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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: 46 min 42 sec ago

Katmai bear cams draw international audience of millions

Mon, 2015-06-29 10:47

Holly, a favorite among cam viewers, with her cubs – one biological, one adopted. (Photo courtesy Tina Crowe, NPS)

Last year 16 million viewers glued their eyes to screens to watch a reality show with no dialogue, no celebrities, and hardly any humans.

16 million – that’s more viewers than the Bachelor, American Idol, or Dancing with the Stars. They tuned in to watch Explore.org’s bear cams at Katmai National Park and Preserve, where brown bears catch salmon and hang out at Brooks Falls.

The cams went live for their fourth summer.

In the days before the cam went live this season, the comment section on the website felt like the long bus ride to summer camp. Returners were catching up with old friends, swapping stories from last year, getting excited and  impatient.

They were ready to see some bears.

 “I can’t wait! I’m itching to see the bears again”

That’s 68-year-old artist and writer Dicky Neely.

 “That’s D-I-C-K-Y N-E-E-L-Y, I live in Corpus Christi, Texas.”

I found Neely because he’d posted some of his artwork on the website — a drawing of a big goofy bear with its nose up against a camera. Neely first found his way to Explore.org last year, looking for surfing videos.

“I’m an old surfer, but I’m disabled now and I can’t surf anymore, so I’m home a lot. So I was looking for surf cams and I stumbled on the bear cam. So I clicked on it. And the first thing I saw was a mother bear swimming down the river, with another dark shape on its back… They finally got to shore and the little cub was jumping around and looked so happy to be alive and to be a little bear… it made such an impression on me!”

“How how often do you watch the cams?”

“Well, every day, sometimes for hours. Of course sometimes I just leave it on and do other things.”

“Well I was struck by how many people were on the comment section just kinda hanging out and talking with each other… it’s like this community?”

“Yeah, it is, it’s social thing – I don’t get into that as much, I don’t like to just have conversations online… Although, whenever I post artwork, or I do post a comment occasionally, people respond and I usually write back. But, I’ve made friends with some people that watch it. There’s a fellow in Germany, he’s become famous I guess as the bear watcher, named Juergen, and I sent him some of my artwork.”

“Did you know there were 16 million people watching the bear cam last year?”

“No, I had no idea! 16 million, that’s really something…”

I went to an expert to find out how all these remote viewers are affecting the day-to-day at Brooks Camp.

“My name is Roy Wood, I’m the Chief of Interpretation at Katmai Park and Preserve.”

Wood is known affectionately by the bear cam followers as Ranger Roy. He says these viewers are from nearly every country on the planet:

“– with just a few exceptions… I think like Yemen had no visitors, and Syria had no visitors and that’s not really surprising. But last year the major surprise was that India moved way way up the list. India is now the third largest viewer of the bear cams, and Pakistan is the 5th largest viewer. And this was really surprising to us because we don’t see very many people from those two countries in person or on the webcam chat boards.”

Nor does he see many visitors from the Vatican City. But he says, 45 people are watching from there, too.

“My sincere hope is that the Pope is watching the bear cams along with the rest of the world.”

In the pre-cam days, Wood says, he would give his presentations out on the platforms in Brooks Camp, talking with a handful of people at a time. Now he says a single talk might reach up to 15 thousand people:

 “The first time we saw those numbers just ticking up like that it was kind of scary because you’re used to dealing with 15-20 people in front of you at any one time,”says Wood. “To see thousands just brings a different feel to it.”

So what is it about these bear cams that is so universally appealing?

“Well one thing that was somewhat surprising was how readily people would grasp the idea that bears are individuals.”

There might be 50-70 bears each season at Brooks Camp. There’s so many, Wood says it can be hard for people on the ground to tell one bear from another.

 “But these bear cam people, some of them are just amazing at their bear identification and observational skills. They’re picking up on things that a trained observer at Brooks Camp doesn’t always pick up on.”

Wood says it’s exciting to have all these extra sets of eyes on the bears. It means when something unusual or interesting happens, they’re less likely to miss it.

“So that’s been really cool that they’ve been jumping in as citizen scientists and really helping us learn more and document more about the bears here.”

To Wood, this is a great success of the bear cam videos.

“There aren’t many people who are moved to action from just watching TV. But the cams ARE moving people to action, and we’re very proud of that.”

Back in Corpus Christi, Dicky Neely says spending so much time watching the cams has changed the way he views bears.

 “I don’t know how you could watch those bears for any length of time and still regard them as the dangerous, killer, ferocious animals eager to rip humans apart… Because you can see their normal behavior is not vicious or anything like that.”

Maybe the big difference between bear cam fans and fans of mainstream TV. Unlike fans of Survivor or the Bachelor, the bear cam people aren’t waiting for a catfight, or for someone to make a fool of themselves. They just want to see bears doing what bears do.

“Well I just wanna see a good season with a lot of salmon, lot of bears, wanna see the bears succeed, be healthy, successfully hibernate again, and just continue with their life cycle, undisturbed, that’s what I wanna see.”

