APRN Alaska News

Subscribe to APRN Alaska News feed APRN Alaska News
Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 48 min 21 sec ago

Pioneering Rough Terrain Unicycling | INDIE ALASKA

Thu, 2015-06-11 12:28

George Peck began riding unicycles around Seward, Alaska in the eighties. Eventually moving on to riding the ultimate wheel – a unicycle with no seat – on mountains and beaches, George pioneered the sport of “rough terrain unicycling” and began a family tradition carried on by his children, Kris and Katie Peck.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Operating Budget, As Special Session Moves Toward End

Thu, 2015-06-11 11:54

The Alaska House of Representatives has passed an operating budget, signaling the end of a stalemate over the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit.

The $5 billion budget includes changes agreed to by a conference committee on Wednesday. It funds a contractual cost-of-living increase for public employees, but offsets that directing the governor to make a $30 million reduction to agency operations. The compromise also restored some cuts that had been made to education and the ferry system.

The vote on the bill was 32 to 7, with half of the Democratic Minority voting against it, because it did not reduce the payment of oil tax credits or advance some of their other priorities like Medicaid expansion. Rep. Lora Reinbold, a conservative Eagle River Republican who was kicked out of the majority caucus earlier this year, also voted against it, but because she thought it spent too much.

However, Democrats were unanimous in their support for paying for the operating budget by making a withdrawal from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. The vote was 38 to 1, well above the three-quarter threshold to access the rainy day fund. Reinbold was the lone no vote.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the budget bill, along with a sexual abuse prevention bill known as Erin’s Law later today. If the two bodies successfully end their special session on Thursday, state government will no longer be at risk of shutting down on July 1.

Categories: Alaska News

State study shows 60% wolf decline on POW

Thu, 2015-06-11 11:00

The number of wolves on Prince of Wales Island and nearby islands has dropped dramatically, according to a draft report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A state official said that decline is something to watch carefully, but he’s not concerned yet about the viability of wolves in that area.

Conservationists, though, are alarmed and say that number could be too low to maintain genetic health among remaining wolves.

In 2013, the estimated population of wolves in Game Management Unit 2 was 221 animals. A similar study conducted just one year later shows that number dropped to an estimated 89.

Ryan Scott is the Southeast Region Supervisor for Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Conservation Division. He stressed that those numbers are estimates based on a small study area on the big island.

“We utilize DNA collected from wolf hair that’s captured in passive hair traps. They roll on it, and we collect the hair and use the follicles to collect the genetic information,” he said.

From that information, state biologists determine how many wolves are in the study area, and then use that to estimate the number in the entire game management unit.

Scott said it’s an imprecise tool for such a large area. Prince of Wales Island alone is slightly larger than the State of Delaware.

“We know the conditions are different, we know that the numbers of wolves are different in various places,” he said. “But we do it because by regulation, we have to set a harvest guideline based on a fall population estimate.”

The estimate of 89 wolves is the midpoint of a range. Scott said the population could be as low as 50, or as high as 159.

Despite the lack of precision in the methodology, he said the study does show a clear drop.

“A decline is real, it’s the magnitude of that decline that I think we have to be really careful with,” he said. “It’s going to take additional data collection and additional field work to identify what the trend is.”

State biologists have been studying wolf populations on POW for three years. The first year’s information was not useful, Scott said, because scientists weren’t able to collect enough data. That means there’s only two years’ worth to consider so far.

Scott isn’t overly concerned about the long-term viability of wolves in Game Management Unit 2, and despite the study’s lower population estimate, he anticipates there will be a trapping season this coming winter.

By regulation, the state can allow a total take of up to 20 percent of the estimated population, which in this case would be no more than 18 wolves.

“That number is not set at this point,” he said. “It’s something we are discussing and will be discussing not only internally, but it’s important to have conversations with the trappers, with the communities and subsistence users, the Forest Service. While we know the harvest guideline will be reduced based on regulation, to identify what that number is going to be, there’s a lot of road to travel there yet.”

