APRN Alaska News

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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 12 min 47 sec ago

Unusual Weather Prompts Concerns Over Early Fire Season Possibilities

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:41

Alaska wildfire mangers are anticipating the possibility of an early season. This winter’s unusual weather is prompting concerns.

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Categories: Alaska News

Radio Stations Weigh Rural Impact of Proposed Public Media Cut

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:40

Public radio and TV in Alaska could lose $2.5 million next year if a proposed state budget cut goes through. It would be a small reduction compared to the overall deficit legislators need to close — but it would eliminate more than half of the fundingpublic media gets from the state.

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As lawmakers try to spare towns with only one source for broadcast information, that distinction might not be so easy to make. 

In Dillingham, KDLG shares the airwaves with a commercial station and a few religious broadcasters. But once you get outside town, general manager Rob Carpenter says his public AM station is the only one on the air for miles.

“We are in the center of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska,” he says. “Our broadcast area is roughly the size of Ohio.”

It spans most of Bristol Bay’s 25 villages, and the areas in between, where residents travel to hunt and fish off the grid.

“We do messages to people who don’t have any other form of communication,” Carpenter says. “We’re the only one that can provide weather for the region, and there’s a lot of areas that are very remote, where there’s cabins and stuff where they can get no other signal.”

But KDLG isn’t technically a sole service station. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, that would have to be “the only primary broadcast service — radio or TV, commercial or noncommercial — within a 50-mile radius from the station’s transmitter.”

There’s only a handful of stations that fit that description in the whole country, and most of them are in Alaska. KUCB is one of them.

The state is hoping to spare sole service stations from major budget cuts. Tyson Gallagher is a staffer for Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, who proposed the 59 percent reduction for public broadcasting in the state House. If it goes through, Gallagher says they still want to make sure all Alaskans have access to information on the air.

“And so with our intent language, we’ve asked the Department [of Administration] to basically do their best to hold harmless those communities that have only one source of broadcast, being public broadcast, and look at a reduction of service of places that have duplicative services, first,” he says.

That could include the ability to stream radio online, which isn’t always possible in rural areas with slow connections.

Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission to implement any cuts. Brenda Hewitt has been on that board for 10 years. She says losing funding would likely lead stations to cut staff, and that could mean less local news content and original programs.

“You know, you could just put repeaters in every nook and cranny,” Hewitt says. “And then you would have to rely on maybe just national programming and national news, and you’d have one person there that would turn the light switch on and the knobs on and that would be it.”

Some of Alaska’s smallest public radio stations already rely on larger neighbors to help to fill out their daily broadcasts. KCUK in Chevak, for example, repeats programming from Bethel’s KYUK.

Though Bethel is home to more than one radio station, KYUK is the only broadcaster reaching thousands of people in villages across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It broadcasts in English and Yup’ik, providing services like travel warnings about the freeze and thaw of the Kuskokwim River.

“If people in Anchorage or any other urban area can imagine, it’s like someone needing to tell you whether or not you can drive on the roads that day,” says KYUK’s programming director, Shane Iverson.

Budget cuts and layoffs in Bethel would have a ripple effect, Iverson says, since his station shares local news with others across the state.

That’s why Brenda Hewitt, the public broadcasting commissioner, says it’ll be hard to separate the Alaska Public Radio Network’s rural and urban stations in trying to dole out cuts.

“We need everybody,” Hewitt says. “The small stations are the ones that give us the boots on the ground. They can send us the stories that we wouldn’t otherwise hear when you’re in urban Alaska — and we are a whole state. I mean, we’re not just Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.”

Juneau’s public radio station, KTOO, is part of a Southeast consortium called CoastAlaska, which covers about every size of media market Alaska has to offer. Executive director Mollie Kabler says the network has recently started selling its fundraising expertise to rural stations, including KUCB.

“It’s a fee-for-service arrangement, and it’s worked out great, because we know how to do the business of public media, and stations that are small … have just worked with us directly to do that,” Kabler says.

It’s just one way she says stations are trying to build up listener support and consolidate resources. As state funding declines, Kabler hopes that kind of change will help the whole system stay afloat.

Categories: Alaska News

Traditional Chief Paul John Passes Away

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:39

Association of Village Council Presidents Traditional Chief and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Honorary Board Member Paul John of Toksook Bay has passed away. His family says he died in Anchorage this morning. His family says he was around 88-years-old.

