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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: 20 min 37 sec ago

The Gray Eagle Has Landed… In Fairbanks

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:42

The U.S. Army has decided to base nine Gray Eagle drones at Fort Wainwright. The Pentagon announced it first to Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which issued a joint press release Thursday.

The unmanned vehicles are about the size of a Cessna and similar to the Air Force Predator drones. It’s good economic news for Fairbanks. The delegation says 128 military personnel, plus family members, will begin moving to the area next month.

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General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle. Photo by U.S. Army.

Categories: Alaska News

Magnuson-Stevens: Concerns Abound Over Exempting Fisheries Decisions From NEPA

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:41

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will likely recommend some significant changes to the current version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act — but not during its meeting in Sitka.

Council members have concerns over amendments that would exempt fisheries decisions from the National Environmental Policy Act, and open the door to potentially biased science.

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The Magnuson-Stevens Act is a huge law. It spells out the management of all fisheries in the United States that occur more than three miles offshore. Magnuson-Stevens created the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the seven other regional councils that set the rules and regulations around the country.

It’s no surprise then, that council members would take an interest in HR 1335, the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act which just passed the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Alaska Congressman Don Young.

And other politicians have taken an interest as well.

“This issue seems to be drawing down support for HR 1335 at the presidential level.”

This is council executive director Chris Oliver, referring to President Obama’s recent letter threatening to veto Magnuson-Stevens, since the House Bill substitutes a new set of environmental standards for fisheries decisions, in place of the standards used under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

NEPA is an important law, too, in its own right. It’s the reason we have Environmental Impact Statements for major decisions regarding the country’s resources.

Oliver told the council that he’s been working for years on streamlining the NEPA-Magunson process, rather than develop a new one. He’d told the council he’d prefer to go with “the devil you know.”

“The fear is that we’re going to set up an extremely complicated process under Magnuson, the implementation of which is going to be subject to implementing regulations or guidelines. In essence, we’re going to end up doing the same thing within the Magnuson Act that we’re doing in our current process, which — while I don’t think it’s the perfect process — we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

With a presidential veto looming, council members did not offer any pushback against Oliver’s plans to restore the NEPA process to Magnuson Stevens. However, they were more vocal about amendments proposed by Alaska congressman Don Young to the bill — especially this language:

“Fisheries management is most effective when it incorporates information provided by governmental and nongovernmental sources, including State and Federal agency staff, fishermen, fishing communities, universities, and research institutions…”

This is sort of a preamble. The deal-breaker for the council comes next:

“As appropriate, such information should be considered the best scientific information available and form the basis of conservation and management measures as required by this Act.”

Council member Duncan Fields, from Kodiak, suggested asking Congressman Young for clarification. How would traditional knowledge — or information accrued over generations by Alaska’s Natives — fare under this amendment?

“It would be hard for me to support a position, for the council to say sort of out-of-hand, we’re not going to consider traditional knowledge, for example, relative to a particular issue and a particular context.”

Ron Hyder, from Oregon, sits on the council’s Legislative Committee. He suggested asking  for a report on this amendment before the council takes a hard position.

“It didn’t even occur to me in this that we might be including traditional knowledge. Because we not only accept, we look for ways to get traditional knowledge into our considerations.”

But it wasn’t just a question of whether traditional knowledge might be discounted, it was also a question of whether the council would be compelled to consider   any information available as “the best science.” This struck some members as intrusive.

Council member Jim Balsiger is the regional director for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

“This council has a long record of accepting information from everyone, and it needs to go through the SSC (Scientific and Statistical Committee). So my whole thought on that was allowing information from anyone outside the normal process raises questions. That’s what I thought we were looking for.”

The SSC is the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee.

Council director Chris Oliver concurred. He saw no harm to the council process if the language about “best science” were struck. He suspected that it originated in conflicts in the Gulf of Mexico, where there was greater distrust of government-sponsored science.

The final recommendations from the council on changes to the Magnuson Stevens Act won’t be made until another committee — the CCC, or Council Coordination Committee — meets later this month.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Welcomes A Canine to Search And Rescue Squad

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:39

Ketchikan’s volunteer rescue service recently added a new four-legged team member. Pace has a great nose, tons of energy and the drive needed for what to her is a fun game. For the people she finds, though, it’s as serious as life or death.

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Pace is rewarded for a successful search with a game of fetch. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Pace is always ready to play fetch. To her, that’s what a rescue is. Instead of tennis balls, she retrieves people.

A volunteer hides among some shrubs on the other side of a large, soggy muskeg. Pace’s owner and trainer, Carol Towne, holds onto the trembling, whining Labrador retriever.

Towne lets Pace go, the whining stops and the only sound is the tinkling of the bell attached to Pace’s collar.

A four-legged black streak zips across the muskeg, leaving behind a pack of clumsy humans, trying hard but failing to keep up. Pace quickly finds the victims and rushes back to let Towne know.

Pace leads us to the victim, and her reward is a rousing game of – what else? – fetch, this time with a favorite toy.