Larry Edwards is with the Sitka-based Greenpeace office, and he is worried about Prince of Wales Island wolves. He points out that the wolf population study took place last fall, before the winter trapping season.

“The quota for that was 25 wolves. Actually, 29 were taken,” he said. “So, the number now is surely lower than what was reported.”

Edwards said the genetic health of the remaining wolves needs to be considered when determining the population’s future viability.

He gives an example of a group of wolves on an isolated island in the Midwest’s Lake Superior. That group had low numbers for many years, and people thought it was stable.

“There’s recent reports and science that’s come out on that, that the population has crashed,” he said. “There’s only three wolves left there, and those wolves are in very poor health because of inbreeding. So, once you get to a small population, you need to be concerned about inbreeding.”

Edwards said his group will review the official Alaska Department of Fish and Game study once it’s released. But, based on information available so far, he said Greenpeace likely will ask for an emergency closure of wolf trapping in Game Management Unit 2.

“And that would involve both Fish and Game and the Federal Subsistence Board,” he said.

Subsistence hunting is managed separately by the federal government, but often in cooperation with state agencies.

Greenpeace and other groups filed a petition in 2011 to get the Alexander Archipelago wolf protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Edwards said that petition is still under review.

Conservation groups say logging and activity related to logging – such as building roads – has led to the decline of wolves on Prince of Wales Island, partly because more roads provides easier access for hunting and trapping.

Edwards said information from the state’s wolf population study likely will be used in future challenges to old-growth logging on POW.

At deadline Wednesday, the state had not yet released the official wolf population study for Game Management Unit 2. It is expected to be published within the next few days.

Categories: Alaska News

Chinook Closures Impede Summer Chum Subsistence

Thu, 2015-06-11 10:43

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

Summer chum and Chinook salmon have begun their runs along the Yukon River.

Wildlife managers and fishermen met via teleconference yesterday to discuss river conditions and the salmon’s progress upstream. Community members reported summer chum as far upriver as Huslia and Ruby, with Chinook salmon fast on their heels.

However, the much-coveted kings may not be a welcome sight to fishermen this year. Stephanie Schmidt is the Summer Season Fishery Manager along the Yukon for Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game. She said Chinook numbers continue to be low — mandating fishery closures once the salmon enter each upriver community.

“[This] is going to be another challenging year for us,” she said. “We’re expecting a Chinook salmon run similar to last year. Which was an okay run; we met escapement goals. But only because of the very conservative management goals that had to be taken and all of the efforts that fishermen took to conserve Chinook salmon.”

Several fishermen voiced frustration at the closures, not because they’ll miss out on the long-restricted kings, but because gear restrictions — such as on nets larger than 4 inch-wide mesh — will hinder their ability to capture the more abundant chum.

Jack from Huslia explained that the arrival of Chinook salmon typically coincides with the peak summer chum run in his community.

“That’s when the best fish go by for us. That’s when we lose our half-dried fish and our dried fish,” he said.

Because Chinook salmon can be caught in gill nets just as easily as chum, all nets wider than 4 inches will be off-limits once the kings arrive. Schmidt said fishermen will still be allowed to use nets that are 4 inches or smaller for sheefish and smaller species throughout the salmon closure.

That came as small consolation in communities where purchasing other, smaller nets may be cost prohibitive.

“We have to eat along this river; everybody has to eat. They can’t live out of the store,” said Martha, a fisherman in Ruby. “I can’t afford to get another net that’s smaller.”

Schmidt thanked fisherman for their continued efforts to conserve king salmon — and said she knows it hasn’t come without sacrifice. She also shared some positive news from ADF&G researchers monitoring Chinook in Pilot Station.

“Those researchers have been reporting phenomenal catches of juvenile Chinook salmon,” she said. “More so than last year. And I just offer that as a little bit of hope. Hopefully we are creating more baby Chinook salmon that grow up to be big Chinook salmon and come back.”

The meeting concluded with an atypical concern: Fishermen wanted to know what would happen to state-managed fisheries on the Yukon, and further North, if Alaska’s legislature is unable to reach an agreement on the state budget before July 1 — instigating a partial government shutdown.

