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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: 58 min 24 sec ago

Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame: Beverly D. Dunham

Tue, 2014-04-08 18:00

Beverly, “Bev”, Dunham is a pioneer in Alaska journalism and a tireless community advocate. She is described as being ahead of her time and a strong role model to many women and young girls growing up in Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame: Eleanor Andrews

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:58

Eleanor Andrews has been building the human infrastructure capacity of Alaska for nearly five decades. She has been a successful business woman, as the owner of the Andrews Group, and also has been a highly regarded public servant. But it is the effectiveness and sweeping nature of her advocacy on behalf of community that is most amazing. Andrews is most widely known as a “civic entrepreneur” – that is a person who inspires institutions, businesses and individuals to invest in the community at the same time that they being successful at their work.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Dispatch To Buy Anchorage Daily News

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:31

Alaska Dispatch is making an aggressive move to position itself at the forefront of the the state’s media landscape.

It announced Tuesday that it’s buying the Anchorage Daily News – Alaska’s largest newspaper.

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The $34 million dollar deal between Alaska Dispatch Publishing and the California-based McClatchy Company, which currently owns the 68-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, was signed Tuesday morning..

“The whole idea behind this is to develop a much more comprehensive news product than what Alaska Dispatch or the Anchorage Daily News offer now that reaches all of Alaska,” Tony Hopfinger, the executive editor of Alaska Dispatch, said.

Hopfinger says he hasn’t spoken to Anchorage Daily News employees yet, and future changes to the staffing and structure of the company are uncertain.

“We will certainly merge the two companies together and there will be one, combined news operation,” Hopfinger said. “We can say that there will be one news website, but when that’s up and running and happens…I don’t know yet. And the paper will continue 7-days-a-week.”

Hopfinger says with the combined newsrooms, the goal will be for the Dispatch to delve into issues on a broader statewide level.

“That’s the first thing you’ll notice is we’ll have more people and a larger, healthier newsroom and then we’re also looking at trying to eventually get more people positioned in other bureaus around the state,” Hopfinger said.

He says the Dispatch has been looking for ways to improve its product and reach more Alaskans. And after tracking newspaper sales in the Lower 48, the Dispatch reached out to McClatchy in August last year.

“When we saw the Boston Globe and the Washington Post sell, and other newspapers, frankly, last year, it began to occur to us that there might be an opportunity here in Anchorage to combine forces and create a more comprehensive journalism operation,” he said.

The sale is expected to be finalized in early May.

Calls to the Anchorage Daily News were not returned by deadline.

Categories: Alaska News

Can an Aggressive Russia Remain Our Nice Arctic Neighbor?

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:30

Pro-Russian activists seized public buildings in eastern Ukraine this week, and U.S. officials say they suspect the actions were not spontaneous but engineered by Russia. That, combined with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent annexation of Crimea has Arctic experts wondering what this means for international relations in the Arctic and whether the era of cooperation with Russia is over.

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So far, despite occasional fears from the West of a Russian land grab in the Arctic, Russia has behaved as a good neighbor in its dealings with other countries in the Arctic Council. It led the way to treaties on pollution control and search-and-rescue, for instance, in effect pledging its mighty fleet of icebreakers to help its neighbors. But sometimes Russia shows a harsher face. Like in December, when Putin told his top military officers they should pay special attention to building their forces in the Arctic. He told them Russia will be stepping up development in the region and must “have all the levers for the protection of its security and national interests.” This week Putin also instructed his security forces to beef up the Arctic frontier.

 

Russia watchers in Washington say there are signs that, whatever its intentions in Ukraine, Russia might remain a good neighbor in the Arctic. The best sign is the meeting of the Arctic Council late last month in Canada. The Russian delegation came as scheduled, even as Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper was criticizing Russian aggression in Crimea and demanding Russia’s expulsion from the G8.

Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says his contacts within the U.S. Coast Guard told him last week they were still talking to their counterparts across the Bering Strait.

“I think everybody realizes it’s in our own mutual interests to cooperate and not run the risk of some disastrous sea accident just because of the broader international difficulties,” he said.”

In the big picture, Ebinger says Putin must realize he can’t develop his petroleum assets in the Arctic without the help of American or Western European oil companies. On the other hand, Ebinger says he expects an emboldened Putin will press for territory beyond Ukraine. That, he says, will trigger tougher sanctions against Russia and the spirit of cooperation in the Arctic is likely to be crushed by a grimmer mood in Moscow.

Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it’s unclear if cooperation will continue in the Arctic.

“I think right now everyone is walking very carefully,” she said.

Conley says Russia and the other Arctic nations still have a strong interest in maintaining their good working relationships.

