Back in the 1950s, Alaska’s bid for statehood was spurred in part by a fight over fish traps.
The behemoth contraptions were placed at the mouths of salmon streams from Ketchikan to Dillingham, resulting in waste of the resource while drastically diminishing the salmon runs.
Now, a new book details the history of the fish traps, and their impact on the soon to be new state.
“Fish traps were the principal, truly the principal public policy issue, that was driving the fight for statehood,” Alaska’s elder statesman Vic Fischer said.
He was around to hear the fish trap fight first hand. He says when the Alaska constitution came up for a vote, it passed 3-1, while another referendum proposed by the constitutional convention on the same ballot – to ban fish traps on statehood – passed 10-1.
“And one reason was, that the fish traps were the ultimate symbol of control of Alaska resources by Alaska owners,” Fischer said.
Nowhere but in Alaska could salmon have inspired such passion. The fish traps were built, owned and operated mostly by Seattle based fishing interests. Now James Mackovjak, a Gustavus historian and author, has written a book on salmon traps.
“Why would you have a salmon trap?,” Mackovjak asked. “Well, for the first thing was, they caught a lot of fish. Some traps, in good years, T caught as many as a million fish in a season. And that is a lot.”
Alaska Salmon Traps, Their History and Impact on Alaska, is a self published work. Mackovjak says the traps took little maintenance, but for a watchman or two, and they cut fishermen out of the equation entirely
“They held fish live, so when the cannery needed 30,000 fish to operate, they’d go out to the trap, get 30,000 live fish, take them to the cannery and put ‘em in cans. But also, it avoided the issue of having fishermen involved. You know, boats break down, fishermen go on strike, fishermen get sick, they demand more for their fish, they take their fish elsewhere to sell them. Those were all issues that were involved,” Mackovjak said.
The exclusion of local fishermen enraged Alaskans as much as the waste of the captured fish which the cannery owners decided not to can if they didn’t need to,
Mackovjak’s book is filled with photos of the traps and their builders. The design for the fish traps was borrowed from Great Lakes traps built as early as 1870. They were constructed from logs and chicken wire and placed in inter-tidal areas.
The first fish traps in Alaska appeared in Cook Inlet in 1885. The traps funneled salmon into chutes, then into holding bins. But they were built in public waters, and federal officials with the Bureau of Fisheries early on considered them barriers, and called for ending their use.
“A Congressman, William Selzer, who was the first Congressman, he claimed, to visit Alaska, called them the most murderous and iniquitous instrumentalities that were ever devised by the human brain to destroy natural life,” Mackovjak said.
Ketchikan entrepreneurs came up with the floating fish trap in 1907, which allowed traps to be located in deeper water, using floating logs held in place by anchors.
“I mean, some of the anchors weighted nine tons,” Mackovjak said,
By 1926 there were 799 fish traps in the Alaska Territory.
It was Howard Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the effort to get rid of them. He worked with the FBI investigating corruption within the federal Bureau of Fisheries, which had oversight over the traps.
“I mean, there was one trap that was called the Commissioner’s trap, and the Commissioner had, allegedly, allowed this trap to be placed in a certain location, and he got a penny a fish for every fish that came through it,” Mackovjak said.
The federal government finally abolished fish traps in public waters in 1959, just before Alaska became a state.
Interestingly enough, that rule did not affect Metlakatla, Alaska’s sole Indian reservation. Metlakatla used fish traps until 1991.
Several communities on the Lower Kuskokwim River are involved in a search for two men: Nick Cooke of Bethel and Jim Lee Napoka of Tuluksak.
The two were traveling together by boat to a funeral in Tuntutuliak Oct. 23 but they never showed up. They were reported missing Friday.
Alaska State Trooper Michael Wilson says they were searching over 100 miles of the river by airplane and boat from Tuluksak all the way down to the Bering Sea Coast.
“We didn’t have any real leads,” Wilson says.
That changed Sunday afternoon. Close to 3 p.m. they found Napoka’s boat about 10 miles North of Tuntutuliak in the mouth of the Kialik River. The boat was submerged but it was the lead searchers needed.
“With the finding of that boat, we’ve been able to now direct all of our resources to that area,” Wilson says.
Searchers also spotted footprints on the nearby river bank. Now, boaters are concentrating on the shoreline with the hopes that the men are alive and well. Wilson says several villages are involved. They started efforts this morning at 8.
“Anywhere between six and 10 boats between Napaskiak, Napakiak, Kwethluk, and Tuntutuliak and they’re going to be headed down to the mouth of the river and starting a shore search,” Wilson says.
Troopers have used two airplanes for daily aerial searches since Friday.
They are asking anyone who has seen the two missing men to contact their Bethel post at 543-2294.
Climate change is causing Arctic sea ice to melt rapidly and recede, opening up vast stretches of Arctic waters for shipping and resource development. In response, a group of state legislators and others is working on a policy they hope will help shape Alaska’s policy for managing those changes – and influence the federal government’s broader national Arctic policy.
An estimated 1,500 World War II veterans live in Alaska. The generation that fought the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army are now in their 80s and 90s, battling the devastations of old age. A group dedicated to honoring these Alaskans just completed its first mission. The Last Frontier Honor Flight flew two dozen veterans to Washington, D.C. last week to visit the World War II Memorial.
