Alaska News

Feds Ask King Cove to Weigh In on Road Alternatives

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:24

A group of tribal and government officials from King Cove are back from a week of lobbying in Washington, D.C. — and they’ve come home with a new assignment.

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The point of the trip was to convince Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reconsider their request to build a road to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay. Residents of King Cove say it would provide easier access to commercial medevac flights.

Jewell had rejected the road in December because it would cross through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. At the time, Jewell said the refuge ecosystem needs to be protected.

Jewell didn’t budge on the road when it came up during a congressional hearing last week. But she did ask for something from the visiting King Cove group.

“We need suggestions from the people that live in the area on what alternatives would be potentially viable to them if a road does not go through,” Jewell said.

Laura Tanis of the Aleutians East Borough says the alternatives would be a hovercraft or a landing craft — and they both have weather limitations that would prevent them from operating in King Cove year-round.

Regardless, Tanis says that local officials will put together information on road alternatives and send them to the Interior Department within the next two weeks.

In the meantime, the Coast Guard is still helping out with medical emergencies in King Cove.

A Coast Guard helicopter flew to the village Monday afternoon to pick up a fisherman with an eye injury. The 58-year-old man was working aboard the P/V Golden Alaska, when he was sprayed with a high-pressure hose.

The crew took the injured man to King Cove’s clinic. Medical staff referred him for a medevac, but commercial services were grounded because of bad weather.

That meant the Coast Guard had to fly in and transfer the man to Cold Bay’s airport. From there, he made it onto a commercial medevac plane bound for Anchorage.

According to the village of King Cove, that was the fifth time the Coast Guard’s had to help medevac a patient this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Panel Proposes More Education Money, Pension Fix

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:23

The House Finance Committee has proposed an increase in education funding of about $300 per-student over three years.

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That’s about $100 more over that time than Gov. Sean Parnell proposed in his version of HB278, an omnibus education bill. The committee, in its draft version released Tuesday, also proposed a new approach to dealing with the teachers’ retirement system.

Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal says the plan calls for a $1.5 billion cash infusion and an increase in the employer contribution rate, which Teal says the state would pay.

He says the plan calls for lower annual payments than what Parnell proposed and would extend the payments out over a longer period.

There was no testimony on the draft bill; that was expected later in the day.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Native Languages Bill Clears Final House Committee

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:22

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (in suit coat and blue shirt) and supporters of House Bill 216 gather in a Capitol hallway for a group photo to celebrate passage of the bill through the House State Affairs Committee. The bill would symbolically make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

A bill that would symbolically make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages is heading to the House floor for a vote.

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The House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday unanimously passed House Bill 216 from Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, less than a week after some Republicans on the panel raised concerns about the bill’s potential ramifications.

Tlingit elder Selina Everson teared up during public testimony.

“Our language is our very being. It’s our culture,” Everson said. “We were brought up with such respect to each other, to the Tlingit people, the Haida people, the Tsimshian people, the Yup’ik, the whole state of Alaska with all the different languages being spoken. It would be an honor to be recognized.”

Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska map by Michael Krauss. (courtesy of the Alaska Native Language Center)

While English is the only official language of Alaska, the state Supreme Court in 2007 struck down part of a 1998 voter initiativerequiring it to be used for all government business.

Last week, Republican Reps. Doug Isaacson of North Pole, and Lynn Gattis and Wes Keller of Wasilla, raised concerns that HB 216 would be misinterpreted by future legislatures or the courts. They worried that could lead to unintended consequences, such as ballots or legislation having to be printed in every official language.

A new version of the bill adopted at Tuesday’s hearing makes clear that the official designation for Alaska Native languages is only symbolic. But Lance Twitchell, a Native languages professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, said the bill means more than that to supporters.

“This is more than symbolic. This is historic,” Twitchell said.

He went on to reference two bills the state affairs committee passed last week while Isaacson, Gattis and Keller struggled with the idea of making Alaska Native languages official languages.

“History will not remember you for specialized license plates and parking ticket processes,” Twitchell said. “History will remember you for this moment right here. What you say and do when we ask you to help us live, to find a brighter future for our languages, cultures and people.”