Carol Towne gets Pace ready to search for a volunteer victim, hiding in a muskeg. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Towne has been training Pace since she was an 8-week-old puppy. Just recently, Pace passed her last level of certification. She’s now officially the second certified search and rescue dog for the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, a process that took about two years.

“Her first test was a trail test. She did that last February,” Towne says. “That’s a half-mile test at night. A victim is hid on one side of the trail or the other. She’s excellent at that. She loves trails. Then we do the obedience. That was the hard part, being named Pace, she can’t stay still.”

Levi – a black Lab mix – had been the sole SAR dog. He’s about 9 years old, which is close to retirement age. Levi’s owner and trainer is Danelle Landis, the SAR dog team captain. She recently bought a young Belgian Malinois named Ripley, and started training her to take over when Levi can’t do the work anymore.

“She’s just finishing learning the whole runaway/re-find piece, which is the very end of the search,” Landis explains. “So, we hold the dog, the person runs away with the toy, then we let the dog go, they get to the person. When they get to the person, they run back and tell us by using an alert signal, which for her is a bark, which took me more than a month to teach her to bark on command.”

Barking isn’t the problem, of course. It’s barking for a specific purpose that can be challenging.

Boomer is a young, happy pitbull mix, and is a little further along in the training process.

Amanda Schuler is Boomer’s owner and trainer. She says she wasn’t sure what to do about her obsessive, overly energetic dog until she learned those traits are highly desirable in a search dog. They’ve been training about a year, and he’ll be ready for his first test this fall.

“He probably has another year of training. For search and rescue dogs, the obedience portion is sometimes the most challenging because they have so much energy and are ready to go, and they have to learn to contain that energy,” she said. “He’s doing well with it, but he has a lot of work to go.”

Schuler is confident that Boomer will do well, at least on the search tests.

“He’s really sharp and he loves playing this game,” she says. “I’m not worried about his 160-acre test, either — his endurance. It’s the obedience stuff that I’m most worried about.“

For the dogs, searching is just plain fun. And despite the serious need for this kind of work, fun is part of the incentive for their handlers, too.

They get to work with their dogs, hang out with other dog lovers and after training is done for the day, they all have more fun with a group hike through the muskeg.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, June 4, 2015

Thu, 2015-06-04 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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Senate Spokesperson Arrested For DUI After LIO Hit-And-Run

Alexandra Gutierrez, KTOO – Juneau

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority caucus has been arrested for a hit-and-run accident in the parking lot of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

Criminal Justice Commission Gets an Earful in Nome

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Alaska’s criminal justice system is expensive, ineffective, and unsustainable—that’s the hard truth shared by a group of legal experts on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission.

Tracking State Layoff Notices From the Mailroom to the Mailbox

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A lot of unhappy letters are arriving this week at state workers’ homes, following the announcement of mass layoffs if the legislature can’t pass a budget by July 1.

Regents Nominate Ex-Exec. For UA System President

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Former University of Alaska executive Jim Johnsen of Fairbanks has been put forward by the UA Board of Regents as their choice to be the university system’s next president.

The Gray Eagle Has Landed… In Fairbanks

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Army has decided to base nine Gray Eagle drones at Fort Wainwright.

Crews Battle 14,000-Acre Fire Near Kalskag

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

More than 100 firefighters are battling a wildfire south of Kalskag that started Sunday from lightening. It has grown to 14,200 acres.

Magnuson-Stevens: Concerns Abound Over Exempting Fisheries Decisions From NEPA

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will likely recommend some significant changes to the current version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act — but not during its meeting in Sitka.

Mat-Su Borough Board Upholds Shooting Range

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A dispute between two Sutton landowners highlights the challenges of zoning in the Matanuska Susitna Borough.

Ketchikan Welcomes A Canine to Search And Rescue Squad

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s volunteer rescue service recently added a new four-legged team member.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Board Upholds Sutton Shooting Range

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:20

A dispute between two Sutton landowners highlights the challenges of zoning in the Matanuska Susitna Borough. The Borough’s board of adjustment was called to weigh-in Wednesday on a clash between two legal, but incompatible, businesses.

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A shooting range operating in Sutton has drawn criticism from an adjoining landowner. Chris Rose, who owns 20 acres in Sutton, says he has planed for years to use his land as a wedding event venue in partnership with an Anchorage florist.  Chris Rose:

“Folks in Sutton are concerned, justifiably so, about protecting the investments in their properties. And that’s why we have a Sutton Comprehensive Plan, that is why we have a special land use district. People like me rely on those things before we make investments in our property.”

But about a year ago, Rose says, he noted the sound of gunfire welling up over the bluff that separates his land from the Matanuska River.

That sound was coming from a shooting range operated by Alaska Tactical on property owned by Anchorage brothers Jim and Tim Kane. The Kanes own JTAC, a business that they call a “training facility”, that they run on their Sutton property. Tim Kane:

“Well JTAC doesn’t do the training. We just provide a facility for anybody who needs an outdoor recreational area to provide whatever services they have as a business, and we lease the property to those people.”

