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John Hobbie and his wife Olivann overwintered in 1960 at this camp at Lake Peters, part of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, collecting data for Hobbie's doctoral thesis. (Photo: John Hobbie)

John Hobbie Participates in National Celebration of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's 50th Anniversary

Senior Scientist John Hobbie and former President Jimmy Carter shared the podium at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), held at the National Conservation Training Center of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, this month. "The First 50: A Historic Symposium on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" was a three-day event that marked the 1960 establishment of the refuge.

The first day of the event was dedicated to ANWR and "its place in the character of a nation," during which President Carter spoke on his administration's success in doubling the size of the reserve with the signing in 1980 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Hobbie 's presentation on " Ecosystems research on the North Slope: Changes in ecological processes over the next century" included many photos from his doctoral research at Lake Peters, which is part of ANWR, during the late 1950s and 1960. In 1960-61, he and his wife Olivann spent the winter in a camp at Lake Peters as John measured photosynthesis beneath the lake's ice.

"All arctic research in the past on the lakes had only been done during the summers. These results showed that 50 percent of photosynthesis occurred beneath the ice, so we needed to be there in the winter to measure it," said Hobbie. "It was too dark for photosynthesis to occur before March, but then we were able to measure algal growth under the ice for four and a half months and then in open water until the lake froze again in early October.”

Hobbie received his PhD degree in 1962 from Indiana University with his thesis, "Limnological cycles and primary productivity of two lakes of the Alaskan arctic."

The long, lonely winter was a "good opportunity for my wife to read all the books she needed for her master's degree in English," Hobbie said. "I think she read some of them twice!"

Other speakers at the ANWR celebration included historian and author Douglas Brinkley, Thomas Strickland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and George Schaller of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who was a member of the 1956 Murie expedition to northeastern Alaska, which was pivotal in the establishment of ANWR. Another speaker was LaVerne Smith, deputy regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Alaska region, and a former student in Hobbie's limnology class at North Carolina State Univeristy.

The ANWR event was organized by Mark Madison, historian of the National Conservation Training Center to "bring together those who were instrumental in creating this milestone in environmental conservation."

Hobbie said it was an emotional time for many at the event. At least 60 per cent of the people there were from organizations like the Nature Conservancy and the Wilderness Conservation Society, who lauded ANWR as "one of the biggest successes of the conservation movement in the U.S.," he said.

"It is important to maintain ANWR," Hobbie noted. "Otherwise, the land will be broken up with roads. If you want to see free-roaming caribou herds, and feel you are in true wilderness, this is it."