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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: 13 min 57 sec ago

British Kayakers Arrive in Unalaska

Mon, 2014-06-16 15:31

Sarah Outen sits in her kayak in Unalaska Bay on June 15, 2014. (Pipa Escalante/KUCB)

A British kayak team that’s trekking along the Aleutian Islands reached Unalaska Sunday night. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik was part of a group that paddled out to greet them.

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Clockwise from left: Sarah Outen and her kayaking partner Justine Curgenven, with Unalaskans Jeff Hancock, Josh Good, Keils Kitchen, Pipa Escalante, Melissa Good and Annie Ropeik in kayaks on Unalaska Bay. /Courtesy: Sarah Outen via Twitter

Since they set out from Adak in May, Sarah Outen and her kayaking partner Justine Curgenven have had plenty of warm welcomes in Aleutian villages. But –

Outen: “No one’s ever been out to kayak to meet us. You guys top it, in that respect.”

A group of Unalaskans in kayaks met up with the adventurers in Unalaska Bay. The pair’s last village stopover was in Nikolski, more than a week ago. Since then, they’ve been rowing and camping their way east on their own.

Curgenven: It’s been eight days from Nikolski, which is quicker than we –
Outen: Which day is it today?
Curgenven: This is day eight.
Outen: Is it Sunday? We left — yeah, last Sunday.
Curgenven: Yeah, so that was quicker than we expected. But we were lucky with the weather, so we haven’t had a day off. Normally, we’d expect to have a few days off because of the weather.

And they were greeted by more than just people on their way in toward Unalaska.

Curgenven: When we came around the corner to see the bay, it was just flat calm, the sun was out, the mountains were all beautiful — it was amazing. And then Sarah was like, “There’s a whale!” And we watched two whales — she saw it breach. I missed it, but… yeah.
Outen: And then we had sea lions kind of escort us in for a bit as well. They were braver than the ones we’ve met out further on, so that was fun.

The team was tired and hungry. But dry land, showers and beds were just a few minutes away — meaning Outen had time to stand up in her boat and snap a selfie of the whole group:

Outen: Now I’m gonna try and get in it…
Curgenven: Whoops! Oh, dear.
Outen: So if I do this… Yeah!! (laughing) Oh, excellent.

Outen is rowing and biking her way all around the world. She and Curgenven will rest in Unalaska for a few days before continuing on their way toward Homer. From there, Outen will bike across Canada, aiming to reach Nova Scotia by next March.

Outen and Curgenven will speak at the Unalaska Public Library Tuesday at 7 p.m. And you can track all of Outen’s progress at www.SarahOuten.com.

Categories: Alaska News

BBNC Educational Foundation Sells Its Donated Northern Dynasty Minerals Stock

Mon, 2014-06-16 12:09

The Education Foundation of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation has sold its donated stock in the company that’s seeking to develop the proposed Pebble Mine. Back in early April the major mining company Rio Tinto divested itself of its 19-percent interest in the proposed Pebble Mine.

To the surprise of nearly everyone, the company gave its stock investment to two non-profit organizations. The Bristol Bay Native Corporation’s Education Foundation was one of the recipients of the Northern Dynasty Minerals stock. They received about 9-million shares.

The Foundation announced the sale of that stock on Friday for over $6.4-million. The sale was apparently completed on June 10th. The money will be used to support the Foundation’s scholarship programs and will also be used to develop a cultural heritage program.

The Foundation’s Executive Director released a statement Friday noting that occupations that require higher levels of education and training are growing and the costs to attend post-secondary training are increasing She also pointed out that more and more BBNC shareholders are applying for scholarships through the foundation.

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation’s Education Foundation was created back in 1991 and it’s overseen by a Board of Directors that is separate from the Board that controls the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. The Foundation only serves BBNC shareholders or their relations.

The other 9-million shares of Northern Dynasty Minerals stock was given by Rio Tinto to the Alaska Community Foundation for the creation of a new workforce development initiative called the “Vocational Fund for Alaska’s Future.” That fund has a goal of supporting programs to train Alaskans for careers in mining. That includes new training programs. ACF currently holds over $70-million over 300-different funds.

Categories: Alaska News

Clean-Up Continues on Shishmaref Fuel Spill, Source Still Unknown

Mon, 2014-06-16 12:01

Shishmaref nearshore fuel spill and absorbent boom. (Photo: Richard Kuzuguk)

Local responders and the Coast Guard continue cleaning up the oily substance floating off the coast of Shishmaref.

Amanda Barnett is a Marine Science Technician Third Class with the Coast Guard and was on the island Friday June 13, replacing sections of absorbent boom.

“There was definitely chunking and kind of like a foaming type when we came last week,” Barnett said, describing the emulsified oil. “And this week when we got eyes on scene, it was more of a sheen. There wasn’t as much of the yellow foam and thickness. Now it’s pretty much just a rainbow sheen that’s getting flushed in with the tides, and that’s what we’re trying to absorb with the boom and pads.”

Four hundred feet of boom line the north shore of the island. The boom sits three feet offshore, confining most of the product.

“We haven’t been able to see any sheen past the boom line this time since we’ve been out,” said Barnett. “So we’re pretty confident that we’re able to trap most of it that’s still remaining within our boom configuration.”

The sheen covers about a 1,200 foot area of nearshore ice with an estimated 100 gallons of product spilled. The Coast Guard first responded to the spill two weeks ago, June 5, after Shishmaref Village Police Officer Barret Eningowak reported “a sheen on the nearshore icepack with a gasoline odor” to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Barnett said the Coast Guard has not located the source of the spill, but identifies the substance as a type of fuel.

Richard Kuzuguk is with the Shismaref Environmental Program and said residents can still smell the gasoline-like odor throughout the community. “The odor,” Kuzuguk said,  “is still present. The only time it’s really recognizable or when it causes a lot of attention is when the wind shifted.”

