Alaska News

Migrating Birds May Carry Viral Baggage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 16:57

The Izembek Refuge sits between two major flyways for migrating birds.

Right now, a lethal strain of bird flu is wreaking havoc in the Lower 48. It’s clear that migrating flocks have something to do with spreading the illness between farms and across continents — but exactly what is still fuzzy.

A remote spot in Southwest Alaska may hold some clues.

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The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is pretty far off the road system — unless you count the avian highways that run overhead.

“Izembek provides wonderful staging habitat for large numbers of migratory birds both from Eurasia and North America,” says Andy Ramey, a geneticist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “So there’s potential for viruses to mix and be spread among birds at that location.”

Ramey and his colleagues recently published a new study on bird flu. To figure out how migration might be helping the virus get around, they visited the Izembek Refuge every fall when Emperor Geese and Northern Pintail ducks were passing through.

Over four years, the researchers collected almost 3,000 swabs and fecal samples. None of them contained deadly flu, like the kind that’s killing off poultry at farms in the Midwest.

But Izembek did show an exact match for a harmless strain of bird flu that’s only been found in China and South Korea.

After some genetic tests, Ramey says, “what we found was these viruses were sort of hybrids. That is, they’re essentially half-Eurasian and half-North American.”

These mixed-up viruses aren’t uncommon at the edge of the continent. Moving further inland, Ramey says you’re more likely to find pure ones. And those are what researchers have been looking for to prove that migration’s spreading bird flu.

There’s been a lot of effort “to find an apple in the basket of oranges, or an orange in the basket of apples,” Ramey says.

Finding a half-apple, half-orange virus in birds on both sides of the Pacific Ocean has never happened before, according to Hon Ip. He’s with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.

“One possible mechanism of how this happened is that a Eurasian virus was brought by wild birds into Alaska and a reassortant virus emerged from a co-infection there that now generated this combination virus — which has a little bit of Eurasian genes and a little of North American genes,” Ip says.

From there, it might’ve hitched a flight back to Asia with a migrating duck or goose. Or the hybrid virus could have spread out from Russia.

Either way, it’s a long journey. But Ip and Ramey say there might be more versions of the bird flu out there taking a similar path.

Going forward, Ramey wants to continue testing birds in the Izembek Refuge — to find out what kind of viral baggage they’re bringing with them and what happens when it gets unpacked across borders.

The study on avian flu at the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge will appear in the August edition of the journal Virology.

Categories: Alaska News

Long-Term Weather Models Point Toward A Warm Summer

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 16:56

With the last of the snow melting off, and Alaska headed toward summer, long range forecasts indicate it could be a hot one.

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National Weather Service Alaska climate science and services manager Rick Thoman uses computer models to generate long term forecasts.

“All point strongly towards significantly warmer-than-normal temperatures,” he said.

Thoman describes extremely warm surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific and Gulf of Alaska as continuing to drive a balmy trend in Alaska. Thoman says the other half of the weather picture, precipitation is much harder to predict.

“Some weak indications of potentially wetter-than-normal across, at least, the eastern Interior and perhaps Southcentral and into Southwest Alaska as well,” he said. “But, those signals are much weaker than the very strong indications for significantly warmer-than-normal temperatures for both May and the early summer.”

The mix of warmth, lightning and rain determines wildfire potential, and Thomans says that’s even harder to forecast.

“Whenever we see a significant indication for warm, definitely our ears perk up, but as we’ve seen recently, for instance in the 2013 season, it can be very warm, but doesn’t necessarily translate to a big fire season,” he said.

Wild fire season also fizzled last summer as the interior experienced wetter than normal conditions, including in Fairbanks, where a June, July August rain fall record was set.

Categories: Alaska News

Homer Road Sloughs After Rain

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 16:55

A bluff near the Homer waterfront partially collapsed Sunday morning. No one was injured in the slough, but portions of road are now closed indefinitely.

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Categories: Alaska News

Erin’s Law Stuck In Senate Education Committee

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 16:53

Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, testified last year in the House Education Committee on House Bill 233, also known as Erin’s Law. Rep. Geran Tarr is the bill sponsor. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The House passed a version of Erin’s Law on Saturday. Now, three versions of the child sexual abuse prevention bill are stuck in the Senate Education Committee as the legislature winds down for the year. Majority leadership has indicated there’s no rush to pass the bill.

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Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson said deciding how to educate children about sexual abuse prevention should be done on a local community level, and not mandated by state law.

House Bill 44 would require public schools to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education.

Wilson says the legislature should be more concerned with what resources schools have when something comes up.

“So we have a 7-year-old who’s been mistreated at home, comes and says something to the teacher about it. Do we have the safety nets to be able to – and the people we need – to find out exactly what happened? Or does that child get taken immediately from the home, spiraling the family downward for something that might have been innocently said and nothing happened. Children say things,” Wilson said.

Other opponents included Republican Reps. Dan Saddler, Shelley Hughes and Wes Keller. They spoke on the floor against adding another unfunded mandate for school districts, exposing young children to problematic material and said the bill would not solve the problems.

Rep. Mike Hawker said the bill imposes an inappropriate burden and additional liability on teachers who are not

“Professional psychologists. They are not behavioral health specialists,” Hawker said. “They are educators and we are demanding that they be something they are not and are not trained to be.”

