APRN Alaska News

Syndicate content aprn.org
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: 8 min 35 sec ago

Wildfire Smoke Cloaks Anchorage

Thu, 2014-05-22 17:01

A thick haze of smoke covered Anchorage and much of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Thursday morning.

Download Audio

The smoke, from both the Tyonek and Funny River wildfires, was heavy over Anchorage in the early hours, although a light breeze helped to push the smoke away by afternoon.

But Christian Cassell, with the National Weather Service’s Anchorage office, says winds now helping to clear smoke away from the city, are about to change

“The next 24 hours or so through, let’s say, [Friday] afternoon are looking pretty good, with north winds that’ll gust 20-25 miles per hour. So we’re looking at the smoke being pushed off to the south of Anchorage,” Cassell said. “As we get into [Friday], however, the wind is gonna start reversing again and it’s going to start coming out of the south, and that’s gonna start pushing the smoke up towards Anchorage’s way again. And, unfortunately, it looks like we’re gonna be in that pattern through the weekend.”

Cassell says the worst smoke conditions are generally in the late night and earliest morning hours, because of an inversion created when the ground cools faster than the air above it.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young Pushing Land Bill for Port Clarence Site

Thu, 2014-05-22 17:00

Congressman Don Young is introducing a bill in Washington, D.C. to speed up development in an area of the Seward Peninsula that many are eyeing as one piece of a future Arctic Port.

Download Audio

Representative Don Young speaking in Washington, DC. (Photo: Don Young congressional webpage)

House Resolution 4668 would divide about 2,500 acres of federal land among the Coast Guard, the State of Alaska, and the Bering Straits Native Corporation.

The idea is to hasten infrastructure development by creating a public-private partnership.

“The Coast Guard has no money,” Young said. “The [Army] Corps [of Engineers] has identified this one area as a public-private participation—so any facilities should be, very frankly, financed privately with the public input.”

Under the resolution BSNC would take over 2,381 of the land–the overwhelming majority. Matt Ganley works with resources for BSNC, and said by email Tuesday that the corporation has been “discussing the Point Spencer lands with Congressman Young and his staff” since 2010, when the Coast Guard decommissioned it’s facilities in the area.

Ganley added that BSNC “fully support[s]” Young’s legislation.

The acreage that the Coast Guard and the state will receive are comparatively small, but vital for infrastructure development. The Coast Guard has identified the area from an airstrip to the shoreline as essential to future operations. And while there isn’t yet a draft map accompanying the resolution, Ganley says the legislation aims to anticipate future needs and partition the lands accordingly.

Point Spencer is the curved spit closing in the waters West of Teller and Brevig Mission.

It’s one of the geographical features that makes up Port Clarence, which, along with the harbor in Nome, will likely be part of a proposed deep draft port.

Young believes freeing up land the federal government has failed to so far take advantage of is the first step towards building vital infrastructure.

“This has been identified as one of the more likely areas by the Coast Guard and the Corp of Engineers,” Young said. “I’m not going to pick the areas, I’m just trying to provide the areas necessary to have a deep water port—and we need it badly up there because of the arctic participation. And this is the first step.”

Ganley wrote that during a meeting last February residents and leadership in Brevig Mission and Teller supported the prospect of jobs and economic opportunity nearby development could bring. Attendees also raised serious concerns about the effects to subsistence resources. Though the resolution has a special provision recognizing archeological and cultural heritage in the region, there is no mention of subsistence anywhere in the legislation.

The US Army Corp of Engineers is scheduled to release a report with recommendations for an Arctic deep draft port in the region by the end of the summer.

There’s no timeline as yet for how Young’s legislation will advance in the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Congress Passes Water Bill with Alaska Amendments

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:59

Congress has passed a $12 billion water resources bill that may help Alaska gain a deepwater Arctic port, although it doesn’t actually fund one.

Download Audio

The provision, supported by the entire Alaska congressional delegation, would allow the Corps of Engineers to provide technical assistance to local or tribal governments who want to develop an Arctic port, and accept money from them. For other harbors around Alaska, the bill allows the Corps to consider subsistence use, not just economic development, when selecting projects to fund.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act authorizes more than 30 major projects in the lower 48, such as harbor dredging and flood control work.

It now goes to the president for his signature.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 22, 2014

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:59

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

Download Audio

Shifting Power In Alaska’s Legislature

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When the Bipartisan Coalition lost control of the State Senate in 2012, it was a given that its Democratic members would see a big drop in the number of bills they got through. But that loss of clout also affected Democrats in the House. With the Legislature adjourned and a pile of bills awaiting the governor’s signature, APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez looks at how power shifted in this Legislature.

Senate Panel Approves Labeling for GM Salmon

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A U.S. Senate panel today moved to require labeling for genetically modified salmon, if it’s approved for sale in this country. The labeling mandate is now part of an Agriculture appropriations bill pending in the Senate.

Funny River Fire Consumes Nearly 50k Acres

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Funny River fire that has been burning on the Kenai Peninsula since Monday has grown to nearly 50,000 acres.

Tyonek Fire Grows To 1,800 Acres

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

On the western side of Cook Inlet, the Tyonek Fire has grown to more than 1,800 acres.

Wildfire Smoke Cloaks Anchorage

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A thick haze of smoke covered Anchorage and much of the Matanuska Susitna Borough Thursday morning.

Rep. Young Pushing Land Bill for Port Clarence Site

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Representative Don Young has introduced a bill that would help clear the way for a deepwater port outside of Nome.

