Alaska News

Canada Approves Controversial Mine Near Southeast Alaska’s Border

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 16:41

A controversial mine near Southeast Alaska’s border won approval from Canada’s federal government on Friday.

The Kerr-Sulphurets – Mitchell project’s environmental protection plan got the OK from the nation’s Ministry of the Environment.

The project, known as the KSM, is in northwest British Columbia, northeast of Ketchikan and east of Wrangell.

Brent Murphy, of mine owner Seabridge Gold, says the federal action is an important step.

“It means that the project can proceed,” Murphy said. “We’ve received both the provincial and Canadian governments’ approvals.”

“Essentially, it’s an approval in principal and now we move forward in the permitting phase.”

He says the project has about 100 of the 150 permits it needs. It’s also seeking investors to develop the proposed $5.3 billion mine.

The KSM is a copper, gold and silver deposit upstream of two rivers that enter the ocean within about 50 miles of Ketchikan.

Fisheries, tribal and environmental groups in Southeast Alaska oppose development, saying the mine would pollute those rivers and harm salmon and those who eat them.

Canada’s action disturbs Carrie James, who co-chairs Southeast’s United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group.

“I’m just really disappointed in the decision; it doesn’t surprise me. We’re not going to stop. We’ll keep fighting and we can’t stop,” James said.

Opponents are asking the Obama administration to pressure Canada to use more stringent permitting standards. They’re also pressing British Columbia to give the project a higher level of review.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 19, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 16:32

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Grand Jury Indicts Man in Alaska Prosecutor’s Shooting Death

The Associated Press

An Alaska grand jury has indicted a 47-year-old man accused of shooting a prosecutor in a jealous rage over a woman.

Walker Considers Delay in Legal Marijuana Sales

The Associated Press

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker says he’s considering a 90-day delay in implementing legal marijuana sales. Alaska voters in November approved legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

University President: Budget Cuts Will Require Downsizing to ‘Core’ Missions

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

University of Alaska President Pat Gamble is anticipating budget cuts that will force the institution to downsize, and focus on its core missions.  Gamble plans to retire at the end of the 2015 school year, but he’s looking beyond his tenure to help the university prepare for the future.

Omnibus Spending Bill Increases Money for Wildfire Management

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The one trillion dollar spending plan passed by Congress last weekend and signed by President Obama includes money for wildfire mitigation and management. That budget is up from prior years.

Coastline Search Leads To First Residents’ Camps

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Earth’s crust is more flexible than you think – especially in Southeast Alaska. Growing and shrinking ice fields and glaciers, and rising and falling oceans have altered the region’s coastline over time.

Understanding those changes is helping scientists to learn more about the area’s early human habitation.

How the Alaska Native Brotherhood Changed Alaska History

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

In “A Dangerous Idea,” author Peter Metcalfe looks at the crucial role the Alaska Native Brotherhood played in securing Native rights and land claims before, during and after statehood. The recently published book explores an often overlooked chapter in Alaska’s story.

Lonnie Dupre Makes Fourth Winter Solo Attempt on Denali

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Climber and arctic veteran Lonnie Dupre left Talkeetna yesterday for his fourth attempt to be the first person to summit Denali in January.

AK: Hockey Homecoming

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage has a close knit hockey community. But if players want to continue on to college hockey or eventually play professionally, they have to move away from Alaska at a fairly young age…leaving friendships behind. They use their short breaks back home to relive some of those childhood memories on the ice. And the 5th Annual Christmas Classic gives them that opportunity.

300 Villages: Kipnuk

This week we’re heading to the Bering Sea community of Kipnuk. Jimmy Paul is the tribal administrator in Kipnuk

Categories: Alaska News

Grand Jury Indicts Man in Alaska Prosecutor’s Shooting Death

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 15:39

An Alaska grand jury has indicted a 47-year-old man accused of shooting a prosecutor in a jealous rage over a woman.

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Ronald Fischer is charged with first- and second- degree murder in the Dec. 8 shotgun death of 48-year-old Brian Sullivan, who was an assistant district attorney in Barrow, the country’s northernmost community.

Authorities say Sullivan was shot at the home of a woman who had children in a past relationship with Fischer. The indictment also charges Fischer with assault by placing the woman in fear with a shotgun.

The indictment was handed up Thursday by a grand jury in Nome because Sullivan had been presenting cases to a grand jury in Barrow.