HB 216 must still be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The bill has not been considered by the state Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

FDA Adds Alaska Salmon Testing To Radiation Monitoring Program

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:21

Alaska fish are being tested for radiation contamination from Japan’s leaking Fukushima Nuclear energy plant.

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The power plant was damaged during an earthquake three years ago and continues to releases radioactive water into the sea.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation State Director of Environmental Health Elaine Busse Floyd says samples of Alaska fish have been submitted to a Federal Food and Drug Administration testing program.

“We were able to just encourage the FDA to add 20 samples of Alaskan fish to their annual monitoring program to specifically look and test fish for radionuclides,” she said.

Floyd says each Alaska fish sample, is made up of multiple flesh samples from various species including halibut, pollock, sable fish and salmon, including Copper River and Bristol Bay stocks. The samples were sent to an F.D.A. testing lab in Massachusetts in March, the first time Alaska fish has been submitted for testing.

The action follows public concern that prompted the Fairbanks City Council and North Star Borough Assembly to pass resolutions last month urging the state and federal governments to investigate Fukushima radiation in Alaska. Assembly resolution sponsor John Davies pointed to history in advocating for more information.

“And the troubling thing is that this type of situation follows a pattern; it’s the same pattern that happened after Chernobyl, the same pattern than happened after Three Mile Island, and in fact going back to the atomic test days of the 50s,” he said.

Davies said in the previous incidents Alaskans found out about radiation issues after an initial lack of concern. He says a search for answers on the state website only yielded outdated information.

“But nothing, not data, specifically about Fukushima, and then we read that there are fish companies that are actually paying to have their samples tested because the market is beginning to tell them that they don’t trust,” Davies said.

The state’s Floyd points to federal testing of non-Alaska Pacific fish stocks as well as Alaska air, water and marine debris samples that have shown no significant levels of Fukushima radiation.

“But, I understand that the public feels if you can detect it, it might be an area of concern, but there’s a lot of misinformation and fear about radiation out there and, quite frankly, there’s more background radiation that we are around every day than what we’re at all getting from the Fukushima diasaster,” she said.

Floyd says results from Fukushima radiation testing of Alaska fish are expected back from the FDA in late April.

Categories: Alaska News

Study: Forecasts For Summer Arctic Sea Ice Lack Reliability

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:20

Year-to-year forecasts of summer Arctic Sea Ice extent aren’t reliable.  That’s according to a report out from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. But A two-day workshop that starts Tuesday in Colorado will focus on ways to improve sea ice extent predictions.

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Every year various groups set out to predict summer Arctic sea ice extent.  The information is useful for ship navigators, biologists who study marine mammals and scientists who consider sea ice a sensitive climate change indicator.  A new study finds that the forecasts aren’t always reliable.

“The wildcard really still is the summer weather patterns,” Julienne Stroeve, a Senior Research Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said.

She and colleagues looked at more than 300 forecasts from the last six years.  She says improved summer weather predictions as well as satellite measurements of sea ice thickness and concentration could help forecasting.

“We don’t predict the summer weather yet and because of that the sea ice is still sensitive to what happens in the summer time which makes these predictions difficult during those anomalous years,” Stroeve said.

Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. Stroeve says 2012 and 2013 were anomalous years when predictions fail.  She says that’s because the extent of the ice strayed from what has otherwise been accepted as a general downward trend since satellites started keeping track in 1979.

“It didn’t seem to matter so much as a group what method your were employing to do the sea ice forecasting,” Stroeve explained. “So, if you were using a statistical approach to forecast what the September ice extent would be, or if you used a model sophisticated modeling approach where you’re initializing sea ice atmospheric models with boundary conditions of where the ice is and what the atmosphere is, and then run those forward, those didn’t do any better.”

She says when forecasting takes place also doesn’t affect accuracy.

“The forecasts for what was going to happen in September also didn’t necessarily get any better if you initialized your forecast in June, July or August and I thought that was curious because you would think as the summer progresses, you update your forecast with the current ice conditions that probably you should do a bit better forecast for what’s going to happen in September.”

She says looking back at old forecasts could be helpful for future forecasts. ““You’d call that hindcast model evaluation so, go back in time and say ‘Well, would you have actually predicted the extent right if you had had all the relevant data that you needed, or is there a problem with the forecasting method itself?’”

