Alaska News

USDA to bailout some canned sockeye surplus

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-08-06 10:19

There’s some good news this week about that often spoken of glut of canned sockeye salmon: the US Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday it intends to purchase up to $30 million worth and put it into food banks and other emergency assistance programs.

Last week Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to approve the purchase, which she said would alleviate a surplus inventory and put a nutritious product in food programs around the country.

In her letter Murkowski noted that this year and last year’s very high harvests of sockeye in Alaska were actually harming the livelihood of many fishermen and the industry. That should come as no surprise to Bristol Bay fishermen, some of whom went home with a base price of .50 cents a pound for their catch this season.

Last year the USDA helped clear some inventory of canned pink salmon, agreeing to buy $13 million of product for similar food programs. Then-Governor Sean Parnell had asked the Department to buy up to $37 million of canned pinks, which many companies said were stacked floor-to-ceiling in warehouses and not moving anywhere.

The USDA did not offer many other details, other than that it will solicit bids in the near future. Tuesday’s announcement was well received by the Food Bank of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Talkeetna celebrates the start of new recycling program

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-08-06 10:15

The new recycling program comes online in Talkeetna. (KTNA photo)

Talkeetna’s Mat-Su Borough Transfer Site, often referred to by locals as “the dump,” is not the sort of place you would normally expect to find a celebration, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the community’s first recycling container was brought online.

As the first aluminum cans were tossed into Talkeetna’s new recycling container, there was an air of celebration. Many Talkeetna residents have been waiting decades for a local, regular, reliable recycling solution. On Monday, that became a reality.

A major factor that makes this iteration of recycling in Talkeetna different than previous attempts is borough involvement. Borough contractors will pick up the recycling container just like any other dumpster at the transfer site. Instead of taking it to the landfill, however, the contents will go to the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions.

Butch Shapiro, the borough’s solid waste manager, says that there is an economic incentive for his department in diverting recyclables away from the landfill.

“That’s the big thing for us. The more we can keep out of there, the more we can save, the longer we can make a cell last. And that’s huge, because it costs between $3.5 to $5 million to build a landfill cell.”

Shapiro estimates that the Mat-Su Borough saves about twenty-five cents for every pound of material that is recycled instead of dumped in the landfill.

He says that the current program, which includes plans for recycling in Talkeetna, Willow, and Big Lake, could save the borough $100,000 in the next year. He says adding more recycling communities would increase those savings over time.

While the borough is handling the transport of the recycling container, the community had to come up with the funding for it. The final cost to refurbish a retired trash container and make it suitable for recycling is between $8,000 and $10,000. Butch Shapiro says a new container with similar capabilities could cost three times that much.

“Quite a savings, there. It really brings it within the realm of possibility. It’s been a long time coming.”

The Talkeetna Recycling Committee had little difficulty in raising funds in short order. Grants for $10,000 each from the Mat-Su Health Foundation and Matanuska Electric Association, as well as local fundraisers and donations, meant that the committee was able to bring the first container online this week, with a second already undergoing refurbishing.

Talkeetna resident Katie Writer organized much of the fundraising. On Monday, she told the gathered crowd of more than thirty people why she took the leadership role for the project.

“I’m really honored to fill those shoes, because the Earth is the most important thing to me. And, being here in Alaska, we need to be able to honor the Earth and take care of our trash in a better way.”

Mollie Boyer is the Executive Director for the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions in Palmer, the facility where Talkeetna’s recycling will go for processing. She says VCRS was founded with the initial goal of establishing reliable recycling options. Now, she says the establishment of recycling programs in individual communities helps her organization move toward its long-term goals.

“…To provide a permanent recycling facility and opportunity for the Mat-Su…This bin here represents the fulfillment of that long-term goal.”

The container is not the end of the story, however. The Talkeetna Recycling Committee is actively seeking volunteers to help guide local residents in what can be recycled and how it should be prepared. For the moment, aluminum cans, steel cans, and #2 plastic jugs, such as milk jugs, are accepted.

Categories: Alaska News

Synthetic drug blamed for 30 Anchorage hospitalizations

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-08-06 10:08

Anchorage police say at least 30 people have been taken to the hospital over the past four days with health problems stemming from the use of a synthetic drug called Spice.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that Police released a statement Wednesday asking people to contact them with any information about the source of the drug, which is banned by local and state laws.

Spice was once sold in gas stations and convenience stores and marketed as incense or potpourri. In 2010 the Anchorage Assembly outlawed the designer drug based on its composition, but manufactures quickly changed agreements.

The Assembly passed a new law that banned Spice based on its packaging and a list of labeling criteria in 2014. Later that year, a similar statewide ban went into effect.

Categories: Alaska News

State flags removed from Fairbanks bridge due to conditions

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-08-06 10:06

A display of America’s 50 state flags has been removed from a Fairbanks bridge due to their worn condition and an ongoing debate about Confederate symbols.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that nonprofit community development organization Festival Fairbanks removed the flags Monday.

