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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: 15 min 52 sec ago

YKHC Offers $20K for Information on PATC Fire

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:10

(Photo by Dean Swope)

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Grapple With Budget Impasse

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:45

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

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Categories: Alaska News

State Shutdown Could Mean ‘Conservative’ Fishing Season

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

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

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:43

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

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

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Ortiz admits making mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:41

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

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Lawmakers Grapple With Budget Impasse

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

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

State Shutdown Could Mean ‘Conservative’ Fishing Season

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

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

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

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

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

On A Mission: Educating Alaskans About Advance Directives

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

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

Dalton To Re-Open, But Repairs Still Needed

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

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

Urban Gatherers Find Free Salads Outside Their Doors

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

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

Alaska Eagles Help Supply Lower 48 Tribes

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

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

Categories: Alaska News

Dalton To Re-Open, But Repairs Still Needed

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:41

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

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Work on the Dalton Highway where flood water caused erosion and melting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Urban gatherers find free salads outside their doors

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young nettles near horsetails. Hillman/KSKA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Eagles Supply Feathers to Lower 48 Tribes

Wed, 2015-06-03 17:39

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

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

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

But the story doesn’t end with the flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early says a competitive grant program supports such construction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

With Matson Acquisition Final, Horizon Lines No Longer Exists

Wed, 2015-06-03 10:50

The finalization of a deal to acquire Horizon Lines’ Alaska operations means the nation’s largest Jones Act shipping company no longer exists.  But the Matson Navigation Company isn’t planning any major changes to shipping service in the state.

For decades, Horizon Lines provided regular shipping service between Tacoma, Washington and Anchorage, Kodiak and Unalaska.

“The three ships that service the domestic service do provide groceries, mail and primarily supplies from primarily Tacoma and anchorage into the port of Dutch Harbor,” said Unalaska Port Directoir Peggy McLaughlin.

“They also relay cargo in from Kodiak to make connection to the international line haul ships,” she said.

But Horizon Lines no longer exists. In December, the company ended its operations in Puerto Rico.  Its Hawaii services were sold to the Pasha Group and last Friday, Matson Navigation Company finalized the acquisition of Horizon’s Alaskan operations for $469 million dollars.

Matson Spokesman Jeff Hull declined to have his comments recorded, but in a phone interview he said any major changes following the acquisition are likely to be in name only.

“The acquisition was a matter of growth,” said Hull.

He said Matson will retain the same union contracts, operate the same shipping schedule and continue to run the same three vessels in Alaska.  Hull said there will be some minor restructuring to duplicate corporate positions in Washington State, but no personnel changes will be made on the ground in Alaska.

Peggy McLaughlin doesn’t anticipate any major changes in Dutch Harbor either.

“Unless there’s some reason for Matson to come out and sit down with us and discuss operational changes, we’re just going to assume that its’ business as usual,” she said.

Horizon Lines used Unalaska’s municipal dock for more than two decades.  A special contract with the city lapsed at the end of 2013.  Horizon then paid tariffs to move cargo through the port.  Both McLaughlin and Hull anticipate that agreement to continue.

Categories: Alaska News

New processor preps for summer operations in Naknek

Wed, 2015-06-03 10:47

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting strong sockeye salmon returns to Bristol Bay this summer, and Copper River Seafoods is getting ready to open a processing plant in Naknek and buy fish from the Naknek-Kvichak District, where 18 million sockeye are expected to be available for harvest.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a return of 28.8 million sockeye to the district, with 18 million available for harvest. Copper River Seafoods will be on hand to help purchase and process those fish.

Copper River bought the old extreme seafoods plant in Naknek, and Vojta Novak, the company’s Bristol Bay manager, said they have been getting ready to open for the past two months.

Novak said they’ll have five tenders in the bay, including one for setnetters.

“This year we decided to buy fish only in Naknek and Kvichak,” Novak said. “We’ll have a couple tenders here in the bay and a couple tenders by the line.”

