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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: 14 min 55 sec ago

Alaska Harnesses Power of Tides, Rivers, and Waves

Thu, 2014-07-10 17:26

Engineers have tried to harness the power of pounding waves and shifting tides for generations, but only recently has the goal been attainable. With 90 percent of the nation’s tidal power, and a good chunk of its wave and river energy, Alaska’s quickly become the epicenter for this budding technology.

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A map showing all of the hydrokinetic and hydropower projects in Alaska (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska).

“We are clearly the ocean energy, hydrokinetic energy leader in America,” says Doug Johnson, director of business at the Ocean Renewable Power Company. Johnson is overseeing four hydrokinetic projects this summer, from False Pass in the Aleutians to Yakutat in south-east Alaska. One project, along the Kvichak River near the town of Igiugig, could provide about half of the energy needs for the 50-person community

“If it’s successful you could literally turn the diesel off and use diesel as back-up power,” Johnson says. “It’s just a really excellent way to provide energy to the community. There’s no emissions and there’s really no negative impacts that we’ve seen so far of these devices in the water.”

Despite its technical name, hydrokinetic power is pretty straightforward. It’s basically just a turbine placed in water. As the current or wave moves it, electricity is made. Like any new invention hydrokinetic power is pretty expensive. But in rural Alaska where people pay a premium for energy, it could still pencil out.

“A lot of renewable energy technologies that don’t work elsewhere will work here cost effectively,” says Sean Skaling, deputy director of alternative energy and energy efficiency at the Alaska Energy Authority. “They’ll probably start competing a little bit faster in Alaska than in places with lower costs of energy.”

While this summer’s projects largely target small rural communities, Anchorage is next to one of the greatest untapped sources of renewable energy in the country: Cook Inlet. The second biggest source of tidal power in North America, the inlet could relatively easily supply electricity to all of Anchorage, says Tom Raven, a civil engineering professor at the University of Alaska.

And since Anchorage relies largely on nearby natural gas reserves for its energy—a depleting energy source—tapping Cook Inlet for electricity could look more and more attractive in the future.

“The oil [and gas] supply in Alaska is going to run out,” Raven says. “I’ve always hoped there would be enough vision in the state that they would seize some of this oil wealth, to take some of those funds, and basically invest in renewable energy on a large scale.”

Alaska plans to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. To help meet that goal, Ocean Renewable Power Company is looking for ways to connect Cook Inlet tidal generators to the Railbelt, which supplies 80 percent of the state with electricity. Hydrokinetic tests along the Kvichak river should be complete by the end of summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Preliminary Figures Show Dismal Walrus Harvest From Poor Weather

Thu, 2014-07-10 17:25

Pacific walrus. (Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)

For the second year in a row, the number of walrus harvested for subsistence on St. Lawrence Island is far below normal.

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“It’s about half of what the average take has been over the last 10 years or so,” said Jim MacKracken, who supervises the walrus program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which tracks population numbers based on strikes and successful harvests hunters report back.

Though some hunters are still boating as far as 70 miles north to the retreating ice edge, the majority of walrus pods are now past the island, and the preliminary harvest figures are low.

“The total for both Gambell and Savoonga so far is about 345 animals,” MacKracken said. “But we still are getting a few certificates back in, and I hear that people are picking up a walrus here and then. And as they migrate back South in the fall they may get a few, also.”

That’s split about evenly between the two communities, 176 in Gambell and 169 in Savoonga.

Based on what MacKracken has heard from hunters, the cause of the poor harvest is the same as last year.

“Generally it’s weather and ice conditions. You know the winds weren’t blowing quite right and the ice was packed in along the shore. A lot of the days the wind was blowing pretty hard so the sea was pretty rough and the fetch was high. It’s hard to get a boat out and go hunting in that kinda condition. Then of course a lot of times it’s foggy and it’s hard to hunt in the fog, ‘cause you can’t see where you’re going or see the animals,” MacKracken explained.

Walrus are the staple subsistence source on the island, and an essential economic and cultural resource. Last year the state declared an economic disaster because of the record low harvest.

Categories: Alaska News

Rare Ribbon Seal Sighting In Prince William Sound

Thu, 2014-07-10 17:24

A ribbon seal photographed in Prince William Sound July 9th, 2014. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service boat crewed by Gloria Zager, Patti Sullivan, Karen Sinclair and Marty Reedy.

A federal wildlife technician got a rare treat in Prince William Sound yesterday. Marty Reedy was driving a boat for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seabird and marine mammal survey when a colleague pointed out a seal that didn’t look quite right. Reedy, who has also worked in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, knew immediately what the animal was- a ribbon seal:

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“I just could not believe my eyes. I kept thinking to myself, I must be seeing something wrong, but if you look at a picture of these guys, there’s no doubt what it was. We see a lot of wonderful stuff out in the sound but to see something like that, is pretty unique and special.”

Reedy drove the boat closer and snapped a picture of a male ribbon seal hauled out on a chunk of glacial ice. He found the animal in the northwest section of the sound, but doesn’t want to give an exact location.

