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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: 4 min 59 sec ago

Bairdi quota could increase again as busy season winds down

Tue, 2015-03-24 17:23

Ryan Fry sets up crab pots outside the F/V Farrar Sea in Unalaska earlier this month. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

Bering Sea crab fishermen are trying to get through as much Bairdi tanner quota as they can before the season ends next week.

This year’s huge allocation put the fleet in a time crunch — and future seasons could bring more of the same, thanks in part to a new preferred size for the species.

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Crab fishermen are legally allowed to keep any Bairdi tanner crab over 4.8 inches. But their quota is based on something else: the size of crab that they prefer to sell.

Last week, the state Board of Fisheries unanimously agreed to change the preferred size limit for Bairdi in the fishery’s Eastern district, near Bristol Bay. It’s now 5 inches, instead of 5.5.

Ruth Christiansen works for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the co-op that devised the change. She says the industry started making this switch a couple years back, when Bairdi reopened after years of off-and-on closures. The transition started with the harvesters asking the processors:

“If we retain this crab, will you accept it and can you sell it?” she says. “And the processors said yes. … To my knowledge, over the last two seasons, there hasn’t been a processing company that hasn’t accepted the five-inch crab.”

Now, it’ll be part of how fishery managers set the quota for Bairdi.

“It’s how the total allowable catch is set — what the harvest strategy assumes is the size of retention,” says Doug Pengilly, a crab research coordinator for the state Department of Fish & Game.

He says the new assumption could increase the quota by as much as 23 percent. That could mean a lot of Bairdi on the table going forward — and this year’s high quotas have already put fishermen to the test.

Frank Kelty is the natural resources analyst for the city of Unalaska. With Bairdi on the rise, he thinks busier seasons could be the new normal.

“We’re facing a crunch, because the closure date for the Bairdi fisheries is March 31,” Kelty says. “So if you have snow crab quotas that are large, you’ve got part of the crab fleet that’s got to do pot cod, and then you’ve got a Bairdi season, it’s really crunch time to get it.

“I think you’re going to see more effort in October and November and fishing into December on Bairdi, trying to get the majority of that product before the first of the year when snow crab and other fisheries are taking place,” he says.

This year, high quotas meant the over-60-foot pot boat fleet, which normally spends January on Pacific cod, stayed focused on crab. That’s pushed cod season almost two months past its normal end date — and it’s put some of Unalaska’s processors in a crunch of their own, as they try to juggle species that don’t often overlap.

Those processors are also worried that the size change for Bairdi could create overlap at the grocery store. Don Goodfellow, the plant manager for Alyeska Seafoods, says a five-inch Bairdi is too close in size to a big snow crab. He thinks it’ll make it harder for consumers to tell the difference between the species — and easier for vendors to cut prices on Bairdi.

Goodfellow and others voted to oppose the size change at Unalaska’s Fish & Game Advisory Committee. But the measure wasn’t controversial when it passed at the Board of Fisheries.

Frank Kelty thinks it’s good news. He says Bairdi is facing some market uncertainty right now, after years of instability — but he thinks higher quotas will help fix that.

“If we have some steady years where we have some decent quantities of product, I think that market niche for Bairdi will come back again,” he says.

The crab fleet got through all 8.4 million pounds of Eastern district Bairdi this year — but they might not finish their 6.6 million pounds of quota in the West. At the rate they’re going, Kelty anticipates the fleet will leave a million pounds of Bairdi in the water for the 2014-2015 season. He thinks the industry might lobby to push the end date forward in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Investigating historical trauma endured by Native Americans, Alaska Natives

Tue, 2015-03-24 17:22

An Ojibwe woman and independent journalist Mary Annette Pember recently visited Alaska for a series of stories on historical trauma and Native American mental health practices.

Pember says the troubled lives of Native Americans reflect their troubled history.

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In one of her articles, Mary Annette Pember tells the story of Oseira. In 1944, at the age of five, she was removed from her home in a Bristol Bay area village and sent to a Catholic boarding school in Interior Alaska. There Oseira says she and her sister joined dozens of other children in a strictly regimented life of hard work, harsh punishment and little schooling.

Pember says her interest in historical trauma has its roots in her own family history. Like Oseira, Pember’s mother was removed from her Wisconsin family as a child.

“My mother was a boarding school survivor,” Pember said. “She’s passed on now. But as I began this whole looking at historical trauma, I wanted to look at myself and my own family’s struggles with disease, health issues.”

Pember says the history of Native Americans is one of overwhelming trauma such as widespread death from war and disease, dislocation from their homelands, and removal of children from their families:

“That seems like it’s a common human response is that when I’m really hurting I want to stop the hurting. I’m going to do that, and I’m going to want to do it with what is most readily available and sometimes that’s with alcohol or drugs, or, you know, some other aberrant behavior,” Pember said. “We have a lot of that kind of stuff in our communities. There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a lot of pain. As humans I think it’s a pretty human response to want the pain to go away. And I think that’s what folks are doing.”

Dr. Dewey Ertz, of Rapid City, South Dakota visited Alaska last fall to speak at a conference on substance abuse hosted by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association. He’s a member of the Cheyanne River Lakota, survivors of a notorious massacre.

