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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: 16 min 59 sec ago

Salmon Sisters Meld East Coast Education With Commercial Fishing Roots

Tue, 2015-02-17 14:43

Flying Fish. (Image courtesy Salmon Sisters)

Today we meet a pair of Alaskans who run the business Salmon Sisters. Emma and Claire Laukitis were born and raised on the Aleutian Islands near False Pass. Emma says it was quiet and simple upbringing.

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“Growing up there was isolated,” she said. “It was really all we knew; we had an awesome childhood there.”

Emma Laukitis. (Courtesy Salmon Sisters)

“We were homeschooled for the first eight or nine years of our life. We played outside a lot.”

And when the sisters got a little older their dad started taking them commercial fishing with him in the summers. Claire says they were too young to pull nets, but that didn’t matter.

“Going out on the boat was a big deal,” Claire said. “We were excited to spend time with my dad, and just spend time outside with one another.”

Once they were old enough to go to college Emma traveled to the East Coast and Claire went to Vermont. They studied there until eventually they were accepted into another program; this time in Italy. Claire studied business, while Emma studied art.

“I started designing some screen prints of the fish that we’d catch on the boat,” Emma said. “I always really liked the Japanese-style fish prints, so I started with a rockfish.”

“That was our first design, and I guess it just started grew from there and grew from our reverence for the ocean and what our family does.”

Claire Laukitis. (Courtesy Salmon Sisters)

And that was the official beginning of Salmon Sisters. Today the pair sells a large catalog of t-shirts, hoodies, leggings and more. Emma says the Aleutians have always been a rich source of inspiration for her art.

“You know, the quirky people that you find in coastal towns,” Emma said. “And some of the creatures you pull up from the water; they’re pretty spectacular.”

Claire says Salmon Sisters has found success quickly, but it hasn’t been easy, and it’s not paying the bills just yet. On top of running the business, both Claire and Emma still commercial fish for half of the year.

“It’s been tricky,” Claire said. “It’s like standing on top of the crow’s nest holding your cell phone up getting a text to our friend who is running our business in the summer. It’s a challenge.”

Another challenge for the women is staying true to their values. They want Salmon Sisters to be 100 percent Alaska made, even if it means paying more to print their clothing in state.

(Courtesy Salmon Sisters)

Claire: “It’s produced in Alaska, designed in Alaska and sold in Alaska. It’s the perfect combination. It’s much more important for us to support the local screen printer in Anchorage.”

Emma: “And I think we’ve all learned that Alaska is just not cheap.”

At the end of the day, both Emma and Claire think Alaskans will also be willing to pay a little more for something close to their hearts. Emma says two sisters who grew up fishing isn’t unique to Alaska, but it’s genuine.

Emma: “I think people just love to be involved in a story. And if there is one that seems legitimate and real and is something they can wear and celebrate that’s a cool thing.”

Claire: “It’s so wonderful, just driving from our house to the radio station we saw three different people with our apparel on. It’s great.”

Categories: Alaska News

Brent Sass Outduels Allen Moore For Yukon Quest Win

Tue, 2015-02-17 13:56

Yukon Quest finish line. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

The bells of the historic Immaculate Conception Cathedral in downtown Fairbanks rang in honor of legendary musher George Attla who died this week as Eureka musher Brent Sass cruised across the finish line to win this year’s Yukon Quest.

Sass has been trying to win the Quest for years. This year, he gave up a 10-hour lead to two-time defending champion Allen Moore, who refused to give up easily.

When Allen Moore blew through the Mile 101 checkpoint, he claimed the lead and gained nearly a half an hour on Brent Sass. After Sass left the checkpoint, he says his team made up much of that time.

“It was funny the way I gauged it, I was watching the poop in the trail,” Sass said. “When I first started, the poop was all frozen and then as I got down the trail a little bit farther, I’d stick my ski pole in the poop every time when I’d go by and it got softer and softer and I knew then I was on his trail before I even saw the headlamp.”

After the two crossed over Rosebud Summit, they ran for more than 40 miles within two minutes of each other all the way to the Two Rivers checkpoint, where they bedded down their teams for a mandatory 8-hour layover. Allen Moore says he was positioned right where he wanted to be.

“As I have told you all along, I just wanted to get to Two Rivers and be close and I am close,” Moore said. “I couldn’t ask for me and now the dogs just have to perform. We’re in the perfect position. We’re in our home turf. They know where the finish line is. If they feel good, we will win.”

With a race as close, both mushers knew they’d have to run behind their sleds and use ski poles to help their teams along. Moore is 57. He joked about what it would be like to race against 35-year-old Sass.