Although the plant is new to Naknek, Novak said the company is familiar with the region from its operations in Togiak. He said that entering Naknek is challenging, because it’s competitive, and one of the biggest sockeye salmon fisheries in Alaska. But in some ways, it’s easier to operate there than in Togiak.

“You have everything pretty much here, if you need any help, if you need any welders, if you need any materials, you can buy here. When I was in Togiak, I cannot buy anything,” he said.

Novak said about 15-20 people are working at the plant now to get it ready, mostly construction guys. When the plant is operational, it’ll have about 70 employees, he said.

Last week, Novak was waiting for equipment to come in on the barge, including processing lines, pipes and headers and gutters. The plant was operational when Copper River purchased it, but Novak said the company wanted to make it more efficient and improve capacity.

“You don’t have too much time,” Novak said. “The tide is critical here. You have four or five hours in the high tide and other tide, you have three or four hours to pump all the fish, and if you pump it into totes, you have to drive them up the hill. It’s not efficiency. We want to do more than one million or a couple million pounds here.”

Once the plant gets going, Novak said they’ll focus on sockeyes, although they’ll buy all species and plan to try staying open for fall fish, mainly chums and cohos.

Novak said the company is shooting for a June 15 opening this summer. All of the fish purchased and processed in Naknek will be sold under the Copper River Seafoods brand.

The plant will focus on headed and gutted fish, and fishermen will be required to ice and bleed fish, Novak said.

Fresh fish will be flown to Anchorage to be reprocessed, while frozen fish will go to Seattle on a barge at the end of the season.

Novak said he wants to have about 30 drifters delivering to the plant, and it looks like they’ll hit that target.

“We have a lot of good local fishermans planning to fish for us,” Novak said.

Novak can’t say yet what prices will be, but he did said that they want to be a strong player in the bay.

“We are competitive, we want to stay here for long-term,” Novak said.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pacific Council meets in Sitka

Wed, 2015-06-03 10:45

Fishermen, scientists, and seafood industry representatives from around Alaska — and the country — are in Sitka this week for the meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. That’s the body that regulates all federal fisheries off Alaska, including pollock, cod and flatfish.

The big, hot button item on the agenda is whether to limit halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. Small fishermen up and down the coast are pushing to reduce the number of halibut taken and discarded by big boats targeting groundfish.

But the Council has several other issues on its plate.

That includes updates on the federal Observer Program, which places biologists on fishing vessels to monitor how much fish — and what kind — are caught. Two years ago, the program began placing observers on small boats, mostly in the longline halibut fleet. Small fishermen have protested that the extra person is a burden, and have asked for an electronic monitoring program, using cameras instead.

The Council will also decide on overfishing limits for three species of crab in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. And they will discuss a proposal to allow vessels fishing for golden king crab to offload parts of their catch in Adak, as part of an effort to sustain a live crab market there.

The Council itself will hold its first day of meetings Wednesday, June 3. It will begin by taking reports from staff and agencies. The Council is expected to take public comment on halibut bycatch late Wednesday or Thursday.

So far this week, two committees that advise the Council have been combing through reports on the various issues. The Scientific and Statistical Committee will meet through Wednesday. The Advisory Panel, made up of industry representatives, will meet through Saturday. That panel will take public comment on halibut bycatch Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska grizzly bear license plates off to a good start

Wed, 2015-06-03 10:17

Alaska’s grizzly bear license plate has made its comeback and is gaining popularity among vehicle owners.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports Alaska’s Division of Motor Vehicles released the grizzly bear license plates on May 7, and since then 75 percent of the general-issue license plates have been the grizzly design.

A bill the Legislature passed last year reintroduced the plates.

The license plate was modeled on a 1976 bicentennial design. It features a brown bear standing on its hind legs with a backdrop of mountains and sun. The difference in the two designs can be found in the grizzly’s fur, which was darkened because the original was often confused for a gopher.

The division’s director, Amy Erickson, said last week there had been more than 3,700 issued since the release.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage police ID remains found washed up on mudflats

Wed, 2015-06-03 10:16

Anchorage police have released the identity of the man whose body was found in the mudflats near Kincaid Park.