Peter Boveng is a seal expert with the National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle. He says ribbon seals spend their winters in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. But this time of year, they are roamers and have been spotted as far south as British Colombia and Washington. He’s not surprised one turned up in Prince William Sound, and says the seal is on the fringes of its summer range:

“They go into a pelagic phase where essentially they’re in the water all the time. They seem to be mostly solitary. So people don’t see ribbon seals really anywhere this time of year with any frequency or commonness.”

A ribbon seal was found in Cook Inlet in Anchorage in 2007.

Boveng says if this seal is healthy, he should be able to find his way back north to the Bering Sea for the winter breeding season.

 

Categories: Alaska News

TODAY Show Live From Juneau

Thu, 2014-07-10 17:23

TODAY Show anchor Natalie Morales powders her face before going on camera. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

About 1,500 people showed up for an early morning live broadcast of the TODAY Show from Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier. They waved signs, cheered and waited hours for a chance to be on national TV for a few seconds.

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On live television, NBC’s TODAY Show news anchor Natalie Morales praised Juneau’s crowd.

“Hats off to Juneau because all of these folks, about 1,500 of them, they’re here at 3:30 in the morning, so you guys are incredible. Lots of pride here in Juneau as you can see.”

When Morales was off camera, she talked to the crowd, held babies and took pictures with adoring fans.

“I feel bad. I mean they all showed up here at, like, 3 o’clock- No, earlier than that. It was, like, 2 o’clock in the morning. So I want to make sure everybody gets a little camera time, or if not, gets a good selfie out of this,” Morales says.

Juneau resident Neely Perisich arrived at the visitor center at 2:30. She didn’t come empty handed.

“My sign says, ‘Hi Kerri and Andrea.’ They live in Newburg, Oregon. They’re my sister and my niece and they watch the TODAY Show every day,” Perisich says.

The sign has a border of blinking white lights. Perisich is with her partner Dave Velasquez. He’s wearing a cut out of Al Roker’s head. He’s a big fan of the TODAY Show co-anchor and weatherman.

“So I got an Al head. He’s got a perfectly shaped head for cutting out on paper. There’s no hair or anything,” Velasquez says.

Most of the crowd inside and lining the walls of the pavilion wanted to be there for the excitement, like Tom Chard.

“Years later, people are going to be saying, ‘Well, where were you?’ And, ‘You remember the TODAY Show came around?’ Yeah, yeah, yeah. The line was out the door. We loved it. It was great. It was a lot of fun,” he says.

Eileen McIver had an ulterior motive for being at the live broadcast. She’s a columnist for the Chilkat Valley News in Haines.

“I wanted to pitch this idea I have for a sitcom, so I’m here to get the attention of someone from NBC. Not sure who. I don’t really have a plan,” McIver says.

McIver is writing a sign on a pizza box, which says, “NBC, you have to hear my pitch. We’ll talk.”

The broadcast from Juneau kicked off a series, #TODAYTakesOff, which sends Morales to famous destinations around the country. She spent a couple days in Juneau kayaking, ice climbing, exploring the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves and visiting Admiralty Island bears. Her adventures were featured on the show.

The last time Alaska was on the TODAY Show was in 2012, when Jenna Bush Hager did a segment from Denali National Park. In 2011, Al Roker visited the Knik Glacier.

But this is the first live broadcast from the state.

It’s been a long time coming. The state’s commerce department first pitched the idea to NBC in 2003.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Finding Bigfoot’ in the Y-K Delta in Search of Miluquyuliq

Thu, 2014-07-10 17:22

The cast and crew of the Animal Planet TV show Finding Bigfoot is in Bethel to record eyewitness accounts of the creature known locally as “Hairy Man.”

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Frieda Bean was on a boating trip to Three Step Mountain, riding up the twisting Kwethluk River with her husband, when she says something caught her eye on the treeline.

Matt Moneymaker to the left doing his bigfoot call. James “Bobo” Fey to his right. (Photo courtesy Erica Williams)

“I saw a figure of bigfoot just standing there, staring at me eye to eye. It was a figure of a human being but way bigger, the head was bigger, rounder, and the arms were bigger too. And hairy,” says Beans.

Beans says she could barely make sense of what she saw.

“At first I thought it was a sight of a spirit. Nobody any bigfoot stories at the time,’ says Beans.

But many in the region grew up hearing stories of the “hairy man” or “Miluquyuliq” as it’s often called in Yup’ik. A hairy humanoid creature known to throw things like it’s own feces, sticks or rocks at anyone who comes too close. Recently, a local newspaper, the DeltaDiscovery began printing a series of witness accounts like these. That caught the attention of co-producer Natalie Hewson.

“We chose the YK Delta because there are many, many, stories that have come out of the area. There have been news reports, newspaper reports. So with that many reports in one area, it was a big point of interest so we decided to come out here,” says Hewson.

At the Bigfoot gathering, about 100 interested locals begin arriving to listen to what the gathering has to offer. They are asked to sign release forms before going into the conference room.