“You’ll see an old guy and a young guy and a young guy really running to the finish line. ‘I’m going to kick your butt you old guys.’ ‘No you’re not you old guy,’” Moore said.

Joking aside, Moore knew the 70-mile run to Fairbanks would be tough.

“If you stop to untangle a tangle the other person will be a quarter mile ahead of you, just to untangle a tangle, the other person will be a quarter of a mile ahead of you, so that’s what it’s going to play down to,” he said.

The two teams left within two minutes of each other. Twenty miles later, Brent Sass caught Moore’s team.

“A plan came together,” he said.

Sass says he took advantage of a road crossing, where spectators gathered to cheer on his dogs. Allen Moore’s kennel is not too far from the trail, so that also worked to Sass’s advantage.

“The dogs, it was just amazing,” Sass said. “I called them up and we flew all the way through two rivers and I had to make sure I toned it back a little bit because I realized we still had like 50 miles to go.”

Sass credits his lead dog Basin, who ran in lead for all but 25 miles of the race.

“He’s an amazing dog, he just defies the odds,” he said.

Sass drove a young team of two-, three- and five-year-olds this year.

“Yeah, the future is real bright,” Sass said. “I got 25 puppies at home that my handlers are training up, so the future is real bright for Wild and Free.”

Allen Moore crossed the finish line just over an hour later. Brent Sass was there to greet him.

“Dogs look good,” Sass told Moore. “Nice race. It’s always a pleasure racing against you.”

Moore seemed a little down his team’s performance.

“I thought it could have been just like it was two years ago, where they really rocked, like Brent’s team did this year,” Moore said. “I thought my team would be that team again, but they just didn’t have it this year.”

There are still 14 teams spread out across nearly 200 miles of trail. They’ll continue to cross the finish line throughout the week.

Categories: Alaska News

Jewell, Governor, Delegation Descend on Northwest Arctic Borough

Mon, 2015-02-16 18:00

Instead of Juneau or Anchorage. For two days, the Northwest Arctic Borough is suddenly Alaska’s seat of power, with the governor, the lieutenant governor, the whole congressional delegation, and 10 legislators all descending on the region.

But the most high-profile visitor is Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior and a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet.

While Jewell had long planned to appear at an Alaska Federation of Natives board retreat in Kotzebue, the visit became more political after Obama announced his plan to prohibit drilling in a good swath of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and certain offshore areas.

Many of Alaska’s lawmakers were motivated to come up to the region to confront her on these actions, but Jewell had her own agenda for the visit.

At 9:30 in the morning, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell left the Kotzebue airport in a Cessna Grand Caravan bound for Kivalina. She was traveling to the barrier island to learn about the effects of climate change on the community. In her wake were about half a dozen legislators who ended up piggybacking on her itinerary.

As Jewell had a private meeting with members of the village council, legislators like House Majority Leader Charisse Millett toured the local school. With the current building over capacity and in a location where it is vulnerable to storms and erosion, Kivalina is requesting money for a new building that would be built on dry ground miles outside the community.

After visiting classrooms, the legislative delegation was brought to the school gym to meet with members of the community, like Eleanor Swan. She’s working a projector that shows violent waves smashing against the town.

“When it flooded here in town in 2004, the water got way high, and they had to move the principal’s house,” Swan said.

Swan is originally from Noatak, but she’s lived in Kivalina for 29 years.

“It changed since I moved. There was more beach when I came here. That’s long gone. We hardly have a beach now.”

Shortly before noon, the secretary showed up, putting her in the same room as Alaska lawmakers. While legislators had made the trip to talk to Jewell about drilling restrictions on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they gave her wide berth in the gymnasium. She sat alone until Millie Hawley, the leader of the village council, noted the empty seats next to her.

”Where’s her staff?” Hawley asked. “She looks so lonely.” “Nobody sits next to me,” Jewell said. “I’m used to it.”

After a prayer was said in a mix of Inupiat and English that implored for the survival of Kivalina, Jewell spoke.

She kept her comments strictly to climate change. She did not bring up offshore drilling, or any other controversial issue that has made her a target for Alaska lawmakers. Instead, she asked to hear about how changing weather patterns were affecting the community’s ability to get caribou, whale, and seal.

“For the elders that are willing to open, I would be very interested in hearing about the changes you’ve seen on the landscape, how that’s impacted your subsistence, where you’d like to see things go for the future.”

Jewell then heard from residents who expressed concern about the rate at which village land was disappearing, and how declining sea ice and harsher storms have hurt the community.

There were no big announcements about funding for Kivalina projects or money for relocation costs — just a general commitment that the federal government would work with them.