The ice surrounding the spill is in breakup. When the ice floes clear, Barnett said the investigative team can determine if the fuel source is coming from beneath the ice.

Barnett and Kuzuguk said they have received no reports of wildlife being affected by the sheen.

Samples of the product are being compared to petroleum samples from the Shishmaref tank farm at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut.

Categories: Alaska News

New Coast Guard District 17 Commander Brings Arctic Experience

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:49

Rear Adm. Tom Ostebo inspects the District 17 crew with Rear Adm. Dan Abel. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

With the buoy tender Sycamore as a backdrop and Coast Guardsmen and women in their dress blues, Rear Adm. Tom Ostebo turned over Coast Guard District 17 command to Rear Adm. Dan Abel on Thursday.

Ostebo is known for his work in the Arctic, and Abel says he’s ready to continue what his predecessor started.

Pacific Area commander, Vice Adm. Charles Ray, praised Ostebo’s leadership over the past three years.

“Tom Ostebo has flown over, sailed across, walked the beaches more than any Coast Guardsman, I believe, in the history of this district,” Ray said.

During Ostebo’s tenure, the Coast Guard launched seasonal operations in the Arctic, where shipping traffic is on the rise. When a winter storm prevented a fuel delivery to Nome in 2012, he sent the icebreaker Healy to clear a path for a Russian tanker. He also supervised the Coast Guard’s response to the grounding of the Shell drill rig Kulluk near Kodiak in early 2013.

For these and other successes, Ostebo gave credit to the men and women under his command.

Every day you protect the nation’s commerce, you protect Alaskans, and you protect America’s greatest maritime resources,” Ostebo said. “And you do it better than anyone else, with efficiency and skill.”

Ostebo received a citation for exceptional meritorious service. He’s been nominated for a promotion to vice admiral and a post as the Coast Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Mission Support in Washington, D.C. The position is subject to Senate confirmation. Ostebo says it will allow him to continue focusing on the Coast Guard’s Arctic mission.

He says there’s still a lot of work to be done in that part of the world.

“It’s more than just exploration. It’s the maritime commerce piece,” Ostebo told reporters after the ceremony. “It’s what’s the Bering Strait is going to look like 10, 20 years from now? Will it look like the Straits of Hormuz or the Straits of Malacca? You know, one of these big international straits.”

This will be Abel’s first tour in Alaska, but he says he’s no stranger to the Arctic. In his previous command in Boston, he supervised the International Ice Patrol. That’s the Coast Guard program established to monitor icebergs in the North Atlantic to avoid another Titanic.

“We also supported Operation Nanook, which was practice mass rescue, environmental cleanup in the Arctic,” Abel said. “And the other thing we did, we supported the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum to 17 nations that band together. Eight of those are the Arctic nations.”

Abel says he plans to travel extensively in Alaska and work with local communities to learn as much as he can about the state’s unique needs.

The far reaches at these high latitudes are going to be the challenge,” he said. “And I’m going to have to learn from the folks that’ve been standing watch a little longer than I.”

Abel is already planning to visit Nome, where Mayor Denise Michels says marine traffic has increased so much that the port, which used to close in October, is now open into November.

“Last year we had over 400 dockings in Nome,” Michels said. “Every year it’s more and more. We have more cruise ships this year.”

Michels hopes Abel can visit in July, when vessel traffic is at its peak.

“Safety is a concern, environmental issues is a concern,” she said. “The marine mammal migration through the Bering Strait, which is the choke point where we’re at, you know, it’s our front yard. So, to have him understand our concerns for subsistence, food security is going to be very important for his leadership for the next couple of years.”

The Coast Guard’s 17th District is based in Juneau. The commander leads 2,500 active duty, reserve, civilian and auxiliary personnel statewide, and manages operations over more than 3.8 million square miles and more than 44,000 miles of coastline.

Categories: Alaska News

Man killed in logging operation south of Petersburg

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:46

A 51-year-old Idaho man working on a timber sale near Banana Point south of Petersburg died Thursday after a tree top fell on him.

Alaska state troopers say Mark Debates was working as a hook setter on a logging operation on southern Mitkof Island when a tree top broke off and fell on him. He was unresponsive at the scene and was transported to Petersburg Medical Center but later died from his injuries. Debater was working for Columbia Helicopters.

Categories: Alaska News

State Releases Plan For Maritime Workforce

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:44

It’s a topic talked about often around Petersburg – what kind of jobs are most needed for the fishing fleets and boats of this coastal community and how to fill those jobs. A new plan released by state this spring identifies the highest work force needs around Alaska for seafood harvesting, processing, fishery management as well as ship operations and repair. The plan also lists steps forward to fill those jobs.

(KFSK photo)

The maritime industry is Alaska’s largest private employer with more than 70,000 jobs across the four sectors. More than 50,000 of those are in commercial fishing and seafood processing. But employers have told the state that the supply of skilled workers is not meeting demand – and that’s where this document comes in.

“The Alaska maritime workforce development plan really represents a way to really look at the workforce development system, from the k-12 education system, post-secondary education, any specific occupational training and then what employers are demanding, what kinds of skill sets they need and figuring out ways to bridge those two systems so that the education and training system is delivering workers with the right skill sets at the right time,” said Wanetta Ayers, business partnerships director with the state’s Department of Labor.

An advisory committee of industry representatives worked with five state agencies and the University of Alaska to draft the plan over the past two years. Kris Norosz who works with Icicle Seafoods in Petersburg was co-chair of that advisory committee. “I think the big message is there’s a lot of jobs in the maritime industry in Alaska. Many of the jobs require very similar skills. Just because you might get started on a particular career track doesn’t mean that you can’t veer off and go into something different, but still use those same skills.”

The plan names four sectors of the maritime industry. Those are seafood harvesting, seafood processing, management of fisheries and ship building, operations and repair. It also lists 23 priority occupations where a workforce is not meeting industry demand. They range from permit holders and crew members for fishing boats under the harvesting category, to plant managers, machinists and refrigerant specialists for processing plants. Under research and management, the needs are fish biologists and hatchery managers among others, while captain, deckhands and ship builders are needed for support industries.

