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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: 59 min 25 sec ago

Secretary of Defense Affirms Need For Arctic Emphasis

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:23

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter affirmed on Tuesday the need for a U.S. military strategy for the Arctic as Russia builds its military in the north.

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In response to a question from Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Carter said the Arctic should be part of the nation’s investment in defense.

“The Arctic is going to be a place of growing strategic importance,” Carter said. “The Russians are active there.”

“We are, as your state is right on the point of, an Arctic power, and that needs to be part of our strategy.”

Sullivan asked Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey what they thought of possibly removing combat brigades from Alaska’s Army bases. Dempsey answered indirectly.

“I won’t speak to the number of Army BCTs, brigade combat teams,” Dempsey said. “But I will say the Russians have just taken a decision to activate six new brigades and four of them will be in the Arctic.”

Carter and Dempsey’s main message was that Congress needs to lift the budget sequestration limits to adequately defend the country.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Work To Clean Up Milne Point Oil Spill

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:22

Clean-up crews are still working on an oil spill at Milne Point, about 25 miles northwest of Deadhorse. Milne Point is operated by Hilcorp.

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Company spokesperson Lori Nelson says poor weather conditions delayed work on the spill, which was first reported Saturday morning.

“We were able to dispatch more personnel both from Anchorage on Hilcorp’s side and the regulator’s side, to get those boots on the ground to do a full evaluation of the site,” Nelson said. “We have been able to mobilize clean up and response equipment to the site and work is ongoing.”

Crude and water sprayed onto the tundra from a quarter-inch hole in a 10-inch production line. The line was shut down and a bypass was installed on Sunday. Some of the wells on the site have already been brought back online. Nelson says oil production at Milne is about 20,000 barrels per day.

The Department of Environmental Conservation reports that nearly an acre of tundra and well pads were affected. Response crews have cleaned up nearly 100 barrels of oil and other liquids.

DEC Environmental Program Specialist Brad Dunker says 15 to 20 people are onsite removing the contaminated snow and ice.

“Basically what they’re doing is putting the snow and ice that they scoop from the impacted area into containers,” Dunker said. “And those containers will be hauled off by a dump truck and disposed of properly.”

Dunker says they are focusing efforts on containing the spill so it doesn’t spread any further. The area is fenced off to prevent impacts on wildlife. DEC will inspect the damaged pipe and investigate the cause.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Restart Route Moves Off Chena River

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:21

The Iditarod has changed its plan for the Fairbanks re-start. This winter’s warm weather that forced the re-start north from Anchorage is also causing problems in Fairbanks.

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Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Trail Invitational Racers Set Record Times Into McGrath

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:20

Another record has been broken in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the race from Knik to Nome. Anchorage fatbiker John Lackey pulled in to McGrath at 8:30 this morning after just 1 day, 18 hours, and 32 minutes, shattering the previous 350-mile record by more than 10 hours. Lackey says the win feels awesome.

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“Every single section of the trail was about as fast as it’s ever gonna be. The rivers were just glare ice. There was a tail wind coming out of Rohn,” Lackey said. “You could essentially ride the whole pass, so by the time we got over the pass you could tell that it was definitely possible that we could break that record. So I kept goin’, and here I am.”

Lackey didn’t sleep during the race and says he’s ready for a nap.

Fatbikers Kevin Breitenbach and Andrew Kulmatiski followed just hours behind Lackey for second and third place finishes. A dozen of the 53 competitors in the ITI are headed the 1,000 miles to Nome following the Iditarod Trail’s southern route.

Categories: Alaska News

National Geographic Photographer Reflects On Three Decades Of Work

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:19

National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths will be speaking tonight in Anchorage about her more than three decades of work capturing the lives and cultures of people across the planet. Griffiths has worked in more than 150 countries. She raised her children on the road and says they loved the Middle East where they rode camels, milked goats and were warmly welcomed by people who prioritized family.

Griffiths first came to Alaska in the 90s to photograph grizzly bears in the Brooks Range with biologists from Barrow. Ten years ago she returned to shoot in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. She says of all the places she’s worked, Alaska tops her list.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 3, 2015

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:18

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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Legislation Eliminating Daylight Savings In Alaska Advances

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A bill that would eliminate daylight saving time in Alaska is now one step away from the Senate floor. But as the legislation has advanced, it’s also changed in a way that could divide the state – figuratively and literally.

Developing State Regulations on Marijuana Mirror Alcohol, Cap Personal-Use Plants at 12

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

A week after a major step towards full marijuana legalization, Alaska’s legislators are working on the regulatory foundation for legal commercial growth and retail sales a year from now.

