Bethel’s Native Tribe, Orutsararmuit Native Council, held a public hearing seeking input on Chinook fishing restrictions next summer.
It’s part of a call out to tribes along the river to help come up with management options after poor King salmon runs the last several years.
The weather was blowing sleet the night of the meeting but still the room managed to fill up. The issue of King salmon–even in the month of November–is on people’s minds. It’s a large part of the local diet.
Doug Molyneaux has been a salmon researcher on the Kuskokwim for 23 years. He started the public hearing off by sharing data.
“Half of the total King salmon subsistence harvest for the entire state of Alaska comes from the Kuskokwim area,” Molyneaux says. “Half for the entire state. That’s how important it is here.”
He said the river’s subsistence harvest equals about 80,000 Kings a year, two-thirds of it is taken in the first 70 miles of the river, one-third by Bethel and one-third by villages downriver. During poor runs, like the last few years, it doesn’t leave a lot of fish for the next 600 miles upriver.
“If your total run is really low and you’re still taking a high harvest on the lower river, they’re seeing just really low densities of fish,” Molynueaux says, “and it takes them a lot longer to try to get the fish they want for subsistence.”
The state’s best pre-season model predicted a run much different than what actually took place. Molyneaux says it did not work the last two years.
“The forecast was for almost twice what actually came back to the Kuskokwim River,” Molyneaux says.
Bev Hoffman of Bethel moderated the public hearing. She’s the Co-Chair of the local advisory group the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group which has asked the river’s tribes to help find solutions.
“How many people want to see it completely closed? Raise your hand,” Hoffman asked the crowd. “How many people would like a window of opportunity? Raise your hand.”
The vote was close but a few more wanted a chance to fish. Still, several people spoke out in support of conserving now for future generations.
Henry Hunter Sr. is on the tribe’s subsistence board. He says past bans on moose hunting worked well.
“They bounced back because we had that moratorium. You see a lot of moose here,” Hunter Sr. says. “I’d like to see a moratorium closure on the Kings too.”
His sentiments were echoed by several other tribal members including Mike Shantz. He says he voluntarily has not targeted King salmon for four years.
“If we don’t stop it right now, there’s going to be nothing left and it might be too late already,” Shantz says. “You know, it might not ever come back.”
The tribe’s subsistence board came up with possible options for restrictions many of which were similar to what the local advisory group had compiled. They include fishing schedules, starting a permitting system for who could fish when, and gear restrictions.
Mary Sattler is from Bethel.
“I think 8 inch gear should be banned because that really is targeting the big Kings,” Sattler says.
Bill Kristovich with Bethel’s tribe says the public hearing was a good discussion but they won’t come up with a consensus on restrictions until they hear from more members of the public.
The Working Group plans to come up with restriction recommendations for state and federal managers by the first of the year.
A cell and repeater tower that was blown down by strong winds east of Willow late last month has brought the issue of tall tower regulations to the forefront in the Mat-Su Valley.
The Borough currently has an advisory committee looking into what requirements should be put on companies that wish to build cell and broadcast towers.
Alex Strawn with the Planning Division of the Borough says that the tower fell at a very interesting time, since the next meeting of the Tall Tower Advisory Committee will be focused solely on whether to require a setback radius around new towers. Rick Brenden is part of the committee, and says that the past failure of ordinances in the Borough Assembly led to a situation where there were virtually no restrictions.
“They went eight to ten months without anything. Tower–cell companies in particular were not regulated, so towers sprung up like weeds all over the place, which awakened people to that issue. It got on the Borough Assembly, and they started to make some rules, but setbacks were omitted deliberately and have been kept omitted. It’s starting to anger people.”
Rick Brenden says that sort of unregulated construction can pose a safety risk. He has found over three hundred photos of towers that have fallen “long and flat,” despite the argument that the towers rarely fail, and tend to collapse around their own base when they do. He says this incident lends further weight to his push for having regulations requiring new towers to be built so they cannot fall on adjacent structures or property.
Jim Sykes, newly seated Borough Assembly Member for District 1, agrees that this incident illustrates what can potentially happen with a tall tower.
