Jeanette Koelsch is interviewed on April 17, 2019 by Leslie McCartney and Katie Cullen in her office at the headquarters of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Nome, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Jeanette talks about her experience as a field ranger and as an interpretative ranger doing school programs for Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, as well as her current role as superintendent. She discusses her observations of changes in the environment in the region, including variations in the seasons, vegetation, species, sea ice, storm patterns, and erosion, and the effect of these changes on wildlife and humans. She also mentions some of the resource protection and management challenges these changes present for the National Park Service.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Observing Change in Alaska's National Parks
Date of Interview: Apr 17, 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.
Personal and family background
Education, and getting a job with the National Park Service
Working as a seasonal ranger for Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, and working with research projects
Becoming an interpretive ranger and doing school education programs
Earning the Freeman Tilden award and creating the Science in Our Lives CD-rom
Working for Kawarek, Inc. on village economic development plans, and her job as superintendent for Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
Local issues of access in the Preserve, and educating and working with the public
Future trends in the National Park Service for increased community involvement
Climate change management challenges: shorter winter season, changes in snowfall, lack of sea ice, changes in storm patterns, increased erosion
Protecting archeological and paleontological resources
Impact on wildlife and human use of changes in snowfall, melting, seasonal runoff, and length of field season
Changes in vegetation, and changes in beaver activity
Monitoring for invasive species
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’s Wednesday, April 17, 2019. I’m Leslie McCartney, and we’re here in Nome at the National Park Service offices. And I’m with Katie Cullen, and we’re with Jeanette Koelsch. Koelsch, is that how you pronounce your last name? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Koelsch. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Koelsch. Yes.
Thank you very much, Jeanette, for being with us today. We really appreciate -- you have a very, very busy week, and we really appreciate the time that you’ve taken to talk to us today.
I’ll get you both just to introduce yourselves as to what your position is here at the Park Service, and then we’ll go ahead from there.
KATIE CULLEN: I’m Katie Cullen, the interpretation and education program manager here at Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, headquartered in Nome, Alaska. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Great.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And I’m Jeanette Koelsch, and I am the superintendent of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Great. And again, I want to thank you, Jeanette, for participating and understanding about -- knowing about the project that we’re doing, both with the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park about climate change in these both coastal regions and parks.
We’ll first start off with a little about yourself, Jeanette. Can you -- you were born and raised here in Nome?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I wasn’t born here. I was born in Anchorage. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And my family moved here when I was eleven years old. And we lived in Bethel and Anchorage before that.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So where are your parents from, then? JEANETTE KOELSCH: My mom is from Gambell, which is on St. Lawrence Island, and my dad is from New York.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Oh. And so was your mom’s family from Gambell all along? JEANETTE KOELSCH: My mom’s family is from Gambell and Savoonga, on St. Lawrence Island. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So did she grow up with a subsistence type of lifestyle? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes, she did. She, um -- that was the only lifestyle that she had. I think for them it was just the normal -- their normal life.
And she actually went to boarding school in high school in Sitka, at Mt. Edgecumbe, and graduated from high school there.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So how did she meet your dad? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um, she was working in Anchorage, and my dad was in Anchorage because he’d gotten a job during the pipeline boom days, the oil up on the North Slope. He got a job.
And they met each other. Um, yep.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And he decided to stay in Alaska. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. Yep. And he’s been, um, I think he moved to Alaska in 1969 or ’70. He kinda goes back and forth on those dates. Yep. So.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So what did they end up doing in Bethel? JEANETTE KOELSCH: My mom was an investigator for the State of Alaska Public Defender Agency, and we moved there because she got a job from Anchorage to there with the State. We stayed about a year. At least, it felt like a year.
And then because her family -- because Nome is the hub of the region, and that includes St. Lawrence Island, and my grandparents were on St. Lawrence Island, my mom got a job here in Nome.
And I think she got a job here in Nome in 1981 or ’82. Maybe ’82? Maybe I was ten. And um, so we moved here, and then we’ve been here ever -- ever since.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So maybe what we should do, too, is get your mom and dad’s name and your grandparents’ names, just so we can have them on the record. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh, ok.
My parents are Joe and Grace Cross. And my grandparents are Jack and Jane Antoghame.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm. So are your parents still alive or your grandparents, too? JEANETTE KOELSCH: My parents are still alive, and they live in Wasilla. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And my grandparents died a long time ago. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mm, sorry.
So you’ve been here in Nome for quite a while, then? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes.
So tell us about your education. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um, I went to elementary school from -- I remember sixth grade here, and then junior high and high school.
And then I went and finished college at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.
And then my first professional job straight out of college was with the National Park Service as a general park ranger.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So what did you study in college, then? JEANETTE KOELSCH: General science. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wow.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So, but it -- it really was mostly math and physics. But I did take astronomy, geology, biology, and chemistry, so I had a pretty rounded education in the sciences. So I chose the general science degree.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So what led you to the Park Service? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I had a friend who worked at the Park Service. I knew him in high school. His name is Charles Olin.