According to Ranger Roy, the bear cams are here to stay. And as long as the bears are in Katmai, there will be bear cam people around the world rooting for them.

Watch the bears yourself on Explore.org. 

Categories: Alaska News

Spending Bill Includes Contract Support Costs

Mon, 2015-06-29 10:42

A spending bill advancing in the US Senate includes full funding for Alaska Native health care providers’ contract support costs. That’s an area of native health care that’s been underfunded even though the supreme court has repeatedly ruled in favor of tribes. Those costs include items like legal and accounting fees, insurance, and workers’ compensation. 2014 was the first year in decades of full funding for contract support costs.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski chairs the appropriations subcommittee that wrote the bill. She says the spending plan fences off funding for contract support to prevent the government from taking from other programs, which has happened in the past.

“They basically dipped into existing Indian programs, shortchanging them. That’s not how to you do it. You don’t rob Peter to pay Paul. What we’ve done is put in a separate appropriations account that will prevent this cycle that’s occurred at the IHS,” said Murkowski.

Contract support costs have been the subject of lawsuits and recently brought multimillion dollar settlements to tribal health care groups for overdue reimbursement. Murkowski says the new bill provides clarity.

“That’s significant. It’s significant in that the assurance going forward full support for contract support cost is going to be there and there’s not going to be a shortage in other accounts to pay for that full coverage,” said Murkowski.

The bill would also provide the first federal funds for tribal courts in so-called PL 280 states, which includes Alaska. states in which the state government has extensive criminal and civil jurisdiction in Indian Country and in Alaska Native villages. The bill has 10 million dollars for tribal law enforcement and justice pilot projects.

“That will help insofar as how we deal with these perpetrators who seemingly time and time again inflict this level of violence and basically get away with it. Because we have not been able to collect evidence, prosecute, and bring to some level of justice, those offenders,” said Murkowski.

The Senate appropriations committee approved the bill earlier this month. It still must advance though the full senate, which is in the midst of a larger budget gridlock.

Categories: Alaska News

Communications lag rattles relatives after Alaska crash

Mon, 2015-06-29 09:28

Rowland Cheney of Lodi, California, was one of nine victims in a sightseeing plane crash in Alaska.

Alaska State Troopers originally identified the 71-year-old man as Hal Cheney.

The DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop went down Thursday in Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan in southeast Alaska. The shore excursion was sold through Holland America.

Eight passengers from the Holland America Line ship Westerdam and a pilot died.

The other victims are Mary Doucette, 59, of Lodi; Glenda Cambiaso, 31, and Hugo Cambiaso, 65, of North Potomac, Maryland; June Kranenburg, 73, and Leonard Kranenburg, 63, of Medford, Oregon; Margie Apodaca, 63, and Raymond Apodaca, 70, of Sparks, Nevada; and the pilot, Bryan Krill, 64, of Hope, Idaho.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage officials look to keep troublemakers out of parks

Mon, 2015-06-29 09:27

Anchorage officials are looking for ways to keep people who break the law out of city parks.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that the city’s legal department is working to rewrite city parks and trespassing laws to create a better way to deal with chronic misbehavior, which may include a way to ban people for long stretches of time.

Anchorage police Capt. Garry Gilliam says until late last year, officers told people ticketed for misdemeanors like drinking in public that they couldn’t come back to the park for a year. If that person came back they would be arrested and charged with trespass.

That program has been suspended. Anchorage city prosecutor Seneca Theno says the earlier program did not fully comply with due process rights.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Murkowski Pushes For Tweaks To Affordable Care Act

Mon, 2015-06-29 09:23

The Affordable Care Act has special provisions for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

They’re exempt from the individual mandate requiring Americans to purchase health insurance, since they’re already entitled to health care through the Indian Health Service.

If they do sign up for health insurance, they pay lower out-of-pocket fees in some cases. But the law’s definition of who qualifies is narrow. A person has to be enrolled in a tribe or hold shares in an Alaska Native corporation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says a significant number of Alaska Natives who are eligible for IHS benefits don’t meet that definition, particularly if they were born after most Native corporations stopped enrolling members in the 1970s. Murkowski last week wrote a letter to Health Secretary Sylvia Burwell to protest the narrow definition.

At a hearing this spring, an administration official told her the definition is part of the law, so the change would have to come from Congress. Murkowski, though, says the administration has made dozens of changes that appear to contradict the statutory language of the Affordable Care Act, particularly to stretch deadlines. She asked for one more administrative change, to benefit Alaska Natives.

Categories: Alaska News

Musher signs up for Iditarod after losing home in wildfire

Mon, 2015-06-29 09:19

Apparently undeterred by the loss of her home in this month’s Sockeye wildfire, veteran musher DeeDee Jonrowe has signed up for the 2016 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Alaska Dispatch News reports that 61-year-old Jonrowe was one of 62 mushers who signed up Saturday for the race. Among her 30 Iditarod finishes are 16 in the top 10, including the 2012 and 2013 races.

Her first Iditarod was in 1980.

