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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: 6 min 52 sec ago

Hazardous Material Containers Cleaned Up In Galena

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:28

A state report on the response to the 2013 flooding in Galena says more than 5,000 containers of hazardous material scattered throughout the area during the disaster were collected.

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The containers ranged from aerosol cans to 55-gallon drums, with the hazardous debris strewn within a 15-mile radius of the Yukon River village.

An environmental program specialist with the agency estimated the cleanup cost at well over $1 million, costs that will be included as the state seeks reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Categories: Alaska News

Sunken Barge Irks Kuskokwim Residents

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:27

The barge, Shanks Ark, sitting in Steamboat Slough.

Residents of fish camps along ‘Steamboat Slough’ near Bethel are calling for an abandoned barge to be removed. The barge has been sitting half submerged in the middle of the slough for more than a year.

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Barbara Anvil is furious the barge has been left in the slough, which serves as a highway for boats in summer and for snow machines and four wheelers in winter. She says the barge is right in the middle of that highway and it’s a safety hazard.

“This winter somebody got hurt with a four wheeler … In fact, my brother’s the one who came across his four wheeler over there by the barge. There was lots of blood and stuff around it,” said Anvil.

That blood was, then 28-year-old, Jason Fisher’s. He says he was driving his 4-wheeler around 10 o’clock on December 16th on his way home from Bethel to Kwethluk, when he hit the barge. He doesn’t remember much because the impact knocked him out. He had a head injury and was in the hospital for about a month. He had to have surgery to amputate nine and half of his fingers. Bethel Police and Search and Rescue officials confirm Fisher’s story.

The barge, named ‘Shanks Ark’, sunk in 2012 or 2013. Officials with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources say the barge is owned by Bethel-based Kuskokwim Lighterage and Trucking and was being leased and operated by Faulkner Walsh Constructors, also of Bethel.

Ana Hoffman is CEO of Bethel Native Corporation. She also has a family fish camp on the slough. She wrote to the Coast Guard, which she says identified the barge as a navigational hazard that requires no action on their part.

“I was pretty alarmed that the barge really is left there sunken in the middle of the slough. It seems to be a real hazard,” said Hoffman.

She called on Alaska’s Senators for help. Senator Lisa Murkowski met with residents about the problem. Murkowski’s office says they’ve been monitoring the situation and in touch with state officials about the barge. Still, nothing has been done.

Harry Faulkner, an owner of Faulkner Walsh Constructors says State Department of Environmental Conservation and the DNR have their facts wrong. He says he was done leasing the ‘Shanks Ark’ barge, which he was using to haul fish, by the time it was moored in Steamboat Slough.

“We put it away for the year and it decided to float itself out in the Spring of the following year. (Daysha Eaton: They said it happened while it was moored and you were still leasing it.) Faulkner: That is not correct. We had it leased for the year and we were done with it. (Daysha Eaton: Okay, can you send me the documents that show the time period for which you were leasing it?) Faulkner: No. (Daysha Eaton: Why not?) Because it was a verbal agreement between the fish manager and Dave Ausdahl, the owner of the barge,” said Faulkner.

Dave Ausdahl refutes Faulkers claim and says Faulkner Walsh failed to secure the vessel when they put it away after fishing season.

“I provided the barge to Faulkner Walsh for their fishery operations in exchange for them fetching and returning to storage each year and keeping it floating. So it was under their care, custody and control through the 2012 season when they were to put it away properly,” said Ausdahl.

But they didn’t put it away properly, claims Ausdahl, which caused it to float out into the middle of the Slough and get stuck. Neither Faulkner nor Ausdahl said they’d heard about Fisher’s terrible crash last winter.

Anvil says she’s not sure who is responsible for removing the barge, but she hopes it happens before someone else gets hurt.

“It’s gonna start getting dark pretty soon and at nighttime you can’t see that there’s a barge there … so I’m sure somebody’s gonna get hurt,” said Anvil

‘Shanks Ark’ is one of several rusting vessels that make the slough look like a graveyard for river going barges. At last count, state officials say there were 22 abandoned vessels in the Bethel area, 13 of them in Steamboat slough.

DNR officials say the company operating the barge when it broke loose is responsibility for removing it.