The bill’s sponsor Republican Rep. Charisse Millett said almost half of the state’s school districts already teach sexual abuse prevention in grades K-12. The bill also includes prevention efforts against dating violence, and gives parents the option of excusing their children from either. Millett acknowledges that parents who are the perpetrators of sexual violence may be the ones who opt their children out.
“This may not be the linchpin that solves the epidemic, however we know that every victim matters,” Millett said. “If we can save one child, one teenager, I think we’ve done our job.”

Millett also agreed with critics who said her bill was not perfect.

“I’m not shaming anyone. I respect every single person’s vote. I understand your concerns, I get it. This is not a perfect bill, but let’s not let perfect get in the way of good,” she said.

The bill passed 34-6. It’s in the Senate now.

In January, Gov. Bill Walker called for Erin’s Law to be on his desk, and said last Thursday it’s still a high priority. At a press conference, he said he’d consider including it in a potential special legislative session.

Categories: Alaska News

Cama-i Celebrates Tradition For All Generations

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 16:52

The Cama-i festival packed the Bethel Regional High School gym for a weekend of dancing, singing, and celebrating life in the YK Delta.

Traditional and modern dance groups from the YK Delta and native performers from across the country came to Bethel to express in song and dance this year’s timeless theme: Generations Celebrating Through Dance.

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The Nelson Island dancers of Tooksook Bay have performers from 4th through 12 grade. Senior Deanna Jimmie says its dance is a way to keep their culture vibrant.

“It’s really important to keep our culture going. We’ve seen other villages lose their culture and language. So we try to speak to them in Yupik, encourage them to talk in Yupik, because we don’t want to lose our culture and language,” said Jimmie.

Junior Byron Nicholoai says the young dancers are powerful. Their inspiration and guidance comes from their elders.

“Every Friday an elder comes to the school talks about the Yup’ik culture and life, in Yup’ik and after that we have a dance, so they play a big role in our community,” said Nicholai.

The festival honored dancer, artist, educator, and advocate Nengqerralria Chuna McIntyre with the Living Legend award. He’s the founder of the Nunamta Singers and Dancers.

“Dancing is like breathing. You do it because it’s part of you. It keeps you going. It keeps you alive,” said McIntyre.

Originally from Eek, McIntrye says he’s deeply humbled to receive the award. For him, the connection between those who taught before and those who now learn is direct.

“It is for them, it is for them. And then we think of the future generations who will come after us. We have a foundation, it’s important to have a firm foundation, to always to step on and stand on and to walk on, and be on that foundation,” said McIntyre.

Teaching the next generation happens now not just in village school gyms or family gatherings, but on smartphones and laptops across the globe. Bryon Nicholai’s over 15,000 facebook fans would not fit into the Bethel gym, but it was evident that the Tooksook Bay teenager had a lot of real life “likes.”

Athabaskan and Tlingit, Crystal Worl has a background in ballet. But for the last year and half, she’s been intensely studying aerial performance. With a silk hung from the rafters, she performed gravity defying climbs, wraps and drops.

“As an aerialist you always have think about about your entire body, especially your feet. ‘Are my feet pointed.?’ I’m very finicky about my feet. I’m thinking about breathing and being in the moment, moving with the music, that’s the number one thing. And hanging on!,” said Worl.

As she masters her discipline, Worl plans to bring in her traditional storytelling and art.

“I’m a weaver and I see the silks as parallel to weaving. Weaving my body through it, creating loops and ties that will unravel as I drop or dive forward or sift through my piece,” said Worl.

19-year-old Mary Kernak was crowned Miss Cama-i. Originally from Napakiak, she also has family in Holy Cross. Kernak graduated last year from BRHS. She currently working in Bethel and saving up to earn both her pilot’s license and enter college. She ran on a platform of suicide awareness and prevention and promoting a drug and alcohol free lifestyle. She hopes to spend time with kids to connect them with positive and healthy lifestyles.

From up north, the King Island Dancers keep their home alive through song and dance. Sylvester Ayek of the King Island Dancers was born and raised on King Island, which is no longer inhabited.

“It bonds the unity among the King Island community, even if we’re not on King Island anymore. Song and dance help to keep us as one,” said Ayek.

Cama-i this year was dedicated to the late Bethel traditional dancer Janis Martha Guest.

Categories: Alaska News

Urban Gardening In Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 15:42

Today, we’re urban gardening. The time to garden is now, and Anchorage resident Tikaan Galbreath can’t wait to dig into his soil.

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“Check that out, the rhubarb is starting to poke its head through; a sign of a good spring,” Galbreath said. “The soil is getting warm.”

Galbreath loves gardening so much that he and his wife chose their house for its large, south-facing yard. A concept Galbreath says his younger self would find absurd.

“When I was growing up my mom always had a garden, but I rebelled naturally and ate a ton of processed foods,” he said. “And it wasn’t until I was going to school at the University of Massachusetts. It was just a rich valley full of local food and it really caught my attention.”

So much so that Galbreath actually changed his minor to plant, soil and insect science. But after he graduated and moved to Alaska he had a hard time putting that knowledge to use. His landlord at the time didn’t want him growing food in the lawn, so he had to make the best of his limited space.

“Growing in your house you can just grow in pots,” Galbreath said. “If you have a balcony or a window that gets some decent sun you have the opportunity to grow something. A roof works too.”

Galbreath says if you’re interested in gardening but have no outside space to do it, try sticking with produce that thrives indoors.

“Basil, tomatoes, squash, or eggplant are better inside,” he said. “So those hot climate crops, if you have the space inside definitely do it.”