Fischer is represented by public defender Mark Billingsley, who did not immediately comment Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Considers Delay in Legal Marijuana Sales

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 15:38

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker says he’s considering a 90-day delay in implementing legal marijuana sales.

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Alaska voters in November approved legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

Walker told the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce he’s exploring a delay in the part of the measure that allows for commercial sales.

The ballot measure specified that adults no longer would be arrested under state law for possessing up to an ounce of pot outside their homes 90 days after election results were certified. That date is Feb. 24.

The state has nine months more to produce regulations for commercial sales, three months to begin accepting applications and three months after that to issue permits.

Commercial growers could produce marijuana for sale in May 2016 under the timeline.

Categories: Alaska News

University President: Budget Cuts Will Require Downsizing to ‘Core’ Missions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 15:37

University of Alaska President Pat Gamble is anticipating budget cuts that will force the institution to downsize, and focus on its core missions. Gamble plans to retire at the end of the 2015 school year, but he’s looking beyond his tenure to help the university prepare for the future.

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Categories: Alaska News

Omnibus Spending Bill Increases Money for Wildfire Management

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 15:36

The $1-trillion dollar spending plan passed by Congress last weekend and signed by President Obama this week includes money for wildfire mitigation and management and that budget is up from years prior.

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A helicopter drops water on the fire near Soldotna Monday night (Ariel Van Cleave photo)

The omnibus spending plan includes $1.4 billion dollars for wildfire management and mitigation.

“That’s about 64 million dollars above fiscal year 2014 enacted level,” said Kent Slaughter, Manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service.

“So, there is definitely an increase in the amount appropriated,” he said.

The money is based on a 10-year average funding level but, it is not allocated by state. It will be split between the US Forest Service and the Department of Interior, which oversees the BLM.  Slaughter said 804 million dollars will go to the DOI, but it will be another month or two before he knows exactly how much funding will go to the Alaska Fire Service.

“I think the process went as the process is going to go. It’s nice to have a budget to know… where we’ll be for the rest of the fiscal year,” said Slaughter.

The federal budget for wildfire management has been strained in recent years. According the Forest service, the wildfire season in the United States has increased by between 60 and 80 days in the last 30 years.

When the President proposed his Fiscal Year 2015 budget earlier this year, it included a proposal to create an emergency fund for catastrophic wildfires. The goal was to decrease the amount of money that is pulled from other programs like forest restoration and management as well as research. But during the congressional process, that proposal was scrapped.

Categories: Alaska News

Coastline Search Leads To First Residents’ Camps

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 15:35

A computer-generated map of Southeast Alaska shows additional land (in brown) beyond today’s shoreline. (Courtesy Jim Baichtal)

The Earth’s crust is more flexible than you think – especially in Southeast Alaska. Growing and shrinking icefields and glaciers, and rising and falling oceans have altered the region’s coastline over time.

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Understanding those changes is helping scientists learn more about the area’s early human habitation. A Southeast geologist talked about what’s been discovered during a Nov. 25 Sealaska Heritage Institute Native American Heritage Month lecture.

We’ve all pretty much grown up with the assumption that the land we live on is when it’s been for thousands of years.

Sure, we have volcanoes and earthquakes and, if you paid attention in school, plate tectonics. But the big stuff happened millions of years ago, right?

Wrong. In this part of the world, drastic changes have happened in the past 6,000 to 15,000 years.

Forest Service Geologist Jim Baichtal explains.

“The ice came out on the landscape. It pushed down on that land. The sea reinvaded as the ice started to melt. And now that land has risen up,” he says.

He knows that because he – and others – have been mapping shell beds. They’ve been found from below today’s shorelines to hundreds of feet above.

Once you figure out where the shore used to be, you can make an educated guess of where early inhabitants lived – and what they saw.

“If you and I would have been, 10,000 years ago, on the shoreline and we lived to be 50 years old, sea level would have risen 10.2 feet in our lifetime,” he says.

And that matches some oral history.

Some of the settlements moved up and down rivers and streams as the ocean rose and fell, flooding coastal waterways, then receding.

Scientists have found campsites with tools and other signs of occupation.

Baichtal says they include agate and obsidian, which is only accessible in a few areas.

“So these people had been on the landscape long enough to find all those sites, and develop trade back and forth from those sites throughout all of Southeast Alaska by 10,500 calendar years ago,” he says.

