Alaska News

‘Among Wolves’ Details Researcher’s Lifelong Passion

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-11 16:27

The University of Alaska Press recently published a book detailing one biologist’s lifelong effort to chronicle the lives of wolves that live inside the boundary of Denali Park and Preserve.

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Marybeth Holleman was a friend of Doctor Gordon Haber, who was killed in a plane crash in Denali in 2009. “I was just struck by his incredible knowledge and his passion for his research subject, wolves,” she said. Holleman spent the last few years digging through forty years’ worth of Haber’s field notes, journals and even tweets. She compiled Haber’s work into a book, “Among Wolves”.

Holleman will present her book as part of a Summer Speaker Series at the Geophysical Institute on the UAF campus tonight at 7 p.m.

Marybeth Holleman first heard Gordon Haber talk about wolves and his research thirty years ago.
“He just retained that sense of wonder about his subject that really makes other people light up about it. It really gets you excited about it too. That was my first memory of Gordon,” she said.

Holleman soon became friends with Haber. He has been described as ‘cantankerous’ and ‘prickly.’ He first came to Alaska in the 60’s for the same reason many twenty-somethings do: the wilderness. Later, he became an outspoken biologist, questioning the state’s wildlife management methods, but Holleman says that’s because he was also one of the few wolf experts in Alaska.

“People don’t like people who say things they don’t want to hear and Gordon had an unassailable experiential authority in wolf behavior and wolf family structure,” Holleman said. “So he drew some conclusions from his research and a lot of people in Alaska don’t want to hear them because it goes directly against a lot of the predator control and wildlife management that goes on in the state.”

Haber spent his career monitoring the wolf packs of Denali National Park and Preserve.

“His primary conclusion was that you can’t manage wolves by the numbers because the functional unit of a wolf isn’t one wolf, it’s a family group of wolves. That social group, that dynamic is the core,” Holleman said. “So if you say ‘I’ve got so many wolves I’ve got to kill,’ that’s not really the way to manage them. The way to manage them is to look at that family structure and manage them that way.”
Holleman’s book outlines Haber’s other discoveries. For example, why DO wolves howl?

“Wolves howl for a lot of reasons. Wolves howl to let each other know where they are. They also howl simply for the joy of it. Sometimes they would howl with the plane engine overhead as sort of a resonance. They also howl when in distress,” Holleman said.

As an anthropologist might spend years chronicling the habits of a specific cultural group, Holleman says Haber spent countless hours in blinds tracking wolves, chronicling everything from their social habits, to how they eat.

“Gordon talks about an old timer who hated wolves because wolves would take down the animal and eat out its guts and just leave it. He found an animal with its guts eaten out and the rest of the animal left. But Gordon said actually the wolves will scavenge a winter-killed moose but the moose is so frozen that they only eat so much of it and then they come back later for the rest, unless they’re disturbed by a human, which is what happened in that instance,” she said.

Holleman’s book includes stories from people who ran into Haber during his time as a biologist for the National Park Service, including one from mountain climber Johnny Johnson, whose food cache was buried in an avalanche in 1972. Haber had hamburgers and french fries dropped to Johnson’s climbing team.

Holleman also includes snippets from Haber’s Twitter feed: “Raw, wild beauty at the den tonight, with the wolves howling a great chorus for me as rolling thunder from a passing storm shakes the valley” tweeted Haber, four months before his death.

“He could write for a scientific audience very clearly: his research reports and articles in Conservation Biology and other journals,” Holleman said. “And he could write pretty astonishingly concise letters to the Board of Game and other entities that he was communicating with and then he could writer for a general audience. His blog and these tweets really showed that.”

Holleman’s epilogue paints a dark picture for the future of Denali’s wolf population. The Park Service has reported declining numbers in recent years, but biologists there maintain that trend isn’t out of the ordinary. But the issue remains politicized. Environmental groups continue to clash with the Board of Game. In 2010, they set a six-year moratorium on all proposals regarding the Denali-area wolf population.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Native Leader Don Wright Passes Away

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-11 16:26

Alaska Native leader Don Wright has died. He was 84 when he passed away at home on July 5.

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Wright was instrumental in developing the tribal lands compensation legislation, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1971. Wright was leader of the Alaska Federation of Natives that year.

Wright helped organize AFN during the 1960s, and fought to get the best settlement possible for Alaska Natives. Wright and other Native leaders traveled to Washington, DC to lobby for the law, even though funds were scarce. Wright often used his own money for airfare and expenses, since AFN in its early days had no funds at all. Despite the odds, Wright was successful in getting Nixon administration backing for the settlement.

ANCSA compensated Alaska Natives for loss of lands and established regional and village Native corporations with the right to select 44 million acres of land and appropriated $962.5 million to them.

Wright was born in Nenana in 1929. He became a pilot and established his own air service. He later formed a construction company, and helped build airstrips and roads in the Interior. He also helped build the first oil field camp at Prudhoe Bay.

Wright’s family says he was a champion for Alaska. His funeral will take place July 26th in Nenana.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Bear Aware

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-11 16:25

Naturalist Steve Merli shares a little known fact – a bear has never been documented harming a person that’s in a group of five or more. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For naturalist Steve Merli, bear education isn’t just about staying alive. The way he sees it, knowing how to behave in bear country allows Alaskans to explore wilderness more deeply.

