Alaska News

Alaska Journalist Bob Tkacz Found Dead

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-30 16:10

Reporter Bob Tkacz interviews U.S. Sen. Mark Begich following the senator’s annual address to the Alaska Legislature, March 3, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Veteran Alaska journalist Bob Tkacz has died. He was 61.

With his gravelly voice and dogged interviewing style, Tkacz was a fixture in the state capital press corps for more than 20 years.

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Tkacz peppered his share of Alaska politicians with a seemingly endless line of questions. Former Administration Commissioner Becky Hultberg was press secretary under former Gov. Frank Murkowski.

“Bob really liked to get under people’s skin if he could, and he’d kind of know when he did and he’d keep poking, keep going,” Hultberg says.

But she says she always respected the job Tkacz was trying to do. She doesn’t remember the issue, but says there was one exchange in particular where she tried to step in to prevent the governor from saying something he might regret.

“Ultimately, I was physically trying to maneuver my body between the governor and the podium to try to get the governor out of the room,” she recalls. “Because Bob had really accomplished what he wanted to accomplish, which was getting the governor riled up, and when people are upset they tend to be very quotable and not always in a good way.”

Former APRN Juneau Correspondent Dave Donaldson began covering the Alaska Legislature about the same time as Tkacz. They worked near each in the Capitol press room for 21 years. Though they were friends, Donaldson says even fellow reporters sometimes got fed up with Tkacz’s aggressive style.

Bob would not let go, and he would go forever,” Donaldson says. “And yeah, it did get a little annoying every once in a while. But the fact is that he came closer to really doing the job that we all ought to be doing than a lot of people who say, ‘Okay, thank you,’ and hang up.”

In September 1991, Tkacz was beaten and stabbed in an apparent mugging in Juneau. A New York Times story about the incident is still one of the first search results when you Google his name. Donaldson remembers visiting him in the hospital.

“He couldn’t talk, so he was trying to draw notes,” he says. “And he finally got it across to me that the reason I was there was to call his publisher and say that he’d be late for deadline.”

Tkacz worked or freelanced for several Alaska media outlets, including KTOO. In recent years, he wrote for Alaska Legislative Digest and the Alaska Journal of Commerce. His stories also appeared in national and international publications.

In 1994, he started his own subscription news service, Laws for the SEA, about the commercial fishing and seafood industry. Donaldson says that was the endeavor in which Tkacz took the most pride.

“He was kind enough when I retired that he gave me an honorary subscription, so I could keep reading them, and it really was good stuff,” Donaldson says.

In recent years, Tkacz traveled to Asia several times to report on how countries in the region are involved with Alaska’s seafood industry. Legislative Digest co-publisher Tim Bradner says he was passionate about the issue.

“The fact that so many of our seafood exports go to Asia, he just became interested in the market over there and what was happening to it and how that affected Alaska,” Bradner says.

Besides working as a reporter, Tkacz also did maintenance work at Jordan Creek Center, an office building in Juneau. He lived alone on his boat in Aurora Harbor, and often spent his free time at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool. He also was a volunteer DJ on KTOO’s sister station, KRNN, where he did a jazz show.

Juneau police say they responded to a report of a death at Tkacz’s downtown office Tuesday and found his body. The death is not considered suspicious. His body was initially taken to Alaskan Memorial Park Mortuary & Crematory then sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

Tkacz was originally from Ohio, where friends say he still has family. Services are pending.

Original post:

Longtime Alaska freelance journalist Bob Tkacz has died. He was 61.

Juneau police say they responded to a report of a death at Tkacz’s downtown office Tuesday morning and found his body. The death is not considered suspicious. The body was initially taken to Alaskan Memorial Park Mortuary & Crematory then sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

Tkacz was a fixture in the state capital press corps for years. His gravelly voice and dogged interviewing style needled a number of Alaska politicians. He had his own subscription news service, Laws for the SEA, which covered the commercial fishing and seafood industry. He also wrote for Tim and Mike Bradner’s Legislative Digest in recent years. He’d been published in the Alaska Journal of Commerce and once worked for KTOO.

In 1991, Tkacz was stabbed in an apparent mugging in Juneau that was highly publicized. A New York Times story about the incident is one of the top results when you Google his name.

His LinkedIn profile says Tkacz went to Ohio University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Newspaper and Magazine Editing. He lived on a boat in Aurora Harbor, and was a volunteer jazz DJ on KTOO’s sister station, KRNN.

Friends say he has family in Ohio. Services are pending.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 30, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-30 16:09

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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Drug Stockpile Recovered From Unalaska Home

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Unalaska police may have reached a turning point in a long investigation into drug sales. Two people are in custody after a stockpile was discovered at the home – and business – they both share.

