Alaska News

Choose Respect Rally Marches Through Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 17:10

Gov. Bill Walker led about 100 people in a Choose Respect rally and march through Juneau on Thursday.

The statewide initiative to raise awareness about Alaska’s high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault started six years ago, and grew in prominence after being embraced by former Gov. Sean Parnell.

Funding for prevention of such crimes has been cut nearly in half in the proposed budget for next year, as the state faces a multibillion dollar shortfall. Advocates say the cuts will slow down, but not stop their work.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks School Board OKs Budget That Cuts 60 Jobs; Member May Seek Salary Freeze

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 17:09

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Governing Board passed a budget Wednesday that would cut about 60 full-time positions and trim many programs. One board member who voted against the measure says the cuts go too far, and she says she’ll push for a salary freeze to reduce the impact of the cuts.

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In contrast to the hours of impassioned public testimony in the previous two school board meetings over the impact of budget cuts, the mood Wednesday was reserved – even resigned.

Board President Heidi Haas says none of the board members was very happy with the prospect of approving a budget that’s more than $11 million lower than last year’s, due to state funding cuts driven by plummeting oil revenue.

“I have a lot of heartburn around the cuts that we’ve made,” Haas said. “These cuts are going to directly impact my three kids, as well as our (district’s) other 14,000 kids.”

Board Clerk Lisa Gentry says she’s been increasingly bothered by the cuts in recent weeks. Especially after hearing wrenching testimony Monday and Tuesday about how those cuts would diminish the quality of instruction.

“After Monday’s budget meeting, I did not feel good when I went home,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was advocating for anybody. Then especially after hearing all the testimony last night, it reinforced everything that I was thinking, and everything that we could save.”

Gentry says that’s why she declared Wednesday that she can’t support the budget.

She says the public testimony made her realize that even though the district claims the cuts won’t lead to increased class sizes, they’ll have much the same effect. Because cutting so much support staff  like nurses and counselors will require teachers to assume those staffers’ responsibilities.

“That student that may be causing a ruckus or having an emotional breakdown, that teacher’s going to have to take them out of the room and calm them down and give them one-on-one instruction,” she said. “So, we may not have touched the classroom in real teacher’s class size, but we’ve affected the classroom by cutting all these other programs.”

Gentry says some of those cuts could be restored if the district would impose a salary freeze, which would save about $3.9 million.

Gentry admits she proposed the freeze at the last minute. She says she’s tried to raise the issue earlier, and finally just had to bring it up before the board adopted the budget.

“I want it on the record,” she said. “So I came tonight to say my piece.”

Gentry considered making a motion to formally propose it, but decided against it after Haas said it would take time to develop another budget that factored in the freeze, and then to schedule more public hearings. Haas briefly recessed the meeting to confirm that with district and borough attorneys, who told her the budget schedule is dictated by state law and borough code.

The board then approved the $274.9 million budget 4-to-1, with Gentry dissenting. Vice President Wendy Dominique attended via telephone, but wasn’t allowed to vote; member Sue Hull was absent.

Gentry says she plans to propose a salary freeze in upcoming budget deliberations.

Haas says the public would get a chance to weigh in on the proposal if the board backs Gentry’s motion. Haas says testimony may also be given on other budget changes that are proposed once district and borough officials learn how much the Legislature has appropriated for education after it adjourns. This year’s session is scheduled to end April 17th.

“We’ll do another work session and public hearing,” she said. “And then there’s always the opportunity anytime a motion is on the table.”

Haas says she believes the district may have to go through the same budget-slashing exercise all over again next year. She says another cut of about the same size may be needed, because of predictions that the state will again reduce education funding, due to the likelihood that oil prices will remain low through the coming year.

Categories: Alaska News

Conservation Groups Appeal Big Thorne Ruling

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 17:08

Less than a week after losing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, a coalition of conservation groups seeking to stop the Big Thorne Timber Sale has filed a Notice of Appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and asked for an injunction pending the outcome.

