In 2003, a Sitka couple proposed creating a bear rescue center from the remains of the town’s decommissioned pulp mill – a plan that raised some local hackles.
Ten years later, the Fortress of the Bear is home to five brown bears and two new black bear cubs – and it has converted some skeptics, including a local biologist.
Les Kinnear may sound like he’s talking to a toddler
“Put your foot here. Huh? Baloo, foot! Foot! No? Ok,” he said.
But Baloo is an 800 pound brown bear
“You’re not listening, huh. Ok,” Kinnear laughs.
Kinnear runs Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear with his wife, Evy. He’s standing nose to snout with Baloo, a 4-year-old, 7-foot-tall brown bear, separated by only a couple inches and a metal grate door.
Kinnear was a hunting guide for years, hunting bears along with other big game. Now, he and his wife take care of seven bears in the remains of Sitka’s old pulp mill. All of the bears arrived as orphaned cubs that would otherwise have been euthanized.
“All you gotta do is have one of those little bears sit there and lick your hand, and you know the answer to that, that’s simple,” Kinnear said when asked why he started the Fortress.
The old pulp mill’s two giant clarifying tanks have been converted into bear pens, with high concrete walls.
Waldholz: It has kind of a post-apocalyptic feel in here.
Kinnear: Yes, it does.
It’s not just the bear pens. All the facility’s buildings were salvaged from the pulp mill or hauled over second-hand. Everything is rusty. There are piles of tires, sacks of supplies. A flock of assorted poultry roams around.
It’s a scrappy operation.
When the Fortress was first proposed in 2003, a lot of Sitkans weren’t thrilled.
“We have one of the highest known density of brown bears in the world – in the world!” Phil Mooney, the regional wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game said. “So people were saying, why would you put a zoo here. “
He was skeptical at first. And he wasn’t the only one.
“Letters went to the governor; it was pretty divisive in the beginning,” Mooney said. “There was a big campaign to keep our bears wild, that people come here to see wild bears, not zoo bears.”
“There was a lot of really strong emotional response.”
But Mooney has since changed his mind. He remembers a delegation visiting from the Bronx Zoo. One of the women kept saying how impressed she was with the facility.
“And she turned to me and said, ‘you’re missing it because you’re thinking about this facility as a person. You have issues with the aesthetics of it. The bears don’t care about the aesthetics. They care that they have ¾ of an acre in there and they can dig, and do anything they want, like a real bear would,’” Mooney said.
But what really made Mooney a believer was when the Kinnears invited Sitka’s 3rd through 5th graders out to the Fortress. The Kinnears pitched two tents in the bear enclosure. Inside each was a sleeping bag with a hot dog in the bottom.
“And I’m standing in the back, just watching. And the bear ran straight over to the tents, slit the fabric, pull out the hotdogs and held them up…and the kids were like, I’m never taking food in my tent again,” Mooney said.
Mooney was impressed. He spends a lot of his time on bear education, trying to train people to avoid the kinds of interactions that lead to dead bears and orphaned cubs – trying to avoid, in fact, the kind of situation that brought these bears to the Fortress in the first place.
“This is Kilsnoo If you hold the mic up here you can probably hear them breathe,” Kinnear said.
Kilsnoo was the Fortress’s first bear. Mooney captured him in the summer of 2007, after the cub’s mother was shot trying to enter a lodge near Angoon.
“He was malnourished, dehydrated, terrified, traumatized, he had all the hair burned off his front paws clear to the shoulders, a belly full of tapeworms, a mouth full of broken teeth,” Kinnear said.
Kinnear says he understands why some folks object to the idea of the Fortress – in an ideal world brown bears shouldn’t live in old clarifying tanks.
His grand vision for the Fortress is much more ambitious. He wants to expand the habitats and eventually start rehabilitating bear cubs to return to the wild. This has been done in British Columbia and the Lower 48, but isn’t permitted in Alaska.
“We aren’t going to save a lot of bears,” Kinnear said. “We’ve only done a dozen in the last 10 years.”
“Some of the other places around the country where they process and release, they’re into the hundreds.”