About halfway through the meeting, the legislative delegation left without approaching Jewell. They had their own plane to catch, and a meeting to finally confront Jewell scheduled for later in the day.

Categories: Alaska News

Mushing Legend George Attla Dies

Mon, 2015-02-16 17:11

Alaska Native dog mushing great George Attla died Sunday of cancer. (Photo by Catharine Axley)

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Alaska Native dog mushing great George Attla has died. The sprint champion known as “The Huslia Hustler” died of cancer on Sunday at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. He was 81. Attla’s impact spanned from success in racing to helping village kids connect with mushing.


Categories: Alaska News

Republican Lawmakers Express Doubts On Medicaid Expansion

Mon, 2015-02-16 17:09

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House Republicans expressed skepticism over Governor Bill Walker’s plan to expand Medicaid in a hearing Monday morning.

The subcommittee hearing of the House Health and Social Services Committee was the first chance for lawmakers to publicly question Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson on the subject.

Medicaid expansion is a complicated topic. Davidson and lawmakers dug into the details, like reimbursement rates in Alaska and efforts to combat Medicaid fraud.

An hour and a half into the hearing, subcommittee chair Dan Saddler, a Republican from Eagle River, was ready to ask a bigger picture question:

“Given the federal government’s debt load, that’s also projected to increase tremendously over future decades…. does it cause you any concern or to question the wisdom of expanding Medicaid?”

The federal government would cover Medicaid expansion at 100% until the end of next year, then that match gradually decreases to 90% in 2020. The money would pay for health coverage for mostly childless adults who are near or below the federal poverty level.

Davidson said they are mostly the working poor and she told Saddler she didn’t have a problem accepting federal funds to give them access to health care.

She pointed out that federal highway funds have a similarly generous match rate.

“We can build roads,” she said. “We can build all kinds of opportunities, but if we don’t have Alaskans who are healthy enough to participate in that economy, then we have done ourselves a disservice and so I am comfortable moving forward with expansion just as I am comfortable driving on roads that have the potholes replaced at those corresponding matches.”

Several other Republican lawmakers on the subcommittee were focused on the opposite argument, that the federal government would pull back on its promise to provide at least 90 percent funding for Medicaid expansion.

They wanted assurances that Davidson would drop Medicaid expansion if the federal match ever fell below 90 percent.

When Davidson told lawmakers that was the plan, Representative Lance Pruitt, a Republican from Anchorage, said ending expansion was unrealistic:

“We’ll have to have a discussion about are we also willing to take up the additional 90 or so million [dollars] after 2020 and have an honest discussion, because I don’t think we’re going to introduce something and ever strip it away whether we make legislation, whether we make law, whether we make regulation, it doesn’t matter, you’re not going to take away health care from Alaskans.”

Representative Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat from Dillingham, was frustrated the hearing didn’t focus more on the benefits of expansion- how it could reduce the state’s high rate of substance abuse, and help poor Alaskans access preventative medicine.

Edgmon doesn’t think it makes sense to spend so much time focused on whether the federal match rate will remain:

“The issue of whether the federal government pulls out and can’t hold their end of the bargain – I say this tongue and cheek – we have bigger issues in Alaska given that one third of our spending in this state is dependent of federal spending…on a whole range of programs we depend on the federal government.”

The budget Walker sent to lawmakers includes a line approving the receipt of federal Medicaid funds.

Representative Mark Neuman, a Republican from Big Lake, asked the administration to submit a separate bill on Medicaid expansion so it would be subject to the normal legislative process. The Governor’s office is not considering that option.



Categories: Alaska News

“Justice Not Politics Alaska” Fighting Changes To Alaska’s Judge Selection Process

Mon, 2015-02-16 17:07

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A statewide group is fighting a proposed change in Alaska’s judge selection process pushed by a Fairbanks Senator.

“Justice Not Politics Alaska” director Heather Arnett says the group is opposed to Republican Pete Kelly’s resolution, which proposes doubling the number of public members appointed by the governor, to the Judicial Council, which selects state judge candidates.

“It introduces a major political influence into how judges become judges in Alaska,” she said.

Senator Kelly’s resolution proposes increasing the number of governor appointed and legislatively confirmed public members on the judicial council from 3 to 6. Kelly was unavailable to comment, but an opinion piece on his website, points out that the judicial council is also made up of 3 Alaska Bar Association appointed attorneys, who are not subject to gubernatorial or legislative approval. He calls the arrangement “lawyers choosing lawyers to referee other lawyers.”

Kelly’s SJR 3 requires passage by 2/3 of the House and Senate, and would then have to go before voters.

Members of Justice Not Politics Alaska include former State Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti.