Congress Passes Water Bill with Alaska Amendments

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Congress has passed a $12 billion water resources bill that may help Alaska gain a deepwater Arctic port, although it doesn’t actually fund one.

Money, Drugs Missing From Barrow Police Station Evidence Locker

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Money and drugs went missing from the evidence room at the police station in Barrow last year—and now the North Slope Borough is launching an investigation into what happened.

UAF Expecting Over $12 Million Budget Deficit

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A University of Alaska Fairbanks committee is recommending cuts to close an expected 12 to 14 million dollar FY 15 budget deficit. The Planning and Budget Committee was charged with developing options to address rising costs and decreased state funding.

New President At Premera Alaska Will Be Based In Seattle

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska has a new president. Jim Grazko is replacing Jeff Davis, who held the job for 17 years and is retiring at the end of June. Premera Alaska is the largest health insurer in the state, serving more than 100,000 customers.

Bethel Elders Home Certified

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Y-K Delta’s first skilled nursing facility is open and just received the federal certification necessary for payment from for Medicare and Medicaid. The certification comes just as the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, which runs the Elders Home, faces an 11.7-million-dollar budget shortfall.

Categories: Alaska News

Money, Drugs Missing From Barrow Police Station Evidence Locker

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:58

Money and drugs went missing from the evidence room at the police station in Barrow last year—and now the North Slope Borough is launching an investigation into what happened.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Expecting Over $12 Million Budget Deficit

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:57

A University of Alaska Fairbanks committee is recommending cuts to close an expected 12 to 14 million dollar FY 15 budget deficit. The Planning and Budget Committee was charged with developing options to address rising costs and decreased state funding.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Elders Home Certified

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:55

YKHC has paid $2 million dollars to keep the Elders Home open since October while officials tried to get a federal certification allowing Medicaid and Medicare billing.

The Y-K Delta’s first skilled nursing facility is open and just received the federal certification necessary for payment from for Medicare and Medicaid.

The certification comes just as Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, which runs the Elders Home, faces an $11.7 million budget shortfall.

Download Audio

The entryway at the Elders Home in Bethel. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

Today the staff of the Elders Home in Bethel is celebrating their recent certification with a party. YKHC CEO Dan Winkelman steps away from the celebration and into the airy entryway of the newly constructed Elders Home in Bethel, which is decorated with a mural depicting the seasons.

“You’ll see a seal hunter with his catch there and his kayak and you’ll see a berry picker as you go in a clockwise direction and she’s picking salmonberries and then you’ll see some swans flying across the tundra,” Winkelman said.

The nursing home, which looks more like a fishing lodge from the outside, is a project of YKHC that’s been planned for decades to give elders in the Delta care closer to home.

YKHC is grappling with an $11.7 million budget shortfall due to revenue collections issues and sequester cuts to Indian Health Service funding. YKHC has been picking up $2 million in operating costs since the home opened in October because it lacked certification, said Winkelman.

The home attempted certification twice: In October there were 17 deficiencies and five in December, when they tried again. The home finally passed federal certification in April, allowing Medicare and Medicaid billing.

Gerald Hodges manages the Elders Home. He leads me from the entry into a hallway that separates two wings of the home, past a chapel on our left and a therapy room with exercise equipment to the right and into a common area.

A Hallway at the Elder Home in Bethel is decorated with a photo of fish. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

“As we go here then to the right in this side here we have a total of eight rooms. We also have right in front of us here is an area we call our native kitchen and we have a stove with a commercial hood microwave, refrigerator, freezer and a sink. And it’s designed so that family members can come in and prepare foods for their elders,” Hodges said.

Elders recline in cushy chairs watching a DVD of Camai Dance Festival on large screen TV. Signs around the building are in Yup’ik and English and several of the staff speak Yup’ik.

The idea, Hodges says, it to improve quality of life for the aging population of he Y-K Delta region, by allowing them to stay closer to home to receive culturally relevant care. The closest skilled nursing homes are in Nome and Kotzebue. Previously, residents who needed nursing home care had to relocate to the road system. Hodges leads me into a resident room.

“Here’s our typical private room.  We have a bed. We have a dresser. Each room has a countertop with a sink. The other nice feature we have in all the room is that we have an overhead lift. A lot of the elders aren’t able to get themselves out of bed or they need help getting into a chair an this electric lift is so nice, it comes over, it comes around and it actually drives itself along the track and the track goes all the way around and into the bathroom,” Hodges said.

The state’s older population is expected to more than double in the next 20 years from around 72,000 to more than 150,000 in 2030.

Denise Daniello with the Alaska Commission on Aging says more facilities like the Elders Home in Bethel are needed. She cites data showing Alaska has the fastest growing senior population in the nation, and the fastest growing segment includes those 85 and older.

“Currently we have about 5,900 people age 85 and older that is projected to more than triple over the next 20 years to 18,800 people age 85 and older. And this population is the most vulnerable and also most at risk for developing chronic disease conditions as well as Alzheimers disease related dementia.” Daniello said.

Winkelman says the Elders home has received more than 30 applications for the twelve remaining rooms and he says once people see how homey it is, he thinks they’ll be a waiting list.

“That’s the idea with the home is you want to make it nice so people can live here an that ‘s what it’s all about is for the clients to come in and feel comfortable and make it their own home,” Winkelman said.