Merli works with Discovery Southeast, a Juneau organization that connects kids with nature programs.

Earlier this month, KTOO’s Lisa Phu joined campers for a lesson that had some questioning their assumptions about bear encounters.

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Discovery Southeast campers walk down Auke Lake trail. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Part of Steve Merli’s job is to change these sorts of perceptions:

“In some comics, like Tundra, it shows bears, like, they just go up to a campsite and eat the person,” one camper says.

Another says, “I have not heard any show that says bears are good in any way.”

He tells the campers more people are attacked by dogs than bears. He also says a bear has never been documented harming a person that’s in a group of five or more.

“So we’re already in a good spot. If a bear passes by, we’re already in a group and a bear is not going to go, ‘That one looks tasty.’ It’s not going to do that to us. It’s just going to go, ‘Woah, there are a lot of humans, I’m outta here,’” Merli says.

Merli says going off-trail makes him become “more focused.” (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

But he also reminds them, “There are lots of bears that live around here, so every time you’re outside of a building, a school, your house, you’re in bear country.”

Merli moved to Juneau in 1981. He’s been an educator for Discovery Southeast or 25 years. During the school year, he brings elementary students outside into nature. He teaches them how to identify landforms, animal tracks and creatures that live in the water.

In the summer, he joins the campers on hikes and talks about bears. He’s excited to take them beyond the beaten Auke Lake trail.

Merli picks a spot and heads right, up a steep hill.

“When we go off trail, it always kind of wakes up something inside me, like I become more focused because I don’t know what’s on the other side of the hill,” Merli says.

The campers follow, walking through a thick growth of ferns and moss and lots of devil’s club.

Campers maneuver around the forest of devil’s club surrounding Auke Lake Trail. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“Oh yeah, you’re just going to dance with the devil’s club,” Merli adds.

He gathers the campers in one spot and points to an imaginary bear about a hundred yards away.

“So I’m coming up the hill and I look up and there’s a bear over there and the first thing I’m going to do is, I’m just going to stop,” Merli says.

The next step is to assess the situation.

“Does that bear know I’m here? And by and large, if it’s that close, that bear probably knows I’m here, so I’m going to have a conversation with it,” Merli says.

He doesn’t suggest raising your voice and looking big and scary, but to simply talk with the bear, like this, “I was just coming up this hill, Bear, and I know that I’m in your living room and I’m just going to check out going back down the way I came because this is your place.”

Merli tells the campers to keep talking as you slowly back away. The bear could stay where it is or move away itself.

Brooke Sanford role plays being a bear. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Twelve-year-old Landon Jueong learned a different way to deal with bears from his grandfather.

“To scare away the bear by acting big and making the bear not want to go around you or mess with you,” Landon says.

After taking turns roleplaying bear and hiker, practicing Merli’s method, both Landon and 12-year-old Brooke Sanford prefer it.

“I think it was a good way because you are avoiding the bear. You weren’t going towards it or scaring it away,” says Brooke, who has seen bears before.

“I don’t think I’d be afraid of bears in a group, but like alone, if you’re just walking through the woods alone, it might be a little bit scary,” she says.

Landon has this advice for anyone who’s scared of bears: “Bears are more afraid of you than you are of them.”

Merli says having a conversation with a bear allows it to know where you are.

“The average encounter with a bear is one of proximity and orientation so all I’m doing is allowing the bear to orient to me and if I’m all feisty over there, the bear may orient to me more aggressively. And I’ve never tested that,” he says.

Merli spends a lot of his time outdoors, often exploring Juneau’s mountains, cutting down firewood or hunting for food. Like other adventurous Alaskans, he can’t even count the times he’s encountered bears.

“So many,” Merli laughs.

In all that time, he’s only had one encounter that didn’t go so well. Luckily, he was near a house and could just run inside.

Merli’s goal in educating students is to make them feel safe and comfortable in nature. This, he says, will allow them to explore the outdoors and, at the same time, themselves.

“It’s really not about wildness out there; it’s about this wildness inside. Not that savage connotation, but this wild being that’s just like a bear. It’s really capable of this graceful capacity for self-care. I’m hungry, I eat. I need to protect myself, I do it. I’m tired, I sleep. This sounds ludicrous to the construct in which most of us are moving in the modern world,” he says.

Merli says there are a thousand stories out there turning bears into scary creatures. But most of them aren’t true. Those stories, he says, are just about our own fear.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Palmer

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-11 16:24

This week on AK we’re heading to Palmer, home to the state’s only musk ox farm. Mark Austin is director of the musk ox farm in Palmer.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 11, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-11 16:13

Individual news 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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Denali Commission Money Survives House

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In Congress this week, the Denali Commission survived another attempt to strip it of federal funds.

Fairbanks Wind Energy Battle Continues

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks based alternative energy company continues to push Golden Valley Electric Association to buy more of its wind power. Alaska Environmental Power operates a wind farm in Delta Junction, and recently teamed with an Anchorage law firm on a report it hopes will sway utility members.

Rep. Guttenberg Looks To Jumpstart Fairbanks LNG

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

State Representative David Guttenberg wants to jumpstart Fairbanks’ conversion to natural gas heating. The state is pursuing a public private project to process North Slope gas and truck it to Fairbanks, but Gutenberg says it faces a familiar problem.