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Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline granted summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Forest Service and other defendants, and rejected all of the arguments brought forward by environmental groups.

The Viking Lumber Mill on Prince of Wales Island was awarded a contract to log part of the Big Thorne timber sale. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Holly Harris is the coalition’s attorney from Earthjustice, a legal team that represents environmental organizations. She said a timber sale the size of Big Thorne should go before a higher court.

“When you’re talking about cutting thousands of acres of old-growth forest, forest that will take at minimum 150-200 years to regain its old-growth characteristics, makes it important for the 9th Circuit to review what the Forest Service has done,” she said.

The lawsuit was filed last summer by national and regional conservation organizations after the Forest Service made a final decision to move forward with the timber sale on Prince of Wales Island.

The Big Thorne Timber Sale includes about 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest, which environmentalists say is critical habitat for deer and wolves. The groups argue that the Forest Service didn’t adequately consider the impact on wolves before approving the sale.

Big Thorne Map

Harris said the lawsuit aims to protect the region’s economy, along with the old-growth habitat.

“Tourists don’t come from across the world to see a clear-cut. They come to fish, they come to see the majesty of Southeast Alaska,” she said. “So what these groups are hoping to accomplish, is that those trees will be left to stand, and the habitat they provide for the deer, the salmon, for what really drives the economy in Southeast Alaska, will be allowed to survive and thrive.”

In an interview last week with CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton said it was critical to have some old-growth harvest to keep the remaining mills alive while the Forest Service transitions to a second-growth timber model.

About two-thirds of the Big Thorne Timber Sale has been awarded to Viking Lumber in Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, which had hoped to start logging this spring.

The co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace and The Boat Company.

The named defendants are the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton and Tongass National Forester Forrest Cole.

The State of Alaska, Alaska Forest Association, Cities of Craig and Ketchikan and Viking Lumber signed on as friends of the court, on the side of the defendants.

Categories: Alaska News

Prolific Glacial Melt Is 10% Of Annual Fresh Water In The Gulf Of Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 17:07

A kayak trip in Glacier Bay in 2006 inspired an engineer to research the impact of glacial run off in the Gulf of Alaska. David Hill is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Oregon State University. For the study, he used decades of state and USGS stream flow data, combined with calculations on land characteristics and watershed size to create an analysis for the entire area.

He found glacier melt makes up about 10% of the overall precipitation added to the Gulf. The annual amount is measured in multiple feet of water. Hill says he worked to model how quickly rain and snow melt started to flow.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska-Italian Minestrone | Indie Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 10:30

Stephanie Cromarty describes herself as a typical East Coast girl. Her Alaska Native grandmother and Italian American grandfather raised a close family that connects over a love of cooking. Growing up in Washington DC, Stephanie Cromarty felt completely removed from her Alaska Native heritage. A series of life changes prompted her to pack up her life and move her family to Alaska in order to be more in touch with herself and to reconnect with the culture she missed growing up.

Part one of a four-part series looking at the connection that modern Alaskans have with their food.

Music by Starship Amazing
starshipamazing.com

Categories: Alaska News

Nevada Man Dies At Logging Site Near Wrangell

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:18

A Nevada man was found dead this week at a logging site 12 miles west of Wrangell.

Alaska State Troopers were notified around 5 p.m. Tuesday that David Fussell, age 55, died on Zarembo Island.

The cause of death is unknown. Fussell’s body has been sent to the state medical examiner for an autopsy. According to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch, no foul play is suspected.

Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen says there are no outward signs that Fussell’s death was related to a logging incident.

Ipsen says workers at the site told troopers they found Fussell unresponsive, but still alive, in the passenger seat of a truck. They performed CPR, but Fussell died shortly after.

Categories: Alaska News

Entrepreneur Pitches “Fish Franks” As Key to Recovery in St. George

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:14

The Aleutian Marketplace contest was designed to gather ideas and provide funding for new start-up businesses around the Bering Sea.

As the competition heads into its second round, one winner is asking for extra support — and a chance to turn his recipe for success into the real thing.

