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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: 28 min 3 sec ago

Haines Assembly approves cruise ship waiver incentive

Fri, 2015-07-03 09:39

The Oosterdam cruise ship docked in Haines. (Emily Files)

Haines has some of the lowest cruise ship moorage fees in Southeast Alaska. And last week, the borough assembly approved further lowering those fees for three summers. The assembly accepted a resolution that would give 50 percent off waivers to all cruise ships for a three-year time period. It’s part of a marketing plan to draw more ships to Haines.

This summer, Haines sees about one or two cruise ships each week. Depending on their size, the vessels pay around $3,000 to pull into port. The resolution the borough assembly passed would give a 50 percent discount on that fee in the summers of 2017 to 2019.

“We need a stronger incentive package to attract ships,” said Haines Tourism Director Leslie Ross. “Why a waiver? We have an empty dock.  We have one ship per week, we have this gorgeous dock that we sunk $6 million dollars into. It’s not just going to affect tour operators, it affects our businesses, our restaurants. It’s a business expansion that goes across the entire town.”

Ross said Haines has tough competition for cruise ship traffic, with Skagway and Juneau nearby. Both of those towns are ‘tier one’ ports. They have destinations like Skagway’s White Pass and Yukon Railroad that financially benefit cruise lines. Ross says going to cruise lines with a moorage discount will strengthen her pitch for Haines and hopefully boost cruise ship traffic long-term.

In 2012, the borough assembly approved waiving docking fees for two new ships for the 2015 season – the Golden Princess and the Celebrity Infinity. Ross says those ships gave evidence the cruise ship waivers pay for themselves in sales tax.

“When the Golden Princess came in this year, they sold 1,200 tours,” Ross said. “And I know that for a fact. We can estimate an average of $75 per tour. So that’s what we get sales tax off of. So that estimates $4,950 in sales tax just from the tours sold.”

Assemblyman Dave Berry pointed out that the Princess and Infinity only scheduled one or two dockings in Haines this summer. He said in order to make the economy strong enough to support new businesses here, he would want to see the ships come in on a regular basis – more like once a week, not once a summer.

“I need to see where ship number one is not going to come in once, but it’s gonna come in 15 times, ship number two is not going to come in once, it’s gonna come in 12 times,” Berry said.

He suggested a tiered incentive that would motivate cruise ships to schedule multiple dockings. Tour company owner Sean Gaffney responded. He said cruise lines have been reluctant to come to Haines in the past 15 years.

“We’re moving to a place that they’re willing to try, but to give them room to do it, without trying to bind or commit them.” Gaffney said. “And the onus is still on us entirely to show them. I think we’re doing it, but I don’t think we’re a place to demand it.

Gaffney is on the tourism advisory board, which recommended the 50 percent, three-year incentive over two other options because they thought it was the simplest one.

Another question that came up was whether ships that already come to Haines will get fee waivers as well. Assemblyman Ron Jackson said waiving fees for the current ships would mean an estimated $40,000 loss in revenue for the borough.

“I think we need to word this so that it’s about the new ships coming in, not about giving a gift to the ones that are already coming in,” Jackson said.

Assembly member George Campbell disagreed. He said offering the waiver to new ships only could aggravate the current ships and encourage them to dock somewhere else.

Campbell recognized that if the incentive doesn’t draw any new ships to Haines, the borough would suffer a financial loss.

“It has potential to fall on its face and it has great potential to help our economies,” Campbell said.

The majority of the assembly seemed to think the positive potential outweighed the negative. No one moved to change the waiver proposal. The assembly approved the resolution in a 5-1 vote, with Jackson opposed.

That question of whether the 50 percent off deal will actually work won’t be answered for some time. The incentive starts in 2017, because cruise lines have already set their schedules for next summer.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pole man sickened by ‘rabbit fever’

Fri, 2015-07-03 09:34

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials are warning residents after a North Pole man was sickened by tularemia, a bacterial infection known as “rabbit fever.”

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the man became sick after skinning a hare this spring.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human tularemia cases in the United States are relatively rare, with fewer than 200 cases reported per year between 1990 and 2013.

Tularemia symptoms include fever, sore throat and swollen glands. It can be fatal if untreated.

It’s often transmitted to people handling infected rabbits, hares, beavers and muskrats.

Fish and Game advises that Alaska residents try to keep their animals away from hares, which will be slower if they are infected, making them easier to catch.

Categories: Alaska News

Crooked Creek Man Charged with Attempted Murder

Fri, 2015-07-03 09:31

A man is under arrest after shooting at people in the middle Kuskokwim village of Crooked Creek, Wednesday.

Aniak-based Alaska State Troopers received a report that Moses Alfred John of Crooked Creek was shooting at people on the riverbank near a fish cutting area.

