Eighty-five billion dollars in federal budget cuts are set to begin Friday.
The U.S. Senate will debate competing measures to replace the cuts on Wednesday, but neither will become law.
The National Park Service is slated to lose 5 percent of its budget, and that would trickle down to every park in Alaska.
On a conference call Monday afternoon, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar laid out what a 5 percent cut to national park spending would look like.
“Reduced hours of operation for visitors centers, shorter seasons, closing of campgrounds, hiking trails and other recreational areas when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, the staff and resources,” Salazar said.
Salazar was joined by director of the National Park Service, John Jarvis.
Jarvis says a 5 percent cut means fewer seasonal workers, highly skilled workers who fight forest fires and perform search and rescues.
“As a consequence we may be reducing access to some areas because of that concern, if we can’t respond, and we don’t really want the public getting into trouble,” Jarvis said.
To some in Washington, the cuts seem a bit draconian. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski says the White House is selecting cuts that people note.
“Is it a Washington Monument syndrome? Yes it absolutely is,” Murkowski said.
The Washington Monument syndrome – the DC term for cutting tourist attractions and popular government services so people take notice.
It may as well be called the Denali National Park syndrome in Alaska, but it’s unclear whether a 5 percent cut to Denali would affect the day-to-day operations just yet.
“This didn’t sneak up on us by any stretch of the imagination,” Don Striker, the superintendent of Denali, said.
Striker has been on the job about a month, coming north from the New River Gorge in West Virginia. But he’s been with the National Park Service for decades.
“The sequestration planning exercises started early last year,” Striker said.
Though it wasn’t formal, Striker says the Park Service warned him last month he’ll need to present a plan on how to operate at 95 percent.
He was prepared. Striker says Denali is operating at about 80 percent employment now. He hasn’t wanted to fill those positions, fearing the new hires would soon be laid off, or furloughed.
Striker’s 5 percent cut will be absorbed by the vacancies – meaning he won’t hire to full capacity. But he won’t need to furlough anyone either. NPS officials say that’s the case for the entire state.
If furloughs eventually come, they’ll need a 30-day advance notice.
Striker says Denali pumps at least $150 million into the state economy through vendors and seasonal companies – like the buses that take people to see Wonder Lake.
“We can’t get the road open unless we have the seasonal employees we need to plow it open, and because of the nature of the hiring process I need to be deciding by next week which positions I’m going to be hiring,” Striker said. “And I need to be making those job offers in order to get the people here in time to start plowing the roads.”
But there’s a hiring freeze. He says he needs to know which seasonal positions he’ll be able to fill in two weeks, otherwise the May 15 opening date is in jeopardy.
It’s unclear whether Secretary Salazar required other Interior agencies to detail a 5 percent reduction in operating expenses.
Jim Stratton is the regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“You’re not going to fix America’s budget problems on the backs of the National Park Service,” Stratton said. “It’s 1/14th of 1 percent of the discretionary money in the budget.”
But if the cuts happen, and Congress delays a solution, that small sliver of the budget could help Congress to act.
In the meantime, Denali Superintendent Don Striker says he’s prepared to plow the roads if he has to. But he really doesn’t want to.
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When he ran for the Alaska House last year, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins visited each community in his district, knocking on almost every door. The strategy paid off. The 24-year-old Democrat won a seat in the Legislature by just 32 votes.
And now that he’s been on the job six weeks, it’s becoming clear that Kreiss-Tomkins’ busy campaign schedule wasn’t a sprint, so much as the start of a marathon.
The early morning hours in state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins’ office, on the fourth floor of the Alaska Capitol, are actually pretty calm. Coffee is dripping into a pot near the door, and classical music plays softly from a speaker as staffers Nancy Barnes, Tully McLoughlin and Holly Smith pore over calendars and answer e-mails. The calm does not last long.
Kreiss-Tomkins arrives out of breath and wearing most of his suit — the jacket and tie are waiting for him in his office. There’s a strap around his right ankle to keep his pants free from the chain on the bicycle he rides to work every morning.
Kreiss-Tomkins represents Alaska’s 34th district — a collection of communities in Southeast that include Sitka, Haines, Angoon, Kake, Craig, Kalwock, Metlakatla and more.
