And -- and uh, and so, there’s -- in the fall migration, you know, the southern migration, the upper Noatak is just a -- twenty years ago, it was just a winter desert. You know, just -- just brutal.
And caribou that stayed there did not prosper. They might have survived, but they didn’t -- that wasn’t a good place. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And then, they would flow through all those passes between the Kobuk drainages and the Noatak, and so they kind of walked down the Noatak towards -- towards Kelly Lake area.
Then they’d flow through all those passes into the Upper Squirrel River and the Kobuk. I mean, the Salmon and, oh what’s the next -- next river, Salmon? Anyway, Kobuk Valley National Park area. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And they would flow through there, and then they -- you know, the winter was kind of chasing ’em and they would -- you know, I can remember in the '80’s, I used to hunt at Klery Creek and I’ve hunted at Onion Portage. And my dad hunted there in the '40’s.
And then, they would push -- but they were -- they were on a mission. And the herd was coming and coming, and I can remember it being there, and then one day, it just stopped. They’d passed me. They were all gone.
And the weather was right -- you know, and the next day, there was a snowstorm, and I just barely got out of there. My -- my -- I had to wait two days for an airplane to come in, and then I just -- I mean, we -- we risked life and limb to get out of there to get to Kiana.
And uh, anyway, so life’s much gentler these days. You know, freeze-thaw, who knows, maybe.
So then the caribou kind of mill around the Kobuk Valley, and they’re very susceptible to human disturbance. Probably more so than they used to be because they were on a mission back then. And now, you can go down to the Kobuk Ri -- and you go, "Geez, there’s a bunch of boats. I’m going to go back, you know."
And then, you've kind of work your way upstream, upstream, upstream, and Onion Portage has become, on some years, the place to be. And other places -- other years, it’s like, there’s too much people here, too.
And there’s not -- last year, there was more than fifty percent of the herd overwintered in the Kobuk Valley. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wow. CHARLIE LEAN: So no biggie, I’ll just stay north of the river. You know, don’t have to risk life and limb. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So whether that’s a food choice or a human disturbance choice, I’m not sure. I think some of both.
I should talk about salmon since I’m a fish biologist. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Sure, talk about --
I was just going to say, so -- I just took -- just before we go off the caribou. So you said, they were on a mission before, and the cold weather was -- CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: -- was right behind them, but now they might stay. You said, you know, maybe human, maybe food, but maybe, too, because that cold -- CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah, there’s not -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: -- weather isn’t coming at them?
CHARLIE LEAN: There’s not as much pressure. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Interesting.
CHARLIE LEAN: I mean, even ten years ago, there was a big bunch of caribou that died up near Kivalina, between Red Dog and Kivalina. And they just -- they tried to overwinter in those hills west of Point Hope. Or east of Point Hope. And uh, that’s terrible country in the winter, too. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: Been up there doing science projects in the bitter of winter, and it’s bitter. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Just horrible, so. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Interesting. CHARLIE LEAN: And --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So salmon. You said something earlier that -- CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I -- just to --
CHARLIE LEAN: So -- so in my lifetime, I watched pink salmon colonize in Kotzebue Sound. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And so in the '90’s, there was a lot of -- well, I got hired originally by Fish and Game to locate a salmon stock significant enough to support commercial fishing between the Yukon and Unalakleet. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok.
CHARLIE LEAN: So some of the like early '80’s work was on the Pikmiktalak and south of Stebbins. Nunakogok, Pikmiktalak, Kuiak, those streams. And those were chum salmon streams, and there were no beaver.
And I -- there was a few -- one or two kings, but mostly it was chum. No pinks.
Ten years later, there’s beavers all over the place. The chum run was reduced by half. The pinks had shown up.
Combination of beaver and pinks had out-competed the poor little chums, and the silvers started.
And today, those are silver streams. Pinks and silvers. And just a couple chum.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So explain to me what the beaver dams have done in order to make that environment --
CHARLIE LEAN: So, these are gently sloping streams with not that much volume, so they -- when the spring flood happens, they’re not big enough to blow a beaver dam. It just overtops the dam and the beaver dam persists.
So it’s not a barrier for outmigration, it’s a barrier for incoming -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok. CHARLIE LEAN: -- adults.
And, the other thing, you know, so pink salmon, if they get a run at it, can jump eighteen inches vertically. And the chum, two feet. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And red salmon, five feet. And the king salmon, a lot. And the silver, in the order of five feet, too. Also.