“But, I think we do recognize that should the Ukraine crisis escalate I think it’s clear there will be some spillover effect which will impact the Arctic,” she said.

Already, the U.S. and Norway have called off a naval exercise with Russia in the Arctic. That’s outside the realm of the Arctic Council, but such exercises do help the countries develop the integration needed for multinational rescues and pollution control operations as envisioned by the council.

Robert Huebert, associate director of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies  in Calgary, says he expects the Russians to continue to play nice in the Arctic for the time being, either because they still believe in the cooperative alliance, or because they want to make their actions in Crimea look like an isolated incident. Huebert says figuring out Russia’s true motivation is a puzzle for Western nations.

“On the one hand it’s also in their interest to have the Arctic remain outside all of this, but if the Russians have become more assertive, more aggressive, there’s a requirement to stand up to it,” he said.

As Huebert sees it, Russia has touched off a national security chain reaction that is likely to spread north, because Putin’s takeover of Crimea has both Sweden and Finland feeling they might be next. That has revived their interest in joining NATO. If either country becomes a full member, Huebert says Russia would take it as a direct military threat, an attempt by NATO to encircle the Arctic.

“The Russians, since about 2004, 2005, have always listed one of their core security threats … is an expansion of NATO onto its doorsteps,” he said.

Huebert acknowledges his perspective on Russia tends to be darker than most, but he never really believed in Russia the nice Arctic neighbor. Huebert says the Arctic Council experience only proves the countries can cooperate to set up a framework for cooperation.

” I don’t know if you have kids, but it’s always easy to get the kids to agree to all the rules about sharing toys until the actual toy shows up,’ he said.

The real test, Huebert says, comes when the Arctic Council stands between Russia and something it wants.

Categories: Alaska News

Why Alaska women earn less and what they can do about it

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:29

Engineers make some of the highest salaries in the state, but only 18 percent of them are women. (Photo courtesy of BP p.l.c.)

President Obama signed executive orders on Tuesday that aim to tighten the pay gap between men and women.

The president’s actions took place on National Equal Pay Day, a day symbolizing how long women have to work into 2014 to catch up with what men earned in 2013. The day originated in 1996 to raise public awareness of the wage gap.

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In Alaska, a statute prohibits employers from paying females less than males for the same work. But there’s still a pay gap – for every dollar a man in Alaska earns, a woman earns roughly 67 cents.

State Labor Economist Caroline Schultz says occupation and industry selection is the main reason behind the pay gap.

“Women are never going to earn as much as men if women don’t choose to pursue high paying occupations,” Schultz says.

Engineers make some of the highest salaries in Alaska, but only 18 percent of them are women. They’re making on average $72,000 a year while their male counterparts make close to $96,000.

Supervisors in oil, mining and construction industries also make high salaries. Only 5 percent of them are women, and on average they earn less than half what men make in the same position. These 2012 figures from the Department of Labor represent total annual earnings and don’t distinguish between full- and part-time work.

Schultz says work flexibility is another factor in the gender pay gap. Alaska has a predominance of jobs in natural resources, often in remote work sites.

“That can sometimes be more of a challenge to women, because women traditionally take on a larger burden when it comes to family care. So, you know, if they need to leave early to pick up the kid from school, a woman is more likely to take a flexible job, maybe that pays a little bit less, than a man is,” Schultz says.

What women can do about it

Tamiah Liebersbach is the Women’s Economic Empowerment Center coordinator for YWCA Alaska. She says discrimination is a contributing factor to the pay gap, even if it’s not done on purpose.

“Some sort of idea that maybe a woman isn’t as committed to her career, if she has a family – those kinds of stereotypes do play a role, I think, in not just the wage that a woman gets, but the opportunities that she’s given to build her career,” Liebersbach says.

YWCA Alaska will host a Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit for the first time on May 5, Alaska’s Equal Pay Day. The summit includes a session on the art of negotiation. Wage disparity is also a focus of the Alaska Women’s Summit, established last year after state Sen. Lesil McGuire commissioned a report on the status of women in Alaska.

Barbara Belknap is a Juneau activist working on the issue of equal pay for women. She’s also anAlaska delegate to Vision 2020, a national coalition focused on women’s economic and social equality.

Belknap says negotiating salary is one way for women to take the matter of pay disparity into their own hands.

“Before you go into the interview, understand what the pay scale is for what you’re applying for, know what the going rate is, do some research,” Belknap says.

A couple of years ago, Belknap made a YouTube video demonstrating how to successfully negotiate pay.

Through the video, Belknap is spreading a message she never got. She says it never occurred to her to negotiate salary when she was appointed executive director of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in 1997.