John Linderman is regional supervisor for the Arctic Yukon-Kuskokwim region of commercial fisheries. He believes it’s unlikely that lawmakers will allow the budget impasse to reach that stage. However, he said wildlife managers have considered it, and there is currently enough money to keep fisheries functional until August 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

National Park Service supports Mount McKinley name change

Thu, 2015-06-11 10:34

The National Park Service is not against changing Mount McKinley’s official name to Denali, but Alaskans are still in a battle with Ohioans over the name of North America’s tallest mountain.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports a director with the park service, Victor Knox, weighed in on the issue at a Senate hearing Wednesday. Knox said the National Park Service doesn’t object to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s bill that calls for the mountain’s name to be changed to Denali.

Alaskans have filed several bills since 1975 to change the name and Ohioans have continued to block the effort.

The mountain is named after former president William McKinley, who was from Canton, Ohio.

It is still unclear whether Murkowski will be able to get the legislation through the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka man found dead in Thomsen Harbor

Thu, 2015-06-11 10:30

A 52-year-old Sitka man was found dead in Thomsen Harbor Monday morning. The Anchorage Medical Examiner today identified him as Sitka resident Kevin Climer.

Police received a report of a person floating in the harbor just before 7 a.m. Monday, and responded along with emergency medical personnel. Climer was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police say initial information indicates the cause of death was accidental drowning. But the investigation is continuing.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. House Bill Seen as Aviation Boon, Housing Bane

Thu, 2015-06-11 08:18

The U.S. House this week narrowly passed a transportation and housing spending bill that Alaska Congressman Don Young says includes programs important to Alaska aviation.

The bill de-funds a controversial FAA hiring test. Among its critics are graduates of UAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative, who say the test hurts their chances of getting FAA jobs.

Young says he also helped defeat an amendment to de-fund Essential Air Service. That $260 million program subsidizes airlines for transportation to 44 Alaska communities, and to scores of Lower 48 towns. Airlines serving Alaska are slated to receive $15.5 million through the program this year.

The White House says the spending bill short-changes homeless programs and transit. The administration says some 60 Alaska families would lose Housing Choice vouchers if the bill becomes law.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Strike Budget Deal

Wed, 2015-06-10 22:51

The Alaska House and Senate have reached a deal on the state’s operating budget.

For weeks, the two bodies have been at an impasse over whether to fund cost-of-living raises for public employees. House Democrats argued that the state should not go back on its contract with state workers, while Senate Republicans held that it was inappropriate to grant them a pay increase when the state faces a multi-billion-dollar deficit. The House’s Republican majority acted as a go-between.

The stalemate finally ended on Wednesday night, when a conference committee between the two bodies agreed to pay for the contracts this year, but placed limits on future increases. Their bill instructs the governor to keep salaries flat when bargaining with the public employee unions, and has a clause that allows contract negotiations to be reopened if oil goes above $95 per barrel or drops below $45 per barrel.

The committee directed Gov. Bill Walker to cut $30 million in agency operations at his own discretion as a way of offsetting the cost-of-living increases.

The compromise also adds $16 million in formula funding for schools, as well as some additional money for early education , the ferry system, senior benefits, and the Office of Children’s Services.

As the result of the deal, Democrats in the House Minority have agreed to support a withdrawal from the state’s rainy-day fund to pay for the $5 billion operating budget. A three-quarter vote is needed to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The House and Senate have floor sessions scheduled for Thursday morning, and a spokesperson for the House Majority say a vote on the budget is anticipated.

Categories: Alaska News

Key Provision Of Erin’s Law Restored

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:42

After holding the bill for three weeks, the Senate Finance Committee has unveiled a new version of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act — known nationally as “Erin’s Law.” APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that some controversial riders were removed on Wednesday.

Download Audio:

When lawmakers last saw the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, it was in a mutant form. In a push by Mat-Su Republicans, the sexual abuse prevention bill had grown from three pages to 12, and it had picked up sections that banned schools from contracting with Planned Parenthood and that let students opt out of standardized testing. Most troublesome to the bill’s sponsors: It gutted the original legislation by making the establishment of sexual abuse prevention programs optional.