Faulkner Walsh has submitted a plan to remove their sunken barge near Kwethluk, and two vessels in Steamboat Slough, but never removed any of them. They have not submitted a plan to remove ‘Shanks Ark’ which remains in the middle of the channel.

Categories: Alaska News

Healy Frees Sailboat Trapped in Arctic Ice

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:26

The Coast Guard cutter Healy made a detour from its science mission in the Arctic last Saturday to rescue a sailboat trapped in ice near Barrow.

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The Healy broke through Arctic ice to reach the S/V Altan Girl near Barrow on Saturday. /Credit: USCGC Healy

The Altan Girl is a 36-foot steel boat, trying to sail the Northwest Passage from Vancouver to eastern Canada.

The vessel is Turkish-Canadian, according to The Nome Nugget. The newspaper says the boat’s skipper, Erkan Gursoy, plans to sail across Canada all the way to Turkey.

But the boat got stuck in sea ice Saturday, 40 miles northeast of Barrow. Weather conditions meant search and rescue couldn’t fly in from the North Slope — so the Coast Guard diverted the Healy to help out.

The Healy towed the Altan Girl through 12 miles of Arctic ice before they reached open water. The cutter’s crew did a safety check. Then they sent the sailboat back to Barrow to resupply and wait for better conditions.

The Healy is now back on track with its Arctic research mission, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Fishing Season Ramping Up In Cook Inlet

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:25

In the Southern District, the Port Graham Subdistrict opened July 14 to commercial set gillnetting for the first time this season. Returns haven’t been especially high, so that fishery has been closed so far, says Glenn Hollowell, Fish and Game Finfish Area Management Biologist for the Lower Cook Inlet.

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“We’ve been tracking the sockeye return to English Bay Lakes,” says Hollowell. “It’s been what I’ve called modest this year. We’ve just barely made our escapement goals with a subsistence fishery but no commercial fishery. Had we had a commercial fishery, I think it would have depressed escapement to the lakes below the level that we want to see. So, we’ve kept the commercial fishery closed and the subsistence fishery open.”

The sustainable escapement goal is 6,000 to 13,500 sockeye. As of July 11, about 6,700 fish had returned. Beginning at 6 a.m. July 14, it is open for regular 48-hour Monday and Thursday commercial fishing periods. The subsistence fishery will remain open.

Set gillnetting opened in portions of the Barabara Creek, Tutka Bay, Halibut Cove, and Seldovia Bay Subdistricts in early June. Those areas will remain open for two 48-hour fishing periods per week. Hollowell says it’s still early in the season to tell, but this harvest doesn’t seem to  match up to last year’s.

“It seems like we’ve been running slightly ahead of the 10-year average,” says Hollowell. “But last year was just an amazing year. We were way ahead of the 10-year average last year and we seem to be trailing that a little bit this year.”

The 10-year average for sockeyes is about 21,000 fish. The 2013 harvest was more than 29,000. So far this season, 22,000 reds have been caught by set gillnetters in the Southern District.

The purse seine fisheries in the Tutka Bay, Halibut Cove and Humpy Creek Subdistricts and the China Poot and Neptune Bay Sections are also open.

“Typically, those are very, very slow fisheries until about now and then they start to pick up as pink salmon come back through and as we start seeing coho and sockeye salmon,” says Hollowell. “And the sockeye salmon harvest has picked up quite a bit in the purse seine fishery in the last week and a half I would say.”

As of July 3, only 373 sockeye had been caught. By July 7, that number had jumped to more than 1,300.

In the Kamishak Bay District, the Chenik Subdistrict had its first purse seine opening July 12 through 14.

“Usually they go into Chenik Lake during high tide cycles,” says Hollowell. “But, apparently, they got in during a moderate tide cycle. So, we’ve got about 6,000 fish in the lake, which is within the sustainable escapement goal of 3,500 to 14,000. So, we’re doing okay there.”

Finally, in the Outer District, there are openings in Port Dick, and the Windy Bay, Rocky Bay, and Nuka Island Subdistricts.

