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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: 9 min 34 sec ago

Rio Tinto Gives Up On Pebble Mine

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:10

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Researchers Seek Glimpse Into Lives Of Earliest Unangan Population

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Google Maps screenshot)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Izembek Road Issue May Be Headed To Court

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

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

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Working Group Outlines 2014 King Salmon Restrictions

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Sport Fish Hatchery Prepares For Second Season

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:06

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


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

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 7, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-07 17:23

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

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Rio Tinto Gives Up On Pebble Mine

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

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

Izembek Road Issue May Be Headed To Court

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

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

Bill Increases Education Funding By $225 Million

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

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

Researchers Seek Glimpse Into Lives Of Earliest Unangan Population

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

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

Sealaska Dividends Include No Corporate Earnings

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

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

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

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

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

Kuskokwim Working Group Outlines 2014 King Salmon Restrictions

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

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

Fairbanks Sport Fish Hatchery Prepares For Second Season

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

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

Categories: Alaska News

Rural Legislators Wary Of Change To School Funding Formula

Mon, 2014-04-07 16:40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Rio Tinto Gives Pebble Mine Stake to Nonprofits

Mon, 2014-04-07 07:43

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

With Education Vote Postponed, Parent Group Rallies For More School Funding

Fri, 2014-04-04 18:17

Mary Hakala of Juneau, a member of the Great Alaska Schools coalition, speaks during a rally on the Capitol steps, April 4, 2014.(Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The Alaska State House has delayed its vote on an omnibus education bill to Monday, giving lawmakers more time to wrestle with questions over teacher retirement policy and treatment of rural schools. But even though debate on the bill was delayed, that did not stop a crowd of parents from gathering on the Capitol steps to rally for more education funding.

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For the past week, there have been a lot of parents running around the State Capitol letting their legislators know they want more money put into education. They’ve united under the name “Great Alaska Schools,” and they describe themselves as a coalition of 1,500 families that support the public system.

On Friday, they stopped going door-to-door and went out into the street instead. They had one message: “B-S-A! Raise today!”

Cat Coward is a physical therapist, a jazz singer, and a mom to an 8th grade student at Romig Middle School in Anchorage. She flew down for the Juneau rally, because she has seen changes in the quality of education at Romig as the budget has been strained.

“They’re losing counselors there. Class sizes are increasing,” says Coward.

Coward says the proposals that have gotten traction in the Legislature don’t do enough to offset the cuts she’s seeing. The bill that the House is considering bumps the base student allocation — or the amount of money schools get per kid — by $300 spread out over the next three years.

Coward believes they should double that. She says that kind of increase to the base student allocation amounts to a little more than one percent of the overall budget.

“Our kids who are in school right now will never get another chance for this. This is it, this is the only time to fund these kids,” says Coward. “You know, we can put money at other capital projects or other things later, but we can never invest in these children ever again.”>>

To illustrate their point, Great Alaska Schools brought plenty of pie to their rally, to symbolize that they just want a larger cut of the fiscal one. There was blueberry, apple, you name it. And when the rally was over, Coward and other participants dropped off slices to their legislators in hopes that it would sweeten them up before Monday.

Categories: Alaska News
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