YKHC worked with senator Lyman Hoffman and representative Bob Herron to secure appropriations for the Elders Home. Construction cost $16.3 million dollars.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Air Quality Impacted By Regional Wildfires

Thu, 2014-05-22 11:00

UPDATE (5/22 – 11 am): The air quality in Anchorage and Eagle River is considered unhealthy for everyone according to the municipality’s Department of Health and Human Services due to smoke from wildfires near Tyonek and Funny River on the Kenai Peninsula. However, the air quality hotline reports that conditions are improving.

The department advises that all people stay indoors if possible and avoid strenuous exercise. They recommend keeping windows closed and avoiding burning things like candles and cigarettes. Vacuuming can also stir up particles and reduce air quality.

The department adds that typical dust masks or surgical masks won’t help to keep out the smoke. You would need a special mask marked “N95.” They can be purchased in some hardware stores.

The hotline number is 343-4899. They will provide another update by noon.

Smoke is expected through the holiday weekend. 

ORIGINAL STORY: Smoke from the wildfire in Tyonek blew into parts of Anchorage Wednesday morning causing concerns about air quality. By mid-afternoon most of the smoke had cleared, but it could be back.

Matt Stichick with the Anchorage Air Quality program said some smoke could blow in Thursday morning, but winds from the north will reduce the impact. However, with fires burning in Tyonek and at Funny River Road on the Kenai Peninsula, he said the problem is not resolved yet.

“Certainly we’re not in the clear yet,” he explained. “And actually there’s a much better chance that smoke from the Kenai Peninsula will be reaching Anchorage by Memorial Day weekend. It sounds like this situation could be with us for a while yet.”

Stichick said the best way to judge if the air near you is hazardous is to measure the visibility. If you can’t see a point that you know to be about 3 to 5 miles away, then you need to be careful. He said people who have heart or lung problems should avoid being outdoors where the smoke is bad and visibility is reduced. He said likely south Anchorage and lower Hillside will see the most impacts.

The Air Quality Hotline is 343-4899 and will be updated throughout the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

New President At Premera Alaska Will Be Based In Seattle

Thu, 2014-05-22 10:17

Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska has a new president. Jim Grazko is replacing Jeff Davis, who held the job for 17 years and is retiring at the end of June. Premera Alaska is the largest health insurer in the state, serving more than 100,000 customers.

Davis lived in Anchorage and was actively engaged in health care issues in the community, serving on several boards. Grazko will be based in Seattle and the company says he isn’t likely to have the same public presence in the state as Davis. Eric Earling is Vice President of Corporate Communications for Premera. He says Grazko will travel to Alaska frequently and if anything, he expects an increased focus on the market in the state:

“I wouldn’t put the expectation that because there’s a change in one position that there is a substantive impact in how we serve the market as a whole. I think a number of members of our team are going to be collectively more active in Alaska than they may have been in the past because of some things we want to do to serve the market better, regardless of who holds the title of President of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska.”

Earling says the biggest issue Grazko will face is the rising cost of medical care in Alaska and the impact that has on health care coverage.

Grazko has been with Premera since 1999 and was previously vice president for underwriting at the company. Lon Wilson is President and CEO of the Wilson Agency, a brokerage firm that works closely with Premera. Wilson says he knows both Davis and Grazko well and he thinks the change is a positive one:

“We’re losing somebody in Jeff Davis who spent many many years here in Alaska and knew the market really well. We’re also gaining somebody who has been with Premera for 15 plus years and knows the company very well and is very knowledgeable about the business in Alaska even though he hasn’t physically been here.”

Premera has 35 employees in Alaska. The company doesn’t expect to make any other changes at the Alaska office.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Investigators Find No Cover-up at Alaska National Guard

Wed, 2014-05-21 17:28

An Army Inspector General found no fault with how the Alaska National Guard handled reports of sexual assault and harassment.  At least, that’s how the Inspector General’s office for the Defense Department explained it in a letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski says she asked for the investigation last year after hearing troubling reports from two Guard chaplains. She says she won’t comment until she gets a chance to see the IG report for herself.

Download Audio

The one-page letter to Murkowski  says the Army Inspector General’s investigation ended last month. Its focus was whether the Alaska Guard allowed a management climate that wasn’t conducive to reporting sexual assaults, and whether officials tried to cover up any accusations.  The letter to Murkowski says the Army IG didn’t find evidence of a cover-up.  It also says Guard commanders didn’t identify any concerns about the reporting of sexual assaults during “climate sensing sessions” with the troops.

The letter confirms some of the broad outlines of the case. It says the Guard’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator received 11 allegations of sexual assault since 2012. They were forwarded to civilian police, but only two were substantiated, and none were prosecuted in court. The letter from the Pentagon IG seems to clear the top officer of the Alaska Guard, Thomas Katkus. It says he delivered administrative punishment on the only two cases he could, by discharging one of the accused from Guard service and initiating the departure of another. Another DoD oversight branch, the Directorate for Investigations of Senior Officials, reviewed the Army IG report and concurred, the letter says.

Major Candis Olmstead, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Guard, says nine alleged sexual assaults by Guardsmen have been reported to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator since 2009. She doesn’t know why the letter mentions 11 cases just since 2012. She says, though, the response coordinator takes reports from Guard victims regardless of whether the person they accuse was in or out of the Guard.

One more investigation into the Alaska National Guard is still underway. It’s by the Office of Complex Investigations, part of the National Guard Bureau.