Hollowell says as it is still early in the season, it will still take some time to identify this year’s trends in the commercial salmon harvest throughout Lower Cook Inlet.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 14, 2014

Mon, 2014-07-14 18:04

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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 Scientists Use Satellites to Track Polar Bears

Joaquin Palomino, APRN – Anchorage

With sea ice in the Arctic melting, the region’s most iconic animal—the polar bear—is in peril.  Researchers have monitored the threatened predator for decades, but tracking bears in remote and harsh climates can be costly and dangerous.  Which is why federal scientists have started using a new tool to study polar bears: satellites.

At Democratic Lt. Gov. Debate, Differences In Style Over Substance

Alexandra Gutirrez, APRN – Juneau

When voters go to the polls in August, there will be just two statewide primary contests on the ballot. There’s the Republican Senate primary, which is attracting national attention and millions of dollars to match. And then there’s the Democratic lieutenant governor’s race. The two candidates for the Democratic nomination debated Monday at a lightly attended Anchorage Chamber of Commerce event. The pair differed more in style than substance.

Flooding Cleanup Starts in Juneau

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

A handful of homes in Juneau are cleaning up after a river flooded over the weekend. The unusual event has become a regular, almost expected occurrence in the Capital City.

Entrepreneurs Get Second Chance for Awards

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Southeast Alaska entrepreneurs are getting a second chance to win $40,000 to develop regional businesses. It’s part of a partnership involving a Native corporation and a conservation group that made its first awards last year.

Calista Looking to Expand

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Facing federal budget slashing and continued pressure on 8(a) contracting, the Calista Regional Native Corporation is continuing to look beyond federal contracts. The company acquired STG, a major construction company last year and is hoping to grow across the economy.

Memorial Dedicated to WWII Internees

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Juneau’s Japanese population was forced from their homes and sent to internment camps in the Lower 48. Teenager John Tanaka was among those shipped out. He was the valedictorian of Juneau High School in 1942, but didn’t get to graduate with everyone else. An empty wooden chair was put on stage in his place. Now, a bronze replica of that chair will remain at the Capitol School Park permanently. The sculpture was dedicated at a memorial to the interned on Saturday.

“Key Ingredients” Highlights Local Foods

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Eating is, by nature, a social activity. But these days, with the frenetic pace of American living and a disturbing reliance on fast food, it’s hard to get the whole family together for a meal. Now a traveling Smithsonian exhibit at the Palmer Museum attempts to get people connected to their local foods. A sampling of old time Palmer colonists’ recipes is helping to highlight the use of native grown produce.




Categories: Alaska News

At Democratic Lieutenant Governor Debate, Differences In Style Over Substance

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:08

From the very beginning, it was clear that there weren’t going to be fireworks at the lieutenant governor’s debate.

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The event had a capacity of 150, but just over 40 people showed up and a couple of tables were entirely empty. And then, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President and debate moderator Andrew Halcro introduced the office of lieutenant governor like this:

“The lieutenant governor’s position is commonly referred to as simply watching over the state seal, or waiting for the governor to die,” said Halcro.

After State Sen. Hollis French and Wasilla teacher and political newcomer Bob Williams established that, yes, serving as lieutenant governor is a worthwhile job, they laid out their positions on everything from energy to education. And over and over again, their answers echoed each other.

They both expressed concern that the state wasn’t spending its money on the right things, both calling out the expensive and controversial renovation of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. And one place where they would like to put more money? Well here’s French.

FRENCH: One area where we’re failing to make the adequate amount of investments is in education.

And here’s Williams.

WILLIAMS: We need to think about what is an adequate and reasonable amount for education.

They both support increasing the minimum wage. But they have reservations about allowing the sale of marijuana in the state, even if neither of them think possession of the drug should land someone in jail. Again, here’s French.

FRENCH: The ballot initiative I think goes too far. It legalizes not only marijuana but the derivatives and the condensed products, and you end up with storefronts. And I don’t think Alaska’s quite ready for that.

And Williams.

WILLIAMS: That idea of criminalizing and spending a lot of money to put people in prison for recreational drug use I think is wrong. But I will be voting no.

And as far as the new tax ceiling on oil production goes, both French and Williams want to go back to a higher profits tax. If anything, they ended up debating moderator Andrew Halcro more than each other on the oil tax question, given that the Chamber’s taken a position against the referendum. Halcro repeatedly pressed them on their arguments before the business-friendly audience.