Fairbanks Rains Approach Record Levels

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Scattered rain showers are in the Fairbanks area forecast, and any precipitation that falls will add to local totals that have Fairbanks on track to continue breaking wet weather records.  The last rain event Monday, a thunderstorm that brought heavy downpours boosted July precipitation even further above normal. The National Weather Service reports that Monday’s thunderstorm dropped 1.13 inches at Fairbanks International where the agency takes its official measurements.

‘Among Wolves’ Details Researcher’s Lifelong Passion

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Earlier this year, the University of Alaska Press released a book detailing a biologist’s life-long effort to chronicle the lives of wolves that live inside the boundary of Denali Park and Preserve.

Marybeth Holleman was a friend of Doctor Gordon Haber, who was killed in a plane crash in Denali in 2009. Holleman spent the last few years digging through forty years’ worth of Haber’s field notes, journals and even tweets. Holleman has compiled Haber’s work into a new book.

Alaska Native Leader Don Wright Passes Away

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska Native leader Don Wright has died.  He was 84 when he passed away at home on July 5.  Wright was instrumental in developing the tribal lands compensation legislation, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1971. Wright was leader of the Alaska Federation of Natives that year.

AK: Bear Aware

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

For naturalist Steve Merli, bear education isn’t just about staying alive. The way he sees it, knowing how to behave in bear country allows Alaskans to explore wilderness more deeply.

Merli works with Discovery Southeast, a Juneau organization that connects kids with nature programs.

Earlier this month, KTOO’s Lisa Phu joined campers for a lesson that had some questioning their assumptions about bear encounters.

300 Villages: Palmer

This week on AK we’re heading to Palmer, home to the state’s only musk ox farm. Mark Austin is director of the musk ox farm in Palmer.

Categories: Alaska News

Lieutenant Governor Primary Election: Bob Williams

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-11 12:00

(Photo courtesy Bob Williams)

In Alaska, the Lieutenant Governor has duties beyond backing up the Governor and keeping custody of the State Seal. The Lieutenant Governor oversees the enactment of regulations and the Division of Elections. Two Democrats are vying for that nomination in August, and your chance to get to know them is coming up on “Talk of Alaska.” Bob Williams was Teacher of the Year and now wants to be Lieutenant Governor.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Bob Williams, candidate
  • Callers Statewide

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, July 15, 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

Alaska Edition: Friday July 11, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-11 07:26

Alaska Natives go to federal court to force the state to provide more voting assistance to Native-language speakers. Shopping may never be the same in Bethel. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation endorses Dan Sullivan for the Senate.  Sullivan and incumbent Mark Begich exchange  hostile advertisements. Congressman Don Young receives a “letter of reproval” from the House Ethics Committee. The KABATA  moves forward with the Knik Arm Crossing: Buildings on Government Hill will be torn down. Senate candidate Joe Miller goes after his Republican opponents on the immigration issue.

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HOST: Michael Carey

GUESTS:

  • Richard Mauer, Alaska Dispatch/ADN.
  • Steve MacDonald Channel 2 News.
  • Lisa Demer, Alaska Dispatch/ADN.

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday July 11 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 12 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday July 12 at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

Sportsmen’s Bill Falls to Senate Gridlock

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:30

A bill to ensure hunters have access to federal land was blocked in the U.S. Senate today, even though nearly half the Senate had co-sponsored it. Sen. Lisa Murkowski crafted the bill with Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. Murkowski was spitting nails after the bill was derailed in another round of an ongoing Senate fight over whether to allow amendments. In this case, amendments about gun control.

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“I am frustrated. I am angry. I’m ticked,” Murkowski fumed this evening.

Murkowski says she and Hagan always said senators would have a chance to add in their home state issues on the Senate floor, because the bill didn’t go through any committees. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, though, blocked any changes.  Murkowski and other sponsors, particularly the Republicans, then voted to prevent their own bill from advancing.

“If you’re going to be kind of Lucy with the football here, that’s just not acceptable,” Murkowski says.

Reid blames Republicans, saying they couldn’t agree among themselves on amendments. Murkowski, though, says Reid was getting pressure from fellow Democrats to add gun control measures. Vulnerable Democrats running for re-election would be put in a tough spot.

“To avoid kind of the breakdown within his own conference, he just decided the safest thing to do is have no amendments at all,” Murkowski says.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich co-sponsored the bill and said he was disappointed amendments weren’t allowed. The bill would have kept federal land open to hunting and fishing unless specifically closed. It also made it easier to get duck stamps, and precluded the EPA from ever regulating lead ammunition and tackle.

Categories: Alaska News

Mead Treadwell, ‘Big-Picture Guy,’ Runs for U.S. Senate

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:29

Some people go into politics for prestige, some for power. Talk to Mead Treadwell for a while and it’s clear, he just loves policy – Ocean policy, Arctic policy, global issues. You can hear it when he tells of how he first came to Alaska, on vacation with his grandmother and brother. He says he read Wally Hickel’s book on the ferry going north.

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“For me the book was incredibly relevant about the giant issues of the day,” he says.

Mead Treadwell.

He was impressed with its discussion of energy security and environment, and with Hickel, who as Interior Secretary stood up to Nixon.  Treadwell knocked on Hickel’s door and wound up working on his campaign for governor.

