The statewide wildfire response that’s been operating at peak for more than a month is ramping down. Wet weather over areas of the interior has calmed many fires.
Heavy rain showers have pelted the interior over the last few days, a weather pattern that’s replaced the hot dry conditions that allowed numerous lightning caused blazes to grow earlier in the month. Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says the shift in conditions in many areas has dampened fire activity enough to allow downsizing the suppression operations.
Mowry says the peak force of over 3,000 firefighters has been cut in half, adding that Alaska based crews are being prioritized for work. While many areas have received enough rain to stop fires, Mowry says that’s not the case everywhere.
There are still 285 wildfires that are considered active in the state, with 19 of those staffed. Mowry cautions that even wildfires, where activity has slowed substantially will continue to get attention.
Mowry says some of that work involves rehabilitating fire line, in some cases turning it into trails or access points.
Marcia Dale at Watzituya has been providing nets and moral support to Bristol Bay fishermen for over 30 years.
Watzituya net shop is many things… including a quiet respite for one weary fisherman, who was napping on bean bags owner Marcia Dale had brought out.
“I’ll tell ya, I drop ’em down and I try to take a nap sometimes. Even 20 minutes helps, after a million hours of hanging.”
Dale hung nets for about 100 fishermen this summer. And she rarely relents from her work.
“I can get in a really good rhythm… It’s almost meditating.”
Watzituya was started over 30 years ago in the back of a friend’s net locker. Dale carved out windows to let in the sun and a view of boats on the Naknek River. Eventually the Leader Creek cannery was built up around her.
Now, when fishermen go to Watzituya, they know to bring their own web… and their manners.
“Let’s see, I can’t use any bad words on here… If they need too much babysitting, if they whine, if they’re not grateful, if they’re disrespectful, or bring us crappy lines. Because I can’t hang a line that I think is gonna come apart in the water, and sometimes they don’t wanna spend money on a good line…. And they have to have a sense of humor, or they’re out.”
As for the good ones, Dale says they’ve become like her extended family.
“We just all help each other out, and when I hang a net for them, it’s like I’m fishing it myself… so I take pride in my work.”
Dale used to be a salmon fisherman in Seattle’s Puget Sound. When she got to Bristol Bay she switched to net-hanging full-time…
“Because I can’t ever sit still. And I get a lot of good ideas and I gotta jump up and do ’em and when you’re stuck on a 4-by-4 or 6-by-6 space, you don’t have a lot of room to play.”
And play she does. Dale’s snarky signs and sculptures adorn the ceiling and walls of Watzituya. Also taking up space are dozens of individualized mugs that customers grab when they sit down to talk, about —
“Everything! Every kinda woe or problem… the saddest one is of course boat breakdowns… or fish prices, when they just had a lot of boat repairs and they’re trying to balance it out and figure out if they can afford it. And just the fear of not being able to pay your bills.. and the fact that you just worked really really really hard, and you’re at the mercy of the salmon, you’re sleep deprived, and not making as much money as you hoped.”
For Dale, a little counseling is just part of her job as a net hanger. She doesn’t mind making time to listen to customers. They’re minutes well-spent in Bristol Bay.
“I love it here. It’s a whole ‘nother world, whole ‘nother set of friends and family… and you don’t have to comb your hair.”
Quaffed or unquaffed, Marcia Dale will be back next April to tie knots and keep fishermen afloat.
At the end of the year, Alaska State Troopers says it will close their post in Girdwood. The town’s quest to court a new source of law enforcement is off to a rocky start.
The town of Girdwood is involved in what some might see as a really unfortunate game of hot potato — Girdwood is the potato, and the two parties hoping not to get stuck with it are the Anchorage Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers.
Due to statewide budget cuts, Troopers notified the town of 2,600 year-round residents that they’d no longer be able to provide law enforcement starting next year.
“You know, we’re losing five trooper positions on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s essentially resource-related,” Trooper director Col. James Cockrell says. Troopers statewide are feeling the squeeze of fiscal belt-tightening at the state level.
But furthermore, “(Girdwood is) in the municipality of Anchorage. You know, I certainly feel the muni of Anc. has an obligation to provide them police services there.”
Losing a Trooper post is really bad news for Girdwood because, well, Trooper patrols were free. Like Colonel Cockrell says, though, Girdwood technically falls within the municipality of Anchorage. But the town has to pay for Anchorage Police Department patrols.