And -- and so, those pinks and chums, they’re just not adapted to go over beaver dams. And so, beavers are an effective barrier for those adult salmon. Not so much for reds and silvers.
And kings prefer a different kind of water. They’re a big-river fish, and so, they’re not so much affected by beavers, either.
But they are affected by those piranha-like silver smolts. So silver fingerlings eat anything that moves. They are voracious. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: They eat anything.
And they’re the reason that the grayling here in Nome have declined. They’re the reason that the chum down there have declined. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: They’re voracious. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So -- so the pinks seem to -- I should also say that chum salmon have the best eggs of any salmon, so if you’re a Japanese person that likes your -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Roe. CHARLIE LEAN: -- caviar, roe, the chum salmon is the top-quality roe, the best far and away.
They have a great, big yolk-sac, which means they’re really well-adapted to cold water situations and -- much, much better than any other salmon.
Dolly Varden have a different strategy. They have little, tiny eggs, and they just hatch immediately. Get laid, pop. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh. CHARLIE LEAN: So they can handle the coldest water of all the salmonids.
So -- so the Arctic Slope used to be populated by char, Arctic char, Dolly Varden. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And even in the '80’s, the many streams out by Kivalina, you know, they were not salmon streams at all. And then -- so that’s changing.
So just two, three years ago, I had a colleague, a young woman that’s getting her PhD. She worked in Nome for a number of years, then she went to -- she was from Canada. She went back to Winnipeg and she’s working for DFO, Department of Fishery and Oceans, and she’s the Arctic fish biologist for the Mackenzie. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And she would start -- she started sending me pictures of salmon. "What kind of salmon is this? What kind of salmon is that?"
"And -- and the people up here are really angry that these damn things are getting in the way of their Dollies, their char." LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: Because they’re char people and they don’t like salmon.
It’s just the opposite here in Norton Sound. People don’t -- "Dollies eat all the salmon. They’re going to kill ’em all." So it was funny for me to see the -- the complete flip.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: She must be working up in the Delta 'cause that’s where the char and the Dolly Varden are, 'cause I used to live up there. CHARLIE LEAN: Ok. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: Well, she said they’re just -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: She said last year, there was more salmon than there -- if you combined the previous twenty years. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wow.
CHARLIE LEAN: So -- and then, I’ve heard that, you know, ten years earlier I heard that in Barrow. That same kind of statements. And watched the salmon colonize that way.
And I -- I -- one of the funnier moments, in the late '80’s I was managing the salmon fisheries in Kotzebue, and gone through a really skinny period with salmon.
I was -- I was very well known as a fisheries biologist and not very well liked. But -- but I was what they had, you know.
And -- and so I was -- one night, I was working late. It’s like six o’clock, and I’m plowing through my paperwork. And I get this phone call, and it’s this guy, and he’s just, "The Red Dog Mine’s killed everything! There’s fish dying everywhere. It’s horrible! It’s horrible!" And really "What -- what -- what?" You know, and I'm -- "So, where? Give me exact locations."
You know, so jumped in a plane that night. Got the Fish & Wildlife officer up, drug him out. "We gotta go look." You know, it’s summer, so it’s daylight.
We flew up there, and it was a pink salmon run senescing. You know, the pinks had spawned and they were dying, and yeah, there was a lot of dead fish and it smelled bad. But that’s life.
And I had to go back and explain in Kivalina. No, it wasn’t the mine. That’s just how it is. But they didn’t know that salmon died like that. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: That was a new thing.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And is that because the water's warmer or is it just pink salmon? CHARLIE LEAN: No, the salmon, pink salmon had colonized. They were used to seeing Dollies and their multi-year spawning. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. CHARLIE LEAN: They come in, they go out. And when all these fish died, it was like, "Oh my God, what happened?" LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: Well, salmon just spawn once and that’s it. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: That’s the way -- yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: And they didn’t -- they probably knew that on an academic level, but they didn’t know that. It was a new thing.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So -- so why are the salmon coming in, then, if it’s a new thing? That's I guess my question, if it was cold water bef -- CHARLIE LEAN: It’s because there were more and more --
The first place I really noticed a lot of pink salmon was at Fish Creek on the north side of Kobuk Lake. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Hotham Inlet. And they really took off there.
And, you know, there’s a few pinks here and a few pinks there on the Lower Kobuk and the Lower Noatak. Fish Creek and other places on the north side of the Seward Peninsula.
Uh, over by Candle there was some pinks. Buckland, a few. But there was chums. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: Everybody was -- chum were the bread-and-butter fish. Everybody, you know, "qala." (sp? - local Inupiaq term for chum salmon?) The good -- the good -- the good stuff, you know. And then you -- I don’t even know what the word for pink is, you know. Kotzebue guys don’t have a word for pink.