Festival Fairbanks Executive Director Julie Jones says the flags were taken down because of the wear and tear they had sustained. She also says part of the decision was influenced by the inclusion of the Mississippi flag – which includes a Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner.

Jones says they did not want to only remove Mississippi’s flag from the display. Because of the tattered state of all 50, the organization chose to remove them all.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage police investigating shooting of 3-year-old

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-08-06 09:58

Anchorage police say they’re investigating the fatal shooting of a three-year-old.

According to a release from the department, police received a call just after noon on Wednesday reporting the shooting at a home in southeast Anchorage. The child was pronounced dead at the scene.

A police spokeswoman said detectives were conducting interviews and processing information.

Police said they would release additional information as it became available.

Categories: Alaska News

Choice Improvement Act helps close VA funding gap

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-08-06 09:58

A move by the Obama Administration has freed up money in Alaska to close a funding gap in healthcare for veterans.

Shawn Bransky, the interim Associate Director for the Veterans Affairs in Alaska, says the Choice Improvement Act signed by the president on July 31 lets Alaska shift about $20 million between programs in order to restore services that have slowed in recent months.

“Essentially what it did here in Alaska is it gave us the flexibility to get that money moved over from the Choice Act to our non-VA Care Coordination funds, to continue to provide care for veterans here in Alaska through the end of our fiscal year, 30th of September,” Bransky said.

That funding shortfall came in part because of national changes to how the VA pays outside providers for healthcare. Legislation passed a year ago is credited with reducing wait-times, but proved far more expensive than anticipated.

In Alaska, which served as the model for VA reforms, the program backfired, extending wait-times. Officials with the VA say the third-party contractor that handles billing under the Choice Act has pledged more resources in Alaska to reconnect veterans with services that for many were routine.

The Alaska VA also has a new interim director, Dr. Linda Boyle, a 25-year veteran of the Air Force. Boyle announced that on his visit next week the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, Robert McDonald, will attend meetings in Wasilla, Kotzebue, and Point Hope.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, August 5, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 17:41

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

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Shell’s Arctic Icebreaker Returns to Unalaska

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell’s Fennica icebreaker has returned to Alaska. It docked at Dutch Harbor on Tuesday night after enduring repairs and protests in Portland, Oregon.

Gov. Walker Meets with Kuskokwim Tribes on Trust Lands

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Governor Bill Walker was in Akiachak and Tuluskak Tuesday to discuss a lawsuit involving tribal lands into trust, according to officials in Akiachak. Walker’s office kept his first visit to southwest Alaska since his election low profile amid high interest in a case that could reshape jurisdiction on Alaska Native lands.

University of Alaska-Fairbanks Cuts Means $200k Bite to Nome’s Northwest Campus

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Deep cuts across the University of Alaska Fairbanks are spreading to satellite campus across the state—and Nome’s Northwest Campus is no exception. UAF is facing a larger cut for the upcoming year than had been previously expected—in all, a reduction of 31.4 million dollars.


‘Expedited Partner Therapy’ Lowers Gonorrhea Cases in the YK Delta

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

There’s been a big decrease in the number of gonorrhea cases in Southwest Alaska over the past five years, according to the state Department of Health. It comes after local doctors tried a new strategy, called expedited partner therapy.

The Elasmosaur: A Nessie-Like Dino Unearthed Near Talkeetna

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Earlier this summer, paleontologists confirmed that fossilized vertebrae found in the Talkeetna Mountains belonged to an ancient sea creature, the elasmosaur.  This is the first time that remains of the species have been found in the state.

Bering Straits Native Corp. Buys Alaska Industrial Hardware

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Bering Straits Native Corporation is getting into the hardware business—after purchasing Alaska Industrial Hardware, a small Alaska-based chain of industrial construction and equipment stores.

Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum Releases Book On Karluk Archaeological Site

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

One Kodiak Island settlement has served as both a rich archaeological resource and fueled the Alutiiq heritage renaissance now underway in Kodiak. The Alutiiq Museum recently published a book called “Kal’unek” with the University of Alaska Press. The nearly 400-page volume focuses on archaeological discoveries near the community of Karluk and delves into the site’s lasting effects on those involved.

A New Totem Pole Graces Ketchikan Shipyard

Madelyn Beck, KRBD – Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s newest totem pole arrived with a massive crowd Saturday in front of the Vigor shipyard. It’s the first totem pole raised in about two years, and tribal and non-tribal community members alike cheered as it came through the crowd.

Drums of Hazardous Waste Dumped Near Kodiak

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

Someone has dumped drums of hazardous waste in the Buskin River State Park. That’s according to Preston Cruise, an Alaska State Park Ranger, who says they discovered two 55-gallon containers last month.

Categories: Alaska News

A New Totem Pole Graces Ketchikan Shipyard

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 16:30

Photo: KRBD-Ketchikan.

Ketchikan’s newest totem pole arrived with a massive crowd Saturday in front of the Vigor shipyard. It’s the first totem pole raised in about two years, and tribal and non-tribal community members alike cheered as it came through the crowd.