Norosz said the plan lists strategies for helping people secure those jobs. “And those strategies might include reaching down into the middle school and high school level to make kids aware that opportunities are available, what they need to be work ready when they graduate from high school. You know we want em drug free, we’d like to have the free of any criminal record and we want them physically able to be ready to work.”

Norosz said other strategies are designed things for people who want to change careers. She noted the plan has already produced some newly trained workers through the University system. “You know as a result of just putting this plan together, we’ve already connected people to take refrigeration classes that were offered up at the Mat-Su campus that none of us knew even existed. So I think we got 12 people through that in April. And now that instructor’s going down to Dutch Harbor Unalaska to talk to the processors there and offer a class right there at one of the plants.”

Norosz said the university is also developing other training opportunities. “I know that the company I work for Icicle makes an annual donation to the University of Alaska. We put up 40 thousand dollars last fall, which the university was able to match. So with that 80 thousand dollars, they’re developing a two week program for people to go through a program for people to become employable as quality assurance technicians.”

Once workers are trained, the next step is connecting them with job opportunities and employers.
To that end, the department of labors Ayers said the agency plans to rollout a new website portal for people to explore careers and opportunities online. “For example you’ll be able to go in on the maritime jobs site and take a look at biometrician let’s say or even an electrician, that’s also one of the priority occupations in the maritime industry and see not only the labor market information for that, what’s the typical wages, what kind of outlook for growth in that particular occupation and then also listed on that same page are what the training resources are to be able to prepare for that occupation.”

The plan is available here.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Assembly Passes Truancy Ordinance

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:26

The Fairbanks North Star Borough assembly passed a truancy ordinance last night.  The ordinance lines out local policy addressing chronic unexcused absence from school including fines for repeated offenses.

The approved ordinance is less strict and cumbersome than one in state law. It reflects a request from the school board for a policy more aimed at getting students back in class, but many parents who testified at last night’s assembly meeting took offense.

Shalom Perkins, a mother of six, objected to the idea of government involvement in whether or not kids go to school. “The removal of parental rights from the decisions made about one’s children, especially with regards to their education, upbringing  and beliefs is wrong,” she said.

Perkins expressed concern that the truancy policy, which must be approved by the school board, could later be amended to be more onerous. School Board member Sue Hull said school board board administrative regulations would be much more specific then the ordinance, but emphasized the need for local truancy regulations, especially for high school kids.

“Parents are often frustrated, as are teachers, that there aren’t some teeth. They see these kids that think they can pass without being in class and the teachers and others know they can’t, and then they get behind and end up dropping out of school. So staff as well as parents have asked that there be more teeth in our attendance policy so that kids would take it more seriously,” Hull said.

The truancy ordinance passed the assembly 7-1, with member Lance Roberts opposed. It now goes before the school board.

Among other business attended to by the assembly last night was passage of an ordinance amending local zoning to allow operation of alcohol distilleries in the downtown area. The change was prompted by local businessman who plans to start a small scale craft distillery and tasting room in the old Fairbanks City Hall building on Cushman Street.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Fishermen Look To Loosen Restrictions at Yupiit Nation Forum

Mon, 2014-06-16 11:09

Kuskokwim fishermen looked for some relief from the king salmon restrictions at a Yupiit Nation tribal fish forum in Bethel on Friday.

Kuskokwim leaders on Friday heard about the widespread restlessness, fear of famine, and even anxiety over facebook pictures of various fish racks. Whatever the stress level may be, Yupiit Nation Chief Mike Williams and Working Group co-chair Bev Hoffman did not agree on whether subsistence fishers are at a breaking point.

(KYUK photo)

“People need to at least put something on their racks and obviate the possibility of civil disobedience. We’re trying to not get there. I think we’re down to that point,” said Williams. -Hoffman: “No, we’re not’- Mike: That’s what’s we’re trying to avoid,” said Williams.

Fishing opportunity for other species of salmon is expected, but managers can’t yet commit to an exact day. Several fishermen Friday asked for a chance to get some kings. Father Alexander is from Kwethluk.

“If at least they can give us a week to fish, if not give us at least three days. Our elders used to say whenever they fish and catch at least 10, they used to say, there will be no hunger,” said Alexander.

After a full day of hearing from fishermen Acting Refuge manager Brian McCaffery alluded to the tremendous fishing power of the river’s 2,000 subsistence households.

“We simply can’t have a directed Chinook opening, even a four hour opening could take out 40,000 fish during the peak of the run which is why we don’t want to have an opening during the peak of the run. We want it on the backside when the chum and sockeye have increased considerably,” said McCaffery.

The Bethel Test Fishery numbers by most accounts look great. The index including Thursday stood at 252. Last summer it was July 10th before that abundance of fish had moved past Bethel. But with no real harvest below Bethel, no one is certain what it means. McCaffery is waiting a few more days for more data before setting a 6” gillnet opening.

“This is an early run, if it sustains itself, if these prelimary numbers continue to be positive, which is your hope and my hope, then we should be able to open before the 23rd, but it’s still too early to give you guys a date,” said McCaffery.

The small crowd of lower river subsistence fishers has mostly cleared before Mike Williams floated the general strategy that Yupitt Nation urge that the federal manager to open up for gillnet fishing as soon as possible, based on test fishery data.

As the season approaches the typical peak of the run, Bev Hoffman repeated the working group’s strategy that puts chinook escapement as the top priority and allows for harvest of other species in the coming weeks.

“Once we’re assured that we’re going to make escapement and the chums are mixing with the reds we’ll have incidental kings with the reds, you know that, we’re just not going to be able to fill our racks with kings this year and maybe not for a while, said Hoffman.