“I descend from the people who defeated Custer at Little Big Horn, but we’re also the victims of Wounded Knee,” Ertz said.

During his 40 years as a psychologist, Ertz has treated trauma survivors and conducted research about trauma. He says people’s reactions vary depending on the type of trauma, and the individual, their support system and resilience. But he says many people find ways to numb overwhelming emotions:

“One very commonly is addictions or substances, including food. Another is anger, because anger is a secondary emotion and covers up other emotions very effectively. Another is bad relationships because if you’re in bad relationships you have somebody else to blame for everything,” Ertz said. “And the last one actually is sex, people are not numb during sex but that’s all that they’re thinking about.”

And, Ertz says, some people use more than one of those numbing techniques.

“And then you have gladiators, who say if one thing is good to numb with, I will use all four,” he said. “So they partner up with someone they can drink and use drugs with, have a bad relationship with and be angry at, and have sex with, and that produces lots of children.

Ertz says children learn these adverse maladaptive coping mechanisms from their parents, and later model them for their children. He says there’s also now a theory that trauma alters the way genes express themselves. He says the idea behind epigenetics is that in the right – or wrong – environment, a person may be predisposed to unhealthy psychological reactions.

Still, Ertz says healing is possible – therapy helps. And in an article published March 16, Pember describes the success of a Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation program headed by Rose Dominick that uses ancient Yup’ik traditions in healing. Pember says healing occurs when survivors of trauma are in a safe environment and can share their story:

“I think awareness is a big deal,” Pember said. “One of the things that Rose Dominick and her people talked about is laying it out on the table, on what you’re dealing with, whether it’s substance abuse, sexual abuse, really just talking about it and putting it out on the table really helps you gain perspective on it.”

Pember says that sharing helps people understand that they’re having a normal human reaction to repeated or prolonged stress, and they can learn to behave and respond differently.

“It’s not an excuse but understanding,” Pember said. “Understanding leads to healing: maybe there’s a way not to feel this way.”

You can see Mary Annette Pember’s work at websites for Indian Country Today, and Daily Yonder, or at mapember.com

Categories: Alaska News

Rural designation process could impact Saxman’s subsistence status

Tue, 2015-03-24 17:21

The Saxman Clan House.

The Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council met in Saxman and Sitka last week to discuss and gather input on issues related to subsistence in the region, including a proposed change to the rural designation process.

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That change could make a big difference to Saxman, which has been considered non-rural since 2007, for the purpose of federal subsistence rights.

Many Saxman residents packed a meeting held at that village’s community center. That was expected.

Somewhat less expected was the number of Saxman residents and their supporters who also spoke during the subsistence meeting in Sitka the very next day.

Sylvia Banie is the mayor of City of Saxman. She says that the loss of subsistence rights has negatively affected the people living in her village.

“We’ve noticed a downward drift of civic apathy,” she said. “However, today, a much more beautiful reality can be ours. It is vital and essential to restore the rural status of Saxman.”

In addition to Saxman’s city government, the community has an IRA council, the Organized Village of Saxman, and Lee Wallace is the tribal president. He says the issue is not subsistence, which he referred to as the “S-word;” the issue is the Alaska Native way of life.

“It’s the gathering, the fishing, the harvesting of our resources throughout the land, water and seas of our territories that we manage on,” he said. “It’s our way of life and it’s very important to us.”

Joseph Thomas is a Saxman elder and, like several other speakers, began his comments in Tlingit.

“Let me translate for you. My English name is Joseph Thomas, … I grew up in Kake,” he said, and when he first heard the word subsistence, he didn’t know what it meant.

But his forefathers told him it meant that it was going to become harder to gather food. Thomas says that has become the case for Saxman, but he hopes the Subsistence Board will reverse that decision.

Harvey Shields, another Saxman elder, thanked the Sitka Tribe for letting him speak on their land. He says gathering food is an important cultural tradition that should be handed down, just like songs and dances.

“We took that up from our parents and aunts and uncles, as we did with putting up our food, our hunting, our fishing, to be able to hand that down as well,” he said. “I wasn’t able to do that, because of the situation that we’re in right at this time.”

That situation started about 15 years ago, when the Federal Subsistence Board initiated a review of rural designations. Then in 2006, the board published a proposed rule that would have kept Saxman rural, but the board eventually decided to vote against that published rule.

The board instead chose to lump Saxman together with its larger neighbor – Ketchikan. The Organized Village of Saxman immediately asked for reconsideration, which was denied. Last year, OVS filed a lawsuit in federal court over that decision.

If the Federal Subsistence Board changes the designation, that lawsuit could be dropped. And that change was encouraged during the Sitka hearing by more than just the Saxman visitors.

Former Sen. Albert Kookesh of Angoon and former Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines also spoke, representing Sealaska Corp.

Kookesh says Saxman isn’t just rural; it’s a traditional Native community, and all Southeast Natives should support Saxman’s subsistence rights.

Kookesh told a story about a landslide at Lituya Bay. He says the trees wondered what happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. The trees realized that by holding on to each other by the roots, they could protect each other from a similar fate.