“They said, ‘Well, we were paying your predecessor too much money, so your salary is going to be this much money.’ And I remember the little thought bubble in my head going, ‘Oh really, really?’ But I didn’t say anything,” Belknap says.

Belknap received pay increases over time, but says her starting salary was $8,000 less than the starting salary of her male predecessor.

State economist Schultz says whatever the reasons may be for the pay gap, the result is the same – women have less money:

“At the end of the year, at the end of a lifespan, at the end of a career, women have earned less money consistently through 25, 30, 35 years of working. And that really adds up.”

And this fact, Schultz says, leads to other questions.

“What does it mean for Alaska’s economy and what does it mean for women in Alaska, that in general, they have less money than men do? How does it affect their spending? How does it affect child care? How does it affect children?”

Schultz doesn’t know the answers. She also doesn’t know what happens in corporate offices during salary talks, but as an economist, she’ll continue to collect and present the data that could lead to decreasing Alaska’s pay gap.

Categories: Alaska News

Amendment To Restructure Judicial Council Stalls Before Vote

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:28

A constitutional amendment that would reconfigure a commission tasked with vetting judges was pulled from a vote in the Alaska Senate on Monday and then again on Tuesday after struggling to pick up the necessary support.

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Senate Joint Resolution 21 would make it so that the governor’s public appointees on the Judicial Council would outnumber the attorney members two to one. It would also require the attorney members to go through confirmation by the Legislature. Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, has pitched it as a way to add more rural members to the council and increase public oversight of judicial selection.

The Alaska Court System and the Alaska Federation of Natives have come out against the amendment, and Democrats in the minority have argued that the change would allow the Legislature to stack the judiciary. In recent years, the Judicial Council has been a political target for conservative advocacy groups that are unhappy with the way the courts have ruled on abortion cases.

Because SJR 21 would amend the Constitution, it needs approval from two-thirds of the Legislature. Sen. Lesil McGuire, who chairs the Rules Committee tasked with scheduling the measure, says it’s not quite there yet. Enough urban Democrats and moderate Republicans have registered opposition to the amendment to keep it from going through.

“It’s a question about whether the votes are there for sure.”

The measure has been re-scheduled for Wednesday’s calendar to give Kelly the chance to secure another ‘yes’ vote.

This is the second time this session a constitutional amendment was scheduled for a vote in the Senate only to be withdrawn from consideration. The other constitutional measure would have allowed public funds to be spent at private schools, including religious ones.

McGuire says more constitutional amendments have gotten close to passage this year because the Senate is no longer controlled by a bipartisan coalition.

“Most of the things that were on the far right and the far left were kept off the table,” says McGuire. “So the agenda over the past six years was right down the middle of the road for Alaskans. So, what you’re seeing now is a conservative Senate. And as a result of that, you’ve got members that have been waiting to get out of that starting gate with their conservative messages.”

If Kelly’s amendment fails to attract more support, it could be held in the Rules Committee indefinitely.

Any constitutional amendment that passes the Legislature gets put on the ballot for a vote.

This story has been updated to reflect Tuesday’s floor action.

Categories: Alaska News

State Reviewing Sulfolane Cleanup Standards

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:27

The state will take another look at its cleanup standard for sulfolane contaminated water in North Pole. Last November, the Department of Environmental Conservation set a 14 parts per billion clean up threshold for groundwater tainted by historic spills at the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery.

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Categories: Alaska News

Students Compete For Spot In National Geography Bee

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:26

Students from across the state competed in the 26th annual Alaska State Geographic Bee last week in hopes of winning a spot in this year’s national competition in Washington D.C. 101 students vied for the spot.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 8, 2014

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:23

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.

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Alaska Dispatch To Buy Anchorage Daily News

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska Dispatch is making an aggressive move to position itself at the forefront of the state’s media landscape. It announced Tuesday that it’s buying the Anchorage Daily News – Alaska’s largest newspaper.

Can an Aggressive Russia Remain Our Nice Arctic Neighbor?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Pro-Russian activists seized public buildings in eastern Ukraine this week, and U.S. officials say they suspect the actions were not spontaneous but engineered by Russia. That, combined with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent annexation of Crimea has Arctic experts wondering what this means for international relations in the Arctic and if the era of cooperation with Russia is over.

Executive Orders Aim To Tighten Pay Gap

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

President Obama signed executive orders on Tuesday that aim to tighten the pay gap between men and women.

The President’s actions take place on national Equal Pay Day, a day symbolizing how long women have to work into 2014 to catch up with what men earned in 2013. Equal Pay Day originated in 1996 to raise public awareness of the wage gap.

While discrimination may contribute to Alaska’s pay gap, a state economist says other factors are just as important.