Today, the 24-year-old freshman Democrat gets to the Capitol at 7:55 a.m. with two meetings already under his belt: one at 6 a.m., the other at 7:30. Next on the schedule is a committee meeting.
Kreiss-Tomkins puts on his tie and jacket, and dashes down the hall to the staircase. He says the frenetic pace of today is typical.
“Well, there’s not enough time in the building during the business day, so I’ve taken to scheduling 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. morning meetings,” Kreiss-Tomkins says as he walks down the Capitol’s main staircase.
He ducks into the State Affairs committee. Today, it’s a presentation on the health care system for state employees. The rest of the day includes a Fisheries committee meeting on derelict vessels, a minority caucus meeting, a flash mob protesting violence against women, a Transportation Committee meeting, and then a variety of visits with an official from BP, and local elected leaders from Anaktuvik Pass, Haines, Pelican and Sitka, all of whom are in the building today to lobby their lawmakers.
About eight hours later, after running down to the legislator’s lounge for his first food of the day, and then running back up to his office, holding some food he calls “breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he finally has time to sit down and talk.
KCAW: How is having the job different than running for the job?
Kreiss-Tomkins: If I closed my eyes when I was a candidate, I couldn’t picture that I’d be waking up at 5:45 to get down to the 6 a.m. meeting, to get to this, to get to that. Going to the lounge to scrounge some leftovers… none of that would have been in my mind. I never could have pictured that, unless I worked here as a staffer, which I never did.
KCAW: What’s the bigger challenge to the way you’re doing your job? Being a freshman, or being in the minority?
Kreiss-Tomkins: Everything is a learning curve. The biggest divide in this building, from what I’ve seen, is not party affiliation, it’s geography. It’s coastal versus rail belt. Juneau is not Washington, D.C. The biggest surprise I’ve had since coming here — and I very consciously tried not to have expectations before coming here — is how collegial this place is. It’s surprisingly bipartisan. There are very meaningful working relationships.
KCAW: During the campaign, one of the primary arguments not to vote for you was that Southeast would be giving up a lot of power if you were elected. Do you feel that’s happened? How’s that shaken out?
Kreiss-Tomkins: Yeah. Southeast, and coastal Alaska — we think in terms of Southeast Alaska, but really, our compatriots from Kodiak and Bristol Bay and the Y-K Delta are just as important to our cause as we are to theirs — lost a tremendous amount of power. And I would argue, and I think almost everybody in this building would agree, that the biggest powershift was not the defeat of Bill Thomas, who I ran against, but the loss of the Senate coalition.
The Senate’s bipartisan coalition was disbanded after Republicans won more seats in November. Kreiss-Tomkins says that the bipartisan coalition was also the Legislature’s coastal caucus. The three most powerful senators in the last session came from coastal communities: Kodiak, Sitka and Bethel.
In this session, he worries those coastal voices are diminished. And as a freshman in the minority, Kreiss-Tomkins doesn’t have a lot of power in the halls of the Capitol. But he says for now, he’s just focusing on doing his job well.
KCAW: Assuming you do want re-election, what do you hope you can tell people in 2014 at the end of your first term, and how are you going to get there?
Kreiss-Tomkins: I’m running for re-election. I believe good government is good politics. So performing in this job to the fullest extent of my ability and working absolutely as hard and as smart and as effective as I can, is the best way in which I can make a bid to have my job for two more years — another two year lease.
KCAW: This job seems very personal to you.
Kreiss-Tomkins: Deeply personal. You’re representing people. People’s lives. The legislation we pass affects people’s lives. I can’t imagine more heady stuff day-to-day to consider.
Our interview ended around 6 p.m., after which Kreiss-Tomkins went to a budget hearing before boarding a ferry for an overnight sailing to Kake. After that, it was back to Juneau, for the start of another week running through the halls of the Capitol, sometimes literally.
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Last year, chinook salmon runs were so weak that the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, along with Cook Inlet, were designated federal disaster zones. Now, a group of legislators from those regions want to create a permanent endowment that would fund research on the fish.
Rep. Bob Herron of Bethel is the lead sponsor of the endowment bill, and he introduced it before the House fisheries committee on Tuesday. He says that long-term research of chinook is needed to better understand their decline — and the decline of other salmon stocks as well.
