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Third Annual PWS Natural History Symposium 
May 24th, 2021
9 a.m. - 5 p.m
Via Crowdcast

Join us May 24th online for our third annual Prince William Sound Natural History Symposium! 


This year’s event is free to the public and will feature 18 expert speakers on our region’s latest science, history, culture, and much more.  Originally conceived for guides, naturalists, and other educators, the symposium is also popular with the general public.  This year’s presenters will share the latest news and research on the Barry Arm landslide, marine mammals, black bears, birds, climate change, culture, land management, and other topics important to our region. We’ll also share the latest ways the public can get involved in citizen science, trail work, and other projects in Prince William Sound this summer.

Following last year’s success, the event will be held online again this year. Please pre-register using the button below:

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2021 Prince William Sound Natural History Symposium Program 

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The 2021 Prince William Sound Natural History Symposium is hosted by: Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, City of Whittier, and the Chugach School District




Special Sponsorship Support From: Discovery Voyages, Girdwood Bookeeping, Glacier Jet Skis, and Will Melton Media Productions LLC


Many thanks to Paul Twardock for facilitating the symposium and to Betsi Oliver and William Melton for providing behind-the-scenes technological support.


Most of all, huge thank you to all of our speakers for generously sharing their time and expert knowledge.



Welcome Remarks from Whittier Mayor Dave Dickason

Introduction to symposium and technology by Paul Twardock and Betsi Oliver



Introduction to the Chugach Peoples and Land Acknowledgment

Willow Hetrick & Allison Carl, Chugach Regional Resources Commission

Chugach Regional Resources Commission, the natural resource entity for the Chugach region, will give a brief overview of their organization and the Tribes in the Prince William Sound. They will begin the day with a conversation about land acknowledgment, why it is so important and suggest considerations for developing your own. Lastly, they will present the land acknowledgment used by the CRRC Board and employees.


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 and 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.


Allison Carl was born and raised in Anchorage and is currently finishing her B.S. in biological sciences at University of Alaska Anchorage. A partnership between Chugach Alaska Corporation (CAC) and Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC) has allowed Allison to finish the CAC internship program as CRRC’s new Research Scientist Intern. Her educational and career interests include water and food security in Alaskan communities. During her down time, Allison enjoys spending time at local parks and trails around the Anchorage area.



Prince William Sound Science Center Mission and Long-Term Monitoring Program

Scott Pigau, Research Scientist and Program Manager, Prince William Sound Science Center

This presentation provides a brief introduction to the Prince William Sound Science Center located in Cordova and describes two long-term monitoring programs that are underway in Prince William Sound. They include the Herring Research and Monitoring program and the Gulf Watch Alaska program. ; the latter monitoring many ecosystem components within the Sound and Northern Gulf of Alaska.

Scott Pigau is the Research Program Manager for the Oil Spill Recovery Institute at the Prince William Sound Science Center. He also has been coordinating the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council’s Herring Research and Monitoring program for the past twelve years. His background is in physics but can speak about fish.

10:25—10:35 BREAK



Management of Public and Private Lands Surrounding Prince William Sound

Josie Hickel, Executive Vice President ANCSA and Community Affairs, Chugach Alaska Corporation 

Jack Blackwell, Alaska State Parks Superintendent, Kenai and Prince William Sound Region

Tim Lydon, Glacier Ranger District Wilderness Manager, Chugach National Forest, 


Josie Hickel is responsible for leading strategy related to lands, cultural and community plans related to Chugach’s ANCSA resources, as well as pursuing economic development in the Chugach region. She has garnered more than three decades of experience in Alaska, serving in key leadership roles within the Alaska Native Corporation, natural resource and financial sectors. She is an active Board member and volunteer for several nonprofits, including the Alaska Sealife Center and the Prince William Sound Economic Development District. She was inducted into the Athena Society for outstanding leadership in business and community service. Josie is a lifelong Alaskan who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and human resources. She is of Aleut descent and a shareholder of Chugach Alaska Corporation. She grew up in a remote homestead near Moose Pass, Alaska.


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 eight years he has served as the superintendent for the Kenai and Prince William Sound Region.  


Tim Lydon has been with the US Forest Service for much of the last three decades, mostly in the field of federal wilderness and wilderness study area management. He began his career in Juneau on the Tongass National Forest, where in addition to wilderness he worked in interpretation and trails. He also spent many years as an outdoor guide. Tim moved to the Chugach National Forest in 2011 to lead the wilderness program on the Glacier Ranger District. He is also a freelance writer for various magazines and is the author of a book on sea kayaking in British Columbia and Alaska. He is a founding member of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation and with his wife, Barbara, enjoys every chance he gets to show their young daughter the wonders of the Sound.