Amendment To Restructure Judicial Council Stalls Before Vote

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A constitutional amendment that would reconfigure a commission tasked with vetting judges was pulled from a vote in the Alaska Senate on Monday and then again on Tuesday after struggling to pick up the necessary support. Under Senate Joint Resolution 21 the governor’s public appointees on the Judicial Council would outnumber the attorney members two to one.

House Strikes Retirement Plan, Funding Formula Change From Education Bill

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska House of Representative passed a sweeping education bill Monday night, but only after removing some of its more contentious elements and adding another pot of education funding.

State Reviewing Sulfolane Cleanup Standards

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state will take another look at its cleanup standard for sulfolane contaminated water in North Pole. Last November, the Department of Environmental Conservation set a 14 parts per billion clean up threshold for groundwater tainted by historic spills at the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery.

Students Compete For Spot In National Geography Bee

Jolene Almendarez, APRN – Anchorage

Students from across the state competed in the 26th annual Alaska State Geographic Bee last week in hopes of winning a spot in this year’s national competition in Washington D.C. 101 students vied for the spot.

Categories: Alaska News

House Strikes Retirement Plan, Funding Formula Change From Education Bill

Tue, 2014-04-08 01:16

The Alaska House of Representative passed a sweeping education bill Monday night, but only after removing some of its more contentious elements and adding another pot of education funding.

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At the stroke of midnight, the House voted in favor of an education bill that nobody seemed particularly thrilled about.

It gave schools too much money.

“I’m concerned that this isn’t sustainable,” said Eagle River Republican Lora Reinbold in closing remarks.

It gave them too little money.

“The bill in front of us now will lead to additional cuts,” said Anchorage Democrat Geran Tarr.

It did not hold schools accountable enough.

“I think the educational institutions in this state should be coming to us and proving to us what they’re returning on our investment,” said Chickaloon Republican Eric Feige.

But in the end, a large majority of the House agreed with Anchorage Republican Craig Johnson.

“I will not sacrifice the good for the perfect,” said Johnson. “I will not say no to something that takes us forward, even if it’s baby steps.”

The final vote was 28-11, and the split was largely on caucus lines. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, of Sitka, was the lone Minority Democrat who voted in favor of the bill. Mark Neuman, of Big Lake, and Tammie Wilson, of North Pole, were the only Republicans to vote against it.

The bill was introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell as the marquee legislation to what he dubbed the “education session.” Included in its 60-odd sections are provisions that encourage vocational education, set up a grant program for new charter schools, and allow students to earn credit for testing out of classes.

But the two farthest-reaching components of the bill were not a part of the governor’s original bill. They were additions the House Finance Committee made last week, and neither survived the floor session.

One restructured the teacher retirement payment plan so that the Legislature would stretch out its pension obligation over time, by making appropriations from the state’s pool of tax revenue. Gov. Sean Parnell has advocated for an opposite approach that involves putting a large amount of money into the retirement trust upfront, and then ideally paying pensions out over a shorter timeline with the help of investment earnings.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a Juneau Republican, successfully brought forward an amendment wiping the bill free of all changes to the retirement system. During her floor speech, she noted the plan included in the bill would stretch out retirement payments an extra 40 years and cost the state $15 billion more than Parnell’s plan, according to an actuarial analysis.

“The risk of continuing to balloon the unfunded liability is real, and in turn the impact to our credit rating is also real,” said Muñoz.

The other major part of the bill that was scrapped dealt with the school funding formula. The House Finance Committee had tweaked the formula in a way that favored large schools, without including a similar boost for small schools.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat who caucuses with the majority, offered an amendment restoring the original formula. He said the formula change had not been properly vetted. He also framed the amendment as a matter of fairness, acknowledging that while the urban schools need money, “so do the smaller schools.”

Edgmon’s amendment also added $30 million in one-time school funding to the bill. That’s in addition to an increase to the base student allocation that’s worth $225 million over three years. By comparison, the governor proposed increasing per-student funding by $100 million over that same period of time.

While some Democrats in the minority said the funding package on the table was better than nothing, it still did not go far enough for most. As a caucus, they offered a failed amendment that would have put $450 million toward the base student allocation stretched over three years.

Democrats also attempted to get rid of language in the bill forbidding the state from spending money to implement Common Core standards, which they noted resembled Alaska’s own standards. They also tried to limit a new tax credit so that it would only cover contributions made to public schools, not private ones. None of their amendments were successful.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Spring Dividends Reflect Zero Corporate Earnings

Mon, 2014-04-07 23:48

Sealaska Corp. does not appear to be making much – if any – money. The regional Native corporation’s spring distribution to shareholders, which is basically a dividend, includes no corporate revenues.