The Kuskokwim Working Group will meet Tuesday in Bethel to hear from managers whether enough fish have passed to look towards loosening the restrictions.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Painted as Soft on VA Scandal

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:49

Alleging a senator is indifferent to vets is serious anywhere. Even more so in Alaska, which has the highest number of vets per capita. Anti-Begich ads, running on nearly half a million dollars of Alaska airtime, aim to plant Begich in the midst of the scandal.

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“Veterans died waiting for care that never came,” says one. “Sen. Mark Begich sits on the veterans affairs committee. His response: ‘If there’s a problem, they need to fix it.’ If there’s a problem?”

It’s paid for by Crossroads GPS, a national group running ads against Begich and for Republican challenger Dan Sullivan.  Sullivan highlighted the same Begich “if there’s a problem” quote in an op-ed published last month in the Anchorage Daily News. Sullivan says Begich acts like he’s a mere bystander to the veteran crisis.

But FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, says the ad misuses the Begich quote, which is from a Wall Street Journal story. In it, Begich says the administration should have learned its lesson from the healthcare.gov website debacle. The exact Begich quote in the journal is:  “They should have learned from that – If there’s a problem, they need to fix it.” FactCheck says Begich did react to the VA scandal. He called for an immediate hearing, wrote then-VA secretary Eric Shinseki to express outrage, and at a hearing last month, Begich pressed Shinseki on why no one had been fired for falsifying records.

Crossroads unveiled a new TV ad this week, still painting Begich as disengaged on the scandal and suggesting that all he did was write a letter.

Begich is trying to show that he IS helping. He’s trumpeting Senate passage of a bill this week aimed at getting veterans quicker access to care. Begich says it relies on a solution he’s been pressing since he first ran for Senate in 2008 – allowing vets to make appointments at non-VA facilities.

“When I campaigned on the hero’s health card (bill), I just believed that we had a resource that we could maximize, that we could move forward on, that we could make a difference for our veterans,” he said on the Senate floor yesterday. “And we’re seeing it.”

In Alaska, the VA has agreements with Native hospitals and clinics and the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center that have reduced VA wait times to among the lowest in the country. But that brings us to another charge Begich is facing – that he claims credit for successes that weren’t his alone. Alaska Congressman Don Young knocked Begich for it in a campaign video that surfaced on YouTube this week.

“Don’t take credit for something you did not do,” Young scolded in the video. ” And when we do something together, say we did it. I think it’d be a lot better.”

 The Senate record shows Begich has pressed to have vets seen at Alaska Native health centers for years. But it also shows Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been pushing that cause since at least 2007, back when Begich was still mayor of Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Considering Transfer Of HAARP Facility To UAF

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:48

The Air Force has paused a plan to demolish the HAARP facility, as it reconsiders options for transferring its ionospheric research infrastructure near Gakona to another entity. That could be the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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The University of Alaska Fairbanks would own and operate the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility under a proposal before the Air Force. UAF Geophysical Institute Director Bob McCoy confirms the university has been pursuing the possibility of taking over HAARP. ”President Gamble and Chanellor Rogers volunteered to take ownership, but so far we haven’t completed these discussions,” he said.

(Image by United States Federal Government)

McCoy says the offer was initially made during a HAARP summit held in Washington, D.C. at the end of February.  HAARP employs large generators to send powerful radio signals through a field of 180 antennas into the ionosphere, to stimulate activity like aurora.

It’s the most powerful of three so called “atmospheric heaters” in the world, and widely acknowledged as valuable for communications and other research, but the Air Force has decided it no longer needs the facility and closed it last year. It’s slated for demolition this summer unless a new operator is found, and alternative funding can be secured.  McCoy says HAARP is expensive to operate.

“There’s maintenance and there’s operations and when it’s running it consumes quite a bit of diesel, so we’re trying to figure out ways to share the cost among government agencies so that we can continue to use it,” he said.

McCoy likens UAF taking on HAARP to the university’s management of the Poker Flat Rocket Range outside Fairbanks for NASA

“The University of Alaska and the Geophysical Institute, we own it. Scientists from around the country propose to NASA, get funding, build rockets, come here and we help NASA launch them. That’s a good model, and we operate it fairly cost effectively. NASA likes us,” he said.

McCoy cites similar partnerships with government agencies under which UAF is funded to operate the Alaska Earthquake Information Center and Alaska Satellite facility.  UAF scientists have long used HAARP for research.

UAF assistant professor of space engineering physics Chris Fallen says, ”I’m using HAARP to understand or model the artificial blue aurora and enhanced plamsa ionization.” He says the loss of HAARP would handicap his research.

“Without HAARP, we basically have to wait for nature to create various events in the upper atmosphere that we can then study and try to explain,” he said.

Fallen and other scientists have worked at HARRP at the invitation of the Air Force. He says if UAF took it over, scientists could contract out time at the facility. Dozens of researchers from around the world have signed a petition and submitted letters of support for HAARP’s continued operation. The documents were forwarded to the Secretary of Defense by Senator Lisa Murkowski. Spokesman Mathew Felling emphasizes HAARP’s future hinges on funding.

“America invested $300 million in HAARP, and it costs less than one percent of that to keep it running every year. The science is not in question. This is completely an economic exercise, and Murkowski wants to bring people together to see what creative approaches can be found,” he said.

Felling says HAARP has been poor at self promotion, but the recent discussion about it being scrapped has raised its profile.  Felling says the Air Force is expected to make an announcement about HAARP’s future as early as Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Health Care Broker Enroll Alaska Scales Back

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:47

Enroll Alaska is scaling back its business in the state. The division of Northrim Bank launched last year with plans to help tens of thousands Alaskans sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The company ended up with disappointing results and is now rethinking its strategy.

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Before October 1st last year, Enroll Alaska was thinking big. The company launched an advertising campaign. It made plans to open kiosks around the state. And it was ready with an “army” of agents who could enroll  6,000 Alaskans each month in new subsidized health insurance plans. Joshua Weinstein is a consultant with Northrim Benefits Group who helped launch Enroll Alaska:

“We just didn’t know how hungry people were to get health insurance that was subsidized for the first time.”