When it came time to ask each other questions, neither one focused on substantive differences. Williams asked French how he planned to try to work across the aisle and why he wanted to be the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott, given that French has for governor before. French didn’t even ask Williams a combative question, instead asking him to talk about his experience teaching during years of flat funding.

The primary election is August 19. The Republican Party already has its nominee, as Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is in an uncontested race to be Gov. Sean Parnell’s running mate. Independent candidate Craig Fleener, who is running alongside Bill Walker, will not appear on the primary ballot and will instead be submitting signatures to get his name on the general ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Scientists Use Satellites to Track Polar Bears

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:08

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Studying polar bears in the Arctic can be difficult. Scientists rely on boats, helicopters, and low flying planes, which can’t access many remote regions where polar bears live.

An adult female polar bear and her two cubs travel across the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean north of the Alaska coast (photo courtesy of US Geological Survey).

The U.S. Geological Survey, though, recently started tracking polar bears from space, using high resolution satellites. “The advantage that we see for the satellite imagery is we don’t have to put people in helicopters and fly them over the sea ice,” says Todd Atwood, research leader for the USGS Polar Bear Research Program. “It’s [also] completely non-invasive to polar bears.”

Atwood is currently analyzing satellite images from Rowley Island in Nunavut, Canada, where polar bears amass in large numbers during the summer. Researchers have used the images to complete a bear count on the island, which seems to be accurate. As an end goal, Atwood hopes to better understand how the threatened animal is responding to climate change.

The new tracking method could also produce information about a predator that’s not very well understood. “We lack sufficient data, we lack sufficient information for nearly half of the polar bears range,” says Geoff York, director of conservation for polar bears international. “I think one thing we need to do straight away is fill in those blank spots on the map.”

York and other researchers are particularly eager to use satellites to study the predator in the arctic sea ice: an environment that’s rapidly changing.  But spotting white bears in a sea of snow has its challenges. “It’s a great target to shoot for, but I don’t think the technology is there yet,” York explains. “You’re looking for white on white, and that’s next to impossible.”

More immediately, USGS researchers plan to use polar-bear spotting satellites in coastal Alaska, and other parts of the Arctic.


Categories: Alaska News

Flooding Cleanup Starts in Juneau

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:06

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A handful of homes in Juneau are cleaning up after a river flooded over the weekend. The unusual event has become a regular, almost expected occurrence in the Capital City.

Categories: Alaska News

Entrepreneurs Get Second Chance for Awards

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:05

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Southeast Alaska entrepreneurs are getting a second chance to win $40,000 to develop regional businesses. It’s part of a partnership involving a Native corporation and a conservation group that made its first awards last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Calista Looking to Expand

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:03

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Facing federal budget slashing and continued pressure on 8(a) contracting, the Calista Regional Native Corporation is continuing to look beyond federal contracts. The company acquired STG, a major construction company last year and is hoping to grow across the economy.

Categories: Alaska News

Memorial to WWII Internees Dedicated

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:02

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After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Juneau’s Japanese population was forced from their homes and sent to internment camps in the Lower 48. Teenager John Tanaka was among those shipped out. He was the valedictorian of Juneau High School in 1942, but didn’t get to graduate with everyone else. An empty wooden chair was put on stage in his place. Now, a bronze replica of that chair will remain at the Capitol School Park permanently. The sculpture was dedicated at a memorial to the interned on Saturday.

Categories: Alaska News

“Key Ingredients ” Highlights Local Foods

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:01

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“What we’d better do is fortify you with a glass of our lovely vintage punch.”

 Janet Kincaid presides over a punch bowl on white cloth – trimmed table spread with sweets made from 1930s recipes. Kincaid owns the Old Colony Inn in Palmer, a vintage building where she’s hosting a recipe sampling.. most made from local produce.

“This building was built in 1935 as a dormitory for single teachers and nurses for the Colony. They found they could not get teachers and nurses to come up here an live in a tent. “

 Barb Thomas with the Palmer Historical Society and Kincaid came up with the recipe swap idea, featured at last weekend’s Palmer Midsummer Garden and Art Fair

“I love nutmeg with rhubarb. Anything rhubarb”…”And the swap means I get to take one of those recipes.”… “You can taste”..”Can I taste? Theses are your cookies?.. Yummy!”