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John was one of the most respected leaders in the region. He is remembered for dedicating his life to the younger generation and encouraging the well being of Alaska Natives in the YK Delta. He advocated for the preservation of the Yup’ik language and for maintaining traditional values.

His funeral arrangements are still pending.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Women Who Mush

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:38

This year 78 mushers are signed up to drive dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but only a third of them are women.

In the Yukon Quest, only 3 of 26 mushers who started this year were women. Despite the small numbers, many are up-and-coming mushers who are redefining what it means to run dogs.

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In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman ever to win the Iditarod. A grainy YouTube clip from coverage by CBS news shows a crowd gathered on Nome’s front street to greet Riddles.

Libby Riddles: “What I feel like is if I died now it’s ok.”

CBS: “And the Money?”

Libby Riddles: “The money? Maybe Hawaii that’s what I keep talking about. A box of dog biscuits for every dog on the team.  I don’t know. I can’t even believe it yet.”

The following year, Susan Butcher won the race and set a new speed record in 11 days and 15 hours.  Butcher repeated her win and broke her own record again in 1987. She went on to claim the championship twice more in 1988 and 1990.

But a woman hasn’t won the Iditarod since. In fact, the only woman to win another thousand-mile sled dog race in Alaska is Aliy Zirkle.

“I didn’t get into dog mushing to race or to win or to go, go , go , go, I got into mushing because I love dogs,” Zirkle said. “It’ so fun to travel with dogs who want to go and run more than you do.”

In 2000, Zirkle became the only woman to win the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Since then she’s tried to claim an Iditarod championship.

“Now, when you get competitive, and you learn to train these dogs like they’re athletes, then the sky is limitless,” she said.

Zirkle has come up short in the Iditarod placing second the last three years in a row. But does it really make a difference if you’re a woman when it comes to long-distance mushing?

“I would say that in the dog mushing world, most people want to beat Aliy Zirkle,” she said. “There are a few men that I could probably count on ten digits that want to beat me because I’m a woman.”

“It’s a level playing field,” Ryne Olson said. “There’s no advantage either way.”

Olson first started mushing in Alaska under the guidance of Aliy Zirkle.

“I mean you could argue that some of the stereotypical traits of women might help you in some ways and hinder you in others, but I don’t think I mean the sport of mushing there’s nothing stereotypical about it,” Olson said. “Everything is abnormal, I guess.”

Olson finished her first Iditarod in 2012. She was training a puppy team for Zirkle. Olson just finished a successful Yukon Quest with her own team of yearlings and young dogs. Olson placed third, ahead of Zirkle, in this year’s Copper Basin 300. Zirkle placed sixth. So even though Zirkle won’t have to look over her shoulder for her protégé in this year’s Iditarod, she expects to in the future.

“Ryne – my step daughter or adopted daughter or whatever you want to call her – she’s going to beat me,” Zirkle said. “She did beat me.”

But that rivalry is friendly.  The relationship among women who mush is something up-and-comer Kristin Knight-Pace says helped get her to the start line of this year’s Yukon Quest for her rookie 1,000-miler.

Paige Drobny at the Iditarod’s ceremonial start in 2013. (Alaska Public Media photo)

“I think the camaraderie between all of the women who are my friends who are mushers which – oh my gosh, there’s so many – they’re all around my age, they’ve all worked so hard to get to this point and now here we are about to jump off the ledge and do a thousand mile race and man the support system is incredible between all of them,” she said.

Knight-Pace also has Iditarod aspirations for the future.  This year, she helped train up a few dogs during her Yukon Quest run that will compete on Paige Drobny’s Iditarod team. But Drobny, a two-time Iditarod finisher, says they work well together not because they are women, but because they have similar philosophies on how to raise and race dogs.

“You know it’s not just the girls actually. I feel like everyone is super focused on dog care, smaller kennels and working with what they have,” Drobny said. “So yeah, there’s a bunch of women, but there’s also some men too that have the same devotion to their kennels so it’s a really  positive direction for the sport.”

