Alaska News

Unalaska Police: Missing Hiker’s Body Likely Found on Pyramid Peak

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 12:39

Pyramid Peak in snow last winter, seen from the Unalaska Valley side of the trail. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

Unalaska police believe they’ve found the body of a hiker who went missing on Pyramid Peak on Sunday.

Jessica Acker, 33, apparently left Westward Seafoods for a hike near Pyramid on Sunday afternoon. She was reported missing when she didn’t return that night.

Late Monday afternoon, a search team spotted a person who appeared to have fallen down a snowy ravine. Unalaska police chief Jamie Sunderland says they believe it’s Acker, and have contacted her family.

But they weren’t able to recover the body or make a positive identification by nightfall.

“Conditions up there apparently were really horrible,” Sunderland said on Monday night. “Apparently visibility was limited to about 10 feet, [with] a lot of wet, blowing snow.”

He says the team will go back Tuesday morning to try again.

Acker was working as a fisheries observer with Alaskan Observers. Sunderland says she appears to have hiked around the far side of Pyramid, where there’s no cell service and even radio reception is patchy. The peak is 2,300 ft. tall, with miles of popular but sometimes treacherous hiking trails.

“Early on, the searching was a little more toward Westward, that side of Pyramid, but some folks had seen some tracks the day before out farther, beyond the gates out there,” Sunderland says. “So we shifted our search over there in the afternoon and, of course, the body was discovered quite a ways from there still.”

Sunderland says it’s not an easy trek — but he and Acker’s family also say she had plenty of experience hiking in Alaska.

Monday’s search lasted at least 12 hours and involved about a dozen public safety and Coast Guard officials and civilian volunteers, as well as a Coast Guard helicopter.

Categories: Alaska News

As Alaska Warms, Climate Change An Awkward Subject For Lawmakers

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 19:24

When it comes to climate change, Alaska is seen as a bellwether. Temperatures have risen nearly 4 degrees over the past 50 years, double the national average. But even though Alaska figures in discussion of climate change nationally, it’s rarely a major topic of conversation in Juneau. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez examines why.

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The last time legislation specifically focused on climate change was in 2006. There have since been energy efficiency bills, and air quality bills, and resolutions pushing back on air quality regulations, but nothing that gets at the massive, complicated issue of climate change.

So, it was a bit unusual to hear legislators air their opinions on the matter last week.

The discussion kicked off when Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican, led a press conference on a new report on Arctic policy.

“There’s no question that the Arctic and the climate are changing,” said McGuire.

The document lays out the positions Alaska should take as sea ice melts and different nations try to carve out influence in the Arctic. The word “climate” appears nearly 30 times in the document, occasionally in the context of an “investment climate.” The word “opportunity” appears in equal measure.

Over the course of an hour, lawmakers focused on the possibilities for resource development, for increased commerce, and for private investment to the tune of $100 billion.

McGuire described their approach as realistic.

“The development’s going to happen with or without Alaska,” said McGuire. “It’s already happening.”

Some members, like Anchorage Republican Cathy Giessel, even described it as potentially a good thing.

“What’s happening is a cyclical thing. And it’s another opportunity,” said Giessel. “It does depend on how you view change, as either an opportunity or a threat. And of course, I think our commission views it as an opportunity.”

The climate change discussion bled into other committee meetings. At a House Resources hearing, Rep. Bennie Nageak, a Barrow Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, expressed dismay at federal rules meant to protect species from climate change.

“Everything created in this world has its own adaptive capabilities to changes in anything in their lives,” said Nageak. “Not only man does that, but the animals — they adapt to everything.”

Some, like Anchorage Democrat Andy Josephson, pushed back on the statement that the ecosystem is that resilient.

“We are the poster child because of the change is so self-evident, and I think empirically proven at this point,” said Josephson.

But it was Rep. Craig Johnson, a Republican from Anchorage, who seemed to capture the pervading attitude in the building.

“When I hear arguments about opening 1002 — ‘Oh, climate change’ — I don’t think it’s maybe one coal plant in China [in equivalence]. So, until we get a handle on the world’s climate change, I’m tired of Alaska being the poster child and the fundraising tool to save the planet at the expense of our economy,” said Johnson. “I am not certain that if we shut down every development in the State of Alaska, moved everyone from Alaska and moved them out, that we would have any effect on climate change.”

To some, it’s not surprising that exchanges like these are rare.

“Alaska is a tough place to talk about climate change,” says Michael Tubman, a fellow with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “But it’s also a microcosm of the whole issue. At the same time, the fossil fuel industry is a very important part of the state’s economy.”