“We came to hold hands with Saxman, and we’re asking those of you who are on the committee to hold hands with Saxman, also, because they’re your neighbors, they’re our neighbors,” he said. “Everything we do impacts them. If we hold each other up, we’re going to be fine.”

Michael Baines, chair of the Sitka Tribal Council, read a resolution in support of Saxman regaining its subsistence rights. And John Duncan of Sitka wondered why the government had to get involved. For thousands of years, he says, the Native people of Southeast have gathered what they need to survive.

“It’s not our fault that people are moving in,” he said. “It shouldn’t be our fault that we should have to pay the price because people are moving in. That’s our way of life.”

The proposed subsistence management rule would allow the Federal Subsistence Board more flexibility when deciding which communities should be considered rural for subsistence purposes. The proposed rule was published in late January.

Read the whole rule, and learn how to submit written comments.

Thanks to Rachel Waldholz in Sitka, for recording the hearing.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Bill To Constrain Walker’s Gasline Plan

Mon, 2015-03-23 23:03

The Alaska House has fired its latest salvo at Gov. Bill Walker in an ongoing dispute over a gasline. The body passed a bill to keep him from pursuing an alternative to the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project on Monday, ignoring a veto threat from the governor. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

At the most basic level, the fight is about how to deal with the oil and gas industry. On one side, you have the House Majority, led by Speaker Mike Chenault, who emphasize partnership as a way to get a gasline built from the North Slope to tidewater. And on the other, you have the governor and the Democratic minority, who take a more oppositional tack with the producers.

Rep. Craig Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, said as much on the House floor on Monday night, when advocating for the Speaker’s bill.

“We can send a very clear message to our partners that we are their partners, and we’re not their opponents — that we together can get this done,” said Johnson.

Johnson likened the bill to putting the “genie back in the bottle.” The legislation blocks Gov. Bill Walker from taking a smaller contingency project — known as the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline, or ASAP — and scaling it up so it could be a direct substitute for the large-diameter Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project.

Republican leadership worry the proposal could jeopardize the work that is being on AKLNG. But Walker, along with Democrats in the House, think the plan could serve as a bargaining chip.

Rep. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks said it would increase the state’s negotiating power, and put the state in a better position if negotiations with industry fall apart.

“By having a fall-back, quasi-competing project that’s in place, if AKLNG fails — if somebody pulls out, if it’s not economical — then we’ll have something real in place. Not something we know that is not enough volume,” said Guttenberg.

The bill ultimately passed 24 to 14, with Republicans Paul Seaton and Jim Colver joining the Democratic Minority. Colver, whose district includes the Richardson Highway, offered two unsuccessful amendments to route a gasline through that corridor. In an unusual move, Democrats offered no amendments. Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn and Ketchikan Independent Dan Ortiz were excused from the vote.

The governor has already announced he would veto the bill if it makes it to his desk, calling it “un-Alaskan” in a February press conference. Overriding a veto requires an affirmative vote from at least 40 of the Legislature’s 60 members. Leadership of the Senate’s 15-member majority has signaled support for the House bill.

Categories: Alaska News

DOT diverts $1.3M meant for Anchorage bike infrastructure to other projects

Mon, 2015-03-23 18:47

More than $1 million originally planned for Anchorage bike infrastructure in 2012 is now being allocated for use on other road projects instead.

Back in 2012 more than 125 people wrote to AMATS asking for more money to be put toward building things like bike lanes and putting up signs to make the city safer. AMATS is Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions — the federally funded group that’s responsible for transportation projects in the Muni. $1 million had already been set aside for design. Advocates convinced AMATS to add another $1.3 million.

The state’s Department of Transportation was supposed to obligate that $1.3 million for project design by September of 2014. They didn’t. DOT Project manager David Post says the department was running late in finding a project manager to do the design work. Once they found one, he says they thought the original $1 million was enough.

“And I think they’ve got plenty of money to keep them moving forward, certainly at the rate they’re progressing,” he said.

The money is enough to design 10 to 12 bike infrastructure projects. The bike plan includes nearly 300. They range in size from painting stripes on the side of the road to designate a bike lane all the way up to building new off-road bike trails. Some of the projects are already elements of larger transportation projects.

“So we went ahead and de-obligated that money, or let it go on to other projects,” said DOT spokesperson Jill Reese. “It’s really difficult to trace down what those projects are, but that’s really beside the point.”

The decision to move the money was made in September. It was included in a report to AMATS but never publicly highlighted or discussed. But minutes from the November 2014 AMATS Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) detail comments from DOT representatives that said the full $2.3 million had been obligated for bike plan implementation.

Bike Anchorage president Brian Litmans is a member of the BPAC. He discovered that the money had been removed from the bike project. He says the move is a major setback for implementing the bike plan because more design work would have made more projects ready for construction funding.

“DOT referred to it as –quote– ‘a little snafu'” during the March BPAC meeting, he said. “And I find that unfortunate, especially when we are lacking bicycle infrastructure in this city. We only have 10 miles of bike lanes and most other cities that have the number of bicyclists that we do have much more bicycle infrastructure and as a result their cities are much safer than ours.”