Kane says when JTAC opened for business, no Borough permit was required, because JTAC did not have a shooting range on site at first.

“We operated for two seasons and we didn’t have a complaint, nobody approached us. We attended the Sutton Community Council’s meetings to keep them up to date.”

But Alaska Tactical, a JTAC lessee, began using  the land for a private shooting range, without a permit.  It was a  year and a half, before anyone complained.

The complaint prompted the Kanes to get a special use permit, which was approved by the Borough Planning Commission last year. And the Sutton Community Council weighed in in favor of the permit, according to Community Council communications secretary Claudia Dolfi. Dolfi says that shooting is a Sutton pastime and that there are fourteen private shooting ranges in the area.

“At this point, having talked to neighbors and community members, it’s been discussed that if we had an outdoor shooting range and an indoor shooting range, same location, we’d all purchase memberships. We wouldn’t shoot on our own property anymore. It’s just more convenient. I think it would be a great advantage to our community.”

Dolfi says the shooting range could lead to area jobs.

But Rose appealed the planning commission’s decision to the Borough’s Board of Adjustment. Rose says the shooting range violates the Sutton Comprehensive Use Plan.

“I don’t think anybody could have reasonably thought that the Borough would allow a shooting range in a residential area, and that is what this is all about. Particularly on the thin record that was presented to the planning commission in the first place.”

In a judicial proceeding in Palmer on Wednesday, attorneys for the the Kanes and Rose argued their cases.  Teresa Clemmer, arguing for Rose,  cited quality of life and environmental concerns that she says the Borough planning commission overlooked.

“The planning commission has given no consideration to lead contamination in the soil” she told the board.

The Kane’s attorney, Jason Rueday, told the board that the owners of JTAC have followed the law.  Rueday said the planning commission’s decision was based on facts.

“We are in an area where shooting occurs,” Rueday told the board. ” I would submit that this facility is in character with the surrounding area.”

Several member of the public testified in favor of Rose’s position. But Sutton Community Council’s Dolfi handed the board a list of 80 names in favor of the shooting range permit. Mat Su Borouogh attorney Shannon Bodolay told the board that community sentiment is not part of the board’s decision. The board must decide only if the planning commission ‘s decision in favor of the special use permit is reasonable.   In the end, the three member board decided unanimously in favor of the planning commission’s decision to issue the shooting range permit.

Rose said Thursday that the shooting range permit is not based on substantial evidence, but he has not decided yet if he will appeal the board’s decision.  He has thirty days to decide to appeal.  If he does, the case moves to state Superior Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Allows Pebble v. EPA To Proceed

Thu, 2015-06-04 16:38

The Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, will go forward . That’s according to a ruling Thursday by federal court Judge H. Russel Holland. Holland denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case, which was argued last week in Anchorage court.

Mike Heatwole is a spokesperson for Pebble. Pebble opponents were quick to say today they are disappointed with the ruling. Among them is United Tribes of Bristol Bay director Alannah Hurley, who acknowledged the setback, but says it’s important to keep perspective.

While the FACA case moves forward, the Judge has ordered the EPA to do no work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, or the dredge and fill restrictions it had intended to finalize earlier this year. Judge Holland’s temporary injunction, requested by Pebble, will remain in place, according to Heatwole.

No timeline exists for the case, though both sides said it was likely to go on for at least a year.

In a separate but related lawsuit, the third filed by Pebble against the EPA in federal court, Pebble is suing for more EPA documents and emails. Pebble says the agency has been slow to respond to its requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Categories: Alaska News

Regents Nominate Ex-Exec. For UA System President

Thu, 2015-06-04 15:38

Former University of Alaska executive Jim Johnsen of Fairbanks has been put forward by the UA Board of Regents as their choice to be the university system’s next president. Prior to work in the private sector in recent years, Johnsen served in several high profile positions at the university, including chief of staff to former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton. Johnsen is currently a senior vice president at Alaska Communications.

A release from UA Regents says Johnsen was selected from a group of four finalists by a search advisory committee that included regents, faculty, staff, students, and UA Foundation members. It says Johnsen will meet with stakeholders in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau over the next month, after which regents will review feedback and make a final decision. If hired, Johnsen will succeed retiring UA President Pat Gamble in August.

Categories: Alaska News

Tracking State Layoff Notices From the Mailroom to the Mailbox

Thu, 2015-06-04 15:22

A lot of unhappy letters are arriving this week at state workers’ homes, following the announcement of mass layoffs if the legislature can’t pass a budget by July 1.

In the State Office Building’s mailroom, it’s almost the end of the day. Jeremy Duncan and a co-worker are running letters through a postage machine. He’s been a mail courier for about 12 years. And he knows one of those white envelopes might be his.

Jeremy Duncan runs letters through a postage machine at the State Office Building. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“Layoff notifications. I’m sure I have one in there, too,” he says.

There’s a clock ticking closer to 3 p.m. on the wall. That’s the time the mail goes out.

“We’re waiting for a stay of execution type of phone call, huh?” he says. “That’s what it feels like.”