Most of the 25 vets arrived at the memorial wearing blue and yellow windbreakers, with “Alaska” emblazoned on the back. But not Mike Hunt. The 91-year-old aviator stood out in his original Air Corps uniform and leather bomber jacket
“This jacket was issued to me in Long Beach, California in 1942,” Hunt said. “And the reason I still got it is I hung it in my chicken house after the war and my son retrieved it and wiped the mold off it and put bear grease on it and here it is. It still fits!”
During the war, Hunt flew aircraft to Russian pilots at Ladd Field in Fairbanks, hauled supplies over “The Hump” in the Himalayas, and delivered troops to occupy Japan. Then he homesteaded in East Anchorage.
Like most of the others on the trip, he toured the memorial in a borrowed wheelchair. As they rolled toward the central fountain for a group photo, a passing jogger stopped to shake hands and thank them for their service.
When Hunt thinks back on the war, he thinks of how the whole country pulled together to win it, and of those who never made it home.
“All these heroes sacrificed so that we’re all free,” he says. “I feel fortunate that I’m still here, a survivor. Could have been the other way around.”
Most of the Alaska honorees came with a family member — In Hunt’s case, his son, Howard. Together they looked at one of the memorial’s more subtle features: a series of panels running around the perimeter that depict scenes of the war and of the home front
“What’s that they’re listening to?” Howard asks his dad in front of a panel showing a family gathered around a radio.
“The war report, I guess,” Hunt says.
“It’s probably the bombing of Pearl Harbor. See, this is the beginning of the War and it goes down each relief has a different image: enlistment to training to service, to shipping out, and then fighting the war and coming home. It goes from the beginning to the end,” Howard explains.
Among the Alaska vets were two elders from Metlakatla, and two women.
“It’s a real thrill to come here with this group. It’s a real honor,” says Ellen Jean White, of Anchorage. She spent more than two decades in the Air Force. She joined the war effort in 1944, hoping to serve her country as a pilot.
“I tried to get in WASPS (Women Air Force Services Pilots), but they wouldn’t let me in because I was a quarter inch too short,” White recalls. “And I had a pilot’s license and was fully qualified otherwise. So I joined the Air Force. And I wanted to do something with aviation and they made me an admin clerk and finally I got into aircraft maintenance, … and they wouldn’t let us do that very long because they said that wasn’t lady-like. So then I went into supply, and I was in supply and logistics from then on.”
After the war she was twice stationed at Elmendorf, and she retired in Anchorage in the 1970s. Still agile at 92, she popped in and out of her wheelchair to pose for pictures with her granddaughter.
Last Frontier Honor Flight, along with its Fairbanks sister organization, raised money to fly the veterans and their guardians to Washington. Founder and president Ron Travis of Big Lake is himself a Vietnam War veteran.
“Well the real value is just what you see here: families interacting,” Travis says. “They’re seeing this for the first time, the families, or hearing stories for the first time. I think it’s kind of a closure somewhat to some of the veterans when they look around, and it’s kind of an ending thing for them. It’s kind of shutting the door because it never really got shut. To me, that’s really what it’s about.”
Travis says he hopes this is the first tour of many.
The annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention wrapped up Saturday in Fairbanks. AFN board co-chairs were elected in the morning.
Ana Hoffman garnered the most votes. Hoffman is the President and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation. She will serve with Arctic Slope Regional Corporation External Affairs Vice President Tara Sweeney.
In thanking the AFN delegates for their votes, Hoffman noted the significance of the election results.
“I look forward to serving as co-chair with Tara Sweeney,” Hoffman said. “A fellow ANCSA afterborn and the first time AFN has two women co-chairs.”
Sweeney will serve a one-year term and Hoffman will serve for two years.
Resolutions dealing with a wide range of issues from health and safety to land rights and subsistence protection took up the afternoon.
Special recognition resolutions honoring Katie John and Native actor Ray Mala were also passed.
A group of people assembled for the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Fairbanks rallied Saturday in support of four Native men they believe are wrongly imprisoned for murder.
George Freese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease are serving long sentences for the 1997 beating of Fairbanks teen John Hartman.
The so called “Fairbanks Four” case jumped to center stage last month, when the Alaska Innocence Project filed requests for post conviction relief based on new information showing others are responsible.
The call for their exoneration took on a broader voice at the weekend rally.
Dozens waved signs, banged drums and sang in solidarity with the Fairbanks Four. Native American rock star Robbie Romero of New Mexico joined Alaska Natives in support of the jailed men.
“I’m honored to be here with you today, and I’m honored to stand up and speak out for these 4 men who have been falsely incarcerated,” Romero said.
Romero encouraged a peaceful approach, a sentiment echoed by Athabascan David Solomon, who warned ralliers not to let anger about what’s happened dictate their actions.
“We have to do it in a good way. Don’t let the white man make you go off the wrong track, and be ___off and end up in jail. We have to do it in loving way and a good way,” Solomon said.
Another speaker, David Harrison of the village of Chickaloon called on Alaska tribes and villages to come together to free the Fairbanks Four.
“If we continue to struggle as one village or one tribe, we’re not going to go anywhere,” Harrison said. “But if we assert as nations, things will change.”