Cuts To Early Education Now Could Cost The State Later

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Proposed cuts by Alaska lawmakers to early education programs could cost the state a lot more in the future. Program proponents say supporting parents and children from birth to age five is crucial to a child’s and the state’s development.

Secretary of Defense Affirms Need For Arctic Emphasis

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter today affirmed the need for a U.S. military strategy for the Arctic  as Russia builds its military in the north.

BOEM collecting comments on proposed OCS lease sale in Arctic, Cook Inlet

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The national Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held an open house in Anchorage Monday seeking comments on the proposed off-shore lease sales for 2017 to 2022. The draft covers the entire nation and includes sales in northern Cook Inlet, the Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas.

Crews Work To Clean Up Milne Point Oil Spill

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

Clean-up crews are still working on an oil spill at Milne Point, about 25 miles northwest of Deadhorse. Milne Point is operated by Hilcorp.

Iditarod Restart Route Moves Off Chena River

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Iditarod has changed its plan for the Fairbanks re-start.

Iditarod Trail Invitational Racers Set Record Times Into McGrath

Evan Erickson, KSKA – Anchorage

Another record has been broken in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the race from Knik to Nome. Anchorage fatbiker John Lackey pulled in to McGrath at 8:30 this morning after just 1 day, 18 hours, and 32 minutes, shattering the previous 350-mile record by more than 10 hours.

National Geographic Photographer Reflects On Three Decades Of Work

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths will be speaking tonight in Anchorage about her more than three decades of work capturing the lives and cultures of people across the planet. Griffiths has worked in more than 150 countries. She raised her children on the road and says they loved the middle east where they rode camels, milked goats and were warmly welcomed by people who prioritized family.

Categories: Alaska News

Dena’ina fish camps and culture adapted to founding of Anchorage

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:03

Aaron Leggett at Point Woronzof – Hillman/KSKA

Anchorage is celebrating it’s centennial this year, but the area has been inhabited for centuries longer by the Dena’ina, who still live in the area today. KSKA’s Anne Hillman spoke with Dena’ina historian Aaron Leggett about the area’s past and its future.

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For centuries the Dena’ina of Eklutna started their fishing season in the spring at what’s now the heavily industrialized area of Ship Creek near modern-day downtown Anchorage.

“If times were getting tough in the spring when you’re in that kind of transitional period and your winter supply of salmon didn’t last, then you could go to Dgheyaytnu.” That’s the Dena’ina name for the area, says tribal member and historian Aaron Leggett. There they would catch the three spine stickleback. “So not a very big fish. So they must have been catching them by the tens of thousands and making a soup or a broth from that.”

But in 1915, a group of settlers built a tent city right where the Dena’ina fished. Leggett says his people adapted. They found work on the railroad and focused their efforts on other traditional fishing sites, like Point Woronzof.

Leggett creeps down the ice-encrusted trail to the beach and looks out over the water.

“100 years ago, when Dena’ina was the predominant language spoken here, this was Nuch’ishtunt, “Place Protected from the Wind.”

Dena’ina came to the area every spring and early summer to fish in the silty waters for king and silver salmon. They fished across Knik Arm, too, and off of Fire Island. North of Ship Creek they set up a type of wooden scaffolding over the mudflats so they could harvest salmon even when the tides went out.

But the local Dena’ina were forced to give up another favored fishing spot when the U.S. military took over Point Woronzof during the Cold War. So what remains of the fish camps? Leggett says not much, and what is there, he wants left alone.

“We do know of some, some things that were left behind,” he says hesitantly. “But we don’t like to talk specifically about what they were because of concerns of looting. But nothing really that I could say specifically.”

So is the area still important for the Dena’ina people?

“I guess to me, the connection is that despite airplanes flying over head,” he says as an airplane drowns him out as if on cue.

And despite the parking lot and the windmills and the lack of trees… the ocean is still the same. Leggett says that many people more often visit other places, like Eklutna Lake, to find spiritual connections but all of the Anchorage Bowl is part of their homeland. It’s where they hunted caribou and gathered berries in the summer. He says it’s something that many people, even other Alaska Natives, used to forget.

“Today, now if I say I’m Dena’ina, most people or a lot of people, will say ‘Oh, you guys are the Indians that used to live here.’ And I say, ‘Well, we’re still here but at least you recognize that we used to be here.’ Because I don’t know, for some reason, maybe because Anchorage is always looking toward the future, it’s like an empty cultural vacuum.”