Categories: Alaska News

Funny River Fire Takes 20,000 Acres, More Firefighters On The Way

Wed, 2014-05-21 17:27

Smoke from a 20,000 acre wildfire looms over Ski Hill Road south of Soldotna. (Photo by Shaylon Cochran/KDLL)

Now in its third day, the wildfire burning on the Kenai Peninsula has consumed 20,000 acres.

Download Audio

By Wednesday afternoon, more than 200 firefighters had been sent in to control the blaze. Even though the size of the fire is now more than 30 square miles, it’s still contained within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and so very little property was being threatened.

Crews are using water almost exclusively to fight the fire. Doug Newbould is the Fire Management Officer on the Refuge. He says water is preferred over chemical retardants.

“Fish especially, those are the aquatic resources we’re trying to protect by not using retardant, however, we also understand and are fully supportive of the policy and the and the practices of protecting communities. If you have to use retardant, if that’s the best tool at your disposal or even a last resort sometimes, then yeah, use retardant.”

Newbould says the Refuge signed off on very limited use of retardant Tuesday, just enough to keep the fire from damaging the historic Nurses Cabin.

Extremely dry weather, high winds and low humidity proved the perfect mix for creating such a big wildfire. And Newbould says that if life and property aren’t threatened, a fire in the Refuge can have some positive benefits. But it really depends on the cause. He says they’re not sure yet exactly what started this fire, but it was likely man-made.

“Fire is an ecosystem process. And when it’s natural, we like to support it and use it where we can to accomplish resource objectives, but our only objectives on this fire are protecting communities and keeping the fire within the Refuge boundaries.”

The state division of Forestry says that recent efforts to clear beetle-kill spruce from the Refuge have removed fuel that could have made the fire spread farther and faster. Forestry spokesperson Andy Alexandrou says it’s not time to relax yet, though. Crews worked early Wednesday morning to keep the fire from jumping Funny River Road.

“We’re trying to keep that road open. We do suggest that you use extra caution as you’re driving around in that area between miles 5 and 8 (of Funny River Road). There is a fair amount of equipment there, people walking and working, staging for apparatus, so use a little extra caution as you pass through there.”

He says the incident management teams that arrived Wednesday morning will be completely set up and able to get more information out Thursday.

As the fire continues to burn, air quality is becoming a big concern. The Department of Environmental Conservation still has an air quality advisory in effect. The strong northerly winds that had been sending the smoke to the southern peninsula have calmed down, and now most of that smoke has settled between Sterling and Kenai, forcing Central Peninsula Hospital to stop surgical operations Wednesday afternoon, as a precaution to make sure air handlers were working properly.

As the fire speads, questions about possible evacuations from Funny River to Kasilof abound, and at Tuesday night’s Borough Assembly meeting, Borough Emergency Management Director Scott Walden explained how those decisions are made.

“In a situation such as this, Department of Natural Resources,  (Division of) Forestry would be the ones to order an evacuation, if necessary.Our job would be to develop plans to put in place with Forestry and the State Troopers,” Walden said.

The Borough has a hotline set up to field evacuation questions and other general questions about the fire. That number is 714-2495.

Categories: Alaska News

Tyonek Fire Grows To 1,500 Acres

Wed, 2014-05-21 17:26

A fire near the village of Tyonek has grown to approximately 1,500 acres.

Download Audio

Pete Buist is a Fire Information Officer with the Alaska Inter-Agency Coordination Center. He says most of the activity is at the north end of the fire, which has reduced the danger near Tyonek:

“We’re not completely out of the water there, but we are concerned this morning about Beluga and the power station there and the gas lines, and oil and gas infrastructure that’s there,” Buist said.

No evacuation is in effect for Beluga, but Buist says some residents may have opted to leave. Tyonek’s evacuation order has been lifted.

Buist expects increasing fire activity in the area during the afternoon.

“The height of the burning period is generally in the afternoon, when temperatures are highest, and relative humidities are lowest, and the wind is more active,” he said.

Approximately 90 people and two helicopters are working to contain the fire.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Scientist Studies Ancient Cancer For Clues To Modern Disease

Wed, 2014-05-21 17:25

Cancer is often described as a modern disease. But the skeletal remains of our ancient ancestors are marked by the ravages of cancer. And an Anchorage scientist- who’s a cancer survivor, thinks those prehistoric bones could hold clues to understanding how the disease works today. It’s an emerging field though, that has some critics. 

Download Audio

Paleo-oncologist Katie Hunt. Photo by Annie Feidt.

This is what happens when Katie Hunt tells people what she does for work:

“I get a lot of head nodding and then confusion.”

Hunt is a new kind of scientist. She studies ancient cancer.

In 2012, she co-founded the Paleo-oncology Research Organization. The group wants to develop standards for detecting and diagnosing cancer in ancient skeletons. Hunt is convinced tracking the evolution of the disease will help scientists understand modern cancer.

“We basically have a lot of information from the last 70 years or so. But can you imagine what it would be like to document cancer from the last ten thousand years?”

As a kid Hunt was obsessed with archaeology. She filled binders with her favorite National Geographic stories on ancient worlds. At the end of her sophomore year in college in Washington state, Hunt went on her first dig in Egypt. She spent five weeks excavating a site in the Nile Delta where an ancient beer factory had been built inside a temple:

“Because the priests were paid in beer, food and beer.”