The substitute offered by the Senate Finance Committee kept the length of the last iteration. But as Soldotna Republican Peter Micciche explained, the content hewed much closer to the original bill.

<<”A lot of the changes in here are related to the initial bill, like the task force. Some of it added extra space, but it doesn’t change the effectiveness of the Erin and Bree Law sections.”>>

The new version requires adults who volunteer with children for at least four hours a week to be mandatory reporters, and it creates a task force to create age-appropriate curricula for different grades. The bill gives that task force until 2017 to develop the program before it becomes compulsory for schools. Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican, gave the reason for the task force.

“There is no intention by myself or anyone I’ve been speaking with to delay anything, but only try to perfect — or at least improve — the outcomes of safety for kids in our schools,” said MacKinnon.

The Senate Finance Committee also stripped many of the additions that were not germane to the original bill. Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy was responsible for some of those riders, with the idea of turning the Alaska Safe Children’s Act into an omnibus “parental rights” bill. He asked MacKinnon if his changes had been removed.

DUNLEAVY: Just a quick clarification — the section on parental rights is totally out of this, correct?
MACKINNON: Sen. Dunleavy, that is not correct. It depends on perspective.

MacKinnon went on to say the “controversial” components had been taken out.

When the committee took testimony on the bill later in the day, most members of the public expressed support for the committee’s actions. A box of tissues sat next to the microphone, and person after person came up and told their own stories of abuse.

Butch Moore spoke of his daughter Bree Moore, the namesake of the dating violence section of the bill. Bree was murdered last year, and her boyfriend was charged. Butch Moore said it’s hard for him to argue about different kinds of parental rights when his daughter is dead.

“Our parental rights have been taken away and stripped away from us,” said Moore. “Our parental rights have been violated more than anyone’s.”

At a press conference, Gov. Bill Walker also applauded the changes, adding that it bodes well for the Legislature concluding its special session and reaching a deal on the budget in the coming days.

Categories: Alaska News

State Consolidates Two Divisions in Dept. of Labor

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:41

Gov. Bill Walker will take a modest step toward streamlining state government by combining two divisions within the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Download Audio:

Walker at a press conference Wednesday announced the Employment Security Division would be combined with the Division of Business Partnerships.

The combined agency will be the Division of Employment and Training Services.

The projected savings of the consolidation is $600,000. Walker says that won’t balance the budget but it’s a start.

He credits Heidi Drygas Labor Commission for coming up with the plan and says other consolidations are likely.

Drygas also is declaring Alaska a “zone of underemployment” that will allow an employment preference for Alaskans on state public works contracts.

The declaration requires that Alaska residents be given a 90 percent employment preference.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawyers Say Walker Can Act On Medicaid Without the Legislature

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:40

Governor Bill Walker likely has the authority to expand Medicaid without legislative approval, according to two legal opinions written last month. One opinion, from the legislature’s legal services department, says the state’s health department can “cooperate with the federal government” and accept money for things like Medicaid.

Download Audio:

The opinion also points out it is probably unconstitutional for lawmakers to include a line in the budget blocking Governor Walker from receiving Medicaid expansion funds. That’s because a section of the state constitution says “bills for appropriation shall be confined to appropriations.”

The memo was written in response to a question from House minority leader Chris Tuck. In a separate opinion, the state law department makes a similar argument.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Governor says Walker will evaluate whether to expand Medicaid on his own after the legislative session.

Categories: Alaska News

State Budget Cuts Squeeze Wildland Firefighters

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:38

Firefighting efforts are winding down on two wildfires in Southwest Alaska. The 14,800-acre Whitefish Lake Fire was contained as of Monday. At just over 25,000 acres, the Bogus Creek Fire was the largest yet this year, and demobilized Tuesday.

The state’s firefighting assets that responded to these fires were based out of McGrath, the station that covers the nearly 90 million acres of Southwest Alaska. Next month McGrath will lose the majority of its firefighting staff due to state budget cuts.