The findings have larger implications for the region’s human history.

For example, Baichtal says flooding could have made it easier for early inhabitants to travel.

“So [when] people were coming into Southeast Alaska, they might not have been paddling down rivers. They were coming down the fjords,” he says.

And once here, travel would have continued on the water.

“Admiralty Island was a multitude of islands. If you look at the Cleveland Peninsula, it was a multitude of islands. The same [is true] for Gravina Island and Annette Island outside of Ketchikan,” he says.

Baichtal and other scientists have continued expanding their discoveries. He says before 2009, only five early settlement sites had been located. Since this type of research began, 17 more have been added to the list.

Excavation has also provided a look at Southeast Alaska’s climate history.

“Throughout 10,000 years to about 6,000 years, I’ve got a lot of evidence out of these muds that suggests that we were as much as 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, with half the rainfall, and that fire was part of our ecology,” he says.

Baichtal says weather patterns settled down around 5,500 years ago. That’s when human settlements really began to grow.

“The sea level balances, fish probably started getting established in big numbers in the streams, the streams no longer were being as dynamic and down-cutting and the sea level was no more rising, and I think people began to greatly flourish at that time,” he says.

As they’ve found more sites, Baichtal and his fellow scientists have developed more detailed maps of past Southeast coastlines.

He says other coastal areas could do the same.

“I’m sure all the way along the Gulf of Alaska, when you get out to Kodiak and up north, the same processes are going on. We’ve just not taken a look at applying this strategy on the landscape,” he says.

Another type of early settlement research still needs to be undertaken.

That’s exploration below current tidelines. Researchers in nearby northern coastal British Columbia have found evidence of settlements – 300 to 500 feet below the ocean’s surface.

Categories: Alaska News

How the Alaska Native Brotherhood Changed Alaska History

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 15:34

The book was published by the University of Alaska Press in November and is widely available. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

In “A Dangerous Idea,” author Peter Metcalfe explores the crucial role the Alaska Native Brotherhood played in securing Native rights and land claims before, during and after statehood. The recently published book explores an often overlooked chapter in Alaska’s story. Metcalfe suggests, without the ANB, the Alaska of today would be a very different place.

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When the Alaska Native Brotherhood formed in 1912, Alaska Natives were not U.S. citizens, couldn’t own title to land and couldn’t send their children to local schools. The aim of the group was citizenship and equality.

Peter Metcalfe says ANB was starting to make progress in the 1920s.

“They had won rights for education, voting rights, but what is consistent throughout the history of the Alaska Native Brotherhood is their demand that they be equals with the white establishment, that they have what we now call civil rights and that wasn’t even a term at that time,” Metcalfe says.

Two important leaders of the ANB in the 1920s were Peter Simpson and William Paul. Cultural expert and storyteller Ishmael Hope recounts an exchange they had during the 1925 ANB convention. Hope says Simpson “went up to William Paul who was one of the very prominent young leaders of the time and he just quietly said to him, ‘Hey Willy, who owns this land?’ And there was a little bit of a pause as William Paul thought of it and then he said, ‘Well, we do.’ ‘Then fight for it!’”

By the 1929 ANB/ANS Grand Camp convention in Haines, Paul was grand president. Metcalfe says Paul invited James Wickersham, who had served as a district judge and Alaska’s delegate to Congress.

“Judge Wickersham made a presentation to this convention in which he told the assembled delegates of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood that they could sue the U.S. government,” Metcalfe says.

During his time in D.C., Wickersham had seen Congress pass different jurisdictional acts allowing various Native American groups to sue the government over lost lands and rights. ANB and ANS voted to do just that.

Kathy Ruddy helped Metcalfe with research for the book. She says that moment in history was the genesis of the book’s title.

“The dangerous idea is suing your own government when you’ve only been citizens for five years. Citizenship was extended to the Native people in 1924 and this is just five years after that,” Ruddy says.

Metcalfe says it was a landmark decision. At the time, the white establishment was just getting used to the idea of Native Alaskans as citizens. Racial discrimination was entrenched in society.

In the early 1930s, ANB began fighting for aboriginal land claims in D.C.

Metcalfe says members of the ANB set aside traditional ways in order to achieve their goals. Leaders spoke English and adapted to Western ways of dress and social activities.

