Eider Journey highlights the significance of the species through local partnerships and an education program that reflects local needs and community issues. It exposes students to research that addresses issues of conservation and management of wildlife populations. The multifaceted and developing project has four long-term goals:
* inform the public about Steller's eiders and involve communities in the decision-making processes related to eider conservation issues,
* provide first-hand experience in the field research that informs agency management decisions,
* promote sciences, particularly wildlife sciences, as a career, and
* provide quality resources and information for educators and students.
Since 1999, 17 students have participated in the Eider Journey program (15 from Barrow, one from Cold Bay, and one from Hawaii). In 1999 and 2000, students traveled to Izembek NWR to assist with the annual eider banding drives and other local research. In 2002, a partnership with BASC, a local non-profit organization, allowed program expansion by hiring four student interns to assist the Service with eider surveys in Barrow. In 2003, two alumni returned for a second year of summer work, and three new students were hired as interns. Students were assigned to three- or four-person teams responsible for searching a different area each day. Teams searched large areas on foot, recording and mapping all occurrences of Steller's or spectacled eiders, as well as predators such as gulls, jaegers, and foxes. Students learned to identify birds, orient and map using aerial photos, and classify habitat. Annual surveys provide data about year-to-year changes in Steller's eider breeding and information on the distribution in the Barrow area.
In addition to the annual eider banding drives in Izembek Lagoon, in 2002 and 2003, students assisted Dr. Peter McRoy in gathering data on eelgrass stands. The data will be compared with a baseline from the 1980s to assess the health of the eelgrass beds, which are critically important to Izembek Lagoon wildlife. Also in 2003, the field studies exchange program expanded to include a student from Cold Bay who assisted with nest surveys in Barrow and brought her new knowledge of the eider's arctic nesting habitat back for use at Cold Bay.
Students have assisted with the outreach effort in their communities by giving numerous presentations at the Inupiat Heritage and Language Center, in elementary, middle, and high school classes, with science fair projects based on the program, and on local radio.
To complement the students' field experience, ARCUS and the Service are developing a curriculum guide for teachers that incorporates the concepts of endangered and threatened species, stewardship, and ecological principles. The guide will be made available to other schools near the eider's nesting and wintering areas, and can be used in conjunction with field trips or as part of a regular classroom study.
This year, Eider Journey will gain national prominence when it becomes a featured program on Arctic Alive!, a series of internet-based electronic field trips developed by ARCUS, in which students across the country can be transported virtually to unique and remote locations within the arctic region. Activities for teachers will be posted in the spring, and students across the country can follow along on an eider banding drive and eelgrass studies in the fall of 2004.
You can learn more about this Arctic Alive program at: http://www.arcus.org/ArcticAlive/Eider/index.html.
For information on any aspect of Eider Journey or Steller's eider conservation in general, contact Neesha Wendling at 907-456-0297 in the Service's Fairbanks Office or send an email to Neesha_Wendling@fws.gov.