They say the 30-year-old shot his rifle from his boat towards three adults and three children.

Moses said he was attempting to kill one of the adults whom he had attempted to assault with knives earlier. Troopers say a knife pierced an item of clothing, but nobody was injured. Troopers say in their report Moses was intoxicated.

He was arrested and transported to Bethel where he was jailed without bail. He’s scheduled to be arraigned at 1:30 this afternoon. He’s charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct involving weapons.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Polar bears’ fate tied to reversing global warming

Fri, 2015-07-03 09:30

If humans don’t reverse global warming and stop the loss of sea ice, it’s unlikely polar bears will continue as a species.

That’s the blunt assessment in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft recovery plan for polar bears filed Thursday. The agency listed the animals as threatened in 2008.

Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, which is reducing the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic. Polar bears use sea ice for feeding, mating and giving birth.

The plan says the first and foremost action for polar bear recovery is to stop Arctic warming. It says accomplishing that will require global action.

The estimated worldwide population of polar bears is about 20,000 to 25,000. The only U.S. state with the iconic animals is Alaska, and government scientists say those bears could be among the first to see global warming’s ill effects.

Categories: Alaska News

State will discontinue filling grayling in Alaska lakes

Fri, 2015-07-03 09:27

Funding cuts have forced Alaska hatcheries to stop raising Arctic grayling.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the manager of Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery in Fairbanks, Gary George, says the state chose to cut grayling because the small, native fish are disproportionately expensive to raise.

The canceled grayling program makes up 11 percent of the fish that the Fairbanks hatchery planned to stock next year. The decision also removes grayling production at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage.

Stocking will continue at near-planned levels for rainbow trout, salmon and arctic char.

George says it’ll be easy to restore production at the hatchery if funding for stocked grayling were to be restored in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Challenges and successes for Alaska’s LGBTQ community

Fri, 2015-07-03 08:00

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision and legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. But in the same week, the rainbow flag was burned outside of Identity, Anchorage’s LGBT community center. In these fast changing times, what challenges and successes are the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities facing here in Alaska?

Listen now:

HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Melissa Green, activist and researcher
  • Josh Hemsath, Regional Development Organizer, Pride Foundation

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, July 3 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, July 4 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, July 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, July 4 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thu, 2015-07-02 17:02

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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Cross-Border Salmon Dispute Puts A Damper on Summer Troll Opener

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Harbors emptied throughout Southeast this week as fishermen headed out for the beginning of the summer troll season.

Bristol Bay Sockeye: A Run on the Brink?

David Bedinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Alaska’s largest sockeye salmon fishery was predicted to have a near-record return this summer, but so far the reds have only trickled into Bristol Bay’s rivers.

Berkowitz Emphasizes New Tone for a New Anchorage in Inaugural Address

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Yesterday, Ethan Berkowitz formally became the new Mayor of Anchorage.

Anchorage’s 2014-2015 Snowfall Levels Lowest on Record

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

As July begins and the National Weather Service resets their annual snowfall totals to zero, it’s official — Anchorage’s snowfall levels last winter are the lowest on record.

Alaska’s Shoreline Erosion Rate Among Highest Worldwide

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey finds that Alaska’s northern coast has some of the highest rates of erosion in the world.

 

Parasite Plagues Some Yukon Kings

Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome

As salmon swim up the Yukon River, subsistence fishermen continue to express frustration about gear restrictions, closures, and — now — potentially infected fish.

Hjalmar “Ofi” Olson, Bristol Bay elder, dies at 75

David Bedinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Bristol Bay elder Hjalmar “Ofi” Olson passed away at an Anchorage hospital late Wednesday, according to family friends. Olson, who had been battling kidney failure for weeks, was 75.

Sea Shanties, Scurvy, and a Sailboat Regatta Without Wind

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The 19th annual Land’s End Regatta ended the way a sailboat race shouldn’t- it was called on the second day for lack of wind.

Categories: Alaska News

Cross-Border Salmon Dispute Puts A Damper on Summer Troll Opener

Thu, 2015-07-02 16:47

Harbors emptied throughout Southeast this week as fishermen headed out for the beginning of the summer troll season. July 1 marks the annual start of the summer’s first king salmon opener — the most lucrative time of the year for many trollers. And signs point to a banner year for king salmon. But Southeast fishermen say they’re not getting their fair share of those kings. The State of Alaska has been locked in a fight with its neighbors to the south over how many fish the fleet can catch. For now, at least, Alaska seems to have lost — and that has led to calls to change the system.

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It’s been an uncertain, unsettled spring for many Southeast salmon fishermen. Bert Bergman is a troller in Sitka.