But Hope says, despite what they wore at the time, leaders of the ANB, like his grandfather John Hope, retained their Native culture, which helped them in their fight.

“My grandpa talked about how we used parliamentary procedure, we used the English language as a tool, but not a means of identity,” Hope says. “Many of the ANB founders, you look at them and you think, the stereotype is that they’re assimilated Indians, but you actually look into the history and you see deeply retained cultural knowledge, cultural experiences.”

Hope’s father, Andrew Hope III, was the impetus for “A Dangerous Idea.” It was his idea to apply for a grant through the Alaska Humanities Forum, which funded the research. Hope passed away shortly after the grant was awarded in 2008.

One important case stemming from that 1929 decision – Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska v. United States – took about 40 years to resolve. In 1968, a federal court held that the land was owned by Native people from time immemorial.

Metcalfe says without the ANB and the ANS, there wouldn’t have been an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, an Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, or the Alaska of today.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Hockey Homecoming

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 13:36

Tanner Sorenson takes aim at the net at the Bonnie Cusack outdoor rink in Anchorage. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Anchorage has a close knit hockey community, but if players want to continue on to college hockey or eventually play professionally, they have to move away from Alaska at a fairly young age – leaving friendships behind.

They use their short breaks back home to re-live some of those childhood memories on the ice. And, the 5th Annual Christmas Classic gives them that opportunity.

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Tanner Sorenson is flying around the ice at Anchorage’s Bonnie Cusack’s Outdoor Rinks, moving with a well-practiced stride that has been perfected over many years of skating at Anchorage’s ice rinks.

He rings a shot off the goal post, watching it sail high over the boards, narrowly missing a car parked nearby.

Tanner Sorenson skating at the Bonnie Cusack outdoor ice rink. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Tanner flew into Anchorage early this morning from Michigan State University, where he’s playing his final year of college hockey.

Though Tanner enjoys playing on the larger stage, with high pressure to perform in front of thousands of fans, he says getting back on the outdoor ice is relaxing.

“Just get to have fun, do whatever you want, mess around, no one’s gonna get too upset,” he said. “I mean, obviously everyone’s so competitive with hockey and sports in general. But, outside of that, there’s no systems, no pressure, I think it’s just everyone having kind of a good time and kinda getting together with your buddies when you come back from school and whatnot, which is always fun.”

Tanner has been living halfway across the country since he started high school. As he was entering 9th grade, he was recruited to play hockey at Minnesota’s Shattuck St. Mary’s – a prep school with a reputation of churning out future college hockey and professional stars.

Now on Michigan State’s roster, Tanner says the transition to living away from home during his early teenage years wasn’t too difficult.

But, it meant leaving behind a lifetime of friends. So, whenever he makes it back up to Alaska, he takes advantage of the time he has to reconnect.

“We always get together, come out here, have some fun, mess around, kind of enjoy being back,” Tanner said. “I mean, it’s nothing serious, we just like to – I guess it’s a time to get away and hang out, rest, catch up on what we’ve missed, how school’s going, how we’re doing, and all that.”

Dennis Sorenson coaches Dimond High School’s varsity hockey team. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Of course, leaving the state to play high school hockey also meant leaving his family. Tanner’s dad is Dennis Sorenson, who is well known in Alaska’s hockey community. He’s been coaching in the state since 1984, after finishing his collegiate hockey career at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

I meet Dennis at another local ice rink, where he’s coaching Anchorage’s Dimond High School.

During his time coaching, Dennis has helped hundreds of players go on to compete at hockey’s highest levels. And he says it’s important for the players to get back on the outdoor ice where they started, to put a smile back on their face and to remind themselves why they love the game.

“Sometimes the team game, the team takes over for the fun, because winning is real important,” he said. “So, they get out there, and it doesn’t matter if they win or lose, they’re out there doing moves they haven’t done in years, and they just feel like, the best thing is going on in the world.”

“Nobody is yelling at them nobody cares, they’re just having a good time with their friends and doing something positive.”

Dennis Sorenson confers with another coach at Dimond High School’s hockey practice. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The Sorenson’s story is common in Alaska’s hockey community. Bryce Christianson is another player who grew up in Alaska, but eventually had to leave to further his hockey career.

He’s the founder and organizer of the Christmas Classic outdoor hockey tournament. Bryce says it started off small – as a way to get some friends together who had gone their separate ways for junior and college hockey.

