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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: 44 min 7 sec ago

AK: Hockey Homecoming

Fri, 2014-12-19 13:36

Tanner Sorenson takes aim at the net at the Bonnie Cusack outdoor rink in Anchorage. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Anchorage has a close knit hockey community, but if players want to continue on to college hockey or eventually play professionally, they have to move away from Alaska at a fairly young age – leaving friendships behind.

They use their short breaks back home to re-live some of those childhood memories on the ice. And, the 5th Annual Christmas Classic gives them that opportunity.

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Tanner Sorenson is flying around the ice at Anchorage’s Bonnie Cusack’s Outdoor Rinks, moving with a well-practiced stride that has been perfected over many years of skating at Anchorage’s ice rinks.

He rings a shot off the goal post, watching it sail high over the boards, narrowly missing a car parked nearby.

Tanner Sorenson skating at the Bonnie Cusack outdoor ice rink. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Tanner flew into Anchorage early this morning from Michigan State University, where he’s playing his final year of college hockey.

Though Tanner enjoys playing on the larger stage, with high pressure to perform in front of thousands of fans, he says getting back on the outdoor ice is relaxing.

“Just get to have fun, do whatever you want, mess around, no one’s gonna get too upset,” he said. “I mean, obviously everyone’s so competitive with hockey and sports in general. But, outside of that, there’s no systems, no pressure, I think it’s just everyone having kind of a good time and kinda getting together with your buddies when you come back from school and whatnot, which is always fun.”

Tanner has been living halfway across the country since he started high school. As he was entering 9th grade, he was recruited to play hockey at Minnesota’s Shattuck St. Mary’s – a prep school with a reputation of churning out future college hockey and professional stars.

Now on Michigan State’s roster, Tanner says the transition to living away from home during his early teenage years wasn’t too difficult.

But, it meant leaving behind a lifetime of friends. So, whenever he makes it back up to Alaska, he takes advantage of the time he has to reconnect.

“We always get together, come out here, have some fun, mess around, kind of enjoy being back,” Tanner said. “I mean, it’s nothing serious, we just like to – I guess it’s a time to get away and hang out, rest, catch up on what we’ve missed, how school’s going, how we’re doing, and all that.”

Dennis Sorenson coaches Dimond High School’s varsity hockey team. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Of course, leaving the state to play high school hockey also meant leaving his family. Tanner’s dad is Dennis Sorenson, who is well known in Alaska’s hockey community. He’s been coaching in the state since 1984, after finishing his collegiate hockey career at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

I meet Dennis at another local ice rink, where he’s coaching Anchorage’s Dimond High School.

During his time coaching, Dennis has helped hundreds of players go on to compete at hockey’s highest levels. And he says it’s important for the players to get back on the outdoor ice where they started, to put a smile back on their face and to remind themselves why they love the game.

“Sometimes the team game, the team takes over for the fun, because winning is real important,” he said. “So, they get out there, and it doesn’t matter if they win or lose, they’re out there doing moves they haven’t done in years, and they just feel like, the best thing is going on in the world.”

“Nobody is yelling at them nobody cares, they’re just having a good time with their friends and doing something positive.”

Dennis Sorenson confers with another coach at Dimond High School’s hockey practice. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The Sorenson’s story is common in Alaska’s hockey community. Bryce Christianson is another player who grew up in Alaska, but eventually had to leave to further his hockey career.

He’s the founder and organizer of the Christmas Classic outdoor hockey tournament. Bryce says it started off small – as a way to get some friends together who had gone their separate ways for junior and college hockey.

“The first year, the idea was just to see how many guys we could together to come out and play some hockey,” Bryce said. ”And the first year we went on Facebook and got 20 guys together; the next year we got 40 guys and then it started to progress; and the third year we ended up having 60, and at that point it’s like, hey all these guys together, we’ve gotta do it for something more, we’ve gotta do it for a cause.”

A team from last year’s Christmas Classic Tournament. (Photo courtesy of the Bryce Christianson, organizer of the Christmas Classic tournament)

That cause ended up being Toys for Tots. Last year, the tournament fielded 96 players and contributed 208 toys. This year, it’s even bigger, with more than 125 players signed up to play.

Both Dennis and Tanner are participating in this year’s tournament. Tanner says it’ll be nice to get back out on the ice with old friends, even if he already plays against some of them in college.