But Leggett says that’s starting to change in Anchorage as the Dena’ina themselves continue to reawaken to their own culture and educate others.

Categories: Alaska News

BOEM collecting comments on proposed OCS lease sale in Arctic, Cook Inlet

Mon, 2015-03-02 23:13

Alaska’s proposed lease sale areas — boemoceaninfo.com

 

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held an open house in Anchorage Monday seeking comments on the draft proposed off-shore lease sales for 2017 to 2022. The draft proposal includes sales in the northern Cook Inlet, the Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas.

The three lease sales in Alaska are planned for the end of the five-year period, in 2020 to 2022. Regional BOEM director James Kendall says the scheduling is intentional.

“We want to make sure we get as much relevant scientific information as we can, as much socioeconomic information as we can. There’s also traditional knowledge. So it gives us more time to plan and focus what we’re really considering.”

The agency is currently collecting public comments for a draft environmental impact statement. They’re looking for substantive input like maps of important areas or new studies.

The current proposal already excludes some areas from the potential sale to protect wildlife habitat and subsistence uses in the Chukchi Sea and a small area for whaling in the Beaufort Sea.

Kendall says the final proposal won’t be completed until 2017, and the lease sales are not definite.

“Even if they’re in the final program, that doesn’t mean they’re going to happen. They could be cancelled at any time,” Kendall explains. “We want people to understand that this is a very iterative process, and it intentionally takes a long time so that decision are made very thoughtfully with the best information available…The way the process is set up, we can cancel any of these lease sales right up to the very end based on new information, if necessary.”

Environmental groups and some northern Alaskan residents are hoping the Arctic lease sales will not go forward, in part because there’s no infrastructure in place to clean up a major spill. BOEM’s environmental analysis for Chukchi Lease Sale 193 says there’s a 75% chance for one or more large oil spills to occur in the region if there’s drilling.

Kotzebue resident John Chase spoke during a press conference hosted by the Wilderness Society before the open house. He says his family relies 90 percent on subsistence foods and drilling in the Arctic is not a risk he wants to take.

“You can’t give me enough money to take seal oil away from my home, to feed my children.”

Pro-industry groups say development in the Arctic is necessary for the state and national economies. According to a 2011 study by ISER and Northern Economics, development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas could bring the state $19 billion over a 50-year period. It could create an annual average of nearly 55 thousand jobs nationwide.

Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami spoke during the Consumer Energy Alliance’s press conference.

“I got two little grandsons and I’m looking at them, hoping that when they’re old enough to get into the workforce that OCS is going to be cranking along and that we’re going to be having jobs to put them to work, to earn money, to raise their families.”

BOEM is collecting comments until March 30.

Categories: Alaska News

3,000 Pounds of Auctioned Antlers Highlight State’s Role Combating Wildlife Trafficking

Mon, 2015-03-02 19:22

Handsome antlers sold for around $175 a pair. Auction buyers often sell raw antlers to artists to use as raw material. Smaller pieces that were cut up for easier transport were kept in plastic totes and auctioned by the pound. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game held its annual “Hide and Horn” auction Sunday, selling off all the leftover animal products the state comes to possess while managing Alaska’s wildlife. The auction is not only a Fur Rondy tradition, but part of how the state manages its wildlife resources.

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This year, an unprecedented number of caribou antlers went to bid, the result of a trafficking case stretching from Juneau to the Northwest Arctic community of Selawik.

Just past the fairgrounds in downtown Anchorage, crowds of people strolled between dozens of bear hides, sheep capes, and bundles of caribou antlers duck-taped together, resembling thigh-high tumbleweeds.  On stage, helpers hoisted spindly, branch-like antlers high overhead while the auctioneer coaxed patrons towards $150 or $175 a set.

“I’m owner of Knight’s Taxidermy here in Anchorage, Alaska,” said Russell Knight, “and I’m down here to buy bear hides, horns and antlers, and anything else I can get.”

Lots of 10 antlers fetched as much as $750. Size, quality, and age all played a role in bidding. Not all the antlers came from the same harvest season. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Knight and many of the more aggressively bidders are professional buyers, loading up on supplies for taxidermy, handicrafts, and fine arts at relatively low prices. This is the state’s largest auction of wildlife products, and is part of Anchorage’s annual Fur Rondy celebration.

Richard Person is the head of the Southcentral Chapter of the Alaska Trappers Association, and explained the origins of Fur Rondy—short for ‘fur rendezvous.’ “Traditionally a rendezvous would be where the hunters and trappers would come together, drink a lot of whiskey, and sell their pelts.”