Saturday’s rally was staged outside the Carlson Center, where Alaska Federation of Natives Convention delegates unanimously passed a resolution in support of re-examination of evidence in the Fairbanks Four case, to see that justice is done.
The resolution was submitted by the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which has offered a reward for information leading exoneration of the men.
Two Sitkans suffered symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning after eating clams harvested in the Starrigavan Creek area, not far from the community’s ferry terminal.
State health official Louisa Castrodale says a man and a woman had to seek treatment at a hospital emergency room after consuming the clams Oct. 18th.
She says they ate two clams each and developed typical symptoms for limited exposure.
“Tingling around the mouth, and tingling in the fingers, the lips and things like that. Sometimes they can have gastrointestinal systems, like nausea and vomiting. This is just in general,” Castrodale says.
“Folks who are more severely affected can have muscle weakness or issues breathing.”
Both patients were treated and released.
The state Environmental Health Laboratory analyzed leftover clams. Testing found the PSP toxin.
You’ve heard this before. But Castrodale stresses there’s no way of knowing what shellfish is safe to eat.
“There’s no broad testing program for recreationally harvested shellfish. So you can’t tell if there is toxin or paralytic shellfish poising in shellfish by just looking at it,” she says.
Commercially sold shellfish are tested and only sold if they’re safe.
Clams, mussels, oysters, geoducks and scallops can contain the poison. Crabmeat is not known to hold the toxin, but crab guts can.
Fans of the retired U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Storis have been holding their collective breath all weekend, hoping there might be a way to prevent the scrapping of the ship in Mexico.
Documents were forwarded to members of the Storis Museum Saturday morning indicating the ship might contain too much hazardous material to be exported under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
Jon Ottman is a historic preservation consultant and marine historian based in Michigan. He authored the successful application to place the Storis on the National Register of Historic Places.
He says that while some PCBs were removed from the ship, more may be contained in parts of the ship that would only be exposed and made dangerous if the Storis were broken up.
“The information that we have received indicated that the report that was used to clear the vessel for export for scrapping was flawed in that while the report had indicated the un-encapsulated PCBs on-board the vessel was removed the report does not indicate the other PCBs that would have been contained on the vessel in various locations throughout the ship, such as paint, gasket material, rubber insulation and various types of wire insulation aboard the vessel, that’s all still on board the ship,” Ottman said.
Because of that, Ottman says the Storis should not be exported to another country that might not have as strict environmental laws as the U.S.
“It’s an unfortunate situation but it would appear the EPA, the Unite States Coast Guard, the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. General Services Administration should have been aware of all this, and they’re basically complicit in releasing a ship that should not be going to a foreign ship breaker. They let her go,” Ottman said.
PCBs, or poly-chlorinated biphenyls, were once widely used in electrical systems, paint and heat shielding until being banned in 1979 because of their persistent environmental toxicity and link to cancer.
Ottman says supporters of the Storis have contacted Alaska Senator Mark Begich for assistance.
“At this point, Senator Begich’s staff are trying to reach out to the EPA to see where the process went wrong and what the situation is from that perspective,” Ottman said. ”They’re also reaching out to the Mexican authorities through the Mexican Embassy to let them know the vessel is actually en route at this point so that they can be aware that there is a contaminated vessel that is en route to their country. They may have the opportunity, the Mexican authorities, to turn the ship away because of what she contains on board.”
Ottman says if the Storis can be kept from leaving the country and the federal government can be convinced that the disposal was flawed, the process could go back to square one.
“Because the GSA listed the vessel as a repairable ship and did not indicate in their original listing for her on the GSA auction site that she contained hazardous materials that would have to be handled in a special fashion, or that should she be desired by someone for ship-breaking, that it would have to be done domestically,” Ottman said. ”Those are all very serious shortcomings in the original General Services auction listing.”
The current owners of the Storis are Mark Jurisich and John Bryan, co-owners of US Metals Recovery of San Diego. They bought the 71-year-old ship at auction this summer for $70,100. The Storis was taken under tow late Friday near San Francisco.
The Storis was commissioned in September 1942 and served until February 2007. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places last December.
The young black bear cub called Little Smokey has a new home.
The cub orphaned earlier this month near Seward will be a resident of Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear.
The non-profit educational center has featured only brown bears, but to give Smokey some company, the Fortress has agreed to adopt a second orphaned black bear to be donated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
In a news release, Sitka Wildlife Biologist Phil Mooney said the cub arrived at his new home at 5 o’clock Friday morning.
The cub has become a social media sensation as people around the world monitored the animal’s capture.
His predicament started on Oct. 12 when law enforcement responded to reports of an adult black bear breaking into a vehicle outside Spring Creek Correctional Facility near Seward. The bear was wounded by police and disappeared into the forest.
Then authorities started receiving reports of two to three unaccompanied young black bear cubs in the Spring Creek area. A lone cub also was reported and captured by Alaska State Troopers, who asked Seward Animal Control to hold the cub until a home could be found.
Fortress of the Bear volunteered.
When Little Smokey arrived at the Fortress, Mooney said he was coaxed out of the shipping kennel with an apple slice. He ate several slices, drank some water and curled up on a mound of straw, Mooney said.
