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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: 22 min 12 sec ago

Homer’s long-lived Coast Guard Cutter retires

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:59

The Roanoke Island’s crew, their families, legislative representatives, and Coast Guardsmen from sectors Anchorage and Seward came out to the Homer Elks Lodge for the decommissioning ceremony.

Commander Shawn Decker of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage presided over the ceremony. Decker said the Roanoke Island was first commissioned in Louisiana in February 1992 before she made the long transit to Homer.

Crew of the Roanoke Island. (Photo by Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer)

“Over the course of the past 23 years she’s one of the longest tenured cutters to stay in the same home port her entire career. It’s very common for cutters to move around and to change home ports, but for the Roanoke Island she’s been here [in Homer] ever since she was commissioned and that is definitely not common,” says Decker.

Commander Decker expounded on the duties carried out by the cutter and its crews over the years including: search and rescue missions, law enforcement operations, and community service projects.

“Over the past 23 years Roanoke Island has accumulated over 40,000 hours underway, they’ve completed over 1,000 law enforcement boardings, and they’ve executed over 100 search and rescue cases,” says Decker.

He called those stats a testament to the crews of the Roanoke Island, past and present. Lieutenant Michael Clell Thomas also spoke to the merits of the cutter. He is the ship’s commanding officer and in preparation for the decommissioning he was assigned the job of safeguarding the Roanoke Island’s history.

“It’s interesting how you get focused on yourself and your own crew and what you do with the cutter. You forget the legacy of that cutter and what the cutter has done with past crews. Reading through a lot of the history it’s kind of mind blowing to see all that has been accomplished,” says Thomas.

Thomas has also been consumed with preparations for the trip to the cutter’s new home. The crew will have to travel south to pass through the Panama Canal before heading to port in Baltimore, Maryland. The trip will be 7,000 nautical miles.

“We try to plan it as best we can before the trip but there are always some variables in there such as weather and delays with coming into a country and some of your port of calls that are always on my mind. And then safety from a C.O.’s perspective,” says Thomas.

Thomas and his crew are projecting the trip to take two months.

“That’s probably one of our biggest challenges. As a crew that operates a couple of weeks out at a time, doing a full two months is quite an evolution for us. The families are really what make this possible for us and without their help a two month deployment can be challenging,” explains Thomas.

After the cutter makes it safely to Baltimore the Roanoke Island’s crew will fly back to Homer to meet their new vessel, the US Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo. Here’s Commander Decker.

“The Sapelo is leaving next week from Puerto Rico and they’re probably going to cross somewhere with the Roanoke Island on the Panama Canal. The Sapelo is going to be here in the beginning of August,” says Decker.

Lieutenant Thomas says only one member of his crew will be transferred after the trek to Baltimore and the rest will be reunited aboard the Sapelo in August. The crew and the cutter are expected to be ready for full duty operations by September.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pacific Council cuts bycatch caps; critics say it’s not enough

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:57

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Sunday evening to lower caps on halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea — by 21-percent overall.

But Bering Sea halibut fishermen say the cut isn’t big enough to save their communities.

The vote came after impassioned public testimony stretching over three days. Halibut biomass has declined over the past decade, and fishermen in communities like St. Paul, in the Pribilof Islands, face the possibility of being shut down entirely. They hoped that reducing bycatch would make more halibut available to fish.

Councilmember Duncan Fields said the final vote didn’t go nearly far enough.

“I acknowledge on a personal basis my identity with the folks living in Western Alaska,” he said, choking up. “And their loss of economic opportunity, personal identity, and cultural legacy. I get it.”

Alaska Fish & Game Commissioner Sam Cotten originally proposed a larger cut, of about 29-percent. He called it “the bare minimum” to protect Bering Sea fishermen.

But the Council adopted a smaller cut proposed by Bill Tweit of Washington State. Tweit said anything larger would be too steep for industry to absorb.

The numbers are tricky: While the final vote reduces the cap by about 21-percent, the affected fleets have been well under their caps in recent years. So the new cap is actually slightly higher than the total amount of bycatch taken last year.

But the cut varies among different groups. Big flatfish trawlers, who are responsible for most of the bycatch, will take the biggest cut. They must reduce the amount of halibut they catch by about 15-percent from last year’s numbers.

Chris Woodley is director of the Groundfish Forum, which represents many of those trawlers. He said that’s a big hit.

“We’re extremely concerned about job loss in our fishery right now, about tying up vessels,” he said. “We need to sit down and assess the extent that this is going to damage our sector.”

The cut passed 6 to 3. Two Alaska members were forced to recuse themselves, in a controversial ruling by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Categories: Alaska News

Mendenhall Glacier fees to go up in 2016

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:55

Visitors at the Mendenhall Glacier can watch the sockeye make their way upstream at the viewing platforms along Steep Creek.