Um, but yeah, it was -- and then, you know, in the '90’s, the only coho salmon I was aware of, there was a small run on the Kugruk River near Candle. Way at the headwaters where it came out of the hillside from, um, just north of Granite Mountain, there was a little run of silvers up there. But there was only chums.
You know, there’s like -- the north side of the Seward Peninsula has genetically distinct, weird chum. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: So like at Deering, that -- that chum run is genetically unique. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: They’re short, deep, and funny-looking. And you -- probably are inbred.
I mean, they almost got wiped out, and then they came back, so I mean, it’s just a funky-looking chum. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Huh.
CHARLIE LEAN: And, you know, the Kotzebue, Noatak, or Kobuk chum are beautiful fish. Big, robust, super firm, just way better than Norton Sound fish. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: But um, but yeah. Those Deering fish, the Inmachuk (River) fish are just weird.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I guess I’m still not understanding when you were talking about the salmon coming where the Dolly Varden and the trout used to be. What -- what -- what’s bringing them in now if they traditionally haven’t been in those waters? Or have they always been there but just not as big of a varie -- big amount.
CHARLIE LEAN: So there’s -- so then the salmon have to run quite a bit south in the winter. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok. CHARLIE LEAN: To get to a place where they can feed. So they have to be south of the ice edge. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So part of it is the -- the length -- the length of the season before the ice forms. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok.
CHARLIE LEAN: So there’s -- at the mouth of the Mackenzie or someplace like that, the mouth of the Colville. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: That stream pumps out a bunch of kinda warm water. There's a lot of nutrients.
Little baby fish come down the river, juveniles, and they go out and they -- they have something to feed on. And then they have a really long stretch before they can find more feed.
And so, in the past I think what limited it was, they just didn’t have the stamina to go further south to get -- to get home. But, first, of course, you know, the Kotzebue Sound is very similar to Norton Sound, temperature-wise. A little bit smaller, but not much smaller. And about a month less summer than Norton Sound. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok.
CHARLIE LEAN: So -- so those, you know, pink salmon, combination of pink being abundant in Norton Sound, and pressure to colonize further north, and then finding a nice, Alaska marine -- Alaska near-shore marine current -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: -- coming up. So kind of a pipeline of warm water to follow and take you north and take you south, too.
So, all that, and then it -- but, yeah, the fact that they made it all the way to Mackenzie is really noteworthy.
I don’t, you know, last -- last fall was a very mild fall, up on the North Slope, to the point they couldn’t -- they couldn’t get to the ice mass, you know, during whaling season. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So that’s -- those fish had all the -- all the time in the world to make it south. Who knows, maybe they’ll -- maybe they’ll turn east and end up on the Hudson River?
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. So you said down the -- in the rivers where the beavers have really been damming up, that the chums haven’t been able to get as far up because you said they could only jump a couple of inches. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So how are the numbers, then? I mean, they’re not getting upriver to spawn properly then?
CHARLIE LEAN: Right. So the chum populations are half of what they were. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. CHARLIE LEAN: Twenty, thirty years ago. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: In -- in those smallish rivers that don’t have the volume to blow the dam.
On larger streams, you know, Fish River, Nome River, there’s just enough volume to clear the system. And so, the beavers have to rebuild every year and they don’t get ahead of it.
But the -- down there in the piedmont streams of the -- you know, just north of the Alaska Peninsula there’s a coastal plain, a very extensive coastal plain, and the beaver dams are eight feet tall.
I mean, you just can’t -- and there’s some beaver dams like that on the headwaters of the Fish River that, you know, only a silver could jump. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: They’re -- they’re -- they’re a barrier. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Castles. (Referring to the term Roy Ashenfelter used to describe especially large beaver houses in ORAL HISTORY 2018-14-16.) CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wow. Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So and it, uh, by impounding the water and the beaver dams, it -- it -- it provides good overwintering habitat, but it kinda allows the water to cool down, and so it actually can --
like, if you go to the Penny or Cripple River this time of year you’ll find that those rivers are almost frozen to the -- at the mouth. There’s aufeis fields upstream of there where the ice is -- the water’s -- the river’s frozen to the bottom. The water’s running up on top, and then it freezes and makes these big ice patches. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So the beaver dams may have even limited the lower -- lower river spawning places in a few occasions.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. I know Katie’s mentioned and other people have mentioned, the beaver dams are also changing the area around the Serpentin -- KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Oh, yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: -- Hot Springs. Have you --
CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. So I was -- I wrote a paper on that right before the beavers got there. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh. CHARLIE LEAN: And then, who knows where it went. Ken’s desk (Ken Adkisson). But anyway.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: What was your paper about? CHARLIE LEAN: I wrote a paper about the fishes of Serpentine. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm. CHARLIE LEAN: At the request of the park superintendent. And it was, yeah. I don’t know where it went. But it’s vaporized. But --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So you were raising a concern about the fish there then? CHARLIE LEAN: No. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: No?