“The first year, the idea was just to see how many guys we could together to come out and play some hockey,” Bryce said. ”And the first year we went on Facebook and got 20 guys together; the next year we got 40 guys and then it started to progress; and the third year we ended up having 60, and at that point it’s like, hey all these guys together, we’ve gotta do it for something more, we’ve gotta do it for a cause.”

A team from last year’s Christmas Classic Tournament. (Photo courtesy of the Bryce Christianson, organizer of the Christmas Classic tournament)

That cause ended up being Toys for Tots. Last year, the tournament fielded 96 players and contributed 208 toys. This year, it’s even bigger, with more than 125 players signed up to play.

Both Dennis and Tanner are participating in this year’s tournament. Tanner says it’ll be nice to get back out on the ice with old friends, even if he already plays against some of them in college.

“It’s kind of funny, we’ll get there, line up against them, give them a nice little slash on the back or whatever and kind of laugh it off, but definitely when the pucks going, it’s kind of all in,” Tanner said. “Everyone’s so serious, you don’t even realize that’s your buddy until the end of the game.”

“So, it’s definitely fun when we get back and talk about the games we’ve played against each other and whatnot. I know everyone’s pretty excited to come to this tournament.”

As the tournament expands, its goal is to be a family event. This year there will be a heating tent, free food and drinks. Bryce is even trying to get a Santa for the kids and some live music for those who stop by. There will also be Marines standing by for toy dropoffs – and of course some great hockey.

The tournament is on Saturday, Dec. 20 at Anchorage’s Bonnie Cusack outdoor rinks near the Sullivan Arena. The heating tent, food, and registration tables should be ready by 10:30 a.m. and hockey will begin at 11:00 a.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Annual Statewide Holiday Greetings Show

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 12:00

It’s not to be missed!  The annual state-wide holiday greeting edition of Talk of Alaska is on its way.  Good wishes will be flying across the great state of Alaska, re-connecting friends and families and extended families in a two-hour wave of greetings. So make your list and get ready to call on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • The People of Alaska

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Lonnie Dupre Makes Fourth Winter Solo Attempt on Denali

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 10:29

On Thursday, climber and Arctic veteran Lonnie Dupre  left Talkeetna for his fourth attempt to be the first person to summit Denali in January.

Climbing Denali is hard.  Even in peak season, temperatures dip below zero, and frostbite is a real concern.  In fact, this summer saw one of the lowest summit rates in decades, owing largely to weather.  Not many people attempt North America’s highest peak in winter.  Lonnie Dupre is one of the few who has.  He is beginning his fourth attempt to summit the mountain in January.  His previous attempts were all thwarted by the weather.  Dupre says he’s surprised at how mild the Alaskan winter has been so far.

Lonnie Dupre during his 2012 attempt on Denali. (Courtesy Lonnie Dupre)

“I’m surprised on how little snow and how warm it’s been in Alaska, overall.  That opens up a whole new bit of news, maybe, on climate change and what’s been going on with the weather these days.”

Lonnie Dupre takes climate change seriously.  Many of his expeditions have been to raise awareness for the changing environment.  Despite the warmer-than-normal temperatures in the lowlands of Alaska, however, Dupre says it will still be very cold on Denali, with temperatures potentially dipping to fifty-below-zero.  Under those conditions, Lonnie Dupre says the body requires a lot of calories just to keep going.

“It’s like throwing a log on the fire, right?  You’ve got to keep the firewood coming…”

Lonnie Dupre estimates he’ll be taking in about 4,500 calories per day to keep his internal furnace running.  He says that hydration is even more important, and that he plans to drink four or five liters of melted snow-water each day.

Daylight is also a major factor affecting winter climbs.  Lonnie Dupre will only have a handful of hours each day to try to make progress.

“A big challenge, aside from the cold, is you only have a limited time to travel, because it’s dark.  I’m leaving at the darkest time of the year, so it only leaves you maybe five hours of useable light in mid-December.”

Crevasses present a challenge to Denali climbers regardless of the season.  Without team members, Lonnie Dupre will be on his own should he find himself in an area where crevasses have opened.

“A preventative measure to not drop into one of those bad-boys is to take a big, long pair of skis, and I’m taking…about a thirteen foot long spruce pole with me.”