“It’s been real frustrating because nobody knows what’s going to happen, and usually by now, the quota’s been announced two months ago,” he says. “Nobody knows how many fish we’re catching, or why the number’s low, or how we got this way.”

Usually, fishermen have two numbers in hand before the summer season starts: an estimate of how many kings are out there, and how many they’re allowed to catch. This year, with the season already underway, they don’t have either.

“And basically, we’ve had to guess, and dock rumors have ruled the day, instead of reason and facts.”

That uncertainty came from the Pacific Salmon Commission, which implements the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty. Each year, the commission has to come up with an estimate of king salmon abundance, determine how many kings Alaska fishermen can catch, and decide how many will pass on to Canada, Washington and Oregon. But this year, the Commission deadlocked over those figures — leading to months of wrangling. Days before the summer opening, fishermen weren’t sure they’d be fishing at all.

Finally, in late June, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced that it would open the summer king salmon fishery, and it would be managed assuming low king salmon abundance. But the state explicitly said it believes that estimate is wrong.

“I wouldn’t say that we chose this course of action,” Swanton says.

That’s Charlie Swanton, Alaska’s representative on the salmon commission. He says Alaska was backed into a corner after representatives from the Pacific Northwest and federal government threatened to take the state to court.

But, he says, it’s not the end of the conversation.

“It’s hardened my resolve to turn around and find some solutions such that Alaskans get their fair share of the fish that migrate by our coastal communities.”

Alaska believes the model used by the Commission is deeply flawed. Last year was a huge year for king salmon in Southeast, and the winter troll fishery was also strong.  Meanwhile, forecasts are calling for major returns to the Columbia River basin. All of that suggests a big year for chinook, Swanton says.

But even though Alaska didn’t win any concessions this year, the Commission has agreed to revisit its model before next year’s fishery.

Dale Kelley, of the Alaska Trollers Association, says that change can’t come soon enough:

“We’ve had thirty years of trying to pay for the sins of the south on habitat destruction. We’ve cared for fish and repeatedly made sacrifices on behalf of our industry and the region just to rebuild runs that are through the roof.”

And now, she says, Alaskans should be benefitting from those rebuilt stocks. She says trollers don’t mind taking fewer fish in years of actual low abundance. But she warns that when the model isn’t reliable, it undermines the entire management system.

Though the Department of Fish & Game hasn’t announced a quota, Kelley fears Alaska fishermen — commercial and sport — will be allowed about 237,000 kings this year, down from nearly 440,000 last year.

“They’re just busting our chops with this quota, this up and down thing. There’s no sustainability, no sense of security that they know what they’re getting year to year.”

Troller Bert Bergman says it’s clear the process is not working.

“I mean, we’re at the, I’ve never seen as many king salmon in the ocean as I’ve seen now, and I’ve got four generations of trollers in my family. To not get part of that fish when we’ve made all the sacrifices to help rebuild the runs, and we help pay for the hatcheries, and then to not get some of that feels like we’ve been sold out by the southern states and the National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA.”

But for now, he says, he’s got no choice. Whatever the quota is, he’s fishing it.

“I think I’m gonna just take a lot of ice and listen to the radio, and see what happens,” Bergman says.

And fishermen around Southeast are doing the same thing.

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay Sockeye: A Run on the Brink?

Thu, 2015-07-02 16:46

Alaska’s largest sockeye fishery is predicted to have a near record return this summer, but so far the reds have only trickled into Bristol Bay’s rivers.

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Veronica Elford helps set a net in Naknek Monday, where the fishing was slow.
Credit Hannah Colton

Through Tuesday, 3.4 million sockeye have been harvested, and the total run including escapement is 5.3 million fish. Given that Fish and Game’s preseason estimates suggested 54 million sockeye would return, with 38 million available for harvest, there was more head scratching than fish picking happening as June turned into July.

There are three questions on the mind of most: Are all those fish going to show up, if so, when, and will they hit all at once?

KDLG, Bristol Bay’s public (and often only) radio station, produces a nightly newscast dedicated to the fishery. Daily, we speak with Fish and Game managers, researchers from the University of Washington’s Fisheries Research Institute, and analysts at the Port Moller Test Fishery.

The consensus a week ago was, “The fish should be here any day now.”

The closest this fishery has to a crystal ball is the Port Moller Test Fishery, which catches sockeye at a series of stations spread offshore from Port Moller. Most of the sockeye caught there are bound for Bristol Bay’s districts, and those that aren’t caught will arrive in 2-11 days. Between genetic sampling of the catch and some study of past data, the timing and size of the run comes into view.