After the cameras were set up and the audience was in place, the shooting begins. The limelight shone while the cameras began rolling, the stars of the show, Bobo and Matt Moneymaker enter with applause.

The media was asked not to record as the cast began asking the audience members whether or not they’ve had an encounter with Sasquatch. Half a dozen hands go up and the TV cameras reset on them as they begin telling their stories in front of everyone. Some say they saw a “Hairy Man,” others experienced mysterious encounters, and others relayed secondhand accounts.

Elizabeth Roll of Bethel says what we hear, only scratches the surface.

“Something like this I think is only just the beginning of the iceberg. If you really went to every village and talked to people there, you’d probably hear 5 or 10 stories. I think anything’s possible and there sure seems to be a lot of sightings around,” says Roll.

Some are skeptical, while others believe that so many sightings could only mean there’s something out there. Something big, humanlike, and hairy.

The audience then left while the cast filmed a scene with the witnesses, documenting the locations of the encounters.

Hewson says now her team will venture into the YK Delta wilderness, to film at some of the locations near Bethel. Whether or not the show finally finds bigfoot in the Delta, she says the journey itself is worth it.

“I think whether or not Bigfoot exists is a very interesting subject. There are a lot of things out there that people have seen that you can’t quite explain, and when you can’t explain something we want to try to figure out what it is. There’s people all over the world that have stories of seeing a Bigfoot-like creature.  So I think it’s very important for us to continue the search and try to figure out what this is,” says Hewson.

Hewson say’s the material they gather could be used before the end of this season of Finding Bigfoot. Whenever it airs, the show will be the biggest venue yet for the age-old tale of Miluquyuliq.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 10, 2014

Thu, 2014-07-10 17:07

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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Sportsmen’s Bill Falls To Senate Gridlock

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A bill to ensure hunters have access to federal land was blocked in the U.S. Senate today, even though nearly half the Senate had co-sponsored it.

Mead Treadwell, ‘Big-Picture Guy,’ Runs for U.S. Senate

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is the only Republican running for U.S. Senate who has actually won elected office before. Still, his fundraising is eclipsed by the candidacy of a former friend, ex- Alaska attorney General Dan Sullivan, and he labors to prove he’s as conservative as rival Joe Miller.

Gov’s Office Considers Suing Xerox Over Botched System Rollout

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The Governor’s office may sue Xerox Corporation for the bungled rollout of a new system to process Medicaid claims.

Ellis, Gara Ask DOT To Delay Demolition Of Two Anchorage Houses

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A move by the state Department of Transportation to demolish two houses in an Anchorage neighborhood has become a political issue.

Alaska Harnesses Power of Tides, Rivers, and Waves

Joaquin Palomino, APRN Intern

While Alaska is known for its oil, it’s also home to another energy source: Hydrokinetic power, which uses turbines to harness energy from tides, rivers, and waves.  Four separate test projects are underway this summer, and many more could be just around the corner.

Preliminary Figures Show Dismal Walrus Harvest From Poor Weather

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

For the second year in a row, the number of walrus harvested for subsistence on St. Lawrence Island is far below normal.

Rare Ribbon Seal Sighting In Prince William Sound

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A federal wildlife technician got a rare treat in Prince William Sound on Wednesday. Marty Reedy was driving a boat for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seabird and marine mammal survey when a colleague pointed out a seal that didn’t look quite right.

TODAY Show Live From Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

About 1,500 people showed up for an early morning live broadcast of the TODAY Show from Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier. They waved signs, cheered and waited hours for a chance to be on national TV for a few seconds.

‘Finding Bigfoot’ in the Y-K Delta in Search of Miluquyuliq

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

The cast and crew of the Animal Planet TV show Finding Bigfoot is in Bethel to record eyewitness accounts of the creature known locally as “Hairy Man.”

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Co-Sponsors Bill Responding To Hobby Lobby Decision

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:50

Senator Mark Begich today joined other Democrats in sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for a company to deny employees certain health benefits, including birth control, if they are required to be covered by federal health care law.

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The bill is a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which says closely held companies can refuse to provide such benefits if the owners have religious objections. Sponsors are calling it the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.

It is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled House, where conservatives praise the Hobby Lobby decision as a victory for religious liberty.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Authorize $500,000 For Anchorage LIO Furniture

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:49

The state will spend up to $500,000 to furnish the new Anchorage legislative information office.

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The Legislative Council, which handles office policy for state lawmakers, awarded the contract to Think Office, LLC, at a Wednesday meeting. The furniture will come from the modern design company Knoll, and the look of the new building will be up-market Ikea. To give an idea of what they were looking for, the Legislative Council bidding notice listed rolling chairs that retail for $1,500 and $300 coat racks made of colorful metal rods.

The Think Office bid conforms to a decorating plan created by Pfeffer Development, which is renovating the Anchorage LIO and was awarded a $100,000 contract specifically for furniture consulting. The objective was to standardize design using modular components in an effort to reduce the need for new furniture when freshman legislators come into office and as political organization changes.