The phone call doesn’t come and, at 3 o’clock, several boxes are loaded onto a cart and wheeled to the mail truck.

In total, the state spent over $6,000 on sending the layoff notices–something they were contractually obligated to do. About 3,000 went to Anchorage, 1,100 to Fairbanks, and 3,000 to other places. About 2,500 were sent in Juneau. And it’s all because legislators haven’t agreed yet on a fully funded budget.

At Switzer Village, Cierra Kendrick opens her mailbox with a key.

“I’ve got what appears to the layoff notices for me and my partner and a couple of pieces of junk mail,” she says. “I just really hoped they would figure it out before it got this far.”

Cierra Kendrick just received disappointing mail: a layoff notice from her state job. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

She works for the Alaska Department of Commerce and her partner works for the Department of Transportation. She had a meeting at work and knew the letters were being sent. She’s heard some of her neighbors are avoiding the mail.

“They just don’t want to. They’d rather wait until  we hear something. They send someone to check the mail so they don’t have to see the letter,” she says.

If the legislature fails to pass a budget in time, a small number of workers could still come back. But there are a lot of unknowns and layoff details vary by department and division. The one thing that is sure, the government will be operating with less funding next year.

Kendrick says it’s been a stressful and confusing time for her family.

“Am I going to have insurance come August, depending on what they do? I have two high-needs kids that rely heavily on our insurance and we can’t afford to go without it,” she says.

State workers last day of work could be July 1. Their health insurance will last through the end of the month. After that, they won’t be covered. Summer was supposed be a special time for Kendrick and her partner.

“We are planning our wedding in July and that’s kind of been put on the back burner because those are expensive.”

Thankfully, they have already bought her partner’s dress, but they’re still trying to figure out how to pay for everything else.

“We’re budgeting for it but there’s only so much you can do. We may have to reevaluate and downsize,” she says.

The day-to-day expenses, Kendrick says, would be difficult to manage if they lose their pay. They also have two car payments. There are expenses like cable and internet.

“We may shut it off to save the 150 bucks,” she says.

The legislature’s budget negotiations are still ongoing. Kendrick says she’s tired of lawmakers waffling.

“It’s a game of chicken is all it is,” she says. “It’s ridiculous that a group of adults is playing a game like this. To them, there is no consequence. But it’s a make or break situation for a lot of people.”

For now, all her family can do is wait until a budget is passed or isn’t.

“It all depends on what pretty little pieces of paper we get in the mail and when they happen to get here,” she says.

Kendrick says she’s currently looking for other employment.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Battle 14,000-Acre Fire Near Kalskag

Thu, 2015-06-04 15:10

More than 100 firefighters are battling a wildfire south of Kalskag that started Sunday from lightening. It has grown to 14,200 acres. Four water-scooping aircrafts are attacking the flanks of the fire as crews work to build a perimeter. They’ve put in a water pump near an area of heavy timber.

More than 100 firefighters are battling a blaze south of Kalskag. Image from Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Tim Mowry is Public Information Officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry. He says there are no structures at risk now.

“We’re trying to keep the fire on the refuge so it doesn’t spread to native lands and native allotments,” said Mowry.

The fire is about three and half miles from the nearest point of the Kuskokwim River, and is burning in tundra grass and black spruce. Fire officials have enacted a temporary flight restriction to keep planes out of the area. While the fire grew quickly this week, Mowry says the weather improved.

“We got a little bit of precipitation, and even hail, on the western flank, and the winds have died down a little bit,” said Mowry.

He says the fire was not as active Thursday as it was earlier in the week.

Northeast of Tuluksak, a fire in the Bogus Creek area has grown to more than 8-thousand acres. No staff is on that fire, but aircraft are dropping water. Statewide, 31,000 acres have burned this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Stowers chosen as next chief justice of Alaska Supreme Court

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:24

The Alaska Supreme Court has chosen Justice Craig Stowers to be the next chief justice.

The announcement was made Wednesday in a release from the court system.

Stowers will succeed Dana Fabe, whose latest term as chief justice ends June 30. Under the constitution, chief justices serve three-year terms and may serve more than one three-year term, though not consecutively.

Stowers, a former superior court judge, has served on Alaska’s highest court since December 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Togiak boy drowns, huffing believed to be involved

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:17

A 14-year-old Togiak boy drowned in a creek early Tuesday morning. Troopers believe he and other boys were inhaling gas, known as huffing, before the drowning occurred.

Togiak VPSO Roger Wassillie got a call just past 3:30AM on Tuesday that Reuben Pauk had fallen into Nasaurlug Creek, where he had been hanging out with a group of friends.

“It was still dark when we arrived on scene. I saw a 4 wheeler on the side of the creek, I thought maybe he fell in right there,” said Wassillie.

Wassillie got in his skiff and began to look for the boy. The tide was making the search difficult and Wassillie sent out a call for help. Three other boats joined the effort.

“We were looking further up from the point where the kid went down,” said Wassillie. “We started getting closer and closer and then they found the boy.”