Of the 25 women who will line out their dog teams at the Iditarod start line this year, at least half a dozen have the potential to finish in the top-20. And then there’s Aliy Zirkle who will try for her first Iditarod win- and the first win by a woman in a quarter century.  A group of young female mushers will likely be cheering her on.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Wilma Distor

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:37

This week on AK, we’re launching a new segment. It’s called “49 voices” and it’s a chance for Alaskans to talk about why they live in the state and what they love about it. First up is Wilma Distor who recently moved to Mountain Village after working as a teacher in Pilot Station for nearly a decade. She’s originally from the Phillipines.

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Categories: Alaska News

Uber stops free rides, pauses operations in Anchorage

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:03

Uber is pausing operations in Anchorage and stopped offering free rides on Friday afternoon. But negotiations with the city are not over.

The Uber Pacific Northwest Operations Manager Bryce Bennett announced the decision in a blog post. He cited slow negotiations with the municipality about new regulations that would allow Uber drivers to charge for their services. “The city has dragged its feet and failed to provide a clear end-date for negotiations,” Bennett wrote.

Uber created an online petition to show public support for the service. More than 1,000 people signed within the first four hours of its creation.

Deputy municipal attorney Dee Ennis, who is working on the Uber case, says the muni and the company came to an impasse on issues of public safety. The city wanted Uber drivers to undergo fingerprinting, drug testing, and medical exams like other taxi drivers. Ennis says now it’s up to the Assembly to decide if they are willing to compromise on the issues.

“If the policy makers in the Assembly decide these things are important then we may never get to an MOU [memorandum of understanding]. If the city says, ‘Well if the consumer is aware that Uber doesn’t provide certain features, that it’s a consumer choice’ then we would proceed to an MOU.”

Assembly members will hear from the administration and from Uber during a March 18 public safety committee meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

What is the Iditarod?

Fri, 2015-03-06 12:04

Whether you’ve lived in Alaska for decades or you’re a newcomer to the state, you’re probably still curious about the “Last Great Race on Earth.” How long does the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race take to finish? Where does it go? What’s with all those dogs? Alaska Public Media answers all of your questions about the most popular sporting event in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Steve Heimel and Historical Context for APRN

Fri, 2015-03-06 12:00

Steve Heimel has been a fixture of the APRN system since its inception. After more than three decades of dedicated service to news, Steve is leaving the network for other challenges. From covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill to helping Alaskans understand the breaking news on September 11th, Steve has been a steadfast, credible and authoritative voice. Steve Heimel
is our guest on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Steve Heimel
  • Callers statewide


  • 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, March 10, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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


Categories: Alaska News

Walker Administration Renews Medicaid Push

Thu, 2015-03-05 22:18

A week after the House Finance Committee removed Medicaid expansion language from the budget, Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson is back before legislators advocating for the program.

Davidson gave a two-hour presentation to the House Health and Social Services committee on Thursday afternoon, walking the lawmakers through the potential savings and costs of expanding Medicaid. Even though the Walker administration no longer has a vehicle to accept federal funding for expansion, Davidson is optimistic that there may be other ways to advance the policy.

“We are certainly open to other opportunities to get this done, of course,” says Davidson.

Expanding Medicaid to cover Alaskans who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level has been a major priority for Gov. Bill Walker. In the first years, the federal government will cover the total costs of expansion, with 90 percent payment after that.

Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican who chairs the House Health and Social Services committee, says he is friendly to the idea of expansion, but would like to see the policy come as part of a larger Medicaid reform bill.

“We’re looking for a way forward on Medicaid expansion that makes sense for all Alaskans,” says Seaton.

Numerous members of the Legislature’s Republican majority have stated they would like to see the issue of Medicaid expansion handled through a bill instead of the budget, and that they would like to see that bill come from the Walker administration.

A Medicaid expansion bill has previously been filed by a group of Democrats in the minority, but has not been heard. Seaton says the prime sponsor, Andy Josephson of Anchorage, first put in a request for a hearing last Friday. Seaton says there is no hearing currently planned for that bill, but that his committee will continue to hear more on Medicaid expansion from the Walker administration next week.

Categories: Alaska News

New Anchorage Museum “lab” sparks innovation

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:53

A student plays at the new Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

What do buckets, disco balls, circuits, and marbles have in common? They’re all part of the Anchorage Museum’s attempt to spark innovation in their new interactive exhibit.

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Four-year-old Anabel Lantzman wanders into the Anchorage Museum’s new Spark!Lab ahead of the other kids and sees balls and pipes hanging from metal rods. Buckets and a bingo ball cage stick out from the base. It’s like a tree of stuff.