Sam Daniel is on the Girdwood Board of Supervisors — which is sort of like a town council — they’ve taken on this issue. But they’re finding that APD doesn’t police the same way the Troopers do.
“If we were to keep the state Troopers model in Girdwood — the state troopers model allows for one officer and one car to be on duty. APD, as I understand it, both the municipality and the union require that each officer have their own car, and that there be a minimum of two officers on shift.”
If you look at Trooper incident logs for Girdwood the past few years, you mostly see a lot of speeding tickets, a couple of reckless driving citations, a handful of DUIs — crime stats portray it as a pretty safe place, which is why the Girdwood board is asking for just one Anchorage police officer on the weekends — Friday through Sunday.
So far the answer is no. Paying for police service is not an ‘a la carte’ type of purchase.
Here’s how city manager Mike Abbott put to to the Girdwood board at a working session on Monday:
“The police department doesn’t feel like they can provide that sort of level of service that you described, both from a staffing point of view as well as from how they’re organized and how they’re trained… and the way they operate, that doesn’t fit with how they provide police force in Anchorage. At this point, their recommendation is they not be tasked with that assignment,” Abbot says. “But they’re not the final decision makers on that.”
If Girdwood was to buy into full APD coverage, it would mean an added tax through a voter-approved mill rate. The price tag is considerable.
“It’s maybe a 30 percent increase to the property tax payers,” Daniel says. If you own the average single-family home in Girdwood (about $350,000), the 2.9 mill rate adds about $1,000 to your yearly tax bill.
The earliest Girdwood could even vote on such a tax would be next April. If they can’t extend Trooper coverage in the meantime, it means APD will cover Girdwood, but on a very sparse, emergency-only, kind of basis.
“And it would be for major crimes – such as an officer down, or a shooting, or something like that,” Daniel says.
For now, Girdwood is exploring a number of different options. There’s talk of a neighborhood watch. They’ve even cast a line to Whittier about contract policing. A lot of their leads are dead ends, but the town is still trying.
In Anchorage, the city is lending resources in pitching Girdwood’s case to the governor to keep Troopers on the job.
It’s been a festive day in the northwest Arctic community of Kivalina today as residents celebrate the grand opening of a new store. It’s an end to eight months of struggle with limited supplies after Kivalina’s store burned to the ground December 5th.
Janet Mitchell is Kivalina’s city administrator. She says the village doesn’t have firefighting equipment so men cut a hole in the ice of the local lagoon and pumped water on the fire, mainly to keep it from spreading to nearby teacher housing. Mitchell says a temporary store was established but it was a very small space.
“They ran out of things very quick and that posed a difficulty for young babies or young families, families that need formula.”
Mitchell says eggs cost more than $8 a dozen and pilot bread was $7 because supplies were so limited. Mitchell says the temporary store was in a storage structure built in the early 1900s and mainly sold staples of eggs, flour and rice. Mitchell says Seattle-based Alaska Native Industries Cooperative Association, or ANICA, owns the store. The new store is two or three times bigger than the old structure, she says, and today company officials flew in for the grand opening, serving hamburgers and hot dogs to the community.
Kivalina’s population of 468 has a high percentage of young people. Janet Mitchell says close to half are 18 or under and many of the young people don’t care for traditional foods. Subsistence resources are also harder to get in a changing climate. Mitchell says the ice went out in early June and with it went the subsistence mainstay, ugruk, or bearded seal.
“It’s our winter food. That we didn’t have an opportunity to hunt the bearded seal. So it’s going to be a very, very lean year in terms of Native foods.”
Mitchell says her large extended family normally harvests between 15 and 20 large adult seals. This year they got one small seal. She says less than 20 have been harvested by the entire community and they haven’t seen many caribou either. She says even older Kivalina residents who normally rely heavily on subsistence hunting will have to include more western food in their diet.
“The store is going to be very important to have if we don’t have the capability of hunting the foods we normally do, we’re gonna need the foods from the store.”
Although she prefers Native food, Mitchell says she buys supplies at places like Costco when she can get to Anchorage.
“But we have families that number up to 20 in one household so that can be quite a challenge to keep them fed, especially when they don’t hunt.”
Mitchell says her community continues to fight development to protect subsistence food but the store will be increasingly important in the future.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s big energy policy bill, if it passes, would be the first since 2007. Several national energy bills have washed up on the rocks since then. Murkowski’s strategy is to keep controversies out of the package, and it was tested at a Senate Energy Committee meeting this morning.