“It certainly appears to me that the cub has good care in Seward, given its disposition and condition, so kudos to the facility there,” he said.
Fish and Game estimates more than 100,000 black bears live in Alaska, with many more found in Canada. Black bears also live in about 45 of the Lower 48 states. Black bears have life spans of 15 to 20 years.
The nine men who were arrested this week in Unalaska and charged with felony drug offenses have made their first appearances in court.
On Friday afternoon, police led Lua Aiava, 28, Allan Bautista, 44, Neuthon Costantini, 28, Ioane Faasavalu, 25, Tofa Matautia, 28, Ernie Oxinio, 30, Brandon Rosa, 21, Tyson Rosa, 24, and Stephen A. Rosa, 49, into the Unalaska courthouse.
The court gallery was packed with more than 20 friends, family, and members of the public.
Magistrate judge Kay Adams reviewed the cases by phone from Cordova. Based on charging documents filed by the Unalaska police department, Adams found probable cause to allow all of the cases to proceed.
Adams set bail for all nine defendants with input from assistant district attorney Aaron Peterson, who also participated in the hearing by phone.
The lowest bail was $10,000 for Oxinio, who is charged with one count of a class B felony for allegedly possessing methamphetamine with intent to sell it. Several defendants’ bail was set at $50,000, with a required third-party custodian.
But the highest bail requirements by far were those for Stephen A. Rosa. Rosa faces the most serious charges of the group. He’s accused of operating ”a continuing criminal enterprise” involving the sale of meth.
The state alleges that in the course of six weeks, Costantini, Faasavalu, Bautista, Rosa, and his sons — Brandon and Tyson — all sold meth to a confidential police informant.
Stephen A. Rosa is accused of supplying the meth for those sales, which were valued at about $3,000. Police say they recovered about $40,000 in cash from Stephen A. Rosa’s home and workplace, along with several firearms.
The state combined all those offenses into the unclassified felony charge, which carries a sentence of up to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. Stephen A. Rosa is being charged with 13 additional felonies for associated offenses ranging from allegedly selling meth, to illegally possessing guns despite being a convicted felon.
Like many of the other defendents, Rosa requested a court-appointed attorney at the hearings on Friday.
“I don’t think I can afford an attorney now,” Rosa said. “I’m not this bigshot you guys think I am.”
Rosa was employed as a property manager at Tradewinds Apartments and a as truck driver for Radiant Heating Fuel Services before he was arrested. Rosa declared his annual income at around $35,000, which exceeds the state’s usual threshold for public defender services.
Peterson, the state attorney, encouraged the judge to assign an attorney anyways. He said Rosa requires immediate legal counsel.
The magistrate ultimately agreed. Adams told Rosa that his unclassified felony charge is “one of the maximum ranges of crimes that can be committed in Alaska. This is right below murder, to be honest with you.”
Adams signed off on the request for a public defender and set Rosa’s bail at $100,000 with a mandatory third-party custodian.
All nine defendants are scheduled to appear in court again on October 31 at 10 a.m. for pre-indictment hearings.
In the meantime, Unalaska police are still serving search warrants in connection with the investigation. By the end of the week, the department had served 20 warrants and expected to execute more in the coming days.
Public safety director Jamie Sunderland says he expects additional charges — and possibly arrests — to result from those searches.
Sundlerland encourages anyone with information about drug sales in Unalaska to contact police.
Pioneer Natural Resources is getting out of the Alaska market.
Last week the company announced that it’s selling 100-percent of its Alaska subsidiary to Caelus Energy, which is headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The price-tag is $550 million and the deal is expected to close by the end of the year.
Pioneer Natural Resources announced that the sale is expected to result in a non-cash loss of about $350 million.
In a written statement the President and CEO of Caelus Energy-Alaska is quoted as saying that the company was attracted to Alaska because of the enormous geologic opportunity as well as the incentives, such as SB 21, that the state has put in place to encourage energy investment by independent oil and gas companies.
On Saturday Alaska Governor Sean Parnell issued a statement labeling the announcement as great news for Alaskans and the economy.
If you take a walk through the wetlands around Gustavus in the fall, it’s hard to hear yourself over this noise of thousands of sandhill cranes. The Dude Creek Critical Habitat Area is an important resting place on their migration route. The rest of the year, the reserve doesn’t look like much. It’s a soggy parcel of land just outside of town. But it’s special to the small community, which asked the state to protect the area 25 years ago.
Now, the cranes aren’t the only thing causing a fuss at Dude Creek. The wetlands have become an unlikely battleground in a fight that could decide how millions of acres of sensitive land in the state are managed. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has this story.
In the same way that pet owners start to resemble their dogs, Hank Lentfer kind of looks like a sandhill crane. He’s a bit gangly and angular, with sharp eyes. For most of his adult life, Lentfer has been in love with the bird population and its habitat in Gustavus.
“I first came here as a high school student with a biology class from Juneau,” says Lentfer.
That was in 1983. Now, Lentfer lives in Gustavus year-round. He’s a steward for the Nature Conservancy and has a spot on an advisory group for some state habitat in Gustavus. The team’s job is to give input on how to manage the Dude Creek Critical Habitat Area to best protect the sandhill cranes that feed there during their migration.