CHARLIE LEAN: No, he wanted a -- He was gonna make -- it was Dave Spirtes, and he wanted to have like a brochure to hand out to visitors. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So they could go look at -- there was Alaska blackfish and pond smelt and grayling and different things that were in there, and he wanted kind of a little fish ID book to -- you know, a page or so of biology about that fish and why it was unique.
Just, you know, something -- kind of an activity for people to do while they were poking around. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: So.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So have you been up there recently at all to see the changes that have happened? I mean, certain people have said -- CHARLIE LEAN: No. I was there a couple years ago. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Uh-huh. CHARLIE LEAN: In the winter. Um, haven’t had occasion to go there in the summer. Too much work. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
KATIE CULLEN: I’ve never been to Serpentine in the winter time. Um, when you’ve been in the winter, have you noticed -- like, and I guess I just don’t -- I’m not familiar with, um, different beaver activity that might be happening in the winter time as opposed to --
CHARLIE LEAN: Oh, they’re all under the -- there’s nothing to see. KATIE CULLEN: Ok. Ok. CHARLIE LEAN: They -- they -- when you go over a beaver dam in the fall, you’ll see a big -- big house, big dam.
And then, you’ll see right next to the house, usually between the dam and the house, a bunch of green branches, twigs, sticking out of the water. That’s their food pile for the winter. KATIE CULLEN: Mm.
CHARLIE LEAN: So if you’re a beaver trapper in the winter, you put a trap right between the house and the food pile. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: That’s where you catch ’em. But they come out of their house, go over and grab something, go back.
And they -- and they -- they’re not good housekeepers. You know, it’s cold, so they don’t -- they drag twigs over and chew on them in their house, and it’s not uncommon at all for them to plug up their house and have to chew their way out in the spring. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: They’re kinda dumb. Anyway, but so -- so that’s why beaver houses continue to grow and grow and grow and get huge. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Is ’cause they -- they’re bad housekeepers. That’s my opinion, so. KATIE CULLEN: Interesting. CHARLIE LEAN: So, yeah.
KATIE CULLEN: Yeah, I was always curious since, especially, you know, with the hot spring right there, if that might -- CHARLIE LEAN: Oh, well it -- KATIE CULLEN: -- change, like potential winter beaver activity or kind of how, yeah, I don’t --
CHARLIE LEAN: So the beaver is -- is -- is really -- really a strong swimmer, you know. It’s an aquatic animal. It’s made to be under water.
Its meat’s a lot like a seal meat. It’s got all kinds of hemoglobin, and it’s really dark. If you -- if you eat it, it tastes like a seal. Real high iron content.
And uh, but on land, they’re just helpless. They have horrendously vicious teeth. Beavers’ teeth are way long. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: But they just aren’t maneuverable, and so on land, they’re at a real -- even a fox probably could take a beaver out. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: Otters -- otters win most of the time. Otters eat beaver. There are otters that specialize in beaver-eating. KATIE CULLEN: Really. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I did not know that.
CHARLIE LEAN: So that’s another thing that nobody talks about, but. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: These are the land otters or sea otters? CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. Land otters. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Land otters.
CHARLIE LEAN: Land otters are voracious. They’re -- they’re pretty -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And is there -- CHARLIE LEAN: -- pretty tough customers.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Is there a big population of them up on the Seward Peninsula? CHARLIE LEAN: Yes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Is there?
CHARLIE LEAN: And so, the otters -- I’ve seen otters miles from any water in the winter, on the top of the snow, bouncing along, apparently hunting ptarmigan.
And they see me coming, and they, "Boof!" They just dive in the snow and "blbblbb" like an earthworm into the snow.
And you can sit there and wait and wait and wait. And you just -- you can hear ’em chattering at you down there, mad, but he’s not going to come out.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So if they’re -- if they eat beavers, their population sort of improving? CHARLIE LEAN: So otters have been numerous for a long time, and people just aren’t aware. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh.