Mooney says releasing bears isn’t likely any time soon, but he says the Fortress has a role even without that. He thinks these bears in captivity might turn out to be some of his best tools for keeping the rest of Sitka’s bears wild
Robin Gattis, the 20 year old son of state legislator Lynne Gattis, faced federal judge Ralph Biestline in court, in a sentencing hearing that stretched for hours, as a packed court-room listened to often tearful impact statements from Deborah Hurd and Dan Scott, the parents of Matt Scott, who died of a methylone overdose in April of last year. Matt Scott was the first in the state to die from using the drug. Hurd carried a picture of her son and a box containing his ashes into the courtroom.
Federal prosecutors had pushed for a twenty year sentence and a one million dollar fine. Assistant US Attorney Tom Bradley asked for the maximum, saying Robin Gattis had a lead role in a conspiracy to import methylone from China and distribute it to minors. Tom Bradley:
“I think it was a very fair sentence. In a case like this, you can never really get justice, because there is nothing the court can do to bring back Matt Scott. So, he (Judge Beistline) felt that that was enough time to punish him and deter others without it being too long. Gattis is young, and perhaps when he emerges after his sixteen year prison term, he’ll still be young enough to turn his life around.”
Gattis was arrested by state authorities in early 2012, for dealing the drug, but the case was dismissed because methylone was not illegal under state law at that time. But methylone was illegal under federal law, and Gattis continued to import the drug, catching the attention of customs officials who had tagged at least three packages shipped to Alaska to addresses of friends of Gattis. One of those friends, Shane O’Hare told the court Thursday that he received packages for Gattis at a Meadow Lakes address. Other packages were shipped to the Kenai Peninsula. When Matt Scott died, federal prosecutors stepped in. Gattis was arrested on the Kenai and charged in August, 2012 and on further investigation, a total of seven young men were charged with conspiracy and the death of Matthew Scott. All other defendents have pled guilty.
Debbie Hurd, Matt Scott’s mother, said afterwards that she had to be content with the judge’s decision
“I’m glad everybody was here for my son.. I still go back to the fact that, who does that? The day after my son dies, asks for his money back and then thanks the supplier. Right? Who does that ? And who faces off on their Facebook saying, ‘ just another day in the life of Robin Gattis’. I mean, come on, you can’t get by that fact. I think the judge was pretty good. And I liked how he said ‘ what would Matt do, what would Matt do if this happened?’ So I did think the judge was good. “
Hurd referred to an email Robin Gattis sent to his Chinese supplier the day after Matt Scott’s death, asking for his money back. Prosecutors used the email and Facebook postings Gattis had authored in their case against him. Robin Gattis told the court that he didn’t send the email, that someone who had stolen his password had done it. But there was no denying the fact that Robin Gattis did not call 911 when he realized Matt Scott was dying. Shane O’Hare told the court that Gattis had texted him as Scott went into overdose, asking what to do.
Hurd came to court supported by a group of more than a dozen young people, all friends of Matt Scott. Kyle Huntington is one of them
“It probably could have been more, but it is better than the ten [years] that what they were looking for. And then, at least he’ll have some time in there to think about what all has happened. And then it is good that they want to put him in rehabilitation and therapy and all that. “
Judge Beistline did not impose the fine prosecutors had asked for. The judge said he wanted to issue a sentence that would deter others, and send a message to young people. Robin Gattis will spend sixteen years in federal Sheraton prison in Oregon, and will recieve 500 hours of drug and alcohol counseling.
After the proceedings, Representative Lynn Gattis said that her son had a long history of defiance and family conflict. She said she and her husband had done what the could for him, including homeschooling and a stint at NorthStar Behaviorial Health Care. “We knew we had a kid that wasn’t listening” she told reporters. “There’s a whole bunch of people out there that are going through this.”
Alaskans have always enjoyed and defended their fish. We love our clam beaches, most of us oppose fish farming and many of us have our own special recipes not only for cooking, but preserving salmon and other fish. Alaska’s remoteness has helped to protect its fisheries, but in more populated parts of the world, small-scale local fisheries are threatened by habitat degradation and outside-owned fleets.
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Michele Mesmain, Slow Fish Campaign Director, Slow Food International
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
A Bethel man is in custody for allegedly beating his two-year-old son.
Police were called to a Bethel home early on a morning last week and found the toddler with visible facial wounds and a broken clavicle that would require medevac to Anchorage.
Police say the child was thrown on the ground and kicked multiple times by Maurice Andrews Sr., 30. A strong odor of alcohol was noticed on Andrews at the time of his arrest.