For those intimidated by gardening? Galbreath says start small. He suggests filling a flower bed with herbs and sticking it on your window sill.

“That’s a great thing to do in the kitchen. Get a tray of different herbs that you can grow and harvest from while you’re cooking,” Galbreath said. “It’s not the dry stuff from the store, you know where it came from, and there’s just something about running your fingers through the herbs and getting that fresh smell.”

Galbreath says no matter where you choose to grow, the key to a happy garden is good soil. One way he gets that is by composting, something he does indoors as well.

“We have two big worm bins for the colder winter months,” he said. “Smelling a little ripe right now. Worms are cool.”

Galbreath uses a pair of storage totes which he fills with worms, food scraps and newspaper for his compost. He keeps them by the front door. Galbreath says with a little creativity you can garden in just about any space, no matter the size. And he notes that when you do get a bigger space that creativity will come with you; like it did for him when he used a raspberry bush as a fence.

“So in this case with the raspberries it’s a visual barrier giving us a bit more privacy, we make friends with our neighbors and it gives us the bounty of the fruit harvest,” he said.

And although Galbreath is pleased with his yard, he’s not quite finished finding new places to garden. His next stop? The driveway.

“Our vision is just to fence it in and block off three quarters of it,” Galbreath said. “We’ll still have enough room to park one car, but the rest will open up this whole new space and we’re thinking of an herb garden and a breakfast table where we can come out and enjoy the early morning sun.”

Categories: Alaska News

The Blind Spot: Spaces Between Statistics

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 14:22


Click and drag the green slider button to compare the graphs.

In Anchorage, the number of criminal offenses by minors referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice has dropped by nearly half in the past decade for almost every offense type — except severe drug and alcohol offenses. That number has stayed fairly steady.

As a share of the whole, substance abuse cases in Anchorage are up, although as a share of the total they are proportionately small. But the numbers only tell part of the story. “The Blind Spot” is Alaska Public Media’s attempt to bring you voices from behind the statistics in Anchorage—beginning with what the numbers actually mean when it comes to juvenile drug and alcohol offenses.

Our interested started with a straightforward question: are there more young people in Anchorage brought into the criminal justice system for problems with substance abuse than there used to be?

It seemed like a simple thing to find out, particularly because the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice tracks data about what offenses are committed in different regions of the state.

At first, the results appeared clear: every type of juvenile crime in Anchorage is dropping, except for crimes related to substance abuse.

Total offenses in Anchorage went from 3,448 in 2004 to 1,991 in 2014—down 42.3% in just a decade. Substance abuse related crimes vary from year to year: they peaked at 238 in 2004, dropped to 137 in 2008 then went back up again the next year to 203. The average in the last 11 years is 190 (DJJ’s public data starts in 2003).

So, what does this actually mean?

To find out, we took a tour of the McLaughlin Youth Facility in Anchorage, which houses about half the juvenile offenders in the state.

“In my mind, if I’m thinking of a correctional setting, this is it,” said Dennis Weston, head of McLaughlin, standing in a large tiled room lined with detention cells. Each one has a plastic bed topped with a mat, a steel toilet, and a small frosted window.

Weston has seen a lot of changes since starting as a detention officer in 1992, including a huge reduction in the number of juveniles the Division handles at any one time. The number peaked in the 1990s, when McLaughlin would house up to 215 residents on its campus on any given day.

Now, the facility has about half that number, according to Weston. That’s partly because more moderate offenders are no longer getting sent into facilities.

Many of the kids who arrive at McLaughlin are in crisis. Counselors immediately evaluate whether they are a danger to themselves or others. Most have immediate trauma, behavioral disorders, or side effects from one or more substances.

Some have trickier problems.

Next to the bed in a sparsely furnished room is a breathing machine. It belongs to a young man who came to McLaughlin with serious medical issues.

“Sleep apnea with aggravating factors,” Weston said. There were also concerns over self-harm and assaults.

“So you had the medical concerns, but you also had the behavioral concerns,” Weston said, before gesturing towards the bed and machine. “But this was a big part of the problem: not getting any rest, not breathing correctly.”

As part of their work in the Detention Unit, Weston’s staff monitors situations like these. In this particular case, to make sure the equipment is used correctly, a staffer sits by the door at watch for much of the night.

Stays in the Detention Unit are short, 24 days on average. But McLaughlin also has a treatment wing, where residents generally stay 12 to 14 months. About 70 kids at any one time are going through a treatment program, which is a big share of the 100 to 120 juveniles in treatment across the state during a given year.

Nichole Cuaresma oversees the girls treatment ward inside a cottage where all the young women on campus live.

“Right now 75% have intense substance abuse issues where they need to complete the intensive substance abuse group,” Cuaresma said of the current residents.

Girls made up just 26% of referrals to DJJ in 2014. The unit in McLaughlin is the only all-female treatment facility in the state system. Cuaresma generally has each girl for a year-and-a-half before they move into a six-month transition program, preparing to go from an institutional setting back into the community. To do that, Cuaresma and her staff try to create as homelike an environment as they can, while incorporating a Truama Informed Care model.

“A lot of these girls–and most of the youths in the facility–have endured a lot of trauma,” Cuaresma explained. “So restricting pictures of family, or restricting something like a stuffed animal that would make them feel comfortable, or a blanket that their grandma made–we don’t feel that it’s very conducive to treatment.”