“I ended up doing a lot of writing for him, and the very first assignment they gave me was, we (were) in a fight for the 200-mile limit now,” he says.

The outer continental shelf. International policy. A treaty called Law of the Sea – Treadwell was in heaven. But there was still a summer vacation to complete. He and his brother went hiking near Kantishna.

“And I’m sitting there on a mountain top watching Denali do her tease — now you can see the mountain, now you can’t see the mountain,” he says, recounting a story he tells often. Sitting there, with a marmot going through his backpack, he realized that as far out there as they were, they were smack dab in the center of the world.

“And I said to my brother, ‘I don’t need to live anywhere else. This is kind of the best of all worlds. It has the policy challenges, the business challenges; it’s incredibly relevant to the world,’ ” he recalls. ”So I decided then and there: I was going to be an Alaskan.”

It was 1974 and he was 18-years-old. Treadwell did become Alaskan, after Yale, where he wrote a senior thesis on Law of the Sea. He’s had a varied career: Anchorage Times reporter; Deputy DEC commissioner under Hickel; co-founder, with Hickel of Yukon Pacific Corporation; chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Entrepreneur.

Anchorage writer and talk-show host Michael Carey says, as a candidate, Treadwell struggles to sound like a regular Alaskan. All three Republicans in the race went to elite universities, but Carey says on Treadwell it shows.

“He’s a big-picture guy who talks about the Arctic and some of the Hickel themes. I wonder if that really is appealing to the Republican base,” Carey says.

Former Anchorage District Attorney Ed McNally has been his friend since Treadwell’s freshman year at Yale, when they both participated in crew.  McNally says it’s easy to see why Louis Mead Treadwell the second strikes some as a privileged preppy.

“East Coast, Ivy league, even the name, right? It has that ring to it, and I probably thought that,’” says McNally, now a lawyer in New York City. “And he had a very humble childhood.

Of course, adversity is relative. Treadwell grew up in Newtown, Connecticut. His father, a businessman, served as First Selectman, akin to mayor. When Treadwell was 15, his dad was killed in a house fire. But Treadwell did, in fact, go to a prep school: Hotchkiss, then Yale, and eventually Harvard, for an MBA.

Maybe it’s his fondness for policy and or just his manner, but even supporters acknowledge Treadwell doesn’t always light up a room.  McNally, though, says these days Treadwell is far more passionate.

“Whatever was once the stereotype of reserved Connecticut, maybe even East Coast or WASP, is long gone, and I think Carol probably brought some of that to him,” McNally says. “Carol was unabashedly, exuberantly out there.”

Carol Walsh Treadwell was Mead’s wife, who died 12 years ago of brain cancer. They had four children, one of whom died in infancy. McNally says the couple were yin and yang, her ebullience against his reserve. McNally thinks Treadwell became more like Carol for his kids. Or, he says, maybe their Carol DNA emerged and rubbed off on him. Treadwell likes to say his children raised him well.

“At the time (Carol) died, Natalie was in kindergarten, Will was in first grade, Tim was in 4th grade, and I had three kids and a minivan,” Treadwell says.

He mentions that minivan a lot during campaign appearances. It’s very “regular guy.” Though Treadwell is an incumbent in statewide office, he’s had trouble raising funds. Treadwell let two of his campaign professionals go this spring and is the only candidate to have put in a significant amount of his own cash – more than $200,000 as of April. He says former DNR commissioner Dan Sullivan seems to have a lock on most of the Outside donors. Still, a recent poll showed him neck and neck with Sullivan. Treadwell says it’s not all about money.

“I think I can win because I’ve got 40 years of working on these issues in Alaska, of helping Alaskans across the board solve our problems,” he says.

His campaign theme is “bringing decision making home.” He’s not just talking about curbing the power of federal land managers.

“I’ll say this in front of the Alaska Native community, as I did last week: We have challenges,  and many times we’ll run off to Washington and get Washington to solve our problems where we could do a much better job sitting down and talking with each other at home,” Treadwell said, in an interview with APRN last month.

That may not go over well with Alaska tribal authorities, who feel only the federal government is willing to protect their rights and support self-governance.

With rival Joe Miller staking out the far right of the spectrum, Treadwell strives to show he’s as pro-life and against gay marriage as anybody. He can’t though, match Tea Party dogma denying climate change. As head of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, Treadwell wrote that emissions from burning fossil fuels were speeding climate change. Now, as he has for years, he says petroleum use is just one factor, along with natural causes.

“I also believe, well if you turn around and take humans out of the picture, would you stop it? The answer is no,” he says.

A review of his old speeches shows his beliefs about human causes of climate change have long occupied this grey area.

“I don’t think it should hurt me (in the Republican primary). But I will tell you I’m a denier of the concept that raising your taxes or putting any sort of rationing on your energy use is an appropriate role of government,” he says. “I believe government’s role at this point should be to move technology along to make energy cleaner.”

His views have made a U-turn on the very first Alaska policy he ever worked on, the Law of the Sea treaty. Tea Party conservatives despise Law of the Sea. Joe Miller calls it a power-grab by the United Nations. Treadwell, after advocating for ratification for decades, now says he is troubled it would require the U.S. to pay a tax to the U.N., which he says would be the  He says his views changed around the time of his 2010 campaign.

“I had looked at it purely from the Alaska focus before,” he says.

