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2020 Prince William Sound Natural History Symposium 

The Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation and the PWS Regional Citizens Advisory Counsel hosted a free webinar event on May 18th, 2020. The online symposium featured18 local speakers and explores Prince William Sound’s natural science, history, culture, land management and more.  Originally conceived for guides, naturalists, and other educators the symposium has become popular with anyone who wants to learn more about Prince William Sound. Below you will find all of the recordings with a description of our speakers, their topic and the start time for each talk. Enjoy! 

Chugach Region Environmental Initiatives

Willow Hetrick, Executive Director, Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC), Chelsea Kovalcsik, General Assistance Program Regional Environmental Coordinator for CRRC


(Start Video at Beginning)

Chugach Regional Resources Commission provides a brief history of their four Tribes located in Prince William Sound of Tatitlek, Chenega, Eyak (Cordova) and Valdez and showcases environmental monitoring efforts and natural resource management initiatives in the Prince William Sound and the greater Chugach region. 

Willow Hetrick has a BA in marine resource management, a MS in Natural Resources and Environmental Management and an MPA in Public Administration with a focus in Natural Resource Policy. She was born in Prince William Sound ad raised in Moose Pass and takes pride in serving the region to this day. Her educational background was focused in fisheries/marine biology, natural resource management, climate energy and food security, and environmental planning. She has 11 years of professional experience combined with a lifetime of local knowledge of Alaska’s natural resources and history. Her work experience includes a variety of marine and terrestrial biology research, collaborating on projects with state, federal, public, NGOs and private stakeholders, state and federal permitting, regulatory compliance, and cultural community sensitivities. As the Executive Director, she leads all efforts of CRRC including the environmental and natural resource management, climate change, wetlands, traditional foods, and subsistence resources programs.


Chelsea Kovalcsik graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Science in 2016 from Chatham University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC) for two years. After her service, Chelsea went on to become the Indian General Assistance Program Regional Environmental Coordinator for CRRC. In that role, Chelsea is responsible for implementing CRRC environmental programs. She is helping to build the administrative capacity in order to implement environmental protection programs that will protect human health, the environment, and subsistence culture, as well as addressing grant compliance consistent with the federal laws that the EPA is charged with implementing. She is very passionate about indigenous rights, environmental conservation, and youth engagement and education.

Click the PDF button to view a PDF version of Willow and Chelsea's slide show 

The Effects of Recent Marine Heat Waves on Prince William Sound
(Start at 41:50)

Rob Campbell, Oceanographer at Prince William Sound Science Center


The entire North Pacific Ocean underwent an unprecedented heat wave beginning in late 2013, effects lingered in Prince William Sound (PWS) for several years.  Rob discusses observations of the heat wave in the context of the seasonal oceanography of PWS, and describes some of the changes seen in the marine ecosystems there.

Rob is a biological oceanographer at the Prince William Sound Science Center. His current research is primarily observational and centered around trying to understand how plankton and fish interact with the physical environment (temperature, salinity, nutrients) to produce the patterns we see in nature. Current projects include surveys of plankton and oceanography in PWS, Process studies of the seasonal evolution of the surface oceanography in PWS with an instrumented moored profilers, and studies on the distribution of nutrients, plankton and fish around the plume of the Copper River.

Land Management in Prince William Sound

Josie Hickel, Chugach Alaska Corporation, Jack Blackwell, Alaska State Parks Superintendent, Kenai/Prince William Sound Region, Tim Lydon, Wilderness Specialist, Chugach National Forest


The three primary land managers in Prince William Sound are the Chugach National Forest, Alaska State Parks, and Chugach Alaska Corporation. Representatives from each organization describe how these lands are managed and provide news and updates.

(Start at Beginning)

Josie Hickel is the Executive Vice President of Lands and Resources for Chugach Alaska Corporation. She lives in Seward and was raised in Moose Pass, Alaska. 

(Start at 21:15)

Jack Blackwell has had the pleasure of managing state parks in coastal Alaska for over 30 years. He started working with Alaska State Parks in 1985 on a trails and cabin crew in Juneau.  He spent 11 years in Sitka as a state park ranger.  In 2005 he began managing the state parks in Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay and for the last 7 years he has served as the superintendent for the Kenai and Prince William Sound Region.

(Start at 40:15)

Tim Lydon has been with the US Forest Service for much of the last three decades, mostly in the field of wilderness. He began his career on the Tongass National Forest, where in addition to wilderness he worked in interpretation and trails. He moved to the Chugach National Forest in 2011 to lead the wilderness program on the Glacier Ranger District. Tim has also been an outdoor guide, a freelance writer, and is the author of a book on sea kayaking in British Columbia and Alaska. He is also a founding member of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation.

Preventing Oil Spills

Betsi Oliver, Outreach Coordinator, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council


(Start Video at Beginning) 

Learn about how crude oil spills are prevented in Prince William Sound, and what response measures are in place should a spill occur. 

