Gull Eggs for Breakfast in Hoonah

This article was originally published on on October 25, 2017, posted by Tania Lewis, Ashley Stanek, Darlene See, Mary Beth Moss of NPS.

Glaucous-winged gulls in nesting area on Geikie Island, Glacier Bay (Source: A. Stanek/NPS Photos).

As part of recent efforts to reinvigorate cultural activities within Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, the National Park Service (NPS) and Hoonah Indian Association (HIA) have collaborated on various programs, including restoring a traditional Glaucous-winged gull egg harvest in the park.

While the NPS develops regulations to allow legal harvest of gull eggs, park managers and HIA are collaborating through a series of experimental egg harvests to determine best-practices and potential impacts of a harvest on gulls and other nesting birds, while at the same time providing eggs to community members in Hoonah.

In early June 2017, HIA tribal members conducted the second experimental glaucous-winged gull egg harvest in the park. The research aim was to determine whether egg quality, as determined by people consuming the eggs, varies depending on the number of eggs present in a nest. Glaucous-winged gulls typically lay three eggs over the course of five days and begin incubating once the clutch is complete. Eggs do not begin to develop into chicks until incubation begins. For this reason, eggs from three-egg nests may be further developed than eggs from nests with one or two eggs, and the desirability of these developing eggs may be questionable.

Ashley Stanek collects nest information on a GPS while Randy Roberts marks eggs from a 3-egg nest and Darlene See photographs the nest (Source: T. Lewis/NPS photo).

On June 2, 2017, three HIA tribal members and the NPS wildlife biologist and technician visited gull colonies at Geikie Rock and Boulder Islet to collect gull eggs and information on nesting seabirds. Glaucous-winged gull nests are typically identified by their neat nest bowl made of dried grass and moss, which can be located anywhere from bare rock to hidden in tall grass above the tide zone.

As nests were found, biologists recorded information on nest location and number of eggs, and harvesters collected eggs into moss-filled buckets for transport back to Hoonah. Eggs from the three egg nests were marked, and the recipients of the eggs were surveyed later about the edibility of marked versus unmarked eggs. Eggs were considered inedible if they were too far developed to be desirable for eating.

Harvesters reported collecting 143 eggs on the two islands. Sixty-eight of these eggs were marked as having come from three-egg nests. Eggs were distributed to 42 members of the Hoonah Indian Association who reported 117 eggs edible, 13 eggs inedible, and 13 eggs of unknown quality.

Of the 13 inedible eggs, 2 eggs were reportedly inedible due to the way they were cooked, nine were marked, and two were unmarked. Hence 13 percent of the eggs from three-egg nests were inedible compared to only 3 percent of the eggs from one-egg or two-egg nests. This information can help harvesters make decisions on nest selection to maximize edibility of eggs during future egg harvests.

HIA members Randy Roberts, Darlene See, and Ronin Ruerup collect gull eggs to distribute to the community of Hoonah (Source: T. Lewis/NPS photos).

Glaucous-winged gulls are able to replace lost eggs until the clutches are complete, as well as re-lay new clutches if all eggs are lost due to flooding, predation, or harvest; thus ensuring the persistence of gull populations.

In addition to monitoring gull nests during the egg harvest, NPS biologists also collected information on the presence of other nesting birds to understand how this human activity may impact other birds. Black Oystercatchers, Pigeon Guillemots, and Caspian Terns were observed nesting on the harvested islands, but these nests were avoided and thus impacted minimally.

The NPS and HIA will continue to collaborate by combining traditional ecological knowledge and practices with park research to ensure long-term stability of resources.

For more information, see the NPS Tlingit Gull Egg Harvest page.

GlacierHub published a post last year which discusses the historical and cultural background of gull egg harvest by Hoonah Indian Association tribal member.

Glaciers at Risk Over Government Shutdown

The road to Mt. Rainier (Source: @visitmtrainier/Twitter).

On Tuesday, national parks and glaciers received a brief reprieve from a government shutdown that threatened to indefinitely close their access. Forestalling a larger fiscal crisis, President Donald Trump signed a stopgap spending bill to reinstate funds until Feb. 8 and reopen the government. The bill allows furloughed employees to return to work for at least the next few weeks, but questions remain over the future of federal lands, with the public relying heavily on federal employees to keep the parks open and accessible.

Visitors who attempted to enter some of the 417 National Park Service sites over the weekend, including parks with glaciers, faced roadblocks and closed signs as lawmakers argued over the country’s fate. The three-day shutdown could be a preview for future, more extended closures absent a solution to the partisan gridlock, placing glaciers at increased risk.

The government shutdown comes at a critical time for national parks, as many from North Cascades to Glacier Bay face challenges from the impacts of climate change and glacier retreat.

“Grand Teton National Park includes more than 25 percent of Wyoming’s glaciers. Its iconic mountains and glacial lakes have come to symbolize the Rockies for many, not only in Wyoming but around the world,” said Sarah Strauss, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming, to GlacierHub. “The closing of this national park because of the government shutdown would be a great loss, adding insult to the existing injury of climate change impacts on snowpack in the Rocky Mountain region.”

What would an extended government shutdown look like? The NPS contingency plan for a loss of funding calls for the expeditious suspension of all park activities. Within two days of a loss of appropriations, the NPS will move to fully secure national park facilities except for those reserved for emergency operations or protection of property, blocking access to quintessential American landmarks and glaciers. Operations and staffing numbers will be reduced to minimum levels with official offices and support centers shuttered and visitor services, including check-in, restrooms, road maintenance, permits, campgrounds, and public information, discontinued. More information on the NPS contingency plan in the event of a loss of appropriations can be found here.

During the recent three-day government shutdown that began on Friday, the Trump administration kept the parks “largely open” in an effort to avert the “public-facing impact” of the crisis, according to the Washington Post. This left visitors to parks like Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier largely without the support of park rangers, while a third of the NPS sites closed completely by Saturday, according to reports from the National Parks Conservation Association.

Closed and empty national park sites were a point of public frustration during the government shutdown of 2013 that lasted for 16 days and closed 401 national sites. Before that crisis ended, the Interior Department allowed some national parks to reopen with state funding, but even this precedent spells an uncertain fate for public lands already facing budget cuts.

Some national parks are more familiar with operating at minimum levels based on seasonal weather, but these parks are still impacted by the off-season. “I think park staff is often the most heavily affected during winter shutdowns of Alaska parks,” said Jeremy Pataky, an Alaska resident who splits his time between Anchorage and McCarthy, Alaska, and has spent time in the parks.

While parks like Denali may not close officially in winter, concession services, ranger activities and buses shut down, meaning a reduction in staff and visitors. During the recent government shutdown, Denali and Glacier Bay national parks remained open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but suspended visitor services and centers. Meanwhile, an alert on the Mount Rainer National Park website indicated “entry during the federal shutdown is at visitors’ sole risk.” A reduction of park staff and services can lead to increased safety risks, evidenced most recently by a snowmobiler who came too close to the Old Faithful geyser during the three-day shutdown.

For some, the government shutdown is just the latest attack by the Trump administration on federal lands. In January 2017, Trump signed a memorandum freezing the hiring of new federal workers, including for the National Park Service, despite visitor increases at the parks. In January 2018, more than three-quarters of the advisory board of the National Park Service quit due to frustrations with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who had not called a single meeting during the year. A recent poll found some Americans believe the Democrats are equally to blame for the shutdown.

The National Parks Conservation Association, an independent, nonpartisan organization, tweeted its thoughts on the latest crisis, stating, “President Trump’s first year in office ended with a government shutdown, putting parks at risk. That’s fitting, because we’ve never seen a tougher year for public lands.”

Beyond February, the future of America’s national parks remains uncertain, with the safety of America’s glaciers hanging in the balance.