A volunteer hands her a drum stick and Anabel tentatively taps the different objects. The bucket sounds like a drum and the pipes ring like bells.

Kids play in the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

“So, are you allowed to hit things at home?” I inquire.


“How does it feel to hit things here?”


She giggles and wanders to the next station — creating a mini hydroponic garden with nylon, pebbles, and cotton. Soon a group of fourth graders joins her and the room erupts in noise as they call to each other and bang loudly on all of the objects, seemingly at once.

So why encourage such chaos?

“This is not just banging things that’s going on here,” says Arthur Molella, the director of the Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian, which created the Spark!Lab. “This is all done with a purpose. Cause some of the same energies that are happening here — essentially this curiosity, a disciplined curiosity begins here and carries on through the rest of your life.”

Molella says that curiosity and creativity lead to innovation and invention. That’s why his center worked with educators to create the Spark!Lab. They’re helping museums around the United States set up their own localized versions. The Anchorage version, the sixth in the country, will soon include activities focused on the innovation required to live in the Arctic.

The students quickly disperse to the different activities around the room. Some design shoes, others use blocks, ramps, and mini xylophones to create an obstacle course for a marble.

Students play with marbles and blocks at the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

Fourth grader Sandia Whalen is part of a group that’s trying to get a marble to go down a path, turn a corner and return to its start.

“But I don’t think sometimes it will work because there are things that are down at first but then go up but the marble can’t move up without being pushed,” Sandia explains.

“Because it’s not moving fast enough?”

“If it’s going fast enough then that might do it, but we have to make it go fast enough.”

Sandia is doing exactly what the exhibit designers intended — she’s problem-solving and innovating. Further down the table her classmate Matthew Hudson snaps together plastic pieces with wires embedded in them and connects them to batteries and propellers.

“It’s a circuit that’s really cool. Once you do it, this will spin around and go into the air,” he says, pointing at the propeller. “And it’s really cool.”

Students build circuits at the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

He says now that he knows the basics, he’s ready to design his own. “My own circuit, it would be like a train. It would be like tracks. It would move the train and bring me ice cream whenever I wanted ice cream.”

The Spark!Lab will be around for at least two years but the space will permanently be dedicated to creativity and invention. The exhibit is aimed mostly at children aged 6 to 12, though it includes a toddler area, too. It opens to the public Friday, March 6.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Opportunities Hearing Continues Despite Widespread Closures In DC

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:09

In the nation’s capital, lawmakers fled to the airports ahead of a snow storm today that closed most government offices. But one U.S. senator held a hearing anyway. Scores of Alaskans packed into Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Energy committee for a hearing on Arctic opportunities.

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Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Don Young’s Homeless Comments Draw Public Ire

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:08

On the other side of the Capitol, Alaska Congressman Don Young attended the only other congressional hearing on this snowy day in Washington, and he created a stir with a comment about homeless people.

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Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was defending her budget to the House Natural Resources Committee. Young is no fan of Jewell, but he actually supported her department’s 2011 decision to delist the grey wolf from the endangered species list. Instead, Young turned his ire on Congress members who asked Jewell not to delist.

“The grey wolf in fact is a predator that’s killing the cloven hoof animals. And we’ve got 79 Congressmen sending you a letter,” Young said. “Haven’t got a damn wolf in their whole district. I’d like to introduce them to your district. I introduce them in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem any more. I yield back.”

In a written statement afterward, Young said he was employing analogy and hyperbole to point out that wolves are a problem for communities that have them. “If you misunderstood my comments,” Young said in the statement is office put out, “just imagine the impact a healthy wolf population would have on your own town, community, or congressional district.”

Categories: Alaska News

Feds Turning Tongass Land Over To Sealaska

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:07

Sealaska Corp. gets its new land on Friday.

The federal Bureau of Land Managementwill sign paperwork that day turning over 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the corporation.

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The agency’s Ramona Chinn says the land must still be surveyed and patented. But as of Friday, it’s Sealaska’s.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

“It’s a milestone for the land-transfer program. Sealaska is one of 12 regions and this would finalize their entitlement,” Chinn says.