Tubman worked on energy and environmental issues for Govs. Sarah Palin, Frank Murkowski, and Tony Knowles. He says there’s a tension where the state is dependent on oil production for its economy and at the same time vulnerable to a lot of the immediate effects of those same fossil fuels.

And as those effects are becoming more obvious, the national conversation about it has become polarized.

“I think over the last ten years, we’ve seen climate change change from a bipartisan issue that was able to be discussed with different types of solutions coming from different types of governors and federal officials to a far more partisan conversation, and that’s been really unfortunate,” says Tubman.

So, climate change is kind of an elephant in the room. It could hurt the fishing and tourism industries, and the state needs to figure out how to deal with erosion in villages along the coast and melting permafrost and all the associated costs. But tackling climate change itself can seem too ambitious and maybe even contrary to the state’s economic interest.

Tubman thinks there are a few things that can be done at the state level to address climate change beyond mitigation. He notes Alberta has put a price on carbon while still maintaining a healthy oil industry, and that Texas has made big strides in wind energy.

As far as development of Alaska’s resources go, Tubman says that can be done in ways that reduce emissions by capturing carbon and using it to produce more oil instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

Tubman also thinks it’s worth reviving something like the climate change sub-cabinet that existed during the Palin administration.

“There is a lot of value in having an ongoing conversation where people can look at this long-term issue from all different angles,” says Tubman.

Larry Hartig has served as the commissioner of environmental conservation since 2007, and he was part of that group while it was active. He says the Walker administration is currently discussing its strategy for climate change, and sees it as a significant challenge.

“Our glaciers are getting smaller. We’re seeing higher rates of coastal erosion. We’re seeing thawing of the tundra on the North Slope. Our surface ponds are disappearing, draining away,” says Hartig. “You can’t sit there and say it’s not happening.”

Hartig says he wants to re-examine the work of the climate change sub-cabinet to find out what’s changed and what work still needs to be done. He says the pragmatic approach is likely the right one for Alaska.

“You don’t have to sit there and figure out, ‘Well, how much is due to greenhouse gas emissions from a man-made source?’” says Hartig. “You just have to think about erosion. You have to think about melting permafrost, and these things.”

Basically, Alaska doesn’t have to solve climate change: It just has to start dealing with it.

Categories: Alaska News

As Capital Budget Work Begins, A Call For Lower Expectations

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 19:10

As the Legislature digs into the capital budget, a leader of the Senate’s finance committee is advising that discretionary spending will be kept to a minimum.

At a Monday hearing, Co-chair Anna MacKinnon said the Legislature had already received more than $1 billion in capital requests from communities and organization. Of those, only health and public safety projects will get priority considerations.

“I would like to lower the expectations of the general public with what we can do in regard to the capital budget this year,” said MacKinnon.

The Eagle River Republican added that projects that come with matching funds might also fare better in a year where the state is facing a $3.5 billion deficit.

The capital budget submitted by Gov. Bill Walker to the Legislature appropriates $150 million from the state’s unrestricted general fund. The previous capital budget spent $600 million from that fund.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Sweeps Wasilla Assisted Living Home

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 18:07

 

Firefighters responded to a blaze at an assisted living home near Wasilla early Monday afternoon. 

Matanuska Susitna Borough deputy emergency services director Casey Cook says that 20 residents and all staff were safely evacuated as firemen arrived at 2:30 pm. No injuries have been reported.

Fire crews contained the blaze at the Northern Comfort Assisted Living Home within an hour.  Cook says the fire affected almost half the building.

 ”First arriving units gave a size up of about a forty percent involved three story structure with approximately twenty residents inside, so it was not an all clear. During the course of that, the staff that worked there at Assisted Living were able to get all of the folks out without any injuries. A good majority of them were wheelchair bound, and also someone also that was bedridden, so they had to carry that one out in a blanket.”

 

About a dozen of the residents were in wheel chairs. The home’s staff and residents were outside in zero temperatures. Cook says Valley Mover buses were called in to take them to shelter. Initial reports indicate the fire started on the front porch of the home, although an investigation is ongoing to determine the cause. Cook says most of the fire damage affects a front porch and an upstairs apartment, while other parts of the building incurred smoke and water damage.

“There was an added on balcony on the second and half of the third floor, and that was pretty much demolished by the fire. The actual living structure was sprinklered, and so the sprinkler stopped a lot of fire extending into the actual living structures. So the real damage right now is a little bit to the roof, on the third floor and in an apartment on the third floor and water damage on the second floor and third floors and some smoke damage as well.”