Download Audio:

Categories: Alaska News

Nikiski Seeks More Law Enforcement as Petty Crime Booms

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:36

More property crime and the potential for hundreds of new residents in the coming years has the unincorporated area of Nikiski looking for more law enforcement. The area is underserved by the Alaska State Troopers and community members want action.

Download Audio:

One of the things that makes Nikiski so attractive to the people who live there is the same thing that makes it attractive for petty criminals. Quiet, secluded neighborhoods. No cops, and the space to be more or less left alone to do as you please. But that’s not really working for everyone anymore. It really hasn’t been working for awhile.

“So it seems to be the same conversation we had back in 2004. And here we are again.”

That’s Ann Krogseng. She runs a construction business with her husband. She says the property crime has gotten so bad that when some gas was siphoned from one of their tanks recently, they didn’t even bother calling it in. And she doesn’t think the multi-billion dollar Alaska LNG Project coming to town will help.

“And we are on the cusp of having a dramatic economic change in our community. And we can either be prepared if it does come or not be prepared. We’ll either be proactive or we’ll be reactive.”

Krogseng was one of more than 100 residents who came to a recent meeting to find out more about a proposed law enforcement service area. Since Nikiski isn’t a city, the services it gets through the Kenai Peninsula Borough like fire response and recreation, are all approved on local ballots and paid for through local taxes. Having that local control is a big selling point, as people aren’t real satisfied with Alaska State Troopers ability to respond to calls from their post in Soldotna, 30 minutes away. But a dedicated police force isn’t the answer for everyone. Local militia members, like Ray Southwell, think they should be able to take care of themselves.

“I’m in the process of developing the Deacons for Defense and have called upon militia members in our community to join our efforts to expose the drug dealers and disrupt their money-making schemes that destroys communities.”

Most residents do point to drug use as the main culprit behind all the property theft. It’s those layers of related crimes that make people think a permanent police presence is the best answer. But it will be up the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to decide if the question of creating a new law enforcement service area will go on the ballot this fall. If it does, the final decision will be up to the residents of Nikiski.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wed, 2015-06-10 17:35

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.

Download Audio:

 

 

Key Provisions of Erin’s Law Restored

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After holding the bill for three weeks, the Senate Finance Committee has unveiled a new version of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act — known nationally as “Erin’s Law.” Some controversial riders have been removed.

Village Crime Victims Need Intervention, Senators Told

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

In Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon the Senate Indian Affairs Committee heard pleas for better treatment of crime victims in Native communities.

State Consolidates Two Divisions in Dept. of Labor

Associated Press

Gov. Bill Walker will take a modest step toward streamlining state government by combining two divisions within the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Lawyers Say Walker Can Act On Medicaid Without the Legislature

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Bill Walker likely has the authority to expand Medicaid without legislative approval, according to two legal opinions written last month.

 

Fairbanks Man Likely Contracted Measles in Mongolia

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A case of measles in Fairbanks is the first confirmed occurrence of the highly contagious viral infection in the state in 15 years.

State Budget Cuts Squeeze Wildland Firefighters

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

Firefighting efforts are winding down on two wildfires in Southwest Alaska. The 14,800-acre Whitefish Lake Fire was contained as of Monday. At just over 25,000 acres, the Bogus Creek Fire was the largest yet this year, and demobilized Tuesday.

New Marijuana Restrictions Regulate Secondhand Smoke

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Marijuana is now subject to the same rules limiting secondhand smoke from cigarettes in Alaska’s largest city.

Nikiski Seeks More Law Enforcement as Petty Crime Booms

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

More property crime and the potential for hundreds of new residents in the coming years has the unincorporated area of Nikiski looking for more law enforcement.

Study Investigates Water Contamination in North Pole

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A federal agency will conduct a study to determine the danger of drinking groundwater contaminated by the industrial solvent sulfolane in the North Pole area.

With Seconds to Spare, Coast Guard Rescues Crew of Kupreanof

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Four people are safe after their fishing tender sank off Cape Fairweather early Wednesday morning.