Amid Green Peace Protests, ExxonMobil Readies for Summer Project in Russian Chukchi

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Yesterday Norwegian police and special forces cleared Green Peace protestors off an oil rig in the Barents Sea. Activists have since been using a boat to block access to the proposed drill site, which could become the world’s Northern-most offshore oil well. But on the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea, American and Russian energy companies are getting ready for a season of seismic surveying.

Alaska Journalist Bob Tkacz Found Dead

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Veteran Alaska journalist Bob Tkacz has died. He was 61. With his gravelly voice and dogged interviewing style, Tkacz was a fixture in the state capital press corps for more than 20 years.

Bethel Test Fishery Starts Early

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel Test Fishery put nets in the water five days early this year. With no salmon fishing happening in the early season, the test data will be central to understanding the strength of the king run and helping managers decide when to open up for other species.

Rain Gives Crews Leg Up On Funny River Fire

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Rain and cooler conditions have given firefighters a chance to strengthen their effort and get a step ahead in their battle with the Funny River fire on the Kenai. Officials are always trying to plan a few days in advance. But now, they are also looking ahead to the next few months and long-term management of the fire and its effects.

AK: A Musical Celebration

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Alaskans have had some big anniversaries this year: The ‘64 earthquake and the Exxon Valdez oil spill among them.

Acoustic musicians celebrated their own anniversary last month in Juneau: the Alaska Folk Festival’s 40th. The week of concerts attract hundreds of singers, pickers and strummers and thousands of audience members from around the state – and the nation.

300 Villages: Rampart

This week, we’re heading to Rapart, in Interior Alaska. The Koyukon Athabascan community is tiny, but working to attract new residents. Floyd Green is tribal administrator of Rampart Alaska. He’s just 21-years-old.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Test Fishery Starts Early

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-30 16:09

Crews transfer Bethel Test Fishery fish for ONC. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

The Bethel Test Fishery put nets in the water five days early this year. With no salmon fishing happening in the early season, the test data will be central to understanding the strength of the king run and helping managers decide when to open up for other species.

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In its 30 years of operation, the Bethel Test Fishery has begun drifting June 1st. This year, crews started May 27th. Kevin Schaberg is a Research Biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“Breakup was pretty early this year and reports from around state and on the Kuskokwim was that the fish were coming in a little bit early here and there,” said Shaberg.

Crews have caught both king and sockeye salmon in the first couple days of operations. Given this year’s severe king salmon restrictions, Shaberg is expecting many more king salmon to come through the test waters relative to typical years when people have been fishing below Bethel.

“This year everybody knows is a very different year… this is something I don’t know if we’ve ever seen on the Kuskowkim river in terms of lack of harvest at this time of year. So interpretation of Bethel Test Fishery is going to take a little bit longer to get a really solid signal on whether we think the run is doing well or very well or very poor,” said Shaberg.

Schaberg says there is no perfect way to measure the impact of people not catching kings. There is however an anticipated cultural and social harvest of about 1,000 kings beginning in June on federal waters. There are detailed reporting requirements about where and when the kings were caught. That will add some data to the managers’ toolbox.

Knowing the species mix from Bethel Test Fishery and how the kings are moving upriver is critical for the mid part of June when managers plan to open a dipnet fishery for other species of salmon and the last week of June, when they hope to have short gillnet openings.

On Thursday morning, representatives from Bethel’s Tribe, ONC picked up a small tote box of test fishery kings salmon bound for elder meals at Bethel’s senior center. The tribe is helping distribute those fish during the summer. Shaberg says it’s good to get the catch out to people on the river, and adds that about a quarter of the catch actually survives.

“We count those fish, we record it as a captured fish. But if it looks like a healthy fish, we put it back in the water. We don’t want to kill fish if we don’t need to kill fish,” said Shaberg.

Other research initiatives this summer include lower river fisherman collecting scales to estimate age and sex composition. And in early July, a Yukon River Sonar crew will come to evaluate sites for a possible sonar project.

Categories: Alaska News

Rain Gives Crews Leg Up On Funny River Fire

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-30 16:08

Rain and cooler conditions have given firefighters a chance to strengthen their effort and get a step ahead in their battle with the Funny River fire on the Kenai. Officials are always trying to plan a few days in advance. But now, they are also looking ahead to the next few months and long-term management of the fire and its effects.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: A Musical Celebration

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-30 16:07

Pat Henry, right, and Bob Banghart, left, performing as We’re Still Here. The two are the only musicians to have performed at all 40 festivals. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau)

Alaskans have had some big anniversaries this year: The ‘64 earthquake and the Exxon Valdez oil spill among them.

Acoustic musicians celebrated their own anniversary last month in Juneau: the Alaska Folk Festival’s 40th. The week of concerts attracts hundreds of singers, pickers and strummers and thousands of fans from around the state.

CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld has attended most of the 40 events. He took a walk down memory lane with some folk fest old-timers and filed this report.

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Art Johns and Nola Lamken, Tagish and Skagway Hillbillies. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau)

That drawl, those droll lyrics and the guitar licks have all been part of the Alaska Folk Festival, since it began in 1975.