In the rubble of the beer factory, Hunt came across a single burial site. She carefully preserved a layer of pure white matting. Then she brushed away the dirt to reveal a partial skeleton from a woman who lived roughly five thousand years ago. It was the moment she knew she wanted to study human remains:

“I got very excited and it was just kind of this suddenly, like oh, this is what I’m supposed to do in archaeology, this is why I’m so drawn to archaeology.”

At the time, Hunt didn’t even know the field of paleopathology existed. But she wanted to know more about how this woman lived and why she died. She went back and forth to Egypt, and started learning how to study disease and trauma in ancient skeletons.

Then life interrupted.

At the end of the school year in 2009, Hunt had bloating and swelling in her stomach, with some intense pain. She assumed it was a stress induced ulcer:

“Things just got so bad that I ended up going into the emergency room and they discovered the tumor.”

After emergency surgery, doctors told Hunt she had a rare and aggressive type of ovarian cancer. She was just 22 years old. Hunt spent the summer enduring a series of marathon inpatient chemotherapy sessions.

The treatment worked. In October, a month after she finished chemotherapy, Hunt went back to Egypt for more field work. This time she was working in the Valley of the Kings, analyzing the bones of several skeletons that suffered from a mysterious disease:

“That was kind of that moment where I was like, what if cancer did exist in ancient societies and if it did, how did they deal with it?”

Holes that are evidence of cancer in an ancient skeleton from Sudan. Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum

The skeletons didn’t turn out to have cancer. But the experience prompted Hunt to write an undergraduate thesis showing cancer did exist in ancient times- Hippocrates wrote about it and even gave cancer its name. She wanted to turn that research into something more tangible and actually find cancer in skeletal remains. When the disease metastasizes to the bone, it leaves behind either holes or a buildup on the skeleton.

Hunt enrolled in graduate school in paleopathology in England with a focus on ancient cancers:

“Almost nothing had been done up to that point.”

But there were some documented cases of cancer in skeletal remains. Hunt spent two years compiling every ancient cancer case study she could find into a database. In all, she came across 230 individuals who likely had cancer. Hunt wants to use the database to develop standards for diagnosing ancient cancers.

She thinks paleo-oncology is key to tracing how cancer developed through big events in human history, like the transition to agricultural societies:

“If we are able to document cancer through that time period we might be able to see changes in how it was manifested in the human body. So tracing those and understanding the development of cancer through these big periods can really help us understand the causes of cancer today.”

Hunt is getting a lot of attention for her work. She gave a TED talk in Vancouver in March. And earlier this month, Fast Company put her on it’s list of the 100 most creative people in business. But she has critics too.

“Paleo-oncology is not going to help us understand how to diagnose or treat  modern cases of cancer. It just won’t.”

Robert Weinberg is a professor and cancer researcher at MIT who wrote a book on cancer biology. He’s worried paleo-oncology will draw public funding away from research that holds more promise. He says a lot of cancers aren’t preserved in skeletons:

“Cancer is ultimately a disease of living tissues and you can’t study old bones to understand the origins of those cancers and how they actually formed.”

Hunt says finding cellular evidence of cancer in skeletons is difficult. But she says newer technology like next generation DNA sequencing is making it possible. And she expects new techniques in development will make it even easier down the road.

Still, she understands the criticism and even welcomes it. But Hunt is determined to prove the potential of paleo-oncology.

Right now, the field is tiny. Like, fit inside a compact car tiny:

Reporter: “So how many people?”

Hunt: “Maybe three or four right now.”

Reporter: “So you’re saying you’re one of three or four people in the world who are doing this?”

Hunt: “Who are doing primarily this.”

For now, Hunt is okay with tiny. She’s riding a wave of momentum that has her dreaming big about what her organization can accomplish in the next few decades. Her main goal is to persuade more archaeologists to think about the possibility of cancer when they’re examining skeletal remains.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News. 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Working Group Grapples With Fishwheels, Threatened Weirs, And Confusion

Wed, 2014-05-21 17:24

On the day that the summer’s king salmon restrictions began, the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met to hash out the details of this summer fishing plans. Managing a precarious king salmon run along 700 miles of river will be anything but simple.

Download Audio

After months of in depth discussions leading up to the closures, 12 hours in, some working group members were still confused.

Kuskowkwim Working Group Members, managers, and the public meet to discuss salmon conservation. (Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK)

“What about now, is it wide open it now to any type of gear, or drifting or what? That’s the confusion we have,” said Aloysius..

Bob Aloysius is from Kalskag. Part of that confusion come from the different geographic jurisdictions. Federal managers control the waters in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge from the mouth to Aniak. The state manages below the mouth and above Aniak.

There are a few key differences in regulations, especially around the middle river. Unlike the federal rules, the state would allow drifting with 4” nets. And they do not plan to allow fishwheels above Tuluksak during times of king salmon conservation, whereas the feds would with certain protections for kings. That comes as bad timing to several Middle River villages which, through the Kuskokwim Native Association, are investing in fish wheels. Lisa Feyereisen is from Chuathbaluk.

“It absolutely does not make sense that we could sit out there drifting with 4” mesh and keep incidental kings when we’re more than willing, we’ve purchased the material, we have people monitoring the fish wheel, and we’re releasing every single king, and that’s the goal of it, to release every single king,” said Feyereisen.

Chuathlbaluk was hoping to have a fish wheel running for the first time in 25 years. The working group passed a motion in support of allowing fish wheels on state waters. As it stands in the management plan, fishwheels operations are linked with 6” mesh openings, which would only be done when there are very few kings in the river.