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That’s according to an April 3 statement to shareholders.

Sealaska distributes payments to its almost 21,600 shareholders twice a year. In recent years, they’ve ranged from about $400 to around $1,100.

The money usually comes from three sources. The largest is a pool of all 12 regional Native corporations’ resource earnings. Another is Sealaska’s permanent fund. The third is profits from the corporation’s businesses.

“Usually there are. This year there isn’t any operating revenue included in the formula,” says Chris McNeil Jr., president and CEO of the Juneau-headquartered corporation.

That can mean little or no revenues are available for distribution. McNeil won’t say why Sealaska has no revenues to contribute. But he says the information will be in the corporation’s annual report, due out in May.

Read last year’s annual report

“I can’t really provide any details on it until we publish. And we’ve done that traditionally to make sure there is no miscommunication about what is being transmitted to shareholders,” he says.

“Sealaska is so opaque. They don’t really share much about their finances,” says Brad Fluetsch, a shareholder who runs a Facebook page highly critical of Sealaska. He’s also founder and managing director of Juneau-based Fortress Investment Management LLC.

He says even the annual reports lack detail. Earnings and losses are reported in sectors, so the reader often can’t tell which individual businesses are making or losing cash.

Still, Fluetsch says Sealaska’s board was honest when it approved a distribution without corporate revenues.

“I’ll give them kudos for that because that did take some effort on their part. Now what they need to do is hire a management team that can make that zero go away and actually turn it into a positive number,” he says.

McNeil says the biggest contributor to the pooled resource earnings is the owner of Northwest Alaska’s Red Dog Mine.

“At this point, NANA is the principal distributor. But cumulatively, Arctic Slope has distributed more revenue than any other corporation,” McNeil says.

Sealaska was a major contributor before its timber subsidiary starting running out of trees.

McNeil is retiring this summer and the search for a replacement is underway.

This spring distribution totals about $12 million. It gives most shareholders $721 per 100 shares. Other shareholder classes receive only $57 per 100 shares. Most shareholders own 100 shares, though it varies because of gifting or inheritance.

Categories: Alaska News

Rio Tinto Gives Up On Pebble Mine

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:10

Mining Giant Rio Tinto announced Monday it will divest its holdings with Northern Dynasty, the sole owner of the Pebble mine prospect in Bristol Bay. Rio Tinto held 19 percent of Northern Dynasty’s publicly traded shares. But the company is not selling those shares. Instead, it will split them evenly between two charitable organizations.

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Categories: Alaska News

Researchers Seek Glimpse Into Lives Of Earliest Unangan Population

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:09

The southeast flank and summit of Mt. Carlisle volcano. (Courtesy Kirsten Nicolaysen, Whitman College)

The Islands of the Four Mountains are at the center of the Aleutians — geographically, and in folklore passed down from prehistoric times. But we don’t know much about the people who lived there.

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An upcoming expedition to the site may change that. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik caught up with the researchers in Unalaska as they prepared for their trip — and for what it could reveal about the earliest Unangan people.

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The current story goes like this: the Unangan people came across the land bridge from Siberia and started making a loop. They moved down through the Alaska Interior and along the coast. Nine-thousand years ago, they got to the Eastern Aleutians and started working their way up the chain.

“Nine-thousand years ago, this was just a blasted landscape,” Jeff Dickrell, a historian based in Unalaska, said. “There was no grass, there was no dirt – it was just volcanic ash.”

That’s exactly what they would have seen on the Islands of the Four Mountains, in the center of the chain. The islands are mostly just – volcanoes.

But for whatever reason, some Unangans decided to put down roots there and build house pits. Past researchers have found those ruins, but they don’t know much else about the settlers. It’s a mystery that University of Kansas archaeologist Dixie West will try to unravel this summer.

Islands of the Four Mountains in the central Aleutian Islands, Alaska. (Image courtesy Dave Schneider & AVO/USGS)

“We’re going to be going out to look at different settlements – prehistoric villages,” West said. “We want to know how prehistoric humans adapted to the changes in the climate, and also, what were their strategies for living in an area which had the potential for massive volcanic explosions?”

West and her research team will look for genetic evidence in peat bogs on the islands to tell them who lived there and when. They’ll also search for artifacts like stone tools, and carbon date them.

Their expert on that is Virginia Hatfield, also of the University of Kansas. She says she hopes the house pits they find on the four volcanoes – Cleveland, Herbert, Tana, and Carlisle – will be in good enough shape to study.

“Since no excavation has occurred, we really don’t know,” West said. “We’re real interested in the one on Carlisle, since it has multiple layers of ash deposits and prehistoric occupation. And that’ll give us an idea of how people lived through time.”