Like much of his gear, Lonnie’s eight-foot long skis are custom.  In fact, he made them himself.  This year, he is also bringing along a tent, sleeping bag, and down suit that should help him stay warm.  Overall, Dupre feels good about this year’s attempt.

“You always get those butterflies in your stomach right before you go, but I’m excited to get moving.  I’m feeling really good about this year; I’ve trained hard.  I’ve got all the equipment I could have wished for for this trip.”

As with his previous attempts, Lonnie Dupre’s primary goal is to get back safely, though reaching the summit of Denali would be a definite plus.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Dept. Appoints New Leader for Offshore Energy

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 10:17

The federal agency that regulates offshore oil drilling is about to get a new leader.

Abigail Hopper has been named director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, according to a report from FuelFix.

Hopper has spent several years running the Maryland Energy Administration. She recently worked on a project to set up wind energy farms off Maryland’s shore — leading to a federal lease sale in August.

Now, BOEM is turning its attention to building a new five-year plan for selling oil and gas leases offshore. The agency’s been under pressure to include the Atlantic Ocean. But they say new seismic research is needed before they can make a decision.

Hopper will be the second director at BOEM since it was established by the Interior Department in 2010. Former director Tommy Beaudreau left in May to become chief of staff to the Interior Secretary.

Categories: Alaska News

Unknown Oily Sheen off Shishmaref Coast Returns

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-18 17:18

Unknown product visible under nearshore ice on Dec. 12, 2014. (Photo: Sharon Nayokpuk, Shishmaref Environmental Program via Alaska DEC)

An oily sheen of unknown origin discovered along the northeast coast of Shishmaref this summer has returned.

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The sheen was first discovered in June on the nearshore icepack by the Shishmaref Village Public Safety Officer. The VPSO reported the yellow liquid smelled like gasoline. That led to cleanup efforts and an investigation by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to determine exactly what the substance was, and where it came from.

Samples of the sheen—and from the community’s fuel tanks—were collected for testing at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut. But the summer cleanup efforts ended with results still pending, and no source for the sheen ever identified.

Now the sheen is back—noticed by a local store owner and the VPSO last week. DEC officials say the unidentified substance again has the strong scent of gasoline. The unknown petroleum product was visible under nearshore ice as early as last Friday.

DEC spokesperson Ashley Adamczak said the agency is sending someone to Shishmaref Thursday to investigate. Adamczak said those samples collected over the summer will come in handy.

“We will be able to do a direct comparison with the substances that were leaching from the shore line last summer, and this event, and compare [them both] to the tank farm,” she said.

Adamczak said locals in Shishmaref have offered input on where the oily substance is coming from, and DEC is following up.

“There’s a lot of people there that have a lot more history of that site than we do,” she said about the investigation just now getting underway. “There’s a couple different floating theories that we have, and we are actually taking a metal detector device out there to do some investigation, to see if there’s any subsurface tanks or buried drums that are in the area.”

Adamczak said the idea of forgotten oil drums or fuel tanks was offered over the summer. “We’ll be working very closely with the people who reported that those might be there to determine those exact locations.”

The Coast Guard has hired waste treatment company Emerald Alaska to perform an on-site assessment.

Last summer’s cleanup resulted in about 30 bags of oily waste from absorbent materials laid out over an area of 1,200 square feet. About 100 gallons of the fuel-like substance were recovered, according to DEC officials on the ground in Shishmaref in July.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Walker Shares Upbeat Message With Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-18 17:17

Governor Bill Walker is striking an optimistic tone despite tanking oil prices that are reducing state revenue.  Speaking to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Walker pointed to opportunity.

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Categories: Alaska News

Scientists ID Two Bat Species Never Before Seen In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-18 17:16

(Image via FIRST RECORDS OF YUMA MYOTIS (MYOTIS YUMANENSIS)
IN ALASKA)

Scientists are in a race to learn as much as they can about bats in Alaska. And that race has led to the discovery of two new species previously unknown in the state. The Hoary bat and the Yuma bat were both found in Southeast Alaska.

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Bat research in the state has been accelerating over the last several years as scientists anticipate the spread of white-nose syndrome in bat species and the effects of climate change.

This surge in research uncovered two different bat species never-before-documented in Alaska.

Specimens of the Yuma Bat – or Yuma Myotis – have actually been in museum collections for nearly 30 years. But, they were incorrectly identified.