Stroeve and colleagues are in Boulder this week for a Sea Ice Prediction workshop to discuss how to improve future forecasts.

Categories: Alaska News

Study Says Melting Permafrost Emitting More Carbon Than Tundra Can Offset

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:19

The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe. As temperatures increase, permafrost melts, releasing carbon dioxide, and the growing season lengthens, absorbing CO2.

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However, a study being conducted by the Woods Hole Research Center and published in the journal Ecology, finds that the thawing permafrost emits more carbon dioxide than the tundra’s vegetation can offset.

Dr. Susan Natali is an Assistant Scientist at Woods Hole Research Center and the lead author on the study. She says permafrost covers one-fourth of the Northern Hemisphere’s land area and contains twice the amount of carbon than what currently exists in the atmosphere.

“So the permafrost thaw is putting us at risk, because even if a small portion of this carbon is released into the atmosphere, it’s a significant emission of greenhouse gases,” Natali said.

Natali says most models predicting future greenhouse gas totals do not account for emissions from permafrost. This research provides data on how this massive carbon sink reacts to rising temperatures.

“So our estimates of temperature changes as a result of human input from fossil fuels isn’t yet accounting for these additional carbon inputs that we may see from permafrost thaw,” Natali said. “And this is a really large pool of carbon.”

The permafrost acts as a carbon cache, because during the growing season, plants through photosynthesis remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their tissue. At the end of the season, the plants die and freeze before they fully decay. So for tens of thousands of years, permafrost has been collecting this carbon-rich material.

As long as the permafrost stays frozen, the carbon remains locked. But when the permafrost thaws, microbes begin breaking down that organic matter, releasing CO2 and methane. As these greenhouse gases are emitted, more warming occurs, spurring more thawing and more decay. Dr. Richard Houghton is a Senior Scientist at Woods Hole. He says the cycle creates an amplifying system.

“Just think of it as a layer of organic matter and it’s frozen, not at the surface, but in the permafrost it’s frozen,” Houghton said. “And as you’re warming the earth, the warming keeps penetrating into deeper and deeper depths of this organic carbon. And so it’s a large source ready to be released over time.”

The research is in its fifth year on the Eight Mile Lake Watershed in Alaska’s Northern Interior.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Fairbikes’ To Open In Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:18

A bike share business plans to start operating in Fairbanks this summer. “Fairbikes” owner Jennifer Eskridge previewed what’s planned for the North Star Borough assembly last week.

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Categories: Alaska News

Board to Review Proposal Limiting King Salmon Fishing to Federally Qualified Subsistence Users

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:17

With salmon fishing just a few short months away, the Federal Subsistence Board will consider a special action request to limit king salmon harvest in the Kuskokwim drainage to federally qualified subsistence users.

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Steven Maxie is the tribal administrator for the Napaskiak Traditional Council, the group that made the request. They are asking for the change because of the anticipated strict king salmon closures.

“Well it will give us hope, all this winter, we are hearing there’s going to be pretty good restrictions, that there won’t be much open opportunity for subsistence fishing for Chinook. It creates hopelessness for the people,” Maxie said.

Federally qualified subsistence users are people who are residents of rural communities and live in a community or area with a customary and traditional use determination. In this case, they must live in the Kuskokwim River fishery management area. Maxie says the people here are the ones whose livelihood depends on king salmon.

“We don’t need people coming in from the big cites or the state coming in to participate because during these conservation measures, we should focus on local people to harvest our Chinook. We’ll share it, but we want to try this,” Maxie said.

The tribe also wants to have what is known as a section 804 analysis, named from the portion of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA that can determine how to restrict the resource further among subsistence users. It depends on three criteria: customary and direct dependence upon king salmon as the mainstay of livelihood, local residency, and the availability of alternative resources.

The proposal will first go to the Yukon Kuskokwim Regional Advisory Council for a recommendation. The Federal Subsistence board can then take up the request. The Office of Subsistence Management is currently analyzing the proposal with partner agencies.

There will be a regional advisory council meeting at 10am on April 7th at Yuut Elitnaurviak to discuss the proposal and a public hearing, at 1pm on April 8th.

The board is also accepting comments.