This was the sound of the totem pole being brought from the Vigor warehouse on Saturday to its current prominent position just off of Tongass Avenue.

Hundreds showed up from around town and neighboring communities, including highly regarded members of local tribes and Vigor representatives.

Vigor General Manager Mark Pearson says the idea to carve a totem pole for the shipyard came in the winter of 2013. Pearson added that Vigor members wanted to have more native art to show the connection between the company and its community.

“So it has to be an expression of our willingness to do more for the community, and to include all of the community. Any time we’re exclusionary or any time we’re insensitive to the differences in people, we limit ourselves.”

Former Ketchikan Indian Community member Willie Jackson described what the pole, itself, symbolized.

“Looking at the pole, you’re going to see the raven on top, you’re going to see the strong man right underneath that raven, you’re going to see the eagle…but you’re also going to see the woman at the very base of the pole, which is the strength of who we really are as a matriarchal society.”

Vigor CEO Frank Foti came from Portland for the ceremony, and says that he wants his company to connect with all people, making sure natives and women were included.

“Vigor means effort, energy, good health, renewal.  It’s part of who we are. My color today is pink and part of it is to bring some of the feminine energy into what we do. We have a tremendous group of men and women that are part of what we do. To you I say ‘Háw’aa! T’oyaxs-nsm! GunalchÈesh!” (Thank you in Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit, respectively.)

Photo: KRBD-Ketchikan.

After much struggle to raise the pole with manpower alone, a group of about a dozen people pushed, pulled and heaved the structure into place.

After the new pole was in place, the celebrating continued up at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. There was food, singing and hours of dancing, along with gifts for those who made the pole raising possible.

Metlakatla’s mayor, Audrey Hudson came forward to show her appreciation to those who put so much effort into the raising of this particular totem pole. She was especially grateful to the carver who brought the pole to life.

“I feel blessed to have witnessed a new totem pole today. Totem poles are a powerful symbol for both our peoples. These events serve to strengthen the ancient relationship between the Tlingit and Tsimshian, between Metlakatla and Ketchikan. My hats off to Jon Rowen for his beautiful work.”

Rowen, a Tlingit from Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, thanked Mayor Hudson, his cousin, for the kind words, but said little during the ceremony.

Vigor CEO Frank Foti, however, had a lot to say, mostly out of thanks. Many tribal leaders gave Foti gifts that night, including a hand-carved paddle, abalone inlaid hummingbird bath, and a new nickname: chief.  Foti thanked everyone for their help, especially tribal members who taught him about the culture in the land surrounding his Ketchikan shipyard.

“Connecting what we do and what we build with who we are and the land that we live in is…it’s a constant conflict. We build with organic and inorganic materials. We impact the world we live in. We make it better, we make it worse. We look at why. That’s who we are and who we try to be. We are honored to be somewhat part, and learn to be part of a tribe.”

And then, as the opening remarks drew to a close, it was time for the song and dance, lasting late into the night.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska-Fairbanks Cuts Means $200k Bite to Nome’s Northwest Campus

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 16:10

Deep cuts across the University of Alaska Fairbanks are spreading to satellite campus across the state, and Nome’s Northwest Campus is no exception.

Now in a third year of state funding cuts, the continuing low price of oil has left UAF facing a larger cut for the upcoming year than had been previously expected. In all, it’s a reduction in funding of $31.4 million. Increasing operating costs, paying off debt, and compensation increases mean the cut leaves UAF $20 million dollars short, and to make up the difference, cuts are happening across the board.

Nome’s Northwest Campus. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file.

Northwest Campus director Bob Metcalf says for the most part classes and degree programs are safe, but rural campuses will feel the sting mostly in fixed costs like personnel and facilities.

“All of the rural campuses, we’re taking a little bit bigger cut,” he said, noting proportional cuts will happen in Kotzebue’s Chukchi Campus and Bethel’s Kuskokwim Campus. (A full list of cuts to UAF is available online.)

“As far as the college is concerned,” Metcalf said, “[within] the College of Rural and Community and Development, the campuses are by far the largest expense.”

It’s a roughly $200,000 bite into the Nome campus’ budget. That means further reductions in travel and contract services, and leaving some unfilled jobs empty. Metcalf said that means one administrative staff job. A second job being left vacant, a library technician position, means the newly-refurbished Emily Ivanoff Brown Student Resource Center and Library will be left without anyone to run it.

“It was tough, but we purposefully kept the library position vacant because we knew this was going to happen,” Metcalf said. Now the campus “won’t have anyone to actually provide any library services.”

As a self-professed “lover of books,” Metcalf said the vacancy means shuttering the library, at least for now. “That’s one of the most painful one for me. I would say mothballing is probably the best way to describe it.”

Metcalf himself isn’t immune to the cuts. He and other administrators face unpaid furloughs this year, but it doesn’t mean he’ll work any less; essentially the same hours worked, but less pay. On top of similar budget cuts he expects over the next two years, Metcalf said he also thinks it’s just the beginning of furloughs for employees across the UAF system.