Starting next summer, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau will increase its entry fee and start charging for use of nearby trails and amenities.

The U.S. Forest Service announced the change today after taking public comments on the proposal this winter.

Visitor center director John Neary says it’ll be the first increase since they first started charging fees 16 years ago. Back then, the center got about 200,000 visitors annually. This year, he says they expect to top 500,000.

“That’s really what it comes down to,” Neary says. “We don’t have an increasing budget scenario, yet we do have very much an increasing number of people who want to see the Mendenhall Glacier and the whole recreation area use has increased dramatically.”

The increase takes effect May 1, 2016. Fees are only charged during tourist season, May through September. For the rest of the year the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and nearby facilities are free.

The fee to get into the center will go from $3 to $5 a day for people age 16 and older. That $5 also will cover the cost of using the pavilion between the parking lot and Mendenhall Lake, the Photo Point Trail, the Steep Creek trail, bus shelters, and bathrooms near the visitor center. Currently those facilities are free year-round.

Neary says the increase will be used to improve services for visitors. He says traffic congestion is a big issue both in the bus parking area and on trails near the visitor center.

“Which is great,” says Neary. “We really want to connect people to their national forests, right? But there’s lots of costs associated with the platforms themselves, the maintenance of our trails, the staffing to ensure good safety.”

The cost of a season pass also will go up next year, from $10 to $15. Neary recommends frequent visitors take advantage of the passes, as well as various National Park Service and Forest Service programs that cover access to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

Categories: Alaska News

Report lists watersheds, salmon habitat potentially affected by B.C. mines

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:52

This map, found in the FNMEC report, shows potential contaminant flow paths from B.C. tailings dams into Southeast Alaska waters.

Thousands of miles of salmon habitat and more than 200 communities across Southeast Alaska and British Columbia could be affected if another mine disaster happens near the border. According to a report released this week by a B.C. First Nations group, 35 tailings ponds in the region are drawing more scrutiny after a mine dam collapsed last summer.

The report, titled “Uncertainty Upstream: Potential Threats from Tailings Facility Failures in Northern British Columbia,” quantifies what could be at stake.

The B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council lists watersheds, communities and salmon habitat that could be affected by tailings facilities that are upstream from Southeast Alaska.

The tailings dam system for mine waste management is facing a lot of criticism after a dam at the Mount Polley Mine in central B.C. collapsed last summer. It spilled millions of gallons of waste into Canadian waterways.

B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council CEO Dave Porter said this report is a follow-up to an expert panel’s findings about the cause of last summer’s dam breach.

“Given the state of the regulatory legal framework governing the mining industry here in B.C., the panel said we can expect two more such failures in the next decade. Well, from our perspective, that’s unacceptable,” Porter said. “So we believe that it is the responsibility of government, industry and our communities to prepare for such an eventuality.”

His organization compiled this report as a resource tool to help communities understand what the potential risks are to nearby watersheds and fish populations.

According to the report, there are 35 tailings ponds from the Mount Polley mine up to the Yukon border. More than 200 communities in mainland B.C. could be affected by a failure. The study does not list towns in Southeast Alaska, but it does include rivers that flow into Alaskan waters.

Three tailings dams are upriver from Wrangell and Petersburg. Two tailings dams are in the Unuk River watershed, which ends near Ketchikan. There is a tailings dam that could eventually affect the Juneau area and one that could impact Haines and Skagway.

Southeast Alaskans worry B.C. mines could destroy salmon and other wildlife that many people depend on for subsistence and income.

The study finds 80 percent of king and sockeye salmon freshwater habitat in the region is either downstream of a tailings facility or would require migrating through a potential contaminant flow path. The same is true for about half of coho, chum and pink salmon habitat.

The report calls for some changes in B.C.’s approach to mining. The energy and mining council asks for more involvement of indigenous communities in the mine planning process and for more long-term economic benefits to settlements affected by mining. It also asks for an emphasis on protecting entire watersheds and to create a pool of money to help with clean-up in the event of a tailings dam failure.

Karina Briño is CEO of the Mining Association of British Columbia. She said laws are already in place to deal with almost all of those requests.

“I think what this recommendation is doing and what this report is doing is it’s enhancing the opportunity that we have, as an industry, to have those conversations at a more local level,” Briño said.

As B.C.’s mining boom continues, more mines with tailings ponds are planned for the region.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 5, 2015

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:55

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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FEC Hits Sullivan Campaign With $3k Fine

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The Federal Election Commission slapped Sen. Dan Sullivan’s campaign with a fine of nearly $3,000 for failing to disclose donations.