They know at least one group of prehistoric Unangan lived on the islands – and they think more might have moved in as recently as a thousand years ago. Even if it hasn’t always been inhabited, it’s clearly an important place to the Unangans. In oral histories, the islands are described like the Garden of Eden – a place where life began.

Jeff Dickrell, the local historian, says all the reasons that the IFM are uninhabited today, were what attracted prehistoric Unangans. Each islands is made up almost entirely of its volcano, with no bays or salmon streams. And between them, changing tides create a rapids.

(Google Maps screenshot)

“That’s why I think the origination story comes from there, because that’s where the energy is,” Dickrell said. “That’s where all the sea mammals are going to be, where all the fish are going to be.”

“They don’t like the quiet backs of bays, they like the energy places, the points, passes, and that is the place.”

But some Unangan in the Eastern Aleutians take the story one step further. They say their people literally came from the Islands of the Four Mountains – which would mean they moved against the east-to-west tide of migration that we understand today.

This summer, the research team will be looking for evidence on the islands that might match up with the oral histories. It would be a big find.

But Dickrell says this expedition is going to change our understanding no matter what happens.

“In the entire history of archaeology, there’s probably been 20 digs in the Aleutians – almost none, relatively,” Dickrell said. “So the amount of information is so little, that every new site changes the story.”

Whether it’s adding onto the one we already have, or rewriting it altogether.

Categories: Alaska News

Izembek Road Issue May Be Headed To Court

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:09

Over the last year, residents of King Cove have been ramping up their campaign to build what they say is a life-saving road through the Izembek wildlife refuge.

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The issue has made national news. Alaska’s lawmakers have taken up the fight in the state legislature and in Congress. And now, the issue may be headed for court.

“Before the state can legally file suit against the federal government, it has to give notice to the affected agency,” Kent Sullivan, an assistant attorney general for the Alaska Department of Law, said. “That’s what the state’s done with this recent filing against the secretary of the interior and the department of homeland security.”

The notice says after the 180-day waiting period, the State of Alaska may sue to set up a right-of-way through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The federal government would still own the land, but King Cove residents would have the right to pass through it. Sullivan says the state would probably take that a step further, and argue that villagers should have the right to build a road through the refuge as well.

Della Trumble is a spokeswoman for King Cove’s tribal council and village corporation. She says residents have been crisscrossing the refuge for generations.

“It has to do with hunting, fishing, and trapping that the people have done for many, many – technically thousands – of years,” Trumble said. ”They walked basically back and through there.”

Trumble says she’s glad the state’s considering legal action – even if it takes a while to resolve. Alaska’s filed similar claims against the federal government in the past. Some of them have gone on for up to 15 years.

Categories: Alaska News

Study Investigates Potential Impacts Of Road Development On Western Arctic Caribou Herd

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:08

In March, a group of researchers announced the results of a multi-year study assessing the impacts to caribou habitat of a potential service road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District.

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Their research is one of the first wildlife biology studies looking at whether a road through a stretch of the Interior would disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which is vital to subsistence users across Western Alaska.

Kyle Joly is with the National Park Service, which, along with the Wilderness Society and U.S. Geological Survey, conducted the study. He says the results showed minimal effects from a road on the areas where caribou spend their winters.

“We do not expect that impacts to winter range will be great from this one road,” he said.

But Joly is quick to caution that the results are one small glimpse of the full picture.

“You know this is just the first phase of the project, and the authors of the paper and other researchers are working on other aspects to look at how the road might impact other aspects of caribou ecology,” Joly said. “More than likely this will be just be the first one in a long suite of studies.”

The study looked at a swath of land starting by Bettles, and moving westward towards the community of Ambler in the Northwest Arctic Borough. That’s the path proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority as part of a Roads to Resources project.

Joly and his research partners spent four years monitoring where caribou spend their time, and cataloging the environmental factors that led the animals to pick those spots. The researchers mapped three potential routes the industrial road could go, then checked how big of a disturbance each one would be to the conditions caribou seem to like.

Joly says the results showed just 1.5-8.5 percent of the favorable range would be upset by the road. But he’s cautious about what that means for development.

“Well what shouldn’t be read into it is that there’s no impact to the caribou or the Western Arctic herd,” Joly said. “What we did is look at just one aspect of caribou ecology, which is winter range—just for this singular road”

Many of the ecological effects on caribou, Joly says, wouldn’t register until after a road were built, and can’t yet be studied.

“So we did not look at any potential impacts to migration, any potential impacts of increased harvest that might come from a road, and we also didn’t look at any potential development that might be facilitated by this road,” Joly said.