CHARLIE LEAN: But ott -- there’s been otters around for -- I’ve -- yeah, people -- they used to be a source of income for subsistence trappers.
There’s not too many subsistence trappers anymore, but there’s -- beaver have been around for a long -- I mean, otters have been around longer than the beaver. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I didn’t realize that. CHARLIE LEAN: A lot longer. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
KATIE CULLEN: Thinking about, um, fish and um -- I got to wondering, what -- what initially got you interested in becoming a fish biologist? CHARLIE LEAN: Money. KATIE CULLEN: Oh.
CHARLIE LEAN: So as a, you know, a high school -- well even before, you know, I was a very outdoorsy kid. And I just lived to hunt and fish and run through the woods and -- and in high school, I was a mediocre high school -- well, I was ok, but not a great student. Kind of a jock.
And uh, and my -- I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I was -- Vietnam War was going, and I was going to get drafted. It was a guaranteed thing that I was going to get drafted, and so I went to college without a plan.
Just -- and I took biology courses. I told everybody I was a pre-med student just to get my dad off my back, but I didn’t have any intention of being a doctor.
Anyway, so took biology classes, and the fish and the wildlife classes were the same for the first two years. And by middle of my second semester, the Vietnam War had shut down. I’d -- I’d gotten my notice to go get -- to go get my physical in preparation for entering the army, but then they changed their mind and turned me loose. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And there, I’d been kind of partying and goofing off. It was the beginning of the pipeline. And again, I wasn’t a very good student, so there I was.
And uh, a plan seemed more imperative. So I went for wildlife management. I got a degree in wildlife management, bachelor of science, and there’re no jobs.
And my grades weren’t such that I could get a scholarship, and I didn’t have any more money, and so, I got a job as a fish biologist in Bristol Bay with Fish and Game. Did that for a number of years.
And uh, became disenchanted and thought that nobody was ever going to hire me, and poor me, and uh, that fall when I was working seasonally, work like, six, seven months a year, then go trapping or do something in the winter, drive trucks, whatever I did to get by.
And then they told me -- I went in and they said, "Are you coming back next year?" I said, "No. No. Time to -- time to grow up and do something. Got to get a job."
And they looked at me kinda funny and says, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, nobody’s hiring me." "What are you gonna do?" "Well, I know I can get a job driving trucks or whatever."
And they -- I went about my business for the day, and an hour or two later, the two bosses came up to me. And "Come in here." And gave me a whole page full of names and places to talk to. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: "One of these guys is going to give you a job, Charlie." And yeah, boogers had not told anybody that I was looking. So anyway, I was mad at ’em.
Couple weeks later, I went into the office in Anchorage, Fish and Game, and first guy I visited offered me a choice of three jobs, so I ended up in Nome.
I had a choice of Nome, Bethel, or St. Mary’s as an assistant manager, an entry-level biology job. And took the Nome one.
The guy was impressed that I’d actually lived here before and knew what I was getting into. So, I got the job.
And then, my predecessor -- he -- his marriage fell apart, and he left and they had to hire somebody, so. So I’ve been here ever since, yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So when you worked for the Park Service here, what were your -- what was your responsibilities when you were with the Park Service?
CHARLIE LEAN: So then I, you know, I did my twenty-year -- I was also a peace officer, you know. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ah. CHARLIE LEAN: So they -- I had a twenty-year police retirement.
And I realized that Fish and Game -- I’m working half time. You know, they -- they’d paid me half. If I retired, they’d give me half my paycheck, you know, so I started looking for a new job. That was right when the federal subsistence controversy happened, you know. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And so, Fish & Wildlife Service was hiring -- hiring all these Fish and Game -- high-time Fish and Game people to -- to do their subsistence management, so US Fish & Wildlife didn’t really have an office in Nome. But they wanted to put somebody in Northwest Alaska.
So they contacted the Park Service. Park Service said, "Well, we’ll house that person if you pay half his -- pay half their -- their salary or expenses." So Park Service did that.
Spirtes wanted me to move my family and everything to Kotzebue, and I refused. And uh, he stalled, and I started looking again. When he heard I was looking again, he hired me.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So did you get up into the Bering Land Bridge -- CHARLIE LEAN: Oh, yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: -- Preserve? Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: I’ve -- I had been already, you know. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes.
CHARLIE LEAN: I’ve flown all those streams many times, and I -- I -- I’m -- so Kotzebue and Norton Sound were my Fish and Game responsibilities, and so I, you know, I’d already been everywhere.