Jonrowe was able to save 52 sled dogs and a few personal possessions from the Sockeye fire but lost everything else — including many months’ worth of dog food.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, June 26, 2015

Fri, 2015-06-26 16:59

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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ACLU-Alaska Applauds SCOTUS Marriage Decision

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court today declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. That means the status quo will continue in Alaska, where same-sex marriage was legalized in October.

Efforts Underway to Recover 9 Plane Crash Victims

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Recovery efforts were under way early this afternoon (Friday) for nine people killed yesterday (Thursday) when a floatplane crashed into the side of a steep mountain in Misty Fiords National Monument outside of Ketchikan.

Budget Cuts Sideline 3 of Alaska’s 11 Ferries

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Alaska Marine Highway System plans to lay up three of its 11 ferries for most of the next year.

Senator Calls on Governor to Expand Medicaid

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A prominent Democrat in the state Senate is calling on Governor Bill Walker to expand Medicaid in Alaska without approval from the legislature.

How David Holthouse Decided to Out the ‘Bogeyman’

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A high profile case about an alleged child rape from 1978 is at an impasse because of Alaska’s old statute of limitations.

Juneau Soccer Camp Grooms Players for the International Field

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

As the U.S. team heads to the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals this weekend, a Juneau soccer camp is teaching kids all about the global sport.

AK: The Journey to Bristol Bay’s Fishing Grounds

Molly Dischner, KDLG – Dillingham

Every year dozens of boats travel back to Bristol Bay. Some ride on tenders or cargo ships, and some steam themselves around False Pass, a journey of more than 1000 miles that can be treacherous. But about 60 boats, most from Homer and Kodiak, take a different route across the Chigmit Mountains on the Alaska Peninsula. Dillingham’s Molly Dischner tagged along with a captain and crew bringing their 32-foot drift boat back to the Bay after a winter of maintenance in Homer.

49 Voices: Will Ross from Anchorage

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

This week, we’re hearing from Will Ross, an Anchorage resident who was born and raised in Alaska. From Mount Marathon to Johnson Pass, he’s constantly pushing himself in the state’s great outdoors.

Categories: Alaska News

ACLU-Alaska Applauds SCOTUS Marriage Decision

Fri, 2015-06-26 16:55

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court today declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. That means the status quo will continue in Alaska, where same-sex marriage was legalized in October.

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But for Juneau-raised performing artist Seneca Harper, the decision will change how he feels while traveling in the Lower 48. He married his partner last year in Washington State.

“It’s going to be nice to be able to visit more conservative areas of the country and say, ‘Oh I’m sorry, oh actually, I’m not sorry at all’ and to unapologetically exist as who I am with my husband and hold his hand that has a ring on it and be proud of that.”

Joshua Decker is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. The ACLU led the first marriage equality case back in 1970 and they were plaintiffs in today’s case. He says today’s decision affirms that same-sex relationships need to be respected everywhere in the nation.

“We think when you look back on today in the future, today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision is going to be right up there with Brown v. the Board of Education when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down segregation in the schools.”

Former Lt. Gov. and state lawmaker Loren Leman says including today’s decision as a win for the civil rights movement is demeaning to minority groups, like black people and Alaska Natives, who he says, really needed civil rights protections.

As a senator, Leman led the 1998 effort to amend the Alaska Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“I believe it was so important for Alaska to protect its definition of marriage, which was in statute, but to protect it in constitution. Marriage has always throughout history been a union of a man and a woman and to change the definition to something else is a diminishment of the institution of marriage.”

In 1998, almost 70 percent of Alaska voters agreed with Leman. Pollsters found public opinion swinging for the first time in favor of same-sex marriage in 2014.

Juneau Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz sponsored a bill last session that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. She sees marriage equality as a step forward.

“It recognizes a basic right and I think that’s important. It’s progress. I know that a number of people in our community will benefit and as a matter of fact, I look forward to attending a wedding in August and now that this decision has happened, I think they can have much more to celebrate.”

But there’s more work to do. Muñoz’s anti-discrimination bill wasn’t heard this year, but she hopes it’ll get a fair chance in the 2016 legislative session.

Categories: Alaska News

Efforts Underway to Recover Victims of Fatal Plane Crash

Fri, 2015-06-26 16:54

Recovery efforts were under way early Friday afternoon for nine people killed on Thursday when a floatplane crashed into the side of a steep mountain in Misty Fiords National Monument outside of Ketchikan.

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Eight cruise ship passengers and their pilot died when their flightseeing trip to Misty Fiords ended tragically.

The DeHavilland Otter lost contact about noon that day with its home-base at Promech Air, a Ketchikan-based tour company. The authorities immediately were contacted to start searching.

The plane soon was spotted on a cliff, about 800 feet uphill from Ella Lake — a popular recreation spot with a U.S. Forest Service-maintained cabin. That became the base of operations for the rescue effort.

Chris John is incident commander with Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad. He says weather conditions worked against them the day of the crash, plus the crash site was challenging. They used a helicopter to get as close as possible, then started hiking.