They’re from Pat Henry, one of two– and only two – people who’ve performed at all 40 events.

Sharing the stage is Bob Banghart, the only other person who’s played every single festival.

I catch up with Henry as he heads outside the concert hall for a smoke on this rainy night.

Ed: “So, what’s it like to walk in and realize it’s the 40th year and you’ve been here for every one?”

Pat: “I think it’s pretty amazing that I’m here. I never expected to live this long. It’s all gravy.”

The folk festival began in the main gallery of the Alaska State Museum.

“Oh my gosh. It was, of course, a lot smaller,” longtime festival volunteer Barbara Pavitt, said. “And I don’t remember exactly how many acts but it was just one evening, probably a couple of hours. And maybe a hundred people came.”

The Third Grade Trio, Martha and Mary Dwyer and Robert Cohen. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau)

The event quickly outgrew that space. Now, concerts, workshops, jam sessions and dances are held in and around Juneau’s Centennial Hall Convention Center.

Over the decades, Alaska’s folk, bluegrass, jazz and rock-n-roll musicians made the festival part of their annual calendar.

One is Greg McLaughlin, who plays the concertina in a Celtic dance band.

His first time was about 35 years ago, when he caught a ride down from Fairbanks. He says he didn’t quite know what he was getting into.

“I saw a sign at the Hungry Dog Cafe that said, ‘If you want to go to the folk festival, the bus is leaving at midnight,’” McLaughlin said. “And there were about 16 hippies who showed up and we all piled on to this bus and we came down to the Alaska Folk Festival.”

He liked what he heard – a lot. He recently retired after many years as president of the festival’s board.

A lot of regulars started coming as teens or young adults.

Pat Henry, right, plays with son Hiram Henry at the 2014 Alaska Folk Festival. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau)

Others began as kids, and never stopped.

Photographer Brian Wallace was more into Alice Cooper than “Alice’s Restaurant” back at the beginning.

But he walked into that first, 1975, festival by accident. And he’s been taking pictures and listening to music ever since.

“Every year it kind of regenerates itself, like the phoenix,” Wallace said. “The old guard passes on and we saw those two young kids up there and they can’t be more than 10, 12, 13 years old and they’re going to be the old guard some day.”

Some of those kids are from Pat Henry’s family.

Those concerts where they played are his favorite festival memories.

Pat: “I’m a proud daddy and a proud granddaddy.

Ed: “So do you think you’ll be here for the 50th?”

Pat: “I would like to think I’ll be here. It I’m still going and can, I will.”

If he is, you’ll find him up on stage, leading a crowd of musicians in the traditional festival finale.

“Irene, goodnight.  Irene, goodnight…”

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Rampart

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-30 16:06

This week, we’re heading to Rampart, in Interior Alaska. The Koyukon Athabascan community is tiny, but working to attract new residents. Floyd Green is tribal administrator of Rampart, Alaska. He’s just 21-years-old.

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Categories: Alaska News

Managing Predators

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-30 12:00

Managing predators is not easy, but it’s harder to manage people. Predator populations are spreading in the Lower 48 states, and farmers are not happy. Meanwhile in Alaska the tourists are arriving, the bears are out and so are the moose calves.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • John A. Shivik, author, “The Predator Paradox: Ending the War with Wolves, Bears, Cougars and Coyotes”
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition Friday May 30, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-30 07:23

Sexual assault and the National Guard update. Update on southcentral fires. The SARB board meets to evaluate the trans-Alaska pipeline. Jim Minnery, leading conservative activist, modifies his views on gays. Changes ahead for workers compensation law. Verizon enters the Alaska market. Six Native regional corporation join the vote no campaign against the oil-tax referendum. Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew says his department is understaffed.

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HOST: Michael Carey

GUESTS:

  • Jill Burke, Alaska  Dispatch/ADN.
  • Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce
  •  Paul Jenkins, Anchorage Daily Planet

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 30 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 31, at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 31 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Committee Moves Bill Updating Magnuson-Stevens Act

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 17:34

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee today moved a bill to update the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary fisheries law in federal waters. Alaska Congressman Don Young amended the bill to allow subsistence fishermen a voice on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

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Fish like halibut and pollock are caught at sea, but Young says inland fishermen should also have a say in how they’re managed.

“All I want is for them to have a voice, the same voice that the commercial and sport fisheries have, so they have utilization for a living source of food,” Young said.

Nominees for the North Pacific Council can be qualified based on their commercial or recreational fishing expertise. The law doesn’t mention subsistence users, and Young says they’re being short-changed on the Council.

“There has been a decline in fisheries that are used for subsistence and yet the subsistence users are neglected as far as taking in consideration the amount of fish that can be caught,” Young said.