Here’s how the planning process is supposed to go: The Department of Fish and Game’s Habitat Division sits down with stakeholders, and they go back and forth on what rules should apply to the land. Once division staff, state biologists, the Fish and Game commissioner, and — ideally — local residents are satisfied with what comes out of the meetings, the rules are then turned into state regulations.
Lentfer says it had been a collaborative process until this year.
“It was amazingly non-controversial,” says Lentfer.
The Habitat Division issued their first draft in 2011, and it was pretty standard. In tone, and level of strictness, it didn’t deviate much from the state’s other management plans. The new version that was issued this May did. A lot.
“It was totally out of the blue,” says Lentfer. “It was just — it just came in e-mail, saying ‘This is it. This is the new draft,’ radically different from the one that not only the planning team had signed off on, but all the members of the community that had been given a formal opportunity to comment. All those comments had been very thoughtfully summarized and included in that plan. And that’s all been gutted.”
The management plan had been cut in half and was covered in red edits. Whole sections on scientific research and local knowledge had been stripped. When it came to things like geological exploration or hazardous waste disposal, phrases like “will not allow” were replaced with “may allow.” Everything that was prohibited before could now be permitted on a case-by-case basis and without public notice.
Dude Creek is not desirable land for development. The ground beneath it is made of clay, and it’s hard to imagine any resource extraction or even building construction happening there. The most high stake issue the planning team had been dealing with was whether to allow four-wheelers. Alaska is full of controversial protected areas — Susitna Flats where there’s a nearby mining project, Kachemak Bay where there are jackup drill rigs, Bristol Bay where there are productive salmon streams. But Dude Creek’s just not one of them.
Lentfer says it felt like the state went from working with the community to working against it.
“It seems ironic that a plan developed in such strong collaboration with local people is being taken apart by the very state government that is trying to wiggle free from federal control.”‘THERE’S A LOT OF RED INK’
To find out why these changes were made, I talked to Randy Bates, director of Fish and Game’s Habitat Division.
Bates has plenty of experience in land management issues. He spent more than a dozen years in the Department of Natural Resources working on coastal zone management, and he directed that program until it was dismantled. So it’s not a surprise to him now that this new plan from Habitat has put Gustavus residents on edge.
“There’s a lot of red ink in this draft, and I think it’s created a lot of public angst over what we’re doing,” says Bates.
Over the course of two hours, Bates walks me through the draft. During our conversation, he distances himself from the process.
“I didn’t have a hand in the redlining of this.”
Bates’ explanation for what happened is he gave staff his vision, and they went overboard. Still, there’s one principle he stands by when it comes to any sort of human activity.
“The idea is can we get to yes instead of can we justify no,” says Bates.
Bates says that because technology — and even the land itself — can change, he wants to move away from hard restrictions on land use that could block development decades from now. Instead of denying activity outright, he wants biologists to look at a permit application and ask:
“Is that oil and gas exploration activity or placer mining operation or gravel extraction operation, is that going to prohibit the use of that area by the cranes or the moose or the fish, the reason for its designation? If it is, Habitat’s first desire is to modify the project.”
The changes made to the Dude Creek plan aren’t just about Dude Creek. Habitat manages 32 special areas that stretch from the Bristol Bay region up to the Interior and then down to Southeast. That’s 3 million acres of land that the state set aside for ecological reasons. Only about half of the management plans for these areas have been completed.
Dude Creek happened to be the one that Habitat staff was working on when Bates called for a new approach to management. And he says that yes, some of this language is “precedent setting.”
“The concept of these changes was unfairly foisted upon Dude Creek. Dude Creek is … I mean even talked to our regional sup[ervisor], and said, ‘What kind of activities do you expect to occur out there?’ ‘Randy, I don’t expect to see much in the next 20 years. There’s probably not a lot going on. We’re going to see four wheelers. We’re going to see tree stands or wildlife viewing platforms — that’s what we’re going to see.’ We’re not going to see oil and gas operations. We’re not going to see miners out there. So, the concept of these changes has really affected a really small-focused plan, and it’s really raised a stir. If we were to implement this on the Susitna Flats, or the Redoubt Bay, or Kachemak Bay, it would have been the same sort of blow up, but this is much ado about nothing in this plan in many ways. It affects these other plans to a much greater extent.”
Part of why Lentfer and other Gustavus residents are troubled by this new approach is that it’s coming at the same time the Parnell administration is making an aggressive push to reform permitting. One of the governor’s big priorities is a bill that sets a higher bar for appealing a permitting decision and makes it easier for the state to issue general permits that don’t need public notice. The idea is to shrink a permitting backlog while encouraging development. But conservation groups describe the policy as an effort to limit public involvement on management decisions.
Bates says Habitat’s new permitting strategy has nothing to do with that.
“We’re not changing the planning process to exclude the public and just notify them. We still have every intention to run the process the way it was, soliciting input, sitting down, understanding the concerns. We’re not cutting anybody out of this process.”‘UPHEAVAL’ AT HABITAT
But internal Fish and Game documents obtained by APRN contradict that statement and show even more drastic changes ahead.
