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The shortest day of the year is next week, and Great Horned Owls are starting to hoot their courtship in Interior Alaska. So far it has been a mild winter, which promises an interesting start to the Christmas Bird Count this weekend. In this issue of the eNews get some last minute gift ideas, learn about Audubon Alaska's work to protect the Bering Sea, take action to support a new Arctic Refuge Wilderness bill in Congress, and more. As the year draws to a close, we are thankful for all that you do to support Audubon Alaska!

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Willow Ptarmigan by Milo Burcham
Willow Ptarmigan
by Milo Burcham

From Ketchikan to Nome, every year Alaskans bundle up and gather together to celebrate the holiday season by braving the elements for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Groups of volunteers select a day between December 14, 2015 and January 5, 2016 to conduct a count. Tok will hold the first Alaska Christmas Bird Count of the season this Friday, December 18. Many other communities will take advantage of the first Saturday of the count period to get outside on December 19.
Alaskans are creative about transportation, using ten forms of transportation last year, including cross-country skis, dog sled, kayak, and fat-tire bike. If you are interested in attending a local count, please visit the Christmas Bird Count Calendar on the Audubon Alaska website for dates and local contact details. Many local counts gather after the count for a meal or snacks to and share the highlights of the day.

Photo by Dave Shaw
On December 2, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a bill to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness. This legislation has historic levels of support with 34 Senators. The new senate bill offers a sensible alternative to drilling bills and parallels legislation to protect the Arctic Refuge coastal plain introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year. Tell your members of Congress you support permanent protection for the Arctic Refuge coastal plain. 

The coastal plain of the refuge hosts nearly 125 species of birds, as well as polar bears, musk oxen, wolves, and the 197,000-animal Porcupine caribou herd during the calving season.

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Photo by John Schoen
On November 20, the US Forest Service released a new draft amendment to the Tongass Land Management Plan dealing with the transition out of old-growth logging, kicking off a public comment period.

Audubon Alaska is glad to see that the Forest Service's preferred alternative protects some of the highest-value conservation lands on the Tongass from the impacts of old-growth clearcutting. Setting aside T77, Audubon/TNC conservation lands, and roadless areas was a unanimous recommendation of the Tongass Advisory Council and would be a step in the right direction for forest management.

That said, the Forest Service failed to even consider ending old-growth clearcutting quickly enough to protect the Tongass.

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Oiled Cormorant by Sakhalin Watch and Club Bumerang
On November 28, the Russian oil tanker Nadezhda ran aground on a reef during a storm close to the port city Nevelsk, located on Sakhalin Island off Russia's eastern coast. This disaster, combined with increased Arctic Ocean shipping due to receding sea ice, places more urgency on the Coast Guard's current planning of a shipping route from Unimak Pass to the Bering Strait.

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Pine Grosbeak by Milo Burcham
Pine Grosbeak by
Milo Burcham
December   is the   month   of presents, holiday travels, and family time. It is also the time of year to support the causes you care about. Audubon Alaska is responsible for raising all of our own funding. A significant amount of our support comes from people like you, and every dollar donated directly to Audubon Alaska goes to work in our state. Your support is critical to protecting the birds and wildlife you care about. Make a donation to Audubon Alaska and we'll put your generous contribution to work immediately. So this holiday season, give a gift that shows you care about Alaska. Make a donation to Audubon Alaska in honor of your friends, family, pets, or your favorite backyard bird!
Need more inspiration? Check out our  20 Reasons to Give.