And I -- well, to make ends meet when I first finished school, and so I wouldn’t have to live with my mom and dad, I moved in with my friend Veronica, who was working in Nome in dental at the hospital.
And she had an apartment, and so we moved in together, and then I started bartending, because you could make $11 an hour, plus tips. Yes.
And so I was bartending, and um -- at the Anchor Tavern, and Charles came in, and he said, "Oh, are you finished with college now?" And I said, "Yes."
And he said, "Well, what are you going to do for the summer?" And I said, "I don’t know." I had applied for other jobs, but I hadn’t heard yet.
And he said, "Do you -- do you wanna -- well, did you want to go work outside? Do you still know how to drive a boat and all this other stuff, outside stuff?" And I said, "Yeah, that sounds cool."
And he goes, "We have a park ranger job open at Bering Land Bridge." And I thought he was joking because I didn’t know there was a national park or that we had a park office.
And so first I laughed, and I was like -- ’cause he kind of joked about stuff, so I thought he was joking with me. And he said, I’m not joking.
He said, "I’m working as a secretary for Rosalie McCreary." And I went to high school with her son, Obie, and so then I realized, yeah, he’s probably not joking if he knows Rosalie.
And then he said, but they’re looking for a park ranger. And I was like, well, what does that do? And he goes, "On, super fun. You just go around in boats and fly in planes, and you look around in the park."
And I was like, well, where is this park? And he says, oh, it’s by Shishmaref.
And I was like, oh, ok. He goes, well tomorrow -- not tomorrow. I think he said, after the weekend, go in and talk to Dennis Carruth, and tell him that Charles sent you to apply for the seasonal park ranger job.
So Monday I went in, and at that time our offices were in a really not-so-great spot. We were in the post office. And the chief ranger’s office was upstairs where the chiropractor is, but all of the other park offices were down in the basement of the old jail.
So I went and talked to Dennis, and he said, "Oh, cool." He goes, well, here’s an application. And this was when you gave someone a paper application.
And he said, you can just probably fill it out right here. It’s not very long. Well now, they’re long, right? And you have to have a resume.
So I filled out this, like, two-page paper application, and I handed it back to him. And then like three days later, he called me for an interview. And so we sat down, and he told me what the job would entail.
And then when I was sitting there, another employee that I knew, who I really didn’t know worked here, was Fred Tocktoo. And Fred walked in, and he’s like, "Hey, Jeanette." And I was like, "Hi, Fred."
And he worked in subsistence. And he said, "Are you applying for the job?" I said, "Yeah." And he told -- he looked at Dennis, and he gave a thumbs up, and he went -- (makes a gesture). You can’t see me do this, but he gives a thumbs up and he went (gestures).
And then Dennis was all like, you know, smiled, too. And so we interviewed, and we talked about boats, and he said, "Well, it’s good that Fred came in ’cause Fred is the one you’ll be going out with sometimes, into the field.
And what your main job will be is to take researchers out so that they’re safe, and you’ll provide them with logistical support." Now we don’t do that anymore. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: That was super, super fun when I did do that. But I literally got called -- it was like a Thursday, and I got called on Monday, saying that I got the job.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And what year was this, Jeanette? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um, 1994. So it was -- that never happens anymore.
So -- so I started, and um, yeah, it was history after that. But it was, it was like the best job I ever had, was that job.
KATIE CULLEN: And you traveled all throughout, right? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, I went -- I went everywhere in the preserve.
So I got to do coastal work in the lagoons. I got to take famous archeologists and geologists out that I didn’t know were famous because I didn’t pay that much attention when I was younger.
All I knew was I was supposed to take this person to a certain spot and set up the camp, and then Fred and I would go -- After dropping them off, we would do, like a walking patrol, or a hiking patrol, or another boat patrol and document visitor use, um, visitor -- any -- any damage of resources.
We talked to local folks who were out hunting or camping or just hanging out. And I -- you know, it was -- it was a super fun job.
I got to learn from archeologists like Jeanne Schaaf, um, the archeology of the region. I got to take some geologists out and learn about the geology.
And uh, at -- a mushroom ecologist also, and I can’t -- I used -- I’m just blanking on his name now, but I knew -- I remember his name because that was super fun.
Some folks studying birds. I mean, like, it was a whole gamut of people that we got to take out and drop off or boat them around.
And yeah. And like, my favorite place to go, of course, was Serpentine Hot Springs. So there, we got to fix the buildings and help with the janitorial clean-up, even carpentry and painting. And um, it was -- it was a super fun -- yeah, like I said, it was my favorite job.
Like, I didn’t have to -- I mean, I filled out a ranger report when I got back. We developed photos the old way. We sent them off to Anchorage, and it would take, like fourteen days to get your pictures back. And then we’d have to put them in the sleeves of a notebook, and every photo had to be labeled, um, with who was in the picture and what we were doing.