“It took them nearly an hour the first time because of conditions, but also finding the best route across, because the terrain varies from forested area to slides to slippery, muddy slope. So, where you’re going across there, you have to gear up for the conditions as you walk along, including sometimes roping up.”

They got to the plane nearly six hours after the initial call, and discovered that everyone on board had been killed.

At that point, it was still raining and starting to get dark. So, rescue crews pulled back and went home to rest and regroup for a recovery effort the next day.

John says crews were back on the scene mid-morning, following a briefing with various response agencies. The weather was better and they already had a route to the site, so this time, it only took about half an hour to hike over to the plane.

Once the bodies have been retrieved by helicopter, John says they’ll be taken to a U.S. Coast Guard boat, and then brought to Ketchikan. From here, the bodies will be flown to Anchorage for examination by the state Medical Examiner.

Alaska State Troopers and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. An NTSB team has traveled to Ketchikan, but Spokesman Keith Holloway says it will take a while to determine the cause of the crash.

There is a lot of information that needs to be gathered first.

“Looking at the aircraft, looking to see if there are any fractures on the metal, looking for navigational equipment, to see what the instruments were reading at the time of the accident, any clues that we can gain to find out what may have caused this accident.”

Holloway says the Otter is too small to have a flight data recorder, or “black box,” on board. But NTSB will look into communications between the plane and any air traffic control service on the ground.

He says weather is a possible factor in the crash.

At deadline, KVRS reported that all the victims have been recovered and are in transit. The crash victims have not yet been named. Alaska State Troopers Spokeswoman Megan Peters says their names will be released as each body is positively identified and after next of kin have been notified.

Categories: Alaska News

How David Holthouse Decided to Name the ‘Bogeyman’

Fri, 2015-06-26 16:51

A high profile case about an alleged child rape from 1978 is at an impasse because of Alaska’s old statute of limitations.

When David Holthouse retold his story of being raped as a child to lawmakers in February, he had no idea it would set off a chain of events that would lead to filing a police report and publicly naming his rapist in the Anchorage Press last week.

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David Holthouse’s talk in the Capitol in February set off a chain of events that led him to publicly name his rapist. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Writer David Holthouse had never publicly identified the person who raped him in Eagle River when he was 7 years old.

“I did not want to destroy his life by naming him,” he says.

But Holthouse’s 2004 article “Stalking the Bogeyman” gives clues, including one to throw people off. According to Holthouse, the perpetrator was a star athlete at Chugiak High School and was profiled in the Anchorage Daily News. As an adult, he moved to Broomfield, Colo., a Denver-area suburb. Holthouse also wrote that his rapist was about 17-years-old. Now, Holthouse says he deliberately misrepresented the age and his perpetrator was 14 at the time.

In the story Holthouse describes the traumatic experience, his plans to kill his rapist and finally confronting him as an adult.

“After meeting him in person and hearing him swear to me that he had never raped a child before or after he perpetrated the crime on me, I decided that it was possible that he was telling the truth,” Holthouse says.

There was a caveat though. Holthouse followed up with a letter, which said,

“If any other victims come forward at any point in the future, I’m going to write a second article and this one will name you,” Holthouse says.

Nearly 11 years after writing that letter, Holthouse was in the Alaska State Capitol Building sharing his story. He spoke in support of a law that would require public schools to teach sexual abuse prevention.

After the talk, Holthouse says two people in the Capitol told him they might know other victims of his rapist.

“I was very careful about the way I dealt with the situation,” Holthouse says. “I sort of heard them out. In both conversations, it got to the point where they said, ‘I’m going to say the name and you tell me if it’s the same person.’”

It was. Holthouse says he felt relieved.

“I guess the relief was just in finally knowing. The question of whether or not he was telling me the truth – it haunted me for more than a decade and I felt like I finally know,” Holthouse says.

Since that day in the Capitol, Holthouse says he’s wanted to write the story naming him, but “I needed to meet one on one with people and have them tell me their stories for me to feel like I had the information to go through with it.”

He tracked them down.

“Eagle River in the late 1970s and the 1980s was an even smaller town than it is now, so once I had a couple of leads and a couple of names of kids, now adults, but kids who ran in the same social circle, it took me a couple months but I could sort of gently reach out to them and point them to my original piece and say, ‘Is this something that you would like to sit down and talk to me about by any chance?’”

Holthouse says he’s convinced his rapist sexually assaulted two other boys and a girl. He’s heard about other suspicious incidents as well.

KTOO could not reach the man for comment. According to property records, he owns a home in Broomfield, Colo. Holthouse says he still lives there. Phone numbers listed for the man were out of service. He’s not listed in sex offender registries in Alaska or Colorado.

Holthouse wrote “Outing the Bogeyman” in the Anchorage Press for himself “to just finally tell on him, just to finally  give that 7-year-old a voice and tell on him.”

And to let other survivors know “no matter how much time has passed, when someone rapes you when you’re a kid, they give you the power to avenge yourself and that power is you know their name and you can use it,” Holthouse says.