Fifteen fire crews responded to the call, Cook, says, and two ambulances were on scene. The Red Cross and the state’s Adult Protective Services are finding shelter for those displaced by the fire.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 9, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 17:05

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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Climate Change Rarely Major Discussion Topic In Alaska Capital

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When it comes to climate change, Alaska is seen as a bellwether. Temperatures have risen nearly 4 degrees over the past 50 years, a number that’s double the national average. But even though Alaska figures in discussion of climate change nationally, it’s rarely a major topic of conversation in Juneau.

Alaska Lawmaker Introduces Right-To-Die Legislation

The Associated Press

An Anchorage lawmaker has introduced legislation that would allow terminally ill patients the right to decide to end their lives with the help of a physician.

North Pacific Halibut Bycatch Limit Could See 50 Percent Cut

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Halibut harvests have been on the decline in the Bering Sea for years. But the amount that trawlers and catcher-processors are allowed to take [incidentally] has stayed the same. Now, federal regulators have agreed to consider stiffer limits on halibut bycatch.

Middle School Teachers Think Planning Time Cuts Are Hurting Students

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Middle School teachers in Anchorage fall into two groups – elective teachers and core class teachers. Before this year all of the teachers were given extra time to collaborate and try to ease the transition of students from being kids in elementary schools to young adults in high school. But this year it’s different – elective teachers don’t get time to collaborate. And some say it’s students who are losing out.

Economic Group Sees Affordable Housing Shortage As Barrier To Growth For Anchorage

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Affordable housing is an issue across much of Alaska, and Anchorage is no exception. The city ranks in the top 20 most expensive housing markets in the nation. The Anchorage Economic Development Corporation sees it as one of the biggest barriers to improving the city’s fiscal future. And the group wants to start addressing the problem by focusing on homelessness.

New EPA Standards Slash Wood-Fired Heater Emissions

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued updated standards for wood fired heaters.

Little Green Apple Ends Haines Junction’s Long Grocery Commute

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Haines Junction is a small town in Yukon Territory at the intersection of the Haines and Alaska Highways. It has a couple of restaurants, but no grocery store, until recently when two locals opened the Little Green Apple.

Yukon Quest Trail Puts Dog Sled Designs To The Test

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Brent Sass is leading the Yukon Quest Sled Dog race. He left the Pelly Crossing checkpoint at 3:25 this morning. Hugh Neff followed at 6am. Joar Ulsom, Jeff King and Allen Moore round out the top five.

On the Yukon Quest Trail, there are a few things mushers have to be especially picky about including a sturdy sled.  Jumble ice near McCabe Creek, half way to Pelly Crossing is testing sled engineering this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Economic Group Sees Affordable Housing Shortage As Barrier To Growth For Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 17:01

Affordable housing is an issue across most of Alaska, and Anchorage is no exception. The city ranks in the top-20 most expensive housing markets in the nation.

The Anchorage Economic Development Corporation sees it as one of the biggest barriers to improving the city’s fiscal future, and the group wants to start addressing the problem by focusing on homelessness.

Last week, AEDC applied for the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant. If awarded, IBM will send a handful of analysts, along with some sizeable computing resources, to Anchorage in order to begin crunching the numbers on how much money homelessness costs the city. After determining the price-tag, they will offer the most cost-effective solutions.

“Homelessness, if we don’t address the situation, becomes more and more of a drag on our economy in terms of attracting that new investment and that new blood that we need in [the] professional workforce,” said AEDC President and CEO Bill Popp.

Popp sees the high cost of homes hurting two very different groups. There are the younger, more mobile professionals deciding whether or not to settle in Anchorage. And there are lower-income individuals and families that are more likely to suffer homelessness than to simply move elsewhere. The shortage of affordable housing units is the common issue hitting both groups, and costing the city resources.

“If those pieces aren’t in place,” Popp explained, “then your successful investment of dollars in the community becomes less.”

Should they win the grant, AEDC will work with other Anchorage organizations to collect the numbers showing the real story of how housing prices affect Anchorage residents. The focus on homelessness as the starting point for a larger conversation came from local community groups, 147 of which have formally partnered with AEDC on past projects.

“All the organizations that we have talked to, they have homelessness as an important issue,” said Arcahana Mishra, Director of AEDC’s Live.Work.Play. initiative.

Mishra is hoping the grant will provide an opportunity to put together a data set showing how much the city spends just managing its homeless residents through a patchwork of social and emergency services, compared to alternative housing options.

Anchorage is competing with other cities from across the globe, and will not know for several months whether it has won the Smarter Cities grant.

Categories: Alaska News

New EPA Standards Slash Wood-Fired Heater Emissions

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 16:46

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued updated standards for wood fired heaters.