It’s one of the reasons they wanted to hire me is ’cause there’s no learning curve. I just, yeah. Do you want me to name that fish? You know, I know that one. Yeah. So, yeah. So I did, yeah.
So I -- I -- the things I did in Bering Land Bridge for the Park Service was first -- first thing I did was write that paper on fish at Serpentine.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Did it ever get published or -- ? CHARLIE LEAN: No. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: No? CHARLIE LEAN: No. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: No? CHARLIE LEAN: Well, then Spirtes left and then he died. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm.
CHARLIE LEAN: Um, and then -- then I -- one of the high priorities for this and Krusenstern -- BELA (Bering Land Bridge National Preserve) and Krusenstern was the lack of knowledge about fish and the marine stuff, so they -- they said they needed to do an inventory.
And at first, it was just a species count, but then it turned into a population estimate. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So -- CHARLIE LEAN: Of all these species.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: A species just of the park or of the whole Seward Peninsula or -- ? CHARLIE LEAN: Of the park area. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Of the park area -- ? CHARLIE LEAN: Park units. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: So -- so nobody’s done that yet. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh, so, it was supposed to species -- CHARLIE LEAN: So -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: -- and then, it was going to be a count?
CHARLIE LEAN: Well, first they changed their mind, and then they cut my funding when I started. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok. CHARLIE LEAN: So it never happened.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So it’s never been done. So there’s no baseline to even judge things by?
CHARLIE LEAN: Well, so I -- there was a few voucher specimens and things. I found those, and at least two of them were misidentified. You know, they had a pike skeleton and -- or a burbot skeleton identified as a pike, and a red salmon that was really a chum salmon and stuff.
So anyway, so there was some mistakes. I tried to correct those, got nowhere. No skin off my nose. So anyway, there’s mistakes in the inventories that they have.
And -- and -- but I did -- I went up and I spent several days on Imuruk Lake, on Kuzitrin Lake, and then I did winter surveys of the whole -- just a whole bunch of smaller lakes all over BELA.
And went, you know, assessed them as to how -- how badly they froze down, was there oxygen sufficient in the lake to support fish over the winter?
Was there -- was there, you know, what was the rough size of the winter thawed water -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: -- versus the summer water and stuff? And again, I don’t know where all that went. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: But I did it.
And I could -- from memory, I could tell you some interesting things. There was a relic -- glacial relic population of Dolly Varden. I mean, not Dolly Varden, Arctic char in Kuzitrin Lake on the -- on the southern tributaries to Kuzitrin Lake.
Little tiny Arctic char that look more like a bullhead, and they -- ’cause they’re so inbred. And they’re sexually mature at about five inches.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And they can’t migrate in or out because they’re in this lake? CHARLIE LEAN: They can migrate out, but they’ll never get back. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: -- couldn't come back? Ok. CHARLIE LEAN: They go splat when they go off the falls. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: Um, yeah. So we found a few of them. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Huh. CHARLIE LEAN: Stranded and petrified on the -- it was a dry summer that year, and uh, yeah.
Uh, Imuruk Lake was really interesting, but they had snails and grayling. And the grayling were heavily parasitized because there’s a sim -- there’s a tapeworm parasite that utilizes those two species as a, you know, juvenile and an adult form. And so they -- bunch of really nasty-looking grayling and no other kind of fish. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Huh.
CHARLIE LEAN: But Kuzitrin Lake had, like, six species. For a lake that’s so small, that kinda indicates that at one time, it was a much larger lake. And was probably connected by -- by waterway to the sea. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And must --
CHARLIE LEAN: And that the stream is, you know, eroded and marched back. And it’s created all these -- a little canyon and waterfall situation where it’s -- you can see that the lake has shrunk to half its size.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: It must be very rich in nutrients, if it can support six different species. Was there a big population of them, or -- ? CHARLIE LEAN: I don’t -- I didn’t try to do the population part. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm, right. CHARLIE LEAN: But it was -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Huh.
CHARLIE LEAN: There were enough that we caught ’em, no problem. So I mean, there was --
People do occasionally go fishing there. It’s a pretty spot, and it’s historically really significant. You know a lot of 200-year-old caribou-Eskimo culture kinda stuff going on there. Cairns and tent platforms and just, you know, great huge areas covered with cracked marrow bones. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: Just caribou bones six inches deep for -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wow. CHARLIE LEAN: As big as a gym floor. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Places.
And a couple of World War II relics up there, too. Um, it was kinda fun to poke around.