And then you’d have to create another spread -- another sheet that had, “Photo 1,” and the longer description of that photo.
And then, um, and then you did a ranger report that also went in with the -- with the photos.
And so, it was really different back then. ’Cause some of my reports are hand-written. I found a few of ’em here. It’s so weird to see what I used to write.
And then, um, some of ’em, we typed out. And I remember having a -- in college, we used Macs for all of our labs. But when I worked for the federal government, we got these IBM computers. And I didn’t even know what that was.
'Cause Macs were different, and they were easier to use, so I got this IBM computer, and it was like, what is this? It’s a blue screen with white letters.
So we typed our reports out that way, and you had to use the Control key a lot, like Ctrl+P to print. KATIE CULLEN: (Whispered) That’s right. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And you kind of had to -- like I used to have to write down, like a cheat sheet of -- Ctrl+whatever, Ctrl+whatever.
And um, and that’s what we -- but a lot of stuff was still hand-written. And we had to have, like, things in triplicate. So we used different color papers, and then you had to leave this copy with this person. The pink copy went with this person. The yellow copy was sent somewhere, and yeah. Back then it was all, like, so different.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: I can imagine you must have had a lot of field notebooks then, too. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: If you had to go back and have pictures to match up with photos, you must have had numerous field notebooks. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. Yeah.
And Fred always had the same notebook, too, and he would have his field notes. And we’d just sit and work on them together.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So how was it that you didn’t know that there was a park there? Was it because it had only been formed, maybe -- sin -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: 19 -- yeah, 1981. 1980, 1981.
I don’t think that the park office actually had an employee until 1982 or ’83. You’ll have to ask Ken Atkinson. He knows that.
And he was the third employee of the park, Ken was. There was the superintendent, his secretary, and then Ken, who was the chief ranger.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Do you remember who the park superintendent was at the time? JEANETTE KOELSCH: The only park superintendent -- I think it was Larry Rose. But the second one that I worked for was a guy named Don Chase. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And then I worked for another superintendent after that, um, named, um, Dave -- oh, I can’t remember his name. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: It might come to you later. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, it will. It will. Yeah, um.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So this was a seasonal job, that you -- the first one you got? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um-hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So all of this happened in your first season? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Right out of college, yeah.
And then so, after the season was over, I -- I met researchers, and there were some from San Diego. So I went to San Diego for a few months and just like, went from -- hung out to hung out. 'Cause it was warm, and I didn’t have anything else to do.
And then Dennis -- I came home, and Dennis said, "Do you want to work next summer?" And I said, sure.
And then he said, "But do you want a job before then?" And I says, "Well, what kind of job do you -- do you -- are you asking me about?"
And he goes, "Do you know what an interpretative ranger does?" I was like, "No." I was like, "Do you have to know different languages?"And he’s like, "No. No. He goes, "It’s like visitor services. Like, you meet with visitors, and you help us develop a visitor services program."
And so I said, "I guess. I mean, if you’re paying me, I’ll start working." I said, "Well, when do you want me to start?" He goes, "Oh, in January. And then you’ll just do your other job after that. Your regular ranger job." And I said, "Ok."
So we did that, and I did my regular ranger job going out in the field, and then in the fall, I was getting ready to get done, and he said, "Do you know how to do school programs?" And I said, "No." And he says, "Do you want to do some school programs?"
And at first I was like, no. But, um, but then he’s like, "No, it’s -- because I could have you, you know, do some school programs as an interpretive ranger, but also, you know, branch out to do school programs on environmental education in Nome and the villages."
And I was like, well, what does this mean, though? I said I don’t know -- I told him I was concerned because I didn’t know how to create curriculum.
My programs were real sparse, even from January to May. They weren’t that great. I mean, and we were still located in the post office, so we didn’t get very many visitors.
I think that our interpretive thing was a desk with the Unigrid brochure taped to the wall. And some broch -- and those same brochures out -- the Unigrid out.
So yeah, I told him, "Ok, I’ll try it." I said, "But I don’t really know how to do the programs." Um, so he arranged for a ranger --
oh, the superintendent at that time was Dave Spirtes. KATIE CULLEN: Mm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So he arranged for a ranger named Pat, and now I can’t remember her name, from Klondike -- not Klondike, um, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve to come and teach me how to do interpretive work.
So Pat came to Nome, and she helped me learn how to do that.
A long time ago, you had to fill out forms for your visitor use, and you would fax them to whoever needed them, the WASO office. I didn’t even know you were supposed to do that, but she helped work through that.
She was like, well, what’s your budget? And I was like, I don’t know. She’s like, you need to know what your budget is. So what did Dennis say? And I’m like, I don’t know. It’s like, I didn’t even care about that stuff either. Like, do I have enough money to go to do a village visit? I don’t know.