The EPA wood heating appliance emissions standards reduce smoke by two thirds compared to current levels set in 1988. Alison Davis with EPA’s air quality standards office stresses that the new standards, which take effect this spring, only apply to newly manufactured units.

“If you have an existing wood stove or other wood heaters, this rule does not affect you, you can continue to use that,” Davis said.

Davis says the EPA is allowing retailers until the end of this year to sell off wood stove models that do not meet the new emissions standard, but adds that most units already do.

“The majority of adjustable burn rate wood stoves sold in the U.S. today actually meet that limit,” Davis said. “So we think that we’ll have a lot of wood stoves that are already available that will meet the limit.”

The new standards also cover previously unregulated units, including wood fired boilers, but Davis says some of those appliances are also already up to the new standard.

“A number of manufacturers have been participating in a voluntary program with EPA to make cleaner units available, and a number of those will already meet the step-1 standards for those heaters,” Davis said.

A second tier of stricter wood heater emissions standards will take effect in 2020, covering new units manufactured and sold after that date. States are allowed to additionally limit emissions, and Cindy Heil, with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation air quality division says recently updated state standards for new wood and pellet stoves are initially stricter.

“DEC’s standard is a 2.5 gram per hour from 2015 to 2020, where the EPA standard is 4.5,” Heil said. “But then 2020, our standards would remain the same at 2.5 and EPA’s would drop to 2.0.”

Heil says that’s also the case for Alaska’s wood boiler emissions standard, and that the state will have to revise its wood and pellet stove standards in 2020 to come in line with federal regulations.

Categories: Alaska News

Little Green Apple Ends Haines Junction’s Long Grocery Commute

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 15:59

(Courtesty Little Green Apple Facebook)

For three years, the 500-person town of Haines Junction had no grocery store. Residents had to drive two hours to Whitehorse to shop for food. But in December, two locals broke the grocery drought.

They opened a store called The Little Green Apple Dec. 16, and the crowd that showed up is an indication of how much Haines Junction wanted a local grocery store.

“It was a zoo,” Paula Pawlovich said. She and her partner Bill Karman are the store’s owners. Pawlovich says an empty building next to the gas station, which they also own, was “begging” to be a grocery store.

She and Karman had no prior experience running a food store, they had to teach themselves and build the shop from scratch.  They took out a loan, Pawlovich looked at products and distributors, as well as the logistics of bringing in food from Vancouver, Edmonton and Whitehorse.

“I probably have about ten different suppliers,” Pawlovich said. “It’s a very complex business.”

An added complexity comes from the kind of niche store Pawlovich wanted to create. The Little Green Apple has some mainstream products, but Pawlovich says the food skews toward organic, all-natural products.

“The store is very different than a typical grocery store. And I think people were anticipating another little highway stop, shack style, junk food, processed [food] type of store and it’s just not that. It’s a great little place where you can buy good snacks and stop and get a coffee and grab a fresh sandwich.”

(Courtesty Little Green Apple Facebook)

Pawlovich says the set-up and feel of the store was inspired in part by Mountain Market, a natural foods store and café in Haines.

Employee Katherine MacKellar was working the cash register on a Thursday afternoon. She says she likes the atmosphere of the store and the unique foods.

“There’s a product that’s called Oogie’s and it’s gourmet popcorn, and it’s all natural, but there’s like spicy chipotle and lime and cracked pepper and asiago and all these other cool flavors so it’s pretty nice and they’re really tasty.” she said.

MacKellar says people are grateful to have a local place where they can buy their milk, bread and gourmet popcorn.

“Everyone comes in and they’re like, ‘Oh this is beautiful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Especially the elders and the older people because it’s harder for them to drive into town especially in winter when it’s like minus 40 [degrees celsius.]”

Pawlovich sells locally-made baked goods and locally-grown potatoes and carrots. She hopes to sell more produce grown on Yukon farms in the summer.

One challenge they face is pricing. Pawlovich says some people complain, but there’s no way she can compete with big stores like Walmart.

Overall, Pawlovich and MacKellar say people have been happy with the store. And it’s become more than just a place to buy your lunch.

“People are coming to the grocery store and they’re visiting, which is really neat to see,” she said. “They shop and they exchange stories about what they found in the store. This one gentleman said ‘I’ve been really thinking your store and what you’ve done for the town, you’ve created a cultural revolution here!’”

Pawlovich thinks with the gas station and grocery store combined, they’re probably one of the biggest employers in Haines Junction right now. And she hopes to hire more people in the summer months.