He says there may be other routes for the state to gain the benefits of the treaty without paying into a global tax regime.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov’s Office Considers Suing Xerox Over Botched System Rollout

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:28

The Governor’s office may sue Xerox Corporation for the bungled rollout of a new system to process Medicaid claims.

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The Enterprise Medicaid Management System was supposed to replace the state’s antiquated 30 year old computer program. It went live on October 1 last year and Commissioner Bill Streur says it had problems right from the start.

“What has happened is this new whiz bang state of the art system doesn’t work,” Streur said. ”So they’re supposed to be fixing it and it simply isn’t going fast enough.”

The state handles millions of Medicaid claims each year.

Streur says the Xerox system is paying only about 60 percent of those claims. He says it should be easily handling over 80 percent of so-called “clean claims” that meet all the criteria to be legally paid.

The problems with the system have been a big burden to many providers, who aren’t receiving payment for their Medicaid claims.

The state has had to hand out $135 million to providers in advanced payments until the system is fixed. And Streur says the glitches with the system have taken a lot of staff time to address.

“Because instead of working with providers and ensuring the services are delivered appropriately and in the right ways, we’ve had to work on making sure claims were getting paid and manually adjudicating those claims, so yes, it’s been a struggle,” Streur said.

The state has paid Xerox $12 million of a $36 million contract. Streur says the state is withholding the rest of the money until the system is working correctly.

A spokesperson from Xerox would not agree to a recorded interview. In a statement she said, “We are working with the state to address its concerns.”

Categories: Alaska News

Ellis, Gara Ask DOT To Delay Demolition Of Two Anchorage Houses

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:27

A move by the state Department of Transportation to demolish two houses in an Anchorage neighborhood has become a political issue.

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Two Democratic legislators, Senator Johnny Ellis and Representative Les Gara, have written to DOT Commissioner Patrick Kemp, asking that the department hold off on the demolition. The letter asks, quote

 ” that you not spend state money to demolish [three] Government Hill neighborhood buildings and homes before you know whether you have the financing for the Knik Arm Bridge project. That project is contingent on the approval of a federal TIFIA loan of roughly $300 million – a loan that is difficult to get. “

 Representative Les Gara says he’s representing his Government Hill constituents when he asks DOT for fiscal restraint. Gara says the three buildings are together assessed at more than two million dollars, and, coupled with the cost of demolition, destroying them is just throwing money away.

“We’re just asking the Parnell administration to not be reckless with spending. You know, the project hasn’t been approved, it’s contingent on a federal loan that is very difficult to get, and before demolishing two and a half million dollars of homes that they [state DOT] condemned and took away from people, those residences and homes might very well be worth the state selling if they don’t get the federal loan. “

 The fracas started when DOT announced last week that it was moving ahead to demolish or remove the two houses, and an old motel, to make way for the right of way for the proposed Knik Arm Crossing. At the time, the Government Hill Community Council, which opposes the Knik Arm Crossing, made it’s opposition to the demolition of the houses known. Stephanie Kessler is president of the Government Hill Community Council.

“Those two homes are an anchor of Government Hill neighborhood. And they are attractive homes and they are very important to our neighborhood.”

Kessler says the majority of the community council wants to keep the houses intact. She says she has no problem with demolition of the old motel, but she wants the houses to stand until it is certain the Knik Arm Crossing will become a reality. Kessler says if the houses are torn down, it implies that the bridge is a given.

“And it’s not inevitable, in fact, it’s far from inevitable. And so, if those houses are destroyed now, and the bridge doesn’t go through, Government Hill is just left with this grassy scar of where those homes were and they would have been unnecessarily demolished.”

 In their letter, Ellis and Gara say

” the bigger problem ” is ” that the legislature’s $900 million financing plan only covers roughly half the cost of the bridge, connecting roads and infrastructure that will be needed. The plan does not include a way to raise the next $900 million that will be needed.”

 DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says by demolishing the buildings now, DOT is attempting to save property management fees and repair costs.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Harnesses Power of Tides, Rivers, and Waves

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:26

Engineers have tried to harness the power of pounding waves and shifting tides for generations, but only recently has the goal been attainable. With 90 percent of the nation’s tidal power, and a good chunk of its wave and river energy, Alaska’s quickly become the epicenter for this budding technology.

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A map showing all of the hydrokinetic and hydropower projects in Alaska (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska).

“We are clearly the ocean energy, hydrokinetic energy leader in America,” says Doug Johnson, director of business at the Ocean Renewable Power Company. Johnson is overseeing four hydrokinetic projects this summer, from False Pass in the Aleutians to Yakutat in south-east Alaska. One project, along the Kvichak River near the town of Igiugig, could provide about half of the energy needs for the 50-person community

“If it’s successful you could literally turn the diesel off and use diesel as back-up power,” Johnson says. “It’s just a really excellent way to provide energy to the community. There’s no emissions and there’s really no negative impacts that we’ve seen so far of these devices in the water.”

Despite its technical name, hydrokinetic power is pretty straightforward. It’s basically just a turbine placed in water. As the current or wave moves it, electricity is made. Like any new invention hydrokinetic power is pretty expensive. But in rural Alaska where people pay a premium for energy, it could still pencil out.