City transportation planning manager Craig Lyon says he did not know the money was moved until recently and that DOT has never previously mentioned that they did not need the $1.3 million for design work. He says he is trying to locate pots of money left over from completed projects to put toward the bike plan, but ultimately it is up to the AMATS policy committee to commit funds.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 23, 2015

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:37

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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Police Confident Remains Belong To Missing Kenai Family

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

Police investigators in Kenai are confident they’ve found the remains of a family missing since last May.

Shell Oil Replaces Pete Slaiby

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell Oil has replaced one of its top executives in charge of exploration off the coast of Alaska.

Sen. Sullivan: Alaska One Family, Obama Not Its Friend

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan returned to Juneau and today gave his first speech as a senator to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. The first-term Republican established an “us versus them” theme – a united Alaska up against the Obama administration.

Committee Takes Up Gas Line Board Appointments

The Associated Press

New appointees to the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. expressed support for a major liquefied natural gas project the state is pursuing with oil and gas companies.

State Senators Question Need For Water, Sewer Construction Dollars

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

State Senate Finance Committee members are going over proposed agency budgets one by one, looking for funds or programs they can cut. Thursday they questioned Department of Environmental Conservation officials, asking just how bad it would be to turn down federal dollars for water and sewer systems.

USFS Celebrates Big Thorne Decision As Environmental Groups Weight Options

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The U.S. Forest Service says a Friday court decision allowing a timber sale will help speed changes in Tongass National Forest logging. But opponents say it will damage other Southeast Alaska industries.

Potential Alaska State Park Cuts Rile Valdez Residents

Marcia Lynn, KCHU – Valdez

Proposed funding cuts for Alaska State Parks have caused a stir in Valdez where the one Park Ranger position could be eliminated.

After 3 Failed Attempts, Freeride Holds Haines Competition

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

The fourth time was a charm for the Freeride World Tour in Haines. The big mountain ski and snowboard competition made three attempts to hold the event, but canceled each one because of weather. Today, conditions were finally right for about 30 athletes to take on the Haines mountains.

Cindy Abbott Claims 2015 Iditarod Red Lantern Award

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

After two prior attempts, this year’s Red Lantern, Cindy Abbott, completed her first Iditarod late last night.

Categories: Alaska News

Laurie Schmidt New VP For Shell Alaska

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:24

Shell Oil has replaced one of its top executives in charge of exploration off the coast of Alaska.

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As vice president of Shell’s Alaska venture, Pete Slaiby traveled the state to build support for Arctic drilling and defend the program against its critics.

He left Anchorage almost two months ago for a new job at Shell’s corporate headquarters.

That change wasn’t reported until last week, in the trade publication Petroleum News.

Spokesperson Megan Baldino says it was announced internally at Shell – and is not related to problems the company faced during its last Arctic drilling season.

“He led the venture for six years, extending well beyond the typical assignment,” Baldino said. “I don’t think anyone would argue that he leaves behind a legacy of leadership and working with communities and building partnerships. And that has positioned the venture for well into the future.”

Baldino says an agreement between Shell and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation to share in drilling proceeds is still going forward – even after Slaiby’s departure.

For now, Shell is focused on securing legal permission to return to the Arctic this summer. And Laurie Schmidt is stepping in as the new vice president for Shell in Alaska.

Schmidt is an attorney who’s been with Shell for 25 years. She has experience in internal auditing, overseeing contracting for drilling projects, and in community relations – both in Russia and in Nigeria.

“So making sure that local people are trained and skilled to work on projects and can apply for and succeed in the jobs that are available anywhere where Shell works,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt has already been sent to Barrow and Unalaska to meet with stakeholders since she took over February 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Committee Takes Up Gas Line Board Appointments

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:22

New appointees to the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. expressed support for a major liquefied natural gas project the state is pursuing with oil and gas companies.

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The House Resources Committee held confirmation hearings for Rick Halford, Joe Paskvan and Hugh Short.

Paskvan said “job No. 1″ is the major project, known as Alaska LNG. If that falters, he said he believes Alaskans deserve the best shot at an economically viable alternative, if one exists.

Gov. Bill Walker proposed increasing the size of a smaller stand-alone gas line project and turning into a project capable of exports in case Alaska LNG faltered. Some lawmakers worry this could create uncertainty around Alaska LNG.

The House plans to vote on legislation Monday to limit AGDC’s role in an alternate project.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senators Question Need For Water, Sewer Construction Dollars

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:21

State Senate Finance Committee members are going over proposed agency budgets one by one, looking for funds or programs they can cut. Thursday they questioned Department of Environmental Conservation officials, asking just how bad it would be to turn down federal dollars for water and sewer systems.

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Categories: Alaska News

USFS Celebrates Big Thorne Decision As Environmental Groups Weight Options

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:20

Clearcuts and old-growth forests are part of the view on Prince of Wales Island. A ruling in an environmental lawsuit says the island’s Big Thorne timber sale can proceed. (Creative Commons photo by Nick Bonzey)

The U.S. Forest Service says a Friday court decision allowing a timber sale will help speed changes in Tongass National Forest logging. But opponents say it will damage other Southeast Alaska industries.

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The Forest Service designed the Big Thorne sale as part of its transition from old-growth to second- or young-growth timber cuts.

Ten environmental organizations sued to block the sale, saying the acreage is critical habitat for deer and wolf populations, as well as salmon.