It could be online, it could be in a letter, it could be confronting the person, it could be reporting them to the police.

Holthouse has done all of these things.

He recently reported the rape to the Anchorage Police Department.

“My report alone is not going to prompt a criminal investigation let alone an arrest or prosecution, but they said reports like this are still important because if other victims were to come forward it would help corroborate their accounts,” Holthouse says.

In 1978, the year Holthouse says he was sexually abused, the statute of limitation on child rape was ten years. Lawmakers eliminated that time constraint in September of 1992. There’s currently no statute of limitation for child rape cases.

Holthouse’s case may not be viable for prosecution. But if someone comes forward with an incident that occurred after 1982, that’s fair game.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau soccer camp grooms players for the international field

Fri, 2015-06-26 16:50

As the U.S. team heads to the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals this weekend, a Juneau soccer camp is teaching kids all about the global sport.

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Coach Paris runs the girls through drills. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

On the turf at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, a group of Scots and Brits are teaching 145 kids how soccer–or what they call “football”–is played across the pond. Miley Quigley is part of the 11- to 13-year-old group. She says her favorite thing about the camp is learning new skills.

“I barely knew any tricks before and now I know a lot of tricks because Spider Man taught us,” she says.

“Spider Man” is the nickname for Stephen Paris, a sports coach major from Glasgow, Scotland. He doesn’t play competitively due to an old foot injury, but that doesn’t stop him from teaching the sport. His signature move is called a “rainbow.”

With the kick of his heel, the ball arches over the back of his body.

Juneau Soccer Club hosts the coed camp which teaches kids about the global sport. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“Right over the head. I went right over the reporter’s head,” he says.

Challenger Sports sends foreign players, like Paris, to different parts of the country to teach regional techniques. Last year, a Brazilian group taught Samba dribbling.

“It’s like the fancy freestyle side of soccer. So like all these flicks you see. You run pass the player. It’s flair,” says Hamza Butt, otherwise known as “coach Hamburger.”

He can be pretty strict on the field, which he says comes from his background playing semi-professional soccer in England. Unlike Samba dribbling, the British style is more buttoned-up, strategic.

“You got to be much more technical,” he says. “Teams want an individual who has everything to his game: passing, dribbling, crossing, shooting.”

Typically, soccer teams are an international patchwork, but in the World Cup, athletes play for their home country. Coach Butt says the kids here at camp are watching.

“For example, Rapinoe, the U.S. winger. Women here in the camp, want to be like Rapinoe,” he says. “Whilst they’re dribbling the ball, they say, ‘It’s Rapinoe! Rapinoe!’  They’re are trying to imitate these players.”

But the young women say it can be tough to find equality on the field, especially when you’re teammates with pre-teen boys. They hurl what they think is the ultimate insult: “You play like a girl.”

“It’s kind of honestly really sexist when they say ‘like a girl,’ cause we’re like, ‘why?’” says camp participant Merry Neuman.

Because these soccer players know what it really means.

“Then you must be doing something really good if it’s like a girl  because we’re way better.”

The last time the U.S. men’s team reached the World Cup quarterfinals was in 2002.

Categories: Alaska News

Weather Temporarily Gives Firefighters An Edge in Aniak

Fri, 2015-06-26 16:18

Aniak and Chuathbaluk are receiving favorable winds today, cutting down on the smoke and fire danger. The fire across the river from Aniak has grown to 27,000 acres.  Bill Wilson is Aniak’s Mayor.

“The fire is paralleling on the opposite side of the river of where the runway and town is here. It’s worked its way about halfway down the runway at this point.  You can see it, Most is further off the shore, it’s touched down in a few places at the shoreline. The smoke is think, it’s blowing toward the Russian Mountains and towards the north more.

Two crews are in Aniak to do point protection in the off chance that the fire moves across the river.

“With the winds the way they are, there’s no chance of it jumping across unless we had another thunderstorm at this point.”

Three flights of at-risk people were evacuated to Bethel yesterday to stay out of the thick smoke. Near Chuathbaluk, the approximately 5,000-acre Mission Creek Fire was 1.3 miles from the old airport and is visible from town. Two hotshot crews are also doing site protection in Chuathbaluk.   There had been discussion of moving a large amount of people to Aniak from Chuathbaluk, but Wilson says there’s no need to at the moment.

“We’re still prepared, we have plan ready, places for people to come. We have food and boats to run there.  Until there’s a more imminent threat, they’re going to stay put and hold their homes.”

Francis Mitchell is with the state Division of Forestry. He says farther upriver, the Red Devil fire has been threatened the community.

“Late yesterday, the fire got within 1,000 feet of the village, there were a couple air tanker drops of retardant drops in that knocked it down pretty well. There are fire fighters in there, two crews.”

Forty-eight people are working to protect Red Devil.  Three crews members are in Crooked Creek, which has been prepared for site protection. Others crews are making a fire line around Lime Village.

Closer to Bethel, a 1,000 acre fire is burning southeast of Kwethluk, but officials say nothing is at risk now.  This weekend, firefighters might get a little break from the weather.