 Kincaid directs me to a long table with elaborate place settings for six, and explains the proper etiquette in preparing a table for dinner. Even the doughty first colonists in Palmer brought along their sets of china, colorful “depression glass” plates and silverware.

“This china is Bavarian china, and it was my mother’s who got married in 1930. And in those days, they had silverware that matched. What I think is interesting, is how many of the glasses were goblets. You had goblets instead of solid glasses. And many pieces. They used a lot of dishes.”

Elegant stemware and a special dessert fork are rarely seen nowadays. But at one time, supper was the glue that drew the family back together at day’s end. And a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian traces how American eating habits influenced our society through the years. Selina Ortega-Chiolero is the director of the Palmer Museum.

“Every country has a very clear distinction of what their food is.. their native food. But when you think of America, where such a combination of different cultures, it’s really hard to define what American food is. So the Smithsonian did a lot of research, they compiled this wonderful exhibit, and it explores that question.. what is American food culture in the United States. ” ..”So, let’s step in.”.. “Sure”

Inside the tiny log structure that houses the museum, the Key Ingredients exhibit literally stretches floor to ceiling. The panels trace American food festivals — think Thanksgiving — from their earliest start in pre-Revolutionary times, through corn huskings, lobster bakes, and the advent of the frankfurter right up to our current eating habits. One thing food trends of the past had in common.. they brought people together.

“And it explores that idea of sharing food in a more social gathering. So, food festivals, like state fairs. When they started to commercialize and had restaurants. The whole idea of eating out is considered a special thing, a special occasion event. The exhibit explores that idea as well. One of my favorites is actually this one over here, the Art of Hospitality.. especially the younger generation that comes in here.. they don’t know what a table setting is. “

 We walk through the exhibit, which is eclectic, to say the least. Two little girls in sun bonnets are marveling at a model of a Wisconsin cheese head hat. One panel shows the evolution of the roadside diner. There are photos of the Washington Apple Queen and of New Mexico Indian women grinding corn. Selina says Key Ingredients has special resonance for Palmer, because it is a farming community

“It really did start with the fact that we were a fertile land. And the fact that we can have a lot of things produced here, locally. We’re very self-sustaining that way.”

 She says when mass food production and marketing entered the scene in the 1950s, people were influenced to buy a certain way.. leading to eating packaged and frozen foods.

“Even though that’s what took off, because it was convenient and fast. At least here in Alaska, we are starting to see a return back to eating fresh, eating local.”

 And that’s something Janet Kincaid says the original colonists took for granted. They made their own fun, and food was central to their social networking.

“The entertainment was social. And we are just kind of reproducing that, and letting people know how important is is to connect. “

 The Key Ingredients exhibit has traveled state to state, with Alaska it’s last stop. It’ll be at the Palmer museum until July 20, then it moves to Talkeetna for it’s final run.

Categories: Alaska News

Denali Commission Money Survives House

Fri, 2014-07-11 16:32

Fiscal conservatives are again gunning for the Denali Commission. This week they tried to eliminate the bulk of its funding — $10 million, tucked into a federal appropriations bill for energy and water programs. Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot argued, as others have for years, the Denali Commission is an unnecessary middle man.

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“American taxpayers would be better served if federal funds were distributed directly to the State of Alaska or to Alaskan communities,” Chabot said on the House floor. He has a separate bill to kill the Denali Commission altogether, which is officially called the “Eliminate the Commission to Nowhere Act.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young, though, argues the Denali Commission provides more direct service because it cuts government agencies out of the picture.

“It’s money well spent,” Young said, arguing against Chabot’s amendment. “If we don’t spend it on this type thing to cut out the middleman — they keep saying there’s other agencies. This is not true! Those agencies do not function!”

The Commission is a relic of Alaska’s big money days. Sen. Ted Stevens created it in 1998 to spur rural development, modeling it after the poverty-busting Appalachian Regional Commission. But that commission coordinates projects across 13 states. The Denali Commission serves only Alaska. A slew of auditors and watchdogs have claimed it does administrative work the state could do for itself. Oklahoma Congressman James Lankford picked up those arguments this week.

