Flying squirrels start off lecture season

The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center’s Friday night lecture series has returned for 2016, with 12 lectures scheduled between today and March 25.

The first lecture features something relatively few in Southeast Alaska have been lucky enough to catch sight of, compared to more visible animals — flying squirrels. Winston Smith, a retired researcher with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, researched the mammals for years.

Flying squirrels and the forest are “inexorably linked” in a symbiotic relationship, he said, with the squirrels helping to develop their own habitat. Southeast Alaska is home to genetically distinct subspecies of the animal, which are particularly adapted to their rainforest home.

Smith said he’ll also talk about the Tongass National Forest, its unique nature, and the unique management problems that unique nature creates.

“We talk about the Tongass as though it’s a single forest, when in reality, it’s not,” he said. “It’s a multitude of systems… it’s hard to use a management framework that applies across the entire forest… when (the ecological communities) can differ quite a bit …. That’s one of the biggest challenges of managing the Tongass National Forest, and trying to conserve its biodiversity and natural resources for future generations.”

Smith’s work came out of needs identified in the 1997 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan, he said. The USFS is currently amending the plan established in 2008, with a final version expected December of this year.

“I want people to come away with some awe and excitement about what they’re learning, and the implications of it… and management of natural resources; how we use research to try to guide the best management practices,” Smith said. “That was what my career was about.”

All lectures are at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, with the second lecture generally the less crowded one. Come early; seating in the main room can fill up fast.

Contact Juneau Empire outdoors editor Mary Catharine Martin at


Here’s the series list:

Jan. 8 – “Watch the Fur Fly!” Flying squirrels, with Winston Smith

Jan. 15 – “Secretive Kittlitz’s Murrelets” with US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Michelle Kissling

Jan. 22 – “The History of Alaska’s Capitol” with architect Wayne Jensen

Jan. 29 – “Exploring Polar Bear Territory” with guide and photographer Laurent Dick

Feb. 5 – “Arctic Phytoplankton Reveal Changes” with PhD Zach Brown speaking on Arctic Ocean sea ice loss, changing Arctic ecosystems and threatened Alaska Native Communities

Feb. 12 – “Making a Splash: Humpbacks and Dolphins” with University of Alaska Southeast biologist Heidi Pearson, who studies marine mammal behavior

Feb. 19 – “Thinking Photos” with photographer Mark Kelley

Feb. 26 – “Yellow Cedars: Treasured Trees” with John Krapek speaking on local cedar groves’ establishment and spread

March 4 – “Mountain Running in Southeast Alaska” with Juneau runners Dan Lesh and Geoff Roes

March 11 – “Taku: The Juneau Icefield’s Only Advancing Glacier” with UAS professors Jason Amundson and Martin Truffer

March 18 – “Thomas Corwin Mendenhall: The Man Behind the Name” with historian Jim Geraghty

March 25 – “Investigating the 1813 Wreck of the Neva” with Dave McMahan


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