When the Legislative Council first took up the question of furniture procurement in early June, the initial price tag was $866,000. That triggered sticker shock, and a furniture subcommittee led by Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze was created to reexamine the cost. The subcommittee concluded that the Anchorage LIO should be outfitted with surplus furniture from state agencies, with a cap of $100,000 for new furniture.

But that recommendation was rejected. Legislative aide Juli Lucky explained to the council that number was unrealistic.

“I will admit that the office furniture was a lot more expensive than I had anticipated,” said Lucky. “But I do feel that we did come up with a good compromise position once we did look at the comparable offices that we have outfitted in other places. We did winnow down that cost as much as we felt we could.”

About half of the $500,000 award will be spent furnishing legislators’ staff offices, at a cost of $8,000 per lawmaker.

Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the Legislative Council, said that the expense of furnishing the Anchorage LIO compared favorably to other projects.

“A couple of years ago when the Eagle River LIO was refurnished, those offices ran $20,000 a copy,” said Hawker. “So, I think we’re getting quite a value.”

The other half of the money will go to furnishing the building’s public areas, like hearing rooms.

“They can be used for all of the summer sort of meetings like we’re doing right here, and they can be used to accommodate special legislative sessions with a chamber for the House and the Senate, as well as a chamber that would accommodate 60 legislators as needed,” said Hawker.

While cost was a sticking point for some, Sen. Dennis Egan, a Juneau Democrat who caucuses with the Republican majority, took issue with the argument that the LIO needed to be fully furnished so that special sessions could be held in Anchorage.

“I really am upset that you’re talking about special sessions being held in the Anchorage LIO,” said Egan. “Special sessions should be held in the Capitol.”

Hawker stressed that he did not mean to trigger a debate over the location of the Capitol.

“This is not a disguised Capitol move,” said Hawker.

Egan ultimately voted for the contract.

The contract was awarded on a 10-2 vote, with Stoltze and Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg opposing the contract.

The Anchorage LIO project has previously faced criticism for its cost. The lease to the office is expected to run $80 million over the next 20 years, and Hawker’s Democratic challenger Sam Combs described the furniture contract as an example of project “mismanagement.”

Categories: Alaska News

Two Properties Up For Demolition To Make Way For KABATA

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:48

The state Department of Transportation has announced plans to demolish two Anchorage properties to make way for Knik Arm Bridge construction.

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Categories: Alaska News

FAA Hazardous Material Fine Prompts Legislators To Redo Relocation Policy

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:47

Next session, state lawmakers will have to be a little more careful about what they ship down to Juneau. The Legislative Council has amended their moving reimbursement policy in response to the Federal Aviation Administration discovering hazardous materials in a representative’s air freight.

Wes Keller, a Wasilla Republican, was found to have shipped multiple items that violate FAA rules on an Alaska Airlines cargo plane as part of his relocation to Juneau last January. Among his belongings were a small amount of ammunition, a cigarette lighter, and a can of StaticGuard aerosol fabric spray. Because the state pays moving costs for lawmakers, Keller’s goods were shipped under the Legislative Affairs Agency account.

“It wasn’t intentional,” says Keller. He says a bin that he meant to transport via ferry got mixed in with his air freight.

The Legislative Affairs Agency was cited by the FAA for the violation. The initial fine was nearly $20,000, but the FAA agreed to halve it contingent on a change to state policy. At a Wednesday meeting, the Legislative Council voted to end reimbursement for the shipment of any item that qualifies as a hazardous material under state or federal law. The Council also added a new rule that goods shipped via a state account must be inspected by Legislative Affairs Agency staff before being put on a plane to Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Borough Pursuing Drone Park

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:47

The Fairbanks North Star Borough wants to set up a special area for companies to develop and test drone aircraft for the military. The project would capitalize on recent year’s state laws aimed at helping woo the defense industry and spur economic development.

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Categories: Alaska News

State’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties Announced

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:46

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation on Tuesday released its list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic properties for 2014.

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If you’ve ever been to Talkeetna, you’ve probably passed right by an unassuming, old log cabin on the corner of one of the town’s busiest intersections. Over the past 80 years, that cabin has come to be known as the 3 German Bachelors Cabin.

That’s where I meet Sue Deyoe, the museum manager for the Talkeetna Historical Society.

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

She says Tony and Henry Meise and Frank Moennikes built the cabin in the 1930s and worked mining claims near Cache Creek.

Deyoe says the building is significant largely because of how it was built and how well it has stood the test of time.

“How much longer is it gonna be able to keep on going in the fashion that it is?” Deyoe said. “It is a true miners and trappers cabin; there aren’t that many left in Alaska that are this well preserved.”

If the building’s deterioration isn’t put in check soon, Deyoe worries the 3 German Bachelors Cabin might fall beyond repair…or as she characterizes it, “go extinct,” as has happened with similar properties in the area.

She hopes it has a better shot at survival now that it’s one of the state’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties for 2014.

