Refuge Notebook: Reconciliation ecology at work on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Posted: Friday, October 15, 2010

As a graduate student in biology, I am intrigued by a new branch of ecology, called "Reconciliation Ecology," and was excited to see it in practice during my internship this summer at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo By Berkley Bedell
Photo By Berkley Bedell
Author Christina Dinovo presenting (with the help of an audience volunteer) a campfire program on lynx at Hidden Lake campground during summer 2010.

Michael Rosenzweig, a pioneer ecologist from the University of Arizona, and author of the book "Win-Win Ecology," has molded the concept of Reconciliation Ecology. He believes that we should promote biodiversity within zones of human development. Often times, this may require combining wildlife requirements of the natural world and adapting them successfully to the industrial world.

A simple example of this combining process is found right here on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, where Chevron, the oil field operator in the Swanson River Oil Field, has built and maintains a nesting platform for osprey.

A more complex example is the Sterling Highway, which bisects the northern portion of the refuge, fragmenting wildlife habitat and disrupting migration routes. The highway not only impacts wildlife, but humans as well, because animal/vehicle collisions also injure and kill people.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has finished a multi-year wildlife-vehicle collision study and is working to secure funding to include design and construction elements that will make the Sterling Highway safer for people and wildlife. This is a prime example of Reconciliation Ecology and Kenai is not alone, as similar steps have been taken on many highway systems across the United States.

Another example of Reconciliation Ecology is a new trend to create native plant gardens. Native gardens create habitat for native fauna, especially butterflies, birds and small game. Planting native gardens often reduces the amount of water and chemicals needed and decreases the non-native invasive species that take hold when we plant grass lawns and other exotic plantings. Some communities have taken this idea to the next level by encouraging agreements among homeowners to plant native gardens. These native garden zones create contiguous tracts of native habitat that allow native plant ecosystems to thrive within the borders of a developed community.

Alaska has been fortunate to have reserved federal and state public lands in parks, refuges, forests, and wilderness. However, it is not a stretch of imagination to see how Alaska may see human growth 50 years from now seriously impacting the wildlife and habitat of these lands. According to the federal census, from the years 1960-2000, Alaska went from a population of just over 225,000 people to over 625,000 people and rising.

The Kenai Peninsula is undergoing a growth rate of 2.2 percent per year or 1,000 people per year. Adding 10,000 people in the next 10 years will increase the demand for fish and wildlife resources as well as place higher demands on firewood and timber products. Reconciliation Ecology may increasingly become an important conservation strategy. With the combined effort of concerned individuals as well as seasoned professionals, we can hopefully continue to conserve wild Alaska.

Christina Dinovo, born and raised in Albany, New York, is a graduate student in conservation biology. She received her BS at Green Mountain College in Vermont, with a focus on Environmental Studies and Natural Resources Management. Since then, she has completed three different internships with a wide range of work experiences from biology, trail crew, and invasive species removal to interpretation and visitor services. She served as a conservation intern this summer at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

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To report unusual bird sightings or hear what local birders have been seeing, call the Central Peninsula Bird Hotline at 262-2300. Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on the refuge website,

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