His amendment would require the Alaska governor to consult with subsistence users before nominating North Pacific Council members. Tribes in the Y-K Delta and the Interior have been asking for representation on the Council. People there suspect Bering Sea fisheries are aggravating the Chinook salmon crisis. The Pollock industry says its cut way down on its Chinook bycatch, down to about 30,000 fish. But to subsistence users barred from catching even one, it sounds like a lot.

Sky Starkey, an attorney for the Association of Village Council Presidents, says the amendment is a good start in getting subsistence users into the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but Starkey says tribes want a dedicated tribal seat on the council to press subsistence concerns.

“And the amendment that was introduced at mark-up today would not accomplish that purpose, at least not directly so,” Starkey said.

Current law says membership on the management councils should be “balanced” between different types of fishermen, commercial and recreational. Young’s amendment doesn’t change the balancing requirement to give any weight to subsistence.

It passed the committee with no opposition. The bill itself is largely similar to the draft in circulation since December.

Resources Chairman Doc Hastings told the committee they’d have more opportunities to shape the bill as it moves forward.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Comes Together In Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 17:33

Tribal representatives took the first steps on Wednesday towards establishing the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The group intends to push for co-management of salmon stocks and more direct involvement for tribal fisherman.

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The river is currently split between state and federal jurisdiction. Mark Leary from Napaimute explained that when you cross a line at Aniak, the regulations significantly change.

“It’s madness,” said Leary.

Leary says that inconsistency is one reason for Tribes on the Kuskokwim to form the commission. Myron Naneng is the President of the Association of Village Council Presidents and says co-management is due because tribal members bear the brunt of conservation measures.

“They go back to our people and say you should follow this rule and regulation and you should cooperate. No, that’s no longer the case if we’re going to come up with the rules and regulations we’re going to work on…let’s do it at an equal level with the state and federal government. So we are protecting our rights to hunt and fish,” said Naneng.

Organizers envision a structure in which the commission works in tandem with federal and state agencies. Draft federal legislation would authorize agreements in which the commission formulates management plans and has a direct role in run assessments, test fishing, and sharing local knowledge. Wayne Morgan is from Aniak.

“No more [being] pushed, shoved aside by state or federal managers, saying thank you for your comment AVCP, thank you for your comment, tribal council, we’ll take that into consideration,” said Morgan.

A draft resolution includes accepting steep conservation measures, including a moratorium on king salmon harvest this year besides fish for traditional funeral potlatches and a small community harvest of king salmon.

Another pillar of the plans calls for reducing bycatch of king salmon in Bering Sea trawl fisheries. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates the fishery, meets in Nome next week.

Sky Starkey, an attorney who advises AVCP, says groups will push the council to cut the season limit on king salmon bycatch from 47,500 to just above 14,000.

“And we think that might be achievable. And we think if we can drive it down that low, it will be really hard for them to ever bring it back up. From there we’ll continue to try to bring it down eventually to zero,” said Starkey.

They are also pushing for a tribal seat on the council and setting steep fines for bycatch.

To fund the Kuskokwim River Intertribal Fish Commission, Naneng is seeking a million dollars in federal fishery disaster funds, as well as other grants. Next steps include creating a 10-person steering committee to further organize and bring together tribes to formally establish the commission.

Delegates met in St. Mary’s last week to put the pieces in place for the Yukon Fish Commission.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Speaks On VA Care In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 17:32

Amid national outrage over the Veterans’ Administration’s handling of medical services for veterans and congressional calls for the resignation of VA secretary General Erik Shenseki, Senator Mark Begich today stopped short of calling for a resignation, but Begich said officials from the top down will be held accountable when Shenseki’s report comes out.

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(Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

Begich, a member of the Senate Veteran’s Affairs committee, spoke at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic where he touted a collaboration in Alaska between the VA, the IHS and the neighborhood clinic to address veteran’s health care needs wherever they live.

“For example up in Nome, a beautiful new hospital up there. 800 veterans there, Native and non-Native, but they could not use that hospital,” Begich said. “They had to fly to the hub if they were in a village, fly to Anchorage for service or go to Seattle. So we figured out through these agreements, which were not easy and they’re still being worked on, a lot of complication but we figured out now that if you’re a veteran in a place like that, you could walk across the street, if you want, to get that service, right next door and the VA will reimburse them.”

Because of the agreements in Alaska, veterans can now go to 26 tribal health facilities across the state, and in Anchorage they can be seen at the Neighborhood Health Clinic.

Begich said in 2009, Alaska’s VA facility had one thousand veterans on a waiting list of 90-120 days. Now the list has dwindled to 10 and the wait time for new veterans is about 8 days. Susan Yeager is the director of VA services for Alaska, she confirmed the streamlined process and said the Alaska VA budget has gone from $150 million to $206 million this year.