“We as a nation have to find ways to be able to eliminate duplication and this is one of those moments,” he said. “Are we going to listen to the inspector general, the Congressional Budget Office, the GAO, two different presidents’ Office of Management and Budget, or will we ignore all of those?”

Young reminded his colleagues that dozens of Alaska villages lack running water and other infrastructure their constituents take for granted. He says the Denali Commission is doing its job.

“It’s time we accept the fact that this system works as the other commissions do, for those communities that are less fortunate than those communities that most people live (in) in this body,” Young said.

The amendment to cut $10 million from the Denali Commission failed, 243-176. Young was one of 69 Republicans who joined most of the Democrats in voting no. The Denali Commission these days focuses mostly on bulk fuel storage and other energy projects.

It expects a total budget of $14 million next year, of which $2.3 million is compensation for its 10 full-time employees.  At its peak in 2006, the commission’s budget was $140 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Wind Energy Battle Continues

Fri, 2014-07-11 16:31

A Fairbanks based alternative energy company continues to push Golden Valley Electric Association to buy more of its wind power. Alaska Environmental Power operates a wind farm in Delta Junction, and recently teamed with an Anchorage law firm on a report it hopes will sway utility members.

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Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Guttenberg Looks To Jumpstart Fairbanks LNG

Fri, 2014-07-11 16:29

State Representative David Guttenberg wants to jumpstart Fairbanks’ conversion to natural gas heating. The state is pursuing a public private project to process North Slope gas and truck it to Fairbanks, but Gutenberg says it faces a familiar problem.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Rains Approach Record Levels

Fri, 2014-07-11 16:28

Scattered rain showers are in the Fairbanks area forecast, and any precipitation that falls will add to local totals that have Fairbanks on track to continue breaking wet weather records.

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The last rain event Monday, a thunderstorm that brought heavy downpours, boosted July precipitation even further above normal.

The National Weather Service reports that Monday’s thunderstorm dropped 1.13 inches at Fairbanks International where the agency takes its official measurements. Meteorologist Ryan Metzger says the rain moved Fairbanks up the list of Fairbanks rainiest Julys.

“So far for the month of July, we’ve had 4.49 inches, and that’s the fourth-highest amount on record for the month of July,” Metzger said. “The wettest, for reference, is 5.96 inches, and that was set in 2003.”

Metzger says Fairbanks normally receives 2.16 inches of rain in July. Fairbanks just logged its rainiest June, and the combined months of June and July have already bested the previous 2-month high mark. Metzger says there is a chance of breaking the June, July, August record as well.

“The record for summer season is 11.59 inches,” Metzger said. “So, right now, we’re sitting at 8.05 inches. So, we’d have to have a couple more big events for that to happen.”

Metzger says nothing like that is currently in the forecast.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Among Wolves’ Details Researcher’s Lifelong Passion

Fri, 2014-07-11 16:27

The University of Alaska Press recently published a book detailing one biologist’s lifelong effort to chronicle the lives of wolves that live inside the boundary of Denali Park and Preserve.

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Marybeth Holleman was a friend of Doctor Gordon Haber, who was killed in a plane crash in Denali in 2009. “I was just struck by his incredible knowledge and his passion for his research subject, wolves,” she said. Holleman spent the last few years digging through forty years’ worth of Haber’s field notes, journals and even tweets. She compiled Haber’s work into a book, “Among Wolves”.

Holleman will present her book as part of a Summer Speaker Series at the Geophysical Institute on the UAF campus tonight at 7 p.m.

Marybeth Holleman first heard Gordon Haber talk about wolves and his research thirty years ago.
“He just retained that sense of wonder about his subject that really makes other people light up about it. It really gets you excited about it too. That was my first memory of Gordon,” she said.

Holleman soon became friends with Haber. He has been described as ‘cantankerous’ and ‘prickly.’ He first came to Alaska in the 60’s for the same reason many twenty-somethings do: the wilderness. Later, he became an outspoken biologist, questioning the state’s wildlife management methods, but Holleman says that’s because he was also one of the few wolf experts in Alaska.

“People don’t like people who say things they don’t want to hear and Gordon had an unassailable experiential authority in wolf behavior and wolf family structure,” Holleman said. “So he drew some conclusions from his research and a lot of people in Alaska don’t want to hear them because it goes directly against a lot of the predator control and wildlife management that goes on in the state.”