“I think it’s going to come in really strong, and late,” said F/V Crimson Hunter skipper Braden Williams, speaking about the run to the Naknek-Kvichak District he fishes. His first two fishing periods had not been very profitable.
Credit Hannah Colton

Provided, that is, some sockeye start to show up inshore, either harvested by the fleet or counted as escapement up area rivers. The research team needs the “catch and escapement” data to reference back to their test fishery numbers. Port Moller’s catches picked up by June 17, but a week passed and few sockeye arrived inshore.

The suspicion around the Bay for a week has been that the sockeye are balling up between Port Moller and the districts, maybe waiting for a weather change to make a big push upstream. Fishermen and processors worry about a “wall of fish” that will be too large to catch or process.

Or the preseason run forecast could be off, though no one has put up that white flag yet.

“Fish being late is the first part of them not showing up,” said F/V Stevie K skipper Buck Gibbons a week ago. Gibbons reiterated that comment Wednesday night, after a slow harvest and another day of down time in Naknek-Kvichak.

Fish and Game and PMTF are leery of making in-season predictions. Some tell us they want to avoid the “Greenspan effect,” named former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, whose words, it is said, could move markets. But by Wednesday evening, Port Moller and Fish and Game were hinting at problems.

“The run seems to be late if it is to break 30 million, and several days late for it come in at the preseason forecast,” wrote PMTF’s data analyst Scott Raborn.

“It certainly has the feeling of being potentially slightly smaller than forecast,” said Fish and Game Commercial FisheriesDirector Jeff Regnart, who was in Dillingham Wednesday. He added that the sockeye are smaller than expected, and the run seems late, too.

Right now, the Naknek-Kvichak district is lagging the furthest behind. After a long and at times impatient period of waiting, the first open periods offered the eager fleet little harvest.

“So far I haven’t seen a fish in my net yet,” Pederson Point set netter Sylvia Elford told KDLG about an hour into Monday’s opener. The day before her site had delivered only 140 pounds.

“Out of the 20 days we’ve been here, we’ve bought fish twice,” said Rob Trumble, skipper of the fishing tender Denali. “We have 11,000 pounds packed. It’s been the most different year ever.”

Fish and Game’s preseason forecast predicted 28.8 million sockeye returning to Naknek-Kvichak, with 18 million available for harvest. Through Tuesday, only 834,000 sockeye had been accounted for.

“It’s been really frustrating,” said Gabe Dunham aboard the F/V Oracle in Naknek Wednesday evening. His boat has been in the water since June 18. “This down time, best I can say for it, is that it’s been good for shoreside businesses.”

Workers at Nakeen Homepack in Naknek got a batch of reds to process Sunday.
Credit Hannah Colton

Fishermen are not leaving the district, despite the wait. In fact, more boats and more permits are registered to fish Naknek-Kvichak than any other district, and more are added every day.

That’s because fishermen know Bristol Bay’s run size and timing changes every year. They like to throw jabs at the biologists and gripe about their processors, but they also know that rolling with the punches of the world’s greatest sockeye run is part of the job, and part of the fun. “That’s why it’s called fishing, not catching,” a reporter will hear a hundred times a season.

“The last couple of years have been one way, and this year has definitely shaped up to be a different way,” said Lange Solberg on the F/V Opie II.

Solberg was frustrated when he spoke with us Wednesday evening. But he also counts himself among the optimists who say that a big push, the “wall of fish,” will be here soon.

“Hopefully by July 4 we’ll be up to our eyeballs in fish,” he said.

Dave Bendinger is the News Director at KDLG. Hannah Colton and Molly Dischnercontributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay Elder Hjalmar “Ofi” Olson Dies at 75

Thu, 2015-07-02 16:40

Bristol Bay elder Hjalmar E. “Ofi” Olson passed away at an Anchorage hospital at the age of 75. Olson was battling kidney failure, and his health was deteriorating in recent months. He was medevaced to Anchorage Sunday, and according to a family friend, was taken off dialysis mid-week. He succumbed late Wednesday or early Thursday, surrounded by family.

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This picture was taken early June, after Ofi and some friends gathered for dinner around a first king salmon of the season.
Credit Hannah Colton, KDLG

“I think we all knew that he wasn’t in the best of health, and I just learned very early this morning that he had passed,” said Bryce Edgmon Thursday morning. “A big shock to everyone, even though we all knew his health was in decline. Very sorry to see him go.”

Edgmon spent Saturday evening with Ofi, driving around town, the harbor, boat yard, and visiting subsistence sites all the way down Kananakak Beach.

“We watched a number of the set net boats being launched, and listened to the Fish and Game announcements, and really just had a very nice, quiet, reflective evening,” he said.

Ofi and Anuska Olson
Credit Clark James Mishler

Olson remained in good spirits and his mind was sharp, even as his health grew worse and he spent more time at a hospital in Anchorage.