“A lot of renewable energy technologies that don’t work elsewhere will work here cost effectively,” says Sean Skaling, deputy director of alternative energy and energy efficiency at the Alaska Energy Authority. “They’ll probably start competing a little bit faster in Alaska than in places with lower costs of energy.”

While this summer’s projects largely target small rural communities, Anchorage is next to one of the greatest untapped sources of renewable energy in the country: Cook Inlet. The second biggest source of tidal power in North America, the inlet could relatively easily supply electricity to all of Anchorage, says Tom Raven, a civil engineering professor at the University of Alaska.

And since Anchorage relies largely on nearby natural gas reserves for its energy—a depleting energy source—tapping Cook Inlet for electricity could look more and more attractive in the future.

“The oil [and gas] supply in Alaska is going to run out,” Raven says. “I’ve always hoped there would be enough vision in the state that they would seize some of this oil wealth, to take some of those funds, and basically invest in renewable energy on a large scale.”

Alaska plans to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. To help meet that goal, Ocean Renewable Power Company is looking for ways to connect Cook Inlet tidal generators to the Railbelt, which supplies 80 percent of the state with electricity. Hydrokinetic tests along the Kvichak river should be complete by the end of summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Preliminary Figures Show Dismal Walrus Harvest From Poor Weather

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:25

Pacific walrus. (Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)

For the second year in a row, the number of walrus harvested for subsistence on St. Lawrence Island is far below normal.

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“It’s about half of what the average take has been over the last 10 years or so,” said Jim MacKracken, who supervises the walrus program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which tracks population numbers based on strikes and successful harvests hunters report back.

Though some hunters are still boating as far as 70 miles north to the retreating ice edge, the majority of walrus pods are now past the island, and the preliminary harvest figures are low.

“The total for both Gambell and Savoonga so far is about 345 animals,” MacKracken said. “But we still are getting a few certificates back in, and I hear that people are picking up a walrus here and then. And as they migrate back South in the fall they may get a few, also.”

That’s split about evenly between the two communities, 176 in Gambell and 169 in Savoonga.

Based on what MacKracken has heard from hunters, the cause of the poor harvest is the same as last year.

“Generally it’s weather and ice conditions. You know the winds weren’t blowing quite right and the ice was packed in along the shore. A lot of the days the wind was blowing pretty hard so the sea was pretty rough and the fetch was high. It’s hard to get a boat out and go hunting in that kinda condition. Then of course a lot of times it’s foggy and it’s hard to hunt in the fog, ‘cause you can’t see where you’re going or see the animals,” MacKracken explained.

Walrus are the staple subsistence source on the island, and an essential economic and cultural resource. Last year the state declared an economic disaster because of the record low harvest.

Categories: Alaska News

Rare Ribbon Seal Sighting In Prince William Sound

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:24

A ribbon seal photographed in Prince William Sound July 9th, 2014. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service boat crewed by Gloria Zager, Patti Sullivan, Karen Sinclair and Marty Reedy.

A federal wildlife technician got a rare treat in Prince William Sound yesterday. Marty Reedy was driving a boat for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seabird and marine mammal survey when a colleague pointed out a seal that didn’t look quite right. Reedy, who has also worked in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, knew immediately what the animal was- a ribbon seal:

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“I just could not believe my eyes. I kept thinking to myself, I must be seeing something wrong, but if you look at a picture of these guys, there’s no doubt what it was. We see a lot of wonderful stuff out in the sound but to see something like that, is pretty unique and special.”

Reedy drove the boat closer and snapped a picture of a male ribbon seal hauled out on a chunk of glacial ice. He found the animal in the northwest section of the sound, but doesn’t want to give an exact location.

Peter Boveng is a seal expert with the National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle. He says ribbon seals spend their winters in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. But this time of year, they are roamers and have been spotted as far south as British Colombia and Washington. He’s not surprised one turned up in Prince William Sound, and says the seal is on the fringes of its summer range:

“They go into a pelagic phase where essentially they’re in the water all the time. They seem to be mostly solitary. So people don’t see ribbon seals really anywhere this time of year with any frequency or commonness.”

A ribbon seal was found in Cook Inlet in Anchorage in 2007.

Boveng says if this seal is healthy, he should be able to find his way back north to the Bering Sea for the winter breeding season.

 

Categories: Alaska News

TODAY Show Live From Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:23

TODAY Show anchor Natalie Morales powders her face before going on camera. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

About 1,500 people showed up for an early morning live broadcast of the TODAY Show from Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier. They waved signs, cheered and waited hours for a chance to be on national TV for a few seconds.

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On live television, NBC’s TODAY Show news anchor Natalie Morales praised Juneau’s crowd.

“Hats off to Juneau because all of these folks, about 1,500 of them, they’re here at 3:30 in the morning, so you guys are incredible. Lots of pride here in Juneau as you can see.”

When Morales was off camera, she talked to the crowd, held babies and took pictures with adoring fans.

“I feel bad. I mean they all showed up here at, like, 3 o’clock- No, earlier than that. It was, like, 2 o’clock in the morning. So I want to make sure everybody gets a little camera time, or if not, gets a good selfie out of this,” Morales says.

Juneau resident Neely Perisich arrived at the visitor center at 2:30. She didn’t come empty handed.

“My sign says, ‘Hi Kerri and Andrea.’ They live in Newburg, Oregon. They’re my sister and my niece and they watch the TODAY Show every day,” Perisich says.