The Trappers Association has won the contract to put on the auction for the state the last few years, and Person believes it is one of the few ways the state is able to share some of its rarest resources with residents.

“It gives a chance for regular folks who don’t have an opportunity maybe to take one of these animals in a hunting situation to come and still participate and own a piece of Alaska…that is unique,” Person said.

This year’s auction is especially unique. The state had 3,000 pounds of caribou antlers for sale, about five times the usual.

Most are from just one criminal case.

Nome-based Wildlife Trooper Brian Miller was stationed flew to Kotzebue in 2011 to investigate reports of an outside buyer shipping huge quantities of antlers to the road system on a commercial freight plane.

“It had been sent from the village of Selawik,” Miller recalled. “Prior to the shipping from the village it had been wrapped up on pallets. Stacks of antlers wrapped in plastic, probably about four to five feet high.”

It is illegal to buy or sell raw antlers that were not naturally shed in the Northwest Arctic Borough, where caribou are a key subsistence stock. That regulation came after pressure from antler merchants in the ‘80s and ‘90s led to a troubling wave of wanton waste cases along the banks of the Kobuk and Noatak rivers.

In the 2011 case, the state brought 22 misdemeanor charges against Harbor Stanton of  Copper Center, whose trip, according to charging documents, was financed for $10,5000 by Ivory Jack’s Trading company in Juneau.

“I’ve not come across that before or since,” said Miller of the several pallets recovered both in Kotzebue and Selawik. Many of the antlers had been split into pieces by a band-saw to make them easier to transport.

Stanton settled the case in July of 2014. He was fined $500 dollars and forfeited the antlers.

Which begs the question: what is the state to do when it suddenly acquires 2,000 pounds of illegal caribou antlers?

Since they do not need to be fleshed or sealed like hides, they head straight to a warehouse until they find a new home.

Approximately 50 bear hides were sold, along with pelts from beavers, wolves, dall sheep, and even a musk ox hide. At least two musk oxen were destroyed in Defense of Life and Property this year, with more taken as part of an expanded hunt to deal with a nuisance population near Nome. ADF&G permitted out those musk oxen mounts to facilities in Ketchican and Homer. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Wildlife Technician Jim Holmes is with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It is his job to wrangle the full force of the state’s bureaucracy when it comes to sharing wildlife resources–even the ones obtained in unfortunate circumstances.

“Typically, throughout the year I get requests from schools, museums, educational facilities, visitor centers–places like that–who are requesting these items for educational purposes,” Holmes said, sitting in his office near to the many mounts and skulls decorating the ADF&G building in Anchorage.

Holmes estimates the annual auction is just one percent of his total workload. Most of the time he arranges for road-kill, animals taken out of season, or in Defense of Life and Property, to be taxidermied or tanned, then redistributed to public areas where residents can view them.

The auction usually brings between $40,000 and $60,000 in revenue, which covers the costs of handling all the horns and hides the department manages in the course of a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker, Republican Leadership Tangle Over Proposed LNG Line

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:30

In a press conference March 2, 2015, Gov. Bill Walker holds up a copy of House Bill 132 that would limit the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation’s powers on the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline. House leaders introduced it earlier that day. The governor was adamant that the bill would hinder rather than help progress for the project by tying the state’s hands during negotiations. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Since Gov. Bill Walker was inaugurated, he and the Legislature’s Republican leadership have traded reams of angry letters and testy press releases. Now, their paper battle has transformed into outright hostility in dueling press conferences. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is on the line to talk about the disagreements over a proposed natural gas line.

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Categories: Alaska News

Nearly $1 Billion Needed To Modernize Rural Sanitation Systems

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:28

Members of the Legislative Bush Caucus were told last week in a “Lunch and Learn” session on rural sanitation almost a billion dollars is needed to build, replace, and maintain rural sanitation systems. But, the gap between the level of need and funding is widening.

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State and tribal representatives told members of the Bush Caucus it would take about $900 million to do what’s needed to bring modern sanitation to all Alaskans.

Last year the state put about $9 million and federal agencies put $51 million toward rural sanitation in Alaska. The combined $60 million is less than half of allocations 10 years ago.

David Beveridge, the director of project management at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, or ANTHC, says Alaska is competing with other states for its share of a shrinking pool of federal funding.