“And the big change there was, in 2010, it was decided that patients with cancer needs should receive care in Alaska, because the VA is normally a hub spoke, normally we’d be sending to Seattle and it was determined at that time it’s better, more honoring veterans to receive that cancer care here in Alaska,” Yeager said. “So in 2011, that concept was expanded to any of the care that can be provided to an eligible veteran in Alaska, should be.”

Yeager said the Alaska VA facility passed a surprise inspection of their scheduling system and were told by inspectors they are scheduling in the right way.

Kimberly Cohen, executive director of the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic said over the past two months they’ve started seeing more veterans come in and are currently serving about 200 veterans and hope for up to 2000 eventually.

“The first thing that’s happened with many of our veterans is, they’re not too sure about us because they think of a community health center as where poor people go,” Cohen said. “And then they come in and see they are welcomed and get really great medical care, they get really enthusiastic doctors.”

Doug Ebee, the Vice President of Medical Services for Southcentral Foundation, says the Alaska Native Health care provider is proud to be part of a system that helps veterans to be treated where they live.

“Because the only statewide network of health care in this state is the tribal system so the hundreds of small villages. While it’s 26 Native entities, it’s hundreds and hundreds, over 200 village sites and small towns and communities where the only infrastructure is the tribal system and it’s now open to everyone,” Ebee said. “So community health center payments, VA payments, everyone can go.”

Ebee says there are currently 400 veterans who are signed up and being seen at the Mat-Su Southcentral Foundation facility. He expects that to grow to thousands across the state.

The VA’s Yeager says there are 77,000 veterans in Alaska with about 30,000 signed up for VA services. She says they serve about 18,000 veterans annually.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Funny River Residents Meet After Evacuation Order Lifted

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 17:31

The Funny River fire continues to burn the central Kenai Peninsula this week. Light rains have helped firefighters maintain their containment lines.

The fire is estimated at around 193,000 acres with 46 percent containment.

All evacuation advisories were lifted this week and the Skilak Lake campground and boat launch reopened today.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Funny River residents met Wednesday night at the local community center for the first time since the evacuation orders were lifted. Fire management officials were there to update them on continuing operations and to help the community move forward.

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There’s standing room only at the Funny River community center. Residents stand shoulder to shoulder in this small building that just a few days ago was in the heart of the evacuation zone.

There are many familiar faces inside. When I first met resident Sarah McAlpin, she was at the Red Cross shelter in Soldotna. She had no idea then when she’d be able to go home or even if she’d have a home to go to. Now, she and her neighbors are back.

“I’ll tell you when I got home, the relief was incredible,” McAlpin said.

She says the past week and a half has been very stressful. But things are looking up now.

“The most peaceful sleep…we had a motorhome. Yes, we’re used to that. But, being in your home—nothing was damaged, no visual effect that had happened. It was incredible,” McAlpin said.

While no houses were damaged by the fire, there are visible burn areas along the south side of Funny River Road.

There are other signs of the fire too, like streamers of colorful tape tied to trees, signposts and gates. And, a few unusual spots marked as crime scenes. Lieutenant Dane Gilmore with Alaska State Troopers says that tape played an important role.

“The Fire Incident Commander issued the evacuation order. The Borough spread the word with it using RapidNotify and using our dispatch center. And we sent various law enforcement agency folks—AST, Wildlife Troopers, US Fish and Wildlife Service, State Parks and CERT volunteers to the area,” Gilmore said. “And we had established to use pink and blue flag tape to indicate that we had gone to a residence to attempt to notify people of the evacuation.”

He says they used pink and blue because it’s a distinctive combination. But, the evacuation was so large they ran into a problem.

“There were about a thousand locations. So, eventually we ran out of pink and blue. We switched to blue and orange because we had some orange left,” Gilmore said. “And eventually we ran out of that. Because we have crime scene tape in our vehicles, we used crime scene tape.”

Now that the evacuation is over, Gilmore says it doesn’t need to be up anymore.

“And if you have it, I would suggest that you remove it. It is evidence of your participation in this fire and that your house was impacted. But it’s also what we will use in the future in order to note that we gone to attempt notification,” Gilmore said. “So, it’s good if we can get that removed so if there’s a future event, we can use this as an effective way to indicate people that have been notified.”

Incident Commander Rob Allen says he doesn’t see another evacuation happening anytime soon. But, fire can be unpredictable and he says there are ways for residents to protect their property for the future.

“As we’re getting it more contained and people are getting back into their homes, they still need to continue to clean up around their homes,” Allen said. “Firewise is always good. The fire’s still here. We’re not a hundred percent contained yet, even in the areas that we’re really working on that have values at risk. So, getting their places cleaned up and making sure they’re good to go.”

Allen says the forest has also been significantly changed by this fire. Places that were once popular recreational spots may not be safe for quite some time.

“If they start traveling in the fire area itself or next to the fire area to see how things were, just be careful,” Allen said. “The trees will be weakened. If we get a good windstorm, stuff will fall over. It’s going to be hazardous for quite a while.”

