Opportunity Gave Life Experience


SourDough News | November 5, 2012


ANSEP Intern Clarissa Zeller takes a break on the top of Crater Lake Trail.
ANSEP Intern Clarissa Zeller takes a break on the top of Crater Lake Trail.

Dusky Canada gosling
This Dusky Canada gosling was hatched safely on a nesting island anchored on the Copper River Delta.

After graduating from Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Summer 2011, I joined the ANSEP program (Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program). ANSEP was created to work with and help students go from middle school all the way through to a Ph.D. The objective is to effect a systemic change in the hiring of Indigenous Americans in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with the intention of creating career paths for them.


My experience with ANSEP has been more than helpful. As an Alaska Native, I grew up in small villages the majority of my life. With a helping hand from ANSEP, I was able to enter a bigger world with confidence that I would succeed in both college and my career.


All the students in the ANSEP program attend a weekly meeting, take up to 24 credits per school year, and complete an eight-week summer internship. ANSEP has many partnerships, including companies from big to small as well as government agencies.  Fortunately, one partner is the U.S. Forest Service. I received a call from biologist Erin Cooper who asked if I would be interested in working for the Forest Service as a biology intern. Wouldn’t you know it, I took the offer!


I had no idea what my job would involve, other than knowing I would be working with birds. When I finally reached Cordova, I learned I would be mainly working with dusky Canada geese on a project to create and maintain nest islands. I soon realized that the plight of the geese all started with an earthquake decades earlier.


In 1964, there was an earthquake in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska. It affected many surrounding cities, destroying buildings and drastically altering the landscape. In Cordova, the land was uplifted by six to nine feet. Before the earthquake, you could see miles of clear treeless land in many directions. Since the earthquake, trees and shrubs have moved in. This now affects dusky geese by bringing in predators such as eagles, and creating less area for dusky geese to nest. The result has been a steady decline in the number of these geese.


Forest Service biologists came up with the idea of creating nest islands to provide safer nesting locations for the geese. These man-made floating islands are placed in the middle of ponds, held by three or four anchors, and covered with shrubs and vegetation, creating safe and hidden areas for geese to nest. Many of these islands need a lot of maintenance each year. I first entered into this story during the prep-work for maintaining the existing islands and installing some new islands. Our wildlife crew made around 200 anchor lines that would be used for maintenance, and I became a pro.


When the anchors were complete, we got our camping gear and food ready, and were off to the Copper River Delta. The main ways of transportation were air boats and poke boats (makeshift kayaks). It was an adventure to check all the islands. On some islands there were unhatched eggs, on others, hatched eggs, and on some, goslings. The goslings were the highlight of my trip—they were so cute and surprisingly yellow. We recorded data on which islands were being used and which would need maintenance. Then, we focused on island repairs and installation of new islands.


As the season ended, I wasn’t ready to leave. Since I wanted more experience, the Forest Service gave me an opportunity to work on trails. Working with the trails crew was strangely nice! This crew was the most musical group I ever been with. They would sing about anything, from cooking, to cleaning or needing to use the bathroom. One morning I woke up to a crewmember yodeling. I found myself singing and humming more.


For the past several weeks, the main focus was working on Crater Lake Trail. It’s mentally and physically the hardest work I’ve ever done in my short nineteen years of life. I carried 50-pound loads of gear up the mountain, pounded rocks, widened trails, and added stairs. The work was hard, but seeing the project accomplished made it all worthwhile.


The whole summer taught me about doing a variety of work with diverse groups of people, and being safe in the outdoors. I have valued my summer work and would like to thank the Cordova Ranger District for allowing me to participate. In my Yup’ik language I say, “Quyana” (thank you).

By Clarissa Zeller, Biology Intern, Cordova Ranger District.