As it turned out- not very hungry. Enroll Alaska’s goal was to sign up 40,000 people during the open enrollment period. Instead, their final count was 2,400. Weinstein attributes the disappointing figure partly to the bungled roll out of Healthcare.gov- the website essentially didn’t function for the first two months. He says several other factors played a role:

“There’s a lot of opposition to the Affordable Care Act, there still is, a lot of confusion about how the tax credits and subsidies work, the insurance companies weren’t smoothly processing the applications, so there was a lot more service than anyone anticipated.”

Last October, Enroll Alaska had 30 agents working for the division. Now, Northrim Benefits Group has restructured, keeping just six agents, based in Anchorage, who will work on both group and individual policies. Weinstein says the company also decided not to renew the contract of COO Tyann Boling, who was instrumental in starting Enroll Alaska:

“We did not achieve our enrollment expectations so accordingly, we’ve adjusted our staffing to support the business that we did capture.”

Weinstein says he’s “very comfortable” with the position Enroll Alaska is in now. He anticipates hiring new agents to meet demand during the next open enrollment period from November 15th to February 15th.

He says the company thinks it can double the number of its enrollees in Alaska for next year:

“The penalties are becoming more substantial for people in 2015 who don’t have health coverage. So what was once 1% or $95 is doubling or more for people who don’t buy insurance. That might encourage people to look at this again.”

Since the 2014 open enrollment period closed in mid April, Weinstein says Enroll Alaska has signed up more new clients than anticipated, about 50 to 75 people each month who have what are considered “qualifying life events,” like changing jobs or moving.

Overall, about 13,000 Alaskans signed up for health insurance on Healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period. Weinstein says the federal government estimates more than 100,000 Alaskans qualify for subsidies to buy insurance.

This story is part of a partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 13, 2014

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:47

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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Begich Painted As Soft On VA Scandal

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Outside political groups are plugging Alaskan airwaves with ads about Sen. Mark Begich. One recent line of attack highlights the scandal at the VA, claiming Begich isn’t helping veterans.

Air Force Considering Transfer Of HAARP Facility To UAF

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Air Force has paused a plan to demolish the HAARP facility, as it re-considers options for transferring its ionospheric research infrastructure near Gakona to another entity.

Health Care Broker Enroll Alaska Scales Back

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Enroll Alaska is scaling back its business in the state. The division of Northrim Bank launched last year with plans to help tens of thousands Alaskans sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The company ended up with disappointing results and is now rethinking its strategy.

As Pollock Season Begins, Bycatch Debate Looms

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska & Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

As the Bering Sea’s largest fishery opened this week, pollock fishermen were looking forward to a strong season. But they were also under fire from rural users, who believe industry’s catching too many salmon.

Kuskokwim Fishermen Push for an Opportunity to Fish

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

At yesterday’s Yupiit Nation fish forum in Bethel, long-term planning for tribal fishery co-management took a backseat to the anxiety and uncertainly surrounding the current king salmon restrictions.

Emergency Order Limits Kasilof King Fishing Hours

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order restricting personal use setnetting on the Kasilof River yesterday. But managers are seeing some promising signs for king runs on the Kenai, Susitna and Deshka Rivers.

AK: Gold Miner

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

Gold is in Clutch Lounsbury’s blood. His grandparents took the Valdez Trail up to Fairbanks during the Gold Rush, and Clutch was on a cat before he could walk. He’s searched in creeks, canyons, and underground. He’s sluice boxed, dredged, and hard rock mined all over the Interior and the Arctic. Today he lives in Ester above an 800-foot mine shaft in the hillside.

300 Villages: Girdwood

Sean Carpenter

This week, we’re heading to Girdwood, which was originally founded as a camp for placer gold miners. Kirsti Ryan describes her hometown.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Fishermen Push for an Opportunity to Fish

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:46

Elder panel at Yupiit Nation Fish Forum in Bethel. )Photo by Doug Molyneaux)

At Thursday’s Yupiit Nation fish forum in Bethel, long-term planning for tribal fishery co-management took a backseat to the anxiety and uncertainly surrounding the current king salmon restrictions.

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Phillip Peter of Akiachak speaks at a Yupiit Nation meeting. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

At the time of year when they would normally be at fish camp filling their racks with king salmon, a few dozen fisherman sat in a windowless former bowling alley talking about restrictions. Phillip Peter is from Akiachak.

“Those elders used to tell us not to idle, sitting around in our village when fish are coming in. I tell you the truth, hunger has no law,” said Peter.

Tim Andrew is Natural Resources Director for the Association of Village Council Presidents. He said people are seeing high numbers from the Bethel Test Fishery, but they aren’t hearing from managers on how the run is building.

“People have got to know. If they don’t know, they look at their fish rack, they look at the needs of their family, they say to hell with it, we’re going to fish, we need to feed our family,” said Andrew.

Participants listen at a Yupiit Nation Fish Forum in Bethel. (Photo by Doug Molyneaux)

The prospect of famine came up frequently and local managers were grilled by participants, including Ed Johnstone with the Quinault Indian Nation and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Speaking before a panel that included state manager Aaron Poetter, Johnstone compared the situation on the Kuskokwim to a massacre.

“I was just looking up all the massacres. A whole list on the internet of massacres of Indian people over time. This has the makings of being a massacre. Poetter: ‘I’ve got to say that’s out of line, …that’s absolutely not the intent…’ I’m getting to the severity of the question. If you’re not hearing these people, you’re doing an injustice,” said Johnstone.

Biologists Brian McCaffery, Kevin Shaberg, and Aaron Poetter at a Yupiit Nation Fish Forum in Bethel. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

At times, the testimony even referred to the possibility of violence. One woman was afraid her son and some young men would go fishing with guns in the boat. And a man heard people talking about shooting down airplanes with fish managers aboard.