“The message … to everyone else is, this is the beginning of furloughs,” he said. “The university just passed regulations regarding furloughs, this past year. So now they have rules in effect to manage furloughs and the first furloughs are applied to administrators and I imagine that we’re going to see more furloughs through the system in the next year or two.”

Amid the cuts, Northwest Campus is also making an investment: an city land auction in December saw UAF officials dig into the university savings to buy the plots of land the campus has, until now, been renting. An unexpected opportunity, the sale cost about $450,000.

Though the sale isn’t fully complete, Metcalf said it’s a little easier to face the impending cuts knowing UAF’s long-term investment in Nome’s campus.

“The sale was approved … by the Board of Regents, and the whole way up to the very top,” he said. “So it does signify major support for a university here in our region.”

The fall semester at Northwest campus starts Sept. 3. Course listings for the fall classes are online.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Meets With Kuskokwim Tribes on Trust Lands

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 15:40

Governor Walker visited southwest Alaska villages earlier this week. Photo by Governor’s Office.

Governor Bill Walker was in Akiachak and Tuluskak Tuesday to discuss a lawsuit involving tribal lands into trust, according to officials in Akiachak. Walker’s office kept his first visit to southwest Alaska since his election low profile amid high interest in a case that could reshape jurisdiction on Alaska Native lands.

Governor Walker arrived in Akiachak around 10 a.m. and spent a couple of hours meeting with tribal officials and community members before flying to Tuluksak.

Phillip Peter is chairman of the Akiakchak Indian Reorganization Act or IRA council, which opposes any further delays.

“Akiachak already won the case. I said to them we’re not going to drop this issue, it’s already been approved by the court,” said Peter.

The Governor was traveling Wednesday on the North Slope where he was talking with other tribes about trust lands and was unavailable for comment. Press Secretary Katie Marquette says Walker is reaching out to tribes like those in Southwest Alaska.

“…To talk to them about lands into trust issues, he has additional meetings across with other tribes in villages across the state to continue to talk about land into trust issues,” said Marquette.

The Department of the Interior announced new rules last year to allow Alaska tribes to put land into trust. Alaska Native leaders say the change, after years of litigation, brings them one step closer to self-determination.

Trust status for tribal land protects it from taxation and alienation – the taking or sale of land — and gives tribes greater jurisdiction. Under the new rules, tribes could put lands they own into trust, including land they’d purchased, received through an inheritance, or lands transferred to tribes by Native Corporations.

The state has fought the issue over the years. Walker inherited the 2013 lawsuit from the Parnell administration. Most recently, Governor Walker asked earlier this year, for a six-month delay in the case. The state is not talking about its plans now, but Akiachak officials say the Governor wants another six months.

Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general with the Department of Law, says the first six-month extension ended in July, the state then received a 30-day extension and now faces a deadline of August 24th.

“That’s the deadline in place now. Whether the state makes a different decision or wants to withdraw the appeal, that’s yet to be seen and will be determined by August 24th in whatever is filed by that time,” said Mills.

The state can also ask for more time.

After the meeting, described as a first for the community, Akiachak’s Phillip Peter is hopeful that Governor Walker seems willing to work with them.

“The Governor is willing to work with the tribes about the land into trust issues. I was saying to the Governor that we’re going to go forward and work with the state of Alaska on this land into trust issue,” said Peter.

Akiachak and Tuluksak were plaintiffs in earlier litigation to allow trust lands.

Categories: Alaska News

Humpback Researchers See ‘Old Timer’ Again After 44 Years

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 15:16

Whale researchers in Southeast Alaska have broken the record for the longest re-sighting of a humpback whale.

Forty-four years ago, the first sighting of a humpback known as Old Timer coincided with both the end of commercial whaling and the establishment of the Endangered Species Act. The whale’s re-sighting on July 12th in the waters outside Petersburg interacts with a fierce debate within the conservation community over the future status of these mighty marine mammals.

Old Timer’s Flukes captured from the deck of the M/V Northern Song on July 12th. (Jim Nahmens/Nature’s Spirit Photography; shared with permission)

Back in the 1970s it was so rare to see a humpback whale in Frederick Sound, sightings were often dismissed as wild rumors.

Now the area is so abundant on a recent trip the humpback whales turned Cape Fanshaw into a meadow of blowholes and tail flukes.

It was here that Adam Pack, a professor at the University of Hawaii sighted a whale who breaks the record for the longest re-sighting of a humpback. Back on shore in Petersburg, Pack looks out at the Sound from the deck of the Northern Song, the boat he was on when he saw the whale he calls Old Timer.

“I was on the deck out here and Jim Nehmans, my colleague, was adjacent to me and then we saw this one fluke at the same time,” he said. “We just looked at each other and said ‘there’s Old Timer’ and we literally jumped up and high fived right there on the front of the boat.”

Old Timer was first sighted here when Richard Nixon was still president and “American Pie” was Number 1 on the Billboard Top 100. Since then Pack and his fellow researchers have built a whole database of the humpbacks that grace these waters. And to him they’re all individuals with their own quirks and personalities.