Andrews was arraigned on a felony charge of assaulting a child under the age of ten. Bail was set at $5,000.
Molly, bath salts – the names refer to the designer drug, methylone. Thursday, methylone dealer Robin Gattis was handed down a 16 year sentence in federal court in Anchorage in what is apparently the first case in the country involving a death from the drug.
The state was already looking at deficit spending even before Wednesday’s revenue forecast came out, but now Alaska is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall. The governor also wants to put $3 billion toward paying off the state’s unfunded pension liabilities. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that lawmakers plan to cover the gap with a mix of cuts and savings withdrawals.
With Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget due out next week, there’s plenty of speculation over what exactly will be in it. The safest guess seems to be red ink.
“I think that you will see reductions in all components of the budget,” says Karen Rehfeld, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Rehfeld’s staff is now putting the finishing touches on the document. She says they’ve been scrutinizing agency costs and prioritizing capital projects that are already in the works instead of starting new ones. The goal is to spend less than last year.
But there is one spot where the governor would like to invest a lot of money. He wants to move $3 billion from the state’s budget reserves into the retirement trust funds as a way of shrinking the cost of Alaska’s pension system down the road.
“The unfunded liability and the payment that we make on behalf of governments and school districts really is the single largest operating budget cost driver we have,” says Rehfeld.
So, with a $2 billion shortfall, $3 billion toward unfunded liabilities, and a lot of mega-projects in the works, that doesn’t leave the Legislature with much wiggle room in adjusting the budget.
Fairbanks Republican Pete Kelly co-chairs the Senate’s finance committee, and he says legislators are still figuring out how much of their own cuts they want to make and how much they want to pull from savings. He says some draws on the state’s reserves are inevitable.
“Well, you know, you’re going to have to have some savings withdrawal. There’s no question. You can’t make up that kind of a shortfall in one chunk,” says Kelly. “That would throw the state into a serious mess, and we don’t need to complicate our economic picture right now by just drastic government reductions and layoffs that would come from that.”
Kelly says he would like those withdrawals to come from the state’s $12-billion constitutional budget reserves fund, which requires approval from three-quarters of the Legislature. The Legislature would not need a supermajority if they wanted to pull from the $5 billion in the statutory budget reserve account.
In terms of cuts, Kelly’s preference is to focus on operating costs before scaling back on capital projects. He says the state still has an obligation to put money toward developing a gasline, even if it means voting to use the state’s constitutional budget reserves. But he thinks there are other major projects, like the Susitna Hydro project, that could be dialed back.
“The other projects like Susitna, I don’t know,” says Kelly. “I don’t know how full speed ahead we need to go on that.”
There’s some agreement from Democrats on that front. Anchorage Democrat Les Gara serves on the House Finance Committee, and he says that while the state should keep working toward a gas project, other big-ticket items like the proposed Knik Arm Bridge shouldn’t get funding when the state’s in belt-tightening mode. Instead, Gara thinks state revenue should first be spent on things like schools and staffing the Office of Children’s Services.
Gara thinks the governor is responsible for the current fiscal situation. He says that Parnell committed to too many expensive projects in the past, and that the problem has been compounded by the oil tax overhaul that the administration pushed for.
“He can’t keep spending money on everything in the world,” says Gara. “We need to spend things on core services, like improving education instead of damaging it like he’s done the last three years.”
No matter what, some choices will have to be made on where to pull back. The state has a good cushion — about $17 billion in savings — but that can only last so long unless revenue prospects look better. OMB Director Karen Rehfeld is optimistic that will happen under the new tax law and that oil production will turn around. She thinks that Alaska can improve its budget outlook before lawmakers have to consider other sources of revenue, like an income tax or using the Permanent Fund as a back stop.
“Before we have those conversations, Alaskans really have to be comfortable with what services they expect government to provide and how much state funding they believe should be available to communities and community projects,” says Rehfeld.
And that’s expected to spark some hard conversations in their own right.
In another sign of how climate change is transforming the Arctic, a Toronto-based company is planning to lay a fiber-optic cable through Canada’s Northwest Passage.
The aim is to build a better broadband link between London and Tokyo, but the company says it will also deliver high-speed internet to the Arctic Slope and Western Alaska.