“The chinook salmon is a trend species,” says Herron. “In other words, it’s the canary in the coal mine. If there’s things affecting chinook, usually it’s the species that tells us that there are issues within its life environment, and the other salmon species may follow unless we do something about it.”
The endowment fund would be governed by six representatives from different regions of state, along with the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That board would be responsible for awarding grants to organizations like non-profits and universities studying chinook salmon. The bill doesn’t mandate that any money be put into the endowment, with the idea that it could be funded down the road.
Herron sees the bill as being different from a research plan back by Gov. Sean Parnell. Parnell’s initiative would give Fish and Game a total of $30 million over the next five years to examine and monitor Alaska’s chinook stocks. Herron says he wants to see partnerships with outside organizations, and for the chinook decline to be studied for a longer amount of time than one salmon life cycle.
“That’s where the governor and I part ways, because I’m not so sure that we want to just dump $10 million over the next three years,” says Herron.
This isn’t the first time the legislature has considered creating a chinook research fund. Herron introduced a similar bill last year before the disaster, but it ultimately stalled.
According to state estimates, fishermen suffered over $10 million in damages as a result of the Chinook disaster.
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Studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Government Accounting Office show increasing numbers of Alaskans will be affected by floods and erosion in coming years due to rising waters and extreme weather events. And the studies predict some communities are likely to be destroyed by 2017.
Of those, Newtok is the furthest along in relocating. But an Anchorage human rights attorney says changes are needed so agencies can more effectively help people being dislocated due to the impacts of climate change.
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A 727 Fed Ex plane landed at Merrill Field near downtown Anchorage at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. The cargo company donated the plane to the University of Alaska Anchorage’s aviation maintenance program. It will be housed at Merrill Field.
The spectacle of seeing such a big jet land at a small plane airport in the middle of the city drew dozens of people to the nearby Northway Mall. The mall parking lot was directly under the flight path of the approaching jet.
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Nick Golodoff, author of the book Attu Boy, passed away earlier this month at the age of 77. His memoir about the World War II internment of the Aleut village by the Japanese brought attention to one of the most obscure corners of American history.
As he told KUCB in an interview last year, he was born on the western Aleutian island of Agattu in December 1935, while his parents were fox trapping.
“But I was really from Attu, so I grew up to the age of six in Attu, and never once lived there ever again, because Japanese took me to Japan when I was six years old.”
Golodoff remembered the day the Japanese landed. He was following an older boy toward the beach when he heard unfamiliar sounds.
“Alex Prossoff is the one I was following, and he started running and I ran after him. And I see pieces of mud flying in front of me. I didn’t know why the piece of mud was flying, until later, so much later, I found out it was bullets that were hitting the ground.”
The Japanese occupied the village for nearly three months before putting the Attuans on a freighter. They spent the whole journey in the cargo hold.
“I don’t know how long we’ve been in the hatch, but when we got to Tokyo, they let us out and look around. And then put us back down and took us to Hokkaido, and that’s where they left us.”
The villagers spent three years teetering on the edge of starvation. Although Golodoff was among the 25 Attuans who survived the internment, he never returned to the island. The U.S. government forced families to resettle in Atka, 600 miles to the east. Golodoff went to school there, and spent lots of time outdoors.
“I used to hunt every day, I used to walk all day,” Golodoff said. “Pack a whole reindeer home from miles away. I used to leave in the morning and home at dark. Until I got a boat. I built my own wooden boat, bought the oars and used to oar, row and hunt like that until I got a motor. I used to hunt all the time.”
In his teens, Golodoff started working seasonally in the Pribilof Islands, harvesting fur seals. Later on he worked at the Atka airport, and for the last 30 years was a maintenance worker at the school.
“NG:They don’t want to fire me because they can’t find my replacement. [laughs]
SJ: Do you ever talk to the kids in the school about your experiences?
NG: No, no. Some teachers want me to do that, but I cannot speak in public, I’m not used to that. I never did that in my life, so I don’t know how to do it.”
Instead, Golodoff wrote down his story with the help of his granddaughter, Brenda Maly, and National Park Service anthropologist Rachel Mason.