He shows me a catalog of all the whales who congregate in Frederick Sound. Pack describes how the whale’s tail fluke is like a humpback’s fingerprint. He points to one: “This is stumpy. He’s missing half a fluke blade,” he tells me. “We’d call that one Crazy Eyes. This is angel fish because that looks like an Angel fish up there, this looks like a mosaic painting.”

Old Timer’s fluke is black with white shading like dots of shaving cream left on a full beard. Pack says the fact he gets to see whales like after 44 years is testament to the protection and conservation the species has been given since 1972.

That protection together with the decision to ban commercial whaling back in 1970 has been so successful, in April the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed that humpback whales in the Pacific should be removed from the endangered species list.

“This recognises the fact that things have improved for the whales,” said Marta Nammack, the Endangered Species Act listing coordinator for NOAA.

Nammack’s heading up the proposals which would take humpbacks off the endangered species list in 10 of the 13 places they reside across the world.

But some wildlife and conservation groups think those proposals spell danger

“It’s premature to remove those protections when so many threats like climate change, ocean acidification and ocean noise are increasing,” said Kristen Monsell, a Staff Attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

She says NOAA’s move is shortsighted. The reason humpbacks are doing so well is because of the endangered species Act.

“The ESA is a very powerful tool that helps to protect, conserve and recover imperiled species,” Monsell said.

But Marta Nammack, from NOAA, says what’s the point in having a list at all if you can’t recognize when an animal no longer belongs on that list.

“The whole goal of the endangered species act is to get them off that list,” she told me. “It’d be nice if we can see some more.”

Recently NOAA opened up a public comment period in order to hear the concerns of groups like Kristen Monsell’s. That ended on July 20th and the organization will now take those comments into account before making a final proposal sometime early next year.

Whatever happens between now and then Adam Pack says seeing whales like Old Timer again and relisting can be celebrated but that doesn’t mean they can be complacent.

“It means we’ve done pretty good but we have to continue to be vigilant,” he said. “We have to make sure that they are there for generations to come.”

And if the whales living in Frederick sound are anything to go by it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere fast.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell’s Arctic Icebreaker Returns to Unalaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 15:11
Shell’s Fennica icebreaker has returned to Alaska. It docked at Dutch Harbor Tuesday evening after enduring repairs and protests in Portland, Oregon.

The Fennica approaches the Delta Western Fuel dock in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor on Tuesday. KUCB/John Ryan photo.

Shell began drilling the top of a well in the Chukchi Sea last week, but it does not have federal permission from the U.S. Interior Department to drill into oil-bearing rocks unless the Fennica is on site. Shell’s bright yellow well-capping stack sits on the stern of the Fennica. It’s to be used in case a well blows out and other splll-prevention methods fail. “Once the Fennica is in theater [in the vicinity of the Chukchi Sea drill sites], then we’ll engage in discussions with the regulator about that permit,” Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino said. The drill sites are more than 1,000 miles north of Dutch Harbor, the nearest deepwater port. The Fennica went to Portland’s Vigor shipyard after tearing a three-foot gash in its hull on an uncharted rock in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor on July 3. The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the incident. Greenpeace activists suspended from a bridge across Portland’s Willamette River and climate-change activists paddling kayaks in the river managed to delay the Fennica’s departure from the shipyard by about 36 hours. Shell has until the last week of September to finish its drilling for this year.
Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum Releases Book About Archaelogical Site

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 14:34

Photo: A picture of the Kal’unek cover by the Alutiiq Museum. Shared via

One Kodiak Island settlement has served as both a rich archaeological resource and fueled the Alutiiq heritage renaissance now underway in Kodiak. The Alutiiq Museum recently published a book called “Kal’unek” with the University of Alaska Press. The nearly 400-page volume focuses on archaeological discoveries near the community of Karluk and delves into the site’s lasting effects on those involved.

The Alutiiq Museum’s Director of Research and Publication, Amy Steffian, says the site at the mouth of the Karluck river – Karluk One – opened to excavation in 1983, when few people knew about Kodiak Island’s Alutiiq history.

“Many people would not even claim their Native heritage because there was so much disenfranchisement and disrespect, and there was this sense that the pre-historic culture that had preceded the people that live today was impoverished,” says Steffian. “That these were poor people who suffered and who didn’t have a vibrant artistic life and certainly when we set out to study this site, it became pretty clear that that was false.”

Steffian says it became extremely exciting to the Alutiiq community to see the objects coming out of the ground and have access to them. She says sharing that was the second part of the book.

“It’s really two stories. It’s the story of the site and its contents and it provides an ethnography, it talks about how people lived 600 years ago, 400 years ago in that time period, but it also tells how this kind of anthropological, archaeological study when done in partnership with the community, when done with support and involvement, can be a very powerful experience.”

She says that the museum worked with many contributors on “Kal’unek,” from researchers to people who had excavated on the site.

“And also with members of the community who’d cared for the collection in the museum as volunteers or as paid employees and we asked everyone to write about a thousand words that summarize their experience so that we could tell the story not only of the site and its history, but of the impact of this research on the community broadly,” says Steffian.