Arctic Fibre says it’s investing more than $600 million in the main line. It will run nearly 10,000 miles, with smaller branches shooting off to communities on Alaska’s coast.
Its Alaska partner is Quintillion Networks. CEO Elizabeth Pierce says the project will bring cheaper, faster internet to places that now connect to the web by satellite or microwave.
“So the spurs into Alaska will go into Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue, Nome, and we’re working on the business case to build into Unalaska,” Pierce said.
Arctic Fibre hopes to finish its marine survey to confirm the exact route next summer. The company says it has most of its financing and some of its permits already in hand. Pierce says the one- or two- inch cable is expected to be placed in 2015.
“In shallow areas, like around the coast of Alaska, the cable will be trenched into or buried into the sea floor, and in the ocean depths it will just lie on the ocean floor,” Pierce said.
Pierce says they’re talking to the Pentagon about serving the radar station at Shemya, which is part of the missile defense network, and they hope the cable will also support the Pentagon’s new Arctic strategy in the years ahead.
It’s the kind of project that was unthinkable a generation ago, Pierce says.
“We’re planning to build through areas that are now ice free for at least part of the season that in past years the ice never went out, or went out of any significance, so definitely climate change and the recession of ice in the north has made this project possible,” Pierce said.
A planned fiber optic line would also run between Prudhoe and Fairbanks, which Pierce says would enhance service for the Railbelt by providing an alternate data route.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management received comments this week on the proposed 2016 lease sale for the Chukchi Sea.
Unlike lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, new Arctic lease sales are targeted – certain areas may not be up for auction.
In a conference room filled with binders of data and shelves of books, the Audubon Society’s science director, Melanie Smith, flips through a 125-page document.
“So what we have are a set of 36 maps,” she said.
They make up the meat of the organization’s comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management regarding the proposed lease sale. It’s a compilation of everything the scientific community knows about the Chukchi Sea.
She goes through the map that shows which areas Audubon, Oceana, and other conservation organizations think should not be sold for oil and gas development.
“When you get to Ledyard Bay,” Smith said, pointing at an area south of Point Lay. “You have, for example, critical habitat for spectacled eiders. You have bowhead and beluga whales migrating through in the spring that cut this corner.”
Other areas offer critical habitat for polar bears. The Hanna Shoal is an essential walrus haul out because the ice melts there last. Audubon’s proposed restricted areas overlap with about one-quarter of the areas the federal agency thinks has the highest resource potential. It also overlaps with areas set aside by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Smith said her organization does not want to see any drilling in the Arctic, but if BOEM does go ahead with a sale, these areas as the most essential for protection.
“If a spill were to happen, and you were already inside the important place, you’re affecting it as soon as a spill starts,” she explained. “If a spill happens outside of the important place, you do have a little bit of buffer time for a response.”
Smith says that’s why they provided such extensive information to BOEM – so they could make informed decisions.
But Alaska Oil and Gas Association and other industry groups had the opposite reaction to the agency’s Call for Information. The agency had asked the industry to highlight areas they thought were especially promising for development. AOGA’s regulatory and legal affairs manager, Joshua Kindred, said BOEM already has all of the information that’s available to the industry, so they shouldn’t ask for more.
“What they’re asking industry to do is engage in resources from both a financial and temporal standpoint in an area that may not be up for lease,” he said. “And that’s somewhat counter intuitive.”
Kindred said that the industry wants the entire area open for leasing, not just certain blocks.
“By doing this, you’re going to diminish the interest in that area,” he said.
Without providing any benefits, “Targeting leasing doesn’t offer any more protection to the environment than area-wide leasing,” he said.
And on this point, the industry and some environmental groups agree.
“If there’s a spill, you cannot control where it goes,” Charles Clusen, who leads the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Alaska program, said. “It will go where the currents and the wind take it. So simply by keeping the oil drilling out of the most sensitive areas does not ensure that they will be protected.”
Clusen argued the Arctic should not be opened for any drilling, especially after Shell’s mishaps in 2012. He said allowing it would exacerbate climate change.
“A lot of soot is released in the drilling process. It’s also called black carbon. And when that lands on the snow, the ice, or even the water, it makes it darker,” Clusen said. “That means it absorbs more sunlight and that melts more of the ice.”