Link Olson is the curator of mammals at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. He says that’s largely because, on the surface, the Yuma Bat looks very similar to a more common, well-documented species called the Little Brown Bat.

“If I were to go down to Southeast Alaska and catch a bat that could either be a Yuma Bat or Little Brown Bat, without any other information or evidence, if I were to look at it, then let it go, or even if I were to take the measurements that you can take from a live bat in the hand, I would not be able to confidently identify it as one or the other,” Olson said.

And Olson doesn’t believe his colleagues would claim to be able to make the distinction either.

Though the two species might look alike, he says they aren’t closely related, which gives scientists other avenues to identify the bats.

“What we can do is collect tiny bits of tissue, and we usually do this from either the wing or the tail membranes because they heal very rapidly, and with that tiny little punch – or biopsy – of tissue, we can use very straightforward genetic techniques to identify these two particular species,” Olson said.

The second species previously unknown in Alaska is the Hoary Bat. Scientists don’t have any physical specimens of the species from within the state. But, they were able to detect the species by using ultra-sensitive audio equipment that can pick up the bat’s echolocation signals, which are typically outside of the human hearing range.

“These ‘bat detectors’ will record those and either display them in a typical sonogram so that we can compare them to known reference calls and hopefully identify them to species, which is what was done in this case, or they will divide that echolocation call by a denominator that literally breaks it down and divides it so in our hearing range,” Olson said.

Though the identification was successful in the case of the Hoary Bat, Olson says species can’t always be accurately identified by their echolocation alone.

The range of the bats is not known, but in the case of the Yuma Bat, Olson says specimens from other collections are from as far north as Baranof Island, and he suspects it might extend even further north.

“There’s no clear bio-geographic barrier that I can think of to this species until you get up to the Malaspina Glacier north of Yakutat,” Olson said.

There are plenty of other unknowns regarding Alaska’s bats – including where they spend their winters. Olson says that question still looms even for the better-documented Little Brown Bat.

This question is particularly pressing because bats are most-susceptible to White Nose Syndrome while they are hibernating.

As bat research progresses, Olson says citizen science has become a critical component, because many of the museums specimens were discovered by citizens, not scientists.

“Those old, dead bats are incredibly valuable scientifically,” he said. “Even if it looks rotten and crushed, there’s scientific value in that specimen.”

Olson says if you do run across a dead or dying bat, alert Fish & Game or a local biologist rather than picking it up yourself.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-18 17:15

Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply for lands to be placed into trust status with the federal government.

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The Interior Department published the final regulation in a long running dispute between tribes, Interior and the state over an interpretation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA in 1971 that held tribes in Alaska had lost that right under the settlement act.

Native American Rights Fund Attorney Heather Kendall Miller sued on behalf of four tribes and one Alaska Native individual in 2006.

“This is a huge, wonderful day to see Alaska tribes be able to fully exercise the right to have their petitions considered,” Miller said.

The district court for DC rejected the state of Alaska’s position that ANCSA required different treatment of tribes in Alaska. The state is appealing that decision.

Kendall Miller says one of the plaintiffs is the Chilkoot Indian Association that had land donated to it by a church. The 106 acres are in Haines and applying for trust status means local municipalities, boroughs or the state would not be allowed to tax any economic development initiatives the tribe may develop there.

Kendall Miller says the state could decide to drop the appeal now that Interior has adopted the court’s position that sided with tribes on all counts. Kendall Miller says numerous tribes beyond the plaintiffs have been preparing applications for requesting trust status. She says this land status could be considered Indian Country.

Categories: Alaska News

Tulsequah Mine Study Outlines Taku River Barging

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-18 17:14

The Tulsequah mine sits above the Tulsequah River which flows into the Taku River.

Chieftain Metals Corp. has released new details on its plan to barge supplies and minerals to and from the Tulsequah Chief Mine, up the Taku River south of Juneau.

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Chieftain is trying to re-open the long closed zinc, copper and gold mine in British Columbia. The company filed an updated feasibility study with Canadian financial regulators earlier this month. It says the Taku is likely to be impassable about 23 percent of the time during the proposed barging season from May to September. Another 23 percent of the time, barges will need a tug to help navigate the river.

Chris Zimmer with the environmental organization Rivers Without Borders says the report is light on other details about the company’s barging plan.