The area is not the same as it had been before the fire. The community will have to adjust to the differences, which may take some time.

But for residents like Sarah McAlpin, just being back at home again is good enough. She says that wouldn’t have been possible without all of the people who came together to make it happen.

“The appreciation and the words can’t express how we really feel. The job that everybody did was incredible,” McAlpin said. “I would like to give a huge thanks to the community of Soldotna. They opened their doors. They fed us, they sympathized, empathized. The outpouring of support was incredible. I hope that someday I get to pay it forward.”

There is another community meeting in Funny River tentatively planned for later this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Orphaned wolf pups finding love at the Alaska Zoo

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 17:30

The Funny River Fire on the Kenai Peninsula continues to burn this week, though most of the communities and structures are now considered safe. And thanks to the acts of a group of fire fighter medics and wildlife biologists, a family of five orphaned wolf cubs is safe, too, and now at the Alaska Zoo.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/29-wolf-pups-pkg.mp3

About a week ago bulldozers plowed through an area south of Soldotna to create a fire line. The machinery went past what wildfire medic and vet tech Eric Zucker knew to be an animal den, so the fire fighters tried to avoid it.

“When going out to the line, we modified where our personnel travelled,” he explained. “And every once in a while we’d pop down to see if there was any sign of the parents, because we’d heard a couple of wolves howling from the camp at night in the far distance.” They waited about two days, and then, “even after this rain, we didn’t see any new tracks, so our division got into contact with the Refuge.”

Zucker said the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge biologist decided to pull out the pups.

“We found the skinniest crew member we could to climb up into the den because it was pretty wide at first but then it got down to a pretty small little hole. Yeah, he was totally in there all the way,” he recalled.  “And the signal was for him to wiggle his feet so other crew members could pull him out. And he went in there six times to pull them out.”

Five of the six were still alive, but they were dehydrated and hungry. They also had quills stuck in their bodies and faces from a porcupine that had holed up with them to avoid the fire.

Now, the five pups are being cared for at the Alaska Zoo in their small rehabilitation facility.

One pup groaned contentedly as he eagerly sucked on a bottle of puppy formula fed to him by zookeeper Jim Rutkowski.

“Good baby. All right,” Rutkowski cooed at the fuzzy, two-week old pup.

Zookeeper Zach Shoemaker feeds another orphaned pup.

The baby wolf weighs just over 2 pounds and needs about 250 – 300 calories per day to survive. At the moment, that means being fed every three hours. Peeking out of the fluffy black fur is a milky blue eye. It’s infected from where it was pierced by a quill. The pup is receiving antibiotics, but the zookeepers aren’t sure if he’ll be able to see again from that eye.

Another little wolf squirmed and whined as the zoo staff tried to pull a quill from his side.

“It’s like trying to take a splinter out of your kid’s foot,” said zoo curator Shannon Jensen. She said the quills can stay in the pups for years.

But zoo staff is working hard to get the little wolves healthy. Once the pups are well enough, they’ll be transferred to another zoo or facility in the Lower 48. Jensen said they cannot be released back into the wild because they’ve had too much contact with humans. The Alaska Zoo can’t keep them because they already have a pack that was taken from the wild in 2006.

Ultimately, it’s up to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to decide where they go. The department’s spokesperson, Ken Marsh, says many places are interested. They are currently working with an accredited facility that can keep all five pups together, but the department won’t know exactly where the pups will go for another few weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

2-Year State Predator Control Program Claims 153 Interior Bears

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 17:29

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game shot 64 black and brown bears from helicopters in the Western Interior in May. That brings the total number of bears shot during a two-year effort to 153. The Board of Game approved the program following requests from Kuskokwim River-area hunters, who were concerned about a declining moose population.

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The two-year program is the first of its kind implemented by the state to eliminate bears. A similar program to control the wolf population has been in place in the same game management unit since 2004.

Fish and Game Spokeswoman Cathie Harms admits the program is controversial.

“I think the most common perception is that the first management program to be considered in Alaska is predator control and the opposite of that is true,” says Harms.

Moose hunting in unit 19A has been closed since 2005 because of a declining population. Harms says the state examined other management options that might help increase the moose numbers before the Board of Game approved extermination.

“In this case, hunting is so restricted that restricting the harvest further isn’t going to change the population,” she says. “Getting rid of regulations on trapping wasn’t going to stop the problem because not enough animals were being trapped. Live capturing and moving the bears was considered, but we have yet to find a place in Alaska where people living there don’t object.”

After 89 bears were shot as part of the effort last year, long-time biologist Vic Van Ballenburg called the program ‘extreme.’ Van Ballenburg said the state’s data regarding the effects of predators on moose weren’t sufficient enough to justify shooting bears from helicopters.

“I think by a combination of trying to ensure that the data to initially justify and implement the program s are better collected and to ensure that we’ve got good monitoring and evaluation procedures in place, that’s what I and many other have been asking for for many years,” said Van Ballenburg.