There’s an old saying when it comes to business: The best ones don’t just sell a product. They solve a problem.

That’s what Unalaska-based Capt. Kristjan Laxfoss set out to do with his idea for a new kind of snack.

“I really learned it from my mom when she was doing — we call it in Iceland ‘fish balls,'” Laxfoss says. “Well, that gets people here blushing. It’s called Captain K Fish Franks. But it’s just like a hot dog.”

Instead of beef or pork, cheap white pollock from the Bering Sea is smoked and wrapped up in casing.

Laxfoss thinks it could be a hit in countries like Japan, where there’s bigger demand for hot dogs and seafood on the menu.

But more than a gap in dining options, Laxfoss says he’s trying to address a long-running problem in the Pribilof community of St. George.

There’s been almost no economic activity on the island — even after the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association built a brand-new fish plant.

“I come there and I see that new building and I ask them, ‘What are they doing with it? What’s in there?’ They said,’Nothing,'” according to Laxfoss. “The little wheels up here in the top start working and I say, ‘I’m going to see what I can do about that.'”

He formulated a plan to turn the empty building into a factory and churn out fish franks. The concept took first place in the inaugural Aleutian Marketplace contest this January.

Gary Chythlook helps run the competition for APICDA and the Aleut Corporation.

“From the feedback that I received from a couple of the judges, they believed that it was an innovative idea, sustainable because of use of a local resource — pollock — and also with the ability to create jobs,” Chythlook says.

For that, Laxfoss got a thousand-dollar check. Later in the year, judges will start evaluating detailed business plans – and the purse will increase to $20,000.

But even if he won again, Laxfoss says it wouldn’t be enough to get started: “You’re gonna need forklifts, you’re gonna need freezer containers and all kinds of stuff — I would say between $1 and 2 million.”

Laxfoss doesn’t have that kind of money. And neither does St. George. Since the island’s crab processor shut down about a decade ago, jobs have dried up and the population’s dropped to just 80 people.

“We’re surrounded by seafoods,” says mayor Pat Pletnikoff. “Unfortunately, we just don’t have the ability to take advantage of those resources and so we look to APICDA to assist us in that regard.”

As a community development quota group, APICDA is meant to take some of the wealth generated by the seafood industry and direct it back into towns along the Bering Sea.

Seafood franks wouldn’t fix St. George overnight. But Laxfoss and Pletnikoff are making the argument that they’re worth some extra funding from the CDQ group.

“We felt that it was important for the community because at the very least we’d get something going,” Pletnikoff says. “And certainly, it offers the prospect of expansion.”

“We’re ready to do our part,” says Larry Cotter, the chief executive officer for APICDA. “But you know, it has to make sense and everybody’s got to step up to the plate.”

Cotter says the organization hasn’t overlooked St. George or ruled out investment in local business. Building a new fish plant was supposed to be a step in that direction. But Cotter says there’s a reason why it’s never been filled.

“The key to making St. George work is having a workable harbor,” Cotter says. “We currently don’t have that.”

The facility is vulnerable to storms and tough to access — even in good weather. Getting the harbor back in shape would cost about $30 million.

Cotter says APICDA can cover a third of that price tag, if the state and federal governments split the rest. With such a large deficit in Alaska’s budget, it’s not clear when the state could make that kind of commitment.

For now, APICDA will continue looking for sources of funding to repair the harbor. But Kristjan Laxfoss wants to move forward without it.

He says it’s possible to set up shop in St. George, as long he can find an investor willing to take the leap — and start feeding the island’s economy back to health, one frank at a time.

Categories: Alaska News

AVO Puts Volcano Near Adak Back on Watch

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:10

A composite view of Semisopochnoi in January. (Courtesy: Dave Schneider/AVO)

A volcanic island in the Western Aleutians is stirring again, after several months of quiet.

Semisopochnoi was put on an advisory alert level on Wednesday morning. It’s the first alert at the volcano since a seismic flare-up last June, which was its first activity in almost 30 years.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory says earthquake activity began at Semisopochnoi in January, and increased over the past few days. They also report new seismic tremors they say could indicate magma moving inside the volcano.