One of the things we found out at McLaughlin is that by the time kids enter the DJJ system most have gotten into trouble multiple times.

This is evident in alcohol-related offenses. The most common alcohol-related citation for young people in Anchorage is an MCA, Minor Consuming Alcohol. You don’t get referred to DJJ after your first MCA–you go for your third.

What’s more, there aren’t that many MCAs issued any more. 2009 saw 414 issuances, but by 2013, the last year numbers are available from the Anchorage Police Department, there were only 76, a drop of 82.7%.

An APD spokesperson said that does not mean fewer minors are drinking. Most MCAs are cited when police break up parties, and there has been less of that since investigations into noise complaints were downgraded to a lower response-priority.

The point is that by the time kids are logged in DJJ’s data in Anchorage for alcohol they are coping with serious substance abuse issues, sometimes coupled with a lot of other problems ranging from family issues to homelessness to self-harm.

That made us interested in the space between the statistics, when young people may be drinking or using drugs, but before a major legal intervention happens. And we found a gap.

There is no coordinated effort to track youth who have started getting into trouble and are having a hard time finding help to get clean.

“The Blind Spot” is a series examining stories of individuals who have found their own routes for dealing with substance abuse, and some solutions different agencies are developing to prevent the problem from happening in the first place.

Click here to see more stories in “The Blind Spot” series from Alaska Public Media.

Categories: Alaska News

With No Deal On Budget, Legislative Session Goes Long

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 03:44

The Alaska Legislature missed its adjournment deadline on Sunday night, after failing to reach agreement on the state’s budget. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

It was certain by 8pm that the Legislature would not be gaveling out. A conference committee still had not met on the state’s operating budget, and the usual buzz and urgency of the last day of session was missing entirely.

Taking a break outside the Capitol, House Speaker Mike Chenault explained the hold up was a vote to draw from the constitutional budget reserve to fill a multi-billion-dollar deficit. Without support from the Democratic minority, the Legislature is short at least three votes to tap the rainy day fund.

“We get through it by negotiating with our minority on what they need to get out of here for a three-quarter vote,” said Chenault. “But yet, in turn, we’re not going to add millions of dollars back into the budget that we don’t agree with.”

Making a deal of that scale is already hard enough, but compromise was further delayed by personal circumstances. That Sunday morning, the daughter of Democratic Minority Leader Chris Tuck and conservative talk radio personality Bernadette Wilson was born. Tuck flew back to Anchorage to meet the seven-pound Penelope Grace. Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, said that obviously could not be helped.

“He’s got a new baby girl,” said Chenault. “It might have been not the right time, but he did what I would have done in his place. And I would have gone back and seen my wife and my child.”

There are a few big sticking points in the negotiations. Democrats would like to see education funding restored, and they would like for the Legislature to expand Medicaid. They also want reverse some cuts to the ferry system, public broadcasting, and pre-kindergarten.

Chenault says that if an agreement cannot be reached, a government shutdown is possible.

“That’s not something we want to see with our state employees. I don’t believe that’s what the minority wants to see either,” said Chenault. “That’s, I guess, the nuclear option, if you want to call it that.”

On the Senate side, Majority Leader John Coghill also spoke of dire consequences if a deal failed. The North Pole Republican said the Legislature could try to fund government using the permanent fund earnings reserve, which requires a simple majority instead of a three-quarter vote.

“There’s a huge political reluctance to take that money, because it has huge impacts on the dividends,” said Coghill. “But I can tell you, that may be the very next thing we’ll have to do.”

But House Democrats have objected to the compromise being described in such stark terms.

“The permanent fund earnings is a deadly game,” said Rep. David Guttenberg, a Fairbanks Democrat. “If they’re going to play that game, I’m not going to participate in it.”

Democrats believe their conditions for supporting a budget reserve draw should not come as a surprise.

“We talked about Medicaid expansion and reform. We talked about education that doesn’t cut kids and opportunities. And we talked about seniors,” said Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat. “I mean we’ve talked about the same thing from the beginning.”

Negotiations will continue Monday.

While the legislative session is scheduled for 90 days by statute, the Alaska Constitution allows lawmakers to meet for 121 days without calling for a special session. Last year, the Legislature also gaveled out late, taking 95 days to complete their work.

Categories: Alaska News

After Tense Lead-Up, Legislature Confirms Walker’s Cabinet

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-20 03:36

After a five-hour session, the Legislature has confirmed all of Gov. Bill Walker’s cabinet appointments.

Most of the high-level appointments made it through with unanimous support. But Attorney General Craig Richards saw significant — though not fatal — pushback from the Legislature. His prior litigation against oil companies concerned some members of the Republican majority in the Legislature, while his actions on same-sex marriage troubled a few Democrats in the minority. He ultimately survived with a 36-23 vote.

Alaska National Guard Adjutant General Laurie Hummel, Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers, and Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck also received a smattering of no votes, but were ultimately confirmed.

The confirmation session had been a point of contention between Gov. Walker and the Legislature. Amidst disagreements over a bill that would limit the governor’s ability to pursue an alternative gasline plan, the Legislature had cancelled the vote on Walker’s appointees. On Thursday, Walker issued an executive proclamation ordering lawmakers to consider his nominations, only to rescind that order after getting assurances from legislative leaders that confirmation would happen before the session’s end.

At a press availability on Sunday evening, Walker thanked the Legislature for keeping that commitment.