Around 6:15 am, almost three hours after the search began, Pauk’s body was found, about 100 feet upriver from where he went in the water.

In their report, the state troopers say the boys were huffing gas on the bank of the creek before the incident occurred. During his investigation, VPSO Wassillie noticed a large blue tarp where the boys were hanging out.

“So I went to check what it was and it was 5 plastic containers of outboard motor fuel containers. All of them didn’t have any covers on them,” said Wassillie.

Reuben Pauk, age 14, was pronounced dead at the scene. His next of kin have been notified, and his body will be sent to Anchorage for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim River Residents Face Early Season Restrictions

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:12

King salmon are beginning to show up on the Kuskokwim River. All eyes are on the few kings that are appearing in the Bethel Test Fishery and in subsistence fishermen’s nets during limited 4-inch openings. At a Wednesday work session of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, members prepared for more restrictions as the run picks up and a limited directed harvest.

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

The river is restricted to a weekend set net fishing schedule with small mesh nets for whitefish. Federal staff recently counted 72 set nets between the Johnson River and Tuluksak. Because the nets can catch thousands of king salmon incidentally, Federal In Season Manager Neil LaLonde says they are tracking the early season fishing closely.

“There will be additional officers on the river beginning this Saturday. They’re talking to a lot of people along the river, there have been a few warnings written, we’ve seized a few nets. There was a 8.5 inch net seized, however, for the most part we’re getting good compliance on the 4-inch opportunity, and I’d like to say I think there’s a pretty positive attitude on the river this year,” said LaLonde.

Lalonde spoke at a recent meeting of the Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Bethel. The working group, which meets weekly during the summer, is an advisory group made up of stakeholders up and down the Kuskokwim River.

Another below average king salmon run is in the forecast, and federal managers are aiming for the upper end of the river’s escapement goal to ensure the long-term health of the fishery. There will, however, be a directed king salmon fishing opportunity through a community permit system that begins in a week. Managers expect a total harvest of about 15-thousand king salmon this summer: eight thousand incidentally in nets and 7-thousand through the community permit system.

A few people from the middle river expressed concern about the possible level of harvest. Working Group member Dave Cannon spoke by phone from Aniak.

“Up here in the middle river and probably upper river, we’re flashing back to 2013 when it looked like things were okay, and everyone was doing fine, but when it came down to it, the upper river folks got the short end of the stick,” said Cannon.

That year started with liberal early season fishing and ultimately brought in the lowest escapement in history. Restrictions came later in the summer when more fish had not arrived after a slow start.

The river this year is split between federal management below Aniak and state management above Aniak during the king salmon run. Some members of the working group pressed state management biologist Aaron Poetter on whether he sees any serious biological problem with the projected harvest of king salmon in another down year.

“At this point there’s no really red flags, but we can’t look into that crystal ball. I think it’s a conservative approach based on the forecast, but we’ve had forecasts in the past we’ve approached differently. Given what we know and what we’ve learned, I think what we have going now is a reasonable approach,” said Poetter.

As the season intensifies, Working Group Chair Bev Hoffman expressed cautious optimism.

“I just feel we’re on a better track than past years. Am I still worried? Yes. That’s why I feel this conservation mode is important,” said Hoffman.

She says Kuskokwim kings, which have been in decline, need to make it upriver to spawning grounds if there are to be fish in the future.

A new set of tributary restrictions, meant to ensure the salmon make it up to those spawning grounds, go into effect on June 7th. There will be no gill net fishing on the Kwethluk, Kasigluk, Kisaralik, Tuluksak, and Aniak rivers and their tributaries.

Categories: Alaska News

YKHC Offers $20K for Information on PATC Fire

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:10

(Photo by Dean Swope)

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is upping a reward to $20,000 for information that leads to the arrest or conviction of those responsible for the fire that destroyed the PATC alcohol treatment center. They previously offered a $5,000 reward.

YKHC says it was a criminal act that started the blaze last October during construction of the $12 million dollar alcohol treatment center. The 16-bed facility was 90 percent framed.

An investigation from the state Fire Marshal’s office said the cause of the fire was ‘undetermined’. In the report, investigators say the fire started in the southwest corner of the building near a locked utility locker but they could not determine the ignition source. Though investigators ruled out all possible mechanical and electrical causes, their summary does not explicitly rule out arson.

YKHC is rebuilding the facility, but says its completion will be delayed at least a year. YCHC is requesting anyone with information about the fire to contact Sergeant Amy Davis with the Bethel Police Department or Deputy Nathan Rocheleau with the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Grapple With Budget Impasse

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:45

Between the regular session, the extended session, and now two special sessions, the Legislature has been meeting for 135 days. But even with all the extra time, lawmakers appear no closer to a budget deal than they were a month ago. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez covers the Legislature and joins us to talk about the impasse.

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Categories: Alaska News

State Shutdown Could Mean ‘Conservative’ Fishing Season

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:44

Boats docked at Haines small boat harbor. (Emily Files)

With a partial government shutdown looming, state agencies are making plans for what services might be reduced without a budget deal by July 1. But salmon don’t care about budgets and money. The fish are coming to Alaska waters whether or not the Alaska Department of Fish & Game has its usual resources to manage them.