“It’s kind of funny, we’ll get there, line up against them, give them a nice little slash on the back or whatever and kind of laugh it off, but definitely when the pucks going, it’s kind of all in,” Tanner said. “Everyone’s so serious, you don’t even realize that’s your buddy until the end of the game.”

“So, it’s definitely fun when we get back and talk about the games we’ve played against each other and whatnot. I know everyone’s pretty excited to come to this tournament.”

As the tournament expands, its goal is to be a family event. This year there will be a heating tent, free food and drinks. Bryce is even trying to get a Santa for the kids and some live music for those who stop by. There will also be Marines standing by for toy dropoffs – and of course some great hockey.

The tournament is on Saturday, Dec. 20 at Anchorage’s Bonnie Cusack outdoor rinks near the Sullivan Arena. The heating tent, food, and registration tables should be ready by 10:30 a.m. and hockey will begin at 11:00 a.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Annual Statewide Holiday Greetings Show

Fri, 2014-12-19 12:00

It’s not to be missed!  The annual state-wide holiday greeting edition of Talk of Alaska is on its way.  Good wishes will be flying across the great state of Alaska, re-connecting friends and families and extended families in a two-hour wave of greetings. So make your list and get ready to call on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • The People of Alaska


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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.


Categories: Alaska News

Lonnie Dupre Makes Fourth Winter Solo Attempt on Denali

Fri, 2014-12-19 10:29

On Thursday, climber and Arctic veteran Lonnie Dupre  left Talkeetna for his fourth attempt to be the first person to summit Denali in January.

Climbing Denali is hard.  Even in peak season, temperatures dip below zero, and frostbite is a real concern.  In fact, this summer saw one of the lowest summit rates in decades, owing largely to weather.  Not many people attempt North America’s highest peak in winter.  Lonnie Dupre is one of the few who has.  He is beginning his fourth attempt to summit the mountain in January.  His previous attempts were all thwarted by the weather.  Dupre says he’s surprised at how mild the Alaskan winter has been so far.

Lonnie Dupre during his 2012 attempt on Denali. (Courtesy Lonnie Dupre)

“I’m surprised on how little snow and how warm it’s been in Alaska, overall.  That opens up a whole new bit of news, maybe, on climate change and what’s been going on with the weather these days.”

Lonnie Dupre takes climate change seriously.  Many of his expeditions have been to raise awareness for the changing environment.  Despite the warmer-than-normal temperatures in the lowlands of Alaska, however, Dupre says it will still be very cold on Denali, with temperatures potentially dipping to fifty-below-zero.  Under those conditions, Lonnie Dupre says the body requires a lot of calories just to keep going.

“It’s like throwing a log on the fire, right?  You’ve got to keep the firewood coming…”

Lonnie Dupre estimates he’ll be taking in about 4,500 calories per day to keep his internal furnace running.  He says that hydration is even more important, and that he plans to drink four or five liters of melted snow-water each day.

Daylight is also a major factor affecting winter climbs.  Lonnie Dupre will only have a handful of hours each day to try to make progress.

“A big challenge, aside from the cold, is you only have a limited time to travel, because it’s dark.  I’m leaving at the darkest time of the year, so it only leaves you maybe five hours of useable light in mid-December.”

Crevasses present a challenge to Denali climbers regardless of the season.  Without team members, Lonnie Dupre will be on his own should he find himself in an area where crevasses have opened.

“A preventative measure to not drop into one of those bad-boys is to take a big, long pair of skis, and I’m taking…about a thirteen foot long spruce pole with me.”

Like much of his gear, Lonnie’s eight-foot long skis are custom.  In fact, he made them himself.  This year, he is also bringing along a tent, sleeping bag, and down suit that should help him stay warm.  Overall, Dupre feels good about this year’s attempt.

“You always get those butterflies in your stomach right before you go, but I’m excited to get moving.  I’m feeling really good about this year; I’ve trained hard.  I’ve got all the equipment I could have wished for for this trip.”

As with his previous attempts, Lonnie Dupre’s primary goal is to get back safely, though reaching the summit of Denali would be a definite plus.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Dept. Appoints New Leader for Offshore Energy

Fri, 2014-12-19 10:17

The federal agency that regulates offshore oil drilling is about to get a new leader.

Abigail Hopper has been named director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, according to a report from FuelFix.

Hopper has spent several years running the Maryland Energy Administration. She recently worked on a project to set up wind energy farms off Maryland’s shore — leading to a federal lease sale in August.