Betsi Oliver communicates about oil spill science and policy to the public and gets youth engaged in oil spill prevention and awareness. She has been an environmental educator in Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, a kayak guide in Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound, and managed outdoor education programs for teachers and youth.

Click the PDF button to view a PDF version of Betsi's slide show 

Volunteer Opportunities in Prince William Sound
(Start Video at 26:40)

Victor Shen, Whittier City Council & Parks and Recreation, and Tim Lydon, Chugach National Forest


Lands agencies, scientists, and others increasingly rely on volunteers to accomplish conservation work and research. In this session we’ll share how you can get involved in volunteer projects and citizen science occurring in Prince William Sound.

Victor Shen grew up in Whittier, Alaska.  He left the state to earn a BS in Forestry conservation and wildland fire management from Humboldt State University.  Victor started guiding sea kayak trips in PWS in 2004 and has continued that to this day.  He spent a few summers working for the USFS in the Chugach NF wilderness program and Mt Baker - Snoqualmie NF wilderness trail crew.  In addition to guiding, Victor has worked as a field instructor for NOLS and a trip leader for Alaska Geographic.  Currently, Victor is torturing high school students at a residential school where he works in the fall/winter/spring season.  He is the Treasurer of the PWS Stewardship Foundation and volunteers with Alaska Trail Stewards.  His hobbies included cycling, skiing, kayaking, and building things.

Tim Lydon has been with the US Forest Service for much of the last three decades, mostly in the field of wilderness. He began his career on the Tongass National Forest, where in addition to wilderness he worked in interpretation and trails. He moved to the Chugach National Forest in 2011 to lead the wilderness program on the Glacier Ranger District. Tim has also been an outdoor guide, a freelance writer, and is the author of a book on sea kayaking in British Columbia and Alaska. He is also a founding member of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation.

The Ecological Effects of a Warming Climate on the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound

Dr. John Morton, executive board member for Alaska Wildlife Alliance and former US Fish & Wildlife Service biologist at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge


The Kenai Peninsula forms the northern extreme of the coastal rainforest. Even under extreme warming scenarios, the rainforest remains a rainforest though the end of this century but with subtle changes. The western peninsula, however, is very dynamic with deforestation, extreme fire, water shortages, and fish kill events increasing in the foreseeable future.

Dr. John Morton is on the executive board of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. He was the supervisory biologist at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge from 2002 through 2019. He has worked on climate adaption for over a decade.

Click the PDF button to view a PDF version of John's slide show 

Alaska State Parks: Managing the parks and public messaging during the COVID pandemic 

Wendy Sailors, Development Specialist for Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Alaska Department of Natural Resources

(Start Video at Beginning)

Wendy Sailors talks about the changes Alaska State Parks observed when the “hunker” happened and how they have worked to maintain communication and public messaging via social media, press releases and website. She also reveals some new things they have been working on.

Wendy works with the Superintendents and Management (Director and Deputy Director) to help manage what the public sees as it pertains to Alaska State Parks. Alaska State Parks manage 157 park units in six regions (five official regions plus Kodiak), 84 Public Use Cabins and 76 campgrounds. Prior to Wendy's arrival at parks in August of 2018, she was in Public Health for two years and Juvenile Justice for seven years (both DHSS). For fifteen years prior to DHSS she was in the tourism industry in sales and marketing and spent two years as Executive Director of Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association. She's thrilled to have landed here at ASP. She was born in the Copper River- Wrangell St. Elias area and raised throughout the state, and says she flees to the mountains as often as she can.

A Brief History of Whittier, Alaska 

Ted Spencer, Executive Director, Prince William Sound Museum


(Start Video at 25:25)

Ted Spencer provides a brief overview of the recorded history in the Whittier, Alaska, region.

Ted is a fifth-generation Alaskan, raised in Fairbanks, Nome, and Anchorage. He was an independent small business owner from 1970-1988 and the founder and executive director of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum at Lake Hood from 1977-2000. He is also the executive director and exhibit design & construction contractor at "Wings Over Alaska."

The Birds of Prince William Sound 

Erin Cooper, Chugach National Forest Wildlife Biologist, Prince William Sound Zone


(Start Video at 59:50)

Erin Cooper covers some of the birds of PWS and where you can see them.  She talks about some of the tools to use when birding and some interesting naturalist projects that the public can participate in during the spring and summer.

Erin is the Wildlife, Ecology and Vegetation management program manager for the Prince William Sound Zone on the Chugach National Forest. Erin has worked for the Chugach National Forest for the past 23 years, primarily as a wildlife biologist out of the Cordova Ranger District.

Alaska Climate and Climate Change 101

Brian Brettschneider, PhD, Physical Scientist, National Weather Service


(Start Video at Beginning)

Brian describes how Alaska occupies a critical spot in the global climate system. He emphasizes why understanding the forces that drive Alaska’s climate are crucial to adapting to, and mitigating future changes.