Categories: Alaska News

With seconds to spare, Coast Guard rescues crew of Kupreanof

Wed, 2015-06-10 16:43

Four people are safe after their fishing tender sank off Cape Fairweather early Wednesday morning.

A helicopter from Air Station Sitka hoisted the crew of the 80-foot tender, just as the vessel rolled and sank in six-foot seas near Lituya Bay.

The 80-foot tender Kupreanof slips beneath the waves just seconds after the last crew member was hoisted aboard an Air Station Sitka helicopter. (USCG image)

The Kupreanof was en route from Petersburg to Bristol Bay to tender salmon when it ran into trouble at about 3:45 AM in an area known as the Fairweather grounds, about 110 miles northwest of Sitka.

Chris Stoeckler was the pilot of the Air Station Sitka rescue helicopter. He says the Kupreanof was already partially submerged by the time he arrived. The rear deck — or port quarter — was already awash. The four members of the Kupreanof’s crew were in the bow wearing their survival suits. Their liferaft was deployed at the stern.

Stoeckler says he instructed the crew to abandon ship.

“One guy jumped onto the raft. The others had to swim out. We put Jason down into the water. He helped three people get into the raft.”

That’s Jason Yelvington, the helicopter crew’s rescue swimmer. Stoeckler says the four hoists took about 20 minutes, which is all the time the Kupreanof had left.

“The last basket hoist, the boat sank, and took the raft with it.”

Rescue swimmer Yelvington says in  a situation like this, where sinking is imminent, he prefers to do his work in the water rather than on the distressed boat.

“Whether it sinks or not, there are a lot of hazards, for them to hit their head, cause a bigger injury trying to move around. I’ve got fins on usually, taking them off to move around on the boat and help them — it’s usually just a lot easier of an evolution for us if everyone’s in the raft in one area that I can get to, and swim them from there.”

Yelvington says there was a lot of diesel fuel in the water, and breathing the fumes made the work harder. He appreciated the fact that the crew members of the Kupreanof were all functioning well under trying circumstances. He says it’s often not until everyone’s safely aboard the helicopter that they’re hit by what’s just happened.

“There’s not a lot of opportunity for conversation, so I think they go through a lot of the interior stuff that happens on the way back, and get a chance to calm down. That could be helpful to someone, to reflect on what just happened.”

A good Samaritan vessel — a ship, according co-pilot Ben Neal — also responded to the Kupreanof’s mayday, but notified the Coast Guard that it would have been difficult to recover survivors from the water, had that been necessary. Nevertheless, the good Samaritan would have been useful if something had gone wrong.

But Neal says a lot went right — thanks to the advance preparation of the Kupreanof crew before they set out across the Gulf.

“Before they ever got underway, they had done a drill where they got their Gumby suits out and inspected their equipment. That was probably critical in how prepared they were today. They really did have things well organized. They were pretty calm. And they called for help at the right time.”

All the survivors — and rescue swimmer Yelvington — were checked out by emergency medical personnel once they returned to Sitka. Other than their exposure to diesel fumes, all were released without injury.

The Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment is investigating the cause of the Kupreanof’s flooding. Neal says the vessel had been out of service for roughly 20 years prior to making this voyage.

Categories: Alaska News

Village Crime Victims Need Intervention, Senators Told

Wed, 2015-06-10 16:39

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee today heard pleas for better treatment of crime victims in Native communities. Gerad Godfrey, chairman of Alaska’s Violent Crime Compensation Board, cited a few of the state’s grim statistics.
“In Bethel (and) the surrounding villages, there’s, on average, one rape or child sexual abuse case reported every other day,” he said.
Godfrey says a victim in a village might be flown to a hospital, sometimes as far as Anchorage, for evidence collection, with no advocate. Worse, Godfrey says, often there’s no investigation and family members tell young victims to keep quiet.
“If they don’t feel that what happened to them is serious, and it was very bad, and somebody cares, our opportunity to restore them emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, probably passes,” he said. “But beyond that, they are also more likely to perpetuate that as they grow older.”
Godfrey spent part of his childhood in Bethel, when his father, Glenn Godfrey, was assigned to the State Trooper post there. He says he recalls 3rd and 4th grade friends casually discussing abuse and which kids had been victimized.