Mason says the Attuans’ story never would have been told otherwise, because the older survivors didn’t talk about it.
“And his perspective was different.For example, he had very warm feelings towards Japanese people. And he’s pictured on the cover of Attu Boy as a small child riding on the back of a Japanese soldier. So the eyes of a child were really unique.”
Mason also credits Golodoff with bringing together the descendants of Attu survivors during a reunion organized by the National Park Service last year.
“At one of the events at the Attu reunion, he was signing his book. And it was just such a symbol of their pride in being from Attu, in the fact that Nick, the oldest person that had actually lived on Attu, had produced this memoir that told the story of their community. So, I think it’s a big loss, and yet I’m happy that he was able to be there and to be that symbol of unity for them.”
Golodoff will be laid to rest in Atka.
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The Ukelele, or more properly pronounced, OOO kalele, originated in Hawaii in the nineteenth century. The small, four stringed instrument was influenced by Portuguese immigrants on the Islands. By the early 20th century, the ukelele reached the United States. These days, its distinctive sound is showing up in pop music
Young ukelele virtuosos, like Jake Shimabukuro, are using YouTube and their own websites to widen the tiny instruments’s appeal to the general public
You’re hearing Jake Shimabukuro now, who’s no slouch when it comes to bending the ukelele’s strings.
Jake shreds, and one of his biggest fans is none other than Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe who, when not on the bench, plays the ukelele herself. She says it runs in her family.
”Dad was a lifelong learner and he took piano lessons with us and he taught us to play the ukelele.”
She and her sister played as kids
” He told us that if we knew three or four chords, we could play any song. So we learned those basic chords and learned to play from him.”
She likes ukelele’s so much she owns three of them. The Chief Justice says it’s an easy instrument to learn.
She often gives them to friends as gifts. And she leads others within Anchorage’s legal circle for regular ukelele jams that go on for hours
”Partly it was motivated by selfish reasons, that I wanted people to play with. “
Retired judge Elaine Andrews is part of the ukelele gang. We’re in Andrews kitchen while she practices. Andrews says she’s no virtuoso, but she’s hooked on the instrument
”The people who play it tend to put their forefinger and their thumb together and strum in that fashion”… (music ambience ). ” It has a lovely tone. When I first picked this up, they just kept telling me, if you just pick up two or three chords, including a C that takes one finger, an F that takes two fingers, and a G.. with those three chords, you can play a song. “
The group calls itself Ukealaska, and has put together its own songbook, chock full of old favorites. Andrews strums the chords to “Mack the Knife”.
“It’s like a tumbleweed, [it] keeps picking up people who, either have an interest, or they used to play it when they were younger, and they want to get into it. We have such a wide range of talent, and it is a very accepting, non-judgemental group, people just show up.”]
Attorney Barb Malchek is a mainstay of the group. She too played as a child. Now she’s got several ukeleles.. bass, tenor, soprano and classical.
“And the first time I can ever remember playing a ukelele, I was in seventh grade. And we must have had one hanging around the house, and I picked it up, and then my cross the street neighbor and I came in second in the school talent show playing our intstruments and singing. And I can’t really remember ever playing it again after that.”
But in later life, she picked it up again. Malchek remembers how the ukelele band got started over dinner at Chief Justice Dana Fabe’s house
..”and she mentioned that she mentioned that she plays the ukelele, so Dana pulled out her ukelele’s and we just started strumming. And it just came back right away. So we were playing a little bit and that was really kind of the beginning of our group. And then she invited these other friends of hers, a lot of whom are judges or ex-judges, and it was very intimidating for me, at first. I mean, these are the people I am used to calling ‘your honor’ , but, I don’t know, the ukelele is kind of the great equalizer. “
Malchek owns several of them these days.. one’s even electric. She picks it up and gives it a strum. The sound is irresistable and fills the room.
She plays a tag line a Hawaiin elder showed her how to do once.
Chief Justice Fabe says the ukelele can accompany any kind of music –pop, jazz, folk
“And it’s a very forgiving instrument, you don’t have to be playing it for very long and get a great sound out of it. “
Ukelele actually means ” jumping flea” in Hawaiian, and despite its growing versatility, will ever be synonymous with the Islands. I’m Ellen Lockyer
The Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill today that would make it a felony for federal agents to enforce new gun control measures within the state.