Governor’s Weekend Retreat To Look Beyond Budget Impasse

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are sponsoring a weekend retreat on building a sustainable future at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Bragaw Extension Stumbles Over Land-Use Regs

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The planned $20-million-dollar Bragaw Extension would cut through University of Alaska-Anchorage lands to join Bragaw with Elmore. But the land has restrictions on it date from when it was sold by the federal government back in 1964.

Court Allows Pebble v. EPA to Proceed

Dave Bedinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging
violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, will go forward . That’s according to a ruling Thursday by federal court Judge H. Russel Holland.

Rotating Propeller Kills Wasilla Man in Wrangell-St. Elias

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A Wasilla man is dead after an accident in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park.  According to Park officials,  62- year -old Clark J. Baldwin was killed instantly when he backed into a spinning  plane propeller.

Panel Advises Trimming Halibut Bycatch in the Bering Sea

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The advisory panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has come out in favor of reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea.

Kuskokwim River Residents Face Early Season Restrictions

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

King salmon are beginning to show up on the Kuskokwim River. All eyes are on the few kings that are appearing in the Bethel Test Fishery and in subsistence fishermen’s nets during limited 4-inch openings.

On International Donut Day, Kobuk Has You Covered

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Today is National Donut Day and one Anchorage shop is getting national attention. The Kobuk’s old fashioned donuts were highlighted by Huffington Post as one of the best in the country.

AK: Tundra Love

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

Right now the tundra and forests of Bristol Bay are exploding with flora. While many foragers have already munched on fiddlehead ferns and are looking forward to wild berry picking, they may overlook the traditional medicinal uses of many Alaskan plants.

49 Voices: Sheila Arkell of Eagle River

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Sheila Arkell and her husband moved to Anchorage from Washington D.C. in the 1980s.

Categories: Alaska News

Emotions Run High In Sitka Over Halibut Bycatch Debate

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:52

As the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Sitka this week, the most contentious issue on the agenda is a proposal to reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. Commercial halibut fishermen up and down the coast are pushing the council to reduce bycatch limits, while trawlers and others in the Bering Sea say they’ve already reduced bycatch voluntarily  — and lower limits would be ruinous.

Emotions are running high on all sides of the issue. The Council got a preview of that during testimony before its advisory panel this week.

About 150 signed up to testify before the Council on the issue of halibut bycatch. Many of them sharpened their arguments before the council’s industry advisory panel earlier in the week. That panel ended up voting to recommend some cuts in bycatch caps, of up to 45% for some sectors.

Retired Sitka longliner Carolyn Nichols told the panel she worries that if the groundfish fleet continues to take bycatch at current levels, it will endanger the halibut stock — and the future of halibut fishing.

“There are a lot of kids here, like my son, who’s taken over the boat, who are like, yeah why should I buy halibut quota? Because they’re just going to take it away from me when it goes down.”

She pointed out that Canada has managed to cut its bycatch significantly. She was challenged by Advisory Panel member Patrick O’Donnell.

“Do you understand that the Canadians reduced from TK vessels down to 55 in part to accomplish the reductions? And the effects that would have on displacing processing crew, captains, and boats in the Bering Sea?”

“Are you aware of the effects it’s going to have if the directed halibut fishery, the sport fishery, the charter fishery and the subsistence fishery goes down the drain in all of Alaska, Canada, Washington and California?”

John Nelson, captain of the Bering Sea trawler the Rebecca Irene, said his fleet isn’t getting credit for the extensive measures they’ve already put in place to avoid bycatch.

“There’s not a magic bullet here. The increments are going to be small at this point…we can make improvements. But it’s getting harder and harder. We’re really using all the tools at our disposal.”

Nelson said a 50-percent cut in the bycatch cap would force his fleet to shut down part of the year, and mean that crewmembers will lose their jobs.

That’s already happened to halibut fishermen, said Sitkan Frank Balovich. Longliners like him have absorbed big cuts, he said. It’s time for the groundfish fleet to take theirs.

“I mean, why is their family more important than mine? Why are their kids more important than mine? Why is their boat more important than mine? Why is their crew more important than mine?”

He was echoed later that afternoon by Heather Mann, of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative.

“Why is a crewmember on a directed halibut boat more important than a crewmember’s livelihood on a trawl boat? It’s not. It’s not.”

Mann said her fleet has reduce bycatch to below 1% of their catch. She had a question for those who say they can do better.

“How? How in this situation can the trawl catcher vessels in the Pacific Cod fishery do better?”