“We were down in the boat yard, and he was naming off all the boats that were still there, and why they weren’t going out, engine problems, whatever was the case. He was absolutely very sharp up until the very end,” said Edgmon.

Ofi Olson was a Bristol Bay fisherman, and was the longtime president, CEO, and chairman of the board of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. He also sat on a number of other boards, commissions, and panels throughout an active career as one of the region’s most prominent leaders.

“I think his legacy is so rich, and so profound, that it’s only going to grow over time,” said Edgmon. “Ofi was the chairman of the BBNC board, I think, for the longest tenure of any chairman in the history of the state. As iconic figures are known, all you had to say was “Ofi” and people knew who you were talking about.”

As of Thursday morning, there was no information about funeral arrangements. A family friend did say there was consideration of delaying a funeral until after the commercial fishing season.

“I think as time goes on, and his service is held, we’re going to find that a lot of people throughout the state, a lot of Alaska Native leaders, a lot of people in the Native Corporation world and elsewhere, are going to be coming to town and paying their respects to Ofi,” said Edgmon.

Categories: Alaska News

Parasite Plagues Some Yukon Kings

Thu, 2015-07-02 16:34

As Yukon salmon continue their summer runs, subsistence fishermen continue to express frustration about gear restrictions, closures, and — now — potentially infected fish.

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When managers and fishermen met for their weekly teleconference on Tuesday, they heard reports of discoloration and pus in chum salmon from callers in Pilot Station, Russian Mission, and Fairbanks.

“Folks here complaining about summer chums having white patches and pus sacs … A lot of these fish have pus in the meat, so that’s a bummer … Kind of little pockets of pus when you fillet the fish. That’ll be about the size of a pea or maybe a little smaller. And I know that in warm water, which is what we have right now, that ichthyophonus really grows rapidly if the fish is infected.”

Stephanie Schmidt, summer season area management biologist for the Yukon for the Alaska Depart of Fish & Game, says the parasite ichthyophonus could be the culprit. Fish & Game says the pathogen is not harmful to humans, and Schmidt invites fishermen to submit samples for testing if they’re concerned.

The summer chum run is now estimated at 1.3 to 1.5 million fish, which is average but below Fish & Game’s preseason predictions. The first pulses are passing through Tanana, Koyukuk, and Kaltag, but many stragglers are still lingering in the lower river. Schmidt says that’s led to record numbers for commercial fishermen.

“There have been record catches of summer chum salmon with dip nets this year in district one and district two. To date, the dip net and beach seine commercial fishery in these lower districts have caught 185,700 summer chum salmon and they’ve released just over 8,000 Chinook salmon.”

Meanwhile, subsistence fishing has been a mixed bag. Abundant chums on the lower Yukon have helped fishermen like Joseph in Nunam Iqua to fill his racks.

“They had a three-hour subsistence opening on Tuesday, and we were finally able to fish with pride. I was able to get 118 chums and six kings, and I was so happy for the kings.”

But fishermen upriver have struggled to meet their subsistence needs, citing plenty of activity but little production. Jack in Kotlik says gear restrictions are largely to blame.

“I’m not familiar with using a dip net. I grew up using gillnets, and I’m not going to switch back to the white man’s way of fishing. I’d rather fish the way that my ancestors fished, so I have to go to Point Romanoff to catch my subsistence fishing. We’re allowed to keep our kings on that side.”

Fish & Game is continuing efforts to protect the kings through strategic closures, but Chinook numbers are still weak. 81-thousand kings had passed through Pilot Station by the end of June —about 20-thousand fish fewer than the historical average. The possibility for incidental harvest of Chinook has been discussed — and even allowed — for short periods in areas with strong passages of chum. But the general call for immediate release, coupled with gear restrictions, hasn’t allowed for much — which Ellis in Ruby says continues to harm traditional subsistence practices.

“Us not having a chance to actually set nets, do the traditional cutting, whatnot … I see this tradition slowly dying. This is very important to my village and our subsistence needs in my village are not being met at all.”

Jack in Kotlik echoed that closures conflict with Native practices.

“We grew up eating our staple foods all our lives and now you guys are just making criminals out of Alaska Natives and I don’t like that,” he says.

Schmidt points out that Fish & Game is trying to work with fishermen on gear usage and incidental take of Chinook. For instance:

“There are new regulations up in 4A upper that allow drift net gear during this time of the season. Didn’t want to just limit you to set net gear only. We also in case anyone does have a fish wheel, we are removing the condition that you have to man your fish wheel at all time and release all king salmon.”