Godfrey’s testimony, and the stories told from other states, stunned Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat.
“Who could sit in this room and not be horrified?” she asked. “One of almost every three children between the ages of 11 and 13 tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, on Fort Peck. In what world aren’t we horrified? Your testimony, Mr. Godfrey — I’m horrified. I’m horrified by all of this.”
Heitkamp and Sen. Lisa Murkowski pushed a bill through the Senate last week to establish a national commission on Native children. It’s awaiting action in the House.
Godfrey says the single biggest help would be money for rural sexual assault response teams. As he sees it, they’d fly to a community right after a report, to both help the victim and gather evidence. He also advocates for abuse-prevention education in schools, an idea the Alaska Legislature is wrestling with.
Murkowski says leaving that decision to each school district isn’t a good solution.
“In some of our small communities, where our school boards are making these decisions, it may be that some of our school board members are part of our problem, and they don’t want to see these things – prevention education – included in the schools,” Murkowski said.
She says the rate of violence in Indian Country and in Native villages  is not a new problem, and she’s seen hearings like this one every few years.

“We just say these statistics over and over and over again,” Murkowski said, lamenting the lack of services to victims, and the lack of prosecutions.

Categories: Alaska News

Net Restrictions on the Yukon Aim to Preserve Kings

Wed, 2015-06-10 16:23

Summer chum and Chinook salmon have begun their runs along the Yukon River.

Wildlife managers and fishermen met via teleconference yesterday to discuss river conditions and the salmon’s progress upstream. Community members reported summer chum as far upriver as Huslia and Ruby, with Chinook salmon fast on their heels.

However, the much-coveted kings may not be a welcome sight to fishermen this year. Stephanie Schmidt is Fish and Game’s the summer season fishery manager along the Yukon. She says Chinook numbers continue to be low – mandating fishery closures once the salmon enter each upriver community.

“2015 is going to be another challenging year for us. We’re expecting a Chinook salmon run similar to last year. Which was an OK run last year. We met escapement goals. But only because of the very conservative management goals that had to be taken and all of the efforts that fishermen took to conserve Chinook salmon.”

Several fishermen voiced frustration at the closures – not because they’ll miss out on the long-restricted kings, but because gear restrictions (such as on nets larger than 4 inch-wide mesh) will hinder their ability to capture the more abundant chum.

Jack from Huslia explains that the arrival of Chinook salmon typically coincides with the peak summer chum run in his community.

“When you close it – that’s when the best fish go by for us. That’s when we lose our half-dried fish and our dried fish.”

Because Chinook salmon can be caught in gill nets just as easily as chum, all nets wider than 4 inches will be off-limits once the kings arrive. Schmidt says fishermen will still be allowed to use nets that are 4 inches or smaller for sheefish and smaller species throughout the salmon closure.

One fisherman, Martha from Ruby, says that is small consolation in communities where purchasing additional nets may be cost prohibitive.

“We have to eat along this river; everybody has to eat. They can’t live out of the store. I can’t afford to get another net that’s smaller.”

Schmidt thanked fisherman for their continued efforts to conserve king salmon – and says she knows it hasn’t come without sacrifice. She also shared some positive news from ADF&G researchers monitoring Chinook in Pilot Station.

“Those researchers have been reporting just phenomenal catches of juvenile Chinook salmon. More so than last year. And I just offer that as a little bit of hope, you know. Hopefully we are creating more baby Chinook salmon that grow up to be big Chinook salmon and come back.”

The meeting concluded with an atypical concern: Fishermen wanted to know what would happen to state-managed fisheries on the Yukon (and farther North) if lawmakers are unable to reach an agreement on the state budget before July 1st, instigating a partial government shutdown.