Brian Brettschneider is a well-known local climate scientist and has a background in environmental geography and climatology. His PhD is in Environmental Geography, with a focus on tropical climatology. Since arriving in Alaska in 2006, he has devoted himself to becoming familiar with all things related to Alaska climatology; and communicating weather and climate with the public. In the last several years, Brian has become a go-to source sought out by local, national, and international media.

Click the PDF button to view a PDF version of Brian's slide show 

Invasive Species, Rare Plants, and Citizen Science using iNaturalist 

Kate Mohatt, Chugach National Forest Ecologist for Prince William Sound and Copper River Delta Zone


(Start Video at 29:25)

Kate covers preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species into Prince William Sound, an intro to some rare or interesting plants of Prince William Sound (as an added incentive to prevent invasive spread), and using iNaturalist to document plants, animals, lichens, etc... for identification and contributions to science.

Kate Mohatt is an ecologist for the Prince William Sound zone based on the Glacier Ranger District in Girdwood Alaska. She has been on the Chugach National Forest since 2006, performing a number of botanical duties including invasive plant management, sensitive plant surveys and coordinating with partners and groups on stewardship projects for the forest. She is co-organizer for the Girdwood Fungus Fair and the Cordova Fungus Festival and co-authored the Mushrooms of the National Forests in Alaska brochure.

Click the PDF button to view a PDF version of Kate's slide show

Interpretive Skills and Techniques

Paul Twardock, Professor of Outdoor Studies and Director of the Institute of Culture and Environment at Alaska Pacific University.

(Start Video at 59:00)

Paul shares his keys to titillating and informative interpretation of the natural world. Paul has kayaked, hiked, and skied throughout Alaska and studies recreational impacts on woodland ecosystems. Paul is the author of a Prince William Sound guidebook and currently hosts Outdoor Explorer on Alaska Public Media.

Alaska’s Ocean Sentinels: Seabirds as Ecosystem Indicators in Prince William Sound 

Robb Kaler, US Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, Migratory Bird Management Office, Anchorage


(Start Video at Beginning)

Robb highlights why seabirds are indicators of the marine ecosystem. He gives a brief discussion of seabird life history strategies of the auk family (which includes auklets, guillemots, murres, and murrelet) and their reliance on the North Gulf Coast-Prince William Sound region of Alaska, and follows up with current research to document and determine causes of the on-going seabird die-offs in Alaska, which were first reported in the Gulf of Alaska in 2016.

Robb Kaler is a Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Migratory Bird Management office based in Anchorage and leads several projects in Prince William Sound (PWS), including monitoring population trends of marine birds following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and studying the recovery of pigeon guillemots at the Naked Island Group following the removal of introduced mink. Robb also administrates the North Pacific Seabird Colony Register and coordinates the USFWS’ response to unusual mortality events of seabirds in Alaska, which have occurred annually since 2015. When not counting birds, Robb enjoys getting outdoors with his wife and German bird dog, Otto. 

Connecting Glaciers to Southcentral Alaska Ecosystems 

Shad O'Neel PhD, Research Geophysicist, USGS Alaska Science Center


(Start Video at 28:40)

Shad focuses on glacier change in Southcentral Alaska, using Wolverine Glacier as a focal point.  Wolverine is one of five USGS Benchmark Glaciers, and the site of a broader experiment the couples glacier mass balance to surface water processes.  Surface water forms the primary link between glaciers and downstream ecosystems by transporting nutrients and biota between glaciers and the nearshore ocean.

As a federal research scientist at the US Geological Survey (USGS), Shad's primary role is overseeing the USGS Benchmark Glacier Project, making sense of mass balance measurements from five North American Glaciers. He has studied a diverse array of mountain glacier issues including iceberg calving and tidewater glacier instability, flow mechanics and dynamics and regional glacier change in Alaska.

Click the PDF button to view a PDF version of Shad's slide show 

Mother Knows Best:  Killer Whale Culture and Generational Learning

Dan Olsen, Research Director at North Gulf Oceanic Society


(Start Video at 57:50)

Killer whales live in matriarchal groups throughout their lives, and cultural learning influences their diet, their family calls and acoustics, and their home range and travels.  The 'usual suspects' have some interesting habits in Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords.

Dan Olsen was hooked on killer whale culture when he started learning acoustic dialects with his hydrophone as a tour boat captain in Seward, Alaska.  He then took a pay cut and passion upgrade as he completed a Masters at UA Fairbanks and took on the role of research director at the North Gulf Oceanic Society, which is dedicated to monitoring the health of killer whale populations in Alaska.  Dan spends a disproportionate amount of time looking for whale poop and listening to last winter’s remote recordings.

Click the PDF button to view a PDF version of Dan's slide show 

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