“They did exactly what they said they were going to do, and I appreciate that as far as the timing of things,” said Walker.

While Walker’s cabinet survived intact, five appointments to boards and commissions were rejected.

Verne Rupright, a former mayor of Wasilla, was kicked out if his post at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission on a 19-40 vote. They rejected Michael Gallagher, who had been appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, on a 33-26 vote. Board of Fisheries nominee Robert Ruffner narrowly failed on a 29-30 vote. Legislators denied their former colleague Joe Paskvan, who represented Fairbanks in the Senate for four years, a seat on the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation Board on a 28-31 vote. Chris Cooke’s appointment to the Mental Health Trust Authority was even closer — the Senate President briefly stated that Cooke was confirmed, before correcting himself and noting that the nomination failed by one vote.

Walker says he does not have any immediate plans for replacing those appointees, but would like to fill the board vacancies quickly.

Categories: Alaska News

Key Issues Linger As Legislative Session’s End Closes In

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 17:29

The Alaska State Legislature is scheduled to gavel out on Sunday, before the stroke of midnight. But many of the issues lawmakers have delved into – the budget, Medicaid, marijuana – are still unsettled. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about what the end game for the legislative session looks like.

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Lori: Is everyone in a frenzy trying to get things done before Sunday?

Alexandra: If you walked through the Capitol right now, it wouldn’t look like it. It’s almost eerie. Hallways are empty. Committee hearings being delayed and interrupted, and in many cases canceled. It’s almost like being in the eye of the storm. Caucuses are meeting behind closed doors to hash out last minute deals, and there’s a sense that things are happening but people don’t want to talk lest they blow those deals up. One of the things that’s really striking is you have fewer lobbyists trolling the halls going into the final stretch of session. There was one I spoke to who suggested it was because we were in a budget deficit. When there’s no money to spend on projects, there’s nothing to really run around over.

Lori: Passing a budget is the Legislature’s biggest obligation right now. Where do we stand there?

Alexandra: Yesterday, the House Finance Committee removed language from the capital budget that would have authorized the state to spend money from its constitutional budget reserve. That’s the state’s $10 billion rainy day fund, and a three-quarter vote in both the House and the Senate is required to tap it. In the Senate, the Republican majority has a large enough membership that they’re okay there. But in the House, the Republican majority is going to need to pull four votes from minority members to get it through.

Another thing of note is that more than $40 million was added to the capital budget in support of the Knik Arm Bridge project. This was a bit of a surprise, given that Gov. Bill Walker has said

Lori: Are we seeing much public pressure on the Legislature to get specific things done?

Alexandra: Yesterday, there was a rally to encourage Medicaid expansion on the Capitol steps. And then today, we just had a totally surreal situation where two protests on very different issues were happening simultaneously. You had a bunch of high school age students offering public testimony on cuts to education, because money for schools was stripped out of the budget and put to a vote before the public could comment on it. And then on the other side of the street, you had anti-abortion protesters displaying some pretty graphic imagery. If

Lori: Does it look like we may go into extra innings?

Alexandra: The governor has said getting Medicaid expansion through is a must-have for him, and that he’s willing to call legislators back if they don’t pass it. So, we could see a special session there. Legislators also have the option of just extending the session by a month, because even though a citizen’s initiative a few years ago capped the session limit to 90 days, the Constitution still allows them to meet for 121 days. Now, there’s a question of logistics tied up in all this. Most legislators have leases that end by May 1st, and a lot have cars ready to ship on the ferry. That might serve as an incentive to get work done.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF To Cut Several Low-Enrollment Programs

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 17:25

The repercussions of reduced state funding are hitting home at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And some academic programs are going away.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: An Artist On A Quest To Bring Otter To The Runway

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 17:24

This spring, Sitka artist Peter Williams took a trip to New York City, to show his work during fashion week.

A designer and marine mammal hunter, Williams makes everything from hats to earrings from sea otter and sealskin. He’s been trying to break into the lucrative fashion world for years, and he’s got a larger goal in mind – bringing Alaska Native designs to luxury buyers worldwide.

Williams says that one way to save a traditional art form, is to create a market for it.

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Peter Williams with models Jerica Young, Denise Reed and Anthony Flora at TechStyle NYC, during Fashion Week in February. (Photo by Carol Green)

When people walked into the TechStyle Lounge, in an airy loft space in Manhattan during February’s fashion week, one of the first things they saw was a display of seal and sea otter earrings, headbands, and cuffs from Shaman Furs.

That’s the business name of Sitka artist Peter Williams. Anthony Flora was modeling one of Williams’ seal and otter vests.

“I don’t think anyone has walked by without touching something, I’ve been asked if I can be touched twenty times,” Flora said.

Williams was in New York as part of an effort to introduce his work – and marine mammals in general – to the upscale fashion industry, which sometimes takes a little explaining – especially in an industry with a famously ambivalent relationship with fur. Williams has his pitch down.

“Alaska Natives are exempt from the marine mammal protection act, and we’re allowed to hunt marine mammals so we’re allowed to hunt marine mammals for food clothing and to make arts and crafts for sale, like this,” Williams said.

He’s tried a couple different spiels. This one seems to get the key points across: it’s legal; it’s special; it’s Alaskan.

Fashion editor John Nubian stopped by TechStyle on a break from the runway shows uptown. He was impressed.

Nubian: “I just came from Lincoln Center today and there were, like, two fur shows. Dennis Basso, which is, like, the biggest American fur designer. And, you know, this is, like, on par with that.”