Police in a Tuesday release identified the remains as 32-year-old Joseph Daniel Belmont of Anchorage.

He had been reported missing by family members on April 13. The cause of death hasn’t been determined pending both a full autopsy and toxicology reports, which would take up to two months to complete.

The decomposed body was found washed up on the mudflats near Kincaid Park on Friday by a couple walking their dog.

Categories: Alaska News

Congress Approves Commission on Native American Children

Wed, 2015-06-03 09:30

The U.S. Congress on Tuesday unanimously adopted legislation to create a Commission on Native American children, according to a prepared statement by bill sponsor and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The 11-member commission will study and develop recommendations on ways to combine and coordinate federal programs and funding for Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian children.

The commission is named in honor of Dr. Walter Soboleff, a Tlingit elder from southeast Alaska who promoted cultural education, and a lower 48 tribal leader, Alyce Spotted Bear.

Murkowski said, “Walter Soboleff lived his life by a simple motto: ‘Take care of the old person you are to become,’ but that must begin as early as possible.”

She says the aim is to more effectively address issues affecting Native children, such as poverty, abuse and domestic violence, and substance abuse.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Battle 2500 Acre Wildfire Near Whitefish Lake

Wed, 2015-06-03 09:26

Several fires were started Sunday with lightening. Images from Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

More than 80 firefighters are battling a 25-hundred acre blaze near Whitefish Lake. The fire south of Kalskag and the Kuskokwim River is one of about a dozen that were started by lightening on Sunday. Tim Mowry is the Public Information Officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry. He says smoke-jumpers and four crews were dispatched to the fire.

“For air resources we have a CL-215: a big water scooping aircraft working it, and also three water scooping airplanes called ‘Fire Bosses,’” said Mowry.

Managers don’t believe there are any structures at risk, but they want to prevent it from reaching village corporation lands. It is currently burning on Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge lands.

The fire started as two individual blazes Sunday, but Mowry say crews planned to join them Tuesday them to simplify the allocation of resources.

“Right now they’re just dropping water, trying to keep it from spreading because it’s burning on the refuge we have only a few spots where we can use retardant, so now they’re using water to try to get it under control,” said Mowry.

It’s currently burning a mix of black spruce and tundra grasses.

“Most of the fire is in light fuels, tundra and open country, it’s susceptible to rain if it falls. The forecast is calling for wetter weather moving into the area,” said Mowry.

Other fires with a staffed response include the 40-acre Getmuna fire northwest of Crooked Creek, which is now mostly contained. A 17-acre fire at nearby Little Creek was declared contained on Monday. Crews are keeping an eye on a small fire in the Lime Village area, which they believe could turn into a larger fire if conditions are right.

While green up has arrived in many places, Mowry says the tundra is still quite dry to the east. And with the arrival of summer comes more lightening storms and more human activity that can cause fires. Mowry encourages extra caution and vigilance.

“Just for people to be aware, if they’re are out and about and see smoke, please report it to the division of forestry,” said Mowry.

Nearly 11,000 acres statewide have burned so far this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Children Allegedly Set Fire to Grayling School

Wed, 2015-06-03 09:21

Alaska State Troopers report that two children intentionally set fire to the school in Grayling Monday.In an online dispatch Troopers say a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old are responsible for the fire.

They say the blaze was put out almost immediately by village residents.

The fire damaged an exterior wall, a steel door and two windows and there was minor smoke and water damage, according to the report.

Criminal charges are being referred to the Bethel Department of Juvenile Justice and the Office of Children’s Service will be notified.

Categories: Alaska News

Pilot Identified in Fatal Plane Crash

Wed, 2015-06-03 09:21

State Troopers have identified the pilot who died when a Yute Air plane went down on the Kwethluk River. Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, which responded to the scene 40 miles southeast of Bethel.

“They were eventually able to verify the pilot was inside the aircraft and they were able to tentatively identify the pilot as Blaze Highlander, age 47 of Olympia Washington,” said Peters.