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Commercial fishermen Haines are readying their gillnet boats for the upcoming salmon season. They have about three weeks before their first opener in the Lynn Canal. That’s about the same amount of time legislators have to approve a state operating budget before thousands of state employees face layoffs and many state departments face a partial shutdown.

That includes Fish & Game. They count the fish and tell fishermen when and where they can operate.

Haines fisherman Cindy Adams captains the LadyHawk. She says the budget uncertainty is not coming at an ideal time for the commercial fishing season.

“That’s a problem,” Adams says. “Because we have a finite time to make our money and if that gets compromised in any way then our season is compromised.”

“Fishermen are ready. Everybody is just ready to go so we’ll do our best to make sure they have that opportunity,” says Jeff Regnart, Director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries for ADF&G.

He says if a budget isn’t passed by July 1, ADF&G will have to operate with about 70 percent less money than usual. He says the department won’t stop commercial fishing, but the management of those fisheries could be more conservative. For example, the fleet could get less time to fish in a certain area. That’s because survey and research programs might suffer and biologists won’t have as much data to make management decisions.

“When we have less data we get more conservative because we’re going to err on the side of the fish. So that’s likely to happen if we continue to operate under this fiscal umbrella,” Regnart said. “We’ll do our best to make sure it doesn’t impact things substantially. That’s really the key for us is that we can continue to maintain escapement, maintain priority uses, healthy fisheries, that’s our hope.”

By July 1st, several fisheries will be underway across the state. In Southeast, those include salmon purse siene, gillnet and troll fisheries.

But, Regnart says, ADF&G has its priorities. First is the conservation of fish stocks. Second to that is managing for subsistence use.

“Commercial fishing follows that subsistence use as a priority so we’ll do our best to makes sure those fisheries have an opportunity to harvest salmon. We hope they can harvest close to what they would have harvested if it had been a normal year.”

Unlike a normal year, Regnart says most forecasts predict near records levels of salmon returns across the state.

The threat of a government shutdown is not stopping the fleet in Haines from getting ready for business as usual. Across the harbor from Adams is fisherman Bill Thomas.

“You know, we fished 12-hour openings in the past to conserve fish. Conservation isn’t a bad thing,” Thomas says.

Thomas has firsthand experience with the legislature. He’s a former state representative, and he says a month is still plenty of time to forge a budget deal.

“I think they’ll have a budget by then. You have nothing to fear but fear itself. We don’t have to panic yet.”

Instead of worrying about what could happen to state government, Thomas will instead spend the next three weeks gearing up for salmon season.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Candidate Faces Up to $6,000 in Fines for Campaign Violations

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:43

Ketchikan Independent Representative Dan Ortiz faces up to $6,000 in fines for campaign violations.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission says he failed to properly report some campaign contributions and spending. It also says he accepted an illegal donation and did not state who paid for several campaign fliers.

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Ortiz admits making mistakes.

“They were errors purely out of omission, not commission. It wasn’t anything that was planned. It wasn’t anything that was something that benefitted my campaign or anything like that.”

Complaints were filed during and after last fall’s campaign for the House seat representing Ketchikan, Wrangell and part of Prince of Wales Island.

They were filed by his Republican opponent, Chere Klein, and the district’s Republican Party organization. Ortiz won the election by 104 votes.

He challenges some of the allegations in the complaints, while admitting others. A commission staff report recommends close to $6,000 in fines and repayment of an improper $316 contribution.

The fines could have been far higher, but staff took into account his status as a first-time legislative candidate, as well as his cooperation.

“It is what it is. And I look forward to making my case in front of the commission and whatever the decision is, I’ll live with it.”

The violations and fines were on the agenda for a public offices commission meeting Wednesday. But complaints cannot be heard during a legislative session, so the issue was pushed back to the next meeting, in September.

We’ll post links to the complaints and staff reports on our website with this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:41

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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Lawmakers Grapple With Budget Impasse

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Between the regular session, the extended session, and now two special sessions, the Legislature has been meeting for 135 days. But even with all the extra time, lawmakers appear no closer to a budget deal than they were a month ago.

State Shutdown Could Mean ‘Conservative’ Fishing Season

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

With a partial government shutdown looming, state agencies are making plans for what services might be reduced without a budget deal by July 1. But salmon don’t care about budgets and money. The fish are coming to Alaska waters whether or not the department of fish and game will have its usual resources to manage them.

Ketchikan Candidate Faces Up to $6,000 in Fines for Campaign Violations

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Ketchikan Independent Representative Dan Ortiz faces up to $6,000 in fines for campaign violations.

On A Mission: Educating Alaskans About Advance Directives

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Talking about death is never easy. But it’s especially difficult in a hospital when a loved one is incapacitated and family members are trying to guess their wishes. Two healthcare workers in Anchorage want to convince Alaskans to have that conversation before a crisis and record their choices in an advance directive.