And she says they’ve built a picture about Alutiiq life using a variety of resources, from oral history to Russian texts. As far as the artifacts go, they stand out for being especially well-preserved.

Executive Director April Laktonen Counceller explains the fresh water that leaked into the site helped prevent oxygen from touching the artifacts until excavators could unearth them.

“Thinking about a 500-year-old house where the grass that they used to keep the floor dry and clean still being green and then within just a couple of hours, the oxidation happening,” she says. “Of course, they didn’t collect probably the dirt and the grass, but they collected the more resilient items like the wood masks and the baskets. I mean, it’s just amazing the types of things that survived.”)

Counceller says she was involved in the project through the Kodiak Alutiiq New Words Council, which draws on the knowledge of Alutiiq elders. She says the members who had helped create words for modern technology turned their attention to ancient objects.

“By creating words for items where the words were once lost, we were able to kinda put our mark back on that pre-history and say this is our pre-history,” she says. “Our people have long been discussed by outside archaeologists, anthropologists. For the elders, it was really important to claim ownership over the past by giving back new words to those old items.”

She says they didn’t always invent now words or combine existing ones. For instance, they use applied the modern word for knife to an ancient one.

“That helps show the cultural continuity,” explains Counceller. “That we don’t need to come up with a completely unrelated word. We can use an existing word so that people can leverage the language they already have.”

Counceller says there are many more words listed in the book.

“Kal’unek” stands out as a thorough study of Alutiiq culture and, as Steffian says, “the goal was to make it a joint project where everyone was involved and people of all heritages and interests had access to the material.”

Categories: Alaska News

AquaBounty reporting net losses for first half of 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 12:12

AquaBounty Technologies released a consolidated financial statement reporting a net loss of $3.5 million for the first half of 2015.

The company raised about $3 million dollars through sale of shares to its major investor, which will provide funding through early next year. The balance of cash on hand was reported to be $4.7 million. CEO Ron Stotish says they are spending heavily on marketing efforts and preparations for field trials of the product in foreign markets.

The biotech company has developed a genetically modified salmon that can be farmed to market size in half the time of conventional wild or farmed salmon. Aquabounty has applied for approval to market and sell the product, and believes it will receive FDA approval later this year.

Aquabounty says their product will fill a need for more fish protein which the company believes will come more from aquaculture than from wild fisheries in the future. Many major retailers have said they will not stock the product if it is approved. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski is pushing through legislation to require that AquaAdvantage salmon, which she calls “Frankenfish,” will have labeling indicating it is a genetically modified food product.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Expedited Partner Therapy’ Lowers YK Gonorrhea

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 12:08

YKHC consists of a regional hospital in Bethel. Photo Courtesy of YKHC.

There’s been a big decrease in the number of gonorrhea cases in Southwest Alaska over the past five years, according to the state Department of Health. It comes after local doctors tried a new strategy, called expedited partner therapy.

When he moved to Bethel to take a job as an OBGYN at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in 2009, Dr. David Compton learned the region was having an outbreak of the sexually transmitted infection, gonorrhea.

“I found out that not only did we have a very high baseline rate of sexually transmitted infections – gonorrhea and chlamydia – but we were seeing what we discovered to be was an epidemic of gonorrhea that the CDC was very concerned about and we were very concerned could develop into epidemics of other sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV,” said Compton.

Until 2008, gonorrhea infection rates in Alaska were very low. But In 2009, they detected an uptick everywhere and called it an outbreak across the state.

Dr. David Compton with Nurse Caroline Compton who is also his wife. Photo Courtesy of YKHC.

If left untreated, in women, the bacterial infection can result in pelvic inflammatory disease and serious pregnancy complications. It can lead to infertility in both women and men. Young people, 15-29, are more likely to be infected by gonorrhea because of their sexual behaviors. Alaska Natives are disproportionately affected.

The Centers for Disease Control and the state suggested something called expedited partner therapy – that’s where instead of tracking down partners of infected people and trying to get them to come in for treatment separately, the doctor prescribes or gives the medication to the patient to pass on to their partners.

It took six to nine months, Compton says, to convince everybody involved that it was a good idea. They had to switch from the recommended medication, which is a shot to a pill, Compton says, in order to make it easier to deliver the medication, but it worked.

“What we found when we tried this was that the partners were treated up to three days faster and therefore they had sex with fewer people with the infection and we were able to decrease the rate of the gonorrhea,” said Compton.

By a lot: they reduced new infection by 48 percent in the Southwest region of the state over the past five years.

Graphic by Ben Matheson/KYUK.

They also reduced the duration of test to treatment time for the STI from nearly a week to just two or three days. Now expedited partner therapy has become routine at YKHC in Bethel. It’s also available at village clinics and at the public health office.

That’s something Susan Jones, who works for the state HIV/STD program says was critical to getting the outbreak under control. Now it’s becoming more available throughout Alaska, she says.