So she helped do that, and then she brought some sample lesson plans on, um -- I think the first one was like, on water ecology because it is Yukon-Charley Rivers. And another one was about, um -- it didn’t pertain very much. It had to do with trees.
But she helped me look at the values of the park and what might be good programs. And so in the end, we did work on a program about the tundra, and um, wetlands. KATIE CULLEN: Cool.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And we worked that up together. And then the second one I did with her was on archaeology.
So she kinda helped get me going so that I had something to take to schools.
And then we had like four programs, and what we’d do is I would fax schools a list of the things that I could offer them. And then they would basically call and say, "Hey, that sounds really cool. Can --"
Most of them wanted me to do all of them in one visit. So I would go and do all of these in one, and I’d stay like two days. Um, and stay at the school like Katie does now, same kind of thing.
But it was so limited back then, and because I never had a formal teaching thing, I could only do those -- those four. Two -- yeah, four. The -- I can’t remember what the other two were on, specifically.
But yeah, that’s how I got it started. And then I got that permanent position through local-hire.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And the permanent position was for an interpreter? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Interpretive park ranger.
And then -- then we moved from that building to this building when this building was finished. And it was so nice. This was my office. KATIE CULLEN: Mm.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And what year was that, Jeanette? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh, I want to say 1996. It was before my son Dylan was born, and he was born in ’97. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, and I know because I had Dylan, and Dave was great. He let me bring him here.
And then my chief ranger -- my supervisor changed from Dennis Carruth, who got a superintendent job in the Southwest, to Greg Dudgeon, who is the superintendent still at Yukon-Charley and Gates of the Arctic.
So -- but they were great. They just -- they let me keep Dylan here, and yeah, I remember him in the walker. And he’d walk straight out -- out there, and I’d have to go run after him because he’d walk straight out the door. It was -- yeah, yeah. So it was really -- and Dylan’s 21 now, so.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So as you grew into the position of education, did you improve upon the programs and do the schools here and in the communities? KATIE CULLEN: You won awards. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: You won awards? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I won a Freeman Tilden award. Yeah, and I forgot about that. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: It’s a Freeman award? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Uh, Alaska Region Freeman Tilden award. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Wonderful.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So Freeman Tilden was a park interpreter, and a lot of the basics of park service interpretation started with Freeman Tilden. He was like the first person to, like, write everything out and work with big parks. I can’t remember what park he started at, but he was famous.
And so they made this award, so -- and so I worked on -- it was a couple things I worked on. One was a PBS, um, not documentary, but it was a learning portal with PBS when the internet was first getting up and running.
And then the other one was for a, um, Project Jukebox, similar to this. It had some Project Jukebox elements, but it ended up being in a different style, and it was called Science in Our Lives. And it was a CD-rom that played in the visitor center.
And it had children’s games, but it also had other cultural elements. You could click on something, and it would show you pictures of the park, similar to -- I mean, it wasn’t even similar. It was totally different than the cool, like, stuff we have now.
But it was -- it wasn’t web-based. You had to have the CD playing on it, so.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: But that was cutting-edge technology at the time. JEANETTE KOELSCH: It was. It was. And um, but it was really fun to -- to make that. And we got -- what was cool was we got, because it was on a CD, we got to send it around to folks.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. So what topics were on the CD, then? JEANETTE KOELSCH: It was all about the park, the natural resources, culture resources. It talked about archeology sites. It had interviews with elders. It had stories. It had games for kids.
It had information about the park, like how to visit the park, how to get there, things like that. Yeah. So it would be like what the website would be, kind of. Yeah. Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Of today. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Of today.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Do you still have those interviews from the elders preserved somewhere? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think they have that -- those interviews in Kotzebue. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok. JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think they do. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
KATIE CULLEN: We have the CD-rom. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Do you? JEANETTE KOELSCH: We do. But I don’t know if we can play it.
KATIE CULLEN: I’ve played it before on the computer, but it’s, yeah -- It’s been a little while. But yeah, I think we can still -- it’s really neat.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: It would just be really good to make sure that those interviews are preserved somewhere in an archive for future use. KATIE CULLEN: Mm. Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: 'Cause I’m sure those people are no longer with us. JEANETTE KOELSCH: They’re no longer around, right.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. So how long did you act as an interpreter, then? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I did it for four years, and then I moved to work for Kawerak, which is the Alaska Native non-profit, as a, um, economic development planner for them. Yep. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Interesting. JEANETTE KOELSCH: So, um --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: What were you working on? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I worked on -- I worked on village plans. They were less economic development than they were village needs for each community in the Bering Strait region.
And that was a really cool job, too. And then, I worked for Kawerak for a long time before I came back to work in 2009 as the superintendent here. It was like ’98 to 2009. Almost ten years at Kawerak. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Is that right? (Whispered) ’98, that’s -- yeah. KATIE CULLEN: That’s a little more, right? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, that’s more. KATIE CULLEN: Yeah. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Is that ten, twenty years? ’98 -- I don’t even know. I can’t even think of it.