Williams: “Oh, wow, thanks.”

Williams’ signature piece is a man’s vest. The top third – or yoke, in fashion terms – is harbor seal. Below that is sea otter. The back is wool. He sews it himself.

The price tag? $1,500.

And that’s the key issue.

“Part of why I do what I do, and part of trying to bring seals and sea otters — to higher end fashion, is to get, try to get a living wage, for doing arts and crafts,” Williams said.

Peter Williams shows off one of his signature seal and otter vests during New York Fashion Week. (Photo by Carol Green)

His prices are a too high for craft fairs or Etsy, he says. He has pieces in a few shops in Sitka; he has a website, but he needs a bigger market – one where customers don’t blink at paying $1,500 for a vest.

And that means finding a way to sell outside Alaska.

“We keep cultures and traditions alive by having them be able to be relevant in the present moment,” Williams said. “And the younger generation needs to be able to make a living in order to continue arts and crafts and traditions.”

There are some major hurdles to clear. Like, for starters, being a one-man shop based on an island in Southeast Alaska, far from any fashion capital, or being pretty much the only person trying to do this. Williams estimates there are a few dozen people in Southeast working seriously with sea otter. They sell almost exclusively locally.

And then there’s the more fundamental issue of trying to explain what he’s about to a fashion world that has almost no context.

“How do I bottle and explain thousands of years of culture and customs and connection with the land?” Williams said. “And that’s something that’s very challenging to say to someone who, like, grew up in New Jersey — no offense.”

None taken

“….and who lives in the city, and may not know that Alaska Natives are still around, or that there is such a thing as Alaska Natives,” Williams said.

Williams knows what he’d like to get across. If he had to sum it up in one word, it would be “connection.” His work is all about being connected: to a specific place, to nature, to the animals he is hunting, to culture, to heritage.

So he has a product people can’t keep their hands off. He has a story that seems custom-made for this era of conscious consumerism.

What he needs is a lucky break. And that’s why he took the gamble, flew across the country, and put down the money for a slot at TechStyle.

Williams’ big hope for the trip was to connect with buyers – ideally, buyers for small New York boutiques.

Instead, he says, he got a lot of good feedback and spoke to a lot of reporters. His dream remains frustratingly elusive.

He was, however, being profiled for the British paper, The Guardian, by a writer he met a few years ago in Sitka.

Guardian photographer, Tim Knox, decided to take Williams and the models out onto the High Line, the downtown park, for a snowy photo shoot.

“Might just, like, run down there, you put the coats on, take the coats off, put the coats back on…so we get something really cool looking and really interesting,” he said.

Knox, for one, is on board with fur.

“First trade, innit? One of the oldest trades? That and prostitution,” he said, laughing.

Ignore the British humor, but he’s right. And Williams is hoping this old trade can become a modern vocation.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Wayne Constantine

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 17:23

This week, we’re hearing from Wayne Constantine, who is Athabascan and lives on a homestead on the Stony River.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 17, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 17:22

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

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Key Issues Linger As Legislative Session’s End Closes In

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State Legislature is scheduled to gavel out on Sunday, before the stroke of midnight. But many of the issues lawmakers have delved into – the budget, Medicaid, marijuana – are still unsettled. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about what the end game for the legislative session looks like.

Arctic Priorities Questioned on Eve of U.S. Chairmanship

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council next week, kicking off a two-year window to assert American priorities in the region. The U.S. and other member nations have committed to making the Arctic a “zone of peace.” But now, some Arctic watchers wonder if the U.S. needs to add an item to its Arctic priority list:  get tough with Russia.

Refined Fuel Tax Measure Heads To Governor’s Desk

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Though discussion of new revenues hasn’t gone far in the Legislature this session, today the Senate passed a measure taxing refined fuels.

Anchorage Church Officials Lead Rally For Medicaid Expansion

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Hundreds of Anchorage residents gathered in Cuddy Park Thursday night to rally for Medicaid expansion.  The event was organized by AFACT, Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together- a coalition of local churches. Organizers hope the rally will make a difference as lawmakers enter the final days of the legislative session.

UAF To Cut Several Low-Enrollment Programs

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The repercussions of reduced state funding are hitting home at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Some academic programs are going away.

AK: Fur Fashion

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

This spring, Sitka artist Peter Williams took a trip to New York City, to show his work during fashion week.  A designer and marine mammal hunter, Williams makes everything from hats to earrings from sea otter and sealskin. He’s been trying to break into the lucrative fashion world for years. And he’s got a larger goal in mind: bringing Alaska Native designs to luxury buyers worldwide. Williams says that one way to save a traditional art form, is to create a market for it.

49 Voices: Wayne Constantine

This week, we’re hearing from Wayne Constantine, who is Athabascan and lives on a homestead on the Stony River.

Categories: Alaska News

Refined Fuel Tax Measure Heads To Governor’s Desk

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 16:14

Though discussion of new revenues hasn’t gone far in the Legislature this session, the Senate on Friday passed a measure taxing refined fuels.

Sen. Peter Micciche speaks on the floor of the Alaska Senate, Feb. 10, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The bill updates how the state saves money designated for oil spill prevention and response. In the past, taxes were collected by the barrel and placed into a fund. Under House Bill 158, though, about one cent per gallon of gasoline is charged at the point of sale.

