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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: 52 min 17 sec ago

Alaska News Nightly: August 28, 2014

Thu, 2014-08-28 17:34

Individual news 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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Shell Oil Files Exploration Plan for Chukchi Sea

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell Oil took its first step toward returning to the Arctic on Thursday morning. The company filed a new plan to explore the Chukchi Sea with federal regulators in Anchorage.

Parnell Vetoes A Bill Curbing Record Access

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Gov. Sean Parnell has vetoed a bill that would have scrubbed Courtview — the state’s online criminal records database — of any charge that did not result in a conviction.

Alaska Mayors Group Rallies Against Pot

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Conference of Mayors has come out against a ballot initiative that would regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Senate Candidates Stake Ground In Unconventional First Debate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Wednesday night the conservative umbrella group United for Liberty hosted the first Senate debate of the general election season. Democratic incumbent Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan squared off in an Anchorage auditorium and used the event to establish some of the themes of their campaigns.

New Study Sheds Light On How the Arctic Was Populated

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Archaeologists have been arguing for decades about how human beings got to the new world, and genetic research released today deepens the mystery. An article published in “Science” magazine shows that there must have been at least four pulses of migration from Siberia through Alaska since the last Ice Age, and the Yupik and Inupiat people now in Alaska actually replaced an earlier population.

Investigation Finds 7 Juneau High Schoolers Responsible For Hazing

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Juneau School District investigation finds seven high school seniors responsible for the paddling of six incoming freshmen. The incident took place shortly after school ended in May.

ENSTAR Strike Ends Without A New Contract

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The ENSTAR operating employees strike is over, but the workers do not have a new contract. After two and a half weeks they returned to work today Thursday.

Prince Of Wales Island Finds Success With A 4-Day School Week

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Southeast Island School District on Prince of Wales Island encompasses nine small, rural schools. Last year, the district implemented a four-day school week in all but one school. It worked so well that every school is running on a Monday through Thursday schedule this year.

New Tanana Rec Site Not Thwarted By Rain

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

It’s been one of the rainiest summer’s on record in Fairbanks, but that hasn’t hampered the debut of new recreation area.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Mayors Group Rallies Against Pot

Thu, 2014-08-28 16:43

The Alaska Conference of Mayors has come out against a ballot initiative that would regulate marijuana like alcohol.

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The coalition passed a resolution opposing Proposition 2 out of concerns over cost and safety at their summer meeting on August 13, and signed the document on Wednesday. The organization is also donating $5,000 to the political action group Big Marijuana Big Mistake to help their campaign.

The Alaska Conference of Mayors represents nearly 100 communities across the state. The vote on the resolution was unanimous, but only a quarter of members were present for it. The Mat-Su Borough and the cities of Fairbanks, Kodiak, Bethel, Wasilla, and Sitka were the largest communities to give an affirmative vote on the measure.

Proposition 2 spokesperson Taylor Bickford called the decision “unfortunate,” given that alcohol is already sold in many of these communities.

Categories: Alaska News

Mom, Tot Injured In ATV Hit-And-Run

Thu, 2014-08-28 14:40

A Mountain Village woman was arrested Wednesday after driving an ATV into a woman pushing a toddler in a stroller.

Mountain Village, Alaska. Photo from Google Maps.

Wednesday afternoon, troopers say 22-year-old Georgianne Hanson was driving a 4-wheeler with a passenger. She began arguing with Jeanette Myre, who had a toddler in a stroller. Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters say Hanson allegedly told the woman she was going to hit her with the ATV.

“Hanson then drove a little distance away, turned around, came back at Myre and struck her and the stroller with the 4-wheeler. Hanson then left scene and did not render aid at all. Fortunately there was a good Samaritan who transported the woman and the child to the Mountain Village Clinic,” said Peters.

Their investigation indicated that Hanson did just that, by driving away, circling back to hit the woman and the stroller. She then left the scene. The woman and the toddler were medecaved to Bethel for non-life-threatening injuries.

Troopers arrested Hanson and expected charges for first and second degree assault and failure to render aid. Peters said it doesn’t appear alcohol was a factor.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Fishing Winds Down In Lower Cook Inlet

Thu, 2014-08-28 07:00

The season is wrapping up in the Southern, Outer, and Kamishak Bay districts.

“In general, things are winding down I would say,” says Glenn Hollowell, area management biologist for the Department of Fish and Game.

He says there may be a few areas that continue to produce.

“There might be some seiners interested in going over to Kamishak Bay to fish for coho, but the weather tends to get really nasty there in late August or early September,” says Hollowell. “I don’t know that we’re going to see a lot of effort over there at this time.”

Sockeye returns have not been consistent across lower Cook Inlet. In the Outer District, there was a system in McCarty Fjord that produced about 20,000 sockeye, which is very good for that area.

“Some of our other systems have just met escapement, like English Bay, for instance,” says Hollowell. “We have made our escapement goal pretty cleanly there. We’re right around the middle of the goal which is a good place to be. But, there was really not enough fish there to have a significant commercial harvest on them. The harvest went to subsistence users over in Port Graham, primarily.”

Pinks have been doing well overall. 2013 was a record-breaking year for pinks in lower Cook Inlet with 2 million picked up in the Outer District alone. It’s certainly not up to that level this year, but it’s been consistently good, with about average returns in the Outer District.

“Pink salmon are pretty much everywhere,” says Hollowell. “Most of the little streams and rivers around Kachemak Bay and other places on the lower Kenai have small pink salmon runs associated with them. But, right now in Kachemak Bay, I would say Humpy Creek has a good number of fish associated with it.”

Hollowell says Humpy Creek was a little slow to meet its escapement goal this year. He says Fish and Game held off opening it on the typical three-day-per-week schedule until returns were higher. He says he saw good numbers of fish when he walked the stream a few weeks ago, so it’s been opened for common property harvest.