Next of kin has been notified. Highlander was found in the plane, which was upside down and mostly submerged in the river.

On Sunday night, teams found the wreckage of the plane that went missing the day before. The plane left Bethel at about 8:30 Saturday morning for a maintenance check and should have been back in three hours. Troopers received a report that the pilot was breaking in a new engine.

The National Transportation Safety Board has two investigators on scene. Clint Johnson, the chief of the Alaska Office says because there was no radio communication prior to the plane going down, the physical evidence is a big part of their early investigation. Recent rains are complicating the recovery of the partially-submerged aircraft.

“The water over the top of the wreckage has increased, which will make it more difficult for them to get those parts and pieces out of the water,” said Johnson.

There were no passengers besides the pilot as it was on a maintenance check flight following engine work. Johnson says his team is reviewing maintenance records, and once the 207 is removed from the water they hope to study it in Bethel or Anchorage.

“Obviously, because this was a maintenance operation check flight, that was the reason for the flight. We want to make sure we don’t miss anything that may be mechanically wrong with the airplane,” said Johnson.

Johnson says the agency hopes to have a preliminary accident report in five days. The full investigation may take a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Mendenhall jökulhlaup forecast to peak just below flood levels

Wed, 2015-06-03 09:20

The National Weather Service in Juneau says a glacier dam release is causing high water levels in Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall River. It’s the earliest glacier dam release from Suicide Basin on record by a month.

“A lot of our scientists are monitoring this, caught us a little bit off guard just due to how early it released,” says weather service hydrologist Aaron Jacobs. “Compared to previous years, the earliest one prior to this was right around July 4 in 2012.”

The phenomena, also known by the Icelandic term jökulhlaup, began Sunday. Lake and river levels are expected to crest at 8.7 feet around 10 a.m. Wednesday, just below the weather service’s benchmark for “minor flood stage.” That’s when Glacier Spur and Skaters Cabin roads flood. Historically, private property along View Drive has been the most susceptible to flooding.

Seasonal jökulhlaups in the Mendenhall Valley began occurring regularly in 2011. Water collects in Suicide Basin, which is about a mile upstream from the face of the Mendenhall Glacier. If enough water accumulates, it literally lifts the glacier up, kind of like an ice cube in a glass of water. As water flows out, it also bores a hole in the ice.

Jacobs says one hypothesis for why jökulhlaups have become fairly regular is the glacier’s shrinkage.

“How warm the temperatures have been the past winters, stuff like that, not having enough snow and ice accumulations, that, over time, the weight of the Mendenhall Glacier is losing that much mass and that much weight that maybe it won’t need as much water pressure to actually lift it up.”

Jacobs says forecasting Mendenhall jökulhlaups is challenging because there are several hard to measure variables, including the mass of ice in the basin, the mass of the glacier and the volume of water in the basin.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups sue agency to block Shell’s Arctic offshore drilling

Wed, 2015-06-03 09:17

Ten environmental groups are suing a federal agency over its approval of drilling permits off Alaska’s northwest coast.

The lawsuit seeks a review of permits granted to Royal Dutch Shell PLC by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

Drilling in the Arctic Ocean region is opposed by environmental groups that contend oil companies are not equipped to deal with a major blowout or spill in a region lacking deep-water ports, major airports and other infrastructure routinely present in other drilling areas.

The groups say the federal agency’s review of Shell’s exploratory drilling plan was rushed and cursory.

They say the company’s drill vessels and an accompanying flotilla of support vessels threaten whales, walruses and seals.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Categories: Alaska News

The Blob expands from Gulf of Alaska to Baja California

Tue, 2015-06-02 17:43

Scientists are watching for how a warmer North Pacific Ocean could affect weather and climate this year. There could also be significant impacts to marine life, including species that form the basis for Alaska’s commercial fisheries.

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Map showing position of sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly, aka The Blob, in the northeast Pacific Ocean in March 2014. (Image provided by the NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division at Boulder, Colorado)

A conference at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography earlier this month featured scientists in fields ranging from avian biology to Arctic climatology. They tried to determine the potential impacts of a giant mass of warm, ocean water that currently stretches from the Gulf of Alaska down to Baja California.