Dalton To Re-Open, But Repairs Still Needed

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Department of Transportation plans to re-open the flood damaged northern stretch of the Dalton Highway to traffic Friday morning. The opening will follow a nearly three-week closure caused by melt out of unusually heavy overflow ice from the Sag River.

Urban Gatherers Find Free Salads Outside Their Doors

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Looking for salad ingredients? Want a new type of tea? No need to head to the store, just look outside your door–even if you live in the middle of the city. Some Anchorage residents are urban gatherers.

Alaska Eagles Help Supply Lower 48 Tribes

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

When an eagle dies in Alaska, its feathers may end up in a powwow – or on a graduation cap – somewhere in the Lower-48. That’s because of a federal program connecting tribes, raptor centers and wildlife officials.

Categories: Alaska News

Dalton To Re-Open, But Repairs Still Needed

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:41

The Alaska Department of Transportation plans to re-open the flood damaged northern stretch of the Dalton Highway to traffic Friday morning. The opening will follow a nearly three-week closure caused by melt out of unusually heavy overflow ice from the Sag River.

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Work on the Dalton Highway where flood water caused erosion and melting.
CREDIT ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Alaska Department of Transportation Northern Region Director Dave Miller says erosion repairs between Dalton Highway mile posts 356 and 414, south of Deadhorse, have progressed well since water levels began dropping late last week.

Miller provided an update on the Dalton’s status during a presentation to the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation on Tuesday, describing an all out assault by contractors working to open the highway.

Miller adds that some flood damage is requiring special attention, including an exposed pipeline crossing at mile 399.

The flood repairs will be followed by planned and expanded projects to elevate portions of the Highway. The projects, originally designed to reduce drifting, will also help keep the road surface above overflow ice and flooding. Miller attributes this year’s trouble to heavy rains that fell last fall on the Brooks Range elevating groundwater levels dramatically along the Dalton Highway-Trans Alaska Pipeline corridor.

Miller adds that when the Sag River froze to the bottom this winter, off ice began rapidly accumulating, engulfing the Dalton Highway, which parallels the river.  He says it’s unclear how unique an event it was, but DOT won’t wait to find out.

The Dalton Highway is a primary supply conduit for the North Slope oil industry, but Miller says the latest closure has not been a big problem for them, because it was after oil companies had gotten through the busy season of moving equipment and supplies related to ice road accessed field sites, and because the Dalton closure was anticipated, and the companies stocked up on fuel and other supplies before break up flooding shut the road down.  This spring’s emergency Dalton Highway repairs have already cost 5 million dollars. Miller says most of the repair bill will likely be picked up by the federal government.

Categories: Alaska News

Urban gatherers find free salads outside their doors

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:40

Matthew Lohr gathers nettles near the Chester Creek Trail. Hillman/KSKA

Looking for salad ingredients? Want a new type of tea? No need to head to the store, just look outside your door–even if you live in the middle of the city. Some Anchorage residents are urban gatherers.

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Matthew Lohr rides his bike up the Chester Creek Trail in midtown Anchorage and pulls off to the side, not far from a busy road.

“So this is a spot I go to in the spring a lot,” he says, pointing to a shady field of horsetails and nettles. “And it’s kind of fun ’cause when you’re standing on the trail, you really don’t notice there’s a lot of nettles here. But once you start walking in it, all underneath here, this is all nettles.”

He bends down and starts plucking off the top two tender leaves with his bare hands, despite the fact that stinging nettles, well, sting.

“I kind of relish the sting because it’s a reminder that spring is here,” he quips.

The fuzzy, jagged-edged leaves fill his bag. Lohr’s getting enough for the evening’s stir-fry and some extras to dry for the upcoming winter. He says gathering is a fun way to stay engaged with the environment and provide friends with healthy, local foods.

Lohr is an urban gatherer,one of the people you see on the side of the trail with grocery sacks filled with dandelion greens, fiddlehead ferns, fireweed shoots, and even devil’s club. Michelle Wilbur is another.

Young nettles near horsetails. Hillman/KSKA

“Everybody knows Devil’s Club, right? You’re not going to mistake Devil’s Club,” says Michelle Wilbur, who leads wild edibles walks for Alaska Community Action on Toxics and gathers for her family. “In the early spring you go out and see these big spiky stalks coming up and you think, ‘There’s nothing I would want to eat about that.’ And the name makes you think they would be ultimately poisonous.”

Wilbur leads wild edible walks for Alaska Community Action on Toxics and gathers for her own family.

She fingers a tiny, pale green shoot. “But the new little shoots, when they first come out, the spines are furry instead of spiney in the very beginning. So you need to get them really early. It’s way too late right to pick devil’s club.”

She hands me a tiny shoot, one of the last of the season, and describes it like a hoppy IPA.

“It reminds me of really bitter carrots,” I reply.

On the grass, Wilbur displays a wild-harvested salad bar. The greens are lemony and sharp or bitter or nutty. Wilbur says they’re loaded with nutrients and grow everywhere, you just need a knowledgeable friend or a guidebook to make sure you gather the right ones.