“It’s something that has extended across the state in various degrees. One of the things that have helped this along is that the physicians in the state changed their regulations that allowed them to do prescriptions for individuals exposed to STD’s. You don’t have to see the person but you can write a prescription if they’ve been exposed to gonorrhea,” said Jones.

Jones says although the decrease in YK Delta Gonorrhea is hopeful, it’s recently come to light that some is being missed in the routine urine test, so it’s important to ask providers about additional testing, in some cases.

And, although gonorrhea is down, overall in the region, Jones says the Southwest area, along with Northern Alaska, still have the highest rates of gonorrhea in the state and Alaska ranks number four in the nation for the STI.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman injured in bear attack near Sterling

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 12:03

A 20-year-old woman was flown to an Anchorage hospital after she was mauled by a brown bear near a popular recreation spot on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that responders were called to the Upper Skilak Lake boat launch Tuesday after reports that a brown bear had attacked a woman.

Central Emergency Services Capt. Terry Bookey says the woman suffered bites and scratches to her head, back and arm. She was conscious and breathing when emergency personnel reached her and her injuries were not life-threatening.

Bookey says the woman tried to use bear spray but found it did not help.

Categories: Alaska News

Thieves who stole flags from Capitol turn themselves in

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-05 12:00

The three men who climbed the Alaska Capitol and stole the American and Alaska flags have turned themselves in to police.

The Juneau Empire reports that the men turned themselves in Tuesday morning. They were caught on security cameras cutting through the chain-link fence that leads to the building July 31.

Juneau police spokesman Lt. David Campbell says the men were not arrested on the spot, but criminal charges are expected against all three. Police will ask city prosecutors to charge them with misdemeanor larceny and criminal trespass.

Campbell said alcohol was involved in the caper.

Categories: Alaska News

Bird Death Reports Are Up In Homer, Food Sources Possibly To Blame

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 17:38

Bishops Beach – KBBI file photo

The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge is receiving multiple reports indicating a significant increase in dead and dying birds found on beaches in the Homer area over the last two weeks. The reports are coming from beach walkers and local citizen scientists dedicated to surveying sea bird populations. Leslie Slater is the Gulf of Alaska Unit Biologist for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. She says the number of birds reported is in the dozens.

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“So it’s hard to give a real exact number of the normal number. I would say on a given stretch of beach we normally don’t find more than one within a couple of miles stretch.”

Slater says there are a lot of potential reasons for the increase in fatalities but the prevailing cause is likely tied to the birds’ food sources.

“What we’re seeing more precisely is that birds seem to be starving. That’s sort of the ultimate cause of their deaths but something might be happening before that. We might be having a PSP (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) outbreak or another situation called domoic acid where these biotoxins can build up through the food chain and ultimately cause the deaths of these birds.”

These deaths don’t seem to be isolated to Homer’s beaches. There are reports of similar deaths down the Alaska Peninsula and the eastern edge of the Aleutians. Slater says it’s possible they could be related to dead whales found near Kodiak. To narrow down causes of death Slater says the refuge will send carcasses of Homer’s birds to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

“There they have a whole team of expert epidemiologists and other wildlife disease specialists who will be able to examine them and probably come up with a real good conclusion.”

Slater expects the center to receive the carcasses by the end of this week and believes there could be a reply within two weeks. She asks that people continue to call in dead birds with the species name and specific directions to the bodies’ location. She warns the public not to touch dead birds because they could be carrying disease.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, August 4, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 17:37

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

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Happy 225th Birthday, Coast Guard!

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

Today is the 225th birthday of the United States Coast Guard. The new commanding officer of Air Station Kodiak, Captain Mark Morin says he started in his current position in June, but his time as a pilot in the Coast Guard first brought him to Kodiak in the mid-1990s.

Bird Death Reports Are Up In Homer, Food Sources Possibly To Blame

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge is receiving multiple reports indicating a significant increase in dead and dying birds found on beaches in the Homer area over the last two weeks.

Atchak Arraigned For Murder Charge In Death of Roxanne Smart

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Twenty-year-old Samuel Atchak was arraigned in Bethel Superior Court on Tuesday morning. He’s charged in the murder of Roxanne Smart last August.

Murkowski’s Planned Parenthood Vote Has the Left Seething, the Right Unmoved

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Yesterday the U.S. Senate considered legislation that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. Both Alaska senators voted to advance the bill, but it failed on a procedural motion, so the Senate has gone on to other issues.  Meanwhile, though, reaction to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s yes vote, in favor of moving the anti- Planned Parenthood bill, is still ricocheting around Alaska and social media.

Legislative Special Session Cost Nearly $1M

Associated Press

The two special sessions held as lawmakers struggled to agree on a state budget cost more than $886,000.

Artist Casts Bodies in Bethel to Highlight Mental Health

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

An artist is creating life-sized sculptures of Alaskans to tell the story of those who struggle with mental health. Sarah Davies travelled to one of the state’s most vulnerable regions, recently for a project called, ‘100 Stone’. She’s attempting to highlight the toll that depression takes and what people can do to help those in need.