The Kamishak Bay district was looking good for fishing early on, but has had some trouble following through. Hollowell says a trip there on August 20th shows it’s not for lack of pinks.

“Well, the weather’s been terrible over there, which unfortunately we can’t control,” says Hollowell. “That’s really limited harvest. I went flying there and counted about 60,000 pink salmon in the Bruin Bay River, which is a really nice return for there. Unfortunately, Bruin Bay is incredibly shallow and rocky. It’s a very difficult place to fish. The fleet has not been able to access them and catch them and bring them in to processors.”

The Bruin Bay area is open to commercial harvest now, but Hollowell says he doesn’t see the fishery making a particularly great turnaround.

“Early on in the season, it was looking like this was going to be a really, really nice return, like a good number of fish coming back,” says Hollowell. “So, we decided to open it up a little bit early to aggressive fishing. Unfortunately, the bad weather has precluded that. It’s been pretty slow over there. I believe we’ve taken about 45,000 or 50,000 pink salmon out of there so far.”

Pink and chum returns have been good overall in the Outer District. Hollowell says there’s been a lot of activity around Port Dick and Dogfish Bay this season. Chums have also turned out well in the southern district.

“Chums are a bit more scattered, I would say,” says Hollowell. “Port Graham has had a nice show of chums coming back to it.”

Coho has had a good showing this year, with strong returns to the fishing hole on the Homer Spit. The personal use fishery in that area closed after just 72 hours after meeting its guideline harvest level of 1,000 to 2,000 fish.

Overall, it’s been a decent season so far for a variety of salmon in each of the districts in lower Cook Inlet.

Categories: Alaska News

Meeting in Nome Attempts to Elucidate Arctic Policy Goals

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:48

The Alaska Arctic Commission has been working for more than a year and a half to write the state’s first comprehensive arctic policy—a policy the commission hopes will lay out not just Alaska’s future, but America’s future, in the arctic. But with priorities ranging from international to extremely local, Tuesday’s meeting in Nome saw lawmakers, researchers, and coastal representatives still working out just what that policy will be.

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The Alaska Arctic Commission is trying to balance far-reaching goals—from development and energy to international cooperation—to more immediate needs like ports, plumbing, and building strong rural economics and infrastructure for rural communities.

But with a four-page draft bill, a 15-page summary, and a 131-page report … the big question before the commission was summarized by Bethel co-chair, Representative Bob Herron.

“What should this policy commission say when we report to the legislature?”

Finalizing that message before the commission delivers its final report to lawmakers took up much of the meeting—with recaps of past meetings leading to passionate discussions on key issues … which often spiraled into broad discussions that rarely led to any clear conclusion.

What *is clear is that the commission will deliver 4 broad “strategic recommendations” to the legislature. They include a renewed focus on the state’s “infrastructure gap;” a boost to artic science and research; increased response capacity for a more active Arctic maritime environment; and a focus on sustainably developing arctic resources with an eye to Alaska’s unique cultural, social, and environmental needs.

Liz Qaulluq Moore, a community and government affairs director with NANA Regional Corporation who is the commissions’ ANSCA representative, says those 4 recommendations are necessarily broad.

“It is so big. It is really important. And I think we’ve been working towards this for many generations. The reason we’re seeing this bubble up to the surface now is because of the increased interest, right, we have a lot more marine traffic, all these larger questions. We talk a lot about resource development and the resources in the arctic. People want to be responsive to the immediate needs of marine transportation and offshore oil and gas development, we have to be prepared for those things.  So, you know, do we address those immediate needs? What are those longer-term visions? I think this is going to be a much longer-term discussion beyond just this commission.”

While the arctic policy will be far-reaching, residents of Nome addressed the commission to single out areas of specific concern. Melanie Bahnke, president of Kawerak, addressed concerns that the committee’s careful work could end up collecting dust on a bookshelf in Juneau—by urging lawmakers to take action.

“Many of your are in a position to ensure that some of your own recommendations are funded. So, fund it! Ensure Alaska Native people benefit economically. We bear the most risk with anything that’s going on in the arctic. So consider, what is the next 8-A opportunity? The next CDQ-like opportunity? When we’re provided with some opportunities we go from having a seat at the back of the bus, to learning how to drive the bus, to owning a fleet of busses.”

Senator Lyman Hoffman of Bethel sits on the commission, and admits the bill—and the report—won’t include any clear way to pay for the various projects the commission is recommending. But he says it *will give direction on how the state should spend its money down the road.

“It doesn’t open up the checkbook, it gives direction on how that checkbook can be spent. You know, so, if the legislature adopts the report, then they adopt the recommendations, then it’s incumbent upon the legislature to implement them.”

Commission members hope that implementation will have ramifications on the national and international scene. In 2015 the United States is poised to spend three years as chair of the international Arctic Council—a body of circumpolar nations focused on arctic issues.

Many commission members see Alaska’s plans for the arctic as the de facto plans for the nation—or at least influencing the nation’s arctic policy going forward. Here’s Anchorage Senator Lesil McGuire, the commission’s co-chair.

 “We’ve sat back and waited for the federal government, which arguably should have an interest to begin that investment, and we just haven’t gotten anywhere.”

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission continues its meeting on Kotzebue on Wednesday, with one more meeting in November to finalize its extensive report—and its far-reaching recommendations for the future of the arctic—before submitting it to Juneau for the state of the legislative session in January.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 27, 2014

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:48

Individual news 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

Download Audio:

Meeting in Nome Attempts to Elucidate Arctic Policy Goals

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The Alaska Arctic Commission has been working for more than a year and a half to write the state’s first comprehensive arctic policy—a policy the commission hopes will lay out not just Alaska’s future, but America’s future, in the arctic. But with priorities ranging from international to extremely local, Tuesday’s meeting in Nome saw lawmakers, researchers, and coastal representatives still working out just what that policy will be.