“At least swaths of rain, not big rain, not putting out fire rain, but dampening down fire type of rain, maybe in that lime village and middle Kuskokwim area. rain will help in several places, but it’s probably not going to last long, as far was we’re being told.”

More than 230,000 acres have burned in Southwest Alaska. There are 78 active fires in the region and 317 statewide.

Categories: Alaska News

Indonesian Company Buys Alaska-Based Icicle Seafoods

Fri, 2015-06-26 16:00

Icicle Seafoods, one of Alaska’s largest seafood processors is being sold to Indonesian companies Convergence Holdings and Dominion Catchers owned by the wealthy Soetantyo family. The deal isn’t expected to close until August but private investment firm, Paine and Partners says they and Icicle Holdings, Inc. have entered into agreements to sell the company.

Under the deal, Convergence will acquire Icicle’s land-based wild seafood processing and farmed salmon activities, and Dominion will get the Company’s harvesting and processing vessels as well as the associated fishing rights.

Icicle is the largest private employer in the town of Petersburg as the parent company, Petersburg Fisheries, Inc. It draws around 600 workers to its cannery in the summer fishing season. The company got its start in Petersburg in 1965 and was owned by local fishermen.

It’s unclear what will change with the purchase. The financial terms of the transactions were not disclosed.

Paine and Partners declined to comment but in a written statement, they say that the new buyers have agreed to enter into long-term contracts to continue Icicle’s diversified seafood operations.

In a written statement, Icicle CEO Chris Ruettgers, said “we are pleased about this announcement under which Icicle will move forward with long-term owners who firmly share Icicle’s commitment to quality and sustainability.” He said, “Convergence and its affiliates have extensive industry experience that will allow for continued investment in Icicle’s business.”

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay Salmon Camp: ‘Can We Eat The Fin?’

Fri, 2015-06-26 15:51

Every summer BBEDC holds salmon camps for middle school and high school kids from CDQ communities. It’s a mix of a little fun and little education on the region’s number one renewable resource, salmon. The junior camp kids paid a visit to the counting tower station on the Wood River.

Jamie Westnegee shows salmon camps students who Fish and Game measures and records salmon as they return upstream to spawn.
Credit Matt Martin/KDLG

“Now look at this fish, this is a sockeye salmon.”

Jamie Westnegee holds up the fish to a group of camp kids wearing chest high waders. They’re all standing around a live-box full of sockeye in the Wood River.

“Do you know if it a male or a female?”


Westnegee has been working at counting towers for three years. He gets help from his colleague Kim Powell as he show the kids how Fish and Game tracks salmon as they move upriver to spawn.

“So what we are going to do, hold that right there, we’re going to measure the fish and Kim’s going to pull a scale right off the back.”

He tells the kids the scales of a fish are like a birth certificate. It tells the biologist the age of the salmon and how long it’s been in the ocean.

Westnegee says the day the campers come to the counting tower is an important part of learning about the lifecycle of salmon.

“The education of very sustainable natural resource that we have here and emphasizing to the kids so as they grow older they can pass on these traditions of fishing and education to their young as well.”

Once Westnegee is finished measuring the fish, Powell cuts off a small fin towards the tail of the fish, known as the adipose fin. It’s a marker so the biologists make sure to not test the same fish twice. And that lead a few kids to ask a very scientific question.

Laci Andrew and Theresa Savo show off the adipose fins of some sockeye salmon they bravely tried to eat.
Credit Chloe George

“Can we eat the fin?”

“You have to eat it with me.”

With pinched noses, the two girls threw the fins in their mouths.

And as quickly as the fins were in their mouths, they were spit out on the ground.

This group is the youngest of three different age groups that make up the salmon camps. As the kids get older they learn more and more about salmon, leading to the high school kids working on research projects and cam get college credit for the camp.

“It’s not just a camp where you split fish all day. It’s a camp where you actually get out there and go do stuff, and have fun, and learn about marine biology which is pretty cool.”

Mackenzie Amay, an 11 year old camper from Dillingham, wants to be a marine biologist. She says knows a lot more about salmon than she did before the camp.

“I’ve learned where certain parts of the body are and what their names are. I can recognize all the five different salmon species in Bristol Bay now.”

Karl Clark is one of the camp supervisors and he says that is exactly the purpose of the camps.

“What we like to do with this younger group is to give them an overview of salmon all the way from art projects through the commercial industry, subsistence, sport fish, so we kind of give them little projects on each of them.”

Clark just wants to make sure that the kids get a full picture of ways they can interact with salmon in the region.

“We want to show them how many jobs are out there that they could do with salmon and different projects they could do with fish. So that’s what we look at and try to get them hooked into something they might want to do when they grow up.”

Back out by the live-box in the river, Westnegee and Powell have finished up all their measurements and are ready to help the kids release the fish to continue their upstream journey.

“Just touch it and let it go very gently into the water. And then it goes on its way.”

Little Mckenzie Amay is sold. She says she’ll be coming back to salmon camp every year for as long as she can.