Map showing how the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly had moved and spread along the West Coast by March 2015. (Image provided by the NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division at Boulder, Colorado)

Temperatures have increased more than two degrees Celsius since the fall of 2013.

“I know. It doesn’t seem like very much,” says Molly McCammon of the Alaska Ocean Observing System, an observing and data gathering organization based in Anchorage. “But for species that live in the ocean, it’s a big deal. One degree C is a big deal. So, yes, it can have a big impact.”

McCammon helped organize the Alaska contingent that participated in theCalifornia conference on the warm water anomaly that’s been nicknamed “The Blob”. The mass of warm ocean water may be a factor in Alaska’s recent mild winters, dry conditions along the West Coast, and extreme cold conditions in the Great Lakes region last winter. It’s not the same as El Niño which has its origins in the equatorial ocean, and it’s not clear if The Blob is related to Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a longer-term cycle of ocean climate variability. The Blob’s formation may have been generated by a lingering high pressure system over the Northeast Pacific that diverted winds and passing storm systems. As a result, the ocean surface did not have the chance to cool off as usual.

“I think the consensus was that, yes, this is an unusual warming event. It’s above and beyond just the warming that’s happening as a result of global warming,” McCammon says. “There also seems to be an El Niño forming right now as well. They think that’s separate, but it could be merging, exacerbating this warming event. So, there‘s a lot of unknowns.”

The relationship between the ocean and atmosphere is complex, and interactions are rarely linear or sequential. Ocean surface temperature, surface and subsurface currents, atmospheric pressure, winds, temperature, precipitation, and geography may all be linked in some way. How each condition influences another could vary significantly.

“That’s actually what we’re trying to figure out at the moment: What or how (are) things might be linked to The Blob,” says Peter Bieniek, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center. He was one of the Alaska scientists invited to attend the SIO conference.

“Normally, there are linkages to what goes on in the North Pacific, and especially the equatorial Pacific,” Bieniek says. “Sea surface temperatures, like if there’s an El Niño going on in the equatorial Pacific, then we’ll tend to get, for instance, warmer-than-normal winters in Alaska.”

Bieniek expects the higher ocean temperatures will persist for the rest of the year. The longer view, however, is difficult to predict.

Scientists believe the layer of warm surface water extends to a depth of a hundred meters. The boundary acts as a barrier and can hinder up-and-down movement of phytoplankton through the water column. The tiny, light-sensitive marine organisms form the base of the ocean food chain.

Jamal Moss, fisheries research biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Auke Bay, says the prognosis is good so far for juvenile Alaska salmon now heading out to the open ocean. This year’s juvenile pinks, for example, are the biggest ever and have the largest lipid or fat reserves.

“So, big fish that have lots of energy tend to survive better,” Moss says. “Right now, all signs are point to good conditions for at least the Alaska stocks.”

Moss, another Alaska scientist to attend the conference, specializes in juvenile salmon and juvenile marine fish ecology.

“This might be a boon for fish,” Moss says. “It might actually help them.”

“At least in the short term because it appears that the zooplankton that juvenile fish are eating is abundant, as well as high in energy and fat,” Moss says. “Even though there are a whole new suite of predators – host of predators – that are in these waters potentially preying upon them as well, it seems like they’re going to do well.”

Unusual marine sightings in high latitudes include blue and thresher sharks, pomfret, and sunfish. Those are species that usually congregate in warmer waters.

Moss says scientists have also detected an increase in juvenile sablefish or black cod offshore of Alaska. But they don’t know yet whether it’s related to the warm water event or if it’s a coincidence.

As for the West Coast, Moss says it may be a mixed-bag of conditions for those species already in warmer water.

McCammon says scientists are already planning summer research to find out how and why the warm water mass stretched out along the West Coast and determine any potential impacts on species. A follow-up conference to compare notes is tentatively planned for late fall.

Categories: Alaska News