Semisopochnoi is about 130 miles west of Adak. It comprises several craters and cones within one large caldera, where the last major eruption was in 1987.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Votes To Sunset School Bond Payment Program

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 17:43

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would stop state reimbursement of new school bonds, including ones that are currently being considered in Anchorage.

Right now, the state covers up to 70 percent of the cost of school construction bonds issued by municipalities. But with the state facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, legislators are wary of taking on additional obligations. The legislation sunsets the school debt program for five years, at which point the program would be brought back with a lower reimbursement level.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican, carried the bill on the floor Wednesday.

“This is not about punishment. This is about trying to control our costs as a state,” said MacKinnon. “I believe that the people of Alaska know that the state cannot afford to make the payments. We certainly can’t afford to take on increased debt.”

While the bill passed 17 to 2, there was some opposition from Anchorage Democrats because of the timing of the bill. The legislation would retroactively sunset the program to January 1. But right now, Anchorage voters are already casting ballots on a $60 million school bond question.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski argued that the Legislature was rushing the bill through because of Anchorage’s municipal election.

“They’re voting based on 22 years of 100 percent reimbursement, 35+ years of state reimbursing some percentage. And so, people in my community are out and voting, and this is what they’re voting on. This is what the state’s told them,” said Wielechowski. “This causes all kinds of confusion in the election in Anchorage, and I think it’s unfair.”

Wielechowski added that the program would amount to a property tax increase of $30 for the average home in Anchorage.

Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner also expressed concern over the legislation, but ultimately voted for it.

“While our children certainly need safe and comfortable school building for learning to take place, I think at this time right now, I think we need to focus more on what happens inside the buildings than what’s happening on the outside of buildings,” said Gardner.

The bill will now be considered by the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 25, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 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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Bill Stopping State Reimbursement Of New School Bonds Passes Alaska Senate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would stop state reimbursement of new school bonds, including ones that are currently being considered in Anchorage.

Alaska Senate Bill Would Treat Marijuana As Controlled Substance

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill on Friday, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

Rep. Young Co-Sponsors Pot Bill to Let States Decide

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska Congressman Don Young has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana in states that have chosen to make it legal. The bill would also allow VA doctors to recommend marijuana use to their patients and require the government to start issuing marijuana research licenses.

Alaska Joins Investigation Into Premera Cyber Attack

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska is participating in a multi-state investigation into Premera following a cyber attack on the health insurance company early this year. The state’s insurance director says she has a lot of questions about why the attack occurred and why it took the company two months to announce it publicly. Identity theft experts say the fact that the breach includes social security numbers makes it especially troubling.

MDA: Fort Greely Missile System Ready for Iran ICBMs, Too

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The ground based Missile Defense system, with its 26 missiles at Fort Greely, is capable of defending the U.S. not only from North Korea, but from Iran, too.

Report: Ship Trouble in the Arctic on the Rise

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A plaintiff in the lawsuit that successfully challenged environmental work preceding a 2008 federal petroleum lease sale in the Chukchi Sea is opting out of the legal action.

Truck Rolls Over, Spills Fuel On Dalton Highway

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A truck rollover on the southern end of the Dalton Highway resulted in a fuel spill. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reports the tractor portion of the rig remained upright, and the driver survived the Tuesday crash without serious injury.

Discovery Southeast honors teacher Allie Smith

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A second grade teacher in Juneau is being honored for regularly exposing her students to nature. Outdoor education nonprofit Discovery Southeast is giving the first annual Discovery Award to Allie Smith.

Bethel Citizens Urge Council to Stop Liquor Stores

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council heard hours of passionate testimony Tuesday night urging them to  protest anticipated applications to sell liquor. Many in the capacity crowd asked the council to consider the consequences of local sales in a region that suffers disproportionate effects from alcohol abuse and related violence.