John Linderman is regional supervisor for the Arctic Yukon-Kuskokwim region of commercial fisheries. He believes it unlikely that the budget impasse will reach that stage in Juneau. However, he says wildlife managers have considered it – and there is enough money to keep fisheries functional until at least August of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Man Likely Contracted Measles in Mongolia

Wed, 2015-06-10 15:56

A case of measles in Fairbanks is the first confirmed occurrence of the highly contagious viral infection in the state in 15 years. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says a man who flew from Mongolia to Fairbanks on May 31 to work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks tested positive for the virus. He was at the university and numerous other locations around the city, including several stores, before he knew he had measles. The man was contagious through June 7 in Fairbanks.

State of Alaska Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin suspects the man contracted measles in Mongolia, where there’s a large ongoing outbreak of the disease that causes a telltale rash, fever, runny nose, red eyes, and in rare cases can lead to deadly pneumonia or encephalitis.

“The big question is what should people in Fairbanks be doing.”

Dr. McLaughlin says that depends on a few things. He says people born before 1957 are likely immune to measles because they were exposed to the actual virus prior to widespread immunization. He says many born after that date were likely immunized as children, protection that lasts a lifetime, but otherwise…

“If you are un-vaccinated, under-vaccinated or you’re not sure, our recommendation is to go to your health care provider and make sure you get vaccinated.”

McLaughlin says measles spreads easily through the air, and respiratory secretions, even up to two hours after an infected person has been in a room.

“Measles is one of the most contagious pathogens known. About 90 percent of people who are exposed to measles, who have not been vaccinated, or have not had the infection in the past, will get infected.”

McLaughlin says symptoms typically take a week to 3 weeks to appear after exposure. He adds that the virus can spread from an infected person 4 days before the rash starts, and 4 days after it ends. McLaughlin urges watching for symptoms and calling a health care provider if you suspect you have measles.

“Then your health care provider will give you instructions about what to do. What he or she will likely say is I want you to come to the clinic, drive to the clinic, and we will send a nurse out to escort you into the clinic, and we’ll avoid the waiting room, because we don’t want other people to be exposed.”

The state reports that the man who traveled to Fairbanks with measles was on a flight from Seattle that stopped in Seattle, but not Anchorage. Federal officials are contacting people who may have been exposed on airlines outside of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska confirms first measles case in more than decade

Wed, 2015-06-10 10:43

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says the state’s first measles case in more than a decade has been confirmed in Fairbanks.

The department said Tuesday an adult who recently traveled to central Asia tested positive for the measles virus. The individual developed a rash several days after arriving in Fairbanks on May 31.

Alaska Section of Epidemiology Chief Dr. Joe McLaughlin says Fairbanks residents should make sure they are up-to-date with their measles vaccinations.

The patient might have been infectious while in several locations in Fairbanks from May 31 through June 7.

The patient was on a flight to Fairbanks that originated in Seattle and did not transit in Anchorage. Federal officials are contacting people who may have been exposed on airlines outside of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan man dies after accidental shooting

Wed, 2015-06-10 10:29

A 22-year-old Ketchikan man died Sunday night from what Alaska State Troopers say appears to be an accidental shooting.

According to troopers, Samson Mullenax was at a gravel pit off Brown Mountain Road with about a half-dozen people. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the gravel pit is frequently used as a shooting range.

“It looks like somebody was handling one of the small-caliber handguns that they had and it was discharged,” she said. “And unfortunately, it did strike Mr. Mullenax.”

Peters said friends immediately took Mullenax to Ketchikan Medical Center.

“They tried to do a couple different life-saving measures on him, but it just wasn’t enough,” she said. “He was declared deceased when he was at the hospital.”

Next of kin have been notified. Peters said the investigation is ongoing, even though the shooting is most likely an accident.

“From the information that we have, it doesn’t appear to be anything sinister, however it is still something that we have to look into and make sure that we have all the information,” she said.

Peters said Mullenax and the person who was handling the gun that discharged will be screened for drugs and alcohol, although there’s no indication at this point that either was involved. She said that’s a standard procedure.

The body has been sent to the state Medical Examiner for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Pages