Libertarian Senate Candidate To Withdraw, Leaving One Walker On Ballot

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

There won’t be two Walkers on the November ballot after all. Thom Walker, the Libertarian nominee for U.S. Senate, announced he was dropping out of the race via Facebook on Wednesday.

Judges Weigh Yup’ik Religious Appeal

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Three judges with the Alaska Court of appeals are now weighing whether Yup’ik Fishermen, who targeted Chinook or king Salmon during a closure on the Kuskokwim River in 2012, were wrongfully convicted. Their attorney based their defense on a 1970s moose-hunting case.

DOT To Commence Herbicide Spraying In Southeast

Elizabeth Jenkins, KFSK – Petersburg

The Alaska Department of Transportation plans to spray herbicides on Prince of Wales Island. It will be the first time the DOT has applied herbicides in southeast Alaska since the state eliminated public review requirements in 2013.

Post-Ferguson, APD Stands By Civil Unrest Preparation Plans

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Police Department says they are ready if civil unrest breaks out in Alaska’s largest city, like it did in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this month. But their main tactic is being as transparent and open as possible so that riots don’t happen in the first place.

Charges Filed In Haines Bear Shootings

Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Charges were filed against two Haines men for the shooting brown bears recently in cases that highlight the challenges of bear and humans coexisting.

Celebrating Recovery From Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Alcohol and drug abuse cost Alaska’s economy more than $1 billion every year. That includes millions in lost productivity, and millions more spent on health care, social services and the criminal justice system, according to a 2012 McDowell Group report.Shame and stigma can make it difficult to get help for substance abuse. But a group of Juneau residents is out to change that. They organized last weekend’s Recovery Fest to celebrate those seeking to overcome addiction.

Categories: Alaska News

Celebrating Recovery From Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:45

Alcohol and drug abuse cost Alaska’s economy more than $1 billion every year. That includes millions in lost productivity and millions more spent on health care, social services and the criminal justice system, according to a 2012 McDowell Group report.

Shame and stigma can make it difficult to get help for substance abuse. But a group of Juneau residents is out to change that. They organized last weekend’s Recovery Fest to celebrate those seeking to overcome addiction.

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It’s a sunny afternoon at Sandy Beach in downtown Douglas, and a crowd is gathering around a dunk tank filled with several gallons of cold water. Dusty Dumont, a parole officer for the state Department of Corrections, sits on a platform above the water, dry for now. Then someone throws a ball that’s right on target and Dumont splashes into the water as the crowd lets out a cheer.

Dusty Dumont and Kara Nelson jump to celebrate a dunk tank bull’s-eye at a recent Juneau Recovery Fest event. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

“I did get dunked quite a few times,” Dumont says later, wrapped in a towel and standing next to a picnic shelter.

“For a good cause,” she adds with a laugh.

The cause she’s talking about is addiction recovery. Programs like 12 step, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, professional counseling and peer-to-peer treatment.

“The majority of the people on my case load are struggling with addiction, and I would love to see more of this so that people feel like they belong and are part of a strong community that’s sober,” Dumont says.

Kara Nelson is one of the people on Dumont’s case load. The 40-year-old mother of three spent more than half her life abusing drugs and alcohol before sobering up in 2011.

“I never really had a drug of choice,” Nelson says. “Whatever you had I’ll take, whatever’s going to get me out of my right mind right now.”

Like a lot of addicts at Recovery Fest, Nelson says no one event led to her getting clean. Rather, it was a series of what she calls “bottoms.” She says her family, friends and members of her church help her stay sober. She also credits peer-to-peer therapy, where former users support each other.

“If you’re like me, I don’t like to feel like anyone is trying to tell me what to do,” she says. “I mean, I already have so much shame on me. So when I’m with someone who’s already been through that, I definitely can identify, and work through things a little better and get to that humbled spot that we need to get to to move forward.”

Carol McDaid pushed to get addiction services included in the Affordable Care Act as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for treatment organizations. She’s also been in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse for 16 years.

“The thing that was my biggest mark of shame is now my biggest asset,” McDaid says.

A frequent guest speaker at events around the country, she talks about putting a face on addiction recovery.

“That’s why we’re out here today. So that people don’t have to think we’re these people under bridges swigging out of brown bags,” McDaid says. “We are tax paying, loving members of our family, and members of our community that add rather than detract. And I think if we do that enough, we will show that there’s a benefit to doing it.”

Katie Chapman, executive director of theNational Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Juneau Chapter, is celebrating four and a half years sober. NCADD helps organize the weekly Juneau Recovery Community meetings, where the idea for Recovery Fest first took shape. Chapman says the group hopes to hold more public events that shine a light on recovery and reduce the stigma for those struggling to overcome addictions.

“I’m happy to do that here today,” Chapman says. “I’m proudly wearing a shirt that says ‘I got recovery’ on the back of it, because I do and I’m proud of it. It’s something to be proud of.”

Categories: Alaska News

Libertarian Senate Candidate To Withdraw, Leaving One Walker On Ballot

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:41

There won’t be two Walkers on the November ballot after all. Thom Walker, the Libertarian nominee for U.S. Senate, announced he was dropping out of the race via Facebook on Wednesday.

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In a post left on the Alaska Libertarian Party’s page, Walker explains that his “work location and schedule” handling field operations for a University of Alaska research station requires him to be “out of town, out of contact, and off the campaign trail for too long.” It’s the first public statement Walker has made since unexpectedly winning last week’s primary and immediately going off the grid for a float trip in the Brooks Range.