The ruling was made by U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline. His 25-page decision rejects claims that the Forest Service failed to follow proper procedure before offering the sale.

Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton was encouraged by the decision.

“It is critical to our overall transition and the ability to provide bridge timber to the industry here in Southeast, as we make that complete transition to young growth in the next 10 to 15 years,” she says.

The court decision allows the agency to proceed with the sale, which includes about 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest on Prince of Wales Island. Another approximately 2,000 acres of second-growth trees are also included.

A suit, filed in August, said the agency did not properly consider the sale’s impacts on wildlife.

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Executive Director Malena Marvin says logging Big Thorne would hurt other regional industries.

“We have a thriving fishing and tourism economy here and those are based on healthy streams and abundant wildlife and both of those things are undercut by old-growth logging,” she says.

Big Thorne is the largest timber sale planned for the Tongass, the nation’s biggest national forest.

The agency awarded a contract for about two-thirds of the acreage to Klawock’s Viking Lumber in October. It hoped to settle legal challenges in time for logging to start this spring.

But the lawsuit isn’t necessarily over. The plaintiffs could take the decision before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and seek an injunction pending the outcome.

SEACC’s Marvin says the environmental groups will discuss whether they’ll take that action. She says the suit includes views from more than those taking court action.

“In our experience, local people would much rather see a small and sustainable wood industry that actually keeps money circulating it in our communities instead of exporting old growth in the round to Asia,” she says.

Loggers say small communities want the opposite, a strong logging industry that provides good jobs.

The sale was first announced in the summer of 2013. Tongass officials said it could provide up to a decade’s worth of timber for Viking and smaller mills.

Environmentalists filed an agency appeal over impacts to wolves and other wildlife. They also pointed out that the area to be logged is home to about three-quarters of the world’s population of a rare orchid.

The Forest Service rejected that internal appeal, though it deferred offering some of the acreage.

Regional Forester Pendleton says Beistline’s ruling shows the agency did its homework.

“This decision really does validate the importance of the Big Thorne sale and the decision that was made associated with that,” she says.

The ruling came as the Tongass Advisory Committee prepares to meet in Juneau.

The 15-member panel is working on recommendations for an updated Tongass Land Management Plan, including the transition from old- to young-growth logging.

Categories: Alaska News

Potential Alaska State Park Cuts Rile Valdez Residents

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:19

Proposed funding cuts for Alaska State Parks have caused a stir in Valdez where the one Park Ranger position could be eliminated.

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Categories: Alaska News

After 3 Failed Attempts, Freeride Holds Haines Competition

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:18

Skier Lorraine Huber gets ready for her run.

The fourth time was a charm for the Freeride World Tour in Haines. The big mountain ski and snowboard competition made three attempts to hold the event, but cancelled each one because of weather.

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The ten-day permit the Haines Borough granted the event ended on Sunday, but the borough manager gave permission to extend the window two more days. On Monday, the conditions were right for about 30 athletes to take on the Haines mountains.

“Welcome to the Freeride World Tour,” Commentator Ed Leigh said before the competition. “It’s a five-stop journey around the world, that challenges the best skiers and snowboarders to descend some of the most technical and intimidating mountains on the planet.”

This was the Freeride’s first ever stop in Alaska and it hasn’t been smooth sailing. After failed attempt after failed attempt, the organizers decided to try one more time on Monday. And sunny, clear skies welcomed the skiers onto a steep mountain face called “The Venue.”

“We have sat out 12 days waiting for these conditions,” Leigh said. “And the snow up here is just phenomenal.”

The competition on began around 9:30 a.m. with men’s snowboarders. American Sammy Luebke started out the competition strong. Judges gave him a score of 90 points out of 100, which put him in first place in his category.

As athletes from around the world took on the mountain, Haines locals watched the competition through an online livestream at various locations around town. About 20 people sat around a big screen at the public library.

“I’m the person going ‘Ohh! Oh my gosh that’s scary!’” said librarian Debbie Gravel.

The library’s IT guy and local skier Erik Stevens was watching too.

“It’s just been amazing to watch people open up this face,” he said. “The big error are nailbiting, they’re exicitng to watch.”

Over at the Haines School, about 25 students crowded around a screen in that library. 9th grader Seth Waldo says he got out of math class to watch.

“We’ve been asking all of our teachers about it. They’ve said no,” Waldo said. “We finally got one teacher to buckle under peer pressure.”

Two more Americans topped the rankings in the men’s skiing and women’s snowboarding categories. 21-year-old rookie George Rodney gained a score of 87.75. Shannan Yates earned 79.5 points.

As Stevens watched the competition, he said the more athletes who carve tracks in the snow, the more difficult it gets.

“The face just gets more and more tracked up with every run,” he said. “It’s gonna be harder for them ’cause there’s less powder and bumps from the other tracks. That really messes you up when you’re going fast.”

That turned out to be true for the women skiiers, who went last.

“Boom! Oh no! She got caught up on the landing and she’s still tumbling,” commentators Leigh and Martin Winkler reacted as Alaskan Hazel Birnbaum fell.

Birnbaum was one of three female skiers to wipe out and lose her skis, meaning she wasn’t able to finish her run. But there were a couple women skiiers who made great impressions.