The sign has a border of blinking white lights. Perisich is with her partner Dave Velasquez. He’s wearing a cut out of Al Roker’s head. He’s a big fan of the TODAY Show co-anchor and weatherman.

“So I got an Al head. He’s got a perfectly shaped head for cutting out on paper. There’s no hair or anything,” Velasquez says.

Most of the crowd inside and lining the walls of the pavilion wanted to be there for the excitement, like Tom Chard.

“Years later, people are going to be saying, ‘Well, where were you?’ And, ‘You remember the TODAY Show came around?’ Yeah, yeah, yeah. The line was out the door. We loved it. It was great. It was a lot of fun,” he says.

Eileen McIver had an ulterior motive for being at the live broadcast. She’s a columnist for the Chilkat Valley News in Haines.

“I wanted to pitch this idea I have for a sitcom, so I’m here to get the attention of someone from NBC. Not sure who. I don’t really have a plan,” McIver says.

McIver is writing a sign on a pizza box, which says, “NBC, you have to hear my pitch. We’ll talk.”

The broadcast from Juneau kicked off a series, #TODAYTakesOff, which sends Morales to famous destinations around the country. She spent a couple days in Juneau kayaking, ice climbing, exploring the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves and visiting Admiralty Island bears. Her adventures were featured on the show.

The last time Alaska was on the TODAY Show was in 2012, when Jenna Bush Hager did a segment from Denali National Park. In 2011, Al Roker visited the Knik Glacier.

But this is the first live broadcast from the state.

It’s been a long time coming. The state’s commerce department first pitched the idea to NBC in 2003.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Finding Bigfoot’ in the Y-K Delta in Search of Miluquyuliq

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:22

The cast and crew of the Animal Planet TV show Finding Bigfoot is in Bethel to record eyewitness accounts of the creature known locally as “Hairy Man.”

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Frieda Bean was on a boating trip to Three Step Mountain, riding up the twisting Kwethluk River with her husband, when she says something caught her eye on the treeline.

Matt Moneymaker to the left doing his bigfoot call. James “Bobo” Fey to his right. (Photo courtesy Erica Williams)

“I saw a figure of bigfoot just standing there, staring at me eye to eye. It was a figure of a human being but way bigger, the head was bigger, rounder, and the arms were bigger too. And hairy,” says Beans.

Beans says she could barely make sense of what she saw.

“At first I thought it was a sight of a spirit. Nobody any bigfoot stories at the time,’ says Beans.

But many in the region grew up hearing stories of the “hairy man” or “Miluquyuliq” as it’s often called in Yup’ik. A hairy humanoid creature known to throw things like it’s own feces, sticks or rocks at anyone who comes too close. Recently, a local newspaper, the DeltaDiscovery began printing a series of witness accounts like these. That caught the attention of co-producer Natalie Hewson.

“We chose the YK Delta because there are many, many, stories that have come out of the area. There have been news reports, newspaper reports. So with that many reports in one area, it was a big point of interest so we decided to come out here,” says Hewson.

At the Bigfoot gathering, about 100 interested locals begin arriving to listen to what the gathering has to offer. They are asked to sign release forms before going into the conference room.

After the cameras were set up and the audience was in place, the shooting begins. The limelight shone while the cameras began rolling, the stars of the show, Bobo and Matt Moneymaker enter with applause.

The media was asked not to record as the cast began asking the audience members whether or not they’ve had an encounter with Sasquatch. Half a dozen hands go up and the TV cameras reset on them as they begin telling their stories in front of everyone. Some say they saw a “Hairy Man,” others experienced mysterious encounters, and others relayed secondhand accounts.

Elizabeth Roll of Bethel says what we hear, only scratches the surface.

“Something like this I think is only just the beginning of the iceberg. If you really went to every village and talked to people there, you’d probably hear 5 or 10 stories. I think anything’s possible and there sure seems to be a lot of sightings around,” says Roll.

Some are skeptical, while others believe that so many sightings could only mean there’s something out there. Something big, humanlike, and hairy.

The audience then left while the cast filmed a scene with the witnesses, documenting the locations of the encounters.

Hewson says now her team will venture into the YK Delta wilderness, to film at some of the locations near Bethel. Whether or not the show finally finds bigfoot in the Delta, she says the journey itself is worth it.

“I think whether or not Bigfoot exists is a very interesting subject. There are a lot of things out there that people have seen that you can’t quite explain, and when you can’t explain something we want to try to figure out what it is. There’s people all over the world that have stories of seeing a Bigfoot-like creature.  So I think it’s very important for us to continue the search and try to figure out what this is,” says Hewson.

Hewson say’s the material they gather could be used before the end of this season of Finding Bigfoot. Whenever it airs, the show will be the biggest venue yet for the age-old tale of Miluquyuliq.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 10, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-10 17:07

Individual news 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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Sportsmen’s Bill Falls To Senate Gridlock

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A bill to ensure hunters have access to federal land was blocked in the U.S. Senate today, even though nearly half the Senate had co-sponsored it.

Mead Treadwell, ‘Big-Picture Guy,’ Runs for U.S. Senate

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is the only Republican running for U.S. Senate who has actually won elected office before. Still, his fundraising is eclipsed by the candidacy of a former friend, ex- Alaska attorney General Dan Sullivan, and he labors to prove he’s as conservative as rival Joe Miller.