And we -- I took a park ranger and I, and we did a patrol of the -- winter patrol. Great -- the great circle of the Bering Land Bridge. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: So we -- and we -- as we went, I drilled holes in a bunch of lakes, and depth-find, and, you know, mapped depth and oxygen.
And at least on one, we must've seen a fish go by the depth finder, ’cause this blip went horizontal instead of vertical. I was like, "Hm." KATIE CULLEN: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: "That’s something." Yeah, don’t know what it was, but it was something live. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: And then a couple lakes that looked promising that weren’t. You know, that froze to the bottom and were hopelessly -- KATIE CULLEN: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: -- dead.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. Interesting. And do these -- you said these results, they didn’t get published anywhere? CHARLIE LEAN: No. I have some of my scratch work -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: -- buried in a file someplace of my own. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: But I -- but yeah. I -- Ken was my supervisor, so when I left, I gave him all that stuff and walked out the door.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. Interesting. So do you get up in the area much more? CHARLIE LEAN: Rarely. I mean, occasionally on a snowmachine. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: But yeah, that’s kind of on the edge of my range as far as caribou hunting goes or something like that. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: I like to go to the Good Hope River cottonwood camp. KATIE CULLEN: Hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And Serpentine’s ok, but I don’t -- I don’t like a bunch of people, so -- so I try to figure out when nobody else is there if I go. Which is the most bitter time of the winter. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: It’s very spacey to go, take a snowmachine over the hill into Serpentine. As you crest the low ridge betw -- separating that from the rest of the Serpentine, that valley where the hot springs are is just filled with fog, and it’s cold out.
It’s like, it’s a bit of a leap of faith. You know, you drive up to the edge, and you can see these trail markers going down into the soup. And you really can’t see more than a hundred yards, and it’s like, "Hm. I guess."
You go down. It’s pretty steep going down. You go in there, and you’re -- in no time, you’re right there at the buildings.
And I always park my snowmachine on a thawed spot, and I throw a tarp over it because if you don’t, in the morning, it’s that deep in frost. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. KATIE CULLEN: Mm. CHARLIE LEAN: And you -- a pain to start. And the -- yeah.
And if you tarp it, then it kinda -- you don’t have to heat it or anything to get it started. ’Cause it can be forty below. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm. CHARLIE LEAN: Easily.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And the hot springs don’t freeze over ’cause they’re thermal. CHARLIE LEAN: The ground -- even the ground -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ground? CHARLIE LEAN: There’s, you know, it’s not just a place where the water comes up, it’s -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. All over. CHARLIE LEAN: It’s a big -- biggish area.
The building was -- the original bunkhouse was built on a hotspot. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh. CHARLIE LEAN: And that’s why it rotted out so often. ’Cause of all the steam constantly perking through the building. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: But uh -- And then just a half mile away is the Arctic Spring. May be covered in a beaver dam by now?
But that was when I worked for the Park Service, I went down there and opened that up a little bit. Dug all the muck out of the hole. I didn’t break any wood or anything, but there’s an old -- the bath was still lined in wood. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And then I rebuilt the runway. KATIE CULLEN: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: I was the first guy to rebuild the runway since 1978. KATIE CULLEN: Oh, neat. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wow.
CHARLIE LEAN: So we spent a lot of -- couple days up there. Um, just trying to make the footprint what it was in 1978, not trying to make it safer.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Did it just get overgrown or something? CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah, it was encroaching from the ends. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Uh-huh. CHARLIE LEAN: And it was heavily rutted in the middle.
And then, there was a drainage ditch on the hill that kinda directed run-off away from it. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And that had all grown up.
So we -- we tore the vegetative cover off the ditch. And then we utilized small amounts of gravel out of the bottom of the ditch to fill some of the worst chuckholes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And then, we just cut a little bit of willows, mostly at either end of the runway, so that when you took off you didn’t clip ’em. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: And then we -- we had a -- I think it’s still up there. We stripped a four-wheeler down to just the wheels and the engine. And flew it up in a 207, and then we had a rake harrow (harrow rake). LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: A chain harrow, and we drove that around to scratch -- scratch the surface.
What we -- the intent was to -- climate change. So the -- most runways around here grow up in willows because they’ve -- the soil was disturbed. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And we were trying to get it to come up in alpine, you know, crowberry kind of vegetation. We thought if we had a turfy -- so we -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: You wanted like a turfy run -- ?