Now, BOEM is turning its attention to building a new five-year plan for selling oil and gas leases offshore. The agency’s been under pressure to include the Atlantic Ocean. But they say new seismic research is needed before they can make a decision.

Hopper will be the second director at BOEM since it was established by the Interior Department in 2010. Former director Tommy Beaudreau left in May to become chief of staff to the Interior Secretary.

Categories: Alaska News

Unknown Oily Sheen off Shishmaref Coast Returns

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:18

Unknown product visible under nearshore ice on Dec. 12, 2014. (Photo: Sharon Nayokpuk, Shishmaref Environmental Program via Alaska DEC)

An oily sheen of unknown origin discovered along the northeast coast of Shishmaref this summer has returned.

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The sheen was first discovered in June on the nearshore icepack by the Shishmaref Village Public Safety Officer. The VPSO reported the yellow liquid smelled like gasoline. That led to cleanup efforts and an investigation by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to determine exactly what the substance was, and where it came from.

Samples of the sheen—and from the community’s fuel tanks—were collected for testing at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut. But the summer cleanup efforts ended with results still pending, and no source for the sheen ever identified.

Now the sheen is back—noticed by a local store owner and the VPSO last week. DEC officials say the unidentified substance again has the strong scent of gasoline. The unknown petroleum product was visible under nearshore ice as early as last Friday.

DEC spokesperson Ashley Adamczak said the agency is sending someone to Shishmaref Thursday to investigate. Adamczak said those samples collected over the summer will come in handy.

“We will be able to do a direct comparison with the substances that were leaching from the shore line last summer, and this event, and compare [them both] to the tank farm,” she said.

Adamczak said locals in Shishmaref have offered input on where the oily substance is coming from, and DEC is following up.

“There’s a lot of people there that have a lot more history of that site than we do,” she said about the investigation just now getting underway. “There’s a couple different floating theories that we have, and we are actually taking a metal detector device out there to do some investigation, to see if there’s any subsurface tanks or buried drums that are in the area.”

Adamczak said the idea of forgotten oil drums or fuel tanks was offered over the summer. “We’ll be working very closely with the people who reported that those might be there to determine those exact locations.”

The Coast Guard has hired waste treatment company Emerald Alaska to perform an on-site assessment.

Last summer’s cleanup resulted in about 30 bags of oily waste from absorbent materials laid out over an area of 1,200 square feet. About 100 gallons of the fuel-like substance were recovered, according to DEC officials on the ground in Shishmaref in July.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Walker Shares Upbeat Message With Fairbanks

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:17

Governor Bill Walker is striking an optimistic tone despite tanking oil prices that are reducing state revenue.  Speaking to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Walker pointed to opportunity.

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Categories: Alaska News

Scientists ID Two Bat Species Never Before Seen In Alaska

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:16


Scientists are in a race to learn as much as they can about bats in Alaska. And that race has led to the discovery of two new species previously unknown in the state. The Hoary bat and the Yuma bat were both found in Southeast Alaska.

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Bat research in the state has been accelerating over the last several years as scientists anticipate the spread of white-nose syndrome in bat species and the effects of climate change.

This surge in research uncovered two different bat species never-before-documented in Alaska.

Specimens of the Yuma Bat – or Yuma Myotis – have actually been in museum collections for nearly 30 years. But, they were incorrectly identified.

Link Olson is the curator of mammals at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. He says that’s largely because, on the surface, the Yuma Bat looks very similar to a more common, well-documented species called the Little Brown Bat.

“If I were to go down to Southeast Alaska and catch a bat that could either be a Yuma Bat or Little Brown Bat, without any other information or evidence, if I were to look at it, then let it go, or even if I were to take the measurements that you can take from a live bat in the hand, I would not be able to confidently identify it as one or the other,” Olson said.

And Olson doesn’t believe his colleagues would claim to be able to make the distinction either.

Though the two species might look alike, he says they aren’t closely related, which gives scientists other avenues to identify the bats.

“What we can do is collect tiny bits of tissue, and we usually do this from either the wing or the tail membranes because they heal very rapidly, and with that tiny little punch – or biopsy – of tissue, we can use very straightforward genetic techniques to identify these two particular species,” Olson said.

The second species previously unknown in Alaska is the Hoary Bat. Scientists don’t have any physical specimens of the species from within the state. But, they were able to detect the species by using ultra-sensitive audio equipment that can pick up the bat’s echolocation signals, which are typically outside of the human hearing range.