Categories: Alaska News

Bill Berry’s Works on Display for First Time

Mon, 2015-02-16 17:03

Karen Simmons, KUAC-Fairbanks

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Works of a famous Fairbanks artist are on display for the first time.

Drawings and paintings by Bill Berry are hanging in the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmussen Library.

The long-archived works re-surfaced at the request of the late artist’s family.


Categories: Alaska News

YK Health Corp Seeks New Center

Mon, 2015-02-16 17:02

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It’s just in the planning stage, but the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is working towards a new $250-million health care center.

They say the current facility, which serves people from 58 YK Delta communities, needs to be updated and needs more room to keep up with a growing population.



Categories: Alaska News

Upon Filing Settlement Legislation, Walker Drops Point Thomson Lawsuit

Fri, 2015-02-13 17:23

Gov. Bill Walker has introduced legislation clarifying the powers of the attorney general when settling litigation related to Alaska’s oil and gas resources.

The two-page bill was offered Friday, and it requires the attorney general to confirm that a settlement is narrow in scope and in compliance with existing law.

The catalyst for the bill was a lawsuit that Walker brought as a private citizen. The suit challenged a settlement between the State of Alaska and Exxon to develop natural gas reserves at Point Thomson. Since the start of the legislative session, Republicans in the majority have criticized Walker for keeping the litigation active, instead of offering a legislative remedy. Walker dropped the suit on Friday, in conjunction with the filing of his bill.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Arctic Policy Bill

Fri, 2015-02-13 17:17

The Alaska House of Representatives has passed legislation outlining the state’s Arctic policy.

The bill lays out the state’s values concerning the Arctic, and provides a general sense of direction for how lawmakers would like to see it developed. It acknowledges the “risks of a changing climate,” but also declares that the Legislature is “optimistic” that a “new era of economic and resource development” could benefit Alaska.

The bill offered on Friday also recognized the importance of the state’s indigenous cultures and the value of preserving them, but it did not specifically mention the state’s Native languages. Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Ketchikan Independent Dan Ortiz offered an amendment to specifically mention language in the bill, noting the declining numbers of speakers.

“They feel that a huge part of their culture is imperiled,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “I think it’s very important for us in a policy sense and also as an institution to recognize that the Native language are of an immeasurable cultural value to the state and who we are as a people.”

While one objection was raised that the amendment was redundantly, the measure was ultimately adopted unanimously.

An amendment offered by Eagle River Republican Lora Reinbold that would have stripped language supporting ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty failed 9 to 25. Reinbold argued that participation in that treaty would cede some of the nation’s sovereignty.

The Arctic policy bill passed 32 to 2, with North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson and Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis voting against it.

The legislation will now be considered by the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Corps. of Engineers Recommend Expanding Nome’s Deep-Water Arctic Port

Fri, 2015-02-13 16:04

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers is set to unveil its first steps toward expanding deep-water Arctic ports, and Corps officials say the main focus will be expanding the existing Port of Nome.

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“The report is making the recommendation for Nome, for construction at Nome at this time, basically due to its highly developed area, having a good runway, good hospital, already strong support that’s already there,” Bruce Sexauer, chief of the Alaska Army Corps’ civil works branch, said.

Sexauer stresses the choice is provisional until public comment and other evaluations are complete.

The Corps eventually hopes a system of deeper ports will be developed throughout Western Alaska.

Sexauer points to increased traffic in the Bering Strait, and growing resource extraction in the Arctic—including potential oil and gas development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas—as necessitating the Arctic ports, starting with Nome.

“This port will be able to provide support for those types of activities that are going on out there closer up in the Arctic,” Sexauer said. ”This will provide them with a closer area where they can bring in their resupply ships and offload crews closer up in the Arctic.”

The Army Corps of Engineers will be in Nome Tuesday to meet with Nome’s Port Commission. The full report will be released to the public by the end of next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines Police Department Faces Serious Shortfall In State Budget

Fri, 2015-02-13 16:03

Haines Police Department

The Haines Borough Police Department and dispatch services could face a dramatic funding loss under Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget. It would eliminate funding the state Department of Corrections, or DOC, gives each year to law enforcement in 15 small communities. That funding is meant to help communities run local jails, but in Haines it supports more than that.

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The Alaska DOC contracts with Haines police to operate a three-cell, six-bed jail. Under that contract, the DOC gave the Haines Police Department about $392,000 this year.

That money is meant to help run the local jail, where people who are arrested are held for short periods of time. But the state allotment funds more than just the jail. It made up 40 percent of the police department and dispatch’s entire budgets this year.