Thom Walker, left, will no longer be appearing on the same ballot as Bill Walker in November. (UAF/Bill Walker for Governor campaign)

Walker took over 60 percent of the Libertarian vote in a race against two former Libertarian Party chairmen. Because the 35-year-old Fairbanks resident had only recently become a Libertarian and had not actively campaigned, party leadership and pollsters believe that Thom Walker pulled off an upset because he shared a last name with gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker.

The Libertarian executive committee has already selected primary runner-up Mark Fish as their replacement candidate. Fish says they’re now trying to coordinate the change with the Division of Elections, but the substitution is complicated by Walker’s inaccessibility. APRN was not able to reach Walker for comment on the matter, but Fish says the erstwhile candidate is only able to communicate his withdrawal via satellite phone.

“Usually that’s done in writing, but I just got off the phone with the Division of Elections and they’re going to check on it, because it’s kind of a unique situation,” says Fish.

The selection of Fish as a replacement happened within hours of Walker’s announcement. Throughout the primary season, the Libertarian Party was asked if it would consider running Republican Joe Miller as its Senate candidate in the event the Tea Party favorite lost. Party Chair Michael Chambers says that simply wasn’t going to happen.

“We’re not a rent-a-party,” says Chambers. “We’re a party of principles, and those principles are adhered to in the sense that we want to put forth candidates that adhere to the particular principles of the Libertarian party.”

The Libertarian Party has until September 2 to formalize its candidate substitution.

Categories: Alaska News

Charges Filed In Haines Bear Shootings

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:40

Charges were filed against two Haines men for the shooting brown bears recently in cases that highlight the challenges of bear and humans coexisting.

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Forty-eight-year-old Kevin Shove is charged with failure to salvage a bear he claims he shot in defense of life and property. Alaska State Troopers say Shove shot a large male brown bear on his Haines property on August 8th. Instead of reporting the death and turning the bear over to authorities to salvage as required by law, Shove instead used a backhoe to bury the bear on his property.

Twenty-three-year-old Dalton Huston was charged after killing a sow and two cubs near his home at 7 and a half mile. Troopers say Huston chased the bears off his property on August 10 and the bears left. Troopers allege Huston then pursued the bears and shot all three of them. He is charged with three counts of taking brown bear out of season and unlawful possession of game.

Both men will appear in Haines court in early September.

Stephanie Sell is a wildlife biologist with Alaska Department of Fish and Game. She says the bear shootings are “dishartening.”

Sell said from what she knows of the cases, they were both instances of bears getting into fruit trees or garbage. Sell says if a property owner wants to grow or have crops or stock, like chickens or cherry trees that are appealing to bears, it’s also the owner’s responsibility to keep them secured from bears.

“Chickens are like a beacon in the night and so are fruit trees. So, bears are going to target into that and keep coming back as long as there is fruit there.”

While brown bear sightings are common in the summer in Haines, this year has been particularly active, with the Haines Police Department blotter listing several calls each day about bear sightings or encounters. The bears seem to be taking advantage of a bumper crop of berries and tart cherries on trees around town, as residents have reported foraging bears throughout Haines and in outlying neighborhoods.

Sell says the encounters are not unusual, but that residents need to be vigilant about deterring bears, rather than waiting for a dangerous encounter to happen. She said some of the best deterrents are electric fences and bear proof containers.

“Bears are out. It’s something that happens every year and I don’t know how to many times I can stress this, but we need to keep garbage contained,  we need to keep attractants contained, whether that be in a bear proof containers, or out of sight or taking your garbage to the landfill.”

Sell also recommends noise-making devices, like air horns, clapping and even banging pots and pans to chase bears off. She says Fish and Game offices also have some Critter Gitter noise makers available for loan. They also have electric fences for short term loan for property owners to try out.

Fish and Game has more information about Living with Bears at their website at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.main

Categories: Alaska News

Judges Weigh Yup’ik Religious Appeal

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:40

Three judges with the Alaska Court of appeals are now weighing whether Yup’ik Fishermen, who targeted Chinook or king Salmon during a closure on the Kuskokwim River in 2012, were wrongfully convicted. Their attorney based their defense on a 1970s moose-hunting case. The fishermen say state fisheries managers interfered with their religious rights and they want new regulations to insure it won’t happen again.

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AFN President, Julie Kitka talks with reporters at the Boney Courthouse.

Attorney James Davis with The Northern Justice Project, an Anchorage-based private civil rights law firm, represented the fishermen. He said that the state should have tried to accommodate the fishermen’s religious beliefs and that the state of Alaska had a duty under the free exercise clause to accommodate the Yupik fishermen’s spiritual practices.

The precedent Davis cited was Frank versus the state a case from the 70s in which a judge ruled an Athabascan man from the Minto area could take moose out of season for a funeral potlatch, on religious grounds.

One judge hearing the appeal, asked if Yup’ik people were consulted through the advisory working group. Davis said the working group did include some Yup’ik members, who recommended managers open the subsistence fishery, but the state did not listen to them.

“And you’ll see that whatever the working group says, if the state doesn’t like it the state says, ‘never mind we’re gonna keep it closed for another five days,’ so it’s another one of those advisory committees that the state doesn’t have to abide by,” said Davis.

Due to a reduced run of king salmon the state closed the lower Kuskokwim River subsistence fishery in June 2012. Davis argued that traditional Yup’ik fishermen believe their God, ‘Ellam Yua’, will be offended if they do not pursue kings and that fewer fish will return.

Dozens of people fished in defiance of the state closure. Many were given fines and some nets were confiscated. A few days later the state opened the area to fishing for other species of salmon, which allowed about 20-thousand king salmon to be caught as by-catch.

The trial court agreed that king salmon fishing is integral to the Yup’ik religion but convicted the fishermen and decided that Alaska’s need to protect king salmon overrode the fishermen’s religious rights. Thirteen decided to pursue an appeal.

Attorney Laura Fox with the State Attorney General’s Office argued that issuing citations for fishing during an ‘emergency closure’ was necessary to protect king Salmon.