“These ‘bat detectors’ will record those and either display them in a typical sonogram so that we can compare them to known reference calls and hopefully identify them to species, which is what was done in this case, or they will divide that echolocation call by a denominator that literally breaks it down and divides it so in our hearing range,” Olson said.

Though the identification was successful in the case of the Hoary Bat, Olson says species can’t always be accurately identified by their echolocation alone.

The range of the bats is not known, but in the case of the Yuma Bat, Olson says specimens from other collections are from as far north as Baranof Island, and he suspects it might extend even further north.

“There’s no clear bio-geographic barrier that I can think of to this species until you get up to the Malaspina Glacier north of Yakutat,” Olson said.

There are plenty of other unknowns regarding Alaska’s bats – including where they spend their winters. Olson says that question still looms even for the better-documented Little Brown Bat.

This question is particularly pressing because bats are most-susceptible to White Nose Syndrome while they are hibernating.

As bat research progresses, Olson says citizen science has become a critical component, because many of the museums specimens were discovered by citizens, not scientists.

“Those old, dead bats are incredibly valuable scientifically,” he said. “Even if it looks rotten and crushed, there’s scientific value in that specimen.”

Olson says if you do run across a dead or dying bat, alert Fish & Game or a local biologist rather than picking it up yourself.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:15

Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply for lands to be placed into trust status with the federal government.

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The Interior Department published the final regulation in a long running dispute between tribes, Interior and the state over an interpretation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA in 1971 that held tribes in Alaska had lost that right under the settlement act.

Native American Rights Fund Attorney Heather Kendall Miller sued on behalf of four tribes and one Alaska Native individual in 2006.

“This is a huge, wonderful day to see Alaska tribes be able to fully exercise the right to have their petitions considered,” Miller said.

The district court for DC rejected the state of Alaska’s position that ANCSA required different treatment of tribes in Alaska. The state is appealing that decision.

Kendall Miller says one of the plaintiffs is the Chilkoot Indian Association that had land donated to it by a church. The 106 acres are in Haines and applying for trust status means local municipalities, boroughs or the state would not be allowed to tax any economic development initiatives the tribe may develop there.

Kendall Miller says the state could decide to drop the appeal now that Interior has adopted the court’s position that sided with tribes on all counts. Kendall Miller says numerous tribes beyond the plaintiffs have been preparing applications for requesting trust status. She says this land status could be considered Indian Country.

Categories: Alaska News

Tulsequah Mine Study Outlines Taku River Barging

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:14

The Tulsequah mine sits above the Tulsequah River which flows into the Taku River.

Chieftain Metals Corp. has released new details on its plan to barge supplies and minerals to and from the Tulsequah Chief Mine, up the Taku River south of Juneau.

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Chieftain is trying to re-open the long closed zinc, copper and gold mine in British Columbia. The company filed an updated feasibility study with Canadian financial regulators earlier this month. It says the Taku is likely to be impassable about 23 percent of the time during the proposed barging season from May to September. Another 23 percent of the time, barges will need a tug to help navigate the river.

Chris Zimmer with the environmental organization Rivers Without Borders says the report is light on other details about the company’s barging plan.

“When you look at this, you just think, ‘Boy, how are they going to make this work?’” Zimmer says. “Because they’ve got to get concentrate out on schedule to get it on a barge and to get it down to a freighter in Seattle. And given the conditions in the river, I just can’t see how they’re going to be able to make this work.”

According to the feasibility report, Chieftain would need four custom-built tugs and barges to make the nearly 40-mile run from the mouth of the Taku to the Tulsequah.

The company expects to ship more than 867,000 wet metric tons of concentrate to market over the proposed 11-year life of the mine. At its operational peak that would be more than 93,000 tons per year. About 17,000 tons of supplies and fuel would be shipped up the river every year as well.

Zimmer worries what will happen if Chieftain misses a few barge runs and tries to make them up when river conditions improve.

“They’re probably going to try to run a lot of barges in a very short time to make up for that shortfall,” he says. “And I think they’ll probably push the envelope for what’s safe in the river there.”

Chieftain officials previously have said the mine would not be built unless there was a road leading to it from Atlin, B.C. In October, the company announced the road is no longer being considered. The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has sued to stop the project, saying B.C. officials failed to consult them about an environmental permit.