Schmidt says it’s possible that king escapement goals will be reached this year, but conservative management strategies will continue to ensure that happens.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage’s 2014-15 snowfall levels lowest on record

Thu, 2015-07-02 11:50

As July begins and the National Weather Service resets their annual snowfall totals to zero, it’s official — Anchorage’s snowfall levels last winter are the lowest on record.

Anchorage’s official total for the 2014-2015 snowfall season is 25.1 inches.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Snider says that beat the previous record – set in 1957-58 – by more than 5 inches.

“Something else to keep in mind is this new record is about 1/3 of the normal seasonal snowfall, which is about 74.5 inches, or so,” Snider said. “We count that over about 30 years and take the average.”

Snider says only three of the last 12 months exceeded the normal monthly precipitation averages. And he says the effects of such a low snow winter are evident in this year’s busy fire season.

“The snow here in Anchorage is just a point representation, but many other locations, like the Susitna Valley; like the western Kenai Peninsula, all those regions were very low on snow this year,” Snider said. “And that affects the moisture level of the ground, of the shrubs and the landscape, and all that is feeding into the dramatic fire season we’re seeing this year.”

Wildfires have burned 2,253,575 acres so far this summer.

This year’s record low comes just three year’s after Anchorage saw a record-high annual snowfall of 134.5 inches in the 2011-12 season.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game still finalizing budget

Thu, 2015-07-02 10:18

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is still finalizing a plan to for the most recent cut to its budget, but Bristol Bay shouldn’t see too many more cuts, said Commercial Fisheries Director Jeff Regnart during a recent visit to Dillingham

During the special session in June, the Legislature cut about $1.3 million in general fund dollars from Fish and Game’s budget for the new fiscal year, which started July 1, Regnart said.  The Division of Commercial Fisheries will take the largest cut, about $850,000.

“We’ll have a package put together by mid-week next week,” Regnart said. “I can’t tell you whether or not it’s going to impact the bay. The bay has been hit pretty substantially already, with what we’ve done during the legislative cycle. There still might be a few tweaks here. But I don’t see anything significant.”

Regnart said the department was already planning on cuts to Bristol Bay management this summer based on earlier versions of the budget. That includes ending the count at the Nushagak sonar in July, so it won’t count pinks and chums in August.

“We’ll still manage, and we’ll manage based on the fisheries performance, but likely we’re gonna be more conservative, which means less opportunity probably, because if we’re not sure, we will err on the side of the fish,” Regnart said.

That will save the department about $90,000, but likely comes at a cost to the fishery, Regnart said.

Categories: Alaska News

Sea Shanties, Scurvy, and a Sailboat Regatta without Wind

Thu, 2015-07-02 10:13

Fair winds and following seas. A blessing for sailors, heading out onto the water, at the mercy of time and tides.

It was what we hoped for the Arctica, a small but mighty sailboat, with its motley crew of recent surgery patients, pregnant women, and greenhorns.

There’s de facto First Mate Liska Kandror:

“It gets exciting, for sure, you have to move fast, and things drop out of your hands and then there’s a gust of wind that comes up and it’s a good time.”

Her friend Allison Shockley:

(Photo via KBBI – Homer)

“So she invited me and I thought, I’m not going to miss up a cool opportunity to really experience Alaska.”

And mild-mannered yet fearless captain Craig Forrest:

“I’ve been sailing in Homer now since 1977.”

My partner John and I, along with Allie, could all say we’d been near sailboats before. But not necessarily on them. Certainly not crewed them.

On the first day, we learned to sail. It started slow, with the first several hours calm, calm, calm.

“When there’s almost no wind, everything that we do on the boat makes a difference,” said Forrest. “If you step a little too hard in one direction, that makes the boat do something we might not like. If a boat goes by us and puts up a wake, that shakes the wind out of the sails so we can’t maneuver. It’s just really, really difficult.”

It picked up toward afternoon and for the last hour, we splashed through the waves, tacking and jibing, racing around marker buoys. We went home that night, tired and sore.

“Oh man. Crawling around on deck game me some black and blueies on my knees, I’ll tell you what,” said Shockley.

But we came back the next day, ready to hit the water again. We were confident. We hopped up on deck, got her ready to go. Ready for squall and gale were we!

But instead. Nothing.

“Well, we were very close to the buoy at one time,” said Kandror. “We are supposed to go to our next marker and we are not. We are slowly drifting in circles.”

The occasional whisper of half a breeze flopped the sails around. The wrong way.

“What’s happening is the main is forcing our bow upwind and the spinnaker doesn’t have enough wind in it to force it downwind and we keep spinning,” said Forrest.

And so we spun. And spun. And the buoy got smaller and smaller. And then, we got caught by the current, which was moving faster than the wind.

“For some reason we can’t turn. We’re doing 1.5 knots backwards,” said Forrest.