“If you look through the village safe water program, it gets matched with federal dollars on a 25-75 percent ratio,” Beveridge said. “So for any 25 dollars the federal government will kick in the 75 dollars. So that’s been a big component of the funding in Alaska and that’s gone down.”

The issue is one of public health, according to Bill Griffith, the Facility Program Manager for Village Safe Water with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. He told Legislators recent studies show Alaskans without clean water and flush toilets experience dramatically higher rates of hospitalization for respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.

“Those rates were anywhere from 5 times greater to 11 times greater in villages in Alaska with less than 10 percent of homes served,” Griffith said.

And Griffith says, a significant number of Alaskan communities are un-served or under-served.

“There’s about 30 villages around the state that don’t have running water and sewer to any homes, coupled with about a dozen or so communities that have what we call small haul systems where they use trailers to bring water to homes and then they use different trailers to pick up sewage,” he said.

Climate change is adding to the magnitude of the issue.

“We’re at Noatak right now where part of the ground under the water plant is frozen and part of it is becoming unfrozen,” Gavin Dixon, who manages a Rural Energy Initiative for ANTHC, said. “There’s 15-inches of differential in the facility. So the building is cracking, and falling apart. So it’s an issue that’s happening now and it’s happening in a lot of different communities.”

Dixon says energy audits show that investments of an average of $80,000 per community for little fixes would return much more in energy cost savings in just four or five years. He says those savings in energy costs would boost local economies and cut state spending for power cost equalization subsidies.

Rep. Neal Foster, of Nome, says improving rural sanitation would boost the state’s economy. And he says Legislators would create an uproar if they experienced the same conditions.

“Boy, if we ever took every toilet out of this building, you know it would be a revolution we wouldn’t stand for, people, essentially living in a third-world type situation,” Foster said. “So I think it’s something that needs to be made a priority. I think that we have to bring people at the lowest rungs up before we can move forward as a state.”

Agencies and tribes are collaborating to improve operator training and reduce operation costs. And they working with the private sector to create innovative designs well suited to Arctic conditions.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Trail Invitational Competitors En Route To Nome

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:24

Fifty-three racers are taking on Alaska’s vast wilderness under their own power as part of the the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The race follows the historic Iditarod Trail from Knik to Nome. It’s billed as the world’s longest ultra marathon by bike, foot, or ski.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 2, 2015

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:22

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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Gov. Walker, Republican Leadership Tangle Over Proposed LNG Line

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since Gov. Bill Walker was inaugurated, he and the Legislature’s Republican leadership have traded reams of angry letters and testy press releases. Now, their paper battle has transformed into outright hostility in dueling press conferences. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is on the line to talk about the disagreements over a proposed natural gas line.

Groups to sue Port of Seattle over Shell drilling fleet

The Associated Press

A coalition of environmental groups plan to sue to stop Royal Dutch Shell PLC from use Seattle’s waterfront as a homeport for its Arctic oil drilling fleet.

Nearly $1 Billion Needed To Modernize Rural Sanitation Systems

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Members of the Legislative Bush Caucus were told last week in a “Lunch and Learn” session on rural sanitation that the state needs almost a billion dollars to build, replace, and maintain rural sanitation systems. But, the gap between the level of need and funding is large.

State Auctions Off Enormous Number Of Caribou Antlers

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game held its annual hide and horn auction in downtown Anchorage yesterday, selling off all the leftover animal products the state comes to possess while managing Alaska’s wildlife. This year, an enormous number of caribou antlers went to bid, the result of a trafficking case stretching from Juneau to the Northwest Arctic village of Selawik.

Drones Don’t Fly At Alaska’s Board Of Fish

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The Alaska Board of Fisheries, in action over the weekend banned the use of unmanned aircraft to aid in salmon fishing.

Below Average King Salmon Run Expected on Kuskokwim

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The state is expecting a bigger run of king salmon on the Kuskokwim this summer, but still well below average.  State managers say they expect strong conservation measures to continue in 2015 to ensure enough fish make it up the river to spawn. They’re seeking early input to make the season a success.

Iditarod Trail Invitational Competitors En Route To Nome

Evan Erickson, KSKA – Anchorage

53 racers are taking on Alaska’s vast wilderness under their own power as part of the the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The race follows the historic Iditarod Trail from Knik to Nome. It’s billed as the world’s longest ultra marathon by bike, foot, or ski.

Exploring The Dena’ina Past, Present And Future

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage is celebrating its centennial this year, but the area has been inhabited for centuries longer by the Dena’ina, who still live in the area today.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups to sue Port of Seattle over Shell drilling fleet

Mon, 2015-03-02 16:36

A coalition of environmental groups says it’s planning to sue to stop Royal Dutch Shell PLC from use Seattle’s waterfront as a homeport for its Arctic oil drilling fleet.