“There has been lots of talk about, ‘These things almost never fail, they almost never fall, and if they do fall, they collapse on themselves, and they’re very rarely a problem outside of just a few feet of where the tower stands.’ This shows that, not only did the tower fall as a single piece and did not collapse on itself, but it used up the full radius of the height of the tower.”
Jim Sykes has been involved with radio towers for many years, including the extension of the tower that broadcasts KTNA’s signal. He says that he is not a proponent of excessive regulation, but that he is a “safety guy.”
“When we have man-made structures of this sort, which sometimes to fail–they don’t do it that often–but when we have an opportunity to look at safety and take a look at the height of the tower and where it could fall if it ever fell–and hopefully it never does–but if it ever fell, we can control where we put it.”
Jim Sykes says that it is often possible for cell phone carriers and communities to work together in order to find a location for new towers that is acceptable to everyone. As an example, he cites the Lazy Mountain area where he lives, where the community and the builder came to an agreement that was almost universally amenable.
While it will likely mean more attention for the issue, neither Rick Brenden or Jim Sykes were able to say if the fallen tower near Willow will make it easier to get a setback requirement approved. The advisory committee will likely meet early next month to discuss the issue.
About 9,000 Alaskans are being forced out of their existing health insurance plans next year under the Affordable Care Act. Last week, President Obama announced new rules that may allow some residents to keep their plans for another year. But for Fairbanks knife maker Mark Knapp, that “fix” doesn’t go far enough.
Mark Knapp recently got a patent for a knife he calls the 1911 Combat Survivor. It looks like a basic hunting knife, but a compartment in the handle holds fire starter, a bow string and a small Leatherman, among other things. Knapp is packing up a small skiff to head to a remote spot on Kodiak Island to field test it.
“We’re going to the woods to hunt and fish and just use this thing in a harsh coastal environment and saltwater spray and I’ll that and see how it performs, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Knapp is a proud small business owner who doesn’t like the idea of getting assistance from anyone. He and his wife pay for health insurance on the individual market. This year, the premium was about $750 a month. But last month, Knapp got a letter from Premera Alaska saying his plan was being discontinued because of the Affordable Care Act.
“We were pretty disappointed.”
Premera suggested Knapp and his wife buy a similar plan for 2014, with a higher deductible that would cost $1,200 a month, a 60% increase. Insurance premiums are going up in Alaska because all plans have to include a set of essential benefits and insurance companies can’t exclude people with preexisting conditions. Because of their income, Knapp and his wife qualify for a subsidy of nearly $700 a month to help pay for the new plan. But Knapp doesn’t like the idea of a government subsidy. He says it sounds like welfare.
“While it may be more affordable to me, it’s not more affordable in the overall picture because someone is picking up the tab for me.”
Knapp hopes Obama’s recent “fix” for people with canceled plans, will allow him to keep the plan he’s on for another year. The state insurance director and Premera Alaska are still figuring out if that is possible. But ultimately Knapp isn’t satisfied with a short term solution from the President:
“All it does is postpone the problem. As I understand, he’s saying no way no how will it ever be extended beyond a year.”
When his plan is discontinued, Knapp says he and his wife have three choices. They can pay the higher premium, which he says they can’t afford; buy a similar plan with a significant subsidy; or go uninsured. He says he’s leaning toward the last option:
“So for the first time in our adult lives we’re probably not going to be insured and if we get sick we’re going to cover it ourselves if we can and we can’t then it’s going have to be amortized over a bunch of hard working Americans.”
But for now, Knapp is focused on his next two weeks in the wilderness. He’s looking forward to hunting deer, digging for clams and living off the land as much as possible.
A state court judge has ruled that Alaska’s newly redrawn political boundaries meet constitutional standards. Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy issued the ruling Monday, granting the Alaska Redistricting Board’s requests for summary judgment.
The Alaska Supreme Court had ordered the board to redraw the state’s political boundaries after allowing an interim map to be used for last year’s elections.
Issues of compactness and socio-economic integration were raised in challenges to the way in which several of the districts were drawn in the latest iteration of the map. But McConahy found the challenged districts passed constitutional muster.
Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins has issued a disaster declaration in connection with severe weather.