Austrian Eva Walkner was one of them. She scored 76.75 points.

“That was a worthy run of a champion,” Leigh said.

Walkner’s lead is big enough that she can already be named Freeride champion in her category, even though the final Freeride competition in Verbier, Switzerland is yet to come.

The Freeride in Haines ended on a low note when skier Jaclyn Paaso took a harsh tumble and had a doctor rushed to her side before she skied down to the finish line. There were a lot of impressive runs, but there were also some frightening falls. It doesn’t look like anyone was seriously injured.

As the event wrapped up, commentator Ed Leigh said the competition was worth the patience and hard work that went into making it happen in Haines.

“This is one for the history books,” Winkler said. “The first time Alaska, Haines, Freeride World Tour. Unbelievable efforts have been taken to make this happen.”

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan: Alaska one Family, Obama not its Friend

Mon, 2015-03-23 16:35

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan returned to Juneau and today gave his first speech as a senator to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. The first-term Republican established an “us versus them” theme – a united Alaska up against the Obama administration.

Sullivan, who ousted a Democrat in a tough race, opened with unity. He says Alaskans are one big family who survive life’s ups and downs together.

“Births. Deaths. Marriages. Even elections,” he said.

Sullivan made a point of seeking out a Barrow Democrat who has recovered after he fell ill on the House floor last month.

“It’s great to see Rep. Ben Nageak, looking as healthy as ever. Where are you Benny?”

Someone told him Rep. Nageak was absent that day.

“Oh no! That was my first applause line!” Sullivan quipped.

He talked about his work on a veteran’s suicide bill, and going to the White House for the signing ceremony. He says Alaskans need to align interests with people of every political stripe.

“Certainly one that that I’ve already started is working with both sides of the aisle on critical issues to our country, critical issues to our state. It’s something that I do on a regular basis,” he said. “In fact, Sen. Murkowski, Rep. Young and I made a little news the other night. We had a potlatch dinner at the senator’s house with the entire Hawaiian delegation – all Democrats.”

But Sullivan was elected on a strong anti-Obama message, and he has stayed consistent. Sometimes, Sullivan says, interests can’t be aligned.

“On some of the most critical issues facing our state and country, the administration of Barack Obama does not have our interests at heart,” he said. “This is becoming increasingly clear.”

Sullivan says Alaskans want access to develop federal lands, big economic projects, and less regulation, while the administration, he says, wants the opposite.

“We want a strong secure Arctic teeming with opportunity for our citizens, and protected by a strong military presence in Alaska,” he said. “They’re looking at removing thousands of our Arctic-tough soldiers.”

(The Army plans to cut brigade combat teams, possibly from Alaska. The Army’s chief of staff says it’s due to the 2011 Budget Control Act, passed by Congress.)

Rep. Adam Wool, a Fairbanks Democrat, says this was the first time he’d heard Sullivan speak, other than in campaign ads.

“He said ‘My door is always open, I work with Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Socialists.’ But much of the speech … seemed kind of partisan,” Wool said.

Rep. David Guttenberg, another Fairbanks Democrat, says he hopes Sullivan can deploy a different skill set than the one that got him elected.

“To be a statesman, which is what we need to do in the U.S. Senate, is you need to build the bridges. You need to make people see that you’re relevant,” he said.

Guttenberg says he was delighted to hear about the dinner with the Hawaii delegation, which he says continues an important alliance forged by the late Sen. Ted Stevens. But Guttenberg says, he also heard a lot of blame, which he says isn’t constructive.

“Our guys need to be able to talk to the president no matter who he is. You need to be able to have that dialogue,” he said. “Alaska has interests that are so important, you need to not shut the door anywhere you turn. And blaming the president every time you turn around is just the nature of the very partisanship that’s gone on back there.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski made her annual speech to the legislature last month. No date has been announced yet for Congressman Don Young.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Police Confident Remains Belong To Missing Kenai Family

Mon, 2015-03-23 14:10

Kenai Police Lt. David Ross addresses the media at Kenai City Hall Monday afternoon. Police believe they have found the remains of Rebecca Adams, 22; Michelle Hundley, 5; Jaracca Hundley, 3; and Brandon Jividen, 37, all missing since May of 2014.

Police investigators in Kenai are confident they’ve found the remains of a family missing since last May.

A homicide investigation is underway for missing 22-year-old Rebecca Adams, her daughters, 5-year-old Michelle Hundley and 3-year-old Jaracca and Adams’ boyfriend, 37-year-old Brandon Jividen. The family left virtually no trace when they were last seen 10 months ago – until this weekend.

“Saturday evening, about 9:50, Kenai police received notification from a person traveling in the area that they saw a piece of clothing off the trail, they got out, and located what appeared to be human remains,” Kenai Police Lieutenant David Ross said.

Ross gave few details on what exactly was found, but did say a hand gun was also left at the scene, and that the remains match with what they had been searching for.

“The clothes are consistent, the size, the location,” Ross said. “We’re very confident it is, but obviously we’ll be looking for the medical examiners confirmation through DNA testing and so forth.”