As of this month, work on all new management plans, including Dude Creek, has been put on hold. Instead, Habitat has been directed to revise all completed management plans in the Dude Creek style. Rather than go through the old process — which involved public scoping meetings, collaborative interagency planning teams, and a series of comment periods — Habitat will put multiple plans into one big regulatory review packet that will go out for comment once a year.
According to an e-mail Bates sent to the division, staff cannot discuss the management changes with the public without getting his approval. Even when talking with other Fish and Game workers, they are required to report that communication and there are restrictions on what they can say. Sources within the department characterize it as a “gag order.”
The documents also show internal strife within the division. During a meeting this summer, Bates talks about staff “upheaval” and how things have gotten “relatively out of control” with the special areas planning process. During that same meeting, a staff member notes that the overhaul to the management plan process doesn’t just cut out public input — it overrides language agreed to by state biologists.
During a May meeting, a regional supervisor asks if the new planning approach is putting federal funding for two staff positions at risk, since they aren’t fully complying with requirements about public and agency engagement. That concern was again addressed during an October 22 meeting:
Mike [Daigneault, Anchorage regional supervisor] asked Randy [Bates] about funding issue, noting that the State Wildlife Grant (SWG) funding for special areas planning has specific restrictions and cannot be used to pay for the development of State regulations … He noted that SWG funding had never been used to pay for staff time devoted to adopting plans into regulation, only the collaborative inter-agency development of those plans.
Randy requested that Mike send him the SWG requirements, stating that “it may just be a creative writing exercise where we have to justify how what we’re doing now will improve communications with federal agencies down the road” …
Mike stated: “to be completely honest, Randy, given the fact that we’d be the ones charging our time, I’d have an ethical problem with that.”
Randy stated: “if I decide to go forward with it, then that’s my issue, but if you choose not to do the work, then that’s an issue you and I will have to deal with.”
In e-mails, staff question the direction to mark any document that isn’t explicitly public as “privileged and confidential,” which means someone would have to sue to get them released. (While APRN originally filed a public records request in an effort to obtain these documents, they were ultimately submitted by a source within the Department. APRN was told that the fee would exceed $2,000 and that many of the requested files would either be redacted or denied because of attorney-client privilege.)
Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell says the friction between Habitat staff and its leadership may be due to an internal misunderstanding of the new policies. The changes are in response to an order from the governor to make regulations more efficient, and that there’s no attempt to limit public involvement. She says the move away from prohibitions is meant to give more discretion to state biologists.
“When you have special area plans that are not flexible at all, that can become problematic,” says Campbell. “There is nothing deeper than that here. This is not anything sinister.”‘YOU WANT TO DETERMINE YOUR OWN DESTINY’
It’s hard to think of Dude Creek as some politically fraught place when you’re actually standing in the crane flats. I’m with Morgan DeBoer, who represented the City of Gustavus on the planning team.
DeBoer helped work through some of the original questions on snow machines and hunting accessibility. He jokes that their original plan wasn’t terribly strict, even with the cranes themselves.
“You can still shoot them over there,” says DeBoer. “It’s just their habitat we’re protecting.”
DeBoer’s got more of a claim on the land than most. In the history of Gustavus, only a couple of families tried to homestead in those meadows, and they didn’t have any success.
“The first party back in the ’30s was an aunt of mine, and her nickname was ‘Dude,’” says DeBoer. “That’s why it was called Dude Creek.”
DeBoer’s kind of a dude himself. He comes from a line of prospectors, and he makes his living by operating a sawmill, a few cabins, and a nine-hole golf course that is fertilized with goose droppings.
While we’re out on the crane flats, we talk about the planning process. The changes make him nervous. DeBoer’s not worried about the near-term, because the land is so inhospitable to development. There haven’t been many user conflicts over the years, even without a formal management plan in place.
“But if there isn’t one and it’s not a real solid one with good teeth to it, you’re opened up to problems down the line is the way I see it,” says DeBoer.
Plus, he thinks it’s important for locals to shape whatever document comes out, since they’re the ones who have to live with the outcome.
As he’s telling me about the crane flats, I realize DeBoer’s kind of a funny advocate for them. The sort of things his ancestors did — homesteading, mining for gold — are exactly the kinds of activity that would be prohibited with a stricter management approach.
But at the same time, DeBoer’s position makes sense. His family ended up settling in Alaska to establish a life under their own rules.
“Yeah, you want to determine your own destiny,” says DeBoer. “You bet.”
We finish talking and spend a few minutes listening to the wind. When we leave the flats, I nearly trip on something that’s covered in grass. It turns out to be a small sign that reads “Dude Creek Critical Habitat Area” — the only indicator you’re anywhere special.
“It needs some trimming,” says DeBoer as he starts clearing the weeds. “I hope this isn’t symbolic like I’m cleaning the headstone in the cemetery, and this is the cemetery.”
After he finishes, DeBoer smiles. He’s not ready to go into mourning yet. He thinks — he hopes — this habitat should be around for a long time. He would just like a guarantee on that.
Dan Coffey has filed a letter of intent with APOC to run in Anchorage’s 2015 mayoral election.
A 65-year resident of Anchorage, Coffey says this decision has been in the making for a long time.
“I have a lot of knowledge and experience in local government level, and I thought I’d try to bring that to the office of the mayor of Anchorage,” he said.
Coffey says the city’s housing and homeless issues played a part in spurring him to run for office.