The Little Green Apple is open Monday through Saturday from 10-6 and Sunday from noon to 5.

Categories: Alaska News

Middle school teachers think planning time cuts are hurting students

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 15:52

Math teacher Piper Jones listens to her students before distributing a quiz.

Middle School teachers in Anchorage fall into two groups — elective teachers and core class teachers. Before this year all of the teachers were given extra time to work together and try to ease the transition of students from being kids in elementary schools to young adults in high school. But this year it’s different — elective teachers don’t get time to collaborate. And some say it’s students who are losing out.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/09-Middle-School-Inequities.mp3

About 120 students crowd into the Wendler Middle School gym practicing skills for the Native Youth Olympics. Some grasp short sticks while others attempts yoga-like handstands. PE Teacher Nadine Price and two others jump from group to group giving directions on the stick pull and the high kick. It’s precisely controlled chaos.

“As long as their moving and active and not getting hurt — safety — like see these guys are doing it backward,” Price says looking at two seventh grade boys. Before she can react, “They figured it out. A lot of times if you give them a minute they will figure it out, and you let them try it. It’s trial and error and then keep them moving.”

Soon the period ends and Price books it down the hallway to get to her health classroom where students are already waiting. She enters and heads to her desk.

“This is my stack of papers I’ve been trying to grade for a week because I just haven’t had time. And I tried to grade it Friday after school but that didn’t work…”

She trails off as she starts chatting with students then launches into a class on bullying. Soon, the class is over and her planning period starts. But instead of working on grading, more students file in to eat lunch in Price’s classroom.

“Why are you guys eating lunch in here instead of the lunch room?” I ask a couple of 8th graders.

“Cause it’s peaceful in here,” says Mohasen Sharife.

“Yeah, it’s peaceful,” concurs John Quinones between mouthfuls of cheese balls.

“And Ms. Price is in here and we love her,” Mohasen interjects.

“And there’s a lot of drama going on in the lunchroom all the time,” says John.

“Like what kind of drama?” I ask, not quite remembering what it was like to be in middle school.

“Rumor spreading and lies and stuff,” Mohasen explains.

They say the drama makes middle school tough. And then you add in the homework.

“I mean, this is just middle school, and it’s already a bit complicated for me,” says Mohasen. “So imagine high school where it’s like, you have to be responsible for yourself and all that. It’s a scary thing.”

So they seek out the support of their teachers, which is why core teachers have an extra team planning period to make sure their students are thriving. But now elective teachers don’t get that period, so teachers like Price often give up their personal planning time.

PE teacher Christine Sager says the lack of team time is hurting her relationship with her students.

“I don’t know what’s happening with anything else in this building. I have no idea what any other teacher is doing. Which means I can’t relate to the kids,” she says. “You know, I don’t know my kids. I don’t know them the same way at all [as I did in other years]. Which means I can’t help them, which is what the middle school model was.”

Middle school elective teachers started teaching six periods per day instead of five this year because of budget cuts. Math, Science, Language Arts, and Social Studies teachers still only teach five per day. Elective teachers think it’s unfair. Most core teachers at Wendler, like Piper Jones, agree.

Jones says team planning time is invaluable for discussing how to coordinate classes and how to help kids.

“If we want to pull in a student and have a one on one time with them without the pressures of having the other classmates nearby, or all of us pull them in together and say ‘Hey, we noticed you’re kind of on the downhill slide. What’s up?’ And usually if you do that, they break down and they tell you what’s up.”

Team planning periods are also used to develop interdisciplinary units, analyze testing data, and plan motivational events like ice cream socials to reward attendance.

Jones says it’s harder to communicate with elective teachers now, and she feels sympathetic for their extra class load. She understands why there is tension because elective teachers are being treated differently.

But it’s important to note that not all core teachers feel the same. Andy Holleman with the teachers union says some don’t think elective teachers need the extra time. Holleman says the middle school model is implemented differently in each school and elective teachers play different roles.

“The principal is in a position to make sure that teachers are delivering on the expectations. And there have been times that hasn’t happened. So to some degree some core teachers are looking at it and going ‘I see some people who just have additional planning time.’”

But Holleman says the situation is fracturing the schools and needs a long-term solution. But that could depend on the budget, which is yet to be determined.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Lawmaker Introduces Right-To-Die Legislation

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 15:45

An Anchorage lawmaker has introduced legislation that would allow terminally ill patients the right to decide to end their lives with the help of a physician.

Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond said in a release that this is not suicide but rather is an option for people who are already dying.

HB 99 was introduced in the Alaska House on Monday.