Local police, the FBI and scores of other family members, friends and neighbors combed the area in North Kenai for months, but had turned up little. The remains were found in an area very near the missing family’s apartment, in a low-lying area, just off a trail that’s passable for vehicles.

“You know, I can only speculate how close searchers may have come and why that was difficult to find,” Ross said. “But searching for things or people in the Alaska wilderness is not an easy thing to find people.”

Ross read from a statement prepared on behalf of Rebecca Adams’ family. It said they are grateful for the continued support of the community as well as the time and effort put into this investigation by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The family does not plan to give any interviews and asked for privacy as the investigation continues.

Categories: Alaska News

Cindy Abbott Claims 2015 Iditarod Red Lantern Award

Mon, 2015-03-23 10:03

Cindy Abbott cruises through Anchorage during the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

This year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has wrapped up, with the final musher arriving in Nome.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that rookie musher Cindy Abbott, from Irvine, California, arrived in Nome seconds before 9:20 p.m. Sunday. Abbott wins the Red Lantern Award, given to the last team to arrive.

Abbott finished in 13 days, 11 hours, 19 minutes and 51 seconds. This year’s winner, Dallas Seavey, finished in eight days, 18 hours, 13 minutes, six seconds.

This was the 56-year-old Abbott’s third Iditarod attempt. She scratched due to injuries in prior attempts.

Seventy-eight teams started this year’s Iditarod; 66 teams finished.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Fish And Game Says It Could Absorb CFEC

Mon, 2015-03-23 09:37

At a legislative committee Thursday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it could absorb part of the responsibilities of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission if it was eliminated.

The House Fisheries Committee heard Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes’ House Bill 112, which would transfer duties of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission to the Department of Fish and Game and the Office of Administrative Hearings. Twenty-five full time employees would move to Fish and Game.

Kevin Brooks is Fish and Game deputy commissioner.

“The department believes that we could make this work without service degradation to commercial fishermen. I think that’s important. Issuing permits, doing emergency transfers, those types of things,” Brooks says.

The CFEC is responsible for deciding what commercial fisheries to limit, who gets to participate in them and adjudicating appeal cases. It also issues permits and licenses, which bring in the majority of the agency’s revenue.

This is not the first time a lawmaker has tried to eliminate the CFEC. Homer Rep. Paul Seaton first introduced a similar bill at the end of the last legislative session and initiated a legislative audit.

Fish and Game conducted its own review that came out in February. It made several recommendations and highlighted some inefficiencies, like a backlog of 28 application cases more than 15 years old.

Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins sits on the fisheries committee.

“There seems to be some stubborn resistance getting to the number zero with that backlog. The backlog is low, but it doesn’t seem to be working its way down, at least quickly. And just put directly, why has the backlog not been worked through?” Kreiss-Tomkins asks.

CFEC Chair Bruce Twomley says he and the other two commissioners adjudicated 143 cases last year, mostly permit transfers. He says they are committed to finishing the backlogged cases in 2016.

Stutes’ bill would do away with the agency’s three heads and add an executive director, saving $424,000, according to a Fish and Game estimate.

The House Fisheries Committee will take public testimony on the bill to eliminate CFEC Thursday at 10 a.m. As of Friday, at least two letters of opposition have come from the fishing community, including the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Ferry Rates Rising For Commercial Customers

Mon, 2015-03-23 09:35

Three ferries tied up at the Ketchikan Shipyard in the winter of 2012. Commercial users will likely pay higher rates beginning next winter. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

You’ve probably heard that state ferry fares are going up in May. The Alaska Marine Highway System also plans to increase commercial rates later this year.

State officials say it costs too much to run the system.

Rising expenses and decreasing state revenues are leading to a 4.5 percent fare increase that will hit most travelers in May. Legislative budget-writers boosted it to 9 percent, though the extra charges will happen later.

Department of Transportation officials are now considering larger increases for commercial customers, those moving trucks and container vans via ferry.

Commissioner Marc Luiken cites a new analysis of charges.

“The study made it very apparent that the commercial rates aboard the marine highway system are considerably lower than comparable ferry systems around the United States and the world. The role of government is not to compete with private industry, but to support it,” he says.

The study, by Anchorage-based Northern Economics, says other ferry systems charge commercial vehicles 60 to 120 percent more than passenger rates. It recommends the ferry system do the same, though not all at once.

Officials say the increases will help, but not solve, the marine highway’s budget problems.

“I think the system needs to raise rates. Nobody likes to pay more. But I’d just be happy if I could use the ferry,” says Petersburg’s Dave Kensinger, co-owner of Chelan Produce.

The company sells Pacific Northwest fruit and vegetables in Southeast communities out of a truck. He’s also represented commercial users on the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board.

He says the issue isn’t cost, it’s the schedule.

“Twenty years ago, in the course of our business between my wife and I, we got on the ferry 100 times a year. This year, with what I believe are the proposed cuts to ferry service, I think I’m going to get on the ferry twice,” he says.

Calls to barge companies serving ferry port communities were not immediately returned.

Transportation Commissioner Luiken, speaking to the Southeast Conference, says increases will be considered as part of next winter’s ferry schedule.

He says higher ferry rates are part of a larger look at his agency’s regional costs.