After countless stories of subsistence fisherman growing restless as the closure nears 4 weeks, there was some reason for optimism. Brian McCaffery said the restrictions appear to be letting many fish swim past Bethel, and that could mean more harvest for locals through a special cultural and social permit.

“The preliminary numbers are looking positive, it’s still too early to know if that run will continue, or if it will drop off quickly like it does in some years. But at this point, what I can say is that I’m entertaining the possibility of early next week possibly bumping that up,” said McCaffery.

McCaffery said the species mix is including more and more chums and sockeye. A state-run dipnet fishery could begin next week, and McCaffery says even a 6-inch gillnet opening for chum and sockeye may be possible late next week for the lower river.

Bethel Test Fishery preliminary numbers. (Graph from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Still, in a year of unprecedented closures, managers are having a tough time determining exactly what the Bethel Test Fishery numbers mean. Research biologist Kevin Shaberg says although fish are moving past Bethel, they’ve never had a complete closure before and that makes it hard to come to any conclusions at the moment.

“We’re not able to actually track what the run timing is quite as well this year, so we have to be a little cautious about how we interpret that 225 today and what we think that means for the end of the season,” said Shaberg.

Akiak’s Ivan M. Ivan summed up the sentiments of many in the room.

“Consider your mathematics…I don’t quite understand about the mathematics that we discussed. But please allow us to fish,” said Ivan.

The Yupiit Nation meeting continues Friday at the ONC multipurpose building.

Categories: Alaska News

Emergency Order Limits Kasilof King Fishing Hours

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:45

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order restricting personal use setnetting on the Kasilof River Thursday. That fishery’s time will be cut in half in an effort to get more king salmon up the Kasilof River.

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Fish and Game put a very similar restriction in place last summer. The difference is how they cut fishing time, approximately in half. Last year, they closed the fishery halfway through its 10-day season. This year, personal use setnetters will get the full season, but fishing hours per day will be cut. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., beginning June 15. Usually it’s open until 11 p.m.

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” (Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

ADF&G commercial fisheries area management biologist Pat Shields says there’s not an exact correlation between decreasing fishing time and decreasing the harvest of early-run Kasilof kings, but it’s close.

“No, I don’t have some table, some graph, some analysis that will indicate that we’re gonna save 43.1 percent of the fish by taking away 43.1 percent of the hours,” Shields said. “But that’s what we would assume – take away half the hours, we would hope that we would save half of the harvest of the kings.”

Kenai River-bound king salmon get most of the attention, but both the early and the late run on the Kasilof have their own struggles. The early run has missed its escapement goals in two of the last five years, even when the department put heavy sport fishing restrictions in place. The Kasilof is also unique from the Kenai because it supports a run of hatchery kings as well as naturally produced ones.

“The way the department determines the difference between a naturally-produced king salmon and a hatchery king salmon in the Kasilof River is looking at the adipose fin,” Shields said. “All of the hatchery fish that are released into that system have that fin removed and so we can then identify them when they return as adults and look at a fish and see if it’s a hatchery-produced one, or if it has that fin on there, we know that it was produced naturally.”

But even with those differences, Shields says management of the Kasilof sort of mirrors what’s happening on the Kenai, because that river simply has more and better equipment set up for counting fish.

“By the time those kings get up to the hatchery, they’re really through the fishery and it’s too late for any in-season action,” Shields said. “Because we have a sonar counter in the Kenai River that’s more real-time, we kind of look at what’s going on in the Kenai and make that as a surrogate for the Kasilof.”

“So, last year, when we closed the Kenai River early-run fishery, we went ahead and took action in the Kasilof sport fishery, too, and took action in the personal-use gillnet fishery.”

Low numbers are the biggest concern for the Kasilof, but Shields says the restrictions have another purpose.

“To somewhat alleviate some of the pressure Kasilof, because that’s where folks would go, you would expect that all those fishermen that were going to fish the Kenai would now go to the Kasilof,” Shields said. “They often take actions in the Kasilof jus to stave off some of that expected increased harvest pressure that would be put on the Kasilof.”

As we recall, the fishing for the early king run on the Kenai was shut down completely this year – a pretty drastic move. And sportfishing on the Kasilof, taking all the restrictions together, is all but closed. But there’s some good news.

“To-date, right now, the Kenai River early run is promising – especially compared to last year. I mean, it’s not a robust, large run by any means, but we already have made the forecast for the return this year and we’re only between a third and a half way through the run, depending on run timing,” Shields said. “And, so, that’s encouraging that the early run, to-date, anyways, is returning at a rate better than we expected.”

Shields says the Susitna River is seeing a better than expected run of kings, too. And so is the Deshka.

“At this point, though, it’s good to be talking about a glass that might be half full rather than saying for sure the glass is half empty,” Shields said. “And we haven’t been able to talk positively about kings for a few years.”

“I’m not trying to say that we’re there yet, because we are early in these runs, but at least the early part of the king salmon returns in quite a few systems this year look promising.”

Of course, no numbers are out yet for the Kasilof, but the early king run on the Kenai has already surpassed last year’s run with three weeks left.

As of Monday, more than 2,200 kings had been counted.

Categories: Alaska News

Before The Pipeline: Clutch Lounsbury

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:44

Clutch at the entrance to his drift mine in Ester. (Photo by Molly Rettig)

Gold is in Clutch Lounsbury’s blood. His grandparents took the Valdez Trail up to Fairbanks during the Gold Rush, and Clutch was on a cat before he could walk. He’s searched in creeks, canyons, and underground. He’s sluice boxed, dredged,and hard rock mined all over the Interior and the Arctic. Today he lives in Ester above an 800-foot mine shaft in the hillside.

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Clutch Lounsbury’s mine on Ester Dome begins from the Arctic entryway of his old cabin and stabs 800 feet into the hillside. The narrow tunnel, called a drift, feels like a secret underground passageway. His dad built it in the 1930s, following a gold vein as it zigzagged through the hill.