It would allow adults suffering from a terminal illness and deemed capable of making a decision to die to do so. It would allow for the person’s doctor to dispense or write a prescription for medication that would end the person’s life. The bill defines a terminal disease as one that has been medically confirmed, is incurable and will, “within reasonable medical judgment” result in death within six months.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pacific Halibut Bycatch Limit Could See 50 Percent Cut

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 11:39

Halibut harvests have been on the decline in the Bering Sea for years, but the amount that trawlers and catcher-processors are allowed to take has stayed the same. Now, federal regulators have agreed to consider stiffer limits on halibut bycatch.

This weekend, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to study the impact of cutting the 10 million-pound bycatch limit by as much as 50 percent.

“Unless we act — and act fairly decisively — as soon as possible, we may continue to face what could be an emergency in a subsequent year,” Council member Duncan Fields, who introduced the measure, said.

(Photo by the National Marine Fisheries Service)

Halibut fishermen narrowly avoided a major cut to their catch limit in the Bering Sea this winter.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which sets those limits, decided not to go through with the reductions as long as their counterparts on the North Pacific council agreed to take a second look at bycatch restrictions.

They’re written into federal policy. The council has the power to make changes and they have requested voluntary reductions across the fleet.

But as Karen Pletnikoff pointed out in public testimony, the cap hasn’t officially changed in over a decade.

“In that time, how many fish, jobs, and dollars would the Bering Strait, the Gulf of Alaska, Southeast and beyond have had and could have if that bycatch survived to recruitment?” she said.

Pletnikoff is a manager for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association. She pointed to shore plants in Atka and St. Paul that rely on deliveries of halibut to keep business going — and stand to benefit if there’s less bycatch and bigger harvests.

But representatives from the trawl fleet warned that tighter limits could create an economic burden on their side, as well.

The exact impacts aren’t clear yet. A draft study provided to the council showed that a 35-percent cut could cost one group of catcher-processors up to $368 million — mostly from fishing less to avoid halibut.

On that front, Captain John Nelson said he’s not sure how much more he could do. His vessel, the Rebecca Irene, has already changed its fishing schedule and added excluder nets to let halibut out.

“And we’ve been working with these tools a long time,” Nelson said. “The excluder really has been dialed in to be about as efficient as it can be, right up to this year. Beyond this point, I do not see, in my experience, a lot of gain. Any increments of gain — which we will continue to try to make — are going to be very small.”

Nelson said he did see promise in new tools like deck sorting. Instead of going inside the vessel to be weighed and tallied, halibut bycatch is checked right on deck and thrown back if it’s viable.

A few boats got permission to test that method under an experimental permit over the next year.

Until then, the North Pacific council has pledged to work with the international halibut board — and figure out better tools for estimating stocks and bycatch between the two of them.

The reductions will come back for review during the North Pacific council’s June meeting in Sitka. They’re scheduled to take final action at that time.

Categories: Alaska News

Police Investigate Dillingham Woman’s Death

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 11:16

Police taped off the Cessna Drive residence Ella George, 55, was found dead in Saturday night, waiting on a warrant to enter the home and begin an investigation. DPD canvassed the neighborhood and conducted preliminary investigation until past 2:00 a.m. Sunday. State investigators arrived on an early Sunday morning flight and were at the scene mid-Sunday morning. (Photo by Dave Bendinger,KDLG – Dillingham)

As of noon Sunday, Dillingham Police had not labeled the death of Ella S. George, 55, a homicide. She was found deceased by a family friend around 5 p.m. Saturday evening at her daughter April Olson’s home on Cessna Drive, across from the Dillingham Bible Fellowship church.

Police say the family friend had been asked to check on George, as she was staying at the house alone and had not been reached since around 9 p.m. the night before. That man stopped by, found George unconscious, and reported it to police.

After confirming George was deceased, Dillingham police taped off the scene Saturday evening and waited for a warrant to reenter the home and begin an investigation. Officers canvassed the neighborhood and worked the scene until around 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

Investigators with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation and the state Crime Lab arrived on a flight from Anchorage early Sunday, and were on the scene by mid morning.

Rumors of the cause and circumstances of the death quickly swirled around town Saturday evening, in part due to an open page on the EMT channel relaying an unconfirmed, alleged cause of death. Dillingham Police Chief Dan Pasquariello was quick to bat the rumors away for now.

“We will wait on an autopsy and results from our investigation,” he said Sunday morning, while admitting that the circumstances are “suspicious.”

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon Quest Trail Puts Dog Sled Designs To The Test

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 10:25

On the Yukon Quest Trail, there are a few things mushers have to be especially picky about including a sturdy sled. Jumble ice near McCabe Creek, half way to Pelly Crossing is testing sled engineering this year.