Federal legislation passed late last year turned the land over to the Juneau-based regional Native corporation. Sealaska gave up the right to select other lands in Southeast, under terms of 1971’s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Erika Reed says Sealaska prioritized which of the new parcels it wants first.

“We are going to be able to, we think, depending on the budget, survey the first two priorities this year. But assuming we maintain a stable budget, it will probably take us about five years to survey all 18 parcels,” she says.

The full process will take about eight years.

About 3,400 acres of old-growth forest on the Cleveland Peninsula and Prince of Wales Island’s North Election Creek are at the top of the list.

Sealaska has said logging could begin this year, but it’s not a firm decision. The parcels are near other corporation land with logging infrastructure.

Sealaska can also take over up to 76 tracts of cemetery and other historic sites in the Tongass totaling no more than 490 acres.

No timeline is set for that process.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Discuss Federal Issues With Pot Legalization

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:06

A state Department of Law official told concerned lawmakers that regulating marijuana shouldn’t result in federal prosecution.

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Sen. Anna MacKinnon said during a Thursday Senate Finance Committee hearing that she had heard from members of the public who thought that legislators were violating federal law if they implemented the ballot initiative legalizing marijuana.

Department of Law representative Rick Svobodny told lawmakers that isn’t the case. The oath requires them to uphold federal and state constitutions but doesn’t mention specific federal laws.

Although Alaska voters approved possession, personal use and transportation of limited quantities of marijuana for adults 21 and older, it remains illegal federally.

The committee is discussing the decriminalization bill.

Categories: Alaska News

How Will Retreating Glaciers Affect Whales, Seals?

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:05

Glaciologist Erin Pettit was on a kayaking trip in Glacier Bay in 2006 when she first wondered what kind of noise the glaciers were making under the water. Her new research shows the answer to that question is a lot – and not just when the glaciers are calving. Here’s the sound of a glacier pressurized bubbles being released from a glacier.

The study shows the animals – like seals and whales – who live and feed near glaciers have adapted to a noisy environment and will have to adjust to much quieter surroundings when global warming forces the glaciers to retreat onto land.

She says on the kayaking trip she was watching one whale interact with the glacier.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Police Identify Man Killed At Busy Intersection

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:04

Anchorage police have released the name of the pedestrian struck and killed Wednesday by an SUV.

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Police say 51-year-old Russell Place was hit just after 1:30 p.m. at Benson Boulevard and New Seward Highway.

The highway stretches across six lanes and turning lanes at the location.

Police say the 49-year-old woman driving the SUV was northbound on the highway.

Place was walking in the road when he was struck. Medics declared him dead at the scene.

No citations had been issued as of Thursday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Robotics, Spelling, Poetry: Skagway School Expands Academic Extracurriculars

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:03

The Thought Bots at the Anchorage robotics competition. (Courtesy Heather Rodig)

Sports like basketball are well-supported at schools around Southeast Alaska. But in Skagway, the superintendent and school board have made a deliberate effort to extend activities beyond athletics.

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In the past two years, the 90-student school has increased the number of academic extra-curriculars offered. Those activities benefit students in ways similar to sports — with travel, competition and a boost to students’ self-confidence.

If there’s one team Skagway School is known for, it’s robotics. Sophomore Denver Evans says being on the robotics team for three years in middle school helped her in an unexpected way.

“I was an extremely shy kid,” she said. “We had to give our presentation to a room of 200 or 300 people. And getting up on stage was petrifying. But now I have no problem speaking in front of people, and my little sister is the same way.”

“I really think it’s opening me up so I can be more out there,” said Denver’s little sister, Peyton Rodig, who is in 6th grade. “‘Cause I used to really be like, not wanting to talk to anybody.”

This Rodig’s second year on the hugely successful robotics team, which is part of the FIRST Lego League. Her mother is the head coach this year.

“Well our team’s gotten a reputation in Juneau,” said assitant coach Greg Clem. “We are the ones that the other teams go out to outdo.”

Clem says the Skagway team has won the regional competition in Juneau several times, and then gone on to place well at nationals and internationals. They placed second at the state-wide robotics competition in Anchorage this year, and they’ll be traveling to the national competition in California soon.

Clem has seen the impact robotics has had on his son Dawson.

“He started out as the introvert over behind the table not wanting to be part of it,” Clem said. “And now he’s a big part of the team. The little shy, stand-off — you can’t do that.”