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Cuts May Sideline 3 of Alaska’s 11 Ferries

Fri, 2015-06-26 14:56

The Alaska Marine Highway System plans to lay up three of its 11 ferries for most of the next year.

A draft schedule released Friday shows the Taku out of service all of fiscal year 2016, which begins in July. The fast ferries Chenega and Fairweather will be tied up for most of the fall, winter and spring.

Marine Highway spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the schedule reflects state budget cuts, as well as vessel repairs.

“The main goal is not to cut off … some will see less frequency.”

But several Southeast communities will lose service for about six weeks.

Angoon, Tenakee, Gustavus, Metlakatla and Pelican will see no ferries from January to mid-February.

The ferry system is taking comments on the draft schedule. Teleconferences are planned for July 22.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: The journey to Bristol Bay’s fishing grounds

Fri, 2015-06-26 14:41

Chet Williams backs the F/V Eagle Claw into Pile Bay, on the eastern shore of Iliamna Lake, June 14, 2015.

Every year dozens of boats travel back to Bristol Bay. Some ride on tenders or cargo ships, and some steam themselves around False Pass, a journey of more than 1000 miles that can be treacherous.

But about 60 boats, most from Homer and Kodiak, take a different route across the Chigmit Mountains on the Alaska Peninsula.

KDLG’s Molly Dischner tagged along with a captain and crew bringing their 32-foot drift boat back to the Bay after a winter of maintenance in Homer.

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The F/V Solstice maneuvers in Pile Bay while rafting up with the F/V Independence and F/V Eagle Claw on June 16, 2015. The three Homer-based fishing vessels traveled the length of Iliamna Lake together as part of the trip from Homer to Bristol Bay.

After a round of hugs to family staying behind, the F/V Eagle Claw leaves Homer at 10 a.m. sharp on a recent Saturday morning.

We’re setting off on a five day journey. First we’ll cross Cook Inlet, then we’ll take a 15 mile road over a mountain pass to Iliamna Lake before navigating down the shallow Kvichak River.

Skipper Louie Flora, who has made the trip three times, says Cook Inlet is one of his favorite parts.

“This is pry the most beautiful spot I think along the trip,” he said.

Jonathan Flora makes a hammock from net bags onboard the F/V Eagle Claw June 17, 2015.

Flora has fished Bristol Bay since he was a kid in the 80s. His dad built the boat in the late 70s. Most years, the boat winters in King Salmon. But this year, he had it back in Homer so he could work on it.

By early evening, we’ve dropped anchor and joined a line of boats between Iniskin Bay and Iliamna Bay, waiting to get towed over the road. Flora’s not in a hurry. There aren’t any reports of big catches yet, just boat work waiting to be done.

A day will pass before the Eagle Claw is hauled out at Williamsport.

Louie’s brother- and fishing partner- Jonathan Flora is onboard as well.

“Yeah, another day of waiting, and roasting,” he said.

The boat is one of half a dozen in line here at the base of the Chigmit Mountains. While we wait we play card games – Jonathan’s least favorite pastime – and canoe to shore for hiking and swimming. I can’t get over how gorgeous our waiting spot is.

Eventually we’re hauled out. I climb in the cab with Ray Williams, who’s driving truck.

Molly: “How long have you been driving this?”

Williams: “That’s a good question that, right off the bat, I can’t answer. I think since ’72.”

This business is in Williams’ blood. His dad started hauling goods along this route 70 years ago, mostly groceries and mail from Cook Inlet to Iliamna Lake. Eventually, fishermen decided to see about getting towed their boats towed over the road.

Boats wait at Williamsport on June 15, 2015 for a ride over the 15-mile road that crosses the Chigmit Mountains.

Williams says he did 120 hauls last year, a record.

It’s an hour and a half up the bumpy, 15 mile dirt road.  We arrive in Pile Bay where the family offers hot showers, clean towels and internet.

“We got a router in the yard here now, and we looked out here the other night about one o clock, man the place was lit up,” Ray said.

Ray’s son Chet backs the Eagle Claw and another Homer boat, the Independence, into Iliamna Lake one at a time. The sun is setting across the lake by the time the boats are docked there.

We spend a full day waiting. Captains talk engines. Crew members enjoy wifi and swimming.

It’s one of the last slow moments before the fishery begins. But Independence crew member James O’Connor, says it’s hard to enjoy it.

“Well, it’s kind of tough to know that you’re going to start working soon, just kinda anxious I guess a little bit,” O’Connor said. “It’s kinda a weird medium between hanging out but getting ready also.”

The F/V Solstice travels down the Kvichak River on June 17, 2015.

Tuesday morning, the Eagle Claw rafts up with the Independence and another drifter for the 70-mile trip across Iliamna Lake.

We drop anchor late that evening just above the Kvichak River, near Iliamna.

The next morning, Louie points the boat down the Kvichak for the only white knuckle part of the trip.

A setnetter I meet in Pile Bay named Bryce tells me about the infamous Kvichak braids.

Bruce: “And sometimes you have to get out and push.”