By the end of the debate, a third of the representatives in the House had offered their views on a measure that would essentially ban any new federal gun control regulations in the state. Some talked about the bill as a response to federal overreach, or the fiscal impact of the bill. But more than anything, the back-and-forth focused on whether the bill is even legal.
Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, argued that the bill violated the Constitution’s supremacy clause and wouldn’t hold up under legal scrutiny. He says he can’t support the bill because he sees it as a breach of his oath of office.
“I think this is secessionist talk,” said Josephson. “That’s what I think it is.”
The bill essentially holds that any new restrictions on gun ownership or limits on ammunition purchases would be in conflict with the Second Amendment, and shouldn’t apply in Alaska because of that. It comes as a reaction to President Barack Obama’s support for more gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Similar bills have been introduced in a dozen other states.
Rep. Doug Isaacson, a Republican from North Pole, voted for the bill, and he took offense at the claim that the Alaska legislature was flirting with secessionism.
“We take this as a serious trust, each one of us. That’s why we’re here. And we must push back,” said Isaacson. “There has to be a time when we say it has gone too far, and not to be considered secessionist in that process.”
Republican women were especially vocal in their support of the bill. They all wore matching lace and camouflage scarves that had been picked up at Nordstrom, and many stood up to say that the bill was needed in defense of the Second Amendment. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage was among them, and she defended the bill against those calling it unconstitutional by pointing out that states have passed marijuana initiatives that go against U.S. law, and the federal government hasn’t interfered.
“This bill sends an important message,” said LeDoux. “And yes, we all do know that the federal constitution trumps the state constitution and trumps state law. But we also know that it is very, very difficult for the federal authorities to enforce federal law when they’re getting no cooperation from the state authorities.”
But some Democrats had questions over what would happen if anyone ever did try to enforce the bill. Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage expressed concern that state troopers could face time in federal prison if they attempted to comply with the legislation by interfering with the work of a federal agent. And Rep. Max Gruenberg added that a situation like that could get the state involved in an expensive legal battle. Gruenberg also questioned why the House was spending time on legislation that was unlikely to be enforced, when it had more pressing issues like oil taxes to deal with.
“It’s unconstitutional. It’s unenforceable. It’s really distracting us as a legislature from the most important issues facing this state at this time,” said Gruenberg.
The bill ultimately passed the House 31 to 5, with minority Democrats Chris Tuck and Geran Tarr breaking with their caucus to support the measure. It still needs to be considered by the Senate.
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The numbers are dire. Five thousand civilians who work for the Department of Defense in Alaska would be furloughed once a week.
Food for the elderly would be cut, because the federal government would slash more than $180,000 from programs like Meals on Wheels.
Federal work study students could lose their jobs. Head Start classes will be cut for hundreds.
All this, reports the White House, could be avoided if Congress passes an alternative to the budget cuts set to begin Friday.
This week we’ll be looking more closely at how the sequester could impact several areas of federal spending in Alaska, including national parks and education.
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The state would continue to supply the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery with crude oil under a proposed new contract. The state of Alaska has sold royalty oil to Flint Hills for the last three decades, an arrangement state and company officials say is mutually beneficial.
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It’s been an incredible 24 hours for nordic skiers Kikkan Randall, from Anchorage and her Minnesota teammate Jessie Diggins. The pair made history in Italy Sunday, Feb. 24, winning the first World Championship gold medal in cross country skiing for the U.S. They dominated the skate sprint event from the beginning, but had to recover from a mishap late in the race.
On her final sprint leg, Jessie Diggins was hoping to tag off to Kikkan Randall in first place. She started hammering up the biggest hill on the course, trying to create a gap between herself and the rest of the field, but in the gritty and unpredictable world of sprint racing, anything can happen and in an instant Diggins lost her left pole.
“The Finnish girl behind me stepped on my pole basket and the pole came right off my hand. And um.. I remember just looking, seeing my empty hand and going, oh man. But then I thought, you know most of the course is flat or downhill from here anyway. So I think I actually just sped up, because I was like I need to keep dropping them, even with one pole, I need to drop these guys!”