Ron Maas is the former owner of Taku Glacier Lodge, and still owns about 150 acres up the river. He’s disappointed in Chieftain’s plan to barge.

“I just hate to see them tear up the whole damn country for a few bucks,” Maas says.

He remembers when former Tulsequah owner Redfern Resources tried barging on the Taku, and how the vessels would pass right by his property overlooking the glacier.

“It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous place, and it is just a shame to have that barge coming by,” he says. “You can hear it, you know, five miles away.”

Lynden Logistics — one of the largest freight companies operating in Alaska — last month announced it had signed a non-binding letter of intent with Chieftain to provide barging services for the Tulsequah project. Officials with both companies have declined multiple requests for comment.

Chieftain is still seeking financing to reopen the Tulsequah. Cominco last operated the mine in 1957.

Juneau state lawmakers formed the Taku River Fact-Finding Task Force in 2011 to address local concern over renewed interest in the mine. Rep. Cathy Muñoz says the city’s legislative delegation is still reviewing the updated feasibility study, and will talk about getting the task force back together early next year.

“It’s a high priority,” Muñoz says.

Categories: Alaska News

DEC Reaches Diesel Spill Site Along Dalton Highway

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:13

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been able to get back in to a remote spot along the Dalton Highway where a fuel tanker wrecked and overturned Sunday night, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The spill and a fire that burned the wrecked rig occurred near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

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Categories: Alaska News

Charities Help Fill Void From Santa’s Clearing House During Holiday Season

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:10

Charities are stepping up to help more Fairbanks families this holiday season. Organization’s like Love Inc. and the Salvation Army are providing gifts for kids whose families were formerly served by Santa’s Clearing House.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 18, 2014

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:09

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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Unknown Oily Sheen off Shishmaref Coast Returns

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A mysterious oily sheen found along the northeast coast of Shishmaref this summer has returned.

Governor Walker Shares Upbeat Message With Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Bill Walker is striking an optimistic tone despite tanking oil prices that are reducing state revenue.  Speaking to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Walker pointed to opportunity.

Scientists ID Two Bat Species Never Before Seen In Alaska

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Scientists are in a race to learn as much as they can about bats in Alaska. And that race has led to the discovery of two species previously unknown in the state.  The Hoary bat and the Yuma bat were both found in Southeast Alaska.

Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply for lands to be placed into trust status with the federal government.

Tulsequah Mine Study Outlines Taku River Barging

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Chieftain Metals has released new details on its plan to barge supplies and minerals to and from the Tulsequah Chief Mine, up the Taku River south of Juneau.

DEC Reaches Diesel Spill Site Along Dalton Highway

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has accessed a remote spot along the Dalton Highway where a fuel tanker wrecked and overturned Sunday night, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The spill and resulting fire occurred near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Fall Brown Bear Hunts Proposed Near Petersburg

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Some Petersburg residents would like to see a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3 near Petersburg.

Sealaska Heritage Institute Begins Move into Walter Soboleff Center

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau started moving into its new home this week.

Charities Help Fill Void From Santa’s Clearing House During Holiday Season

Heather Penn, KUAC – Fairbanks

Charity organization’s like Love Inc. and the Salvation Army are providing gifts for Fairbanks kids whose families were formerly served by Santa’s Clearing House.

Categories: Alaska News

Chevron Pulls Back On Beaufort Sea Drilling Plans

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:33

Chevron has pulled back on plans to drill for offshore Arctic oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea.

Chevron has leases in Canadian waters and notified the Canadian government Wednesday that developing its EL 481 lease tracts would not be competitive in the company’s anticipated future markets.

Categories: Alaska News

Sikuliaq Headed To Alaska Waters

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:32

The new University of Alaska Fairbanks research vessel Sikuliaq is on its way to Alaska waters.

The 261-foot vessel had trials in the Great Lakes. It went through the Panama Canal, and on to Hawaii, Guam, and should arrive shortly at the navy submarine test center in Behm Canal outside of Ketchikan before crossing the Gulf to Seward and a commissioning ceremony.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim 300 Boasts Biggest Field in Two Decades

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:29

Exactly one month from the start of the Kuskokwim 300, 31 mushers have signed up for the race to Aniak and back. Race Manager Zach Fansler says it’s the biggest field in two decades.

“We’re really excited for this race. 31 teams is the most teams we’ve had sign up since 1994,” said Fansler.