The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention entered second day today. On the agenda: Affordable Care Act opportunities, arctic policy and suicide prevention.
Attendees are also hearing a lot this year about a topic that isn’t usually associated with native issues- immigration. Sealaska President and CEO Chris McNeil has been at the helm of the Southeast Alaska Native corporation for the past 12 years. Now, the Native community is investing energy into immigration reform.
McNeil-“The immigration issue is about human rights, it’s about civil rights. If you think about the Alaska Native Brotherhood started over a 100 years ago at this point. It was a civil rights organization, it was about the right of our Native people to be able to vote and to be able to have the franchise. And we have common cause with others, the Hispanic community is a growing community in Alaska, it’s very large outside of Alaska. Given the changes in Congress over time it’s very important to have alliances and that’s also part of our involvement.”
Townsend-Every year at AFN there is discussion and debate around perennial problems and issues that Native people face. Is that productive, do you see change coming out of the annual gatherings and the resolutions that get passed?
McNeil- “Yes, I do. There was a very powerful presentation that was just made on Alaska Native suicide and suicide prevention. These are issues that are important and systemic but it’s very clear that they’re only going to be solved if people do something about it, namely we do something about it. I think it really does provide an inspiration and a means to be able to help with these kinds of issues.”
Townsend-I remember several years ago, former North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta got up at AFN and gave a very passionate speech about the need to recognize the problem of drugs and alcohol and to address it and when he got done with that speech, you could have heard a pin drop it was so quiet and then everyone erupted in applause. I talked to him later and he said, wow, I thought I was in trouble there , but it seemed like that almost was a turning point. How would you characterize that? I know that I’ve talked to people in the past who said you could not talk about those things in the village because of the anger and hurt and shame that surrounded them and suddenly he opened that door.
McNeil-“Well I think that was in fact a very important moment but I do think all the regions are approaching this in a very creative, innovative way in their own regions. For example, within the Southeast region, we’re very interested in the health of our communities. And we created an organization called Haa Aani LLC, to be able to stimulate the economy to be able to try to create sustainable entrepenurship among our communities because we also believe you have to have a healthy economy to be able to have a healthy culture to have good health in the communities.
Townsend- You’ll be retiring next year. What do you think the future looks like for the next crop of Alaska Native leaders. How will it be different than what leaders of your generation have faced?
McNeil- “Well I think every generation has different kinds of challenges. I don’t think there any less or easier as you go along, they’re just different. As both society, politics and the economy all evolve, well the corporation leadership has to be able to perceive that, adjust to it to be able to take a leadership position on those types of issues. Just as an example, so far as communications is concerned, the advent of social media is everywhere and you have to be adept about understanding these kinds of vehicles in order to do well in the future. So I think it’s fair to say there’s a new set of challengees for the next generation of leadership and it will just be different than the ones that were faced by the first generation of ANCSA leadership and the second and now we’re on to the third or fourth at this point.”
Bryce Edgmon with the Bush caucus of the Alaska legislature spoke to AFN delegates this morning.
Edgmon, a Democrat from Dillingham, said the caucus took a forceful stance against the photo ID mandates for voter registration and against the proposal to amend the state constitution for using state dollars for non public schools.
“Our schools are struggling as it is under the current funding formula and we’re very concerned about making sure that we can get every state dollar possible to our schools so that our children get the quality education that not only they deserve but that our constitution mandates,” Edgmon said.
Edgmon introduced legislation in April that would allow communities along with their local non-profits, to have the authority to arm Village Public Safety Officers. He said they are the first responders in the villages.
“But they do so in a manner in rural Alaska that unfortunately is changing. A lot of our communities are featuring more violent episodes of domestic violence. And we’re seeing our VPSOs having to go in to communities, into situations where they’re facing off with a perpetrator who has a hunting rifle, or armed otherwise and our VPSOs are going into this situation armed with pepper spray, a tazer gun, handcuffs, a baton, I believe they’ve got,” Edgmon said.
Edgmon said Governor Parnell supports the bill and Senator Donny Olson introduced the senate version. He said bush caucus members are writing an op ed piece urging strong support for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act to bring 40,000 Alaskans under the coverage.
“And under a seven year period according to ANTHC’s numbers, the state of Alaska would receive about 1.1 billion dollars without having to put up a whole lot of money to match that, so it makes complete sense to do it. We think the Governor should allow Alaska to take advantage of this program and by golly if the federal government goes under and can’t keep up their end of the Medicaid program, we’re going to be in a lot worse problems than just Medicaid, trust me on that,” he said.
He closed by thanking village administrators, saying they work hard to clarify the community needs across rural Alaska to their state representatives.
The traditional knowledge from Native groups in the circumpolar North may be a key part of mitigating rapid climate change. That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the Arctic Council.
The AFN Convention is focused in serious issues and politics, but it also provides a venue for Native arts and crafts. The craft show offers a lot of traditional works, with a few surprises.
A several hundred foot long heated tent is packed with people checking out wares displayed by hundreds of artists. The most common items feature colorful beadwork, and a few really stand out for their fine detail.
“They’re like pinpoint,” Mary Jane Darendoff of Fairbanks said, displaying a butterfly patch with super tiny beads. “And so that’s what I sell, nobody’s gonna want to take the time to do that – it’s my trademark.”
