Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge manager Boyd Blihovde bids Bethel farewell
After three years at the helm of federal management of the Kuskokwim River, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Manager Boyd Blihovde is bidding Bethel farewell. He is headed for Anchorage, where he will take on a key role with the Gravel to Gravel Keystone Initiative, a multi-agency project focused on tribal co-management of resources and ecosystem restoration in Alaska's Yukon, Kuskokwim, and Norton Sound regions.
KYUK caught up with Blihovde in Bethel on Aug. 4, just before he left town.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
KYUK: On the Kuskokwim your life has been focused very much around salmon, but you're definitely not done working with salmon because you're going to be heading a project as part of the Gravel to Gravel Keystone Initiative. Do you think that the three years you spent as refuge manager living in Bethel has prepared you well for taking on this project?
Blihovde: Certainly, and I would just say that my job here is, I think, more focused on people than on salmon. People depend on the salmon and salmon depend on people to do the right thing for conservation and to manage them correctly. So I've learned a lot here, and I credit this staff at the refuge that are still here, that are really experts on subsistence use activities and the culture here. So that’s what’s been fascinating for me is to learn so much about the culture.
KYUK: You and everyone at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Orutsararmiut Native Council, and all the other stakeholders on the river seem like a big family. Do you think the level of collaboration is where it needs to be to better understand these major challenges that are developing on the Kuskokwim River?
Blihovde: It always could get better. It is kind of a good analogy, where just like families. We're gonna have arguments, we're gonna be mad at each other for a while, but in the end we come back together and everybody really cares about the resource and wants to do the right thing. So we all have the same ultimate goal in mind.
KYUK: Can you say anything about who's going to be replacing you? Do you think that whoever they pick will be able to hit the ground running and understand the issues here?
Blihovde: I know that there are candidates out there that could come right in and do a much better job than I did starting out because they have familiarity with the issues and familiarity with Alaska. I had to learn everything from scratch, you know, and that was challenging, especially in the first year.
KYUK: So managing on the Kuskokwim River wasn't your first experience with endangered or threatened populations. Is that right?
Blihovde: Yeah, that's correct. I worked previously at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, and we managed for ocelots there, a little cat that's like a small jaguar. And then previously I worked in Florida, many different refuges, and managed manatees and sea turtles, some species there in Florida that were very restricted in their range because of overdevelopment and conservation issues, like the scrub-jays and the Florida panther.
KYUK: What are you going to miss the most about Bethel?
Blihovde: The people, that's an easy one. The people that I worked with and the people in the community I'm going to miss greatly. Everybody's been nice and uniquely interesting, and the culture has been just amazing. I'm gonna miss the small town feel, especially moving to Anchorage, and that's why I'm hoping every chance I can get I'll be able to to come back and attend meetings, and have discussions, and even get out and about on the refuge.
KYUK: Is there anything that you would like to tell the people of Bethel and the communities along the Kuskokwim River on your last day in Bethel?
Blihovde: Just like when I moved here, I thanked people for letting me come into their community and welcoming me. I'm an outsider. And so I really thank the local people of Bethel for letting me and the family be guests here and treating me warmly and with hospitality. So thanks.