The list, from the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, allows the Talkeetna Historical Society to apply for a small grant – no more than $5,000 – from the Association.

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Allegra Hamer with the association says even though the grant can help get preservation efforts moving, its larger purpose is to raise awareness.

“By focusing attention on them, the properties themselves can often leverage other funding: government, state, or private funding,” Hamer said. “Which enables them to be preserved.”

The Talkeetna Historical Society leases the cabin from the Alaska Railroad because it sits on Railroad property.

To offset costs, the Historical Society sublets the space when it can.

Dora Miller is using the cabin this year as a gallery for her photography business, Aurora Dora. She agrees the cabin needs some work, but she loves the space and wants to keep it open year-round if possible.

“I love Talkeetna, it’s where I’m part of it. And this cabin is a great spot,” Miller said. “You know, I’m right here. It’s Main Street and Spur Road. I’m by the welcome to the beautiful downtown Talkeetna sign.”

Despite periodic attempts at upkeep, a lot of work still needs to be done. Especially with the chinking, electric, and the floor – which slopes noticeably to one side of the cabin.

Sue Deyoe says some changes have been made to the cabin over the last several decades, like adding a deck and replacing the roof, but the vast majority of the construction is still original.

“You can see how the log cabin is created, with common, these lap-notched corners,” Deyoe said. “That’s significant in that it doesn’t, they don’t do that this way anymore.”

The endangered properties list also includes the Fort William H. Seward Barracks Building in Haines, Anchorage’s 4th Avenue Theatre, and other endangered properties in Kake, McCarthy, Cordova, and Willow.

Categories: Alaska News

The Alaska Marine Advisory Tracks The Effectiveness Of Whale Pingers

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:45

A purse seiner docked on North Harbor

As commercial fishing fleets head out on the water in Southeast Alaska this summer, some could run into problems with an expanding whale population. Whales can destroy nets and even become entangled in them. But a device being used regionally aims to prevent that. Marine mammal specialists are trying to determine its effectiveness and troubleshoot problems.

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Orca whales rely on echolocation to map the ocean terrain. That means they send out a signal and get a signal back. It helps them avoid predators, hunt for food, and avoid nets. Baleen whales, like humpbacks, don’t have that ability. “As they’re feeding, they’re not really paying attention to what’s ahead of them and they run into things. Anchor lines, mooring lines, nets. Things in the water,” said Kate Wynne, the Marine Mammal Specialist at the University of Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.

She brings out a device called a whale pinger. It’s about three inches long, made out of plastic, and shaped like a football. She licks her finger and touches one of the electrodes. “Let’s see if I can get it to ping here.” The device makes a high pitch noise. “So if they’re in contact with the water whether it’s fresh water or salt water or spit, it will activate the pinger,” said Wynne.

The device was originally designed to keep whales out of shark barriers in Australia. But here in Alaska, it’s used to deter whales from running into purse seines and gill nets. If you’re a baleen whale swimming in the Frederick Sound, “50 feet away from the net, you’ll hear this thing go ping and you’ll look up from the fish that you’re chasing and you’ll hear a couple of different pings and you’ll keep moving away from that ping until you don’t hear it and you’ll be back to the beach,” said Wynne.

The device can be expensive. It’s $125, and fisherman may need up to a dozen, depending on the size of the net. It doesn’t always guarantee that a whale will swim the other way. “I have heard several reports where they say, ‘well there was a pinger and I had a big hole that blew through my net right through a pinger,’” said Wynne.

That’s exactly what happened to Joe Cisney. He’s been a fisherman his entire life and works on a purse seiner. “In the previous ten seasons I have never been whaled, but we had three go through our net last year. As it turns out, one or two or three of the pingers quit working and we didn’t know it,” said Cisney. He says it wasn’t a dead battery issue. The pingers just malfunctioned.”So it gave the whales a target to hit because there wasn’t any noise coming from that section of the net.”

As far as giving pingers another chance, Cisney isn’t forgetting his last experience. “No More. Unless they become more reliable and, you know, give you an indication that they’re working or not,” said Cisney.

Commercial fishing fleets in Alaska use pingers on a voluntary basis, but they are required in parts of the U.S. In California, a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that by catch of beaked whales went down to zero percent after pingers were mandated.

Right now, the Marine Advisory Program is collecting its own data to determine the effectiveness of pingers and troubleshoot problems. Wynne said, “by gathering data from different situations different gear types, we’re getting a better understanding of how the pingers work and how to modify them.”

The program is asking fishermen with and without pingers to fill out log books around Petersburg, Kodiak, and the Aleutian islands. Wynne said whales infrequently become entangled in nets, but when they do, there’s still a lot we don’t know.

“I’m not sure a statistician will ever be happy with the results we get. But when I hear reports from fisherman that say a whale went around and got back on course. To me, even if it’s not statistically significant, it’s biologically significant. It means that it’s working for me.”

If you would like to participate in the research, the Alaska Marine Advisory is giving out the logbooks to document whale sightings near fishing vessels. Contact (907) 772-3381 for more information.