“This first 60 feet my dad didn’t have a compressor, he used a chisel and hammer and dynamite,” Clutch said. “That’s how he got in here.”

RELATED: Before The Pipeline: Ritchie Musick

Clutch has a white bushy beard and has often been mistaken for Santa Claus.

In his mine it’s dark, damp, and 35 degrees year-round. Clutch and his brother George mined it until 1980, drilling 100-foot core samples into the walls every few feet searching for gold.

“There’s the vein, see that white milky quartz, that’s all there is,” he said. “It’s about 2 inch wide. That’s what you’re looking for when you’re mining. ”

The Lounsburies have deep roots in Alaska. Clutch’s great grandfather built the first church in Fairbanks in 1905. Shortly after, his grandfather followed his grandmother up north.

“I thought he came here lookin’ for gold but actually he was looking for his girlfriend that he went to school with in Oregon,” Clutch said.

RELATED: Before The Pipeline: John Davies

They took a horse and sleigh up the Valdez Trail to Fairbanks and mined on Engineer Creek in Fox. When E.T. Barnette, the founder of Fairbanks, swindled the bank in 1911, his grandparents lost a lot of money and headed back to Iowa. Clutch’s dad was 3. As soon as he turned 18, he hitchhiked back to Alaska with $50 in his pocket.

“Spent the rest of his life in Fairbanks,” he said. “Just like a salmon going back to spawn, ya know.”

His mom grew up in Fairbanks in the apartment above the railroad depot. An old picture shows her playing in the backyard with her pet black bear cub. Clutch was born in 1945 and was moving dirt with his dad by age 2. He mined for coal in Healy and built roads for the state for 20 years, mostly in the Brooks Range. But he never stopped looking for gold. In 1984 he was passing through Boundary, on the Canadian border, on his way to check out a mine in Dawson. There was a beautiful cook named Lorna working at Action Jack’s bar and restaurant.

“When I first met Lorna she had three horses, three sons, three violins, three banjos, and those other two guys I was worried about,” he said.

Lorna wrangled wild mustangs in Reno before moving to Alaska for work.

“I was a cowboy all winter one time,” she said. “My job was to go to the top of the hill and start the mares and the colts down towards the ropers and look down on the Mustang Ranch.”

In the 70s Clutch and his brother inherited claims from their friend in Wiseman, a tiny mining town in the Brooks Range that was only connected to the Haul Road in the 90s. The first big nugget in the region came out of their creek in 1916.

“It was worth $669.50 and it was 35 ounces and 5 pennyweight,” he said.

Prospectors were already building a city in Coldfoot. When they heard about the nugget, they moved their equipment and cabins 10 miles upriver.

“The stampede started that way, the next year they found a nugget twice that size just three miles up the road from my place on Hammond, they found a 60 ouncer and eventually I think it was a 150 ouncer or something,” Clutch said. “There were just huge nuggets all around that area were discovered in the last decade or so.”

The biggest one Clutch ever found is the size of his fingernail. But that’s not why he does it.

“I never really cared about gettin’ rich, ya know. It was an adventure,” he said.

Clutch and Lorna run the Wiseman Gold Camp B&B every summer. Lorna rides her two horses and Clutch works on the local mining museum and prospects up the canyon.

“Who knows, I might run into something,” he said. It’s a lot of dirt between that gold.”

And just like that, he’s off to start looking again.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Girdwood

Fri, 2014-06-13 15:43

This week, we’re heading to Girdwood, which was originally founded as a camp for placer gold miners. Kirsti Ryan describes her hometown.

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“It’s a great town, it’s really small, but it’s a cute little town that you can grow up in. I grew up in Girdwood for 8 years. It’s really nice because it’s in the forest, and there’s a bunch of animal life and wild life that you can see like moose and bears and stuff that are literally right in your community.

(Photo from the Girdwood Chamber of Commerce)

There’s also a bunch of little shops that you can go see. Especially for tourists, like um jade shops and gold shops little trinkets and everything like that that the community has made.

There is only one school in Girdwood, holding about, I want to say like 300 or 400 kids in all. And it consists of kindergarten through 8th grade. There’s no middle school and there’s no high school. .

It’s also really nice because it’s right next to a world renowned resort, and it’s really convenient to be next to it. It gets really convenient to be able to go skiing and snowboarding. And a lot of tourists come there, so you’re able to see new people and make new friends.

Then there’s the Forest Fair, Which is a great little thing that Girdwood puts together at the beginning of July for about 3 days, to bring tourists to come to Girdwood and experience what it’s like.”

Categories: Alaska News

Tanana River Bridge Nearly Done, But State Officials Can’t Predict Fate of Next Phase

Fri, 2014-06-13 14:30

The contractor working on the Alaska Railroad’s Tanana River bridge at Salcha has nearly completed work on the structure, shown here in an earlier stage of construction. It’s the first phase of a larger project to extend the railroad to the Delta Junction area.
(Credit Alaska Railroad)

Alaska’s longest bridge is pretty much done. The 3,300-foot structure now spans the Tanana riverbed just west of Salcha, providing the military with year-round ground access to its training ranges on the far side. But, state officials don’t yet know where they’ll get funding to begin work on the next phase of the Northern Rail Extension project.

Alaska Railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan says there are still a few tasks remaining before the Railroad, which headed up the project, will hand the bridge over to the Army in early August.

“Our contractors and folks out there are in the process of doing cleanup,” Sullivan said. “And we’re getting ready to turn the bridge over and make it so the military can have access over there to their training area.”

Project Director Mark Peterburs says the contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure West, has some final work to do on the bridge before it can dismantle the construction camp it built on the east bank of the Tanana for the project.

Floodlights on a crane illuminate the far end of the bridge-construction site in Salcha as aurora dance overhead.
(Credit Alaska Railroad)

“We’ve still got quite a bit of infrastructure that has to be dismantled and removed, and you can’t really do that until everything else is done,” he said.