The Thought Bots placed first at the Juneau regional competition. (Courtesy Denise Sager)

The success of robotics has set a good precedent for the school to try out other academic extracurriculars. The school registered in the Scripps Spelling Bee this year. Last year, the high school started a poetry competition. And also this year, students who enjoy math can compete in a program called Math Counts.

Skagway School Board President John Hischer says the board has made it a priority to encourage academic competitions. He says they help reinforce what students learn in class.

“When you think about your school experience, what are the things that you remember most?” Hischer said. “It’s not usually what you learn in a textbook, it’s when you go out and apply it in the real world or apply it in a competition.”

“I decided to compete because I just love spelling,” said 5th grader Tatum Sager. “Whenever I’m in my spelling class I always look forward to spelling.”

Sager won the school spelling bee this year, but she and the second place winner aren’t able to travel to the state competition. So, Callia Feilding, the third place winner, will go to Anchorage instead.

Another person traveling to a state competition soon is high school junior Al Weber. She’ll recite poems including “Life Cycle of Common Man” by Howard Nemerov at the Poetry Out Loud event in Anchorage.

“[The poem] actually made sense to me, like it sounded like a story in my head,” Weber said. “So, I went with it, because that’s what poems should be, they should be stories.”

Kent Fielding is the teacher who organized the Poetry Out Loud program at Skagway School. He’ll also be the coach for DDF — Drama, Debate and Forensics. That’s an extracurricular that Skagway School is bringing back next year after a few years without it.

With so many activities, and only about 90 students, School Board president Hischer says there is one concern.

“What I see [as] the big danger is kids spreading themselves too thin with so many things,” Hischer said.

That could be a problem as the school adds DDF to its list of options. But Superintendent Josh Coughran says they might remedy that by making DDF an elective class during the school-day instead of an after-school program.

“That way they can devote that time and energy it takes to be really good at DDF while still supporting teammates on, say, a vollyball or wrestling team.”

Coughran says the financial burden of activities hasn’t been a problem for the school district. He says the community is very supportive when teams need to fundraise for travel expenses.

“If there’s anything that I’ve learned about Skagway over the years it’s that they’re gonna find a way to get it done,” Coughran said.

Sixth grader Peyton Rodig says she’s found that two of her favorite activities — basketball and robotics — have something in common.

“You’re getting exercise in basketball, but you’re exercising your brain in robotics.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 5, 2015

Thu, 2015-03-05 16:02

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

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Arctic Opportunities Hearing Continues Despite Widespread Closures In DC

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In the nation’s capital, lawmakers fled to the airports ahead of a snow storm today that closed most government offices. But one U.S. senator held a hearing anyway. Scores of Alaskans packed into Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Energy committee for a hearing on Arctic opportunities.

Rep. Don Young’s Homeless Comments Draw Public Ire

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

On the other side of the Capitol, Alaska Congressman Don Young attended the only other congressional hearing on this snowy day in Washington, and he created a stir with a comment about homeless people.

Feds Turning Tongass Land Over To Sealaska

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Sealaska gets its new land tomorrow. The federal Bureau of Land Management will sign paperwork that day turning over 70,000 acres of Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Lawmakers Discuss Federal Issues With Pot Legalization

The Associated Press

A state Department of Law official told concerned lawmakers that regulating marijuana shouldn’t result in federal prosecution.

How Will Retreating Glaciers Affect Whales, Seals?

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Glaciologist Erin Pettit was on a kayaking trip in Glacier Bay in 2006 when she first wondered what kind of noise glaciers were making under the water. Her new research shows the answer to that question is a lot – and not just when they’re calving. Here’s the sound of pressurized bubbles being released from a glacier.

Church, Non-Profit Cooperation Working To Provide Low-Income Housing

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Rapid population growth in the Matanuska Susitna Borough has brought some problems with it.  One of them is a shortage of low income housing.

Anchorage Police Identify Man Killed At Busy Intersection

The Associated Press

Anchorage police have released the name of the pedestrian struck and killed Wednesday by an SUV.

Anchorage Museum Exhibit Works To Spark Innovation

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

What do buckets, disco balls, circuits, and marbles have in common? They’re all part of the Anchorage Museum’s attempt to spark innovation in their new interactive exhibit.

