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Uncle Sam wants to better understand changing Arctic? Then he should help Alaska fund walrus sanctuary

Sadly, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has yet to put the Walrus Islands Sanctuary back in its budget. Thankfully, other entities came through last season to pay for the budget that F&G opted out of. Doesn't seem a good plan to wait and see if a donor will be found. F&G needs to put Round Island back into the budget. Once budgeted, they can then seek out donors and then re-allocate those funds to other walrus research, perhaps. The funds should be used for our states walrus population and should be set aside as that. The budget needed to keep Round Island staffed in the summers is relatively small considering the overall budget.

Seems that each time we open the paper or listen to news there is some other report of the potential impacts of increasing activity in the Arctic. A major species that will be impacted by increased ship traffic and oil drilling is our walrus population. There is much we need to learn about this amazing animal and its habits in the north.

Alaska is the only state in the United States that has a wild Pacific walrus population. We have an obligation to monitor, research and report about this species, not only to the rest of our own nation but to the rest of the world. We need to work with other northern nations in this research. Considering the added stress of new oil drilling and increased shipping traffic, this research is even more critical.

Round Island has been monitored for decades and is a stable indicator of the population at large. The animals return there each summer.

The walrus is a federally managed species, so it would be great if we can find a way to get federal funding to share the expenses of maintaining the sanctuary. A 50/50 budget would mean only about $50,000 of the state's budget for the reserve.

Staff on the island assist other researchers and also assist, educate and allow visitors to come to the island to camp and observe the walrus at a safe distance for the campers and the walrus. This may be the only place on Earth that is set up for such visits. These visits are limited by the remoteness of the island and a permit is required.

This year these visits were also limited by the fact that the budget was zeroed out and permits could not be granted until donors could be lined up. This also made it difficult, no doubt, to plan for the season and staff the island once the donations were finally lined up.

We are grateful that donors came through and would like to thank them again for coming through for this state gem. Many thanks to the Annenberg Foundation, the Alaska SeaLife Center, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Georgia Aquarium of the Atlantic, Milwaukee-based Oceans of Fun, Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium and the Pacific Walrus Conservation Fund.

These donors and donations in no way excuse the state from its responsibility to the Walrus Islands Sanctuary and the walrus that summer out there on Round Island specifically. We hope that as the state plans its budgets for next year it remembers to put Round Island back into the budget.

With our nation's president arriving to look into issues of warming and the Arctic, we would hope that the walrus would be remembered as a species that will be greatly impacted by these issues.

Betsy Palfreyman is founder and president of Walrus Advocates of Round Island Sanctuary, or WARIS.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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