And so we sat, sometimes drifting in the wrong direction, sometimes twirling like a top. But mostly we just sat. Bobbing like a cork in Kachemak Bay. First we turned to sea shanties.

Then, our thoughts turned to the trials and tribulations of our predecessors.

“Back in the day when there were no engines, you know these giant sailboats got stuck in the middle of the ocean with no wind for days, weeks. Weeks with no wind. I mean, they had to store their water and their food and they got scurvy,” said Kandror.

“The old square-rig sailboats were not very efficient at all with the wind,” said Forrest. “They’d have the crew hauling buckets of water to throw over the sails. Some of those boats, the masts on them were 80-100 feet tall. That’s a long ways up for a bucket of water.”

And we thought of those sailors, adrift, maybe, or on long voyages far from home. Captain Craig regaled us with tales of sailors of old, of ships in bottles, of how they crocheted, using their knowledge of knots. Of how they were innovative using citrus, berries, and grasses to combat scurvy. Of how they were at the mercy of the winds and seas.

“You look at it all, the history of boats at sea are an idea of a long way of learning how to do stuff and making it work,” said Forrest.

He told us of his own nights at sea, once in a storm with water filling the cabin and the boat on its side. Once sailing through the Barren Islands with kerosene lamps lighting the small boat and the stars brilliant overhead.

There’s something magical about sailing, learning to read the weather, leaving some things to chance, with more than a thousand years of history behind you.

“Because you feel like you’re moving on windpower instead of motor power and panthering across the water. That’s a good feeling,” said Kandror.

At the end of the day, the race was called. Not enough wind to complete the course. We took advantage of modern technology, and got towed back to the harbor.

Disappointing? Not at all. We came as strangers to the Arctica and left as friends with a greater appreciation for the sea and the art of sailing and revised our hopes for next time:

Fair winds and following seas, but if not, good company, please.

Categories: Alaska News

East Coast theology school selling off Alaska Native art, feds to investigate

Thu, 2015-07-02 10:11

Chuck Smythe unrolls the tunic from storage. It’s kept this way to avoid damage. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The country’s oldest theological school is selling off its Native art collection, and Sealaska Heritage Institute is asking the feds to investigate. Tlingit and Haida pieces are among the works–some of which might be sacred.

At Sealaska Heritage Institute, culture and history director Chuck Smythe walks down a flight of cedar steps to the basement, the place where Native artifacts are kept.

Behind a locked door are some of the pieces in the collection.

“We’re going into the conservation room. You hear the freezer going,” he says.

Items that arrive at the institute are cooled to 40 below to kill insects before the pieces go into long-term storage in a temperature controlled room. Smythe shows me a Southeast Native tunic, probably from the 20th century.

“It’s a green tunic with red border and it has flowers and designs.”

Sealaska Heritage Institute is looking for the tribe this tunic belongs to. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

It has delicate beading on the sleeves and collar, a raven on the front. But that’s all we know. The tunic was repatriated from a museum in 2007. Information about which tribe and clan it belongs didn’t follow it back home.

“It’s hard. A lot of museums have very generalized identification of objects,” he says. “I used to work at the Smithsonian in the repatriation office and they have hundreds of objects that are just ‘Northwest Coast.’”

Even harder to track are the Native artifacts that fall into private collectors’ hands. That’s what the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts says could happen to 80 pieces in its care because the owner wants to sell.

The museum has housed the collection since the 1940s; The Andover Newton Theological School is the owner.

Dan Monroe, the museum’s director, says the school informed him a few months ago.

“The 80 works are works that they’ve selected that have the greatest monetary value,” he says.

The college says it’s not an art curator; it’s an educational institution.

Items in storage at Sealaska Heritage Institute. The Andover Newton Theological School’s collection contains works from 52 tribes. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Sealaska Heritage Institute is questioning whether the artifacts are sacred–pieces used in ceremony.  A federally supported entity, like a school or museum, is barred from selling those and obligated to return them to the tribes.

Rosita Worl, the president the institute, says the spirits of her ancestors are associated with those objects.

She notified the feds that some of the Tlingit and Haida pieces in the theological school’s collection could be subject to repatriation laws–particularly a halibut hook with a wolf crest and shamanic doll.

“We believe that everything has a spirit and that includes animate and inanimate objects,” she says.

Worl is Tlingit of the Eagle moiety and Thunderbird clan. She says she’s been trying to “get over the history” of how the theological school acquired these artifacts in the 19th century.

“We know they were well meaning in terms of trying to Christianize us, but we went through a lot of difficulties with that,” she says. “And I really want to respect all different religions but having the history of that overt suppression of our beliefs was difficult to take again.