Fox also argued the Minto moose case shouldn’t apply because subsistence fishing would result in unfettered taking of fish, which would prevent the state from managing the fishery. Fox addressed the decision to allow an opening.

“We have to be looking at this from the perspective of an in-season manger, who’s – you know, not with 20/20 hindsight about exactly, what would have been in hindsight the optimal way to manage the fishery, which might have been not to open it to six-inch gear, which wouldn’t have been helpful to these defendants or anybody else who needed to meet their food needs in 2012, but maybe in hindsight the state shouldn’t have allowed that opening,” said Fox.

Fox said there is not mechanism in state law for making a religious exemption for Natives to subsistence fish. Davis said that’s what the Yup’ik fishermen are asking for. Alaska Federation of Natives president, Julie Kitka, attended the hearing. She said that the state needs to begin taking other points of view into consideration.

“The pivotal role that this could play would be for the state to finally realize that you have to respect Native people and their cultural beliefs … and it is okay to adjust the regulatory system to accommodate that doesn’t have to destroy and turn the regulatory systems upside down, but that you can accommodate. That’s I think the pivotal issue of this case and other cases like this is that it’s okay to have flexibility in your system,” said Kitka.

This summer federal managers took over management of the Lower Kuskokwim River fishery at the request of tribes. Federal managers did allow a small cultural and social harvest of king salmon. The ACLU, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Alaska Federation of Natives have filed amicus briefs in the case. A panel of three judges will weigh the arguments in the case of David Phillip v. the State of Alaska and issue a decision, likely sometime later this year or early next year.

Categories: Alaska News

DOT To Commence Herbicide Spraying In Southeast

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:35

The Alaska Department of Transportation plans to spray herbicides on Prince of Wales Island. It will be the first time the DOT has applied herbicides in southeast Alaska since the state eliminated public review requirements in 2013. This has some community members and environmental groups worried about chemicals leaching into nearby habitat.

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Mike Coffey, the DOT Maintenance and Operations Chief, says they’re spraying on Thorne Bay Road to combat miles and miles of invasive species, such as canary grass. The DOT plans to spray a single application of herbicides along 17 miles of the highway on the eastern side of Prince of Wales Island. “Vegetation in general blocks signs it causes sight distance on the inside of curves. You can’t see animals.”

He says there are a lot of reasons why the DOT does vegetation management. Most of the time, it’s done with tractors and brush cutters. “But in terms of invasive species a lot of times the mechanical methods just spread it.” The state drafts a plan to assess roadside conditions. For Thorne Bay Road, the DOT says they may use chemicals, like Garlon 4, Habitat, and Roundup. “The one thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that many of the herbicides that we have approved are things that you could buy in Home Depot and Lowe’s.”

Pamela Miller, the Executive Director of the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, says she knows the herbicides are EPA approved for certain household uses, but that doesn’t mean she agrees with its application in the area. “The DOT would be using much stronger formulations than would be found on a hardware shelf.” She says herbicides, such as Roundup, have been scientifically linked to birth defects, certain forms of cancer and neurological problems. “Particularly it is not safe to be used in a place where people are subsistence harvesting fish in around wetlands and streams.”

Kasaan resident Rob Leighton agrees. He’s trying to organize community members against the DOT’s use of chemicals. “There’s a large percentage of people that pick berries, hunt and fish.” He says spraying herbicides could also be harmful to the Native community who harvest plants along Thorne Bay Road for medicinals. “I don’t exactly know about the public comment. I think they have to come through the various communities that have concerns.”

Actually, that’s no longer the case. In 2013, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation eliminated the permitting and public review requirements for most applications on state land. Agencies can spray after giving the public a 30 day notice which, on Prince of Wales Island, they did by notifying residents via the local newspaper on August 2 and 4.

Karin Hendrickson, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Coordinator for the state’s Pesticide Control Program, says the state is doing everything lawfully. “You know people do have strong opinions about pesticides, but we make our decisions on risk analysis not just necessarily if people are uncomfortable or unhappy with the idea.”

Changes in regulations by the DEC last year sparked concern in other southeast communities like Petersburg and Skagway. On the Thorne Bay Road, The DOT says their environmental analysis still needs to be conducted, and they don’t know exactly when the spraying will happen. Alaska Community Action on Toxics says groups like theirs are examining legal options.

Categories: Alaska News

Post-Ferguson, APD stands by civil unrest preparation plans

Wed, 2014-08-27 16:54

The Anchorage Police Department says they are ready if civil unrest breaks out in Alaska’s largest city, like it did in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this month. But their main tactic is being as transparent and open as possible so that riots don’t happen in the first place. 

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Police Chief Mark Mew says when a protest is planned, the police make a point to work with the organizers so everyone knows each other and the laws. They also help organizers deal with infiltrators who aim to cause trouble.

Sgt. Jack Carson says in the event of an unplanned protest or a riot, the department wants to keep the crowd as calm as possible and give them directions to disperse. They may wear helmets but they won’t carry shields. Carson says other police departments learned that crowds tend to be calmer when police don’t have shields.

Carson says the department has been criticized for some of it’s more militarized looking equipment, like patrol rifles. But he says they are actually safer than traditional shotguns.

“It’s way more accurate, allows us to deliver pinpoint hits. We also got more of a hybrid round for it. It’s an amazing round that’s got very little issues with over-penetration, where traditionally the shotgun’s got big issues with over penetration where it can actually go through our intended target and into secondary targets that we don’t intend to strike.”

Carson says armored vehicles, like those used in some SWAT responses, give officers the protection they need to respond with non-lethal force. He says officers are more likely to shoot when they are vulnerable.