Alaska Pacific University Coach Erik Flora did his own sprint to get Diggins a new pole at the top of the hill. Kikkan Randall was taking it all in on a big screen as she prepared to ski the final leg of the race. She says it was incredible to watch.
“At first you couldn’t tell she was skiing without a pole. And then you realized she was skiing even faster. She got that new pole and got back in there so quick. It was like nothing even happened and then she found another burst of energy to get an even bigger lead coming into the stadium.”
Randall skied a commanding final leg and wasn’t challenged down the finishing stretch. She stood up and pumped her fist coming across the finish line with a huge smile on her face.
“The whole team just really came together. We had awesome skis. Our teammates who weren’t racing were on the course cheering like crazy. So it was a really cool day to cross the finish line, win the gold and be able to share it with the whole team. “
Jessie Diggins agrees.
“One of the coolest things ever was seeing the look on the coaches faces and to just see them high fiving each other and to see our teammates hanging over the fence pounding the boards. That was pretty sweet.”
Diggins is just 21-years-old. And before this race, she had only skied two World Cup team sprints- winning silver and gold in those events. She says she pulls out her best performances in team competition.
Randall has had several World Cup finishes at the top of the podium and won a silver medal at the World Championships in 2007. But she says this win was different.
“It blows all my individual stuff out of the water. I mean it was so much fun to cross the finish line, fall down in the snow, and have Jessie come running out and get to share that moment right there. I used to wish for a teammate that could help me be competitive at this level, its super fun to finally make it happen.”
Both women say the win gives them confidence heading into the Olympics next winter in Sochi, Russia. In the meantime, the World Championships continue for the rest of the week in Italy. After that, the team has three more weeks of World Cup racing before the season wraps up.
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The first six cyclists in this year’s Iditarod Trail Invitational have checked in at the Winterlake Lodge along the Iditarod trail. It’s the third checkpoint in an ultra-distance human powered race that started north of Anchorage yesterday.
Cyclists and runners in the race can choose to travel the Iditarod Trail for 350 miles to McGrath or they can go the full 1000 miles to Nome.
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It was late in the afternoon and I was exhausted from two solid days of interviews about learning and teaching Inupiat language and culture. I thought I understood the importance of maintaining the culture and traditions, but I had already scheduled an appointment to meet with a young man from a whaling family and I felt I shouldn’t break it.
Josiah Patkotak is 18 and recently graduated from high school – though just barely. He missed between 25 to 40 days of school each year while growing up. He was out hunting and camping with his family.
“My graduation was on the line but I think it was worth it. Well worth it. Because of what I was able to learn from my community and from people. And some of that information and knowledge and information is sacred for some people. Because learning stuff from somebody the way they specifically did it and learning it from someone and them passing away, I can say this is the way I learned it. This is what they told me,” Josiah said.
After graduation Josiah and his new wife, Flora, started a semester at UAF but soon decided to put school off for a year and come home to record interviews with elders about the Inupiat way of life.
Josiah spoke eloquently, almost philosophically, for a half an hour about learning Inupiat through being out on the ice with other hunters and his passion for living his culture. Then the conversation turned to his 14-year-old brother Samuel, who had mostly been focusing on his iPad.
“I miss a lot of school hunting, but I don’t learn as much as he does.” “Why? Why do you say that?” “I goof off a lot.”
His older brother relocates to a chair directly across from him, and doesn’t let him get away with that answer. Josiah and their mother remind Samuel of how much he knows about hunting and contributes to the community. He tries to make Samuel think about what Inupiat words he uses when out hunting.
“Do you say caribou or tuk-tuk?” “I say tuk-tuk a lot” “When you see an animal come out of the water, do you say surfaced or ____?” “Came up?”*
Their mother, Laura, enters the conversation.
Anne: “I feel like they aren’t giving themselves enough credit.”
Laura: “They aren’t! I’m sitting here thinking why won’t you tell her who you are.”
She stresses that her sons and their 15-year-old cousin Randy are highly experienced hunters who have harvested caribou on their own to feed the family and killed bears to protect the camp.
“They’re unique and they’re special. They have a step above most of their peers and then some. Because of the lifestyle we have forced upon them. They are whalers because their dad is a whaler. They’re hunters because their ancestors hunted in that region four generations ago,” Laura said.