Categories: Alaska News

Big Rule Change Comes To Yukon Quest

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:44

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race will have a new set of rules in 2015. Overall rest time has been decreased by two hours, but mushers will be required to make more mandatory stops along the 1000 mile trail.

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Driving a dog team between Fairbanks and Whitehorse used to take 12 days or more, but in the last few years the fastest sled dogs have completed the run in just over nine days.  Eureka musher Brent Sass says the addition of more mandatory stops fundamentally alters the race. “It’s huge. It’s huge.  It’s a huge change!” he exclaims.

Brent Sass’s lead dogs lick the ice from their booties during a quick stop for supplies at Carmacks during the 2014 Yukon Quest.
(Credit Emily Schwing / KUAC)

A mandatory 36 hour layover at the race’s midway point in Dawson City has been cut by 12 hours. Sass says that will improve overall dog care. “There may be a dog that has a wrist injury that you’ve been milking and he’s doing fine but it’s definitely getting sore,” explains Sass.  “You know when you get to Dawson, you know 36 hours you can get rid of a wrist injury. With 24 and a bad wrist injury? Not necessarily.”

Other changes are likely to shake up race strategy.

A second mandatory stop in Eagle, near the Canadian border, will increased from four to six hours. Next year, mushers will also be required to take two additional six hour layovers at a checkpoint of their choosing in the first and last third of the race. An eight hour mandatory layover at the last checkpoint before the finish line remains in place.

Yukon Quest Executive Director Marti Steury says the decision is meant to help sleep-deprived, exhausted mushers. “I find it to be a progressive move forward in looking at the overall success of the race and it seems to me that because the speed has changed so much in the last few years,” says Steury, “that this is something that is going to be of assistance and that’s our hope is that it helps the mushers.”

Last year’s race saw teams spread out over more than 200 miles of trail. Steury says floating stops means race personnel can keep up with teams running at both the front and back of the pack.

Two-time champion Allen Moore of two Rivers plans to run a fifth Quest in 2015, but he says the changes will force him to rethink his plan. He also says the race could become more competitive. “It will probably draw more interest from a lot of people who haven’t thought of running the race just by changing it up a little bit,” sayss Moore.

The race organization has struggled in the last few years to draw interest from long distance mushers due in part to a small purse and a notoriously challenging trail. Mushers will sign up for the race in August.

Categories: Alaska News

Subsistence Fishermen Say Commercial Chum Fishing Is Too Early

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:43

As the Kuskokwim River king salmon run comes to an end, the Department of Fish and Game is looking toward a commercial chum opening in the lower river Friday. But in a year with unprecedented Chinook restrictions and increased reliance on chum salmon, many middle river fishermen say it’s too early.

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Department of Fish and Game District W-1. The proposed opening would be in the lowest section of 1-B.

At a work session Tuesday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, subsistence fishermen told managers a commercial opening now undermines the conservation mindset and sacrifices that the working group and others have pushed all year. Nick Kameroff is from Aniak.

“The more commercial fishing that starts there.. it’s a lot of boats, it’s going to dwindle our chums and reds and opportunity for other people on the upper river who have not yet met their subsistence needs,” said Kameroff.

Several middle river residents reported not catching as many chum salmon as they might expect this year. They say many are still chum fishing and plan to try and target more silvers this year.

Mangers are proposing a commercial opening Friday in lower Sub district 1-B which runs from 15 miles below the Johnson River the to the southern tip of Eek Island. The six-hour opening is not finalized yet, but managers expect allowing 6-inch gear.

Aaron Poetter is the Kuskokwim Area Management Biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

“Looks like we’re sitting really good as far as fish that have moved into the river, the relaxation of some restrictions in order to provide subsistence opportunity, good abundances of chums moving in, processor availability,” said Poetter.

A preseason forecast pointed to 100 to 200 thousand chum salmon available for commercial harvest. The data this year indicate an above average chum run. There will still be incidental kings salmon caught. The commercial buyer, Coastal Village Seafoods, told the working group they would not buy king salmon caught, all would be sent home for subsistence use.

There was no quorum, so the group could not pass a motion. Co-Chair LaMont Albertson from Aniak said he wanted managers to hear a message from the middle river.

“For those of use who have talking conservation upriver, this is not viewed as a conservation move when you open it up. You can say it’s just for chums, ands that fine and I understand that and I understand the statistics you use to justify it also. But in the true spirit of the way things have gone this year, and in the way the people in the middle river, upper river and even the lower river somewhat have responded, This is just the wrong year to start this soon,” said Albertson.

The working group will be talking long term in the coming months and discussing the possibility of a tier two chinook salmon permit system that allocates permits based on several criteria.

Biologist report that a few silvers at least are in early: the Bethel Test Fisheryon July 6th tied the record for the earliest catch of a coho salmon.

The next working group meeting will be at the call of the chair.