Categories: Alaska News

Attorney: Yup’ik Fishermen Wrongfully Convicted

Tue, 2014-08-26 17:43

Attorneys argued before the Alaska Court of Appeals in downtown Anchorage today about whether Yup’ik fishermen, who fished for Chinook or king Salmon during a closure on the Kuskokwim River in 2012, were wrongfully convicted.

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Attorney James Davis with The Northern Justice Project, an Anchorage-based private civil rights law firm represented the fishermen. He said that the state should have tried to accommodate the fishermen’s religious beliefs.

“The primary issue before this court is whether the state of Alaska had a duty under the free exercise clause to accommodate the Yupik fishers spiritual practices under the Frank versus state caseand its progeny and whether the state did so. We submit that the state had a duty but failed to comply with the duty,” Davis says.

Due to a reduced run of king salmon the stateclosed the lower Kuskokwim River subsistence fishery in June 2012. Fishing for king salmon is a key part of Yup’ik spirituality. Dozens of people fished in defiance of the state closure. Many were given fines and some nets were confiscated. A few days later the state opened the area to fishing for other species of salmon, which allowed about 20,000 king salmon to be caught as bycatch.

The trial court agreed that king salmon fishing is integral to the Yup’ik religion but convicted the fishermen and decided that Alaska’s need to protect king salmon overrode the fishermen’s religious rights. Thirteen decided to pursue an appeal.

Attorney Laura Fox with the state attorney general’s office argued that issuing citations for fishing during an ‘emergency closure’ was needed to protect king salmon.

“The 2012 Kuskokwim King Salmon run was so weak and the numbers were so far from meeting the object that to say the state should have allowed more harvest is to completely disregard the public trust responsibility to manage that resource for sustained yield,” Fox says. “There was never any harvestable surplus of kings in 2012 and at the end of the day the state missed the escapement objective by 50-thousand fish.”

The ACLU, the Associate of Village Council Presidents and the Alaska Federation of Natives have filed amicus briefs in the case. Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives attended the hearing. She says AFN supports the Yup’ik fishermen.

“Anybody in the Native community that knows traditional Yup’ik people know that their spirituality and their beliefs are a core part of who they are with everything that they do – how they treat their parents, how they treat their children, how they treat their neighbors, how they treat animals that give themselves up to them. You know we’re sad that this is in the court system but we hope the justices will give some consideration to them.”

A panel of three judges will weigh the arguments in the case of David Phillip versus the state of Alaska and issue a decision, likely sometime later this year or early next year.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Ad Alleges Begich Shortchanges His Female Staff – Is It True?

Tue, 2014-08-26 17:42

An ad running against Sen. Mark Begich attacks him on his support for women – exactly where he proclaims his strength. The ad, by Crossroads GPS, says he favors men when it comes to setting salaries for his Senate staff.

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Sen. Begich attended a rally in Anchorage this week to mark National Women’s Equality Day and called for an end to gender pay disparities.

“We cannot in this country continue to have these inequities when it comes to men and women, whether it’s pay, benefits or anything else. So you’re going to find me working double time.”

In a new ad, Crossroads GPS, an Independent political group affiliated with Karl Rove, says Begich doesn’t live by the principle he preaches.

“Sen. Begich pays his female senate staff 71 cents for every dollar he pays men. On average, women working for Sen. Begich make 23k less than men.”

In an interview after the rally, Begich refuted those numbers.

“I don’t know where he got that data. I can tell you when you go job to job, classification to classification, we pay women 108 %. In other words, more than men. I’m sure he’ll run an ad on that next saying I don’t pay men enough!”

In Washington, senators set the salaries for their staff, within an overall office budget. A review of staff salaries for the first half of the fiscal year shows, on average, Begich does pay men more. There are endless ways to crunch the numbers, but excluding interns and part-timers, APRN found he pays men an average annual salary of  nearly $80,000, and women about $64,000. It comes to 82 cents on the dollar. It was about the same last year, too.

Begich says it skews the numbers when you include what is far and away the top salary: $153,000 for chief of staff David Ramseur. When that one is excluded, the wage gap shrinks, but it still comes to 89 cents on the dollar.

Begich does have a lot of women on staff, nearly double the number of men, and they’re not just in the entry-level spots. Looking at his 10 best paid staffers, half are women.

As for Begich’s claim that he actually pays women a bit more for the same position, that is true in some cases, and when looking at the same position over several years. But right now, there’s only one job title held by several men and several women. It’s “legislative assistant” and there are seven of them. The men who hold that position make $6,000 more per year than the women, on average.

 

Categories: Alaska News

More Than A Win, Constitution Party Candidates Want Ballot Access

Tue, 2014-08-26 17:41

J.R. Myers has secured a spot on the November ballot. (J.R. Myers for Alaska Governor 2014)

Alaskans will have one more option in the governor’s race: The Division of Elections will allow Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers to appear on the ballot.

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The Alaska Constitution Party has just over 200 members, and it was first recognized by the state in 2011. Because the organization is so new and small, it doesn’t qualify as a political party under statute. Instead, it’s lumped in with the Green Party and Veterans Party as “political group,” a sort of electoral purgatory where candidates have to collect signatures to get their names on the ballot.

Myers and his lieutenant governor running mate Maria Rensel each turned in over 4,000 names, exceeding the 3,017-signature threshold set by the Division of Elections to run for office.

Rensel says they’re not looking to beat incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell. Instead, they’re aiming for a more manageable 3 percent of the vote in a fight for ballot access. That would upgrade them to official “party” status, and guarantee them an automatic spot on the ballot next cycle.

“I’ve been telling people from the very beginning that we don’t have a snowball’s chance to take the race,” says Rensel. “It’s really about establishing this party.”

Rensel, who is also vice chair of the party, adds that signature gathering was a good exercise, even if they want to avoid going through it again. The Constitution Party started collecting signatures in February, and they’ve upped their number of registered voters by 40. While that’s not a lot in the context of the Republican and Democratic parties, it amounts to a 25 percent increase in membership for them.