Going into it, Murkowski, who chairs the panel, faced a stack of 94 proposed amendments to the bill. Murkowski and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, all but pleaded with the other senators not to stuff the bill with features that might become poison pills. Murkowski warned that she’d vote against even amendments she favors if she thought they’d sink the bill.
“I would hope that members would instead choose to offer and withdraw some of these amendments to help preserve this bipartisan work product,” she said.
The practice of “offer and withdraw” allows a senator to go on record and make a speech about an amendment without weighing down the bill. And that was, largely, the order of the day. The committee cleared 25 amendments in Part 1 of the mark-up process. One of the amendments that did get a vote was Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s push for energy efficiency standards for power and gas utilities.
“If we are really serious about telling ourselves and the country that we are serious about reducing the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere, this is a way to do it,” he said.
Franken, of Minnesota, says more than 20 states have already adopted these kinds of efficiency standards and they’ve been very successful.
Murkowski told him those laws should remain at the state level.
“We talk about the states being the laboratories. That’s the way it should be,” she said. “I am concerned, though, that if we have a new federal mandate … you upend the good work that comes out of the states.”
Franken appeared frustrated. He says if the states are the laboratories for Congress on this, the lab results are in already.
“Why don’t we take yes for an answer?” he said. “Why don’t we take ‘It works’ for an answer?”
His amendment failed, along party lines. Sponsors withdrew other amendments relating to rural community subsidies, alternative energy and permits for cross-border pipelines. At the end of the day, no controversial amendment were attached to the bill but several senators said they’d raise theirs again on the Senate floor, assuming the bill passes the committee.
Federal laws tying marijuana money with money laundering has banks turning away marijuana businesses.
The Alaska Journal reports while marijuana businesses will be able to get licenses and make sales starting May 2016 in Alaska, the cash involved is still taboo for banks.
A designation at the same level of heroin in the Controlled Substances Act means bankers don’t want to take the risk of handling money from pot businesses.
Alaska Marijuana Industry Association vice-president Brandon Emmett is an industry representative on Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board.
He says legislation is being considered to handle the issue. In the meantime, some Colorado banks are forgoing federal insurance protection to sidestep potential money laundering violations.
The wreckage of a sightseeing plane that crashed near Ketchikan last month, killing all nine people onboard, has been recovered.
Clint Johnson, chief of the Alaska regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board, says the wreckage was removed from the steep, rugged terrain over the weekend, loaded onto a barge and transported to a locked hangar at Ketchikan on Monday. The next step is for the investigation team to reconvene there.
The plane was carrying eight cruise ship passengers on a shore excursion to Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan when it crashed June 25. The pilot also died.
Authorities had been waiting for a heavy-lift helicopter to become available to remove the wreckage.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
A woman is dead after corrections officers say they saw her shoot herself in the head when the prison didn’t meet her demands for inmates to be released.
KTUU-TV reports that Alaska State Troopers were called just before 5 p.m. Monday to the Spring Creek Correctional Center when a 31-year-old woman with a gun approached the prison.
Troopers say the woman said she would kill herself if the convicted killers were not released. She then shot herself in the head. She was still breathing when she was taken to Seward Hospital and was pronounced dead at 9 p.m.
An autopsy will be performed by the State Medical Examiner’s Office.
Another member of Anchorage’s homeless community died early Tuesday morning. It’s the sixth such death in the last two weeks.
Lisa Sauder is the executive director of Beans Cafe. She says the organization was notified this [Tuesday] morning that a client had passed away overnight.
“She was found unresponsive on the sidewalk on 3rd Avenue, near Beans Cafe,” Sauder said. “It’s a devastating loss for our staff and volunteers and clients to lose six people in this short of a time frame.”
Emergency personnel responded to a cardiac arrest call around 3 a.m. Tuesday at 3rd and Karluk, near Beans Cafe.
The deceased has not been publicly identified yet, but Sauder says she was well known among Beans Cafe staff and other clients and volunteers of the shelter.
“We worked with her extensively. And, you know, it’s very sad to lose someone no matter what the circumstances,” Sauder said. “This, for many reasons, was particularly tragic for us and our thoughts and prayers go out to her friends and family.”
Sauder says it’s alarming to lose such a large number of people in the homeless community in such a short span of time, especially during the summer.