So, if the DOC were to cut the community jails money, the Haines Police Department could lose almost half of its funding. Police Chief Bill Musser says that loss could shut down the jail, and it could also mean downsizing the five-officer, five-dispatcher departments.

“Ultimately the cuts may reduce staffing in both dispatch and in terms of the officers,” Musser said.

A map of current community jails and DOC corrections facilities.

Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Remond Henderson says they’re learning that communities might rely on the state funding more than the DOC realized.

“We are not surprised at the fact that communities are coming forward and saying this will have an impact,” Henderson said. “We did not know what the extent of the impact would be.”

The community jails contracts cost the DOC about $10.5 million this year. Southeast communities that would be affected are Haines, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka and Craig. There are two DOC-run corrections facilities in Southeast where inmates can serve out longer sentences – in Juneau and Ketchikan.

Henderson says the governor has charged DOC with a general fund budget reduction of eight percent effective July 1. Zeroing out the community jails funding would take care of about 40 percent of that reduction. Henderson notes they’re also looking at how to cut costs at larger corrections facilities.

One reason the DOC is considering this cut is because a   number of community jail beds go empty. Henderson says of the about 157 beds in the 15 jails, only half are filled on average each night. In Haines, that number is even lower. Of the six beds in the Haines jail, Henderson says on average only one is used per day.

Chief Musser says that shows that crime is low in Haines. But the jail is still important.

“We may only occupy one bed, that’s nice in terms of the community, but we still have to be able to hold them there when we do have a problem.”

The Haines jail is classified as a Rural Jail Facility. It serves not only Haines police arrests, but Skagway police, state troopers, federal border agents and Coast Guard.

Musser says the jail held a total of 58 inmates throughout 2014. Inmates can serve up to 14 days in the jail.

“Most of the misdemeanors we get here are usually short, simple sentences,” Musser said. “For instance, anywhere for three upwards to 10 days for a DUI depending on the level of the DUI.”

Not having a local jail could mean people who are sentenced to serve even a short amount of time would go to Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau.

Walker’s proposed budget will likely go through a number of revisions before gaining the state legislature’s approval. The final budget will be decided in May. Meanwhile, Henderson says the DOC is reaching out to communities to see what kind of fallout the funding cuts would cause.

Since the funding makes up 40 percent of the Haines Police Department and dispatch’s budgets, Musser says he’ll work with other police chiefs to voice their opposition to the cuts.

“It’s gonna affect operations and it could affect personnel,” Musser said. “And it may well impact people’s ability to visit or have contact with people in the jail, so they’re gonna spend more money to make their visitations by having to travel. I think it’s gonna increase cost to the state because of travel. But bottom line for us is it may impact our services because we may have to reduce if we have moneys that we’re used to using that are no longer available.”

Musser says if they have to let go police officer or dispatchers because of the funding cut, it wouldn’t just impact the jail. It would impact the police’s community services as whole.

Haines Borough Manager Dave Sosa says this is the largest potential cut to Haines funding he’s seen in Walker’s proposed budget. If it goes through, Sosa says Haines will either have to lose some police services or figure out a way to make up for the funding loss.

Categories: Alaska News

Cuts Could Cost Fairbanks Schools Over 60 Jobs

Fri, 2015-02-13 16:01

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Schools superintendent says the district is facing a budget shortfall of up to $11 million in the coming school year. Karen Gaborik says that will require the district to eliminate more than 60 jobs.

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Categories: Alaska News

Some Yukon Quest Teams Surprised To Find Themselves Among Top-10

Fri, 2015-02-13 16:00

There are three Yukon Quest teams currently running among the top-10 that did not plan on racing with the front-runners when they left Whitehorse.

In fact, none of them were able to complete the race last year, so they returned simply to finish what they started.

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When Mike Ellis arrived in Dawson City, he had no idea what his place was.

“Art the beginning of the race I said I thought I’d be lucky to be even in the top-15 with the field and the names that this race had,” he said.

Ellis has started the Quest six times, but he has only finished three.

“This is the first Quest I’ve ever run where I didn’t’ have a schedule written down in my book, where I didn’t have definitive plan of what I was going to do,” Ellis said. “I really just wanted to put my blinders on and just focus on my dog team and I think that’s served me very well so far.”

French Canadian Normand Casavant had a similar attitude headed into the race.

“I just want to have a happy run and I let my dogs go and if I’m having a nice race and a competitive one, that’s life that’s going to give it to me and that’s maybe what’s happened right now,” Casavant said.

Last year, a case of shingles cut Casavant’s race short. He says the experience changed his perspective, but there are some things that never change.

Casavant is known as the singing musher, and that’s what he did when he realized he was running right on the heels of Cody Strathe.