The declaration issued Monday comes after strong winds caused power outages for thousands of borough residents.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported an estimated 800 customers of Golden Valley Electric Association were still without power Monday morning. By declaring a disaster, the borough effectively is asking for additional aid from the state.
The borough opened emergency shelters and other services on Thursday, when as many as 8,000 customers were without power. Hopkins says the shelters have not seen as much use since the first night.
The power outages led to a run on generators at local stores. Many retailers say they have sold out or are running low on generators.
Bethel’s rural status is not immediately at risk. But once the population hits 7,000, it will be presumed to be non-rural unless it proves to have rural characteristics.
The federal subsistence board is in a multi-year process of reviewing how it decides which communities have the critical rural priority for accessing resources on federal lands as described under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
That process was the subject of a meeting in Bethel Wednesday, but most people gave their thoughts on Bethel.
There are communities above 7,000 still considered rural, like Sitka and Kodiak. To remain rural, they have to show rural characteristics. Mary Gregory made the case that subsistence is at the core of many people’s lives.
“If you come to my house right now you will find 10 pikes hanging in my kitchen trying to dry out and a string of tomcods that are also hanging and my house smells like fish because I’m a 99.9 percent subsistence food user,” Gregory said. “A lot of people are like that,especially the elderly people who live here.”
Ignacious Louie Andrew recognized that change has accelerated in recent years, but the basic native values are still strong: “We have gone through a tremendous changes, but as we continue to change, subsistence traditional native practices and values will provide a continuity to the past,” Andrew said.
Bethel specifically sees a lot of turnover, according to Roberta Chavez.
“People come and go to Bethel all the time you see them moving here, leaving here,” Chavez said. “The people that remain have been here since time immemorial and they have the right to continue to live that way.”
There are a total of 10 meetings happening all around the state. Comments will be analyzed and brought to the Federal Subsistence Board. Steve Kessler works as the Forest Service’s subsistence program leader and says the comments are important to the process.
“Are these thresholds guidelines the correct ones to use, or should we be using something else,” Kessler asked. “Should we be aggregating communities in some other way? What does the public think the federal subsistence board and the secretaries of interior and agriculture ought to be using to determine which communities are rural?”
The board will meet in April and could propose changes to pass up to the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, who ultimately make the call. Comments can be emailed to: subsistence@FWS.gov. The deadline for comments is December 2nd.
Alaska’s congressional delegation has introduced bills that would clarify that it’s OK for Alaska Natives to sell artwork adorned with bird feathers.
Under the legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, some traditional Alaska Native art and crafts would be exempt from a provision of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act barring the sale of items containing the feathers and non-edible parts of migratory birds.
The Anchorage Daily News reported that issue began receiving attention after the case of Archie Cavanaugh, a well-respected Tlingit artist fined $2,200 for trying to sell a headdress adorned with feathers.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says giving a financial incentive to harvesting bird feathers through the sale of art could lead to illegal bird hunting.
The City and Borough of Juneau’s Docks and Harbors Department announced Friday evening that it will delay opening bids for a $54 million floating cruise ship berth project until the city is granted ownership of submerged tidelands by the State of Alaska.
Bids had been scheduled to be opened on Tuesday, November 19th. But now they will remain sealed until at least January, according to Port Director Carl Uchytil.
“The new bid opening date will be announced following the Final Finding and Decision of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to convey tidelands to the City & Borough of Juneau,” Uchytil said in a press release.
DNR’s preliminary decision recommends transfer of the nearly 18 acre parcel to the city. But Uchytil said the bid opening will be delayed out of “an abundance of caution.”
The city this week received four bids for the project. However, they were to remain sealed until next Tuesday’s opening.
The Port Director could not be reached for comment late Friday. He and Port Engineer Gary Gillette came under fire this week by the Juneau Assembly and concerned citizens for their decision to move forward with the project despite the unresolved land conveyance and for not revealing the matter before a state public comment period started last week.
Interested parties have until December 9th to comment on DNR’s preliminary decision approving the land transfer. After that there will be a review period before the final decision is issued. DNR officials say the review period could take several weeks.