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Beth Peluso Takes Over Wildlife Viewing Program
Beth Peluso wants to reach two kinds of people: Those who go outdoors, and those who don’t.
“I’ve met kids who say they never get outside,” said Peluso, the watchable wildlife coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Peluso, a writer, artist, media coordinator and accomplished birder, was hired this spring to take the helm of Fish and Game’s Watchable Wildlife Program.
She said one good way to attract people to the outdoors is through wildlife viewing sites, areas rich in wildlife that are accessible and visitor-friendly. Alaska abounds with opportunities to watch wild animals, people just need to know where they are, what to look for, and maybe get a little nudge to get out there.
“I’d like to work on viewing sites - getting the word out there about places people can go, and getting them more active,” she said. “Not just out-of-state visitors, but locals. Just getting more people outside.”
Peluso grew up in Chicago, an undeniably urban area, but she and her siblings climbed trees, dug holes and built forts in the backyard, in local parks and tiny pockets of suburban woodland. They caught frogs and kept a plethora of pets (“My mom’s rule was ‘no cats or rodents,’” she said. “So we had everything else.”) Her family spent vacations outdoors, on road trips to Yellowstone and other national parks. “I spent my 21 birthday on a rafting trip on the Colorado River with my family - a two week trip,” she said.
After high school in Chicago, Peluso headed to Rock Island, on the Illinois/Iowa border, and attended Augustana College, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English with studio art minor. She then moved west and earned an M.S. in environmental studies from the University of Montana in Missoula. She worked in publishing, and wrote and illustrated "The Charcoal Forest: How Fire Helps Animals & Plants." Her illustrations have been published in scientific journals, including The Auk.
Although she worked in publications and communication, her interest in biology, especially birds, is as strong as her interest in art and writing. She conducted field work in California, monitoring birds in the Sierras for the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and in Arizona for the Game and Fish Department.
She came to Alaska in 2004 to work as media coordinator with Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and worked part-time as a naturalist and hiking guide for a tour company.
She continued working with birds, and monitored forest owls for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2006 she volunteered on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Birding Assessment effort with the ADF&G Watchable Wildlife program. She also worked with Fish and Game’s Kristen Romanoff monitoring marbled murrelets, one of a group of “citizen scientists” helping to gather data.
Citizen scientist is term for volunteers engaged in research or monitoring tasks for ongoing science projects. Sometimes these are high school or college students, often these volunteers are already avid birders or skilled naturalists. These opportunities connect them with science and research in a way that benefits all parties. Now that she’s with Fish and Game, Peluso plans to help potential citizen scientists connect with projects and researchers.
Peluso is wrapping up work with Fish and Game educator Sue Steinacher on a Nome area wildlife viewing guide. A South Coastal (Cordova to Dutch Harbor) wildlife viewing guide is also nearing completion.
Last year Fish and Game produced a guide to wildlife viewing on the Kenai Peninsula, and Peluso is distributing the book and working with different visitor centers, Forest Service and state park representatives promoting wildlife viewing as a draw for that region. Some of that effort involves improving awareness about opportunities.
“We’d like to see more signs at visitors’ centers providing information about the viewing trail and opportunities,” she said.
She and others in the department are working on strategic planning that provides focus and direction for the wildlife viewing program, which could eventually interface with the work of the regional educators.
Peluso is active on the board of the local Audubon society. This summer she led weekly birding walks in downtown Juneau, taking tourists, coworkers and random members of the public wildlife watching on her lunch hour.
Peluso is also a fencer - the kind with swords. She began competing in Olympic-sport style fencing in the mid-1990s and has been teaching fencing for the past seven years.
“It’s a martial art – you try to figure out your opponents weaknesses and outsmart them,” she said. “Physical size and strength doesn’t matter so much. You can also apply it to work, and a lot of other things in life.”
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