More Than Half Of Bering Strait Women Report Experiencing Violence In Their Lifetime

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

A study on violence reveals that 51 percent of women in the Nome Census area have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both in their lifetimes.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Bill Keeps Marijuana As A Controlled Substance

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 17:36

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill later this week, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

The body voted 16 to 4 on Wednesday to adopt a version from the Finance committee that keeps marijuana listed as a drug that can be abused, instead of a version crafted by the Judiciary committee that removed that language from the books.

A bloc of Democrats opposed the move. Sen. Bill Wielechowski argued that it was contrary to the intent of the initiative.

“Are you regulating marijuana like alcohol when you treat it as a controlled substance?” asked Wielechowski. “No. Clearly not.”

But Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Anchorage Republican, defended the move.

“Marijuana remains a controlled substance at a federal level. [former Deputy] Attorney General [James] Cole in his memos directing states with guidance on how to implement strategies to protect their people in regulating the issue of marijuana has the item listed as a controlled substance,” said MacKinnon.

The Senate will take amendments and vote on the content of the bill on Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Stopping State Reimbursement Of New School Bonds Passes Alaska Senate

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 17:00

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would stop state reimbursement of new school bonds, including ones that are currently being considered in Anchorage.

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Right now, the state covers up to 70 percent of the cost of school construction bonds issued by municipalities. But with the state facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, legislators are wary of taking on additional obligations. The legislation sunsets the school debt program for five years, at which point the program would be brought back with a lower reimbursement level.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Anchorage Republican, carried the bill on the floor Wednesday.

“This is not about punishment. This is about trying to control our costs as a state,” MacKinnon said. “I believe that the people of Alaska know that the state cannot afford to make the payments. We certainly can’t afford to take on increased debt.”

While the bill passed 17 to 2, there was some opposition from Anchorage Democrats because of the timing of the bill. The legislation would retroactively sunset the program to January 1. But right now, Anchorage voters are already casting ballots on a $60 million school bond question.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski argued that the Legislature was trying to rush the bill through because of Anchorage’s municipal election.

“They’re voting based on 22 years of 100 percent reimbursement, 35+ years of state reimbursing some percentage,” he said. “And so, people in my community are out and voting, and this is what they’re voting on. This is what the state’s told them. This causes all kinds of confusion in the election in Anchorage, and I think it’s unfair.”

Wielechowski added that the program would amount to a property tax increase of $30 for the average home in Anchorage.

Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner also expressed concern over the legislation, but ultimately voted for it.

“While our children certainly need safe and comfortable school building for learning to take place, I think at this time right now, I think we need to focus more on what happens inside the buildings than what’s happening on the outside of buildings,” Gardner said.

The bill will now be considered by the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Bill Would Treat Marijuana As Controlled Substance

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:59

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill on Friday, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

Download Audio

The body voted 16-4 Wednesday to adopt a version that keeps marijuana listed as a drug that can be abused, instead of a version that removed that language from the books.

A bloc of Democrats opposed the move, arguing that it went against the will of the voters, which was to treat the drug like alcohol. But supporters of the adopted version noted that marijuana is still considered a controlled substance at the federal level.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Ship Trouble in the Arctic on the Rise

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:55

A new report says that as Artic ship traffic has increased, so has the number of Arctic ship mishaps. The annual Shipping and Safety Review by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, counts 55 ship casualties in the waters of the Arctic Circle last year, up from three a decade ago. Machinery damage or failure accounts for nearly half of those, with wrecking or stranding in second place. Only one Arctic ship, near northern Norway and Iceland, was considered a total loss. The report covers shipping losses for ships over 100 gross tons.

As Arctic ice diminishes, some are predicting the Arctic will become an important region for global shipping. In 2013, with little summer ice, 71 ships navigated some or all of the Northern Sea Route, across the north of Russia. Traffic slowed in 2014 with a rebound of ice. This winter, Arctic ice reached its peak Feb. 25. The extent of annual sea ice cover was the lowest since satellite records began.