Categories: Alaska News

Foundation Hears Funding Aims of Bering Strait Communities

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:42

Residents and visitors celebrated the opening of a new Search and Rescue facility in Golovin. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM)

The Rasmuson Foundation awarded more than $30 million in grants in 2013. But in the last few years only about one percent of that money has gone for projects in the Bering Straits Region. Foundation members traveled to small communities in the region last week to see what kinds of programs residents would like to see funded.

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Six folks from the Rasmuson Foundation landed in Nome aboard a private jet Wednesday morning. Fog kept them from making it to White Mountain, the first of three trips planned for the day. But at noon, board members, staffers, and the foundation’s president took off in a chartered plane from a regional carrier to Golovin, for the dedication of a new Search and Rescue building.

“We have experienced, and assisted in, a lot of Search and Rescues, including searching for lost people around surrounding villages,” Irene Navaro told a crowded room of residents and Rasmuson visitors. Navaro is head of the Chinik Eskimo Community in Golovin, and explained the reasons why people there have pushed hard for the completion of a garage-sized building to help with searches. “We’ve had plane crashes close to Golovin that we were able to assist in rescuing.”

People care strongly about search and rescue in Golovin because it happens a lot: snowmachiners traveling the coast break down, the Iditarod, Iron Dog, and local races all pass through. And stuff just doesn’t always go as planned.

Jack Fagerstrom says residents don’t usually want to wait for the state troopers to fly up, or sit still until weather breaks when it’s their neighbor or relative that’s missing. The city got money to buy communications equipment and snowmachines in 2009, and funds from NSEDC matched by Rasmuson for a total cost of around $600,000 to build the new facility. The point, Fagerstrom explained, is to make sure searchers and their equipment are as safe and prepared as possible.

After lunch inside the new building and a quick tour of Golovin from the back of a pickup truck, the Rasmuson crew got back on the plane and flew across the Norton Sound to Saint Michael.

Kawerak president Melanie Bahnke helped coordinate the visit, and said sites were picked to show the Rasmuson delegation the range of needs across the region.

“They also wanted to go to villages where they haven’t had as much of a financial presence, so we took them out to St. Michael today,” Bahnke said, ducking to avoid the wind in the bed of a truck heading into town from the airfield.

Though St. Michael got a few thousand dollars for chairs and tables some years ago, part of Rasmuson’s reason for rural trips is giving out advice for how to succeed in securing more funds in the future.

“Where the trustees of our foundation choose to invest is in projects that serve a wide section of the community. So we do a lot of things for kids, for elders,” said the foundation’s president, Diane Kaplan, as she answered questions from a small audience at the head start building in St. Michael. A lot of their money, especially smaller grants under $25,000, goes towards things like replacing gym floors, paint supplies, or a new roof—projects that aren’t exactly flashy, but make a difference for residents on the ground.

And that’s exactly what St. Michael mayor Bobby Andrews is eager for help with.

“We are very excited—we’ve been thinking of where we can get some funding to do our flooring, our carpet, our gym. Knowing the carpet is so old and that we have 3 and 4-year-olds coming in for school daily, and hopefully we can get some help with doing our floors,” Andrews said.

While new carpeting may seem small, those are the tangible improvements in people’s lives that foundation vice chair Cathy Rasmuson says aren’t apparent until you actually go to rural communities.

“I think coming into the villages is a very important part of the Rasmuson Foundation, because reading about a project and a proposal on paper is not the same thing as meeting the people that are involved in it and that are passionate about it,” Rasmuson said, sitting in the back of a plane heading back to Nome at the end of the day.

Foundation members, joined by representatives from the Alaska Humanities Council, NSEDC, and Kawerak, are scheduled to travel today to Koyuk and Elim to hear more about funding needs in the Bering Strait Region.

And Wednesday evening, Cathy Rasmuson officially announced the foundation will be awarding $1.3 million to the city of Nome as part of an agreement to construct the Beringia Center inside the planned Richard Foster Building.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 9, 2014

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:18

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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Begich Co-Sponsors Bill Responding To Hobby Lobby Decision

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Senator Mark Begich today joined other Democrats in sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for a company to deny employees certain health benefits, including birth control, if they are required to be covered by federal health care law.

The bill is a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which says closely held companies can refuse to provide such benefits if the owners have religious objections. Sponsors are calling it the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.

It is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled House, where conservatives praise the Hobby Lobby decision as a victory for religious liberty.

State To Spend $500,000 To Furnish New Anchorage Office

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The state will spend up to half a million dollars to furnish the new Anchorage legislative information office.

The Legislative Council, which handles office policy for state lawmakers, awarded the contract to Think Office LLC at a Wednesday meeting. They’ve directed the firm to buy from the Swiss modern design company Vitra. Listed on the Legislative Council’s proposal are rolling chairs that retail for $1,500 and $300 metal coat racks.

Two Properties Up For Demolition To Make Way For KABATA

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state Department of Transportation has announced plans to demolish two Anchorage properties to make way for Knik Arm Bridge construction.

Fairbanks Borough Pursuing Drone Park

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough wants to set up a special area for companies to develop and test drone aircraft for the military. The project would capitalize on recent year’s state laws aimed at helping woo the defense industry and spur economic development.