Meanwhile, for Simeon Swetsov, Jr, the mayor of St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands, it’s a matter of survival. In the Bering Sea around St. Paul, more halibut was taken as bycatch in the past few years than caught by the commercial halibut fleet. If current trends don’t change, halibut fishermen in his region face being shut out of the fishery entirely. Swetsov choked up, talking about the impact.

“I’m extremely angry that we’re here today [[starts crying]]…we’ve been dealing with this issue for a long time.”

It’s a matter of justice, he said.

“We live right out in the richest ocean in the world practically, and we’re going to see this happen to us, in our own backyard! No! We’ll fight it!”

That fight will continue over the next few days. The Council is expected to vote on halibut bycatch this weekend.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Sitka through Tuesday, June 9. The Council will continue taking public comment on Saturday, and is expected to vote on the issue sometime this weekend. You can find links to the the full agenda and Council livestream, on our website, kcaw.org.


Categories: Alaska News

U-Med Road Developers Need Permission from BLM Because of Land Patents

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:44

Map from the BLM. The patents on the red area have expired. The “for school purposes only” patents on the blue and yellow areas have not. The orange line indicates the location of the proposed road.

1960s era regulations could impact the development of the U-Med District Access Road, also known as the Bragaw Extension. The planned $20 million, two-lane road would cut through University of Alaska-Anchorage lands to join Bragaw with Elmore. But the land has restrictions on it dating from when it was sold by the federal government back in 1964.

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The original land patent says the northeastern area of UAA land can be used “for school purposes only.” It allows for ditches and canals for mining and agriculture, and right of ways for railroads and telegraphs. But not necessarily for roads.

Bureau of Land Management’s acting chief of lands and realty in Alaska, Dave Mushovic, cannot comment on the U-Med District Road directly because the BLM hasn’t received an official plan from UAA, which is the land owner.

He explains that federal land is sold at a discount to state and local governments and non-profits under the Recreation & Public Purposes Act, but the land comes with restrictions. In order to use the land for anything else, landowners have to get permission from the Department of the Interior.

“They really need to because if they don’t, and then we come back and find out they did something that they weren’t allowed to, then we could start that reversionary action and take title back to the entire patent.”

That means the federal government could take back the land. BLM spent months studying the land patent question this spring, at the request of KSKA. They determined in the case of the UAA land, these rules apply to the area “forever.”

But what does the restriction “for school purposes only” really mean? Mushovic:

“School purposes would be any thing that supported the operation of the school on those lands,” Mushovic explained. “So, for example, if they needed dormitories for students, that would be in support of the school purpose. Their own roads and utility systems that support the school.”

Mushovic says the landowner can also sell or give away portions of the land, so long as the use of the land remains in the public interest.

The Department of Transportation is developing the U-Med Access Road. DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says they don’t think the patents would prohibit the development of the road or walkways.

“Access to University of Alaska lands would fit into the purpose – to provide access into the property itself.”

A statement from UAA says they believe the road will provide additional access points to the campus and help the advancement of the university.

But Carolyn Ramsey with Citizens for Responsible Development U-Med says the purpose of the road is to relieve traffic congestion and does not meet the “for school purposes only” condition.

“As far as their land, yes, it does give access to it. But there’s a little word there — “only.” And this “school purposes only” is specifically for education and school. Not for traffic, for better, access, for anything like that.”

BLM Anchorage Field Manager Alan Bittner says they plan to look into the matter. The process won’t take public comments into account, and it’s unclear how long it will take because BLM hasn’t seen the plans yet. DOT wants to start construction on the road this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Panel Advises Curbing Halibut Bycatch in the Bering Sea

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:41

The advisory panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has come out in favor of reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea.

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The panel is made up of fishing industry representatives, and it was tasked with making a formal recommendation on the issue, by far the most contentious of the Sitka meeting happening now.

After a day and a half of emotional testimony from all sides, the panel voted 11 to 10 to reduce the bycatch cap for the Bering Sea groundfish fleet by 31% overall. Since the fleet is already under its cap, that would amount to a real reduction of about 13 percent from the five-year average.

The panel proposed different cuts for different sectors. The largest proposed reduction is for the so-called “Amendment 80” fleet. Those are catcher-processors that target flatfish like yellowfin sole, and generate the bulk of halibut bycatch mortality.

The issue now goes before the Council itself.

Categories: Alaska News

National Donut Day brings wide attention to local baker

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:39

Mike Bonito poses with his donuts at The Kobuk. Hillman/KSKA

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Friday is National Donut Day, and one Anchorage shop is getting national attention. The Kobuk’s old fashioned donuts were highlighted by Huffington Post as one of the best in the country. Donut baker Mike Bonito is trained as a professional cook and baker, but he says anyone can make a roast. Donuts, though, are different.