As Josiah pointed out, that level of family dedication is diminishing.
“How many people do you think your dad, his classmates would go out camping and couple of people would stay back and listen to rock and roll and party and stuff versus now. How many of your classmates do you see going out there and living the life that we’re losing versus staying here and playing with the X-Box. Think about that. That’s a kind of change,” Josiah said.
As Laura talks and thinks about her family and how they’ve raised their children, she reflects on this change within the community.
“Maybe that’s where we’re failing, you know? As a community. Maybe the parents forgot that when our ancestors were this age, they were doing what these guys are doing,” Laura said.
She says people need to have more confidence in their children.
Josiah’s wife, Flora, sat silently through the hour-long conversation, but after this statement, she jotted down a note.
“Parents worry. Parents sometimes don’t have that confidence in what they taught their children to just let them go,” Flora said.
Flora wasn’t raised like her husband. She studied hard at school and learned from books. But she says her own children will be out on the ice.
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A pirate fishing vessel intercepted by the Coast Guard in August has been cut up. Captain Phillip Thorne is the head of enforcement for Alaska. He says the Chinese government has disposed of the 177-foot Da Cheng.
“They sold the vessel for scrap, and the vessel was destroyed. The government sold the vessel for scrap. They were not able to prosecute the crew under Chinese law. But they seized the catch and they sold the catch for auction and the proceeds went to the government.”
The cutter Rush intercepted the Da Cheng driftnetting on the high seas near Japan. The practice is banned by U.N. moratorium because of its devastating effects on marine ecosystems. The Rush turned over the vessel to Chinese enforcement after discovering that all the crewmembers aboard the unflagged vessel were Chinese.
Meanwhile, a year and a half after being escorted into Unalaska, the Bangun Perkasa is still tied up at the dock. But perhaps not for much longer. Bidding on the contract for dismantling and disposing of the high seas driftnetter closed last week. Four companies submitted proposals, but there’s no clear timeline for when the contract will be awarded.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson Lesli Bales-Sherrod says in an email that it’s been a “lengthy and complicated” process, but that “disposing of this vessel properly demonstrates our commitment to preventing IUU [illegal] fishing by guaranteeing that this vessel will never fish again.”
The Coast Guard chased down the Bangun Perkasa while it was driftnetting in the North Pacific in October 2011. Bales-Sherrod says NOAA has been paying roughly $30,000 a month for moorage, security, and project management associated with seizure of the vessel. That amounts to approximately half a million dollars since 2011.
Pirate fishing is on the rise worldwide, and is estimated to cost legal fishermen billions of dollars a year in lost revenue.
- China Seizes Pirate Fishing Vessel
- Bangun Perkasa to be Sold for Scrap
- Bangun Perkasa Case Moves Forward
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Former state Senator Albert Kookesh’s condition has been upgraded from serious to fair.
He’s recovering from a Feb. 18 heart attack at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
Kookesh chairs the Sealaska regional Native corporation’s board and co-chairs the Alaska Federation of Natives board. The Angoon Democrat served 16 years in the state House and Senate.
Sealaska recently posted an online update saying he has become more awake and alert and has been able to communicate with his family. The website says his strength is slowly returning.
Family members have asked that no flowers be sent, since he is allergic. They have also requested friends and associates wait until he recovers further before trying to contact him.
Marc McKenna and Dusty Van Meter were winners in the Iron Dog snowmachine race Saturday for the second year in a row. The pair also took the halfway prize in Nome. Van Meter has won five times, and McKenna four times.
Noah Pereira from New York state won the Junior Iditarod yesterday. The 16-year-old is a dog handler for Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey. Coming in second four minutes behind was Conway Seavey.
Arleigh Reynolds of Salcha won the Open World Championship during the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage. It was Reynolds’ 12th try, and he beat out five-time champ Egil Ellis, and last year’s champion Ken Chezik.
He is the third Interior musher to win the Rondy since Roxy Wright last won in 1993. Ellis and Chezik placed second and third respectively. All three mushers will race in the Open North American Championship, or ONAC, here in Fairbanks next month.
Standing on the podium in the Italian Alps at the World Cup, with the United States’ first-ever gold medal in Nordic skiing on Sunday, were Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins, winners in the team sprint.