“To me, it was a whole opportunity to get out and talk to people and see how many people were ready for this party,” says Rensel.

The Constitution Party also has one legislative candidate who will appear on the ballot. Pamela Goode got the necessary 50 signatures to run in House District 9, which stretches from Delta Junction to Valdez. She will face Democrat Mabel Wimmer and Republican Jim Colver, who unseated incumbent Rep. Eric Feige in the primary.

The Constitution Party is politically conservative, with an explicitly Christian worldview. Its goal, according to its platform, is to “restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.” It has achieved some success in other states. In 2010, former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo ran for governor in Colorado as a Constitution Party candidate and took nearly 40 percent of the vote.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Seeks Continued Involvement In BC Mine Review

Tue, 2014-08-26 17:40

The state of Alaska is requesting to be involved with Canadian approval of a proposed copper and gold mine across the border in British Columbia. State commissioners of three departments submitted comments on Seabridge Gold’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell or KSM mine this month. That open pit mine is planned in the Unuk and Nass river watersheds across the border from Ketchikan. Alaska’s congressional delegation, fishing industry and tribal groups have asked for a more detailed review of that project following a tailings dam failure at a different mine in British Columbia this month.

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Fishing industry and tribal groups called for what’s called a panel review of the gold and copper project. Such a review could include public hearings and independent assessment of the mining development. Petersburg Vessel Owners Association’s Brian Lynch wants to prevent the tailings dam failure that happened at the Mount Polley mine. “The panel review is the only thing I think that would give us any kind of assurance that we’re not going to have something like that happen. There’s no guarantees but I think if the KSM mine is fully constructed that would be the only thing that would give us any kind of assurances that the water quality will not be impaired for either the Unuk or the Nass River.”

KSM received approval from the British Columbia provincial government this summer. The Canadian federal government still has to decide on the project.

The PVOA, Alaska Trollers Association, tribal organizations and Alaska’s Congressional delegation have appealed to the U.S. State Department to seek greater oversight from the Canadian federal government. Groups are hoping Secretary of State John Kerry will invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada as a tool to encourage increased scrutiny of KSM and other large mine projects proposed in the region.

Lynch thinks there’s a lack of oversight with projects proposed near rivers that flow out of British Columbia into Southeast Alaska. And he said it’s an economics issue for the fishing industry not just an environmental one. “We have sustainable fisheries, fisheries in Southeast have gone on for about a hundred years. And there’s really no reason barring some disaster why it can’t go on for another hundred plus years. However, with KSM, their mine life they’re estimating 52 years. Well I know fishermen here in Alaska that have been fishing themselves, individuals for 50 years.”

The state of Alaska’s comments on the KSM mine are signed by the commissioners of three departments, Natural Resources, Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation. Those comments note that a panel review of the KSM Project may serve to address some of the continuing concerns held by Alaskans.

Kyle Moselle is large project coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources “What the commissioners have asked of the minister of environment is to fully consider those concerns and apply the most appropriate administrative process for addressing them.”

Moselle said the state of Alaska has been involved in the review of the KSM mine going back to 2008. And he says it’s too early to say what actions should result from the tailings dam breach at Mount Polley. “What the state of Alaska is looking for is a thorough investigation of the events that led up to that dam breach. There’s going to be a lot of information that needs to be gathered. It needs to be investigated fully. And there will be a report that summarizes that investigation. I think that we’ll be able to make better decisions as a state about what actions to take once we have that information.”

The state’s comments ask to review the plans for the tailings facility at the KSM mine and the commissioner formally request to be included in the development of authorizations for this project. The State also requests to be included in the development of monitoring plans associated with water quality, dam safety, and aquatic resources.

“We have good working relationships with BC,” Moselle said. “We have good working relationships with the federal government of Canada and we’re building on those relationships as we move forward and as they move forward on the review of additional mining projects that are proposed.”

New mines are also planned around the Stikine and Taku river watersheds.

Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit-Haida and State Sign Agreement to Improve Relationship

Tue, 2014-08-26 17:38

Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the State of Alaska signed a Memorandum of Agreement yesterday signifying a new level of communication and cooperation between the two entities, focusing on education, workforce training and jobs. The Governor’s office says it’s the first of its kind.

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Central Council President Richard Peterson and Gov. Sean Parnell sign a Memorandum of Agreement on Monday at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO.

Central Council and the State already work together on a number of projects and initiatives, like the Village Public Safety Officer program, financial assistance and childcare.

But Randy Ruaro says there can be even more collaboration. He’s special counsel and policy director for Gov. Sean Parnell.

“We do a lot of the same things. We do workforce training, we do early education. But we weren’t talking to each other on a regular basis in some of them. And so I thought I’ll just meet with Richard and just talk about it and see if we can try to formalize our relationship a little bit and get both sides talking and communicating,” Ruaro says.

Richard Peterson was elected president of Central Council in April. He says it’s natural for the first people of Alaska to be working with the State of Alaska.

“We can utilize our programs with the state’s programs to deliver better services to our communities and our people,” Peterson says.

The MOA focuses on areas of common interest, like economic development, public safety and energy. It establishes a systematic review of issues and programs by both entities to identify opportunities to work together.

Peterson says it’s already been a historic year for Alaska Natives with the passage of two pieces of legislation recognizing indigenous languages as official state languages and making November 14 Dr. Walter Soboleff Day.

He says the bills are a good start in further broadening the relationship with the state.

“The next step now, I think, is to start making sure that legislation that represents our needs is being introduced. And so we need to start getting aggressive, and by aggressive, I don’t mean that in any negative way. Really, it just means that we need to be at the table and active participants in what happens around us,” Peterson says.