So, yeah. And then I came back in January of 2009. KATIE CULLEN: As the superintendent. JEANETTE KOELSCH: As superintendent, yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So the opportunity came up for the superintendent, and you -- it seems like you would have been the most qualified. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Well, I really liked working here, and so, um, and I really loved the park.
And Fred was still here, and Ken, too. So it seemed like a good position to apply for.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So I know your time’s limited today, so why don’t we talk more about what are the responsibilities of the superintendent of the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, and if we don’t have time to talk about things that you’ve observed about climate change, we can do that maybe tomorrow. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Ok. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Does that -- does that sound good? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. Yep.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So, taking over as supervisor, as superintendent, what was -- what’s your role and responsibilities? JEANETTE KOELSCH: So the superintendent’s, to me, major role is to ensure that park resources are preserved and protected for the enjoyment and use of many, many generations.
And it -- that role of -- maybe preservation isn’t what I’m really thinking of. It’s more conservation. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Or stewardship? JEANETTE KOELSCH: And stewardship, yeah.
So it really -- that whole thing really resonated with me because one of the things that I always want is so that my kids can have the same experiences that I did and choose to live here.
Because, you know, I really love Nome, and it’s just such a wonderful area. So that -- that value really spoke to me.
Then as a Native person, the subsistence preference for local people that the park or preserve has under ANILCA also -- was also a driving factor for me was that continued land use for local people to ensure that that lifestyle would continue.
So -- and I feel like that that is -- those are the two -- to me, they’re the two main purposes is to work with my staff to ensure that those, um, those values are preserved.
And then for interpretation and education, it’s creating stewards, future stewards of, not only the preserve, but everywhere.
Like conservation is -- is important for everything. And so, um, so that, you know, being the park interpreter before, that resonated, too. Was teaching people, not only kids, but adults about what they can do in conservation.
And that education for folks. Kids, of course, are easier to -- and are malleable. But I’ve seen plenty of adults. You can see that look on their face when they realize that what you’re talking about also is a value that they have. Yep. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yep. JEANETTE KOELSCH: So.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And your predecessors before that, what -- was their values as being the superintendent very similar to that, or does every superintendent bring their own kind of values into their -- into their position?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think, um, all those superintendents really had that, um, really well-ingrained training of preservation/conservation.
Because a lot of superintendents go up the ranks totally in the service. They start at a GS-5, and they move all the way up in the service.
I had a break in service, which also gave me lots of education on tribal and Alaska Native issues. Which I really was glad I did that.
So yeah, a lot of superintendents are -- they really are really good at that. And I think the past ones were, too, but the one thing was that they didn’t -- they don’t stay as long.
Usually they’re from somewhere else, and they do a great job, but they, um, are usually moving to a different job, maybe with a higher grade level of salary or I’ve known people who want to retire in a certain area of the United States, so they look for that job to retire in or go to. Does that make sense? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Because a lot of people come from the Lower 48. KATIE CULLEN: Right. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Which, you know, it’s a different perspective, and sometimes you need that different perspective.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: What were some of the indigenous issues that you became more aware of working in your other job that you brought to you with this job? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think one of the things that people were confused about, and they still are, are hunting regulations between the state and the federal government. They can be complicated, and I know that people talked about that.
Access issues. We don’t allow for ATV because it damages the land. Plus, it’s just not an allowable means. I can’t even change that. Like, I can’t say, "Oh, I’m going to allow for ATV in Bering Land Bridge." That’s -- no. So, under regulations. So it was -- people didn’t know how to access the park.
Well, of course the people in Shishmaref and Deering and Wales knew they could snowmobile, and that’s how they do it. But there was a lot of those thoughts that somehow the federal government had taken that land and closed it up, locked it up. People couldn’t use it anymore.
And I heard that when I was at Kawerak. There was a misconceptions around -- on -- about the -- on, about federal land in general.
People generally don’t know the difference between National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and US Fish and Wildlife Service lands at all. They just call it the federal -- federal lands. So.
KATIE CULLEN: And we hear that now, too. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
How do you monitor whether or not people are using ATV’s in the park or in the preserve? JEANETTE KOELSCH: It’s just really hard when you have a small staff. think a lot of times is we’ll see it during flyovers.
And I think by and large people don’t -- don’t do it. I mean, it’s a hard ride anyway. It’s a lot of tussock tundra, and if you’ve ever hiked on it, it’s bad enough. But to ride a four-wheeler, and bump and bump and bump, yeah. So by -- by nature, it’s hard anyway. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So that’s a good -- I mean, not a good thing, but it, you know.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So have you done a lot of outreach, then, since you’ve been the superintendent to help clarify how the park can be accessed and by who and, yeah -- ? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Katie and our other interpretive park rangers do a great job letting people know that these are the forms of access.