The Port of Seattle earlier this month signed a two-year lease for 50 acres across from downtown Seattle to Foss Maritime, whose client is Shell.

The groups allege that the port violated state environmental laws when it did not do a review. The groups including Sierra Club and Seattle Audubon Society are holding a news conference Monday.

The port’s CEO has said that the lease complies with environmental regulations and will bring in about $13 million in rent over the two years. Eight vessels would be moored at the terminal.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Will Limit Rigs to One Moorage, Say Port Officials

Mon, 2015-03-02 16:34

Local officials say Shell Oil has agreed to keep their drill rigs tied up in just one location each in Unalaska, as the company looks to return to the Arctic this summer.

In their request to use state tidelands, Shell listed Wide Bay, Nateekin Bay and Summer Bay all as potential moorage sites for the Polar Pioneer. Now, they say the latter two will be back-ups, for use in emergencies only.

That’s according to Rick Entenmann, with the Alaska Marine Pilots. He says he met with Shell’s marine  team in Anchorage last week, and posed concerns that cycling the rig through all three areas would obstruct vessel traffic.

Wide Bay, at top left, would be the primary moorage for the Polar Pioneer. The other two options would be used only as back-ups. (via Shell Oil)

“I’m just clearing the air there that they weren’t planning on putting the Polar Pioneer anywhere but Wide Bay,” he says. “That’s the big one, because she’s got eight anchors out, and she takes up quite a bit of space. So Wide Bay would be out of the way as far as major traffic is concerned.”

He says the vessel would only move to Nateekin or Summer Bay in case of disaster — like if a disabled vessel needed to tie up at the emergency mooring buoy in Wide Bay.

“The other two — I understand they need something on paper,” Entenmann says, “and hopefully that’s all we get, what’s on paper.”

He says Shell also told him their Noble Discoverer drill ship would stay in one place, too — in Broad Bay, just south of Wide Bay, except in emergencies. And he says both ships will take their anchors with them when they move. He expects the rigs will stay in Unalaska for at least a month this summer before heading north.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino confirmed that the company’s marine team met with Entenmann, but declined to discuss other details.

“We continue to engage with the pilots and the port as well on the back-up contingency mooring locations for Shell’s assets,” she says. “It’s a dialogue that we really appreciate and we value.”

Public comment on the moorage plan closed on Wednesday. Candice Snow, at the Department of Natural Resources, says they got a comment from the city of Unalaska about the meeting with Shell, and two more from residents with similar concerns about the mooring locations.

Snow says it’ll be at least a couple of weeks before the permits are finalized — even as some of Shell’s fleet makes its way to Unalaska. That leaves time for one last visit from Shell representatives. The city has asked them to come out in mid-March to go over the final details for the summer season.

Categories: Alaska News

New Technology Proves Vital To Alaska’s National Weather Service Forecasters

Mon, 2015-03-02 12:52

Today we’re doing the weather. Dave Snider is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He does a daily statewide forecast for public television stations.

The final product you see is full of graphics, but inside the massive TV studio it’s just Snider and a single green screen.

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“It is a little wonky at first when you’re looking at yourself moving one way and you’re going the other way,” Snider said. “But most of these kids now, if you could play Minecraft, they could do the green screen just fine.”

Snider has been a weatherman for 18 years, three of which he’s spent in Alaska. He says forecasting up here is unique; not only is the weather harder to predict, it’s more important to get it right.

“Rain in the Midwest is different for impacts than it is for Juneau,” he said. “If it’s raining and windy in Juneau you might not be able to fly in. And that’s it for the day.”

Luckily, Snider says the technology that goes into meteorology has improved dramatically, a lot of it just in the past 10 years. That creates a more accurate forecast, and a longer range.

“You know, one to five days out you can be pretty good,” Snider said. “Six to seven days, modestly good. After that you’re starting to look at trends a little more.”

And that is an incredible feat when you consider the history of weather forecast.

A quick weather 101; Aristotle is often credited for being the first weather man. He wrote a book titled Meterologica in 340 B.C. The book was used as an everyday weather encyclopedia until Galileo created the first version of a thermometer in the late 16th century. It turned out that almost all of Aristotle’s theories were wrong.

So for nearly 2,000 years people were relying on a book that was, for lack of better words; just wingin’ it. Certainly we had plenty of advancements since Galileo’s time as well, but what changed in the past decade to make weather forecast so accurate?