State’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties Announced

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation on Tuesday released its list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic properties for 2014.

The Alaska Marine Advisory Tracks The Effectiveness Of Whale Pingers

Elizabeth Jenkins, KFSK – Petersburg

As commercial fishing fleets head out on the water in Southeast Alaska this summer, some could run into problems with an expanding whale population. Whales can destroy nets and even become entangled in them. But a device being used regionally aims to prevent that. Marine mammal specialists are trying to determine its effectiveness and troubleshoot problems.

Big Rule Change Comes To Yukon Quest

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race will have a new set of rules in 2015.  Overall rest time has been decreased by two hours, but mushers will be required to make more mandatory stops along the 1000 mile trail.

Subsistence Fishermen Say Commercial Chum Fishing Is Too Early

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

As the Kuskokwim River king salmon run comes to an end, the Department of Fish and Game is looking toward a commercial chum opening in the lower river Friday. But in a year with unprecedented Chinook restrictions and increased reliance on chum salmon, many middle river fishermen say it’s too early.

Foundation Hears Funding Aims of Bering Strait Communities

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

The Rasmuson Foundation awarded more than $30 million in grants in 2013. But in the last few years only about one percent of that money has gone for projects in the Bering Straits Region. Foundation members traveled to small communities in the region last week to see what kinds of programs residents would like to see funded.

Categories: Alaska News

Fisherman Dies After Falling Overboard Near King Cove

Wed, 2014-07-09 09:21

A crew member aboard a commercial fishing vessel died after being swept overboard near King Cove last weekend.

State troopers say 53-year-old Rudy Paul Dushkin, Jr., a King Cove resident, was aboard the F/V Matt-Michelle Sunday morning, gillnetting for salmon. Dushkin was hauling in the anchor when a large swell hit the side of the boat and knocked him into the water.

Skipper Bert Bendixen was the only other person on board at the time. He put out a distress call, and was able to tow Dushkin closer to shore using a longline. He then put on a survival suit to pull Dushkin out of the water. But Dushkin couldn’t be revived.

Troopers say Dushkin wasn’t wearing a personal flotation device at the time of the incident. His body will be taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

TODAY Show to Broadcast Live from Mendenhall Glacier

Wed, 2014-07-09 09:21

The NBC TODAY Show will broadcast live from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center early Thursday morning. Juneau residents are invited to attend.

TODAY’s Natalie Morales will host a portion of the show from the visitor center pavilion from 3 to 6 a.m. to air live on the East Coast.

Kayaking along Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier. Gorgeous! #TODAYTakesOff Thursday on @TODAYshow pic.twitter.com/YNejoNtwSW

— Natalie Morales (@NMoralesNBC) July 8, 2014

Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau Elizabeth Arnett has no idea how many people will turn out for the live broadcast since it’s so early in the morning.

“But we think a lot of people are going to want to get in on this. I mean it is a big deal for Juneau to have this show going live from our glacier,” Arnett says.

Cars are allowed at the visitor center any time after 2 a.m. but can’t park in the lot closest to the glacier or along the rock wall.

Arnett recommends the public get there no later than 2:30 to get parked and find a place to stand. People can arrive and leave anytime during the 3-hour shoot.

“It’s going to be a fun time. We expect everybody to be in a good mood. It’ll probably be chilly. I was just looking at the weather forecast and it says showers,” Arnett says.

No food or flavored drinks are allowed at the glacier. The visitor center will be closed, but bathrooms will be open.

The TODAY Show episode won’t air in Alaska until 7 a.m. Thursday.

This is not the first time the TODAY Show has been in Alaska. The show has been taped in Denali National Park, but this is the first live broadcast from the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Chinese Icebreaker Set for Sixth Arctic Expedition

Wed, 2014-07-09 09:18

Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker XueLong, July 2010. Photo: Timo Palo via Wikimedia Commons.

China’s icebreaking research vessel Xuelong, orSnow Dragon, will soon begin another summer in the arctic.

Chinese state media Xinhua reports the Snow Dragon is set to leave its Shanghai base next week to embark on a sixth summer expedition to the North Pole.

A crew of nearly 130 scientists and other crew members will take part in the 76-day trip, which will mostly focus on environmental research in the polar region, officials from the Polar Research Institute of China said.

The team will set up eight short-term and one long-term observation stations on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, setting up what one scientist called the largest on-ice observations in China’s arctic expeditions so far.

The project is also seeking information as to how El Niño might affect the polar region, especially with regard to ice coverage.

The trip figures into what has become an increased presence in the arctic by China and other non-arctic nations. The intergovernmental agency known as the Arctic Council has granted China and 11 other nations permanent “observer status” as of 2013. As early as 2010, China was sending ice breakers through the Arctic Ocean, following a route that could cut shipping times to northern Europe by up to two weeks when compared to the current route through the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.

The Xuelong is China’s only functioning ice breaker, but Chinese media The China Daily reports the country is expecting to build a second icebreaker by 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

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