Peterburs says those final tasks include reinforcing the structure on which railroad tracks would be laid during the second phase of the overall project, known as theNorthern Rail Extension. About 13 miles of track also would be built in phase 2 that would run from a point near Moose Creek to the bridge.

Phases three and four would extend the track southward from the west side of the Tanana River to training ranges around Fort Greely.

But Sullivan says those follow-on projects are up in the air now, because money is tight for both the state and federal government.

“The timeframe as this point is completely dependent upon funding,” he said. “With the budget situations as they are for the military and the state. It’s tougher and tougher for projects to find the support that they need to get done.”

The federal government contributed $105 million toward the $190 million-dollar bridge. But Army officials said in November they couldn’t even come up with funding to build trails and roads on the west side of the new bridge.

Sullivan says the railroad estimates phase 2 will cost somewhere between $60 million and $100 million dollars to build.

Tammie Wilson, who represents the North Pole area in the Legislature, said Friday she couldn’t say when the state might come up with money for phase 2.

Doug Isaacson, a former North Pole mayor who now also represents the area in the Legislature, says the uncertainty over funding and the Alaska Railroad’s own budget problems make this the ideal time to rethink the whole idea of the Northern Rail Extension.

“What we have to do right now is we have to look at revenue streams,” he said. “Since we started construction, a lot has happened with the railroad. A lot has happened with our state economy.”

Isaacson says it makes more sense to extend the Railbelt to the north, to help develop oil and mineral resources along the Dalton Highway. He says that would enable the financially strapped railroad to recover some of the revenues it lost when Flint Hills shut down its North Pole refinery.

“I’m very much in favor of going south, but let’s do it as it becomes economic to pay for that,” he said. “And it may very well be economic, but maybe not as economic as going north. First, connect that, then the railroad has more revenues to be able to make the connection south.”

Isaacson says he’ll be talking with the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce’s transportation committee Thursday morning about his idea to put the Northern Rail Extension project back on track – with tracks that head north.

Categories: Alaska News

Local Fishing & Local Markets

Fri, 2014-06-13 12:00

(Photo courtesy Alaska Marine Conservation Council)

If food security can also be job security for fishermen, you could call it a win-win situation. Sustainability labeling is catching on in the U.S. after making a difference for years in European seafood sales. And now even in Alaska, some large customers are making deals with fishermen who promise to fish sustainably.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition Friday June 13, 2014

Fri, 2014-06-13 07:23

A federal judge tells the state it must do a better job of translating the election ballot into Native languages. The proposed King Cove road is subject of a lawsuit. The drilling firm Buccaneer goes bankrupt. Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller suggests troopers pulled him over because of his political views. Hard Rock Cafe comes to Anchorage. Democratic lawmakers challenge SB 21. Families sue driver charged with two DUI murders.

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HOST: Michael Carey

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  • Sean Doogan, Alaska  Dispatch/ADN.
  • Steve MacDonald Channel 2 News

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday June 13 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 14 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday June 14 at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

Newly Forming Permafrost May Not Survive Century’s End

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

Scientists are announcing a surprising find from the arctic: new permafrost is still forming. But it is unlikely to survive beyond the end of the century. That’s according to a new study out this week in the publication Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers made the discovery at a lake in Alaska’s Eastern Interior.

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Willows have grown up in bands around Twelvemile lake as the water level has receded over the last 30 years, cooling the soil and encouraging new permafrost ‘aggradation.’
(Credit Martin Briggs / US Geological Survey)

Twelvemile Lake, southwest of Fort Yukon is disappearing.  Over the last three decades, scientists say the lake has lost 15 feet of water.

“Across the arctic, there’s a lot of lakes that we know are getting smaller,” says Jeffrey McKenzie, a professor at McGill University in Montreal. He and fellow researchers thought that water was draining from the lake bottom. “So, if you were top image all the permafrost the Yukon flats, it almost looks like Swiss cheese and there’s a bunch of holes in the permafrost where the lakes are.”

Those ‘holes’ are called taliks. In the summer of 2011 and 2012, McKenzie joined scientists from the US Geological Survey to find out why Twelvemile Lake was shrinking.

“The initial part of the study was to think about somehow water from Twelvemile Lake was going downward through this talik, or this hole in the permafrost and somehow joining the regional groundwater system and then somewhere else, likely the Yukon River,” he said.

The team conducted surveys, probed the ground and used computer models.  What they found was that despite a decrease in the water level, it wasn’t necessarily draining from the lake.

“You have this new shoreline that’s continually emerging,” says McKenzie. “Where this new shoreline is emerging, you’re getting new plants, new grasses, new ecology forming in these areas, and the particular part that’s really interesting, is that where willow shrubs started to grow in this new land, below the willow shrubs, permafrost started to form.”

McKenzie says there are a number of factors that contribute to this permafrost ‘aggradation.’

“The willow shrubs are shading the land surface, so during the summer, there’s less incoming solar radiation warming up the ground in these places. Additionally, the willows extract a lot of water from the ground so there’s less surface recharge and less snowmelt going into the ground. There’s also some thermodynamic effects as the willows actually extract the water from the ground, it helps cool the ground potentially.”

In general, permafrost can last for hundreds, even thousands of years, but McKenzie says the new stuff forming at Twelvemile Lake, and potentially elsewhere across the arctic is unlikely to last beyond the end of the century.

“An unfortunate element would be that with ongoing climate change the temperature will continue to rise, especially in central Alaska,” McKenzie explains.  “They think over the next 100 or 90 years, the temperature is estimated to rise by at least three degrees Celsius and with this rise in temperature, it basically will wipe out any new permafrost that will form.”

McKenzie says in some locations on the Yukon Flats, bands of young willows could indicate the formation of new permafrost.  Researchers plan to expand their study beyond Twelvemile Lake.  Funding for the study comes from the US Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and the USGS.

Categories: Alaska News
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