For that answer we head back to the home base of the National Weather Service. Mike Ottenweller is a tech guy at the NWS, and he spends a lot of time looking at satellite images. He says not only are there more satellites transmitting at higher resolutions, but the weather models that people like Ottenweller create to predict the weather are very polished.

“And these models over time have been refined again and again with different physics and algorithms so that ultimately they’re producing the best results,” Ottenweller said. “We’re coming into an age now where we are seeing hurricane models that are vastly outperforming what they used to do 10 years ago. So that’s a good example of where technology has taken us.”

And how could we credit any kind of 21st century advancement without mentioning social media? Ottenweller says the National Weather Service often uses updates through Facebook or Twitter from their volunteers around the state.

“And that allows us to verify whether or not there is snow falling in a certain location or high winds are occurring,” Ottenweller said. “And if they’re not occurring we can change the forecast to reflect exactly what is happening so that’s really led to significant improvements in forecast and a lot more frequent updates when there needs to be an update.”

I can’t figure out if it’s hilarious or tragic that Aristotle was no match for Facebook, but Dave Snider assures me that meteorology will likely never be an exact science. And maybe it’s fitting that he says it in an almost philosophical way.

“One flap of the butterfly wings on Saturday could mean that by Monday and Tuesday the storm is moving left instead of right,” Snider said.

Categories: Alaska News

Below Average King Salmon Run Expected on Kuskokwim

Mon, 2015-03-02 10:27

2015 is predicted to be a below-average king salmon run. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

The state is expecting a bigger run of king salmon on the Kuskokwim this summer, but still well below average. State managers say they expect strong conservation measures to continue in 2015 to ensure enough fish make it up the river to spawn. Leading up to the season, managers are seeking early input to make the season a success.

On the bright side, state managers are confident that the Kuskokwim drainage made the escapement goal in 2014, a year with a weak run and unprecedented early season fishing restrictions. This week they announced their 2015 forecast of 96,000 to 163,000 king salmon, up from the 70,000 to 117,000 they predicted last year. Aaron Poetter is the Kuskokwim area salmon management biologist.

“Again, it’s going to be a well below average run, based on that, so we certainly need to be, again, conservative in the 2015 season,” said Poetter.

The 25-year average is double the forecast size, around 243,000 fish. King salmon have been in decline for several years. The fishery was federalized last summer and saw directed king salmon fishing closed, except for a brief “taste” through community permits. Heavy salmon restrictions were in place for May and June. Poetter says he and his colleagues have not decided on any specific restrictions at this point.

“If the forecast does come to fruition we should have a few more Chinook in the river than the 2014 season. It’s a forecast; we won’t really know until the season begins. If we start with an early season closure, like in 2014, it’ll give us the opportunity to be conservative for our approach to the season. It’ll begin to give us an idea of how the run is coming together- the strength of it,” said Poetter.

The Board of Fish will consider proposals in March for gear changes during king salmon conservation periods. One would require that whitefish nets be staked, another could limit the length of nets, and a third changes rules for fishwheels. Poetter says the department is hosting three days of meetings in Bethel, March 25th through 27th.

“We want to hear from the fisherman. We’ll talk about what the 2015 season could look like, and what we learned in 2014. We’ll have the Board of Fish meeting out of the way prior to the meeting, and we’ll have a better landscape of what our tools look like and what we can do,” said Poetter.

One day is set aside for a fisherman’s meeting. Another day is for the annual inter-agency meeting, usually held in Anchorage, to review the latest research. Another day is a meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group.

Categories: Alaska News

Drones Don’t Fly At Alaska’s Board Of Fish

Mon, 2015-03-02 09:26

Not all drones are alike. This unmanned aircraft — now banned by the Board — is just large enough to carry a camera. (Flickr photo/Don McCullough)

The Alaska Board of Fisheries closed some waters near Angoon to purse seining in order to improve subsistence harvests, in action over the weekend.

They also shot down the use of unmanned aircraft to aid in salmon fishing.

The closure was intended to improve access to sockeye salmon in freshwater systems important to the subsistence harvest in Angoon.

During committee work earlier in the week, Angoon residents spoke passionately about the impact of low sockeye availability, and subsistence harvest limits often as low as 15 fish.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game staff initially opposed Proposal 193, because it would limit their flexibility to manage the seine fishery.

However, the stakeholders were able to put together a compromise that permanently closed waters that the department routinely closed by emergency order.