Federal in Season Manager Brian McCaffery shared details on what’s hoped to be a small social and cultural harvest opportunity of about 1,000 kings total. He says it would be on a per capita basis for 31 of the 32 eligible communities. Each village get a dozen to several dozen fish, but Bethel would not be not proportional to population and may receive around 100 kings.

“Our primary goal again this year is conservation. And we want to give people an opportunity, we hope to work with the tribal council here in Bethel to find ways to provide community opportunities,” said McCaffery.

But the run has to be strong enough to support that limited harvest. To gauge that and considering this year’s early breakup, the Bethel Test Fishery will be starting a few days early, around the 27th.

And just days before the run hits in earnest, managers are worried about two weirs that are hanging in balance. The villages of Tuluksak, Kwethluk, Akiak, and Akiachak signed a letter saying that that if they can’t fish for kings for sometime in June, Tuluksak and Kwethluk would break contracts for operating the Tuluksak and Kwethluk river weirs. Steve Miller is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“But we’re hoping right now we can resolve that and get a contract in place. We’re required by law to conserve the fish on this river. That takes data, and those two systems are the only two systems on the lower river and our plan is to operate both weirs,” said Miller.

The group passed a motion supporting the operation of all the river’s weirs to count escapement. The next working group meeting will be at call of chairs.

Categories: Alaska News

Cannabis Entrepreneurs Preparing For Potential Legalization

Wed, 2014-05-21 17:23

Alaska’s marijuana ballot initiative has some Fairbanks entrepreneurs organizing in hopes of being able to grow and sell the drug. Proposition 2 would have the state regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Download Audio

Fairbanks resident Brandon Emmett is Executive Director of the recently formed  Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. He says he wants the organization.

“To kind of be a voice for the Alaskan people with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the legislature, both for people who are consumers and people who look to profit off the industry,” Emmett said.

Colorado is the only state that currently allows sale of recreational marijuana and it’s taking in tax revenue on the business. Washington State is in the process of implementing a similar program, and Emmett says if Alaska goes that way, his group wants to be ready to help fill out legal details.

“There are certain provisions of the bill that state persons over 21 can use, they can obtain a certain amount of plants in their home, but all of the time, place and manner of different establishments, what the advertisements can be, how these establishments can be run, none of that is really set yet, so our coalition is really the next step,” he said.

Emmett envisions consumer demand if Prop 2 passes.

“I think if people aren’t afraid of getting busted, they’re gonna go out and buy it on Friday nights just as they would alcohol, or as a substitute for alcohol,” he said.

Emmet and a few partners want to get into the marijuana business, growing and selling the drug. So does fellow Fairbanks resident Mystiek Lockery. She’s not a member of Emmett’s coalition, but has a plan.

“My business is gonna be called Mystiek’s Marijuana Dispensary, Nursery and Supply.  I thought it would be really fun to open up a little section of it and have a smokers club, similar to cigar clubs,” she said.

Lockery says she’s gotten a business license and is trying to educate the public in anticipation of the November election, and the potential passage of Prop 2.

“I have been preparing a website, because I am extremely pro accurate information,” she said. “Most of the people out there have never had access to a body of information that is accurate. We’ve got a lot of propaganda going on that just misleads and is just straight untrue sometimes.”

If Prop 2 is approved by Alaska voters this fall, the state will have 9 months to hammer out provisions for implementing the marijuana law.  The coalition’s Emmett wants to work with regulators to ensure there’s enough lag time so that only marijuana from licensed growers, not the black market, goes up for sale.

Categories: Alaska News

British Kayakers Take On Aleutian Chain

Wed, 2014-05-21 17:22

Atka bids farewell to Sarah Outen and Justine Curgenven on May 16. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

For the past three years, a British woman has been trying to travel around the globe using only her own strength. Sarah Outen has biked through China and rowed the Pacific Ocean.

Now, she’s in the Aleutian Islands, tackling some of the world’s wildest seas in a kayak — and learning plenty along the way.

Download Audio

When she first left London in 2011, Sarah Outen couldn’t have known that her journey around the world would lead to do this:

Danny Snigaroff: “Fish don’t wanna eat? You come around, and you just snag ‘em.”

Sarah Outen: ”Oh, really?”

Snigaroff: “Yeah. You get between them and jerk.”

Outen’s standing on Korovin Beach in Atka — a village of about 70 people in the Aleutian Islands.

The man giving her fishing lessons is Danny Snigaroff. For the past few days, he’s been teaching Outen and her kayaking partner all about the traditional foods that line Aleutian beaches.

Snigaroff: ”Oh, yeah. I was going to ask you, do you have a triple hook? No, eh?”

Outen: “A triple hook? No, I don’t think so. Whoa! No! We don’t.”

Snigaroff: “You don’t have one of these, I’ll give you one.”

Outen: “Thanks, Danny. That’s really kind.”

That could come in handy over the next few months, as these women attempt to kayak through the entire Aleutian chain — from Adak to Homer.

They know it’s been done — at least in part. Traditionally, the Unangan people traveled through the Aleutians in kayaks. Outen says there have been more recent trips.

Outen: “But we’ve not heard of anyone in modern times doing the whole length like that.”

There are plenty of reasons why that would be. Outen’s kayaking partner on this trip, Justine Curgenven, has no trouble listing them off.