Most of the sport’s biggest names like Jeff King, DeeDee Jonrowe, and Martin Buser will be at the line, along with fan favorite Lance Mackey. From Western Alaska, fans will see Pete Kaiser, plus Isaac and Nathan Underwood from Aniak, and Richie Diehl. Akiak’s Mike Williams Junior and Senior are back. Donald Towarak of Unalakleet is signed up, along with Nome’s Rolland Trowbridge and Tara Cicatello. Past champion John Baker and partner Katherine Keith of Kotzebue are set to race.

The 2015 K300 starts January 16th.

To pull off a successful race, Fansler says the race is looking for extra logistics help for housing mushers and trucking dogs, along with trail support.

“We’re checking for more mushers on the trail, we’re looking at safety, we’re looking at dropped dog situations, there’s a lot more transporting of food that needs to be done,” said Fansler.

There will be fewer dogs per team this year, as the limit was lowered from 14 to 12 dogs.

Leading up to the big race the K300 organization has set the date for their early season sprint race  later this month. Fansler says the 40-mile Holiday Classic, will be December 27th — that’s moved back a week due to bad trail conditions.

“We’re still looking to get some established trails, with the travel on the river that we’ve been seeing lately, and we’d like to get more snow, which I think is coming. Anecdotally speaking with some of the teams, not all of the teams are as trained as others, which is always a concern. We’re weighing these things heavily,” said Fansler.

Another race, the 100-Mile Challenge, was scheduled for December 27th and will be delayed to January 3rd. The Kuskokwim 300 begins January 16th in Bethel.

Categories: Alaska News

Fall Brown Bear Hunts Proposed Near Petersburg

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:28

Some Petersburg residents would like to see a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3. The Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee has introduced two proposals to expand brown bear hunting near Petersburg.

The proposals will be considered by the State Board of Game at its meeting January 9-13 in Juneau.

Petersburg resident Bob Martin is Chairman of the Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

“We like the brown bears to be relatively scarce on the island,” says Martin.

(Photo via Alaska Fish & Game)

Unit 3 is predominantly black bear country. Brown bears are usually larger than black bears and are considered more dangerous when encountering humans.

“I think the motivation for these proposals is that in recent decades maybe. . .last 25 years, we’ve become aware that there’s bears on Mitkof Island,” Martin says, “and there is a brown bear hunting season in the Spring. It’s not really an intentional hunt on this island but it’s part of the larger Unit 3 hunting regs and it’s Spring only. I don’t think many people target brown bears but people do encounter them in the fall when they’re deer hunting.”

Both proposals would add a fall hunt every four regulatory years and by permit only. One would provide a fall hunt for just Mitkof Island and the other would allow for a fall hunt for all of Unit 3. Unit 3 includes the islands of Mitkof, Kupreanof, Wrangell, Kuiu as well as other islands. It does not include the mainland.

Martin grew up on Mitkof Island and said they assumed there were no brown bear here because they never saw them.

“We did have a lot of black bear around before the dump switched to a baler facility that ships out garbage but I was always under the impression and so was my family that this was a brown bear free zone and when you’re out berry picking and other such things you just kind of assumed that you just had to make a lot of noise and you’d be fine,” Martin says, “but then there have been a few incidents, two in particular, where deer hunters have encountered aggressive brown bears and then had to shoot them. And since then, I’ve heard that there are quite a few brown bears on the island, especially the South end.”

In the summer of 2012 there were two brown bears spotted near Petersburg, one at the Blind River Rapids and one at Frederick Point East. Then that fall, a third brown bear was shot by some moose hunters who said it was self defense.

Rich Lowell, Area Wildlife Biologist for Fish and Game, thinks the idea that there are a lot of brown bear on Mitkof Island might be rumor more than anything.

“There’s a lot of bad information disseminated,” Lowell says.

The State Department of Fish and Game opposes the brown bear proposals. Lowell says while they don’t have precise population estimates for Mitkof or Unit 3 brown bears it’s safe to say the number is relatively low. Brown bears move back and forth from the mainland to the islands and it is believed that there are just a few bears on each island except for Deer Island which is closer to the mainland.

Lowell: “And because the population is considered to be relatively low there are questions about the ability to have a sustainable hunt of those animals. And by mandate we are required to manage wildlife on a sustainable basis and therefore we need to ensure that our harvest of those animals is within sustained yield principals.”