Environmental groups are not the only ones opposing the sale. Fifty-nine Congressional representatives sent a letter to the Interior Secretary calling to stop all new lease sales and oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. They also want an overhaul of Arctic drilling regulations.
BOEM will now review all 30 comments submitted to the agency before determining which, if any, blocks will be included in a future sale.
A court decision has re-affirmed National Park Service authority to regulate state owned rivers flowing through federal lands. The ruling is in a case that spurred public outcry about park service law enforcement.
Wednesday, three members of the Indian Law and Order Commission spoke at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Providers’ Conference to describe the findings of their report to Congress and the President, a report that singles out Alaska for criticism.
Half the community of Savoonga flocked to the beach Tuesday to help haul a 55-foot bowhead whale ashore. The meat is especially welcome in the village because of an economic crisis after a record low walrus harvest this fall.
Fairbanks educator and former state legislator Niilo Koponen passed away Tuesday of natural causes, according to the family’s website.
A federal judge has dismissed the appeal of an Alaska man convicted of charges stemming from a 2010 run-in with park rangers in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
Jim Wilde was arrested after failing to stop his boat for a safety inspection on the Yukon River. In his appeal, he argued the National Park Service lacked authority to stop him because the lands beneath the Yukon River are owned by the state and he was not involved in a subsistence activity. U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline disagreed.
Wilde’s attorney told the Fairbanks Daily News-Mineran appeal was possible.
A federal magistrate in 2012 found Wilde guilty of three misdemeanor counts, and Wilde was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.
The value of Bristol Bay driftnet permits continues to increase.
The value placed on those permits by the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission jumped up over $14,000 to about $117,000. That’s compared to the more than $102,000 dollars value recorded back in October. The November figure of about $117,000 is the largest value for Bristol Bay driftnet permits in over a year.
The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission bases their value on the actual prices that permits are sold for but there is a lag, sometimes as much as a couple of months. A look around some of the brokerage sites shows quite a bit of variation in the prices for Bristol Bay driftnet permits.
For instance Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer has 4 drift permits listed for sale with prices ranging from $140,000 to about $185,000. Dock Street Brokers in Seattle confirms that a driftnet permit sold back in mid-October for $135,000 and they have a seller with a permit currently listed at $140,000.
While there appears to be quite a bit of momentum for higher driftnet permit prices the same can’t be said for setnet permits in Bristol Bay.
The November value placed on those permits by CFEC is about $36,000, which is unchanged from the value recorded back in October. That value is the lowest such value for Bristol Bay setnet permits in the last year. Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer has two setnet permits listed.
One has an asking price of $43,000 and the second has an asking price of $45,000. Dock Street Brokers has two setnet permits listed at $46,000 each. They have other Bristol Bay setnet permits listed with prices from $80,000 to $120,000. However, those permits come with sites and, in a couple of instances, gear.
A Bethel man is facing a felony assault charge for allegedly hurting his two-year-old son. Last week, Bethel Police were called to a home early in the morning and arrested 30-year-old Maurice Andrews Senior.
The investigation showed a 2-year-old child had suffered visible facial wounds after reportedly being thrown on the ground and kicked multiple times. The child was treated in Bethel for multiple wounds and a broken clavicle and flown to Anchorage for further testing.
Court documents indicate that Andrews had a strong odor of alcohol.
Andrews is facing a felony assault three charge involving a child under the age of ten. Bail was set at 5,000 dollars. Andrews’ next court appearance is Friday afternoon.
Researchers expect that salmon productivity could shift in Southeast Alaska streams over the next 70 years as temperatures rise and rainfall increases because of climate change.
Projections suggest that the average annual temperature for Southeast Alaska and western British Columbia coast would increase 6.1 degrees to just under 44 degrees Fahrenheit in the year 2080. Precipitation in the form of rain could increase over twenty inches to a total of 145 inches, while snowfall could drop about 30% to about 30 inches a year.
“There could be some serious differences,” said Michael Goldstein of the U.S. Forest Service.
Goldstein was among a group of researchers who briefed attendees on the unpublished research at the recent Southeast Alaska Watershed Symposium in Juneau. A similar presentation on the impacts of climate change was made during the recent Al-Can Summit organized by the Juneau World Affairs Council.
Goldstein said the changes in temperature and precipitation would not be uniform throughout the entire Southeast Alaska and western British Columbia area.