“I think it should cause a lot of concern among the entire community, because ultimately this is a community issue and Beans Cafe cannot address it alone,” Sauder said. “We really need the entire community to help us and help us, and to bring forth solutions and assistance.”
Sauder says, in light of the homeless deaths, she has met with the mayor’s office to form a plan to address the problem.
Elections Director Resigns Abruptly at Lt. Gov’s Request
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
A veteran election official resigned abruptly on Friday at Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s request. The Walker-Mallott administration was Gail Fenumiai’s third as head of the state Division of Elections.
Berkowitz Transition Report Draws on Community, Corporate Solutions Alike
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
Ethan Berkowitz took over as mayor of Anchorage almost a month ago, and on Monday, his administration released an ambitious report on its aims for the next three years.
Erosion Along the Matanuska Continues to Imperil Homes
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Erosion along the Matanuska River is worsening near Sutton. State and Borough workers are responding as another home is at risk.
Dead Fish, Wildlife In Aleutians May Be Victims Of Toxic Algae Outbreak
John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska
Scientists have been receiving reports of dead and dying whales, birds and small fish in the Aleutian Islands. They think it might be from toxic algae proliferating, due to unusually warm ocean temperatures.
Forgiving Without Forgetting: A Tlingit Village Up in Smoke
Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau
In 1962, the Douglas Indian Village was set ablaze to make way for a new harbor. This month marks 53 years since the city displaced households of Tlingit T’aaku Kwáan families. Little to no restitution has ever been offered.
Denali Wolf Hunt Nears Opening, Despite Low Population Numbers
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Wolf hunting season is scheduled to open next month in and around Denali National Park, despite record low wolf numbers. This spring, Park biologists counted fewer than 50 Denali wolves, heightening a long running battle over the popularly viewed animals.
Groups Seek Halt to POW Wolf Hunting, Logging
Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan
Citing a state study that shows a sharp decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands, six conservation groups have asked state and federal officials to take steps to help preserve the remaining animals.
The state Department of Transportation is taking emergency action to start work on protecting the Glenn Highway from Matanuska River waters North of Sutton. State Representative Jim Colver says he viewed the damage from river erosion Monday, and has requested emergency help from DOT.
“Unfortunately, the whole force of the main stem of the river is movinig over to that bank. It’s cutting through woods and going in an area it has never been before, and it is advancing to the road very quickly. The idea is to take action before the road is gone.”
The Matanuska River has been steadily carving a channel on the north bank near Sutton, resulting in extensive erosion which is affecting homes along the riverbank. Colver says the river water is coming dangerously close to the Glenn Highway, and is slapping against the highway right of way already.
The erosion is affecting seven area homes.
Wolf hunting season is scheduled to open next month in and around Denali National Park, despite record low wolf numbers. This spring, Park biologists counted fewer than 50 Denali wolves, heightening a long running battle over the popularly viewed animals.
Spotting a wild wolf in Denali National Park is a coveted sight many visitors haven’t enjoyed in recent years as the park’s wolf population has dwindled. Some of that’s attributed to hunting and trapping take just outside the park’s north east boundary where the animals commonly range. Anchorage biologist Rick Steiner and other conservationists contends harvest restrictions are the only tool wildlife managers have to boost Park wolf numbers.
Steiner and others have asked the Park Service and the state to cancel wolf hunting seasons set to begin August 10th. Steiner says seven or fewer Denali wolves are taken annually, mostly outside the park.
State Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotton issued an emergency closure of spring wolf hunting in May on state lands northeast of the park. Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale says ties that specifically to overlapping hunting seasons.
Dale says there was concern about bear hunters also taking wolves, upping the normally low Denali area harvest. Dale attributes the Denali wolf decline primarily to natural causes.
The Board of Game has turned down repeated emergency petitions requesting re-instatement of a wolf protection zone along the Park’s northeastern edge, maintaining there’s no biological emergency. Meanwhile, Steiner and other conservationists also continue to eye a more permanent solution.
Steiner says Denali wolf advocates met with Governor Bill Walker last month, and the solution seemed to resonate, adding that the Park Service is also on board.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has asked the state’s Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai to resign.
Claire Richardson is special assistant to Mallott. She says they accepted Fenumiai’s resignation on Friday.
“There’s nothing personal in the request,” Richardson said. “The lieutenant governor would like to move in some new directions with the Division of Elections and it was felt that it was time for different leadership.”