Robotics, Spelling, Poetry: Skagway School Expands Academic Extracurriculars

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Sports like basketball are well-supported at schools around Southeast Alaska. But in Skagway, the superintendent and school board have made a deliberate effort to expand activities beyond athletics. In the past two years, the 90-student school has increased the number of academic extra-curriculars offered.

Categories: Alaska News

I Run a Custom Knife Shop

Thu, 2015-03-05 12:35

For Virgil and Dawn Campbell, making and selling knives is a way of life. The I.R.B.I. (“I’d Rather Be Independent”) knife shop on the Seward highway has been in the family for three generations and serves as workshop and a landmark for passerbys from near and far.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska House Finance Committee Hearing Public Input On Budget

Wed, 2015-03-04 17:24

With the state facing a deficit of more than $4 billion, the budget is arguably the most important issue facing the Alaska Legislature this session. The House Finance Committee is now hearing from the public on its cuts, in preparation for any changes it might make to the spending proposal.

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Lori: What’s been the public response so far?

Alexandra: The public testimony started yesterday, with people physically present in Juneau first invited to speak, before the committee went to the phones. The scene was kind of a zoo. The committee room was standing room only, and people lined the halls to get in and say their piece. As soon as soon as their two minutes was up, testifiers were shuttled outside the door to make space for others.

On top of the 15 hours of testimony the committee has scheduled, it is also taking written statements, too. So far, the committee has received about 500 pages worth of letters, with plenty more still rolling in.

Lori: What issues have gotten the most response from the public?

Alexandra: It’s often said in the Capitol that every state dollar has its constituency. We’re seeing that maxim play out with these hearings. You have parents and teachers opposing cuts to early education programs, like Best Beginnings and the state pre-kindergarten program. There were deaf men and women who spoke through interpreters about interpreter services being cut, which was pretty striking. Listeners of public radio asked for station funding to be restored. Attorneys and people who have received pro bono representation from Alaska Legal Services spoke against cuts there. The removal of Medicaid expansion from the operating budget has been a touchy issue. People have testified on cuts to the ferry system and the state’s timber program, and more.

One thing that’s been interesting is that you do not really have people calling in to say we need further reductions. Some have acknowledged that the state is in a difficult position, given the multi-billion-dollar deficit and the need to draw from the state’s reserves, but the testifiers are mainly people who want to protect programs that matter to them.

Lori: So, how much have legislators cut from the operating budget so far?

Alexandra: The current version of the budget cuts $240 million over last year. That’s simultaneously a lot of money — and almost nothing at all, when you look at it in context of a deficit that’s more than 10 times that amount.

Because more than half of state operating spending comes from formula programs like school funding and Medicaid, there’s really only $2 billion in agency operations where the Legislature can make direct cuts that don’t require extra legislation. You could wipe out all those agency operations and still not cover the state budget.

Some agencies are feeling the cuts more than others. Three departments — Labor, Military and Veterans Affairs, and Commerce — are all seeing their budgets reduced by more than 30 percent over last year. Meanwhile, the Judiciary and the Department of Public Safety are looking at cuts of one and three percent, respectively.

Lori: How are the governor and the Legislature handling their own budgets?

Alexandra: There’s been an interesting conversation in terms of who is making deeper and more meaningful cuts. Based off the spreadsheets that the House Finance Committee is using, the governor is reducing his budget by 30 percent, and the Legislature is only cutting its budget by three percent over last year.

However, lawmakers and their staff have been quick to note that part of the reason it looks like the governor is cutting so much is that the executive branch doesn’t need to spend money on things like election staffing and the redistricting board this year. They say that once you take out those one-time budget items, the cuts look like they’re closer to eight percent. On top of that, some of the spending on domestic violence programs that used to be in governor’s budget has been shifted to the Department of Public Safety.

All this goes to show how many different ways these numbers can be sliced. Because money can be moved around and because there are so many ways to compare budgets, depending on whether you’re looking at last year’s spending or more recent proposals, people can be looking at the same budget items and describe them in radically different ways.

Lori: What’s the plan with the budget moving forward?

Alexandra: After public testimony is done, the House Finance Committee will start taking amendments. They’re hoping to move the bill out of committee by the end of next week. After that, it’ll go to the floor for a vote, and then be sent over to the Senate, where that body will have the chance to make its own cuts — or restore funding in some places, if they so choose.

Categories: Alaska News