So, temperature and precipitation had the greatest change in the northern mainland and the least change in the southern island provinces. Precipitation as snow had the greatest change in the southern mainland and the least change in the outer coast.”
It could mean warmer and drier extended summers, and warmer and wetter winters.
By 2080, Juneau could be like Prince Rupert. Projected average of 45 degrees Fahrenheit or thereabouts is similar to the average temperature of May 2013. I was looking around the internet and Alabama has an average winter temperature of 45 degrees as well.”
Returning spawning salmon near Salmon Creek in 2013. Photo by Greg Culley
The projections were presented in conjunction with separate research and modeling done by Colin Shanley, a planner and analyst with The Nature Conservancy in Juneau, in his effort to identify salmon habitat ranging from the most vulnerable to the most resilient.
This is watershed-based analysis. Not a cell-based analysis or estuary-based analysis. Basically, watershed area, monthly precipitation both present and predicted from the present climate model, same thing for monthly temperature, watershed elevation, percent lakes, and percent glaciers as well.”
Dr. Sanjay Pyare, associate professor of geography and environmental science at University of Alaska Southeast, said that climate change could play a crucial role in altering stream temperatures and episodic discharges from nearby glaciers and the ice field.
“If you look at the overall discharge coming out of an area like Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia annually compared to a place like the Mississippi River Basin, it’s actually something like two times the overall freshwater discharge,” Pyare said. “Obviously, it has a lower land mass overall. So, there’s a lot of water coming down the pipes in a place like Southeast Alaska.”
Watersheds that are predominately glacial-fed may, for example, have their peak discharge in mid-summer with colder water. Snow- or rain-fed watersheds may have two discharge peaks in the spring and early fall.
The State of Alaska is expecting to take in $2 billion less in oil taxes over the next fiscal year, according to the Department of Revenue’s fall forecast. That means a 30 percent drop in the state’s unrestricted general fund, the pool of money that the state’s elected leaders control.
Commissioner Angela Rodell says there are a number of factors contributing to this decline, but the biggest ones are lower production and lower prices for oil. While the state had expected a barrel to cost around $109 on average, they’ve changed that estimate to $105.
“We can’t discount just how influential oil prices are and will continue to be on future forecasts,” says Rodell. “So, even when we turn oil production around and stem the decline, oil prices will continue to be a very heavily influential factor on future state revenues.”
Rodell says the state’s new oil tax law, which goes into effect this January, plays a smaller role in this anticipated downturn. Under the old system, the tax rate went up as oil prices increased. The new system, which the Parnell administration has named the “More Alaska Production Act” or MAPA — sets a tax ceiling of 35 percent with tax credits issued as the price of a barrel of oil goes down. Opponents of the new tax law have called it a “giveaway” to oil companies, and a referendum to repeal it is slated to appear on the August primary ballot.
Rodell says that since oil prices are lower than anticipated, the Department of Revenue is seeing less of a difference between the two system than anticipated.
“That’s not to say that MAPA doesn’t have an influence on the decline in revenue because we have estimated that decline in revenue attributed to tax reform to be roughly $250 to $300 million,” says Rodell. “My concern is that they think the entire decline is due to MAPA, when in fact the vast majority of the decline is due to the reduction in oil prices.”
But some Democratic lawmakers who opposed the new law think the difference between two oil tax regimes is being downplayed. Anchorage Sen. Bill Wielechowski has dubbed the law an “unmitigated financial trainwreck” after looking at the forecast. House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula says she’s still reviewing the forecast, but that revenue hit is concerning to her.
“That’s a lot of schools. That’s a lot of hospitals. That’s a lot of roads,” says Kerttula.
The forecasted decline is expected to influence Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget, which is due out next week.
The Second Annual Prevention Summit kicked off Tuesday in Juneau. Sponsored by the stateCouncil on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the three-day summit at Centennial Hall brings together teams from 19 communities with the goal of exchanging ideas about prevention.
At the start of the summit, participants told KTOO about what is working in their community and what they hope to gain over the next couple of days.
Tasha Bird is a rural outreach coordinator for the women’s shelter in Emmonak, a Yupik village of about 800 people. “My job is to educate youth and young women to stop domestic violence from happening to them and their children, their neighbors,” she says.