When he’s not running dogs, musher Cody Strathe builds dog sleds for a living.

“I built the same sled I built for about 10 people this year, but it’s a nice sled and it was originally my design for myself,” Strathe said.

Strathe built a smaller version of the same sled for Brent Sass, who says he changed out the runners and made a few tweaks in time for the race.

Denali Park musher Jeff King competes in the 2015 Yukon Quest. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

“I put some new foot pads on that are a little softer and I did extend my brake pad a little bit so I have a little bit more stopping power,” Sass said.

The smallest sled on the trail may be Jeff King’s. That design has a slightly shorter bed and rides high. King also tows a trailer behind him. Some mushers think it’s too hard to manage two sleds instead of one, but King scoffs at their skepticism.

“I shouldn’t be any more worried if I have built it well as somebody with long runners who is trying to carry the same amount of weight as I am only I am spreading it out into two sleds,” King said.

King’s sled was among many tested in rough jumble ice on the Yukon River half way to Pelly Crossing. The ever-reserved Joar Ulsom said simply “it was bad.”

“Some of it was really taller than the sled and you would punch you feet off the runners and the dogs would fall down into cracks and some necklines broke because the dogs fell and got dragged and one dog crashed into a big sheet of ice and the sled is just all over the place,” Ulsom said.

Ulsom had his sled shipped from Norway, but it almost didn’t arrive on time. He had to send a handler to Tok to pick it up the night before the race. He says he was up late that night putting it together.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 6, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-06 17:43

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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Health Department Says Medicaid Expansion Can Save State Money

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson unveiled two new reports Friday at a press conference in Anchorage she hopes will help make the case for Medicaid expansion. They show Alaska can actually save money by expanding the program, even as the federal match drops below 100 percent. But whether Republican state lawmakers skeptical of expansion will agree with the analysis is an open question.

Report: Mat-Su Behavioral Health Services Inadequate

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A new report released by the Mat-Su Health Foundation indicates that behavioral health services in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are woefully inadequate. The report, the first of three, suggests residents are not accessing care until they are in crisis.

Supreme Court Denies Rachelle Waterman Appeal

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

More than a decade after the original crime took place, the Alaska Supreme Court denied Rachelle Waterman’s appeal of her conviction in the death of her mother.

State Seeks Delay In Indian Country Expansion

The Associated Press

Governor Bill Walker’s administration is seeking more time to assess the potential impact of expanding Indian Country in Alaska.

Kuskokwim Fishermen Set Sights on Co-Management

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Efforts to establish tribal co-management of Kuskokwim salmon are slowly progressing. A steering committee is in Bethel to sketch out the future of who regulates the river. Kuskokwim fishermen are eager to be managers, instead of simply advisors.

Cook Inlet LNG Will Require Lead Time

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state has proposed purchase of Fairbanks Natural Gas as part of a plan to increase the volume of Cook Inlet gas available in the interior. The governor has indicated that could begin as early as next year, but the timeline may stretch out longer.

High Winds, Low Temperatures Cut Through Southeast Alaska

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A strong and freezing cold wind cut through Haines and Skagway on Thursday and Friday. Gusts reached up to more than 100 miles per hour. And with temperatures in the single digits, the wind chill was at least 20 below.

AK: Climate Change and the Quest

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race starts tomorrow. For more than 30 years, the race course has followed an old Gold Rush era trail that took advantage of the Yukon River. But in recent years some parts of the river haven’t frozen up.  Warm temperatures are starting to impact everything from race logistics to the sled dogs themselves.

300 Villages: Levelock

This week, we’re heading to Levelock on the Kvichak River near Bristol Bay. Chadalin Washington is an administrative assistant in Levelock.

Categories: Alaska News

Supreme Court Denies Rachelle Waterman Appeal

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-06 17:09

More than a decade after the original crime took place, the Alaska Supreme Court denied Rachelle Waterman’s appeal of her conviction in the death of her mother.

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Waterman was found guilty in a 2011 retrial of criminally negligent homicide for telling two men she had been dating- that she wanted her mother dead, and then failing to warn her mother or alert authorities when she found out that the two men were, indeed, planning to kill Lauri Waterman.

The two former boyfriends, Jason Arrant of Klawock and Brian Radel of Thorne Bay, confessed to the 2004 murder, which took place outside of Craig on Prince of Wales Island.
For her role in the crime, Waterman was sentenced in July of 2011 to three years in prison.

The basis of Waterman’s appeal is that as a 16 year old she should not have been judged based on the standard for an adult.