The college is estimated to turn a million dollar profit. But Martin Copenhaver, the school’s president, says the pieces for sale are not sacred items. He believes the museum is engaging in an “ugly disinformation campaign.”

“I think the status quo works for them. They have the pieces. They’re able to display them for free. They did not pay for those,” he says. “I think it doesn’t work for them now if those pieces are in other museums.”

He says the school plans to sell to other museums, not private collectors.

“Unless those are ones who intend to then in turn donate them back,” says Copenhaver.

But museum president Dan Monroe says it typically doesn’t go that way.

“I would say it’s fair to summarize the frequency of that happening as highly infrequent,” says Monroe.

Appraisers have already been sent to assess the items but there’s no date for the sale yet. Worl says the willingness to sell the artifacts contradicts the school’s mission statement: “We will strive to be good stewards of the sacred tradition we have inherited.”

“My first wish is that they would say, ‘OK we recognize that Native people have these spiritual relationships to these objects.’ That they are significant,” Worl says. “I would hope that they would recognize that.”

Federal repatriation agents have opened an investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Man dies after apparently shooting self in Alaska park

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:58

An Arizona has man died after apparently shooting himself with a gun at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

National Park Service officials say it’s unknown if the shooting was accidental or deliberate.

Authorities say rangers responded to a report of a gunshot Tuesday morning and found the 22-year-old man, who was dead at the scene. The man’s name has not been released.

Park spokeswoman Miriam Valentine says the shooting occurred at the Riley Creek campground, which is located just inside the park near the entrance.

Valentine says the man was visiting the park with his father, but the father was not present when the shooting occurred.

Alaska State Troopers are investigating the incident along with the Park Service.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s shoreline erosion rate among highest worldwide

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:57

Alaska has some of the most aggressive rates of shoreline erosion in the world. These findings are part of a new study released Wednesday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

USGS scientists studied nearly 1000 miles of shoreline from the Canadian Border to Icy Cape. The most extreme erosion was found around Drew Point, north of Teshekpuk Lake, about 70 miles east of Barrow.

USGS geologist Ann Gibbs is the lead author of the study. She says the most destructive erosion happens on elevated land.

“When the bluffs erode as opposed to a beach that might, the sand might get deposited offshore and then get washed back up, that happens a lot in more temperate climates,” Gibbs said. “Once the bluff erodes, it’s gone, it’s not coming back.”

An average of a meter per year is eroding overall. Gibbs says on the Chukchi side, the rate is about 0.3 meters per year.

“And on the Beaufort coast it’s about six times higher, 1.7 meters a year, so there’s a lot more going on on the Beaufort coast and we don’t quite know why that is. it has to do with the geology, the rock strength and the energy of waves hitting that part of the coast,” Gibbs said.

The study is part of an ongoing assessment of the nation’s shoreline. It did not address climate change.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska officially drops lawsuit challenging gay marriage

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:26

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed the appeal of a court case that struck down Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that the appeals court Wednesday accepted a joint notice to dismiss filed by the state and attorney Allison Mendel, who represented the couples who filed suit against the Alaska.

A federal judge in October ruled Alaska’s ban violated the U.S. constitution.

After the appeals court lifted a temporary stay and the U.S. Supreme Court denied a review of the case, the state had asked federal appeals court panel for a review.

That appeal was suspended in January when the Supreme Court agreed to hear a series of marriage equality cases. The high court ruled Friday to legalize same-sex marriage across the county.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Southeast director won’t take job

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:26

Just over a week before he was supposed to start, the newly named director of the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus says he won’t be showing up for work.

The Daily Sitka Sentinel reports that Chris Gilmer emailed UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield Tuesday to inform him that family circumstances and other opportunities will keep him from reporting for duty.

Caulfield says he will be in Sitka next week, at which time he will meet with the community advisory council to plan the next steps for an interim leadership arrangement.

Gilmer was selected for the position in February to replace Jeff Johnston. Gilmer has been core professor and chair of the Department of Undergraduate Writing at Walden University in Minneapolis, Minnesota since 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan man remains missing after 6 months

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:24

The family of a Ketchikan man who has been missing for six months has filed a presumptive death petition.

The Ketchikan Daily News reports that 38-year-old Roy Banhart went missing either Dec. 28 or Dec. 29 after trying to get into a taxi near a bar.

Ketchikan Police Chief Alan Bengaard said in January that Banhart did not leave the city by commercial transportation, but that the department has had missing person cases that last several years in the past.

In an interview Tuesday Deputy Police Chief Josh Dossett said the case is still open but that there have been no new developments.

Banhart’s cousin MaryAnn Bright, of Anchorage, filed a presumptive death petition in Ketchikan District Court. A jury will be called to look into the disappearance.

Categories: Alaska News

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