“Donuts have lots and lots of little variables that you have to be able to control and to master. And once you get it all figured out, your donut is different from other donuts. It’s a reality.”

He lovingly explains that to get the perfect donut, you have to mind the temperature of the oil, the batter, and even the room.

“Here’s how picky these donuts are,” he says, pointing to a freshly glazed tray. One or two lack the symmetrical lobes. “This fryer has a heating element, but it doesn’t heat at the same temperature all throughout. So, try as I might, I rotate the donut from the front to the back when they’re actually frying, but sometimes I miss one. When you miss one for just ten or 15 seconds at one part of the fryer, it effects it.”

Bonito started baking nearly 40 years ago. Twenty of those have been focused almost exclusively on donuts.

Categories: Alaska News

FEC Hits Sullivan Campaign With $3k Fine

Fri, 2015-06-05 15:49

The Federal Election Commission slapped Sen. Dan Sullivan’s campaign with a fine of nearly $3,000 for failing to disclose donations.

The civil penalty stems from the so-called 48-hour notices candidates are required to file for donations received in the days before an election. The FEC found the Sullivan campaign received four contributions before the Primary and seven before the General Election that weren’t properly disclosed. The total amount of the donations in question comes to just over $25,000. Most — if not all – of them appear to be from out of state. The campaign, all told, raised almost $8 million.

FEC documents say the fine was paid in April, before the commission put the case on the public record this week. Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson says the FEC action follows the campaign’s self-reported error.

The period covered by the 48-hour rule starts 20 days before and ends 48 hours before Election Day. The FEC must receive the notice within 48 hours of the campaign’s receipt of the donation.

The campaign of Sullivan’s rival, Mark Begich, also got letters from the FEC with questions about apparent mistakes in their 48-hour reports. The Begich campaign treasurer acknowledge “inadvertant errors” and filed — or refiled — a series of 48-hour reports months after Election Day.


Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell- St. Elias Park Fatality

Fri, 2015-06-05 14:43

A Wasilla man is dead after an accident in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. According to Park officials, 62- year -old Clark J. Baldwin was killed instantly when he backed into a spinning plane propeller. Peter Christian is the District Ranger:

“So what we know with the early reports of the investigation are is that there were four Super Cub airplanes at the Peavine strip within the Park, and all four of them were running, the engines were running, and Mr. Baldwin was outside of his own aircraft attempting to help one of the other airplanes when he accidentally backed up into his own prop, and was killed instantly.”

The accident happened around 11 am on Thursday. Christian says it was 2 pm before Park rangers were able to get to the site. The Peavine Bar Strip is about 15 miles East of McCarthy.

“There were seven people total there, including Mr. Baldwin so the six survivors said he was killed instantly, so there was really no medical response at that point. We received the call for help through a satellite phone. The Troopers received the initial call, but they had no air assets or available personnel as close as the Park Service did, so the National Park Service rangers responded. ”

Park Service officials have recovered the body. The National Transportation Safety Board has been notified.

Baldwin was the sole occupant of his plane at the time of the accident. Christian says that the deceased was the owner of Alaska Cub Training Specialists, a flying club based in Wasilla, and was a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Sheila Arkell of Anchorage

Fri, 2015-06-05 14:41

Now it’s time for 49 voices. Sheila Arkell and her husband moved to Anchorage from Washington D.C. in the 1980s. She says the city felt a lot more isolated in those days.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Tundra Love

Fri, 2015-06-05 14:38

Denise Lisac and Lynn Van Vactor holding carrot and rose hip infusions. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)

Right now the tundra and forests of Bristol Bay are exploding with flora. While many foragers have already supped on fiddlehead ferns and are looking forward to wild berry picking, some may overlook the traditional medicinal uses of many Alaskan plants. Two Dillingham women set out to capture the benefits of these native plants in a line of homemade bath products – they call it “Tundra Love.”

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It’s a bright spring afternoon, and the ground floor of Lynn Van Vactor’s home smells of shea butter and citrus. With hot plates, a weigh scale, and bottles of oils on the shelves, the space feels like part chemistry lab, part art studio.

Van Vactor and her business partner Denise Lisac hand me a mason jar filled with a dark oily mixture.

“That’s chaga,” she said, as oil sloshed around in the jar. “We’re infusing chaga. We haven’t used this yet and it’s just infusing. Look at that beautiful black color of the oil.”

Local plant bits are left to solar infuse in oil for several weeks: (from left) cottonwood blossoms, chythlook (wormwood), rose hips, cottonwood blossoms, carrot. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)

Other jars are lined up against the sunny window, filled with infusions of rosehips, carrot, and cottonwood buds. Van Vactor explains, this is an early step in the long process of making a soap or salve.