Darendoff has already sold the butterfly to a customer who is going have it turned into a hair clip. Darendoff operates her table with a friend.
“Mable Smith, I’m from Barrow.”
Smith has spent the last 6 month making 40 of big eyed snowy owl dolls.
“I make them out of rabbit skin and buy the eyes on e-Bay – real popular especially with little kids,” she said.
Smith and Darendoff are former high school roommates who teamed up to sell crafts at AFN.
“She keeps me going, she’s got more energy than me…She’s crazy just like me, so we get along fine.”
The two say they aren’t competitive, but there are a lot of vendors vying for shoppers money, and things are expensive.
“I just sold one the other day for $1,500,” George Albert, referring to a pair of traditional Athabascan birch frame snowshoes, with moose hide webbing, one of several varieties he’s been making at his home in Ruby for over 35 years.
“A lot of people buy these for art, to hang on the wall, but they’re completely useable…you could strap them on and walk away with them,” he said.
Albert has a dozen pairs of snowshoes on hand at AFN and expects to sell them all.
Last time they had AFN here, I sold 14 pairs, I sold snowshoes I didn’t even have yet,” Albert said.
“I don’t know 100 percent, I can’t give you a number, but I’m pretty sure we’re not gonna have enough by the end of the week,” Hydze Clothing owner Rico DeWilde said, displaying a new t-shirt design. DeWilde’s company specializes in tough looking Native themed graphics, like an angry looking skull draped with feathers and flames.
Rico: “It’s called “bad medicine.”
Bross: “That’s pretty scary looking design.”
Rico: “It kind represents that bad side of medicine.”
Bross: “Where does this stuff come from?”
Rico: “The younger generation sets the trends with clothing, so it’s gotta be strong, it’s gotta be loud and a lot of times, it’s gotta be mean.”
One of DeWildes neon colored hoodies depicts a bear claw ripping through the chest. It’s just an image, but another AFN vendor offers a traditional plant based salve she says can help heal the real thing.
“This is Flo Kenney, K-E-N-N-Y, I’m from Juneau, Alaska, and I sell a pain killer, really a powerful pain killer, called caribou leaf slave…this is the plant they used to use to treat big gaping wounds, like bear maulings, to cut the pain down and prevent infection.”
Kenny’s table is stacked with dozens of little tins, she says she sells thousands of worldwide every year, mostly for arthritis and general pain relief. So, with so many choices, what are people buying at AFN?
“A lot of earrings,” Lynette Winfrey of Minto said. She is in her element having bought two pairs of earrings. “I just got abalone, and silver with amethyst. It’s really pretty.”
Another shopper, Victor Joseph of Fairbanks is also smiling but a little concerned.
“It’s costly,” Joseph said. He says the experience is as much about picking up gifts, as connecting with vendors and other shoppers. “It’s a beautiful time. You get to really see an expression of our people, and each year you get to see a little something new that you haven’t seen before, and hopefully you don’t spend too much money, you know?”
Although it isn’t a standard village, AFN is a community that pops up for a few days each fall, bringing together people from across the state. Attendees talk about why that community is so important.
Wildlife troopers say they’ve charged the Sea Mountain Golf Course groundskeeper for attempting to poison brown bears. The poison could be what killed two dogs that died after visiting the area.
One month ago, the bears tore holes in the golf course. At the request of golf course groundskeeper, Kevin Taranoff, the Department of Fish and Game set a bear trap.
But, troopers say Taranoff ended up taking matters into his own hands. Jake Abbott is an Alaska Wildlife Trooper in Sitka.
“At that time the grounds keeper had made some comments along the lines of if you don’t deal with the bear I will. So upon hearing that I became suspicious that this person had mostly likely attempted to poison the bears as a way of dealing with the bear problem.”
Abbott says, the poison used to target the bears is thought to be the same anti-freeze mix that killed two dogs earlier this month. Both dogs had roamed the Sea Mountain Golf Course the night they died.
Abbott says Taranoff told several Sea Mountain employees about his attempt to poison the bears. After the dog deaths and conversations with employees Abbott filed charges.
“Because of that I found that I had sufficient probable cause to charge him with one count of unlawful method and means – attempting to take big game by use of a poison.”
Abbott issued Taranoff the citation Wednesday night.
“He subsequently admitted that he was the person who had tried to poison the brown bears.”
Taranoff is facing a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine, or one year in jail, or both. He will be required to appear in court. The golf course managers couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Nearly one month after the federal government launched its new online health insurance marketplace, few Alaskans have been able to sign up. We’ll discuss the frustrations and the successes with the marketplace and look ahead at how the Affordable Care Act will roll out in 2014.
- Alaska Edition: Navigating The Online Health Insurance Marketplaces
- A Few Successes For Alaska’s Health Insurance Marketplace
- High Web Traffic Cripples Federal Health Insurance Marketplaces
- Groups Work To Educate Alaskans On Health Insurance Marketplace
- Premera Braces For Upheaval In Health Insurance Market
HOST: Annie Feidt, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Jeff Davis, Premera Alaska
- Valerie Davidson, ANTHC
- Josh Weinstein, Enroll Alaska
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.