Angela: “So in other words, you don’t want to open a hunt and have it last a year or two, you need to think about, can this hunt last ten, 20 years something like that?”

Lowell: “Sure. Sure, or longer.”

The proposals recognize that more hunters are out on the land in the fall looking for deer and moose, which would give them more opportunity to encounter and take bears. There has been a Spring brown bear hunt in Unit three islands for the last nine years. In that time, only four bears have been harvested. Three of the four were sows, something that the department wants to avoid.

“The fall season is when most of the females or sows actually get taken,” Lowell says. “The cubs of the year are venturing further from the sow and so we see a lot of sows get harvested in the fall or, you know, a disproportionate number that we don’t want to see with brown bears.”

The proposal that includes a brown bear fall hunt for just Mitkof Island received broader support from the local advisory committee. They approved it with an 8 to 2 vote. The proposal for establishing a hunt for all of Unit 3 passed 6 to 4.

The Board of Game will take up these two proposals and others regarding Southeast hunting and trapping when they meet in Juneau January 19-13.

The Wrangell Fish and Game Advisory Committee came up with a similar proposal to open a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3.

The deadline to comment on the proposals is December 26.

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Heritage Institute Begins Move into Walter Soboleff Center

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:22

Native art expert and teacher Steve Brown created the formline on the glass awnings encircling the Walter Soboleff Center. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Sealaska Heritage Institute started moving into its new home in the yet-to-be-opened Walter Soboleff Center this week.

Chief Operating Officer Lee Kadinger hopes Sealaska Heritage Institute will be relocated by the end of January. The grand opening of the Walter Soboleff Center is May 15.

“Next door will be our new home,” Kadinger says from his current office at One Sealaska Plaza. “So every time you hear we’re having a Native Lecture Series, it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage. Every time you hear that we’re having weaving classes, it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage. Everything that we do isn’t going to be scattered around in different places or classrooms or meeting rooms; it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage.”

The building will have space for art exhibits, demonstrations and education. The main collections vault will be in the basement, the retail shop on the first floor, Sealaska Heritage offices on the second and office rental space on the third.

In the very center of the building, visible as soon as you enter, is a traditional clan house.

“If we want to have lectures in there, if we want to have presentation in there, if we want to have smaller performances in there – it’s really a flexible space. It’s a multiuse space and it’s an educational space,” Kadinger says.

The clan house front will be carved and painted by Tsimshian artist David A. Boxley. The inside will feature a carved glass house screen and two house posts depicting Eagle and Raven warriors made by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.

Other permanent art work includes 40-foot panels by Haida artist Robert Davidson that will go on the building’s cedar-clad exterior.

Formline design expert Steve Brown created the glass sidewalk awnings that are already installed.

Having raised around $20 million for the construction of the Walter Soboleff Center, Sealaska Heritage continues to fundraise for added artwork and exhibits. Kadinger says more than a thousand individuals, businesses and organizations have already donated.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Spending Bill Appropriates $100 Million for Missile Defense in Alaska

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:04

The federal omnibus spending bill that awaits President Obama’s signature contains $100 million for missile defense in Alaska. It’s the only major funding for military construction work in Alaska this fiscal year.

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The spending bill appropriates $50 million for construction work at Fort Greely’s missile-defense base. And another $50 million for design work a new radar facility elsewhere in Alaska to improve the missile-defense system’s ability to detect and track incoming enemy missiles.

The Missile Defense Agency will be placing 14 more interceptors like this at the Fort Greely missile base by 2017. The will bring the total number of interceptors at the base to 40. Photo from the Missile Defense Agency.

Matt Felling, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, says those appropriations demonstrate the military’s confidence in the Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense system after it succeeded to destroying a decoy in a test earlier this year.

“Just this past June, we had a successful interceptor missile test,” Felling said. “And I think that the military realized that we’re building a lot of momentum, to double down on the funding levels, to make sure that everything possible could be done to get our missile defense as strong as possible, quickly as possible.”

Felling says the funding will pay for continued work on Greely’s missile field 1, one of three at the base. It’s part of a $1 billion project  approved in 2013 to prepare the base for an expansion that would increase the number of interceptors there from the present 26 to 40 by the end of next year.

The other $50 million appropriation will be used to design a facility to house an advanced Long Range Discrimination Radar system. Felling says the military hasn’t decided whether to build that facility at Clear Air Force Station, near Anderson, or at Shemya, an island in the far western Aleutian Island archipelago.