The caribou habitat study is set to be published in the journal Arctic later this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Working Group Outlines 2014 King Salmon Restrictions

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:07

Working Group member Dave Cannon demonstrates dipnet features. (Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel)

Two months before what would normally be time for king salmon fishing, Kuskokwim residents have a sketch of what the summer’s conservation measures will look like. There will be no directed king salmon fishing. For other chum and red salmon, managers are setting no hard dates for the first gillnet opening, other than its anticipated in the last week of June. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group last week painstakingly came to a consensus on conservation measures.

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After going through several draft fishing schedules this winter, the working group ultimately did not set a firm date for the first gillnet opportunity for other salmon species.

That’s because even with no targeted fishing for kings, there will be kings caught in 6” nets when they are used for chum and sockeye. The working group expects the first period to be the last week of June, but with the summer’s priority of allowing more Chinook escapement, it all depends on the run strength and timing.

Area Management biologist Travis Elison told the group that it’s hard to predict when chum and sockeye will outnumber the kings.

“As we show with the test fish data, there’s about a week period where just depending on run time, you might or might not hit that saturation point we’re looking for. From about the 18th to the 26th of June, it’s really hard to pick that date,” Elison said.

The first opening will come when there are sufficient kings moving upriver to spawn, and when chum and sockeye greatly outnumber the kings. During the June king salmon closures, there will be opportunities forfisherman to use 5’ dipnets to target chum and sockeye. Again, there’s no date set, but the dipnet fishery should open in mid-June sometime, according the motion that passed.

After 2013’s run brought the fewest kings up the river in history, managers and stakeholders are seeking to allow many more kings to reach spawning grounds. Bev Hoffman is a co-chair of the Working Group and says it’s crucial to bring that message home.

“People are going to be hurt by this, this is hard, and there will be a lot of venting. The situation is what it is and we can’t fish like there’s no tomorrow. Not on the kings, because there would be no tomorrow for the kings. And that’s the message,” Hoffman said.

There may be a couple opportunities for people to have at least a taste of king salmon. The group is asking managers to find a way to allow up to 30 king salmon per village, total, sometime in June. Tribal councils would be in charge of distributing the taste as they see fit. There are also plans to distribute fish caught in the Bethel test fishery to villages up and down the river.

As fishers work to feed their families, Co-Chair LaMont Albertson encouraged fishermen to take advantage of the river’s non-salmon species during the early part of June.

Managers anticipate allowing 60 foot whitefish nets with 4” mesh, but the group doesn’t want them catching kings. They will submit an emergency petition to require the 4” nets to be used only as set nets during a period in early summer. Some fishermen in 2012 had drifted with 4” gear, apparently targeting and catching kings.

Albertson says the conservation decisions were tough, but they were not decisions that could be put off.

“The decisions we make now will affect the population of the Y-K Delta, the human population, 10 and 20 years from now. This is a serious time and we need to take real strong conservation measures. I hope everyone getting this message will realize why we have to take these measures and I hope they’ll cooperate in every way that they can,” Albertson said.

To that end, at the close of the meeting, the members put together the Working Group message that they’ll take up and down the river to prepare fishers for a summer of conservation.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Sport Fish Hatchery Prepares For Second Season

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:06

Hatchery tank. (Photo by Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks)


The onset of spring has some Alaskans looking forward to fishing season. That includes employees at the state’ new sport fish hatchery in Fairbanks, where they’re hoping for conditions less extreme than those experienced last year.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 7, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-07 17:23

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.

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Rio Tinto Gives Up On Pebble Mine

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Mining Giant Rio Tinto announced Monday it will divest its holdings with Northern Dynasty, the sole owner of the Pebble mine prospect in Bristol Bay.  Rio Tinto held 19 percent of Northern Dynasty’s publicly traded shares. But the company is not selling those shares. Instead, it will split them evenly between two charitable organizations.

Izembek Road Issue May Be Headed To Court

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Over the last year, residents of King Cove have been ramping up their campaign to build what they say is a life-saving road through the Izembek wildlife refuge.

Bill Increases Education Funding By $225 Million

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With the Alaska House of Representatives set to vote on an omnibus education bill on Monday, rural legislators are prepared to fight a change to the funding formula included in the legislation. The bill increases education funding by $225 million spread out over three years, and it adjusts the formula used to divide that money in a way that gives urban schools a boost.

Researchers Seek Glimpse Into Lives Of Earliest Unangan Population

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The Islands of the Four Mountains are at the center of the Aleutians — geographically, and in folklore passed down from prehistoric times. But we don’t know much about the people who lived there.