Fax: (907) 786-3333

Categories: Alaska News

April Fools: Balloons Are Future Of Brown Bear Relocation

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:16

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Residents in Alaska’s largest city are distressed by the increasing human/bear encounters in Anchorage parks, along the coastal trail and area streams. In the lead up to salmon spawning in local waterways, an Anchorage biologist is working on a brown bear relocation program. Dr. Robert Bastic has developed a plan that will safely take bears away from the heavy population of Anchorage while also providing a unique tourism experience. The method? Hot air balloons.

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Townsend – Hi, Bob.

BASTIC – Hi Lori. Thanks for having me.

TOWNSEND – How did you come up with this idea?

BASTIC – The idea hit me while watching these hot air balloons carrying passengers above the low mountains near Temecula California. It’s such a gentle ride, I realized you could dart a bear, strap it into a sling harness, lift off and relocate them far into the wilderness of the Chugach Mountains where they won’t bother humans and be at risk of being put down as a nuisance.

TOWNSEND – Where does the tourism element come in to this concept?

BASTIC – That’s actually one of the best parts! Tourists would pay to be part of the relocation effort, staying safely away from the bear until it’s sleeping soundly. Then, while the bear is being moved they would have tremendous photo opportunities from the air as they travel over the city and into the wilderness for the bear drop off. It would be built in to the budget to sustain the program.

TOWNSEND –What would your start up costs be and where will the money come from?

BASTIC – We’re hoping to get some funding from the legislature. Anchorage based lawmakers are desperate to find a solution to this bear encounter problem in the city. And then we’re developing a kick starter campaign. We’ll need about 300,000 to get a large enough balloon, the harness and other equipment.

TOWNSEND – Dr. Bastic, It sounds a bit farfetched. Have you ever heard of a similar effort for animal relocation?

BASTIC – Well, few people realize that this was the original plan for Maggie the elephant, when she was going to relocate to the elephant sanctuary in California. But the lift required was considered too much for most hot air balloons, so the expense got out of hand and the military stepped in and offered a plane to take her instead.

TOWNSEND – So, really, there’s been nothing like this?

BOB BASTIC – Well, no, but Alaska is a pioneering and innovative place! It’s really quite perfect. Hot Air balloons can only operate in cool conditions, if the air gets too warm they don’t work properly so when the bears wake up, we’ll be ready to dart them, harness them in the sling and take them a few hours away into the wilderness and return in ideal, cool air temperature conditions for maximum balloon lift. And most of the cost will be offset by enthusiastic tourists and their kids wanting pictures with a cute, sleeping bear. Really – what could go wrong?

TOWNSEND – Yes, really, what could. Thank you Dr. Bastic, we’ll watch the skies over Anchorage later this spring.

BASTIC – Thank you Lori. We hope the inaugural trip will happen sometime in May.

TOWNSEND – Dr. Robert Bob Bastic is leading the effort to relocate brown bears out of Anchorage by hot air balloon. There’s not more information at our website because it’s April Fool’s day people.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Signs Law Excluding Homer Harbor From Habitat Area

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-01 15:30

The Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area just became a little bit smaller. Governor Sean Parnell signed a bill into law Tuesday that excludes the Port and Harbor of Homer from the habitat area.

Under the new law, the harbor is excluded from the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area (Photo by Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer)

Senator Peter Micciche and Homer Representative Paul Seaton say the bill had their support. Seaton says the previous boundaries of the critical habitat area, which included parts of the Homer harbor, were most likely the result of a mistake. When officials with the state Department of Natural Resources first drew up the boundaries, Seaton says they used already-established section lines, which had the unintended consequence of including the outer part of the harbor, including the Deepwater Dock.

Seaton says the new map will keep established industrial areas on the east side of the Homer Spit, from the Deepwater Dock north to the barge basin, out of the critical habitat area.

In a news release Wednesday, Parnell said the law is about “recognizing the balance between jobs and environmental protection.”

Parnell pointed out that Homer is the only year-round ice free, deep water port in Cook Inlet.   The Homer harbor has been designated as a Port of Refuge by the U.S. Coast Guard and maintains the assets required to improve marine safety, respond to emergencies at sea and to enhance environmental protection.

The Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area was created in 1976. Its management plan forbids all oil exploration vessels from operating in the bay.

Categories: Alaska News

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