Suspected Capitol Flag Thieves Caught on Tape

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Three men were caught on tape who are suspected of breaking into the construction site at the state Capitol building, scaling the scaffolding and stealing flags off the roof.

Construction to start at Brucejack Mine in British Columbia

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Construction of another British Columbia mine near a river that flows into Alaska could begin within a month. But it’s a small operation sparking fewer concerns on this side of the border than some other projects.

A Year After Mine Disaster, Wrangellites Protest BC Mines

Katarina Sostaric, KSTK – Wrangell

A protest in Wrangell on Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of a mining disaster in Canada and sought to bring attention to mines being developed across the border from Southeast Alaska. About 100 people marched through Wrangell behind a banner that read “Keep the Stikine Clean.”

Cantwell Hydro Projects Draw Skepticism

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Small hydro-electric projects proposed for the Cantwell area are receiving a mixed response.


Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski’s Planned Parenthood Vote Has Left Seething, Right Unmoved

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 17:36

Sen. Lisa Murkowski Photo: KTOO – Juneau.

Yesterday the U.S. Senate considered legislation that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. Both Alaska senators voted to advance the bill, but it failed on a procedural motion, so the Senate has gone on to other issues.  Meanwhile, though, reaction to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s ‘yes’ vote, in favor of moving the anti-Planned Parenthood bill, is ricocheting around Alaska and social media. Alaskans who support abortion rights feel burned while conservatives aren’t giving Murkowski much credit.

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Lisa Jamieson is a supporter of Planned Parenthood. She feels strongly enough about the issue that she wrote Murkowski’s office and asked her not to vote to defund the organization. Jamieson says she used to think of Murkowski as overtly pro-choice, and to say she feels disappointed now is an understatement.

“It’s really very upsetting to me. I feel like – I don’t know how to say it. I feel like she sold her soul,” said Jamieson, a licensed clinical social worker. “I just don’t think she’s being true to the values that she’s always consistently espoused over the years.”

The Senate vote this week was just procedural, and Murkowski says she believes Planned Parenthood does important work, but she says she was appalled by secret video tapes showing officials in the organization talking about harvesting fetal tissue for research. Murkowski says she voted to take up the defunding bill because she wanted to amend it to call for an investigation.

“Let’s make clear for the record what it it is that’s actually happening here,” Murkowski said, after the vote yesterday. “Because if there has been nothing unlawful then do we really want to jeopardize the access to care that some 21,000 people in Alaska have access to? No, I don’t want to.”

Murkowski  says if a Planned Parenthood affiliate is found to have broken the law, she wants to see federal funding to that branch cut off.

You could call her solution a middle road. But abortion rights supporters are taking to Facebook and Twitter to say Murkowski is running to the right, that she’s spinning, that she lacks the courage of her convictions. Rocky Plotnick, a yoga teacher and health educator in Anchorage, says Murkowski’s vote speaks volumes.

“I always considered her to be a moderate Republican and she tended to be supportive of women and pro-choice issues,” she said, “and I think that it’s a huge disappointment.”

Plotnick, who chairs a committee of the Alaska Democratic Party, says Murkowski’s explanation and reasons don’t sway her.

“Because I know that she’s looking for a re-election bid next year and I know she wants to make more conservative voters in Alaska happy,” Plotnick said.

Murkowski has voted for abortion rights, in the U.S. Senate, and before that in the Alaska Legislature. But what’s consistent about her voting history on abortion is that she has repeatedly disappointed both sides. Her annual scorecard with abortion rights groups has swung wildly over the years, from 80 percent to zero and back up again. On the anti-abortion side, National Right to Life’s website says since 2003, Murkowski has voted with them more often than not.

Republican Judy Eledge helped organize an anti-Planned Parenthood rally in Anchorage after the videos emerged. She says she wishes Murkowski’s support for the defunding bill was as strong as Sen. Dan Sullivan’s. He’s a co-sponsor. Eledge says she respects Murkowski’s vote on the procedural motion.

“But I also know she’s very pro-choice,” Eledge said.

Eledge says it’s too early to say whether she’d support Murkowski’s re-election, but she says the senator’s vote to advance the bill won’t affect her decision.

“She and I differ greatly on social issues. So therefore, I guess it would depend on who (the election) was against,” she said.

Before the Senate vote, Alaska Family Action President Jim Minnery urged his supporters to contact Murkowski and tell her to vote yes. He sent one email with the subject line “URGENT – Please Contact Murkowski NOW- Vote Happening Within An Hour!”

Minnery’s not giving kudos to Murkowski now because he says the vote was just procedural, in essence a vote to have vote on the bill.

“And that’s what Lisa Murkowski did,” Minnery said. “And there’s not really much to applaud, to be honest, because that’s why they go to the U.S. Senate is to vote.”

The federal government pays Planned Parenthood $500,000 a year for non-abortion services. For now, the effort to defund the organization is off the Senate agenda, but it’s likely to return in the fall in a fight over government spending bills.

Categories: Alaska News