“As we climbed up King Solomon’s Dome, the snow got deeper and deeper and my leaders got really excited to break trail and were just flying,” he said.

Strathe also came to finish what he started last year. In 2014, he had to scratch from the race with just over 100 miles to go. He says the early part of the race was tough, but he was encouraged when what started as a slow slog just outside Dawson City turned into a high point for his team.

“We got up on top and they were busting into drifts and bouncing through and we’d stop and the whole team’s tails would be wagging,” Strathe said.

The top-10 teams are likely to cross the Canada-Alaska border today. They’ve come just over halfway, but there’s still 400 miles of rough trail ahead before they reach the finish in Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

From Frozen To Cover Girl, Drag Queen Style Hinges On Hair

Fri, 2015-02-13 15:59

James Hoagland learned the art of wig making while performing as a drag queen for eight years. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

James Hoagland is in the business of wigs. Not just your ordinary costume and fashion wigs – his are specifically for drag queens. He spends hours styling hair and stitching it into wig caps. Last year, he sold 300 mostly to clients in the Lower 48 and internationally.

Hoagland does it all from a little studio in Juneau.

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“I’ve got Buxom and Cover Girl,” Hoagland said. “I’ve got the Vanilla Raspberry Swirl.”

This is a small sample of the wigs James Hoagland offers.

“The best wig name is Sandy Pecan Avalanche, which is exactly what you’d imagine it to look like,” Hoagland said.

James Hoagland made wigs at home before opening his studio in Downtown Juneau November 2014. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Despite such enticing names, most of Hoagland’s business is custom.

On this day he’s re-creating Elsa’s hair from the Disney movie “Frozen.” Usually, for character wigs, Hoagland has a picture to work off of, but he doesn’t need one in this case. He’s already made eight other Elsa wigs.

“One thing with drag queens is they’re very tied to pop culture and their shows are better when they are doing the latest song or the latest character from the hit movie,” he said.

Hoagland starts off with a manufactured blond wig about three feet long. It cost him about $30 and when he’s done styling it, he’ll sell it for $120.

James Hoagland’s goal is to make 360 wigs this year. He made 41 in January and has about 30 booked for February. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Of everything it takes to be a drag queen – the makeup, shoes, costume, music…

“The wig will make or break you. It really will,” he said, laughing.

People watching drag queens are drawn to the face. The next focal point, Hoagland says, is the hair.

“If your wig looks horrible, people really won’t be able to focus on anything else, they’ll be staring at your ugly wig,” he said.

The reason that Hoagland knows so much about the drag queen business is because he is a drag queen. He’s not performing now but he spent 8 years touring the county singing in night clubs, casinos and theaters. He found stable work as a Liza Minelli impersonator. His drag name is Gigi Monroe, which is also the name of his wig business.

James Hoagland isn’t performing regularly as a drag queen, but still considers himself one. His drag name is Gigi Monroe. (Photo courtesy James Hoagland)

Hoagland says the very nature of being a drag queen is a paradox.

“You’re in a wig, you’re in pounds of makeup and heavy lashes and shoes and costumes that probably aren’t breathable fabrics,” Hoagland said. “All of those things make it incredibly uncomfortable and part of your job is to look like you are the most comfortable and the most at ease and you feel beautiful and glamorous when you might feel like a monster.”

Hoagland started his wig business the summer of 2013 on a cruise ship. He was a costume designer for Norwegian Cruise Lines on the Alaska route. He was interested in earning extra money and experimented with making a wig, something he’d gotten adept at as a queen. After he made one, he put it online.

“It sold in, like, three minutes,” Hoagland said.

So he kept at it, trying different styles and putting all the wigs on Facebook.

“I had a network of 5,000 drag queen friends from all over the world,” Hoagland said.

Because of cruise ship employee rules, like not taking things off the ship, Hoagland kept his wig business under the radar; he didn’t want people to think he was stealing. He received packages of hair in Seattle and mailed wigs out in Skagway.

“I would sneak them off the ship in these bags and I would have my friends who were dancers on the ship carry some of them and it was just hilarious and it was so much fun,” he said.

Hoagland ended up making 50 wigs. As he was doing that on the ship, off the ship, he was falling in love. He met his partner while in port in Juneau and had a date every time he returned. They would meet up for dinner, have coffee.

“We went on hikes, we went to the ice caves, just kind of got to know each other and he was really what I was looking for in a lot of ways,” he said.

The shelves in James Hoagland’s studio are filled with synthetic hairpieces and wigs. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Hoagland says his wig business allowed him to take some risks – on a relationship and on Juneau. So far, they’re both working out.