Categories: Alaska News

Truck Rolls Over, Spills Fuel On Dalton Highway

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:54

A truck rollover on the southern end of the Dalton Highway resulted in a fuel spill. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reports that tractor portion of the rig remained upright, and the driver survived the Tuesday crash without serious injury.

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DEC on-scene coordinator, Tom DeRuyter says responders have conducted preliminary work at the spill site north of the Yukon River crossing, near mile 59.

“They have removed the oil, or most of the oil, from the tanker, they up righted the tanker and got it removed from the highway,” he said.

DeRuyter reports that damaged portion of the tanker operated by Tena Trucking, was carrying 4,000 gallons of ultra low sulfur diesel, but it will take some work to determine how much fuel was released in the accident.

“The oil that was in the tanker and transferred to another truck is going up to Deadhorse,” DeRuyter said. “They’re going to meter that off, and then they’re going to meter whatever the residual was left in the tanker, and those 2 numbers minus, subtracted from what was originally put in the tanker, will give us a spill volume. I’m not expecting that for a couple of days.”

DeRuyter says contaminated snow, brush and underlying soil will have to be removed from the spill site. Driving conditions have been especially tricky along several section of the over 400 mile long Dalton Highway, with numerous travels advisories issued in recent days due to ice on the road.

Categories: Alaska News

Discovery Southeast honors teacher Allie Smith

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:53

Allie Smith talks to one of her second grade students during a nature walk Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Discovery Southeast is honoring a second grade teacher for regularly exposing her students to nature. The local outdoor education organization is giving the first annual Discovery Award to Allie Smith from Auke Bay Elementary School.

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At least once a month, Smith takes her second grade class outside to walk on the trail behind the school.

“You have eight minutes to do some observations,” Smith tells the class. “Go. Make sure you can see an adult the whole time.”

The students run around the trail carrying journals to take notes and draw pictures.

Each time Smith takes her students outside, she gives them a task. She’s sent them on a hunt to find various colors in nature. Recently, she posed the question – Is it winter or is it spring?

A student’s nature journal. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Today, Smith lets the students come up with their own questions. She gives them an example – What would blueberry bushes look like right now? Some students have decided to focus on that question.

“That part is called a bud,” Smith says, looking at a blueberry bush with a student. “It’s turning into green, right? So what would come out of that bud, what do you think?”

“A blueberry,” the student replies.

“OK. So draw what you see and then write down what you think,” Smith says.

After eight minutes she calls the students back into a group to see if they answered their own questions. She asks for volunteers to share.

“My question was, will we find any pussy willows?” a student says. “We found the bushes but we didn’t find any.”

Smith started teaching at Auke Bay 10 years ago and has always taken her students outside. She says nature can really hook students into learning.

“I think it’s really important for kids to get comfortable with being outside and I also want to help foster that inquisitive attitude towards learning and nature, and I think that being outside and seeing the natural world around us can really help kids formulate questions and hypothesize,” Smith says.

Smith says different students have different feelings about nature. She has one student who is scared to go outside. Others think it’s too much work. But she says these attitudes tend to change over the school year.

Allie Smith has an undergraduate degree in outdoor education. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“It kind of depends on what kids’ exposure prior to coming to second grade and coming to the trail has been,” Smith says. “I feel like the general trend that I’ve seen over the years is that the more kids come outside and do these activities, the more they notice and the more comfortable they feel.”

Shawn Eisele says that’s extremely important. Eisele is executive director of Discovery Southeast. One of its programs sends naturalists into 3rd through 5th grade classrooms for hands-on science lessons and field trips.

“There’s so many wild areas in Juneau that are right next to the schools and so it’s really easy to get kids out there. And, also, by going through the classrooms we get to reach all those kids who might not otherwise get outside,” Eisele says.

Discovery Southeast received several nominations for the inaugural Discovery Award, which is meant to honor educators. Smith will get the award at the organization’s annual fundraiser banquet Saturday night at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. Discovery Southeast is also sending Smith on one of its three teacher expeditions, which are continuing education classes. She’s chosen to spend a week in the Juneau ice field.