But Cathie Harms says surveys this spring turned up positive data on moose calves in the Western Interior following the first year of the program.

“It looks like calf survival within the bear control management area is significantly higher than in other areas,” Harms says. “For the moose calves it could be almost double the survival rate of moose calves that leave the area or are outside the area anyway, so it looks to be positive in terms of increasing survival of moose so that the numbers actually change.”

Harms also says removing the top predators has minimal long-term effect on the sustainability of both black and brown bear populations in the Interior.

“No predator control program has effects that last forever,” she says. “They are all somewhat temporary based on what weather, habitat quality, disease and other effects have on the prey population. So we can elevate numbers of moose for a relatively temporary time, but eventually they will go back down to a low density.”

After the bears were shot, they were skinned and processed. Nearly three tons of meat was distributed to residents among 10 western Interior villages along the Kuskokwim River including Kalskag, Aniak, McGrath and Sleetmute. Hides of smaller bears were distributed among village residents. Those from larger bears will be sold at auction.

The state hasn’t released information about its wolf control program in the region. Harms says information about the number of wolves shot in Unit 19A could be available within the month.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 29, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 17:22

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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Committee Moves Bill Updating Magnuson-Stevens Act

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee today moved a bill to update the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary fisheries law in federal waters. Alaska Congressman Don Young amended the bill to allow subsistence fishermen a voice on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Kuskokwim Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Comes Together In Bethel

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Tribal representatives took the first steps on Wednesday towards establishing the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The group intends to push for co-management of salmon stocks and more direct involvement for tribal fisherman.

Begich Speaks On VA Care In Alaska

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Amid national outrage over the Veterans’ Administration’s handling of medical services for veterans and congressional calls for the resignation of VA secretary General Erik Shenseki, Senator Mark Begich today stopped short of calling for a resignation, but Begich said officials from the top down will be held accountable when Shenseki’s report comes out.

Rain Helping Firefighters Maintain Containment Lines

Shady Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The Funny River fire continues to burn the central Kenai Peninsula this week. Light rains have helped firefighters maintain their containment lines.

The fire is estimated at around 193,000 acres with 46 percent containment.

All evacuation advisories were lifted this week and the Skilak Lake campground and boat launch reopened today.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Funny River Residents Meet After Evacuation Order Lifted

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Funny River residents met Wednesday night at the local community center for the first time since the evacuation orders were lifted. Fire management officials were there to update them on continuing operations and to help the community move forward.

Alaska Zoo Caring For Orphaned Wolf Pups

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

It will take time to determine the full impact to wildlife from the massive fire on the Kenai Peninsula but thanks to the acts of a group of fire fighter medics and wildlife biologists, a group of orphaned wolf cubs is safe.

2-Year State Predator Control Program Claims 153 Interior Bears

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game shot 64 black and brown bears from helicopters in the Western Interior in May. That brings the total number of bears shot during a two-year effort to 153. The Board of Game approved the program following requests from Kuskokwim River-area hunters, who were concerned about a declining moose population.

Secretary of Defense Visits JBER

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stopped by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Wednesday at the outset of a 12-day tour abroad. Hagel talked with Army and Air Force personnel about the changes ahead as the U.S. transitions out of 13 years of war.

Categories: Alaska News

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Visits JBER

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 17:14

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stopped by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Wednesday at the outset of a 12-day tour abroad. Hagel talked with army and air force personnel about the changes ahead as the U.S. transitions out of 13 years of war.

Hagel brought tidings from the military’s commander in chief, President Obama, and the message that times are changing.

“What is the role of America in today’s world?” Hagel asked. “With the kind of challenges we face — it’s complicated, more complicated than we’ve ever seen.

“We’ve got budget challenges. But this is not unusual in our history. When you come out of wars, you do transition, and you do restructure, and reposition, and reposture.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson May 28 at the start of a 12-day tour overseas.

As the U.S. removes itself from Afghanistan other parts of the world are emerging as priorities — including the Arctic, Hagel said.

“The Arctic is opening. It will continue to open. That is going to make possible many new opportunities for many countries and many people. It’s going to present also new challenges. And new dangers,” Hagel said.

After Hagel’s speech, those in attendance were invited to tell the defense secretary what was on their minds.

A staff sergeant asked Hagel about care for veterans transitioning to civilian life.

“In recent events we lost a veteran paratrooper from the 501st (Infantry Regiment) family. He suffered from PTSD and he tried to seek help at the VA hospital. My question is what the DOD and the Dept. Vet. Affairs is going to do to mitigate cases like his and others — and what is going to happen to be able to ensure that service members that transition out of the military to make sure that if they’re suffering from PTSD that they’ll be taken care of after serving their country.”

“Preparing that active duty member for the next phase of his or her life is a big responsibility we have. We focus on that. It’s not perfect. We can do better. We will do better,” Hagel replied.