Waterman’s attorneys argued that juveniles’ brains are not yet fully developed, which affects their judgment.

Alaska’s high court said state law stipulates that for the most serious crimes, including homicide, defendants as young as 16 years old are treated the same as adults.

Categories: Alaska News

State Seeks Delay In Indian Country Expansion

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-06 17:07

Governor Bill Walker’s administration is seeking more time to assess the potential impact of expanding Indian Country in Alaska.

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The Alaska Dispatch News reports state Attorney General Craig Richards is asking for a six-month delay in a case before a federal appeals court in a long-running battle affecting tribal sovereignty.

In 2013, the District of Columbia appellate court ruled in favor of four Alaska Native tribal governments and one individual who sued the U.S. Interior Department.

The appellate court ruling led to an Interior Department rule to accept land into trust for Alaska tribes and individuals with Native allotments.

Interior is not appealing, but the state is.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Heather Kendall-Miller says the Interior Department’s ability to put land into trust for Alaska Natives is thus on hold.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Fishermen Set Sights on Co-Management

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-06 17:06

Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission steering committee members hear from AVCP attorney Sky Starkey. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

Efforts to establish tribal co-management of Kuskokwim salmon are slowly progressing. A steering committee is in Bethel to sketch out the future of who regulates the river. Kuskokwim fishermen are eager to be managers, instead of simply advisers.

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10 members of a steering committee met for the first time in Bethel Thursday. Fisherman from Nikolai at the headwaters down to the mouth began to define what they want to see in tribal co-management. Committee member Bob Aloysius from Kalskag emphasized tribes need to be more than simply advisers.

“Recommendations to go a point, and nothing happens. We need to have authority to implement, maintain, monitor, and enforce whatever we come up with,” said Aloysius.

The steering committee for the Kuskokwim River Intertribal Fisheries Commission is being facilitated by the Association of Village Council Presidents and Tanana Chiefs Conference, building off of tribal resolutions passed last year. Kuskokwim king salmon runs have been in decline for several years and unprecedented restrictions have hit subsistence fishermen hard. That’s led to conflicts among communities along different parts of the river. Jacob Black from Napakiak said for tribal management to succeed, everyone has to be on board.

“Our elders used to say, there may be a lot of people on the Kuskokwim or Alaska, but if you’re not united, you’re never going to accomplish nothing, that’s 100 percent true, to me. Right now we are not united,” said Black.

The full commission someday would include representatives from all Kuskokwim tribes choosing to take part. The smaller steering committee is trying to determine next steps and outline the mission and goal. They elected Bob Aloysius and Mike Williams as interim co-chairs while more members are expected to join. The long-term vision in some capacity includes equal footing among tribes, state and federal managers.

In the meantime, a federal demonstration project for co-management could build capacity for the change. Gene Peltola Junior, the assistant regional director for the Federal Office of Subsistence Management described a possible new committee under the federal subsistence board. He says if it’s structured properly it could have more input.

“But if they were to give it weighted opinion, or whatever you call it, I truly feel the local individual would have a lot more say in management than they have had in the past,” said Peltola Junior.

Sky Starkey, an attorney who works for AVCP presented a vision of how the committee could push the boundary of the law in order to maximize co-management potential.

To give it teeth, Starkey says tribes should seek broad application of a section of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, that governs subsistence on federal lands. That would force the federal board to defer to their committee’s plan, unless the proposal fails to meet strict criteria.

“Trying to use that and trying to strengthen it so the recommendations carry a lot of weight,” said Starkey.

One idea is to create a new regional advisory council that replaces the fish responsibilities of two current regional committees. In the very preliminary conception, tribes would make comprehensive management plans and take responsibility for researching and monitoring fish, while giving traditional knowledge equal footing.

The meeting continues Friday at the cultural center in Bethel. A meeting for Yukon tribes is scheduled for next week in Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Cook Inlet LNG Will Require Lead Time

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-06 17:05

The state has proposed purchase of Fairbanks Natural Gas as part of a plan to increase the volume of Cook Inlet gas available in the Interior. The governor has indicated that could begin as early as next year, but the timeline may stretch out longer.

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Categories: Alaska News

High Winds, Low Temperatures Cut Through Southeast Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-06 17:04

A strong and freezing cold wind cut through Haines and Skagway on Thursday and Friday. Gusts reached up to 100 miles per hour. And with temperatures in the single digits, the wind chill was at least 20 below.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Levelock

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-06 17:02

This week, we’re heading to Levelock on the Kvichak River near Bristol Bay. Chadalin Washington is an administrative assistant in Levelock.

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Categories: Alaska News

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