Board member Sue Jeffrey acknowledged the effort.

“You know, I’m in support of this. This is exactly what we appreciate, when the opposing parties come together and find a solution that works for everyone.”

Subsistence sockeye fishing in Angoon came into the spotlight in 2009 when then-state senator Albert Kookesh — an Alaska Native and lifetime Angoon resident — was cited by troopers for overfishing his permit. The charges were later dismissed.

But many other proposals did not fly — literally — in board deliberations on Sunday — namely, Proposal 204, which would have banned the use of spotter planes during seine openings for salmon. Given the number of small aircraft in use in Southeast Alaska, Department of Public Safety representatives thought enforcing a ban would be very difficult. They referred to the proposal as “a solution looking for a problem.”

The Board rejected the proposed ban on spotter planes.

Drones, however, were not so lucky. Proposal 205 would ban the use of unmanned aircraft in salmon fisheries.

Member Reed Morisky and chairman Tom Klubertson framed the board’s anti-drone position.

Moriskiy – I’m for keeping pilots employed, and not using unmanned aircraft for fish spotting.
Klubertson – Thank you. I tend to look very hard at existing patterns of areas and fisheries, and I do like — whenever possible — to promote economic stability. We’ve had aircraft in this region for a long time. There are folks who stake their livelihoods, and contribute to local economies flying their aircraft. I feel it’s just an unnecessary move, and as Member Jeffrey said, it’s not something I want over my head.

Strictly speaking, the Board of Fish lacks jurisdiction over aircraft use. But it can — and did — ban the use of drones to aid in in all commercial salmon fishing.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 27, 2015

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:36

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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Alaska Senators Split On Homeland Security Funding Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Unless Congress acts, money for the Department of Homeland Security runs out tonight.

Judge Denies Stay In State Education Lawsuit

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A superior court ruling that invalidates the State of Alaska’s longheld practice of requiring municipal governments to contribute a specific amount toward public education remains in place for now.

With Medicaid Language Stripped From Budget, Path To Expansion Uncertain

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A House subcommittee has stripped Medicaid expansion language from the state’s operating budget.

Powerful Storm To Push Across Interior Alaska

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A powerful storm is forecast to push across the interior from the west tomorrow.

Cargo Ship Released, Crew to Stay Behind as Pollution Case Continues

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A cargo ship under investigation in a possible oil pollution case will be able to leave Unalaska, after its owner posted bond Thursday.

State Considers B.C. Mines As Promoters Plan Visit

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Walker-Mallott administration announced Wednesday that it’s set up a working group to address the trans-boundary mining boom near Southeast Alaska. The news comes as British Columbia’s mine-regulation agency plans meetings with Alaska fishermen and tribal groups.

Tractor Trailer Rolls Over On Dalton Highway, Spilling Up To 4,000 Gallons Of Diesel

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A tractor trailer owned by Fairbanks-based Colville Incorporated went off the Dalton Highway about 30 miles north of the Yukon River Bridge Wednesday.

Fairbanks Assembly OKs Air-Quality Ordinance; Dissenter Predicts Voter Backlash

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly passed a sweeping air-quality ordinance Thursday night that supporters hope will finally begin to clean up Fairbanks’s wintertime air pollution. Most members agreed the ordinance isn’t perfect, but that it’s a good start.

Salmon Sisters Meld East Coast Education With Commercial Fishing Roots

Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

Commercial fishing can be a tough, and often thankless lifestyle. But one pair of life-long Alaskans are turning it into an art. They run the clothing line Salmon Sisters based in Homer, and they blend everything from Japanese prints to cartoons in their style.

300 Villages: Mud Bay

This week we’re heading to Mud Bay, right near Haines. Melina Shields is an artist and massage therapist who lives in Mud Bay, Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senators Split On Homeland Security Funding Bill

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:05

The U.S. Congress tonight approved a one-week continuing resolution to avoid a partial shut down of the Department of Homeland Security. .

Earlier today, Alaska’s two Republican senators split over a bill that would fund the department for the rest of the fiscal year.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski sided with Republican leaders to pass the bill. Sen. Dan Sullivan was among a minority of senators who voted against it, because it did not include language defunding the president’s deferred action on deportations. Sullivan says the president’s action on immigration is illegal and he says his vote against the funding bill is part of his promise to uphold the Constitution.

The U.S. House, meanwhile, rejected a measure to fund the Homeland Security Department for three more weeks. Alaska’s Congressman Don Young voted with Republican leadership in favor of the stopgap spending bill.

Categories: Alaska News

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