Allie Smith’s second grade class goes on a nature walk at least once a month. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For the rest of the nature walk, Smith gets the class to be silent for a few moments, which as you may imagine is tough to accomplish with 22 second graders. They observe the sounds around them. They check the outdoor temperature and then play a version of hide and seek where some students are hawks.

Before becoming a traditional classroom teacher, Smith got her undergraduate degree in outdoor education at Northland College in Wisconsin. She’s always observed nature, but she says by bringing her students outside with her, she’s taking an even closer look.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young Co-Sponsors Pot Bill to Let States Decide

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:49

Alaska Congressman Don Young has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana in states that have chosen to make it legal.

The bill would also allow VA doctors to recommend marijuana use to their patients and require the government to start issuing marijuana research licenses.

Young said in a written statement that he considers both medical and recreational marijuana a matter of states’ rights.

The bill is known as the CARERS Act, an acronym of “Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States.” Its prime House sponsor is Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. It is the twin of a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. The legislation could give marijuana entrepreneurs an alternative to operating in an all-cash environment. In states that allow marijuana commerce, the bill would allow those businesses to use banks, without subjecting the banks to charges of money laundering.

Categories: Alaska News

MDA: Fort Greely Missile System Ready for Iran ICBMs, Too

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:33

The country’s ground-based missile defense system, with its 26 missiles at Fort Greely, is capable of defending the U.S. not only from North Korea, but from Iran, too, says Missile Defense Agency Director James Syring.

“The (Defense Intelligence Agency) assessment is Iran is capable of flight-testing an ICBM in 2015,” Syring told a Senate panel today, adding that the assessment did not include a statement on the likelihood of that occurring.

Sophisticated Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles are likely to include decoys and countermeasures along with the warhead. Syring says to better detect the target, his agency needs a new radar system. In response to questions from Sen. Dan Sullivan, Syring said he expects to choose an Alaska location for the Long-Range Discrimination Radar in the next few months.

“North Korea and Iran are continuing to progress, in terms of not just the numbers of ICBMs they may have but the complexity of what those threats may represent to us,” Syring said. “And that’s why the budget request this year is so important that we get the radar built.”

The agency has considered placing the radar on Shemya, near the end of the Aleutian Chain, or at Clear, off the Parks Highway, southwest of Fairbanks. Sullivan asked about the system’s electrical needs and whether Clear would next extra electrical generation. Syring said he couldn’t discuss it publicly due to competitive concerns among the contractors bidding on the project.

Fort Greely in the coming years is slated to receive 14 more defensive missiles, for a total of 40. Syring says it’s possible even more missiles could be based there.

“Extra capacity in Fort Greely does exist and that would be assessed on how we see the numbers, in terms of threats from North Korea progressing. And certainly that would be an option available to the secretary of defense, to use that capability,” he said.

That would have to be weighed against the value of placing another radar system on the East Coast to defend against an Iranian threat, he said.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Joins Investigation Into Premera Cyber Attack

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 14:01

Alaska is participating in an multi-state investigation into Premera following a cyber attack on the health insurer early this year. The state’s insurance director says she has a lot of questions about why the attack occurred and why it took the company two months to announce it publicly. 

Washington State’s Insurance Commissioner is taking the lead in the investigation into Premera. Six million customers were affected in Washington. In Alaska, the attack exposed the personal data of 700,000 current and former members of Premera dating back to 2002. The information exposed includes social security numbers, date of birth, addresses and some bank account numbers:

“There was an incredible amount of personal data that was released in this breach.”

Lori Wing-Heier directs the state’s Division of Insurance. She says even though Washington State is leading the investigation, Alaska will have just as much control over how it’s conducted. She is working with the state’s Department of Law to help determine the scope of the investigation into the breach:

“It occurred in May of 2014, it wasn’t noted until January 2015 and it wasn’t reported to regulators until March of 2015. So that is basically what the examination will focus on. We’ll be looking at what procedures they had in place and what happened during that time frame.”