Sealaska Dividends Include No Corporate Earnings

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Sealaska regional Native corporation does not appear to be making much – if any – money. Its spring distribution to shareholders, which is basically a dividend, includes no corporate revenues. But, the details are not yet available.

Study Investigates Potential Impacts Of Road Development On Western Arctic Caribou Herd

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

A group of researchers announced last month the results of a multi-year study assessing the impacts to caribou habitat of a potential service road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District. Their research is one of the first wildlife biology studies looking at whether a road through a stretch of the Interior would disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which is vital to subsistence users across Western Alaska.

Kuskokwim Working Group Outlines 2014 King Salmon Restrictions

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Two months before what would normally be time for king salmon fishing, Kuskokwim residents have a sketch of what the summer’s conservation measures will look like. There will be no directed king salmon fishing.  For other chum and red salmon, managers are setting no hard dates for the first gillnet opening, other than its anticipated in the last week of June. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group last week painstakingly came to a consensus on conservation measures.

Fairbanks Sport Fish Hatchery Prepares For Second Season

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The onset of spring has some Alaskans looking forward to fishing season.  That includes employees at the state’ new sport fish hatchery in Fairbanks, where  they’re hoping for conditions less extreme than those experienced last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Rural Legislators Wary Of Change To School Funding Formula

Mon, 2014-04-07 16:40

With the Alaska House of Representatives set to vote on an omnibus education bill Monday night, rural legislators are prepared to fight a change to the funding formula included in the legislation.

The bill increases education funding by $225 million spread out over three years, and it adjusts the formula used to divide that money out in a way that gives urban schools a boost.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who chairs the Bush Caucus, says that’s unfair.

“In essence it’s saying that ‘Smaller schools, you don’t need that extra money. You’re doing just fine out there,’” says Edgmon.

The current funding formula takes the base student allocation — or the dollar amount a school gets for each child enrolled — and multiplies it in such a way that a student at the state’s smallest school gets twice as much funding as a student at one of the state’s biggest schools. The idea is those bigger schools can be more cost efficient.

The omnibus bill changes that formula by getting rid of the penalties on the biggest schools. Where the current formula treats a 250-student school differently than a 750-student school, the version before the House treats them the same. The change amounts to a 10 percent boost in the formula for East High in Anchorage, the state’s largest school.

Some of the loudest calls for increased education funding have come from the state’s urban districts. The Anchorage School District is facing a $23 million shortfall, while the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are looking at an $8 million budget gap.

But Edgmon says rural districts are hurting, too, even if their budget numbers are not as dramatic.

“What hasn’t risen to the front page is the fact that the smaller schools have already made those cuts,” says Edgmon. “They’ve already laid off a lot essential services.”

Because rural schools do not get an increase in the formula change, Edgmon is worried this could lead to a wide gap in funding down the road. He thinks lawmakers did not get a chance to consider that during the committee process because the change was only introduced last week.

“We went into the K-12 funding formula, and adjusted some of those very complicated provisions there without having the benefit of a study, without having the benefit of some real analysis behind it,” says Edgmon.

Citizens for the Educational Advancement of Alaska’s Children, a coalition of more than 20 school districts, has also come out against the formula change because of concern over a regional disparity. The coalition successfully brought the Kasayulie and Moore lawsuits against the state government, which argued that there was a funding inequity between urban and rural schools.

Urban legislators who advocated for the change to the funding formula say it’s justified because it helps 80 percent of students in the public school system. Anchorage Republican Mia Costello, who was not available for a follow-up interview, told reporters last week that the formula change made it so that urban children were not treated as a “fraction” of a student.

Categories: Alaska News

Rio Tinto Gives Pebble Mine Stake to Nonprofits

Mon, 2014-04-07 07:43

The mining conglomerate Rio Tinto announced this morning it is divesting its stake in Northern Dynasty, the owner of the proposed Pebble Mine. Rio said in December it might sell, but in a surprise move, the company says it is donating its 19 percent share to two charities, the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation.

Rio CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in a statement the donation would ensure Alaskans will have a say in Pebble’s development.

The foundations didn’t immediately announce what they will do with their minority shares in the project. The director of the Bristol Bay  education fund said in a statement the gift will help the foundation fulfill it’s mission. In the same written statement, BBNC chief executive  Jason Metrokin said the corporation’s opposition to the mine hasn’t changed.

The copper and gold mine has drawn widespread opposition, and an EPA study recently found it would pose “Irreversible harm” to the region’s rich salmon runs. Bristol Bay Native Corp has been one of the leading groups opposing the mine.

Rio’s stake was worth nearly $25 million late last year but Northern Dynasty’s share price plunged last month when the EPA announced its assessment of Pebble, which is the company’s only major asset, and the price fell again today.

Categories: Alaska News

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