Haber spent his career monitoring the wolf packs of Denali National Park and Preserve.

“His primary conclusion was that you can’t manage wolves by the numbers because the functional unit of a wolf isn’t one wolf, it’s a family group of wolves. That social group, that dynamic is the core,” Holleman said. “So if you say ‘I’ve got so many wolves I’ve got to kill,’ that’s not really the way to manage them. The way to manage them is to look at that family structure and manage them that way.”
Holleman’s book outlines Haber’s other discoveries. For example, why DO wolves howl?

“Wolves howl for a lot of reasons. Wolves howl to let each other know where they are. They also howl simply for the joy of it. Sometimes they would howl with the plane engine overhead as sort of a resonance. They also howl when in distress,” Holleman said.

As an anthropologist might spend years chronicling the habits of a specific cultural group, Holleman says Haber spent countless hours in blinds tracking wolves, chronicling everything from their social habits, to how they eat.

“Gordon talks about an old timer who hated wolves because wolves would take down the animal and eat out its guts and just leave it. He found an animal with its guts eaten out and the rest of the animal left. But Gordon said actually the wolves will scavenge a winter-killed moose but the moose is so frozen that they only eat so much of it and then they come back later for the rest, unless they’re disturbed by a human, which is what happened in that instance,” she said.

Holleman’s book includes stories from people who ran into Haber during his time as a biologist for the National Park Service, including one from mountain climber Johnny Johnson, whose food cache was buried in an avalanche in 1972. Haber had hamburgers and french fries dropped to Johnson’s climbing team.

Holleman also includes snippets from Haber’s Twitter feed: “Raw, wild beauty at the den tonight, with the wolves howling a great chorus for me as rolling thunder from a passing storm shakes the valley” tweeted Haber, four months before his death.

“He could write for a scientific audience very clearly: his research reports and articles in Conservation Biology and other journals,” Holleman said. “And he could write pretty astonishingly concise letters to the Board of Game and other entities that he was communicating with and then he could writer for a general audience. His blog and these tweets really showed that.”

Holleman’s epilogue paints a dark picture for the future of Denali’s wolf population. The Park Service has reported declining numbers in recent years, but biologists there maintain that trend isn’t out of the ordinary. But the issue remains politicized. Environmental groups continue to clash with the Board of Game. In 2010, they set a six-year moratorium on all proposals regarding the Denali-area wolf population.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Native Leader Don Wright Passes Away

Fri, 2014-07-11 16:26

Alaska Native leader Don Wright has died. He was 84 when he passed away at home on July 5.

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Wright was instrumental in developing the tribal lands compensation legislation, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1971. Wright was leader of the Alaska Federation of Natives that year.

Wright helped organize AFN during the 1960s, and fought to get the best settlement possible for Alaska Natives. Wright and other Native leaders traveled to Washington, DC to lobby for the law, even though funds were scarce. Wright often used his own money for airfare and expenses, since AFN in its early days had no funds at all. Despite the odds, Wright was successful in getting Nixon administration backing for the settlement.

ANCSA compensated Alaska Natives for loss of lands and established regional and village Native corporations with the right to select 44 million acres of land and appropriated $962.5 million to them.

Wright was born in Nenana in 1929. He became a pilot and established his own air service. He later formed a construction company, and helped build airstrips and roads in the Interior. He also helped build the first oil field camp at Prudhoe Bay.

Wright’s family says he was a champion for Alaska. His funeral will take place July 26th in Nenana.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Bear Aware

Fri, 2014-07-11 16:25

Naturalist Steve Merli shares a little known fact – a bear has never been documented harming a person that’s in a group of five or more. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For naturalist Steve Merli, bear education isn’t just about staying alive. The way he sees it, knowing how to behave in bear country allows Alaskans to explore wilderness more deeply.

Merli works with Discovery Southeast, a Juneau organization that connects kids with nature programs.

Earlier this month, KTOO’s Lisa Phu joined campers for a lesson that had some questioning their assumptions about bear encounters.

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Discovery Southeast campers walk down Auke Lake trail. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Part of Steve Merli’s job is to change these sorts of perceptions:

“In some comics, like Tundra, it shows bears, like, they just go up to a campsite and eat the person,” one camper says.