But we’re -- and we talked to other people about how they’re feelings about not being able to go into the preserve. I know Katie has been working on special interpretive techniques where you engage folks on their values and feelings.
And it’s really cool because you’re not only just hearing from them and responding in a federal way, but you’re really understanding why they -- why they feel the way they do. When they tell you, "I’m really mad that I can’t four-wheeler to Serpentine Hot Springs." KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: You know you -- interpretation has come a really long way from just telling people information to, um -- it’s more interactive visitor, um.
I want to say like, mutual benefit between the interpreter and the local people and visitors.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So more of a dialog, as opposed to, these are the rules? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Here’s the information, here’s the rules. Right. KATIE CULLEN: Mm-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, so. And I really -- it’s a really great way to go because I think the visitor who could be complaining about something also feels more heard. And um, and then they understand -- or at least they’re provided the understanding of why in a way that they might feel a little bit better about why we don’t allow things.
There’s always going to be people who are going to be mad about it, but I think that that new way of doing things is going to help the Park Service a lot. I think it’s really cool.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So even though it’s -- the Park Service is actually changing over time in the way that they interact with local people and the general public, what trends do you see then going forward from that?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um, I think a great trend is more community involvement in the things that we do, through education, resources, um, even more participation in how we manage wildlife.
Tribal consultation is something that’s taken very seriously here, and the needs and inputs of local people.
And I see that trend, um, at least in the Alaska region as we move forward, moving forward.
There're just some things that we can’t do, but we can try to figure out other ways, and allowing -- not allowing. I don’t want to say allowing. But getting the input from people and really mulling it over with them and creating mutual solutions to problems, I think is a really great direction that the Park Service is going.
At least I feel like that’s where we’re going, with all these new techniques that we’re learning. There --
I do have to tell people, there are some no's. There are some hard no's, and that’s not because of me. It’s Congress.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: What are the hard no's? JEANETTE KOELSCH: ATV. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And so -- And, um, and that we have to do, NEPA compliance. We have to do, um, Section 106, archeological compliance.
We have to ensure that resources aren’t damaged, so.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: What is the first one you said? NEPA? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. NEPA. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And what is that? Oh, NEPA. Sorry. JEANETTE KOELSCH: The National Environmental Policy Act. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. Ok.
And those are just mandatory from -- from Washington, and you have to do those?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. We have to do that. We have to -- we have to, um, figure out if these activities that we’re allowing are ok with the Wilderness Stewardship Act.
There’s a lot of stuff that goes into thinking about, um, possible damage to resources and mitigating measures.
Doesn’t mean we can’t do them. We just have to think of a way to mitigate them. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So yeah. And I’m really glad that the Service is going to that.
To -- in a different way and explaining things in a way that the local public can -- can understand.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Do you still see that there’s other challenges that you need to face? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I think we could probably get into the climate change challenges. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ok.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Because I -- I see climate change as probably the number one threat to park resources. And how do we plan for that and not only think differently about how it affects local people, but mitigate damages?
Because the preserve is an ever-changing location. It’s not a museum. We can’t regulate the temperature or who touches what or whatever.
We have to be able to adapt to change and do that in the most responsible way possible while still allowing access and working with local people on subsistence.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So what are the -- if you had to say, these are the big changes that I’ve seen happen over my career, over the time that you’ve been here. What would those be?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: One is, it doesn’t freeze up as early as it used to, so your season for going out in the preserve is shortened. So --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Because winter is the best season? The cold season is the best season? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. Winter is our busy time for local people because their main access is by snowmobile. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: It is the time where they do a lot of subsistence activities. They do a lot of hunting and fishing during that time because the whole preserve is accessible.
And that season is getting shorter. Rivers and lakes that they used to use aren’t freezing as solid.
So a river or lake that they used to go ice fishing on at a certain time of year is no longer accessible. But then it’s not accessible by boat, either, because you’re in that weird time where the ice isn’t hard enough, or there’s not enough snowfall and ice for access.
And so as that shortens, hunting seasons may change because of access.
And we’re going to have to identify and do some modeling to see what -- what else might change.
We have warmer, wetter winters. I -- I correlate to that to increased snowfall.
And the changes with that snowfall have caused -- people might say, oh, lots of snow is good. But actually, it can cause issues that we’re not used to having, even in a preserve.
Even in the middle of nowhere, it could cause issues with that much snow.
And then, um, another access issue I see is -- is access to ice on the coast. And being able to do marine mammal hunting, utilizing the coastal ice. We’re also getting more erosion and damage to the coast.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So when you say the ice for access to animals because there isn’t as much ice and it’s not as thick? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So people can’t actually access the ice for the hunting. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes, to go hunting on, like the Bering Sea, too. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And the Chukchi Sea. For marine mammals, primarily.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And then the lack of ice, when it’s not there? JEANETTE KOELSCH: It creates issues with erosion and storm.