Curgenven: “There’s rocky landings, there’s not very many beaches. There’s no people, so if something goes wrong? You know, our longest stretch without people is 250 miles. That would take us 20 days even if everything went well — even if we’re not sat around waiting for weather, which we’re likely to be. So, there’s just so many potential things that could go wrong, I suppose.”

Sarah Outen — the explorer at the center of all this — knows what challenges lie ahead. But she prefers to take things:

Outen: “Bit by bit. In piecemeal. Because it is overwhelming to think of the whole thing in its entirety. I mean, it’s complex logistically, financially, physically.”

Outen is only 28. It wasn’t that long ago that she was back in England — studying at Oxford, rowing on the crew team, and dreaming of adventures.

Outen: “I had no experience of rowing across oceans. I certainly had no money. I was just a student at the time. And during that kind of early phase, just a few months into those ideas, whilst I was still a student, my father died very suddenly.”

That inspired Outen to row across the Indian Ocean alone — a recordbreaking trip, that set the stage for this journey around the world.

It was never supposed to lead to Alaska. Last fall, Outen was trying to row across the Pacific Ocean — to Canada.

Outen: “The weather had been crazy, as you guys who live up here know — that it can be really crazy and unpredictable and fickle.”

That meant changing course. When she arrived at Adak, in the western Aleutians, it had been four months since Outen last saw another human being. She was sick and tired.

In Atka — a week into the kayaking run — Outen isn’t 100 percent.

Outen: “My face looks rather red at the moment, but it’s all allergies. Coming back into contact with people and dust and animals.”

But it’s worth it. Outen says new friends, and new experiences are what this journey around the world is all about.

That’s clear as the adventurers get ready to the leave the village. They’re packing their kayaks on the beach, when the buzz of engines fills the air.

It’s more than a dozen residents, riding down on four-wheelers, to say goodbye.

Crystal Dushkin: “We’re so glad you made it to Atka.”

Curgenven: ”Yeah, so are we! Yeah, that was great. We had a really lovely time.”

Outen: “Mike, I realized I didn’t say cheerio. Bye now!”

Mike Swetzof is an elder, and he says he has to hand it to the kayakers:

Swetzof: ”Got some balls to do something like this. Be adventurous, I guess? I don’t know. It’s just not my thing.”

Taking on the entire Aleutian Chain is scary, he says. But Swetzof and a lot of other elders in Atka think it can be done.

With enough respect for the weather and the sea — and an open mind— anything’s possible.

You can track the kayakers through the Aleutians by visiting Sarah Outen’s website.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 21, 2014

Wed, 2014-05-21 17:20

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

Download Audio

Investigators Find No Cover-up at Alaska National Guard

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

An Army Inspector General found leaders of the Alaska National Guard did not cover up any reports of sexual assault and harassment.  At least, that’s how the Inspector General’s office for the Defense Department explained it in a letter Wednesday to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Funny River Fire Takes 20,000 Acres, More Firefighters On The Way

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The fire that’s been burning on the Kenai Peninsula since Monday has now burned more than 20,000 acres. The fire is still contained on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. More than 200 firefighters and several aircraft are using water from nearby Tustumena Lake to control the blaze.

Tyonek Fire Grows To 1,500 Acres

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

A fire near the village of Tyonek has grown to approximately 1,500 acres.

Anchorage Scientist Studies Ancient Cancer For Clues To Modern Disease

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Cancer is often described as a modern disease. But the skeletal remains of our ancient ancestors are marked by the ravages of cancer. And an Anchorage scientist- who’s a cancer survivor, thinks those prehistoric bones could hold clues to understanding how the disease works today. It’s an emerging field though, that has some critics.

Kuskokwim Working Group Grapples With Fishwheels, Threatened Weirs, And Confusion

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

On the day that the summer’s king salmon restrictions began, the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met to hash out the details of this summer fishing plans.  Managing a precarious king salmon run along 700 miles of river will be anything but simple.

Cannabis Entrepreneurs Preparing For Potential Legalization

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska’s marijuana ballot initiative has some Fairbanks entrepreneurs organizing in hopes of being able to grow and sell the drug. Proposition 2 would have the state regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Assembly Passes Special Zoning For Eklutna Village

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The village of Eklutna is now protected as a special area within the city of Anchorage. The Anchorage Assembly unanimously voted on Tuesday to create a district to protect the 800 acres that are considered to be the oldest continually inhabited Athabascan site in the region.

British Kayakers Take On Aleutian Chain

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

For the past three years, a British woman has been trying to travel around the globe using only her own strength. Sarah Outen has biked through China and rowed the Pacific Ocean.

Now, she’s in the Aleutian Islands, tackling some of the world’s wildest seas in a kayak — and learning plenty along the way.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Honor Mat Su Fish Experts

Wed, 2014-05-21 16:35

 The Matanuska Susitna Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission was honored by a state legislative delegation led by Representative Bill Stoltze Tuesday night.   Stoltze told the Mat Su Assembly and those present at the meeting that the commission had managed to achieve changes in state Board of Fisheries policy that could benefit the Mat Su:

Download Audio

“The presentations in Juneau by the career biologists we are so fortunate that are served as volunteers. I know you can’t pay these guys, anything, you don’t pay them anything, but one thing you can always do is say ‘thank you’, and we appreciate what they have done and what they continue to do for the people of Mat Su on critical fisheries issues. We are out-gunned in so many arenas, but we bring a lot of knowledge to the table, expertise and incredible passion. When the Borough has made presentations, people leave shaking their head, saying ‘wow, we didn’t realize things were so bad.’ Not just so bad, but offering credible solutions.”