Soldotna Republican Peter Micciche says that while the 1989 Exxon-Valdez disaster casts a long shadow, most of the spills the state pays to clean up are small, involving refine gasoline products.

“I hope you can support this environmental surcharge, it’s less than a penny per gallon, less than a penny per day per Alaskan, and the effort is about keeping Alaska clean and spill free,” Micciche said.

The measure received opposition from some senators over unfairly collecting a tax from customers who may never spill fuel. Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze says the measure plays favorites by levying a new tax burden on consumers, but not the aviation or commercial fishing industries.

“I am going to try to exercise a discipline of not creating new revenues and protecting bureaucracies at a time when we’re still nowhere near finished,” Stoltze said. “I’m not trying to make a hard-fast line in the sand, but it’s a line in the sand that I certainly just don’t want to rub off when it’s convenient.”

The bill passed the senate with a vote of 13-7 and now heads to the governor’s desk for signature.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Priorities Questioned on Eve of U.S. Chairmanship

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 16:01

The United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council next week, kicking off a two-year window to assert American priorities in the region. The U.S. and other member nations have committed to making the Arctic a “zone of peace.” But now, some Arctic watchers wonder if the U.S. needs to add an item to its Arctic priority list:  get tough with Russia.

Russia has been flexing its military might in northern skies and waters, and Swedish authorities last year reported a near miss with a Russian spy plane. Nordic ministers this week described Russia as the greatest threat to northern Europe’s security. Yet the U.S. says it still wants Russia to be its partner in the Arctic. Heather Conley, an Arctic expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says she’s unsure what to make of it.

“I am struggling with the concept of ‘partner,’ yet I’m seeing extraordinary aggressive actions, missing civilian airliners, a lot of military exercises in the Arctic,” Conley said.

Speaking at a forum in Washington, Conley says she’s increasingly concerned the U.S. government isn’t focusing enough attention on Russia’s behavior.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, at the same forum, said she’s committed to the Arctic “zone of peace” concept, but it requires that countries respect each other and Russia hasn’t been living up to that standard.

“And it causes me to wonder if they are not taking advantage of the fact that we have said, we want to be your friend. We want to be your partner in all of this. Well, if you want to be a partner, then you behave like one,” she said.

The senator says the U.S. government needs to send an equally strong message to Russia to let it know its actions are unacceptable.

“And as much as we want to be working together, we want to collaborate on scientific opportunities, we want to collaborate in areas of the environment, let’s not say one thing on the one hand and then our actions take us in a different direction,” she said. “We need to call Russia out when Russia needs to be called out.”

Murkowski was the keynote speaker at the Arctic forum, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Her main message was that the Obama Administration should place a higher priority on the well-being of Arctic people, rather than giving climate change top billing.  Murkowski, though, says she agrees climate change, and how to adapt to it, is a valid Arctic issue.

“But it cannot be our sole and singular focus. And it cannot be held over or held against the people of the Arctic,” she said. “It should not be used as an excuse to prevent those who live in the Arctic from developing the resources available to them in order to create a better standard of living.”

Murkowski also addressed what other senators have called the irony of the Arctic: that rapid Arctic warming gives access to more petroleum, which, when burned, will bring on more warming. At a hearing last month on Arctic issues, a Democratic senator and a liberal independent asked why Arctic Slope witnesses favored oil development when their communities are the most vulnerable to climate change. Murkowski says the question ignores what resource development has brought to the North Slope, from medicine to search-and-rescue, and home heating.

“There is no irony in the people in the Arctic benefiting from the economic opportunities that are available in their region,” she said. “But there is an irony in deliberately limiting their economic future while claiming that somehow it is for their own good and somehow in their best interest.”

The Arctic Council meeting is next week in Canada. Russia’s foreign minister has declined to attend.



Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Church Officials Lead Rally For Medicaid Expansion

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 13:35

photo credit: Jonathan Casurella

Hundreds of Anchorage residents gathered in Cuddy park Thursday night to rally for Medicaid expansion. The event was organized by AFACT, Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together- a coalition of local churches. Organizers hope the rally will make a difference as lawmakers enter the final days of the legislative session. 

The crowd squeezed together on the amphitheater bleachers, holding up signs that read, “Expand Medicaid: Save Money, Save Lives” And “We Are Our Brother’s Keepers.” Pastor Julia Seymour from Lutheran Church of Hope started things off with an new version of an old song.

“For Medicaid expansion I’m gonna let it shine, For Medicaid expansion, I’m gonna let it shine….”

The crowd was diverse: Samoan, Hispanic, Alaska Native, young and old. Some had health insurance. Others did not, like Tara Devlin, who spoke at the rally. Devlin graduated from college and then started a preschool last year. When she went to sign up for insurance on, she found out she earned too little to buy subsidized insurance. In most other states, she would have been able to enroll in Medicaid.

photo credit: Jonathan Casurella

Some Republican lawmakers say the state can’t afford to add Alaskans to the Medicaid system, even with the federal government paying most of the bill. Devlin thinks they’re wrong:

“It’s an investment in healthy Alaskans and it’s an investment in young people like me who want to start businesses and be here for the rest of my life and put my kids through the schools here. By not investing in me it makes people like me want to leave.”

Medicaid expansion would give federal health insurance to up to 40,000 low income, mostly childless adults in Alaska.