Molly: “Did that happen last year?”

Bruce: “Yeah.”

Molly: “Yikes.”

Bruce: “Just one spot though.”

But like most boats, we won’t brave the braids alone.

Blueberry Island Lodge owner George Riddles brings his skiff alongside the F/V Eagle Claw June 17, 2015, before hopping on board to help gillnetters navigate the Kvichak River braids.

Our guide, George Riddles, jumps aboard before we reach the Kvichak’s braids. He takes over navigation.

“Right around the corner to the right, we’re going to give the corner a little bit of respect and then come in pretty tight on the bank,” Riddles said.

The shallowest reading is about 1.4 feet. The boats make it through with issue, but we see others traveling that morning that aren’t so lucky.

Then it’s another eight hours or so down the river.

The Kvichak River turns from clear green-blue to muddy.

As we near the mouth of the river, we travel past a shut-down cannery, and active setnet sites.

Eventually, we spot a line of boats on the horizon. The Kvichak tender line. We’re back in Bristol Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Will Ross from Anchorage

Fri, 2015-06-26 14:25

This week, we’re hearing from Will Ross, an Anchorage resident who was born and raised in Alaska. From Mount Marathon to Johnson Pass, he’s constantly pushing himself in the state’s great outdoors.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska: On the Cusp of Recession?

Fri, 2015-06-26 12:00

With oil prices stuck in the gutter, Alaska is staring down the possibility of economic recession. Combine that with declining federal dollars and jobs, military reductions and a weakened fishing industry and it all adds up to a perfect storm. It’s an uncomfortable question: what will our economy look like without a booming oil sector?

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Gregg Erickson, economist, Erickson & Associates
  • Callers statewide


  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.


mentary tells the story of the race through the perspective of several Mount Marathon legends.

Categories: Alaska News

Senator Calls On Governor To Expand Medicaid

Fri, 2015-06-26 11:12

A prominent Democrat in the state Senate is calling on Governor Bill Walker to expand Medicaid in Alaska without approval from the legislature. Anchorage Senator Bill Wielechowski says now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld insurance subsidies in Alaska there is no reason for the governor not to expand Medicaid.

“It’s time for the governor to exercise leadership and just do it. We’ve got legal opinions saying he can do that and I think he should do that. I think that’s where Alaskans are, and that’s what Alaskans want,” he said.

According to two separate legal opinions written in May, Walker likely has the authority to expand Medicaid without legislative approval.

During this year’s legislative session and the special sessions that followed, Republican lawmakers blocked Medicaid expansion from coming to a floor vote. In May, the House Finance Committee declined to advance the Medicaid expansion bill, saying the state needed to reform Medicaid before expanding the program.

Polls show a majority of Alaskans support expansion. Wielechowski says when he met with Walker privately during the session he asked the governor to make the decision on his own.

“During session I had suggested to him that we would probably never run out of excuses from those who oppose it not to do it,” he said. “I felt that at some time he was going to have to do it on his own and so I did express that to him.”

Through a spokesperson, Governor Walker declined to discuss the issue. When he took office, Walker said Medicaid expansion was one of his top priorities.

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

Categories: Alaska News

Tribe boycotts FedEx over ‘Redskins’ support

Fri, 2015-06-26 10:27

Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska is boycotting FedEx.

The Juneau-based tribal organization announced Thursday that it has sent notice to all employees to stop using FedEx services, citing the national delivery company’s sponsorship of the Washington Redskins football team.

In a news release, Central Council says FedEx is a top sponsor of the football team, and economic pressure might encourage the delivery service to reconsider financial support of the Washington, D.C.-based team.

The issue is the team’s name. The word “redskins” dates back to colonial times, and refers to Native Americans. It is considered offensive by many with Native heritage.

Tlingit Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson says he understands that the team name has a long history.

“There’s debate even among Native Americans on whether it’s derogatory,” he said. “But I think most people feel like the name Redskins is derivative of racial slurs against Native Americans.”

According to the Central Council, other tribes and tribal groups also are boycotting FedEx, including the Native American Rights Fund and National Congress of American Indians.

Central Council Tlingit Haida is a federally recognized tribe with a membership of about 30,000, and Peterson says he hopes the membership will join tribal employees in the boycott.

“Who better to take a stand and to exercise our concerns and voice that through our spending?” he said. “Just saying, we’re not going to spend our dollars with folks that are going to be supportive of what we consider racism.”

Peterson stressed that this move isn’t an attack on FedEx or the Washington Redskins.

“We would just ask that they really take a look at what they’re doing,” he said. “If I’m doing anything that has a negative impact on people, I would certainly take a look at that and do some self-examination. I’d hope that the ownership of the Redskins would do that, and the corporate sponsors that endorse them would realize, it’s time to take down our Confederate flag, so to speak.”

A message sent to FedEx public relations resulted in a written email statement. It says “FedEx has closely followed the dialogue and difference of opinion regarding the Washington Redskins team name, but we continue to direct questions about the name to the franchise owner.”

Categories: Alaska News