Fenumiai is being replaced by Nome’s city manager, Josephine Bahnke. She’ll start in October.
In the meantime, election supervisor Lauri Wilson is acting director.
The Division of Elections is the only division under the lieutenant governor’s office.
Fenumiai has been director of elections since 2008, and has 10 years of prior experience in the division.
Unalaska got a visit from a former senator on Wednesday.
Former U.S. Senator Mark Begich came to town to do some public relations work for Grant Aviation.
Begich now runs a five-person P.R. and consulting firm called Northern Compass Group.
The airline hosted what it called a town hall meeting on how to improve its service in the Aleutians.
“You cannot determine the long-term plan of Grant Aviation without knowing what the communities need and want and then prioritizing what’s real and possible,” Begich said.
Begich and Grant Aviation president Bob Lowrance are traveling to all the communities Grant flies to, including eight hubs like Dutch Harbor and more than 50 villages.
“We’re going everywhere,” Begich said.
A possible side benefit of the tour for Begich is face time with lots of Alaskan voters.
In an interview with Politico in May, Begich said he absolutely misses his old job as senator, and he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a run against Senator Lisa Murkowski next year.
Begich told Politico, “you never say never in politics.”
Lowrance hired Begich’s firm to help Grant Aviation win back customers after a prolonged period of poor performance. Lowrance has called it a “two-year downward run.”
Grant Aviation took over rural Alaskan routes from PenAir in 2012. Lowrance said Grant didn’t have enough planes to handle the load. The result was canceled flights, canceled service, even lawsuits from airports over unpaid bills.
“PenAir was losing money, doing what we’re doing, and I don’t think anybody had sat down and thought how should it work.”
Lowrance said Grant’s safety hasn’t suffered, but many other aspects of the business have.
“Grant has always been safe. We have probably the best safety record in the state of Alaska for a carrier like ourselves. In terms of reliability, we haven’t done as good a job. We’ve had many flights canceled, many flights delayed.”
Bad weather will always delay some flights in rural Alaska. But Lowrance, president of Grant Aviation for a year and half, promised Unalaskans gathered at the Burma Road Chapel that a company overhaul will bring better service.
Grant has been investing in new planes and new software and hiring new people.
An April 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Transportationshows Grant Aviation holding contracts for $2.3 million in annual subsidies for flights out of Dutch Harbor and Dillingham under the federal Essential Air Service program. The program subsidizes airlines that fly to 163 rural communities nationwide that otherwise might not have any scheduled air service. Grant receives other subsidies from the U.S. Postal Service.
Despite the subsidies, Lowrance said Grant is not making any money, and he said passengers can’t afford any fare increases.
Lowrance said Grant plans to operate more efficiently, allowing fares to come down.
At least one idea from Unalaska residents at the meeting garnered a promise of change.
Ron Kell asked for a passenger bill of rights when the company doesn’t perform as promised in its new overhaul procedures.
“Are you going to post a customer bill of rights, like some of the other places have, so that if your station manager forgets to open the book, the customer can see it?” Kell asked.
“I haven’t thought of it that way. That’s a great idea,” Lowrance replied. “We will put that on the list and we will do that.”
But anyone hoping for cheaper service from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage shouldn’t hold their breath. Lowrance said the planes Grant Aviation operates just can’t compete on such long-haul trips.
The University of Alaska Southeast has announced Priscilla Schulte as this school year’s interim provost, while the search for a permanent provost is expected to begin in August.
The Juneau Empire reports that Schulte, who is director of the university’s Ketchikan campus, is expected to serve as interim provost until the beginning of summer 2016, when a permanent provost is to be named.
The university’s former provost, Rick Caulfield, became chancellor this year.
Schulte will live in Juneau as she fulfills her new role and will occasionally return to Ketchikan, where she will remain as director.
Schulte holds a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico. According to her UAS biography, some of her specializations include multicultural education, Alaska Native culture and sociocultural change.
Environmental activists in Portland are protesting the arrival of the Fennica, a vessel that Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to use in its Arctic offshore drilling project after it’s repaired.
The damaged ship, a 380-foot icebreaker, arrived at a Swan Island dry dock about 3 a.m. Saturday. The icebreaker is a key part of Shell’s exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska’s northwest coast. It protects Shell’s fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil.
The Fennica was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull.