Those are the only major appropriations for military construction in Alaska. Felling says the spending bill also contains funding for smaller projects at Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base and Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

“We have funding coming to Alaska at our military installations, he said. “We haven’t seen the dramatic increases, like we have seen in missile defense, in terms of construction on base, or construction, or maintenance.”

One proposed missile-defense facility did not get any funding in the spending bill – that’s for a second Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense installation that some lawmakers have proposed for the eastern United States. Congress approved language specifically prohibiting funding for that base in another piece of legislation passed last week, the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Alaska congressional delegation and other lawmakers have criticized in recent years, saying it’s an unnecessary installation. Felling says the authorization bill language, and $100 million appropriation for the Alaska missile-defense projects, means the proposal for the East Coast installation is dead – at least, for now.

“These bills are an affirmation of Alaska’s A.) location, in terms of defending America from threats abroad, and B.) of our ability, and our success story.”

President Obama is expected to sign the omnibus spending bill this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Cuts Funding for Mining Road Project That is Subject of 2-Day Meeting in Fairbanks

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:03

Tribal leaders and stakeholders representing communities that could be impacted by a proposed 220-mile industrial road gathered in Fairbanks to discuss cultural, environmental and social impacts of the road’s potential construction. The meeting is happening at time when the state is facing difficult budget decisions that could hamper the project.

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If built, the industrial road would provide access to the Ambler Mining District, rich in deposits of copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold. Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse is the CEO of NovaCopper, Inc., a mining company that would benefit from the road.

“The Ambler district is a very special district,” said Neuwenhuyse. “It’s very high grade. It’s the sort of district that can provide jobs for generations because it’s very substantial. It’s been known about for a very long time and it’s always been the issue of access.”

But funding may also become a problem as the price of oil continues to fall.  This week, Alaska Governor Bill Walker slashed more than $100 million dollars from the capital budget including $8 million that would have gone toward the road project in fiscal year 2016. Van Nieuwenhuyse said he doesn’t necessarily see the cut as a set back.

“It’s a big wake up call. The state will have to make tough decisions,” he said. “This may be one of them. There may be other alternatives for finding the continued advancement of the EIS.”

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is still working on the application to begin a federal Environmental Impact Study. Mike Catsi is the Business Development and Communications Director for AIDEA.

Cats said the Governor’s recent cut hasn’t hindered what is already a long and arduous application and permitting process.

“This is a proposed budget it still has to go through the legislative process. We’ve been in communications with the Governor’s office about the project,” Catsi said, “so right now we’re moving forward. We still have money in our budget until the end of June, 2015.”

Currently, funding for the project is coming entirely from state dollars appropriated by the legislature, but Catsi said if that changes in coming years, there are other ways for AIDEA to find money.

“At AIDEA, we look at projects from a business perspective,” Catsi explained. “We have to build a business case to move forward with them, so when we make an investment and we’re looking at paying for the permitting or moving forward with that, then we would be looking at recouping those funds over the long term of the project,” he said.

The state has already spent more than $26 million dollars on feasibility and development studies since 2011. Catsi said information from those studies is available on AIDEA’s website.

This week, AIDEA invited a number of representatives from various tribal organizations and villages that could be affected by the road’s construction to Fairbanks. During an interactive presentation, the majority of attendees told AIDEA they believe more studies on the environmental and cultural impact of the road are needed.

Categories: Alaska News

Togiak Clinic Remains Closed After Monday Night Burglary

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:02

The Togiak Health Clinic was damaged in an apparent burglary earlier this week, and two young men have been identified as the suspects. The only health clinic for the village of 900 residents remains shut down on account of the damages.

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Eighteen-year-old Brett Pauk was arraigned today on three charges: felony criminal mischief, felony burglary, and a misdemeanor theft charge.

Pauk’s alleged co-conspirator is a 17-year-old from Togiak. As a minor, he ia unnamed in court documents, but troopers say charges will be referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

At least $100 in cash and a pair of headphones valued at $160 were stolen from the clinic.

Troopers say the two men ripped electrical wires out of the wall in an apparent attempt to knock out surveillance, quote, “annihilating” the clinic’s communication and electrical systems. That damage has caused the loss of communication between the clinic and the Kanakanak Hospital, and the clinic may remain closed for several days as crews scramble to make repairs.

Categories: Alaska News