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New Dillingham wildlife biologists talk about transitioning to management in rural Alaska

John Landsiedel. March 18, 2022.
Izzy Ross
John Landsiedel, a new wildlife biologist based in Dillingham. March 18, 2022.

After months of searching, the state Fish and Game office in Dillingham has hired a wildlife biologist. And for the first time, the office also has an assistant biologist. Both biologists are excited to get involved in the community and learn from people in the region as they start their work as wildlife managers.

Coming to Dillingham from the Lower 48 is a big transition for many people. It can be an even bigger adjustment for those who come to work in wildlife management, like John Lansiedel.

Landsiedel was recently hired as the new Fish and Game biologist in Dillingham. He’s spent most of his life in the American West, where a lot of hunting is for sport. Now, he’s moved to Alaska, where game species are managed for subsistence. Landsiedel said he’s aware that he’s responsible for a major food source for people in the region.

“It's very different than anything in the Lower 48," he said. "It's managed so much differently, the communities are much more tied to the populations. And they take notice of that. And so they're much more invested in that. And so there's sort of a historical knowledge that is more important to what we do than maybe, say, in the Lower 48.” 

Landsiedel grew up in North Dakota, and went to school at Montana State University, right outside of Yellowstone National Park.

Evelyn Lichwa.jpg
Courtesy of Evelyn Lichwa
Evelyn Lichwa is the new assistant biologist for Dillingham and King Salmon.

Landsiedel and the new regional assistant biologist, Evelyn Lichwa, said they’re committed to communicating with the public and considering local knowledge to help their management decisions, especially since they haven’t spent much time in Alaska. Lichwa, who is from near the Sacramento area in central California, said she wants to hear locals’ perspectives on management — and other things, too.

“People are always welcome to come in and talk to us, and I would just love to pick their brain about the area and what they've seen, you know, with ungulate populations," she said. "Traditional knowledge I think is invaluable to wildlife management."

Lichwa received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Humboldt State University. She has previously studied birds, bears, elk, Mexican wolves and lynx. When she saw the job opening in Bristol Bay, she was excited.

"The one thing that everyone [in wildlife management] has in common is they bounce around to seasonal positions where you're applying for jobs every three to six months," she said. "I was finishing up a degree and I was ready for a permanent position. And I mean, how can you pass up one in Alaska?”

This summer, Landsiedel and Lichwa plan to fly to communities around the area to sell hunting licenses. Landsiedel said they also hope to connect with people in person.

“I think that will be a great opportunity to not only learn some local history, but some of the traditions and just the important things that happen out there that maybe we’re removed from," he said. "You don't really get a full grasp or understanding of what life is like in a village without traveling to that.”

One of the most pressing issues they face, Landsiedel said, is the Mulchatna caribou population. The herd has declined sharply in recent years from near the state’s minimum goal of 30,000 animals. The last population estimate put the herd size at around 12,800 caribou.

“We're continuing to radio collar and monitor individuals within that herd all the way from Cape Pierce to the Iliamna hills," he said. "So there's strong interest from the public and also from the department to figure out what's driving that population in the survival rates of both adults and juvenile caribou.”

Lichwa said beyond ungulates, she’d be interested to look into the brown bear population in the area — though a study of bears might have to wait.

“Caribou and moose obviously take precedence as they provide meat for subsistence to the locals in the area,” she said.

Since biologist Neil Barton retired from the Dillingham position in 2019, two different biologists have come and gone. Both were there for less than a year.

Lichwa and Landsiedel said they want to stick around.

"I think we're both at a certain point in our life, where it would behoove us to stick around for a while," Landsiedel said. "And I think both of us are excited to be here.”

Dillingham’s office isn’t the only place to undergo a changing of the guards. At the Fish and Game office in King Salmon, longtime biologist Dave Crowley will retire at the end of April. The department is currently working to hire his replacement.

Contact the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.