About 75 “kayaktivists” and other protesters in boats were on the water Saturday afternoon, near where the Fennica is docked, holding a peaceful on-the-water rally against arctic offshore drilling, activist Mia Reback said. No arrests have been made.
Alaska State Troopers say a Chevak man has admitted to killing Roxanne Smart last summer. The announcement was made Saturday through an online dispatch that they had arrested 20-year-old Samuel Atchak, of Chevak.
Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers says investigators were waiting on lab results.
“After almost a year-long investigation we got some lab results back that had to be analyzed and after we got those results we were able to go back into the community of Chevak and do some follow-up interviews. Once we were done with the interviews we were able to make an arrest in the Roxanne Smart Homicide. I’m sure it’s been a very hard time for friends and family as they’ve waited through the course of it, but with these types of investigation we need to make sure that we’re doing everything the right way,” said Peters.
The arrest took place Friday just before 1 p.m. It followed an interview by investigators on Thursday. 19-year-old Smart was found dead outside the Chevak Health Clinic last August, with multiple stab wounds to her chest and neck.
Smart’s family and friends had been campaigning online since the time of her death to keep her case from getting cold.
During a follow-up investigation this past Thursday Troopers with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation interviewed Atchak in Chevak. According to charging documents Atchak said he placed Smart in a “choke hold” until she lost consciousness and he sexually assaulted her. But Atchak denied killing Smart at that time.
Troopers arrested Atchak Friday on charges of first-degree sexual assault and second-degree assault. During the arrest, the charging documents say, he admitted he stabbed Smart the night he sexually assaulted her. He now also faces a charge for first-degree murder.
Atchak was arraigned Saturday. He’s being held at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center in Bethel without bail. His arrest comes eleven months after Smart was found dead in Chevak on August 27th, 2014.
Jessica Ayuluk, who is a resident of Chevak and an administrator for the facebook page Justice For Roxanne Smart, said through an online message Saturday she was glad to hear about the arrest.
“I’m happy and relieved that the person who did this to her is finally caught and put away. I’m more happy that her family can get closure, now,” said Ayuluk.
Scientists have been receiving reports of dead and dying mammals, birds and small fish in the Aleutian Islands. They think the killer might be toxic algae proliferating in unusually warm ocean waters.
“All the signs are that we’re having a major harmful algal bloom event,” Bruce Wright with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association said.
Wright said it could be the algae that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning; the algae that generate domoic acid are another possible culprit.
Melissa Good with University of Alaska Fairbanks has been looking for the microscopic green suspects around Unalaska.
“They’re a suspected cause for some of the mass deaths we’ve been seeing–the 10 fin whales that were spotted dead off of Kodiak Island; I know Adak has seen a lot of dead birds, King Cove, I believe [birds in] False Pass have been washing up. We don’t know the cause of that yet either,” Good said. “In the past, we’ve seen incidences where sand lance, a little plankton-eating fish, was accumulating these high toxins from these algae in their system. The birds were eating sand lance, these small forage fish, and were dying. No one that I know of is sure what happened.”
This week, Good has been taking water samples around Unalaska and shipping them off to labs for full analysis. Even just looking in her microscope on the desk in her office on Thursday, she found large numbers of the domoic acid algae in one of her recent water samples.
She’s also sampled the stomach and flesh of a Steller’s sea lion that washed up dead recently on Unalaska’s Summer Bay, north of the town landfill.
“I didn’t see anything external that looked like a cause of death. Sometimes, there’s gunshot wounds, ship strikes. Those things can be very obvious,” she said after looking over the 10-foot carcass on Thursday.
She thinks toxic algae might have killed this sea lion. One that washed up dead last year near here had very high levels of PSP.
In addition to the stomach, scientists sometimes study fluids in the eye for algal toxins and the whiskers. But eagles had already gotten to the eyes, and someone, Good presumed an Alaska Native with permission to use part of the protected species for materials to decorate a traditional bentwood hat, had removed the whiskers.
Standing next to the fresh carcass, Good said people in the Aleutians should be wary of eating clams or mussels right now.
“We just don’t know if they’re going to be toxic or not,” she said. “You’re taking a lot of risks there.”
Unlike bivalves (such as mussels and clams), crabs don’t retain the toxins in their meat, but in their digestive tracts. Scientists warn people to remove the dark viscera from crab before cooking it.
Shellfish in King Cove and False Pass recently have tested for twice the level of toxins that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says is safe.