“I can tell you the long-term transportation outlook for Southeast Alaska is going to be impacted by what can be responsibly done and what is sustainable over time,” he says.

The legislatively mandated fare increase must still make it through the state Senate and the governor’s office. If it does, it’s expected to be in place for the winter season.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Ice Melt Sees Early Start

Mon, 2015-03-23 09:28

The maximum extent of Arctic ice on Feb. 25 was the lowest on record. The orange line shows the median extent for that day from 1981 to 2010. (Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center)

The Arctic’s summer ice melt has begun — earlier than ever.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Friday that Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent on Feb. 25.

That extent covered about half a million square miles less than average — and it maxed out two weeks sooner than normal.

The Data Center says ice is still growing in parts of the Bering Sea — and there could be some spikes later in the season. But they don’t think the overall extent will see a major increase again this season, especially further north.

The Arctic saw lower than average ice conditions across the board this year, except in the Labrador and Davis straits.

Categories: Alaska News

Human Remains Found on Kenai Trail May Link to Missing Family

Mon, 2015-03-23 09:26

According to a release on Sunday, Kenai police were notified by a motorist Saturday evening of human remains and clothing found on a local trail.

The remains were found in west Kenai near Borgen Avenue and Alpine Drive.

That’s just a few miles from the apartment of a family that’s been missing for 10 months.

Thirty-seven-year-old Brandon Jividen, his girlfriend, 22-year-old Rebecca Adams, and her two daughters, 6-year-old Michelle and 3-year-old Jaracca, disappeared in late May 2014. They were reported missing in early June.

At the time, their apartment was found locked with no signs of forced entry. The family’s camping gear and two cars were left at the apartment, along with the children’s car seats and many of their clothes and possessions. However, there were some personal effects reported missing.

Items found with the human remains over the weekend do appear to match those missing from the apartment.

Police, State Troopers, the FBI, Fish and Game and volunteers conducted extensive searches near the apartment last summer, including the Borgen Avenue area. The structured sweeps were called off after several weeks of turning up few leads, though family and friends continued the search through late last year.

The remains will be analyzed and the police are investigating. An FBI team from Anchorage has been dispatched to assist.

Police are not releasing any additional information until a media briefing midday Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Hip-Hop Message Encouraging Drug-Free Lifestyle Resonating With Dillingham Youth

Fri, 2015-03-20 18:20

(Courtesy Samuel Johns)

Samuel Johns grew up in the community of Copper Center surrounded by drugs and alcohol. After years of struggling with alcoholism, he is now sober and trying to make it as a musician who blends Athabascan culture with modern hip hop.

Johns is traveling to villages across the state to perform and talk about living a drug free life. And it’s a message that seems to be resonating with kids in Dillingham.

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Students in Dillingham are squeezed into the plastic blenches in the high school gym on a recent Thursday afternoon as Samuel Johns plays his skin drum. He warns the students that he can get pretty loud singing traditional songs but its all part of the show.

“When I preform for some of the kids they look scared, especially some of the white kids, I’ll just be like, aahhh, and they’re like is he going on a war path right now? What is he doing?” he said.

Johns is trying to inspire kids to preserve traditional culture. But also close to his heart is a mission to convince rural kids to avoid addiction and curb domestic violence.

(Courtesy Samuel Johns)

Johns spent years drinking, growing up in the Copper Center. He says he regrets the time he lost just parting away his days. He never graduated from high school.

“That’s what I am trying to talk to the kids about, not wasting that time and get going right now,” Johns said.

He speaks to the students about his personal experience with substance abuse and drug dealing.

“I am ashamed of selling weed because I could have lost my daughter. I could have lost my home,” Johns said. “Luckily, that never happened with me. And I feel like now I have the platform to tell my story, to tell people, hey this is what I went through.”

The kids are intrigued by the traditional singing but as soon as Johns begins to rap they get out their phones to record and take photos.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a rapping native,” Sophomore Dorothy Bavilla said. “It’s very surprising and very cool and I think he really got the message out there.”

(Courtesy Samuel Johns)

Johns’ message also resonated with 8th grader Kate Gomez.

“Him rapping about culture and domestic violence, just standing up for things really inspires me to help other people,” she said.

Johns frequently raps about his native heritage. He sees himself as a link to where the kids are today and where the elders used to be.

“When I talk about traditional music, I try to tell them, this right here, our traditional culture, our traditional values, it’s survived for thousands of years for a reason, not for it to end right now,” Johns said. “And now, I feel like I am in a position to build that bridge to have our kids see that our culture is cool.”

Johns sees the problem of addiction as a threat to native culture. He says his ancestors used to be like superman, they were strong and pure.

“But alcohol, drugs, food, unhealthy food. It’s crippling our way of life. It’s crippling what our ancestors past down for so many years,” Johns said. “Alcoholism, drug addiction, any type of addiction is really our kryptonite for the way we used to be.”

Johns hopes his music, in at least some small way, will help to change that.

Johns doesn’t want kids to simply become a fan of his music, he hopes to inspire them to become leaders in their own communities. Johns believes his music allows him to connect with Alaska students in a meaningful way.

“I see the kid with hides on,” he said. “Who else has hides on? Just you? Alright, he knows style.”

Categories: Alaska News

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