Responding to Oil Spills

Betsi Oliver, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council


An oil spill the size of the Exxon Valdez requires huge amounts of resources and personnel to clean up. This talk looks at questions like, Who responds? Who’s in charge? Who holds the spiller accountable? What has changed since 1989 to improve the response system? What role does politics play in keeping the system robust? As citizens of an area where millions of gallons of crude oil are transported daily, it’s imperative to know what structures are in place should oil spill again.


Betsi Oliver communicates about oil spill science to the region impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and implements programs to involve younger generations in oil spill prevention and awareness. She has worked extensively as an environmental educator in Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, a kayak guide in Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound, a wilderness first aid/responder instructor, and a program manager working with at-risk Alaska youth in the outdoors.



Join the (Work) Party: Volunteer Opportunities in Prince William Sound

Paul Twardock, Board Chair of Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation

Tim Lydon, Chugach National Forest


The PWS Stewardship Foundation and its partners offer incredible opportunities to help make a positive difference in Prince William Sound. Projects include trail maintenance, beach clean-ups, weed pulls, citizen science, site restoration projects, and much more. Work projects occur throughout the summer and often include free transportation into the Sound for volunteers. Learn about what we’re up to in 2021 and how you might be able to help.


12:35—1:00 LUNCH



Background and Updates on the Barry Arm Landslide

Bretwood Higman, Geologist, Ground Truth Alaska Geologist

Dave Snide, Tsunami Warning Coordinator, National Tsunami Warning Center


Bretwood Higman will provide background on the discovery of large unstable slopes near Barry Glacier. This hazard was far less just a few decades ago, before Barry Glacier went through a period of rapid retreat. Along with warming permafrost in mountain peaks and more intense rainstorms, glacial retreat is changing the variables that underlie slope stability and potential tsunami sources throughout Alaska. Though large gaps remain in the scientific understanding of links between climate change and landslides, what we know now suggests risk of disaster is rising in Prince William Sound.


Dave Snider will discuss Barry Arm landslide tsunami risk warnings and safety. If and when the Barry Arm landslide releases into the fjord, detection, warning, and response time will be limited.  Dave will talk about the plan to monitor water levels, ongoing coordination with USGS and Alaska DGGS, and how the National Tsunami Warning Center will warn Prince William Sound communities when a wave is detected.  Dave will talk about tsunami safety and how you can stay up to date with ongoing efforts.


Bretwood Higman is an Alaska geologist who lives in Seldovia and specializes in geologic hazards, especially tsunamis. He has studied several landslide-generated tsunamis in Alaska, and helped in discovering the large instabilities near Barry Arm in 2020. He is currently working on a preliminary survey of large instabilities and landslides throughout Alaska, as well as several site-specific landslide and tsunami studies.


Dave Snider works at National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC) to ensure the science of detection and forecasting is clearly coordinated through NTWC’s official national alert and warning messaging. He ensures that this message is shared correctly through National Weather Service and Emergency Alert System connections. And he directs NTWC message to be as clear as possible so that partners and the public are enabled to respond immediately with the most appropriate action no matter when and where a message is received. Dave has performed 25 years of award-winning broadcast weather and social media work in Colorado, North Carolina, Missouri, and Alaska and is the NWS Alaska’s “Alaska Weather” TV Program Leader. Dave enjoys helping scientists become better communicators- so that complicated topics turn into usable information for all of us to make better decisions, inspire improved collaboration among scientists, and to encourage a sense of wonder about our world. 


1:45—2:15 (Concurrent Session)

Prince William Sound Weather (or not)

Dave Goldstein, Owner and Chief Meteorologist, Alaska Weather Consulting, LLC

Dave will cover general weather around Prince William Sound, from land to sea to air. He will share information sources, how to interpret that information and how to use it in your work and play. The end goal is to keep safe and inconveniences to a bare minimum.


Dave Goldstein completed his Meteorology degree from Penn State in 1970. He worked a 36-year National Weather Service career with 29 years in Alaska. He retired in 2003. He is now the owner of Alaska Weather Consulting, LLC and serves as its chief meteorologist. He offers weather services to other communities and private concerns anywhere in the State of Alaska, with a goal to provide top-notch weather support for private, public and governmental interests. Since retiring, Dave became involved with organizations such as the Prince William Sound RCAC, the Greater Whittier Chamber of Commerce, the Begich Towers Board of Directors and its committees and has served several terms on the Whittier Ports and Harbor Commission. He has also served as a Whittier City Councilor and operator of Prince William Sound Eco-Charters, LLC 2000 to present (currently in suspended operation). Dave says the most important aspect of retirement is the opportunity to spend time with family and friends and, for the most part, create his own schedule. 