“Let it sit for six weeks in the sun, and every day you turn and toss those oils,” she said. “Yeah, so that’s some chythlook.”

This basement operation got its start just last fall, when Van Vactor and Lisac both signed up for a class taught by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium on native plants.

“‘The Store Outside your Door,’ basically,” she said. “So Denise and I sat next to each other. That’s how it started – yeah, that’s how it started.”

The training taught about local plants that elders in Bristol Bay have used medicinally for generations. These healing plants are all over the place: Plantain is a natural antibacterial; Rose hips are high in Vitamin A for healthy skin.

“And the birch bark has salicylic properties that can treat some of those conditions of inflammation and soreness,” she said.

Van Vactor and Lisac shared a fascination with these plants.

And when they decided to do something about it, they found they each brought a useful skill set to the table.

“I started out in nursing, psych and pre-med,” Van Vactor said. “So I’ve always had an affinity for naturopathic medicine, and Denise has this expert gardening knowledge of plants.”

The bars of soap are carefully crafted and topped with dried flower petals. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)

So they had a pretty good foundation. But, she says, they still have a lot to learn on the healing side of things.

“The native healers that use these products will spend a year just studying one plant to really understand the therapeutic benefits of those plants… so we’re no way in that category,” she said. “But we’ve had enough knowledge and ability to utilize the plants for things that we’d actually want in our day-to-day life.”

So, with a lot of research and some digging in the dirt, they started making soaps, salves, and bath bombs. Each recipe includes local plants for a specific purpose. And the products have upbeat names like “Pick Me Up!” “Restore My Skin” and “Aches Away.”

Denise Lisac shaping bath bombs from Epsom salt and oils – the fizzing bombs dissipate into bath water to create a soothing, aromatic soak. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)

Both Lisac and Van Vactor are semi-retired from long careers, so they’re not expecting to make a living off Tundra Love. But with a price point of $10 for 2 ounces of salve or balm, they say they were able to earn back their initial investment. Their first big sale at Christmas time sold out.

Since then, they’ve gotten rave reviews. Friends and family are asking them to make more.

“I know of a person whose feet had been in pain for months and months,” she said. “And those salves have helped alleviate the pressure in their feet and they’re able to walk better… so there’s these little testimonials coming up.”

Encouraged by those happy customers, Van Vactor and Lisac are dreaming up new products. They’re watching for summer plants to come up so they can infuse another batch of oils. One of the biggest lessons learned, Van Vactor says, is that the recipes go based on what Mother Nature provides.

For example: they’re itching to try out a naturally bug repellent oil made from wild yarrow. But, “It’s gonna be at least a couple months for the yarrow… And it REALLY goes gangbusters in the fall. You’ll get little sprouts coming up between now and then – Yeah you’ll pull it out of your garden – Yeah but now, when we pull it out of our garden, we’ll set it aside – we’re going to use it!”

While their first priority is to make enough for local customers, Lisac and Van Vactor eventually want to expand. They imagine a network of Tundra Love producers, bringing healing plants into homes all over Bristol Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Advance Directives

Fri, 2015-06-05 11:59

Talking about death is never easy. But it’s especially difficult in a hospital when a loved one is incapacitated and family members are trying to guess their wishes. Two healthcare workers in Anchorage want to convince Alaskans to have that conversation before a crisis and record their choices in an advance directive.

HOST: Annie Feidt


  • Gigi Rygh, medical social worker, Alaska Innovative Medicine
  • Kris Green, advanced planning care coordinator, Providence Health Services
  • Julie Wrigley, attorney
  • Callers statewide


  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 9, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

Red Chris Mine waits for final permit

Fri, 2015-06-05 10:40

Mining at Red Chris in February 2015. (imperialmetals.com)

A controversial British Columbia mine upriver from Wrangell and Petersburg is slated to ramp up to full production this summer. But the Red Chris Mine is still waiting for final approval from the B.C. government and a First Nations group.

The Red Chris copper and gold mine in the Stikine River watershed has been operating on a temporary environmental permit since February.

It was recently extended through mid-June.

A B.C. official told a Canadian newspaper it gives government and Tahltan First Nation environmental teams more time to evaluate the mine’s tailings dams before issuing the final permit.

The tailings dam system for mine waste management is facing a lot of criticism after a dam at the Mount Polley Mine in B.C. collapsed last summer. It spilled millions of gallons of waste into Canadian waterways.

Imperial Metals owns that mine and Red Chris.

Southeast Alaskans worry B.C. mines could destroy salmon and other wildlife that many people depend on for subsistence and income. Some want their concerns to be addressed in B.C.’s mine permitting process.

Wrangell is at the mouth of the Stikine River, and Aaron Angerman is a member of the Wrangell Cooperative Association. He is also that group’s representative to the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group.