Airman first class Samantha Place said Hagel’s speech helped reassure her that the military is hardly redundant even as the country transitions out of war.

“When Secretary of Defense talked about reduction of force I kind of perked up a bit because I want to make this a career. It’s kind of frightening. But it’s comforting to know that the White House is here. They do care about us. And they are here for us. Just like we’re here for them.”

Hagel is headed onward to Singapore, Afghanistan and several destinations in Europe.

Categories: Alaska News

As Chinooks, Chums Enter the Yukon, Fishermen Chafe Under Tight Restrictions

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 14:12

Subsistence fishermen say they’re willing to back off the kings, but they want to be able to get their chums.

Both Chinook and chum salmon are starting to swim up the Yukon River, but with the worst king run on record expected this year, Fish and Game officials are implementing tight restrictions that subsistence users say are keeping them from getting chums.

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” (Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

“We do not want to be handling Chinook salmon unnecessarily when we have such a low run, and we’re concerned for the Chinook run, and we have some pretty big closures on subsistence,”  Fish & Game biologist Eric Newland said during the first in-season management call Wednesday. “We don’t want to kill any more kings than we need to.”

As of Monday, the northern Costal district and districts one through three — from the mouth of the Yukon to just north of Holy Cross — are closed to gillnets with mesh sizes bigger than 4 inches. Dipnets are also prohibited — for now. Fish & Game biologists say it’s to avoid Chinook bycatch, but many fishermen say it’s keeping them from catching anything at all.

“We got restrictions so early this year,” Ryan, a caller from Russian Mission, said. “I had about a week to get some salmon and here at Russian Mission we haven’t got any salmon, maybe I heard one chum salmon. We didn’t get a chance to get our sheefish.”

Others along the Yukon echoed Kenai fisherman Robert Gibson, who disagrees with fishery managers as to how much of a threat dipnetting poses to Chinook.

“I personally dipnet in the Russian River here for years, and I hardly see any damage or mortality at all when doing so,” Gibson said. “So, I would like to know what your concerns are not allowing dipnetting for chums for subsistence during the uh, the closure?”

And another caller — Eric from St. Mary’s — says the new, tight restrictions mean many don’t have the right equipment.

“We’ve got probably 75 percent of these subsistence don’t have the gear to harvest right now, it’s only a handful of the people who tried it last year in the commercial,” Eric said. “So I don’t know how we’re going to deal with that, fishery last year.”

“So, I don’t know how we’re going to deal with that, getting their subsistence needs met.”

Despite complaints, the restrictions remain in effect for Districts 1 through 3, with similar restrictions coming to other districts as the first pulse of Chinook makes its way upriver.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Journalist Bob Tkacz Found Dead

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:06

Longtime Alaska freelance journalist Bob Tkacz has died. He was 61.

Reporter Bob Tkacz interviews U.S. Sen. Mark Begich following the senator’s annual address to the Alaska Legislature, March 3, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Juneau police say they responded to a report of a death at Tkacz’s downtown office Tuesday morning and found his body. The death is not considered suspicious. The body was initially taken to Alaskan Memorial Park Mortuary & Crematory then sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

Tkacz was a fixture in the state capital press corps for years. His gravelly voice and dogged interviewing style needled a number of Alaska politicians. He had his own subscription news service, “Laws for the SEA,” which covered the commercial fishing and seafood industry. He also wrote for Tim and Mike Bradner’s “Legislative Digest” in recent years. He’d been published in the Alaska Journal of Commerce and once worked for KTOO.

In 1991, Tkacz was stabbed in an apparent mugging in Juneau that was highly publicized. A New York Times story about the incident is one of the top results when you Google his name.

His LinkedIn profile says Tkacz went to Ohio University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Newspaper and Magazine Editing. He lived on a boat in Aurora Harbor, and was a volunteer jazz DJ on KTOO’s sister station, KRNN.

Friends say he has family in Ohio. Services are pending.

Categories: Alaska News

Name Of Helicopter Pilot Killed In Crash Released

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:02

Anchorage police have released the name of the pilot of a helicopter that crashed at the Birchwood Airport in Chugiak.

Police say the pilot was 62-year-old Thomas Moore of Anchorage.

Moore was flying a Robinson R-44 Wednesday afternoon when the aircraft crashed and became engulfed in flames. A bystander was taken to a hospital for treatment of burns sustained while he was trying to rescue Moore.

The bystander’s name has not been released.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Lower Skilak Lake Campground, Boat Launch Reopens

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-29 10:47

(Courtesy Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team)

The Funny River fire is holding steady at just over 192,831 acres and is considered 46 percent contained.

Fire Information Officer Brigitte Foster says the continuing damp weather and low winds have slowed the spread of the fire.

The Lower Skilak Lake Campground and boat launch area will be reopening Thursday.

There are 760 personnel working on the Funny River fire.

Categories: Alaska News
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