1:45—2:15 (Concurrent Session)

A Brief History of Whittier, Alaska

Ted Spencer, Executive Director of the Prince William Sound Museum in Whittier, Alaska


Ted will provide a brief overview of recorded history in the Whittier, Alaska, region.


Ted Spencer 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"


2:15—2:45 (Concurrent Session)

New National Climate Normals are Out…How do we describe the current state of the local climate?

Brian Brettschneider PhD, Physical Scientist, National Weather Service


Brian will describe how Alaska occupies a critical spot in the global climate system. 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. He 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.


2:15—2:45 (Concurrent Session)

It's Tourist Season…Remember it's not just catch & release (CONCURRENT)

Marc Swanson, Educator


Marc will focus on the why’s and how’s and the how-not’s in developing an effective interpretative program. The presentation will also provide insight in how to approach and deliver more contentious topics such as climate change.


Marc Swanson is a teacher.  Right out of the git-go of college, he came up to Alaska and taught in a variety of rural Alaskan villages before ending up in Seward.  After retiring, he continued to follow a stream of educational related ‘career paths’ including providing interpretative programs for Kenai Fjords NP, developing curriculums and a video series for Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm NHA, implementing an innovative environmental educational program, and a bunch of other stuff. He also volunteers as a first responder for Bear Creek EMS.


2:45—3:00 BREAK



Marine Birds of Prince William Sound, Alaska

Robb Kaler, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, Migratory Bird Management Office, Anchorage


Robb will share information on why marine birds are indicators of the marine ecosystem. A brief discussion of marine bird life history strategies and their reliance on the North Gulf Coast-Prince William Sound region of Alaska, will be followed up with information on current research on marine birds in Prince William Sound.


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, 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.



Alaska's Glaciers in the 21st Century - the Biggest Losers

Louis Sass, Glaciologist, U.S. Geological Survey


The Alaska region has the largest area of glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic Icesheets. Alaska's glaciers are also shrinking faster than other glaciated regions. What is happening and what does that mean for all of us? 


Louis Sass lived for snow and mountains as a kid in Colorado. After college, he first considered moving to Wyoming, but decided that the mountains weren't big enough or snowy enough. So he kept going north and west. He probably would have stayed in Canada if he could have found a job, but ended up in Alaska. He worked as a mountaineering instructor and climbing guide for 12 years before going back to school to study glaciers. He did a Masters degree at Alaska Pacific University studying Eklutna Glacier and started working for USGS in 2008. He runs the operations and safety side of the USGS glacier project, and on good days even gets to do a little bit of science.



The Black Bears of Prince William Sound, Alaska

Milo Burcham, Wildlife Biologist, Chugach National Forest

Charlotte Westing, Area Wildlife Biologist, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Black bears are an important species to the ecosystem, economy, and culture of Prince William Sound.  However changes in bear harvest, hunter success rates, and anecdotal observations have left many concerned about the status of the population.  Charlotte Westing will share information about the life history of black bears, how they are hunted in PWS, and changes in the harvest data that led to the inception of a cooperative research project between ADFG and the USFS.  Milo will describe the cooperative research project that took place over 3 years. Finally, we’ll discuss some of the potential outputs from the project.

Milo Burcham is a wildlife biologist working for the Chugach National Forest based in Cordova, Alaska for the last 20 years.  He received his B.S. and M.S. from the University of Montana in 1985 and 1990, respectively.  He is currently the subsistence program lead on the Chugach working with rural communities on the Forest to implement the federal subsistence program.  In this capacity he has worked with Black Bears, Moose, Sitka Black-tailed Deer, and Mountain Goats within Prince William Sound and has conducted research on Grizzly Bears, Elk Moose, waterfowl and shorebirds previously.

Charlotte Westing is originally from New Mexico, and moved to Alaska 20 years ago to pursue of a Master’s degree (MSES).  She has worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for 18 years, first as an Assistant Area Biologist and then as an Area Biologist for the last 13 years (8 years at the Cordova post). She has spent almost all of her time in Alaska living and working in the remote communities of Kodiak, King Cove, Dillingham, Kotzebue, and Cordova. Her experience now involves working with almost every big game species in the state of Alaska.  Career highlights include working with muskoxen in the arctic, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, and black bears in Prince William Sound.


Closing remarks and many thanks to our speakers, sponsors, and co-hosts.

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