Gov’s Office Considers Suing Xerox Over Botched System Rollout

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The Governor’s office may sue Xerox Corporation for the bungled rollout of a new system to process Medicaid claims.

Ellis, Gara Ask DOT To Delay Demolition Of Two Anchorage Houses

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A move by the state Department of Transportation to demolish two houses in an Anchorage neighborhood has become a political issue.

Alaska Harnesses Power of Tides, Rivers, and Waves

Joaquin Palomino, APRN Intern

While Alaska is known for its oil, it’s also home to another energy source: Hydrokinetic power, which uses turbines to harness energy from tides, rivers, and waves.  Four separate test projects are underway this summer, and many more could be just around the corner.

Preliminary Figures Show Dismal Walrus Harvest From Poor Weather

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

For the second year in a row, the number of walrus harvested for subsistence on St. Lawrence Island is far below normal.

Rare Ribbon Seal Sighting In Prince William Sound

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A federal wildlife technician got a rare treat in Prince William Sound on Wednesday. Marty Reedy was driving a boat for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seabird and marine mammal survey when a colleague pointed out a seal that didn’t look quite right.

TODAY Show Live From Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

About 1,500 people showed up for an early morning live broadcast of the TODAY Show from Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier. They waved signs, cheered and waited hours for a chance to be on national TV for a few seconds.

‘Finding Bigfoot’ in the Y-K Delta in Search of Miluquyuliq

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

The cast and crew of the Animal Planet TV show Finding Bigfoot is in Bethel to record eyewitness accounts of the creature known locally as “Hairy Man.”

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Co-Sponsors Bill Responding To Hobby Lobby Decision

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-09 17:50

Senator Mark Begich today joined other Democrats in sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for a company to deny employees certain health benefits, including birth control, if they are required to be covered by federal health care law.

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The bill is a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which says closely held companies can refuse to provide such benefits if the owners have religious objections. Sponsors are calling it the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.

It is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled House, where conservatives praise the Hobby Lobby decision as a victory for religious liberty.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Authorize $500,000 For Anchorage LIO Furniture

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-09 17:49

The state will spend up to $500,000 to furnish the new Anchorage legislative information office.

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The Legislative Council, which handles office policy for state lawmakers, awarded the contract to Think Office, LLC, at a Wednesday meeting. The furniture will come from the modern design company Knoll, and the look of the new building will be up-market Ikea. To give an idea of what they were looking for, the Legislative Council bidding notice listed rolling chairs that retail for $1,500 and $300 coat racks made of colorful metal rods.

The Think Office bid conforms to a decorating plan created by Pfeffer Development, which is renovating the Anchorage LIO and was awarded a $100,000 contract specifically for furniture consulting. The objective was to standardize design using modular components in an effort to reduce the need for new furniture when freshman legislators come into office and as political organization changes.

When the Legislative Council first took up the question of furniture procurement in early June, the initial price tag was $866,000. That triggered sticker shock, and a furniture subcommittee led by Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze was created to reexamine the cost. The subcommittee concluded that the Anchorage LIO should be outfitted with surplus furniture from state agencies, with a cap of $100,000 for new furniture.

But that recommendation was rejected. Legislative aide Juli Lucky explained to the council that number was unrealistic.

“I will admit that the office furniture was a lot more expensive than I had anticipated,” said Lucky. “But I do feel that we did come up with a good compromise position once we did look at the comparable offices that we have outfitted in other places. We did winnow down that cost as much as we felt we could.”

About half of the $500,000 award will be spent furnishing legislators’ staff offices, at a cost of $8,000 per lawmaker.

Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the Legislative Council, said that the expense of furnishing the Anchorage LIO compared favorably to other projects.

“A couple of years ago when the Eagle River LIO was refurnished, those offices ran $20,000 a copy,” said Hawker. “So, I think we’re getting quite a value.”

The other half of the money will go to furnishing the building’s public areas, like hearing rooms.

“They can be used for all of the summer sort of meetings like we’re doing right here, and they can be used to accommodate special legislative sessions with a chamber for the House and the Senate, as well as a chamber that would accommodate 60 legislators as needed,” said Hawker.

While cost was a sticking point for some, Sen. Dennis Egan, a Juneau Democrat who caucuses with the Republican majority, took issue with the argument that the LIO needed to be fully furnished so that special sessions could be held in Anchorage.

“I really am upset that you’re talking about special sessions being held in the Anchorage LIO,” said Egan. “Special sessions should be held in the Capitol.”

Hawker stressed that he did not mean to trigger a debate over the location of the Capitol.

“This is not a disguised Capitol move,” said Hawker.

Egan ultimately voted for the contract.

The contract was awarded on a 10-2 vote, with Stoltze and Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg opposing the contract.

The Anchorage LIO project has previously faced criticism for its cost. The lease to the office is expected to run $80 million over the next 20 years, and Hawker’s Democratic challenger Sam Combs described the furniture contract as an example of project “mismanagement.”

Categories: Alaska News

Two Properties Up For Demolition To Make Way For KABATA

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-09 17:48

The state Department of Transportation has announced plans to demolish two Anchorage properties to make way for Knik Arm Bridge construction.

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Categories: Alaska News
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