As we get storm surges, if the -- the ice acts as a -- a protecting barrier to the coast, and when it doesn’t exist for spring and fall and other winter storms, it really increases erosion.
And it really makes communities worry because they’re -- these villages are on the coast, too. And protections that they used to have from the ice aren’t there, or they’re not there long enough, or the ice isn’t thick enough for them to be protected. KATIE CULLEN: Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So, and that causes damage to park resources as far as, um, lack of, like, coastal, uh, what is it called? Not the beach, but the -- the -- like a lot of archeological resources are also coastal.
So where you used to be protected, now archeological resources are coming out of the berms and sluffs and river mouths that used to be fairly protected.
KATIE CULLEN: The banks. JEANETTE KOELSCH: The banks. Yeah, the banks. Things are sluffing off into the banks, where before they were reasonably protected. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. JEANETTE KOELSCH: From coastal surge.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So do you have an archeologist who frequently does coastal surveys, then, to see if there are more things coming out? Because once they come out, the stratigraphy’s all messed up, too.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: There are so many archeological and paleontological sites, and we have a shared archeologist, And to get that work done, we probably need, like, thirty archeologists.
And we do have a study that’s coming out, because we did do a coastal cultural resource study, um, and uh, Portland State University is finishing up the report for us.
What that will do is it’ll give us an inventory of sites that are at most risk so we can decide to excavate them, or if they’re a common feature to allow them to, um, yeah, to just go to the -- go into the beach, so. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: So that will be -- I’m hoping she’ll be done with that soon. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. JEANETTE KOELSCH: But it is an enormous job. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Because there are so many cultural and paleontological resources. We estimate that, especially for paleontology, we don’t -- we don’t know what’s out there.
So it’s hard to know what to protect if you don’t know where it is. KATIE CULLEN: Right. True. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. Yep.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And they’re only becoming visible because the coastline is eroding away. Or banks of rivers, like you say, are eroding away.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep. Cause with increased snowfall becomes different types of spring runoff. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yes.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And different ways that the snow melts in different times. If the snow melts too quickly, you get flooding, and there’s just different -- it’s just different.
I feel like when I was a kid, they -- the seasons were slower in changing. Like, you had a slower change. Where now it’s like, it could be fifty degrees, and it’d be that way, and everything just starts melting, you know.
But when I was a kid, I felt like it was more gradual, that -- that change of season to season.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Well, even when you first started your first summer, um, taking people out. I mean, probably even the number of weeks have changed? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. The number of weeks have changed for that also. Yeah. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And that’s a very short, relatively short period of time.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: And that’s a short period of time, too, yeah. It’s -- it’s -- it’s definitely concerning as far as, um, people’s use of the landscape.
And how do we -- how do we adapt to that use and minimize resource damage? I think that’s a question that all national parks around the United States are facing, not just Alaskan parks.
Because these bigger, longer, harder storms are happening in Texas. They’re happening in Louisiana. They’re happening in, um, on the northeast coast. They’re happening everywhere. Like that -- that change is -- is dramatic.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And it makes me think, too, when you’re talking about a lot more snow and deeper snow, how that impacts wildlife. Um, not just humans, but it’s more difficult sometimes for animals to move around in deeper snow.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. It’s difficult for them. The freeze and thaw cycle is bad for caribou and moose in particular. It could affect number of animals, calf mortality, a lot different things.
Yeah, deeper snow is not good for moose in particular. So it, I guess it’s --
Right now, I don’t know if we’re correlating the climate -- the weather data with wildlife events.
And that would be an interesting correlation to see when we have lots of snow years, is there a reduction in population of certain species?
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And the migration routes, if they’re different if the snow is deeper? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. And no one is looking at that. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: That -- as far as I know. I don’t know if anybody’s looking at snow depth with migration routes.
I do think that when rivers aren’t freezing like they should be, I think caribou might choose different routes, and things like that. But I don’t know -- I don’t know anybody who’s looking at climate data in that way.
Or I shouldn’t say -- it’s not really climate data. It’s -- it’s like weather data. ’Cause climate is on a bigger scale. But weather data in relationship to, um, population or even composition of wildlife.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So we’ve talked about the destruction of coastline, but what about the types of vegetation? Has -- has -- we’ve heard, you know, willows going further.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh. Yeah. Shrubification is an issue. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Shrubif -- um-hm?
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah. Willows, cottonwood, I can’t think of what the other -- alder species moving -- moving north, northward.
We also have places where things are just -- have become, just muck, where they weren’t before, because the permafrost is thawing and creating really low, mucky ground.
And that’s another issue that we’re gonna see, is the changes to vegetation. Not just shrubification, but when you get, um -- more wetland, I think, means more grassland.
And that can change forage for caribou in particular. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Birds migrating? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Um-hm. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yep, and where they go.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And sometimes the shrubification can actually choke off, like, small rivers that had been there before? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah.