Bird also reaches out to 13 surrounding villages. She says the nine-bed shelter has been busy all year. The six extra cots have also gotten a lot of use. Bird says domestic violence and sexual assault in Emmonak is often caused by drinking or jealousy.
“We try to ask them to go get marriage counseling or to go talk to the elders, and they could also come to the shelter and talk to us,” Bird says, “but it’s the men who don’t want to participate or they don’t want to come forward and deal with everything.”
Being able to reach the men in her community is part of what Bird hopes to get out of the Prevention Summit. She’s heard about the statewide program Alaska Men Choose Respect and wants to learn more.
“Lots of the guys at home like to play basketball and maybe I’ll work with the city league and see if they could help me with something because I know lots of the young boys, they look up to those guys,” says Bird.
Bethel resident Winifred Kelly-Green is the healthy families coordinator for the Association of Village Council Presidents. She says she has started working on healing historical trauma, “The attempt to assimilate Yupik people – with that there was a lot of traumatizing things that happened, including the great death, but there were other things – boarding schools, taking children away.”
Historical trauma, Kelly-Green says, is linked to domestic violence and sexual assault in Bethel, “We have parents now who don’t know how to be parents because they weren’t home. They weren’t being parented because of the boarding schools.”
Through forced assimilation, Kelly-Green says Yupik men lost their capacity to pass knowledge to younger generations.
“In the Yupik culture, our men had a place that they called the qasgiq. It’s the men’s house where they gathered and worked together, taught the young boys. And that was their way of maintaining whole health,” Kelly-Green explains. “And with the Christianity that came, they saw that as something bad, so they went up and down the river in every village and burned the qasgiqs down, and leaving our men lost.”
In Dillingham, Greg Marxmiller works at SAFE, a domestic violence prevention agency, and runs the youth program called Myspace. “The youth program there is huge,” he says. “Getting kids a place to go that’s consistent, that they’re able to have somebody that cares about them and have advocacy and being trained to become leaders and lead in their town and making it a better place.”
In Marxmiller’s opinion, everybody in Dillingham comes from a place where there’s domestic violence and sexual assault.
“It’s something that everybody in the community has to deal with because we’re a community and we all have to deal with our ills, so in essence, everybody from Dillingham comes from an issue of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Marxmiller explains. “So knowing that, there are a lot of people who are working to do something about it and try to stop this domestic violence and sexual assault epidemic.”
Marxmiller’s goals for the Prevention Summit is to network, take new ideas back to Dillingham, and get resources to continue the prevention efforts that are already taking place.
Brace yourselves for higher airline ticket fees, maybe. In Congress, budget negotiators are trying to craft a deal that would keep the government running and avoid automatic spending cuts without raising taxes. But lawmakers say the deal may include higher user fees, among them, a doubling of the security fee air passengers pay – from $2.50 per flight segment to $5.
Alaska Congressman Don Young says it’s not fair to his constituents.
“We don’t have any highways. We fly more,” Young said. “There’s really no way we can get around without air, so we’ll be the heaviest taxed, and by the way, again I think that’s unconstitutional.”
He says such an increase should go through the normal congressional committee process, not come locked in as part of a budget bill.
“I’m inclined not to vote for it now [if] that type thing is in the bill,” Young said.
It’s unclear whether negotiators will be able to reach a budget agreement, without or without the air travel fee hike, but the airline industry is fighting back hard. They had leafleteers at the airport nearest the U.S. Capitol this week, handing out airsickness bags with their message on them.
“Are higher taxes on air travel making you sick?”
They say taxes on a typical $300 round trip fare already come to more than $60.
Two bills aimed at helping coastal communities deal with marine debris advanced in Congress on Wednesday.
Alaska Congressman Don Young, a co-sponsor, says they would make it easier for local, state and tribal governments to get money to remove rubbish that floats to their shores.
One bill would broaden the ability the federal government to reimburse communities for cleaning up debris stemming from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, using $5 million Japan donated last year.
The other would speed grants to communities in the midst of a severe debris event. Young says the bill doesn’t appropriate funds so it’s unclear how much would be available.
Both bills cleared the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.
Japan estimates the tsunami washed 5 million tons of debris out to sea.
NOAA said in September the greatest concentration of flotsam is likely to be northeast of Hawaii, about half way to the West Coast of the U.S., but that the debris field extends to Southeast Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska.