Face Of This Place

Brad Meiklejohn, Alaska

What’s your favorite thing about working in Alaska? 
Alaska is a place where you can make a difference.  It’s a huge state with a small population, and I am always encouraging young and inspired people to take a chance because they land on their feet. 

I feel that Alaska is the perfect example of successful conservation.  We still have healthy populations of predators like bears, wolves and wolverines.  We still have abundant wild salmon. We still have enormous populations of migratory caribou.  And we still have the tradition of subsistence living, where people can survive on wild fish and game.  I think all that stems from the fact that Alaska has the world’s finest network of protected areas.  We are doing our part to improve on that network.

What kinds of projects are you focused on right now? 
Despite our conservation success, Alaska is on the front-lines of climate change in so many ways.  Our glaciers are nearly all in retreat, the northern coastlines are eroding rapidly, vegetation patterns are changing, migratory patterns of birds and caribou are changing and the weather is becoming violently chaotic.  We are involved with projects to maintain intact, unfragmented landscapes so that critters and plants will be able to adapt to climate change without bumping up against man-made barriers. 

What’s the wildest place you’ve ever been? 
I’ve made a point of seeking out the wildest corners of the world, from the peaks of Patagonia to the deserts of Africa and the jungles of Cambodia.  But the place that feels the most “whole” is the eastern Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  There is an absolute quiet I have experienced only there, where you only hear the sound of the blood flowing through your own veins. 
How did you get into packrafting? 
Packrafts are amazing little boats that open up a lot of country in Alaska.  Before these boats came along 15 years ago, your wilderness trip usually ended at the first big water you came to.  But with a four-pound packraft in your pack, rivers and lakes become part of the trip, and there is almost nothing that can stop you.  Packrafts are like wolverines, as they are ideally suited for traveling through big wilderness.  They require you to be fast, lean and smart.  A group of us started the American Packrafting Association in 2012, and we already have over 300 members from all over the world.

You also like to go birding. Tell us about that.
Birding is an entry point for engaging with the place I find myself.  If I am paying attention to birds, I am paying attention to my surroundings.  Everywhere you go the birds are different, and I love understanding what is different about each place. My yard birds in Alaska include Willow Ptarmigan, Pine Grosbeak, Gray Jay, Common Redpoll, Steller’s Jay and the occasional Northern Goshawk checking out the feeders. And there are a few birds that I have chased for years.  Montezuma Quail is a bird that I have nearly stepped on and only seen flying away at great speed.  I recently saw a Rufous-capped Warbler in Arizona, a rare visitor from Mexico, on my fifth attempt over 12 years. 

What do you wish more people realized about conservation? 
One of the most formative books for me was Peter Matthiesson’s Wildlife in America, which hammered home to me how much of our wildlife and wild places we have lost over the past two hundred years. But most people are not aware of what has been lost and are seemingly content to live without it.  This “ecological amnesia” is a challenge to overcome because it’s hard to miss something you never knew. 

"Working in conservation is not a choice for me. I feel obligated to do all I can to protect the wild places that have shaped me."
— Brad Meiklejohn

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Face Of This Place