Angerman said he is not comforted by government and indigenous groups’ additional efforts to inspect the Red Chris mine and its tailings dams.

“For them to take any different route is almost a moot point because this place was built just like the Mount Polley Mine, larger in scale, and is already running, by the same designers that put this other one together,” Angerman said. “It’s a little too late for those on the Stikine, I guess.”

Angerman said he is very concerned about the Red Chris mine because Wrangell residents depend on the Stikine for so many resources.

“People need to be aware that while there’s a permitting process wrapping up, this has been open since February, and this has been functioning since then,” Angerman said. “And the impacts it could have of basically a dam the size of 10,000 Olympic swimming pools, filled with toxic chemicals, giving way and washing down our river coming straight toward Wrangell, could be devastating.”

Meanwhile, Imperial Metals is losing a lot of money and facing technical challenges as it attempts to bring Red Chris up to full production.

Imperial borrowed millions of dollars to keep the company going until it can make money at Red Chris. It is also trying to reopen Mount Polley.

Imperial Metals President Brian Kynoch told shareholders recently that Red Chris was well on its way to full production this spring. But it had to cut back because of technical issues.

“Since about the second half of April, due to slower spring runoff than forecast, the water levels in the tailings pond were insufficient to run the mill at targeted rates,” Kynoch said. “And this resulted in us running the mill intermittently until just a couple of days ago.”

He said he expects Red Chris to be operating at commercial production levels later this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard seeks fines against anti-drilling protesters

Fri, 2015-06-05 09:54

The U.S. Coast Guard has initiated penalties against four anti-drilling protesters, including a woman who chained herself to a support ship that’s part of Royal Dutch Shell’s oil exploration plans in the Arctic Ocean.

Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener says Cody Erdman, Chiara D’Angelo, Paul Adler and Matthew Fuller on Friday were mailed penalty notices for violating the 100-yard safety zone when the Arctic Challenger was anchored north of Seattle over Memorial Day weekend.

The maximum fine is $40,000 for each violation, but a hearing officer in Virginia will determine the penalty. The activists will have a chance to present their case.

The Coast Guard says it supports the public’s right to protest. But it says prolonged safety zone violations strain agency resources and hinder its ability to respond to other calls.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Coast Guard commander to head cruise group

Fri, 2015-06-05 09:54

Alaska’s former top U.S. Coast Guard official will soon head up the world’s largest cruise-industry trade group.

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo addresses the Juneau Chamber of Commerce in 2011. He’ll soon head up the cruise industry’s trade group. (KTOO file photo)

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo takes over July 6 as CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association.

Ostebo served as commander of the Coast Guard’s 17th District from 2011 to 2014. The district includes all of Alaska.

The Coast Guard oversees federal laws and regulations relating to the cruise industry.

Ostebo spent the past year as the agency’s strategic management director, based at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. The cruise association’s main office is also in the nation’s capital.

It’s a major force in maritime lobbying, representing more than 60 cruise lines, including most of those sailing Alaska waters.

Ostebo will oversee the association’s 15 worldwide offices, including one in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s weekend retreat to look beyond the budget impasse

Fri, 2015-06-05 09:52

Gov. Bill Walker on April 18. 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Weekend plans for about 175 diverse and influential Alaskans include right-sizing state government, working with interactive financial models and frank talk about the third rail of Alaska politics — revenue, taxes and tapping the Permanent Fund.

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are sponsoring the weekend retreat on building a sustainable future at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. They’ll be sounding boards for big picture policy discussions about the state’s long-term fiscal future.

Walker says the location of the retreat has historical significance.

“It will be at the same site where the drafting of the Alaska Constitution took place in 1959. So, I like going back to our roots, so to speak. I like that it’s at the university campus,” he says. “We’re gonna stay in the dorms. The vast majority of us are going to stay in the dorms at UAF.”

Him included.

“I think the First Lady is going to be my roommate. I’m hoping she will be, anyways,” Walker says.

He says he’s looking forward to the collegiate atmosphere and dialogue. Many of the people invited to participate are members of his transition team that met after he was elected in November.

While lawmakers are still at an impasse on the budget, and how to address a multibillion dollar deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July, that’s not what this weekend is about.

“We’re moving on beyond the budget impasse. What we want to talk about (is) the next 10 years, the next 20 years, the next 50 years in Alaska.”

Or, as Gunnar Knapp puts it, “We can’t go around having our cake and eating it, too.”

Knapp has studied the state’s fiscal situation for months as director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. This weekend he’ll be speaking and listening.