The secret to good drag queen hair is height, and more height. Hoagland says wigs for men just have to be bigger. Makeup and body curves should also be emphasized.

“Whereas you down play things like shoulders and hands and feet or height, things that make people look more masculine,” Hoagland said.

Making big hair takes teasing and lots of hairspray – Extra Super Hold Aqua Net.

“This is like my light hairspray. The real stuff is the freezing spray. That stuff is like cement in an aerosol format,” he said.

James Hoagland has made nine Elsa wigs. He says the drag queen business is very tied to pop culture. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The teasing creates a nest of knots that you can’t see. Hoagland says it’s hidden under the pretty part, which in the character Elsa’s case is a long loose braid that falls down around her shoulder.

“It’s one of those styles that’s, like, ‘Oh, it’s supposed to look messy,’ but it can’t be messy. It has to look perfect,” he said.

For Hoagland, Juneau is perfect. He gets a lot of support from fellow small business owners who are also artists. And the post office treats his packages with extra care.

“In some ways, Juneau is the last place on earth you would ever expect a drag queen to be making wigs, but it’s also kind of the perfect place,” he said.

Hoagland doesn’t know how long he’ll be making wigs. But he does know, in one way or another, he’ll always be in the business of drag.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Nondalton

Fri, 2015-02-13 15:58

This week we’re heading to Nondalton, an Athabascan village on the edge of Lake Clark National Park: William Evanoff is president of the Nondalton Tribal Council.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 13, 2015

Fri, 2015-02-13 15:57

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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Murkowski Turns Sec. Kerry’s Gaze North

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Sec. of State John Kerry’s agenda these days is dominated by the world’s hot spots: Iran, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with him this week to move his focus to a cold spot: the Arctic.

Corps. of Engineers Recommend Expanding Nome’s Deep-Water Arctic Port

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers is set to unveil its first steps toward expanding deep-water Arctic ports, and Corps officials say the main focus will be expanding the existing Port of Nome.

Haines Police Department Faces Serious Shortfall In State Budget

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

The Haines Borough Police Department and dispatch services could face a dramatic funding loss under Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget. It would eliminate funding the state Department of Corrections, or DOC, gives each year to law enforcement in 15 small communities. That funding is meant to help towns run local jails, but in Haines, it supports more than that.

Bill Clarifies Alaska Attorney General’s Power To Settle Oil, Gas Litigation

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has introduced legislation clarifying the powers of the attorney general when settling litigation related to Alaska’s oil and gas resources.

AVTEC Nursing Programs Cut

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

AVTEC, the state’s vocational and technical school with campuses in Seward and Anchorage, will be losing programs due to the budget cuts.

Cuts Could Cost Fairbanks Schools Over 60 Jobs

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Schools superintendent says the district is facing a budget shortfall of up to $11 million in the coming school year. Karen Gaborik says that will require the district to eliminate more than 60 jobs.

Some Yukon Quest Teams Surprised To Find Themselves Among Top-10

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Brent Sass is still leading the Yukon Quest by a wide margin. His closest competitor is Allen Moore, who is almost 8 hours behind.

From Frozen To Cover Girl, Drag Queen Style Hinges On Hair

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
James Hoagland is in the business of wigs. Not just your ordinary costume and fashion wigs – his are specifically for drag queens. He spends hours styling hair and stitching it into wig caps. Last year, he sold 300 mostly to clients in the Lower 48 and internationally. Hoagland does it all from a little studio in Juneau.

300 Villages: Nondalton
This week we’re heading to Nondalton, an Athabascan village on the edge of Lake Clark National Park. William Evanoff is president of the Nondalton Tribal Council.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Turns Sec. Kerry’s Gaze North

Fri, 2015-02-13 14:06

photo: Department of State

Sec. of State John Kerry’s agenda these days is dominated by the world’s hot spots: Iran, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with him this week to move his focus to a cold spot: the Arctic.

The senator says Kerry isn’t entirely engaged in the far North, which Murkowski says is understandable.

“The secretary is very focused on issues as they relate to climate, so that aspect of the Arctic, I think it’s fair to say, he is engaged, ” she said after the meeting. “I don’t think that he has the bigger Arctic picture, the other Arctic pictures.”

Murkowski says she had about 40 minutes to draw his attention to the Arctic as a place where people live and need to make a living. She says she raised several issues related to commercial activity.

“One was the national security imperative for this country to make sure the trans-Alaska oil pipeline doesn’t get shut down because we lose throughput,” she said.

She also brought up transboundary mine concerns — the fear that Southeast Alaska salmon habitat could be damaged by large mines under development upriver in British Columbia. Murkowski says she and the rest of the Alaska delegation wrote Kerry’s department about it last year.