CHARLIE LEAN: We went through and we were pulling up willows and chopping willows, and then in places where it was -- the bottom of the ditch and the --
At either end of the runway, it was pretty heavy in woody plants, so we -- we just ripped the heck out of it with the chain harrow. And put it back, set it back in succession a ways to promote the blueberry. Or at least some kind of low vegetation. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
CHARLIE LEAN: And we -- yeah, we just -- we didn’t really move much gravel. We just did vegetation changes. It -- it lasted several years. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And I think they repeated it because it -- it was an improvement.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. Have you flown in on that runway? KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. Have you seen differences from what Charlie’s mentioning? CHARLIE LEAN: There’s -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Today?
CHARLIE LEAN: There’s a box grader and a chain harrow parked off to the side. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Or there was when I left. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: And then there’s a -- KATIE CULLEN: Yep, that’s --
CHARLIE LEAN: We used to have to strip the four-wheelers in and out. I don’t know if -- then Bering Air decided they weren’t going to fly there anymore because of a near miss. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh.
KATIE CULLEN: There’s a four-wheeler out there. CHARLIE LEAN: Is there? KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. Um, and I really enjoy walking along -- when you walk along the runway. CHARLIE LEAN: Um-hm.
KATIE CULLEN: You’ll see some of, I think they’re the bolete mushrooms? CHARLIE LEAN: Yep. KATIE CULLEN: All lining -- CHARLIE LEAN: Birch boletes. Yeah. KATIE CULLEN: And some of them are gigantic. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. KATIE CULLEN: Some of the biggest that I’ve seen. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Really. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah.
KATIE CULLEN: More toward, you know, the latter part of -- the later part of summer, I should say. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah, my wife’s big into those birch boletes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Yep. KATIE CULLEN: Yeah, they’re really interesting to -- CHARLIE LEAN: She dyes and eats ’em both.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I was just going to say, they’re edible? CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: They’re good. We -- we pick ’em and dry ’em. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: If they’re too buggy, we -- she makes dye out of them. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: For qiviut dye.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes. What color do they dye up into? CHARLIE LEAN: Um, light purple-y. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh, ok. KATIE CULLEN: Oh, yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: You know, like your scarf. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. CHARLIE LEAN: Or maybe a little more purple. KATIE CULLEN: It’s like a -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mauve-y color. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Interesting. Yeah.
CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. So they’re -- but yeah, they’re -- we dry a fair amount. We have a dehydrator. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: We cut ’em up into slices and then dry ’em to not quite potato-chip crisp and throw ’em in the freezer. Pull ’em out a little bit at a time. Put ’em in -- and then Ziploc bags, you can -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yep. CHARLIE LEAN: You don’t have to eat the whole bag at once. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Depending on the size of the bag. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. I can, too, but yeah. She doesn’t, so she yells at me.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Well, Charlie, is there anything that we haven’t talked about, about changes in the Seward Peninsula that you think would be important to touch upon?
CHARLIE LEAN: Oh, just that I’m getting older. No, I don’t know. I -- I think -- I think transportation, you know, trying to -- em, the --
The land is more fragile than it was. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. CHARLIE LEAN: In my opinion. And not so much the alpine areas, but the -- the moist tundra places are -- are becoming -- have yet to stabilize, and so I think it’s going to be decades before they stabilize.
If you -- if you read the old books like when the geologists were here in the early '50’s, you know, they named all the lost Jim and Joan lava flows and all the -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Those were real people in the 1950’s.
Their stories of doing that fieldwork was walking in super wet tundra, you know, wet feet day and night and trench foot. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And it’s not like that now, but the ground’s still really soft. And people are high-impact.
And, you know, those ATV and that kind of getting about is pretty rough on the country. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
CHARLIE LEAN: And so, very few people walk much anymore. I’m -- I’m somewhat guilty, you know. It’s -- I like to walk on the alpine, and there’s big stretches of alpine that are pretty much unchanged.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And the sea ice is also more fragile, too, from what you’ve been saying? 'CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah. So that’s, yes.
So in the early '80’s, I did my fieldwork through four and five feet of ice. Today, I’m doing fieldwork on two feet of ice. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm. CHARLIE LEAN: And the season is short. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Katie, did you have any other questions? KATIE CULLEN: I don’t think so, no.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Charlie, you’ve been wonderful. CHARLIE LEAN: Thanks. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I’ve learned so much from you. Thank you. KATIE CULLEN: Yeah, thank you.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: It’s been a real joy to speak with you today. CHARLIE LEAN: Well, thank you. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: No, thank you. CHARLIE LEAN: Oh, gray hair is good for something, eh? Anyway. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: For a lot of things. I’ll turn this off now. CHARLIE LEAN: Yeah.