“Every year when I’m putting in these annual gardens, and I’m going out and harvesting all these nettles that nobody’s tending, and there’s huge plots of them I think ‘Why? Why don’t I just harvest nettles instead of babying these little broccoli starts along?’ But they’re both good,” she laughs.

Wilbur emphasizes you need to be aware of your surroundings when you harvest. Don’t clear out an area — just pick a few so the plants can grow back.
And make sure the plants you’re picking haven’t been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.

Tim Stallard, the invasive plant program coordinator with the Anchorage Parks Foundation, says herbicides are used sparingly in the city’s parks to kill things like the invasive flowery, sweet-smelling Bird Cherry.

“The Bird Cherry is like the Medusa where if you cut off its head, it grows ten more. If you just cut it down then the stump will sprout and the roots themselves can sprout up to 30 feet away.”

So they apply herbicides directly to the stumps They also do limited spraying for Canada Thistle when necessary. For larger projects they get approval from community councils first and always post signs to let people know about the chemicals. But Stallard says people gathering food need to use common sense.

“If you go into an area and see dead plants or damaged plants, you know obviously, something’s not right. And that something’s not right should trigger in their mind, and you wouldn’t want to gather plants in that area.”

Back on the Chester Creek Trail, Lohr digs his fingers into the soil to harvest a dandelion root.

“So this isn’t that big. If it’s looser soil, I’ve found that you’ll get bigger roots,” he says, holding up a scraggly piece.

When he gathers enough, he’ll dry them, grind them, and make a hot tea-like beverage. But for now, he tears off a leaf and starts eating.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Eagles Supply Feathers to Lower 48 Tribes

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:39

When an eagle dies in Alaska, its feathers may end up in a powwow — or on a graduation cap — somewhere in the Lower 48. That’s because of a federal program connecting tribes, raptor centers and wildlife officials.

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An immature bald eagle is released at Sitka’s Alaska Raptor Center. Feathers shed by healing and resident eagles are sent to a collection center for distribution to Lower-48 tribes. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Raptor Center)

A bald eagle is released back into the wild at the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka. It’s one of hundreds treated for injuries, disease or malnourishment at centers around the state.

But the story doesn’t end with the flight.

That’s because the raptor center collects feathers rehabilitating birds lose while molting.

“Usually, that happens kind of towards the end of summer,” says Jennifer Cedarleaf, rehabilitation coordinator at the Sitka center. It collects eagle carcasses, as well as shed plumage from residents and those in rehabilitation.

“Our education birds that are here year-round, when they drop their feathers, we collect those. And they all just get saved up and I can send them down there,” she says.

“There” is the National Eagle Repository, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service near Denver, Colorado.

Only Alaskan Natives and American Indians are allowed to gather, store and use feathers or parts from eagles and some other protected birds — with a few exceptions.

If the plumage or parts aren’t available, the repository helps.

Ten large adult bald eagle feathers are among those held at the National Eagle Repository, near Denver Colorado.

“It could be for folks who are in a powwow, dancing fans [or] bustles,” says Joseph Early, Native American liaison for the wildlife service’s Southwest region and a Laguna Pueblo tribal member.

“We have some of our tribes that use them for their very sacred ceremonies. Naming ceremonies, birth ceremonies, sometimes for funerals, graduations. It basically comes down to the individual member to be able to use that feature for however they want to,” he says.

Early discussed the program during the recent Native American Fish and Wildlife Society convention in Juneau.

He shared reports showing Alaska provided about 10 percent of the feathers, parts or whole eagle carcasses sent to the repository last year. But tribal members here only took half a percent of what was distributed.

“Eagles are fairly abundant up here, of course. But we may have some tribes up here that want golden eagles, which are a little more abundant in the Lower-48. We try to accommodate any tribes for what they want,” he says.

Tribes and members cannot give or sell eagle carcasses, feathers or parts to non-Native people.

Early says when that happens, the Fish and Wildlife Service gets involved.

“In that case … those feathers will be seized. But eventually, they could be returned back to the tribe. If not, they could end up at our … repository in Colorado,” he says.

While Alaska provides feathers from rehabilitation facilities, some Southwest tribal groups have built their own collection centers.

Early says a competitive grant program supports such construction.

“We’ve had a number of tribes establish tribal eagle aviaries where they’re allowed to retain birds that can no longer be released into the wild. They give them a good life and retain their molted features and redistribute them to their own tribal members.”

Those aviaries have first dibs when a rehabilitation center, such as Sitka’s, has an extra eagle that couldn’t survive on its own.

In addition to live birds, the Alaska Raptor Center collects carcasses for shipment to the federal repository.

Cedarleaf says one particularly bad year, more than 70 were tagged, frozen and mailed south.

“It is sad when you find a beautiful bird dead. And for us, it’s even more sad when we find one that’s banded that we knew. Like I had one that hit a powerline just a few weeks ago that we had when it was a baby. And that makes it more difficult,” Cedarleaf says.

She says knowing the carcasses will find a new use makes it a little easier.

Categories: Alaska News

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