The local chapter of Americans For Prosperity has been making the argument against expansion this session. State Director Jeremy Price is considering organizing his own rally. He questions a recent poll showing even in the most conservative areas of the state, more Alaskans support expansion than oppose it. Price thinks many Alaskans don’t understand what expansion means and because of that, the state should wait:

“Let’s focus on something that Alaskans agree on. We see reform as something that Alaskans agree on. Supporters of expansion and opponents of expansion both agree on reform. So let’s focus on that. Let’s pass reform first.”

Price says it’s clear the Medicaid system is broken.

Towards the end of the rally at Cuddy park, Pastor Julia Seymour led the crowd in a prayer for every elected official in Juneau.

“After each name we will respond, may light and truth guide them…”

Seymour went to Juneau last month and met with several lawmakers to make the case for Medicaid expansion. She says she learned a lot from the trip. She thinks some lawmakers are paying attention to misinformation instead of the truth about Medicaid expansion. But she is willing to be patient:

“The bible tells us that faith, hope and love go on and do not end. And I’m keeping the faith and I’m hopeful, but my love for some of the leaders is waning now and then.”

Seymour thinks her trip to Juneau did make a difference though. And she hopes the rally can too:

“If it doesn’t make a difference, we really have to question whether our leaders our representing the people of Alaska. We vote them in not to hold to their own agendas but to pay attention to what we lift up as the issues of our community.”

If Medicaid expansion doesn’t pass this legislative session, Seymour says there will be a lot of grieving by people like her who expect to see it happen. But she won’t abandon the fight. She says she can’t give up until all Alaskans have some kind of health safety net.

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

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers To Retire This Summer

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 12:24

University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers plans to step down this summer.

Rogers, who was a top candidate to replace retiring UA system President Pat Gamble, announced his intention to leave the university Thursday, citing health issues he attributes to stress including that brought on by the process of cutting UAF’s budget.

Rogers, a UAF graduate, has been chancellor for 7 years, and affiliated with the university system for decades, including 8 years as a regent. He plans to officially end his tenure in August.

Meanwhile President Gamble, who had planned to retire this spring, has agreed to stay on a little longer as regents consider candidates to replace him. A message from Regents chair Jo Heckman says Gamble agreed to remain on the job for a few extra months to allow more time to vet candidates to replace him. She also cites the importance of Gamble’s knowledge as the university undergoes downsizing.

Categories: Alaska News

Land Into Trust And The Future Of Tribal Sovereignty In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 12:00

Alaska tribes can now ask the Interior Secretary to take land into trust, a legal designation called Indian Country. What would this mean for the future of tribal sovereignty? How would Indian Country status affect Alaska Native Corporations and the relationship between tribes and the state?

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Mark Trahant, Atwood Chair for Journalism, University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Callers statewide


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  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

State’s New Child Adoption Rules Signal Thaw With Native Groups

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 19:12

Since 2008, the state has been in litigation with the Native Village of Tununak over the fate of a young girl in a case where parental rights were terminated. The state has held that because the girl’s grandmother did not file formal adoption paperwork in time, she lost the preference she would have been granted under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Now, Gov. Bill Walker has rolled out emergency regulations that seek to prevent situations like this in the future. As APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports, Native groups have long fought for the change.

With Julie Kitka, the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives by his side, Walker announced at a press conference that the state would make it easier for Alaska Native children to remain with extended family or with tribal members in adoption cases.

“We are going as far as we can with the emergency regulations, up to the statutory limitations now.”

With the way the Indian Child Welfare Act works, those groups get preference in adoption cases. But as it stands now, they have to exercise that right through prescribed application notices and legal proceedings.

That’s not always easy in villages where there are often no attorneys. Health Commissioner Val Davidson tried to convey just how challenging the whole process is by asking reporters questions in Yup’ik.

“I asked you in Yup’ik, ‘If you’re a person who wants to step forward, come now. Now is the time. Now is the only time you can do that,'” Davidson said after two seconds of silence. “That’s what families face in Alaska every day.”

Under the new regulations, which are effective immediately, individuals who get custody preference would be able to express their intent to adopt a child in need of aid in less formal ways. They could do it in person, over the phone, by post, or even just by e-mail. The administration has also drafted a bill that would put those rules into statute. If the legislation passes next year, it would make the policy more likely to hold in future administrations.

Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka thanked the governor for the change, and said it signified a shift in relations between the state and tribes. She said the new rules would have a noticeable impact on families.

“It’s real. It impacts children in our state today,” said Kitka.

But it won’t affect one child — the now seven-year-old Baby Dawn in the Tununak case. At the same time the administration is changing its stance on adoption cases, it is staying firm in its position in that litigation — which was one of the reasons for the regulatory change in the first place. In that case, a non-Native foster family adopted Dawn before her grandmother asserted her position under the Indian Child Welfare Act. The state argued that the Office of Children’s Services behaved appropriately

On Wednesday, the same day that the regulations were signed, Attorney General Designee Craig Richards filed in a brief in the Tununak case that went against the village’s desires. While the brief acknowledged that the state was moving toward more flexible policies for child placement, it still held its position that a child’s grandmother lost her adoption preference when she did not give a formal notice that she wanted to take the girl in.

Walker does not think that’s inconsistent, saying that the regulations cannot be applied retroactively.

“We can’t change, we can’t rewrite what was in place at that time,” said Walker. “We can rewrite the future.”

Walker added that Richards was involved in the drafting of the new regulations, despite his position in the Tununak case.

The plaintiffs in the case remain committed to a rehearing.

Categories: Alaska News