Another says, “I have not heard any show that says bears are good in any way.”

He tells the campers more people are attacked by dogs than bears. He also says a bear has never been documented harming a person that’s in a group of five or more.

“So we’re already in a good spot. If a bear passes by, we’re already in a group and a bear is not going to go, ‘That one looks tasty.’ It’s not going to do that to us. It’s just going to go, ‘Woah, there are a lot of humans, I’m outta here,’” Merli says.

Merli says going off-trail makes him become “more focused.” (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

But he also reminds them, “There are lots of bears that live around here, so every time you’re outside of a building, a school, your house, you’re in bear country.”

Merli moved to Juneau in 1981. He’s been an educator for Discovery Southeast or 25 years. During the school year, he brings elementary students outside into nature. He teaches them how to identify landforms, animal tracks and creatures that live in the water.

In the summer, he joins the campers on hikes and talks about bears. He’s excited to take them beyond the beaten Auke Lake trail.

Merli picks a spot and heads right, up a steep hill.

“When we go off trail, it always kind of wakes up something inside me, like I become more focused because I don’t know what’s on the other side of the hill,” Merli says.

The campers follow, walking through a thick growth of ferns and moss and lots of devil’s club.

Campers maneuver around the forest of devil’s club surrounding Auke Lake Trail. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“Oh yeah, you’re just going to dance with the devil’s club,” Merli adds.

He gathers the campers in one spot and points to an imaginary bear about a hundred yards away.

“So I’m coming up the hill and I look up and there’s a bear over there and the first thing I’m going to do is, I’m just going to stop,” Merli says.

The next step is to assess the situation.

“Does that bear know I’m here? And by and large, if it’s that close, that bear probably knows I’m here, so I’m going to have a conversation with it,” Merli says.

He doesn’t suggest raising your voice and looking big and scary, but to simply talk with the bear, like this, “I was just coming up this hill, Bear, and I know that I’m in your living room and I’m just going to check out going back down the way I came because this is your place.”

Merli tells the campers to keep talking as you slowly back away. The bear could stay where it is or move away itself.

Brooke Sanford role plays being a bear. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Twelve-year-old Landon Jueong learned a different way to deal with bears from his grandfather.

“To scare away the bear by acting big and making the bear not want to go around you or mess with you,” Landon says.

After taking turns roleplaying bear and hiker, practicing Merli’s method, both Landon and 12-year-old Brooke Sanford prefer it.

“I think it was a good way because you are avoiding the bear. You weren’t going towards it or scaring it away,” says Brooke, who has seen bears before.

“I don’t think I’d be afraid of bears in a group, but like alone, if you’re just walking through the woods alone, it might be a little bit scary,” she says.

Landon has this advice for anyone who’s scared of bears: “Bears are more afraid of you than you are of them.”

Merli says having a conversation with a bear allows it to know where you are.

“The average encounter with a bear is one of proximity and orientation so all I’m doing is allowing the bear to orient to me and if I’m all feisty over there, the bear may orient to me more aggressively. And I’ve never tested that,” he says.

Merli spends a lot of his time outdoors, often exploring Juneau’s mountains, cutting down firewood or hunting for food. Like other adventurous Alaskans, he can’t even count the times he’s encountered bears.

“So many,” Merli laughs.

In all that time, he’s only had one encounter that didn’t go so well. Luckily, he was near a house and could just run inside.

Merli’s goal in educating students is to make them feel safe and comfortable in nature. This, he says, will allow them to explore the outdoors and, at the same time, themselves.

“It’s really not about wildness out there; it’s about this wildness inside. Not that savage connotation, but this wild being that’s just like a bear. It’s really capable of this graceful capacity for self-care. I’m hungry, I eat. I need to protect myself, I do it. I’m tired, I sleep. This sounds ludicrous to the construct in which most of us are moving in the modern world,” he says.

Merli says there are a thousand stories out there turning bears into scary creatures. But most of them aren’t true. Those stories, he says, are just about our own fear.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Palmer

Fri, 2014-07-11 16:24

This week on AK we’re heading to Palmer, home to the state’s only musk ox farm. Mark Austin is director of the musk ox farm in Palmer.

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Categories: Alaska News
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