Neil Lalonde is running nearly 20 million acres of diverse wetlands, river and tundra habitat in the Y-K Delta and learning quickly. He had not been to Alaska until he stepped off the ferry in Haines earlier this summer.
“I like challenges. And region seven, which includes all of our refuges in Alaska has always been in the back of my mind, it’s the last frontier,” Lalonde.
Lalonde is born and raised in Louisiana. He earned a forest management degree from Louisiana State University and went to work as a biologist for the Army Corps of Engineers. He later joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and served as Refuge Manager for the marshy Delta, Breton, Bayou Sauvage areas in Southeastern Louisiana.
There he managed for migratory bird species that winter in the south, including some that summer in Alaska. In the enormous Yukon Delta refuge, on top of birds, there are musk oxen, caribou and salmon.
“I guess you could says it’s learning by fire, because I got here, we thought we were on the tail end of the fisheries management year, and it’s still quite a hot topic and I can hear my email chirping it the background,” said Lalonde.
The refuge team managed the chinook salmon run this summer and could manage the silver salmon run if the Federal Subsistence Board decides to take over the fishery. A new process to Lalonde is working with tribal consultation.
“The learning curve is steep both Alaska, Region 7, and also dealing with Native Villages and dealing with tribal consultations and things of that nature,” said Lalonde.
Lalonde is reading up on consultation and getting some practice in meetings in refuge communities. Some of his priorities include filling positions and getting up to speed on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA that governs subsistence on federal lands. He says his door is open.
“There are passionate people out there, most of them are wildlife driven concerns or issues. The biggest part for me to learn is to listen to the people — listen to what they have to say and also listen to our staff, if there’s a difference, try to bridge that gap,” said Lalonde.
Lalonde takes over for Gene Peltola Junior, who left the Refuge last year to run Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage. A number of acting Refuge managers have filled in this year.