Potentially harmful algae are always present in seawater, but it’s only when they bloom into dense concentrations that they can cause much harm to the things that eat them.
One of the largest harmful algal blooms ever recorded has been taking place this year from California up through British Columbia. Officials in three states have closed beaches to razor clamming and other types of shellfish harvesting.
Researchers think the West Coast bloom, and recent events in Alaska, are related to unusually warm water temperatures.
“We are seeing large blooms throughout Alaska, of different species,” Good said. “When you get warmer water temperatures, they became more prolific, they bloom. You’re getting a high concentration of algae.”
Good says paralytic shellfish poisoning appears to be getting more common in the Aleutians due to increasing water temperatures.
She’s waiting for results on her samples for more conclusive answers. She and Bruce Wright both ask anyone noticing sick or dead predators in the Aleutians to report them. And if you see dead sand lance fish, put a half dozen in a zip-lock bag, freeze it and send it to them.
Matanuska River Claims A Home Plus 3 Other Structures
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Matanuska River has taken a toll on personal property in the Sutton area in recent days. A 16-by-20 foot home has fallen into the river, and three other outbuildings have toppled into the water, so far.
Mallott: US-Canada Commission Won’t Take Up BC Mines
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Alaska critics of British Columbia mines probably won’t get any help from a cross-boundary panel they’ve been lobbying to take on their concerns.
Despite Stiff Competition, Alaska Airlines Logs Record Profits
Tom Banse, Northwest News Network
The parent company of Alaska Airlines reported its highest quarterly profit in its history Thursday despite stiff competition.
Fairbanks Voters To Decide on 5% Pot Tax
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
City of Fairbanks voters will consider a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana. The city council has approved putting the proposed retail tax before voters in the October municipal election.
Bethel Appeals ABC Rejection of Liquor License Protest, Could Bring Decision To A Vote
Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel
The Bethel City Council is appealing the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s rejection of their protest of the Bethel Native Corporation’s package liquor store application. The council met in executive session Thursday evening for three and a half hours.
In Remote Alaska, High-Speed Internet Comes By Land – Not Satellite
Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena
A plan to bring land-based high speed internet to the western Interior is moving forward this summer.
Village of Wales Starts Polar Bear Patrol to Protect Community
Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome
Representatives from four agencies arrived in the community of Wales recently, equipped with 40 pizzas and a slideshow on polar bear deterrents.
49 Voices: Verna Haynes of Anchorage
Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage
Verna Haynes runs the Anchorage store Obsession Records with her husband Steve. The born-and-raised Alaska couple had almost 20,000 LPs at one point — that’s when they decided they should share their love of vinyl with everyone.
AK: An 80-Year Love Affair With Flowers Still Blossoms
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
Eighty years ago Verna Pratt was more comfortable with the violets and buttercups of rural Massachusetts than with people. But her early affection for flowers led her on an unexpected path to notoriety more than 3,000 miles away.
The Matanuska River has taken a toll on personal property in the Sutton area in recent days. One 16-by-20 foot home has fallen into the river, and three other outbuildings have also toppled into the water, so far. Matanuska Susitna Borouogh Assemblyman, Jim Sykes, who represents the area, says the problem is caused by water from the river seeking a new path, due to gravel piling up in its normal channel.
“I’m standing on the river where the house just recently washed away, looking downstream, and there is a pretty good ripping current going along right here near the shore. And what I see downstream is water washing into the trees, and creating it looks like an island, and just working its way inward.”
The affected area is about six miles north of Sutton, where the Glenn Highway runs close to the river’s northern bank. Sykes says the water level is not overly high, but glacial melt is adding to the river’s strength. The gravel piling up on the south side of the river has pushed the water to the north side, and that is threatening homes close to the north banks.
Casey Cook, the Borough’s Emergency Services manager, says six families are on alert that they may have to move quickly.
“So they need to have a plan, and they need to have all their important pictures and documents and those types of things that they don’t want to worry about loosing. So they can be made ready to go or waiting in the car so they can leave is the water gets higher or continues to erode down.”
Cook says there are no injuries from the erosion. He says the people who may be evacuating have made plans for places to stay, and the Borough does not have to open an emergency shelter.
Sykes says the braided Matanuska River has caused erosion of its banks in the past. He say the Borough does not have sufficient funds or the ability to do a prevention project that is likely to succeed.