“It won’t work anymore to say, ‘I demand this, this and this’ in terms of schools, ferry service, or health or roads or troopers or whatever it is people want from the government,” he says. “And at the same time saying, ‘But I don’t want anybody, you know, using the Permanent Fund or asking me to pay taxes.’ You can’t have it both ways.”

The legislature’s finance analysts have repeatedly noted this year that even if every state-funded government worker were laid off, the state would still spend billions more than what is forecast in revenue.

Since January, Knapp says he’s given at least 20 talks on the subject with various civic, education and business groups. Progress has been slow.

“You can’t go way out in front of what people are willing to talk about, even if you know — even if you’re in the legislature and the governor — and you know that eventually the conversation is going to have to get to those things. It is a process of education. … So it’s discouraging that we haven’t faced up to this more this year, but it’s probably just a practical reality of the political situation. Using the savings is the easiest thing to do.”

Knapp hopes that politically taboo fiscal matters will stop being taboo after this weekend.

“I’m not going there to advocate any particular solution,” Knapp says. “I’m just advocating an open conversation about the nature of the problem.”

The retreat itself is expected to be a frugal affair. Most of the participants are paying for their own travel. And dorms are a lot cheaper than hotels. There won’t be bunk beds, but participants may have to share dorm rooms, says Claire Richardson, staff to the lieutenant governor.

Richardson says she expects the state’s final bill to be under $150,000. A big chunk of that is a $37,000 contract for web and television coverage with, full disclosure, 360 North.

Live coverage begins at 6 p.m. Friday online and on 360 North television. For web streams, schedules and more about Building a Sustainable Future: Conversations with Alaskans, go to www.360north.org/sustainable-future/.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble FACA case against EPA to go forward

Fri, 2015-06-05 09:26

The Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, will go forward. That’s according to a ruling Thursday by Anchorage federal court Judge H. Russel Holland.

Judge Holland denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case, which was argued last week in Anchorage court.

Mike Heatwole is a spokesperson for Pebble:

“With today’s ruling, the judge has essentially said that Pebble has raised plausible claims about how the EPA has handled and utilized input from anti-mining groups in all of the work regarding the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. It represents a pretty significant victory for us that allows our case to advance,” said Heatwole.

Pebble’s opponents were quick to say Thursday that they were disappointed with the ruling. Among them is United Tribes of Bristol Bay director Alannah Hurley, who acknowledged the setback, but says it’s important to keep the ruling, and the case, in perspective:

“This case is about a federal advisory process protocol. It in no way changes the scientific fact that if the Pebble Mine is developed, it will harm the last great salmon fishery on the face of the planet. It doesn’t change the fact that the EPA has the authority to take this action to protect this fishery, and has had, and will continue to have, the full support of our region to do so,” said Hurley.

While the FACA case moves forward, Judge Holland has ordered the EPA to halt all work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and the preemptive dredge and fill restrictions it had intended to finalize earlier this year. Judge Holland’s temporary injunction, requested by Pebble, will remain in place:

“So it basically prevents the EPA from advancing it’s preemptive veto against the project.” said Pebble’s Heatwole. “The next phase for us is discovery, and as we’ve long asserted, we believe there’s quite a bit more information out there as to what was going on behind the scenes with the EPA’s actions against Pebble.”

Both Pebble and the mine’s opponents said the FACA case will likely play out over at least the next year.

In a separate, the third filed by Pebble against the EPA, Pebble is suing for more agency documents and emails it says the EPA is not turning over as per requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Spokesperson Arrested For DUI After LIO Hit-And-Run

Thu, 2015-06-04 17:47

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority caucus has been arrested for a hit-and-run accident in the parking lot of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

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Press secretary Carolyn Kuckertz, 38, has been charged with three felonies and misdemeanor for allegedly striking two people while drunk. The arrest occurred on Tuesday around 5:30pm.

According to court documents, Kuckertz quickly backed out of a parking spot at the Anchorage LIO and hit 28-year-old Maura Selenak, leaving her on the curb “in extreme pain.” Selenak suffered swelling and bruising to her torso. She was taken to the hospital, and was released with no major injuries. Kuckertz also allegedly struck another woman on the leg. Witnesses say Kuckertz initially stopped, was asked to stay, but then responded, “I can’t.”

The Anchorage Police Department says Kuckertz was later located at Minnesota and Benson, where she was picking up her daughter from daycare. Officers noticed the smell of alcohol, but were unable to complete field sobriety tests because Kuckertz was “swaying and stumbling.” Her blood alcohol level was later tested at .208, more than twice the legal limit.

Kuckertz is currently being held on $10,000 bail. Kuckertz pleaded no contest to a previous DUI in 2010.

A separate member of the Republican majority’s press office confirms that she has been placed on administrative leave without pay.

Categories: Alaska News