The first changes have been made to Gov. Sean Parnell’s oil tax proposal.
The Senate resources committee offered their substitute on Friday, and it would bring the current base tax rate up from 25 to 35 percent. It also includes $5 per barrel production tax credit and exempts 30 percent of new oil production from taxes. Like the governor’s bill, the committee substitute gets rid of progressivity, a mechanism that raises taxes when oil prices are high.
At Friday’s meeting, Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, said the goal of the substitute is to level out the government take at different oil prices. He explained that the substitute incorporates recommendations issued during earlier hearings of the governor’s bill.
“We heard complaints that the take was too high of a tax increase at the low end,” said Micciche “We heard that people, including many senators, didn’t like the slightly regressive nature of the original SB21.”
The substitute also would give a tax break to Alaska manufacturers that make products that can be used for oil exploration, and it would create a “Competitiveness Review Board” tasked with looking at how Alaska compares with other oil-producing provinces.
The Department of Revenue is still analyzing what effect the committee substitute would have on state coffers.
Both the Senate and House resources committees will have multiple hearings on oil taxes this week. Ninety percent of the state’s tax revenue is tied to oil production.
A barge that sank in a Kuskokwim River slough last fall near the village of Kwethluk is still there. Residents are concerned fuel and oil from the barge may be contaminating a traditional watering hole. State officials say the tests haven’t shown any contamination but they have other concerns about the stranded barge.
It’s a cold February afternoon about a half-mile from the village of Kwethluk. Hard pack snow crunches beneath our feet.
“We are at the Kuskoquak Slough by the traditional watering hole where people from Kwethluk used to originally pack water and now it’s contaminated with fuel,” says Evan Olick, the water plant operator here in Kwethluk.
He says fuel and oil from heavy equipment on the sunken barge may be making people who consume river water sick.
“This is the first experience that people notice the water is different in taste. And some kids they say it’s “rainbow like water.” And I say that’s most likely diesel or something.”
Kwethluk resident Dawn Redfox says she and her whole family have been drinking slough water for years.
“I don’t know how long after, my kids started puking, my nephew came over and he started puking. They had fevers,” she says.
Redfox says she, too, became ill, and she thinks it’s because of diesel fuel in the water.
The barge, owned by Faulkner Walsh Constructors out of Bethel, has been in the water since October.
Initially some diesel fuel or lube oil did spill from barge, which now sits half under the frozen ice.
The City of Kwethluk has advised residents to stop packing water from the river and is offering water from the village plant free of charge.
Evan says he took a water sample from the traditional hole and sent it to a lab in the lower 48.
“It said “it’s little to be reported.” But consuming it will affect humans and people will start getting sick or nauseated or having diarrhea.”
Bob Carleson is with the Department of Environmental Conservation in Bethel.
“And I reviewed the lab results of that sample and I found that there were hits or evidence of contaminants that they sampled for. And there was quite a list, a long list, of potential contaminants that you might expect to find in petroleum that you might run samples for. And they simply didn’t come up with anything,” Carleson says.
Carleson says he cannot say why exactly people have gotten sick, but the sample suggests that it may not be from diesel or other petroleum products in the water.
“River water can make you sick. It has a lot of contaminants, biological contaminants, bacteria and protozoans, things that can make you quite sick or worse.”
Whatever is or isn’t in the water, residents say it’s the water that’s making them ill.
Carleson says his department has been in contact with Faulkner Walsh in order to get the firm to remove the barge, though nothing has happened as of yet.
“We’ve been trying to convince Faulkner Walsh to come up with a plan, submit a plan to the agencies who are concerned with this. That’s us, the EPA, perhaps the Coastguard, Department of Natural resources, the State Department. And then proceed to remove the vehicles that are on the barge, or were on the barge, and the barge itself so they don’t get loose at breakup.”
He says the worst-case scenario would be a piece of heavy equipment resting in the river and possibly damaging boats and other barges.
The DEC is not alone in wanting the barge out, Evan Olick and other Kwethluk residents feel the same.
“I wish they could hurry up and clean up the mess and take out the equipment before spring comes around. If they don’t, that’s going to be another disaster that we are going to be looking at.”
Faulkner Walsh did not return requests for interviews for this story.
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