And it increases beaver activity, which was not a species hunted very much.
There are definitely reports of more beaver because now they have more food to eat.
So they in themselves are changing the landscape, and people are concerned about beaver activity. They’re concerned, too, because they don’t know what to do with them, how to eat them, how to hunt them. Because they’re big rodents to everybody, and they’re like, ooh, beavers, ewww. But at some point, I think, beaver might be the thing. KATIE CULLEN: You never know.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And it wasn’t a traditional animal that was -- JEANETTE KOELSCH: No. Not in Shishmaref, Wales, or Deering. I don’t even think Nome, really.
Um, no. I think people are going to have to have that mindset change.
’Cause people in the Yukon are ok with eating beavers. I think we just didn’t have them as much and were not accustomed to knowing what to do with them.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: What about muskrats, too, then? Because they like to live in the same type of environment. No? JEANETTE KOELSCH: No muskrats. I can’t even think of --
I mean there definitely are going to be climate winners and losers, right? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And the analysis of that has been really interesting.
And it should continue because you just never know. Is that predictable? Is that model really correct? It’ll be interesting to find out. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: But, yeah, beavers are definitely a climate winner in our changing environment.
KATIE CULLEN: I just heard a new report of one in a place I had not heard of, just last week. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And where’s that, Katie? KATIE CULLEN: Oh, up in the Serpentine River, in a part that I -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: You hadn’t seen. KATIE CULLEN: Didn’t think I had heard of a report in that area.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yeah, and -- and they particularly like Serpentine Hot Springs area. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s hot springs. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: That’s right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: It’s beautiful. It’s got a nice, clean river, plenty of willows. And they have cut down all the alder trees, though, and the -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: The beaver already? JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes. Yes. KATIE CULLEN: They’ve been very, very busy. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And they very much like it.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And they can breed very quickly. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Yes.
And we’re lucky to have wildlife biologist Letty (Hughes) on now who is going to be looking at their activity, and we’re going to have to make some tough choices about the beavers.
Because if we allow them to manage that area, we could lose the hot springs pool itself, and then Serpentine would still be Serpentine. It just wouldn’t have a hot springs, ’cause it’d be under a water -- or under a lake. And the beavers would be super happy, too. It’d be a nice, warm lake that doesn’t ever, ever freeze. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: Right? So they could be busy. It’d be like, no wonder why they love it. It’d be like, beaver heaven. If it flooded that valley completely, right?
So Letty’s gonna go out and look, and we’re gonna have a plan after the summer about what to do. We also are thinking of a hunting/trapping beaver clinic. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Um-hm. JEANETTE KOELSCH: To teach people how to harvest that resource and possibly get an appreciation for it so that, you know, as a subsistence or regular hunting activity, they could help reduce the population of beavers without more invasive park action.
It would -- that’s what I’m hoping anyways. If they get an appreciation, they’ll go out there, and they’ll eat beaver and, you know, tan beaver and use it to make beaver hats and mittens and nice cuffs and all that stuff.
KATIE CULLEN: Do you know when the first beavers moved into the hot springs area? I don’t recall. JEANETTE KOELSCH: I don’t remember them when I was a seasonal in the early ’90’s. KATIE CULLEN: Um-hm. Um-hm.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: I guess that would be a good question for the Shishmaref folks and local people, is when do they first remember seeing beaver? I bet you Charlie Lean would know. Yeah, so. KATIE CULLEN: Yeah.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So with the changing vegetation, have you been aware of any new invasive species that have been entering the preserve at all? JEANETTE KOELSCH: No, not yet.
Although, there are some invasive dandelion species on the airstrip that we use at Quartz Creek, so you have to be really careful. But we also need to monitor, um, for aquatic because people go in with floatplanes.
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So what aquatic kind of things are you looking for? JEANETTE KOELSCH: I’m hoping -- I think from folks in the Wasilla/Palmer area. It’s like elod --? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Elodea. JEANETTE KOELSCH: And things like that.
So if you get a floatplane with that inside of its floats. And people don’t check in anywhere, right? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. JEANETTE KOELSCH: So it’s not like they’re coming in to a main point of the park and spraying off, and we’re inspecting their pontoons.
There’s no way to do that, so all we can do is monitor whether or not it comes in. It’s the same with other aircraft usage.
And I think aircraft would probably be the primary way of transmitting certain invasive species. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right, yeah.
KATIE CULLEN: Just a quick little -- it’s -- quick little -- it’s 3:47. JEANETTE KOELSCH: Oh, I better go get ready for --
LESLIE MCCARTNEY: We’ll pause for today. Thank you very much, Jeanette, and we’ll pick up again tomorrow where we’ve left off.
JEANETTE KOELSCH: All right. Cool. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Thank you so much. KATIE CULLEN: Cool. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Thank you.