 The Valley’s delegation from the 28 legislature had issued a proclamation in April honoring four long time members of the commission: Larry Engle, Howard Delo, Bruce Knowles and Andy Couch. Engle and Delo are former appointees to the state Board of Fish, Couch and Knowles are long time fishing guides.

Stoltze’s comments were echoed by Representative Shelly Hughes:

 ”When they come to Juneau, they are the best of the best and the room fills up and people are awed. The expertise and knowledge is really remarkable, and we are very much blessed to have them working for us. So I just want to say, thank you gentlemen, and those others who are not here today, we just really appreciate .”

The Borough’s Fish and Wildlife commission is a seven member volunteer commission which works to afford the sustainability of Mat Su salmon runs. In February of this year, the commission was successful in convincing the state’s fish board to change commercial fishing regulations to allow more salmon to pass into Cook Inlet’s Northern District river drainages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Assembly Upholds School Funding Veto

Wed, 2014-05-21 16:18

 When the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly unanimously approved a 350 thousand dollar appropriation for the Mat Su School District two weeks ago, it was all part of an amiable budget process that finished with a lowered mill rate and no cuts to services. The extra money for the School district was to help pay for the district’s pre- school program, even though Assemblyman Matthew Beck, who sponsored the appropriation, said that the school district was under no restriction on how it could use the funds. Almost immediately, Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss expressed misgivings, and within two days, he announced his veto of that line item in the 2015 Borough budget. Tuesday night, DeVilbiss addressed the audience

“I felt like, if for no other reason, we should have dialogue on this before it just slides by. So, and I would remind you, the primary issue is not about the merits of pre-K education, it’s about whether your neighbors should be paying for it.”

 But many parents of pre-schoolers, like Michelle Reynolds, want the money put back in the budget. 

“As a taxpayer, I would pay it. And I believe that there are so many people that would be willing to pay it. Because for once, we need our taxes to go to something that finally will give back in the future. And that’s what I look at from here: give you my taxes, give you my money, because it’s our children, it’s our future. “

 The veto came up for an override  Tuesday night, and people lined up to speak in support of the Widening the Net program, which brings pre- kindergarden education into selected Borough schools.   Chris Hines said having the program in Borough schools is the only way he and his wife can afford quality preschool for their child:

“Both of us work full time, and we spend as much time as possible teaching our kids. But we are not qualified for any pre-K program, in terms of assistance. And we can’t afford one, to be quite honest. So this was our only opportunity to get her in any sort of pre-kindergarden learning”

 And teacher Kelly McBride recited well known statistics in favor of early childhood education:

“Research informs us that students who attend high quality pre-school are more likely to succeed, not only in school, but to graduate from high school, attend college or post secondary training. They’re more likely to make healthy life-style choices. We can either invest in children early, or we can pay later, in the form of special education, high school dropouts, unemployment, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and prison costs.”

 But it takes five votes to override the veto, and few of the comments in support of the pre-school program addressed the tax issue. Assemblyman Ron Arvin said he’d support the veto, because the request for the 350 thousand dollars did not come from the school district, but Assemblyman Steve Colligan laid it on the line : He said, it’s the school board’s job to manage the school district budget, not the Assembly’s

“Last year was 80 percent of your home property tax went to the school district and buildings and sustaining that. And yes, there’s less and less money, but statewide, it’s a tough year this year. We have directed the manager this year for a flat budget, or one percent growth. We funded the school district at three percent growth out of savings. I think it’s within the school district board, the administration and the board’s power, to make this a priority. To shave the hair off the peach here for zero point one three percent. It’s their responsibility. “

 In the end, the vote to override fell one vote short, and the veto stays. Mayor DeVilbiss said afterward, that the Borough is not ready to step into non-compulsory education.  

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly passes special zoning for Eklutna village

Tue, 2014-05-20 23:21

The village of Eklutna is now protected as a special area within the city of Anchorage. The Anchorage Assembly unanimously voted on Tuesday to create an overlay district to protect the 800 acres that are considered the to be the oldest continually  inhabited Athabascan site in the region.

“It is a walking, breathing, living museum, which we believe is worth preserving for the future generations,” explained Eklutna Inc. CEO Curtis McQueen. He said the Dena’ina community has a 1,500-year history in the region.

The crowd of 50 gave the council a standing ovation when they approved the new zoning law. The purpose of the new designation is to preserve the rural character and cultural uses of the village.  

The overlay prohibits the city from building trails or running utilities through the area to protect the traditional community and the historic sites. It also allows community members to build multigenerational housing on single tracts for extended families and to build community smokehouses.

However, assembly member Amy Demboski worried that giving Eklutna’s native corporation the power to refuse utility easements could create a dangerous precedent for the city.

“It’s challenging for me when I look down to the future and I say for the first time in history, we are giving a corporation veto authority on a local government,” she said. “I absolutely respect the corporation. You are never going to find another better steward, better neighbor than this corporation. But what I am saying is I am not willing to give away the city’s power at this point, no matter how great the neighbor is.”

But ultimately the assembly voted to approve the overlay without amendments restricting the village’s power over utility easements. Both assembly members and representatives from the village and corporation of Eklutna said the move showed respect for the Native community.

 

Categories: Alaska News
ON THE AIR

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4