Looking for the perfect gift for that hard-to-shop for birder in your life? Audubon Alaska's Bird of the Year Snowy Owl ball caps are ready for any adventure. We also offer Anchorage Birding Maps and the indispensable Guide to Birds of Alaska by Bob Armstrong to help plan birding excursions. A set of 8 note cards features Alaska birds. The proceeds of all of these help support Audubon Alaska's efforts to protect Alaska's birds across the state. Contact Heidi at the Audubon Alaska office, 907-276-7034 or hdecoeur@audubon.org, to order.
Audubon Alaska welcomes Erika Knight as our new Project Assistant. Erika Knight joined Audubon Alaska in November 2015. She works on the 2nd edition of the Arctic Marine Synthesis and Atlas of the Chukchi, Beaufort, and Bering Seas and other projects.
Originally from New Hampshire, Erika holds a BA in Geology from Cornell University and an MS in Environmental and Forest Sciences from University of Washington, where her MS research focused on soil chemistry and nutrient cycling in Pacific Northwest forests. She has previously worked as an environmental consultant in Washington and Alaska and as an outdoor educator in New York. Erika and her husband John moved to Alaska in 2013. They enjoy exploring and photographing Alaska's mountains and coastline on skis, hiking boots, or in kayaks.
Trumpeter Swan by Milo Burcham
Trumpeter Swan
by Milo Burcham
Previous Quiz Bird
The previous quiz bird was the Trumpeter Swan.

This Month's Quiz Bird
The Outer Islands Marine Important Bird Area is globally significant for these seabirds. More than 154,000 nest on the islands of the outer Prince of Wales Island complex.
ArcticRefuge The sensitive coastal plain also provides crucial habitat for muskoxen, wolves, calving grounds for caribou, and denning areas for female polar bears and their cubs. The Northeast Arctic Coastal Plan Important Bird Area is globally-significant habitat for American Golden-Plovers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and Pectoral Sandpipers. Audubon Alaska supports a Wilderness designation for the coastal plain as a way to protect Brant, American Golden-Plovers, Tundra Swans, and a host of other birds and wildlife.

Tell your members of Congress you support permanent protection for the Arctic Refuge coastal plain today!
Portions of the heavily-logged Tongass ecosystem are breaking down, as evidenced by the Prince of Wales Island wolf population crash, but the Forest Service outright refused to discuss ending old-growth clearcutting in five years, as Audubon and many other conservation organizations have advocated. It is a sign that the Forest Service remains more focused on subsidizing the outdated logging industry on the Tongass than on protecting the ecosystem that is a national treasure as well as the base for the billion-dollar tourism and fishing industries that employ 17,000 people in Southeast Alaska. The Tongass, the people of Southeast Alaska, and Americans would all be best served by putting the conflict and controversy of old-growth clearcutting behind us.

Audubon Alaska will be assessing the amendment over the next few weeks. Keep your eyes out in the New Year for an action alert urging the Forest Service to end old-growth logging!

Increasing commercial vessel traffic brings new risks and potential impacts to the Bering Strait region. Risks can include vessel collisions, conflicts with hunters in small boats and disturbance of hunting efforts, ship strikes of marine mammals, and impacts on marine life from ocean noise, oil spills, and discharges such as ballast, grey and black water.
Currently the US Coast Guard, through District 17 based in Juneau under Commander James Houck, is making decisions about routing measures for vessel traffic as part of its Port Access Route Study (PARS). Audubon Alaska and several partner organizations have conducted extensive research and analysis to assess potential routes for ship traffic in the Bering Strait region. The coalition is advocating for protection of "Areas to Be Avoided" by ship traffic in order to reduce threats to sensitive ecosystems and important cultural areas.
"The Bering Strait region is a bottleneck for one of the largest marine mammal and bird migrations on the planet, so any shipping disaster has the potential to have a staggering impact," says Melanie Smith, Audubon Alaska's Director of Conservation Science. "We have the unusual opportunity to be preemptive in planning how increasing shipping will be routed through this natural bottleneck, so setting up safe routes along with wildlife areas to avoid will help avert disasters like this most recent spill in Russia."

Thank you for supporting Audubon Alaska.

Happy holidays and happy birding!

Beth Peluso, Communications Manager
Audubon Alaska

Audubon Alaska
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