In light of the MOA, the State and Central Council have already started a new partnership working with Microsoft to bring educational opportunities and IT training to tribal members throughout Southeast and the state.

Peterson says in order to foster the new relationship, Central Council has created a government affairs liaison position. On the state side, Ruaro will be taking the lead.

At the MOA signing, Gov. Sean Parnell said the management of the VPSO program in Southeast is a good example of an existing relationship between the state and Central Council, something the MOA will only make stronger.

“We’ve worked to improve VPSO retention but frankly, that’s another area where I’m going to need additional work with Central Council on, and that’s an issue statewide,” Parnell said. “Tlingit-Haida has sought out federal funds for vehicles. You know, we’ve all kind of done our part to work to improve and enhance the VPSO coverage and the tools that they have.”

The agreement between the State of Alaska and Central Council is good for three years.

Categories: Alaska News

Giant Pumpkin Tips the Scales

Tue, 2014-08-26 17:36

“One thousand, two hundred and eighty three pounds!”  the emcee shouted to the crowd, to thunderous applause.

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A whopper of a pumpkin gets lifted onto a scale for weighing at the Alaska State Fair. Photo by Ellen Lockyer.

That’s the sound of a winning giant pumpkin being weighed at the Alaska State Fair today in Palmer.   The best of three entries tipped the scale at 1,283 pounds.

Pumpkin grower Dale Marshall of Anchorage took first and second place, because he grew all three entries in today’s contest. But the big, lopsided, orange pumpkin missed breaking the state record by a mere three pounds.  Marshall was philosophical about it.

“Three and a half pounds would have tied it. It was J.D. Meckelson’s record down in Nikiski. I thought it was going to weigh a little bit more, but oh well. I thought I had him this year, yeah, I really did.”

Marshall’s two other entries literally paled by comparison to the winner. The two white pumpkin entries weighed 780 and 753 pounds. The state fair runs through Labor Day.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 26, 2014

Tue, 2014-08-26 17:34

Individual news 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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Attorney: Yup’ik Fishermen Wrongfully Convicted

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Attorneys argued before the Alaska Court of Appeals in downtown Anchorage today about whether Yup’ik fishermen, who fished for Chinook or king Salmon during a closure on the Kuskokwim River in 2012, were wrongfully convicted.

Ad Knocks Begich’s Stance On Women, Noting Staff Pay

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

An ad running against Sen. Mark Begich attacks him on his support for women – exactly where he proclaims his strength. The ad, by Crossroads GPS, says he favors men when it comes to setting salaries for his Senate staff.

More Than A Win, Constitution Party Candidates Want Ballot Access

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Alaskans will have one more option in the governor’s race: The Division of Elections will allow Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers to appear on the ballot.

Alaska Seeks Continued Involvement In BC Mine Review

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

The state of Alaska is requesting to be involved with Canadian approval of a proposed copper and gold mine across the border in British Columbia. State commissioners of three departments submitted comments on Seabridge Gold’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell or KSM mine this month.

Five Conservation Groups File Suit To Stop POW Timber Project

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Five more conservation groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday in hopes of stopping the Big Thorne timber project on Prince of Wales Island.

Tlingit-Haida and State Sign On to Improve Relations

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the State of Alaska signed a Memorandum of Agreement on Monday signifying a new level of communication and cooperation.

‘Never Alone’: Using Video Games For Cultural Learning

Heather Bryant, KTOO – Juneau

Until recently, no videogames on the market have told the story of an indigenous people from their perspective. But a group of Alaska Natives have partnered with a game developer to change that. The project is called Never Alone.

State Fair Pumpkin King Misses Record By 3 Pounds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The winning giant pumpkin was weighed in at the Alaska State Fair today  in Palmer.

Categories: Alaska News

Five Conservation Groups File Lawsuit To Stop POW Timber Project

Tue, 2014-08-26 16:46

Five more conservation groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday in hopes of stopping the Big Thorne timber project on Prince of Wales Island.

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The plaintiffs are Cascadia Wildlands, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity and The Boat Company.

The lawsuit cites a declining wolf population on POW, and states that the planned harvest of about 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest would further injure wolves.

Larry Edwards of the Sitka Greenpeace office said the lawsuit focuses on what he calls the suppression of science in the Forest Service’s review of the timber project, “in not following through on formal declarations by wolf expert Dr. Dave Person whose done 22 years of research here on these wolves, in not following up on that and doing a supplemental EIS.”

The Forest Service released a Supplemental Information Report, or SIR, on the Big Thorne project last week. Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole writes that he did consider Dave Person’s research for the SIR, and concluded that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was not needed.

Cole acknowledges concerns about the wolf population, but writes that hunting and trapping regulations and enforcement would be the best protection for wolves.

Edwards takes issue with that argument.

“It’s not just people going out and hunting under Fish and Game regulations, there’s also a lot of illegal take of wolves,” he said. “And that illegal take is related to the very high density of logging roads on the island.”

The proposed Big Thorne harvest would include up to 46 miles of new roads, and the opening or reconstruction of about 37 miles of road.

Another concern in the lawsuit is deer habitat. Edwards said it all works together.

“You have a dynamic here between wolves and deer and hunters and it’s all got to fit together somehow,” he said. “And it worked for a long, long time but due to the habitat loss and the added complexity of access that enables the illegal take of wolves from all the logging roads, it’s really upset that whole system.”

The plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are Forrest Cole, Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and the U.S. Forest Service agency as a whole.

Another lawsuit seeking to stop the Big Thorne project was filed earlier by Earthjustice, representing the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. That lawsuit also cites the potential negative impacts on deer and wolves.

Forest Service officials haven’t returned messages seeking comment on the court complaints. But, in an interview right after the Supplemental Information Report was released, Cole said he expected the SIR would generate lawsuits.

Categories: Alaska News

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