“When you look at this, you just think, ‘Boy, how are they going to make this work?’” Zimmer says. “Because they’ve got to get concentrate out on schedule to get it on a barge and to get it down to a freighter in Seattle. And given the conditions in the river, I just can’t see how they’re going to be able to make this work.”

According to the feasibility report, Chieftain would need four custom-built tugs and barges to make the nearly 40-mile run from the mouth of the Taku to the Tulsequah.

The company expects to ship more than 867,000 wet metric tons of concentrate to market over the proposed 11-year life of the mine. At its operational peak that would be more than 93,000 tons per year. About 17,000 tons of supplies and fuel would be shipped up the river every year as well.

Zimmer worries what will happen if Chieftain misses a few barge runs and tries to make them up when river conditions improve.

“They’re probably going to try to run a lot of barges in a very short time to make up for that shortfall,” he says. “And I think they’ll probably push the envelope for what’s safe in the river there.”

Chieftain officials previously have said the mine would not be built unless there was a road leading to it from Atlin, B.C. In October, the company announced the road is no longer being considered. The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has sued to stop the project, saying B.C. officials failed to consult them about an environmental permit.

Ron Maas is the former owner of Taku Glacier Lodge, and still owns about 150 acres up the river. He’s disappointed in Chieftain’s plan to barge.

“I just hate to see them tear up the whole damn country for a few bucks,” Maas says.

He remembers when former Tulsequah owner Redfern Resources tried barging on the Taku, and how the vessels would pass right by his property overlooking the glacier.

“It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous place, and it is just a shame to have that barge coming by,” he says. “You can hear it, you know, five miles away.”

Lynden Logistics — one of the largest freight companies operating in Alaska — last month announced it had signed a non-binding letter of intent with Chieftain to provide barging services for the Tulsequah project. Officials with both companies have declined multiple requests for comment.

Chieftain is still seeking financing to reopen the Tulsequah. Cominco last operated the mine in 1957.

Juneau state lawmakers formed the Taku River Fact-Finding Task Force in 2011 to address local concern over renewed interest in the mine. Rep. Cathy Muñoz says the city’s legislative delegation is still reviewing the updated feasibility study, and will talk about getting the task force back together early next year.

“It’s a high priority,” Muñoz says.

Categories: Alaska News

DEC Reaches Diesel Spill Site Along Dalton Highway

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-18 17:13

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been able to get back in to a remote spot along the Dalton Highway where a fuel tanker wrecked and overturned Sunday night, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The spill and a fire that burned the wrecked rig occurred near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

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Categories: Alaska News

Charities Help Fill Void From Santa’s Clearing House During Holiday Season

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-18 17:10

Charities are stepping up to help more Fairbanks families this holiday season. Organization’s like Love Inc. and the Salvation Army are providing gifts for kids whose families were formerly served by Santa’s Clearing House.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 18, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-18 17:09

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Unknown Oily Sheen off Shishmaref Coast Returns

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A mysterious oily sheen found along the northeast coast of Shishmaref this summer has returned.

Governor Walker Shares Upbeat Message With Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Bill Walker is striking an optimistic tone despite tanking oil prices that are reducing state revenue.  Speaking to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Walker pointed to opportunity.

Scientists ID Two Bat Species Never Before Seen In Alaska

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Scientists are in a race to learn as much as they can about bats in Alaska. And that race has led to the discovery of two species previously unknown in the state.  The Hoary bat and the Yuma bat were both found in Southeast Alaska.

Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply for lands to be placed into trust status with the federal government.

Tulsequah Mine Study Outlines Taku River Barging

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Chieftain Metals has released new details on its plan to barge supplies and minerals to and from the Tulsequah Chief Mine, up the Taku River south of Juneau.

DEC Reaches Diesel Spill Site Along Dalton Highway

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has accessed a remote spot along the Dalton Highway where a fuel tanker wrecked and overturned Sunday night, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The spill and resulting fire occurred near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Fall Brown Bear Hunts Proposed Near Petersburg

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Some Petersburg residents would like to see a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3 near Petersburg.

Sealaska Heritage Institute Begins Move into Walter Soboleff Center

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau started moving into its new home this week.

Charities Help Fill Void From Santa’s Clearing House During Holiday Season

Heather Penn, KUAC – Fairbanks

Charity organization’s like Love Inc. and the Salvation Army are providing gifts for Fairbanks kids whose families were formerly served by Santa’s Clearing House.

Categories: Alaska News

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