Wing-Heier is especially concerned about the two month gap between when the company discovered the attack and when Premera made it public. The company says it needed to cleanse and secure it’s IT systems prior to making an announcement to prevent the attackers from engaging in more malicious activity. Wing-Heier isn’t satisfied with that explanation:

“We want a better answer. We want a better understanding of what happened.”

Premera spokesperson Eric Earling says he looks forward to working with state insurance regulators during their investigation. The company is also coordinating with the FBI. Earling says there is no evidence any of the personal data has been used by the thieves:

“So that is a difference than some major national retailers when they’ve had these sorts of experiences with a cyber attack, have experienced personal information being used in a fraudulent way right after the attack and that’s not been the experience in this case.”

The company has set up a website, Pemeraupdate.com to provide information about the attack and is offering free credit monitoring for two years to affected consumers. Eva Velasquez is President of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a California based non-profit. She says it’s important for current and former Premera customers to take advantage of the credit monitoring program:

“Now that this information is out there, just because it hasn’t been used today, doesn’t mean it won’t be used tomorrow.”

Velasquez says not all data breaches are created equal. Thieves stole credit card data in recent cyber attacks on big retailers like Target and Home Depot. That can be a hassle for consumers to cancel credit cards and open new ones, but the threat to broader personal information is limited. In contrast, Velasquez says social security numbers are a “treasure trove” for thieves and they can use them to commit all types of identify theft:

“Your payment card data information is not a personal identifier for you. It doesn’t follow you around for the rest of your life. Your social security number and your finger prints do. You can’t get rid of those things, now you just have to monitor those things.”

Velasquez recommends Premera customers continue to monitor their credit for the rest of their lives. And she says there are a lot of free or inexpensive services available. She says Alaskans should also be on alert for phishing scams related to the data breach. Premera says it will not e-mail or make unsolicited phone calls to customers regarding the incident.

Alaska is also participating in a multi state investigation of Anthem, another Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance company that experienced a data breach the same week as Premera. Lori Wing-Heier says the state has 34,000 customers affected by that breach.

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

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 24, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-24 17:39

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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Demonstrators protest Shell’s Chukchi drilling plans at ‘Wilderness Week’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

It’s the 26th anniversary of America’s second largest oil spill, when an Exxon tanker leaving Valdez Arm ran aground, leaking 11 million gallons of North Slope Crude into Prince William Sound. In Washington D.C., environmental activists marked the occasion with a demonstration in front of the White House. Their message was less about Exxon and tanker safety than it was about Shell, and its plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea.

Bill to seize federal land in Alaska nears vote on state house floor

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A bill with the goal of seizing federal land is now one step away from a vote on the House floor.

House passes bill to constrain Walker’s gasline plan

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska House has fired its latest salvo at Gov. Bill Walker in an ongoing dispute over a gasline. The body passed a bill to keep him from pursuing an alternative to the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project on Monday, ignoring a veto threat from the governor.

DOT diverts $1.3M meant for Anchorage bike infrastructure to other projects

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than $1 million originally planned for Anchorage bike infrastructure in 2012 is now being allocated for use on other road projects instead.

Bairdi quota could increase again as busy season winds down

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Bering Sea crab fishermen are trying to get through as much Bairdi tanner quota as they can before the season ends next week. This year’s huge allocation put the fleet in a time crunch — and future seasons could bring more of the same. That’s thanks in part to a new preferred size for the species.

Investigating historical trauma endured by Native Americans, Alaska Natives

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

An Ojibwe woman and independent journalist recently visited Alaska for a series of stories on historical trauma and Native American mental health practices. Mary Annette Pember says the troubled lives of Native Americans reflect their troubled history.

Rural designation process could impact Saxman’s subsistence status

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council met in Saxman and Sitka last week to discuss and gather input on issues related to subsistence in the region, including a proposed change to the rural designation process.

That change could make a big difference to Saxman, which has been considered non-rural since 2007, for the purpose of federal subsistence rights.

Categories: Alaska News

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