“And quite honestly, we’ve gotten nothing from the state department on this,” she said.

Kerry told her that, as a Massachusettsan, he was familiar with environmental problems drifting across the Canadian border. Murkowski says it seemed to register.

“He said, ‘I know full well what we’re talking about here and what the concerns would be from the residents of Alaska,’ so he said he would make sure that there was a new eye placed to it,” Murkowski recounted.

An official State Department photo of the meeting shows Robert Papp, the Department’s Arctic representative, attended, as did Secretary Kerry’s yellow lab, identified in the caption as “Ben the Diplomutt.”

Categories: Alaska News

Ocean Acidification And How It Affects Alaska’s Fisheries

Fri, 2015-02-13 12:00

Individual components of the final ocean acidification risk index for each census area showing the communities with the highest risk are in the Southeast and Southwest of the state. (Credit: NOAA)

Shellfish are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification, and colder waters are becoming more acidic than warm waters.  What does this mean for Alaska and its fisheries – especially crabs and oysters? Or for the food chain that feeds other species in the ocean?  The answers are beginning to come in from the scientific world, and we’ll learn more about ocean acidification on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • Jeremy Mathis, director, Ocean Environment Research Division, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
  • Callers statewide


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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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


Categories: Alaska News

Brent Sass Extends Yukon Quest Lead

Fri, 2015-02-13 11:10

Brent Sass was the first musher to reach Dawson during the 2015 Yukon Quest. (Photo by Emily Schwing/KUAC)

The first two Yukon Quest dog teams had smooth runs up and over American Summit and arrived safely in Eagle, the sixth checkpoint on the trail.

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In the process, Brent Sass gained time on rival Allen Moore, but there are still 400 miles of trail ahead and teams have to climb two more major summits.

This is the first time since 2011 that the Yukon Quest trail has followed the traditional route over American Summit. That year, Sass arrived in the checkpoint to relay a story about a dramatic rescue involving four-time champion Hans Gatt.

So, it was only fitting that Brent Sass had a yarn to spin when he arrived in Eagle, just after he descended the Summit.

“I got charged by another moose…,” he said.

Sass says he encountered a moose just as he came off the Forty Mile River to join the Taylor Highway.

“It literally just kept walking at us and I couldn’t do anything because if I would have taken my foot off the hooks, the dog team would have run right at it, so I was sort of crippled holding the dogs back,” Sass said.

The encounter is similar to one Sass had last year near Pelly Crossing Sass. He says this year, the moose kicked at his team.

“I was like ‘Oh God! My race is going to be over,” he said. “I’m going to have dogs hurt and everything, but they dodged it once again and I got a good look at the eye of a moose the second year in a row.”

Perhaps worse than a run-in with an angry moose is Sass’s anxiety about the team behind him.

“Every second that I go down the trail, I think that Allen’s going to catch me,” Sass said.

Sass left Dawson City six hours ahead of Allen Moore.

“There was like a time when he hadn’t even left Dawson yet and I was still looking over my shoulder, I was still looking down the trail going ‘ok, when’s his headlamp going to come?’ It’s not even mathematically possible!” he said.

Sass may not know exactly where his competition is on the trail, but there is one thing he is very sure of.

“It’s totally my race to lose at this point,” he said.

Teams have to take a mandatory six-hour layover in Eagle before the head back out on the trail toward Circle.

Sass left the checkpoint before Allen Moore even arrived, so he never got a look at the team ahead.

“His lead is substantial, but a lot of things can happen,” he said.

Moore decided to break up the 150 miles between Dawson and Eagle into three runs. Sass only did it in two.

“We had this plan made before the race.  We just thought it would better hopefully that they would have a lot of energy and the end of the race,” he said.

Early on, Allen Moore says he intentional slowed his team.

“It was hard to slow them down,” Moore said. “It felt like we were going downhill all the time.”

He also added an extra six hours of rest before they arrived in Dawson, because of a rule change that decreased the mandatory layover there by 12 hours.

“None of us knew how the dogs were going react to it, so do I regret it?” Moore said. “You never know what the competition is going to do.  You just have to make a plan and stick with it and hope it works out.  Sometimes it does and sometimes it don’t.”

Moore’s strategy is risky. He’s hoping extra rest will turn into the kind of speed his team can use to catch Brent Sass. And, says Moore, there’s still Eagle Summit.

“Four years ago, I carried every dog to the top,” Moore said. “It took my eight hours and it was 30 mile an hour winds and blowing snow.”

The second of three major summits on the Alaska side of the trail is still roughly 250 miles away.

Categories: Alaska News