Alaska News

Dimond High Presidential Scholar travels to D.C. to receive award

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-08-16 16:25
Makayla Maisey (right) and Lea Bouton, her teacher who accompanied her to D.C. to claim her Presidential Scholar award. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Earlier this summer, 161 high school seniors from across the United States were selected as U.S. Presidential scholars. Makayla Maisey was one of two scholars selected from Alaska.

Since starting high school at Dimond High in Anchorage, Maisey said she always wanted to be involved in lots of school activities. On top of getting excellent grades she’s been a varsity athlete in three different sports and a member of Key Club, a school volunteer group. But Maisey said the most rewarding experiences came from being elected class president her senior year — she was also class president her junior year.

Maisey said student government is what caused her to meet a broad cross section of her peers. And by the time she was getting her diploma, it had paid off.

“When I got there, I heard a lot of people say, ‘I’ve not seen any of these people before. There’s a lot of people I’ve never seen before, and we’ve gone to school together for the last four years,'” Maisey recalled. “I didn’t have that feeling.”

Maisey’s academic and extracurricular prowess caught the attention of the Department of Education, and she was nominated for the Presidential Scholar award. Following a lengthy application process Maisey had to wait to see if she was selected. While Maisey was OK waiting patiently for the results, her mom was a little more anxious.

One of the awards associated with being a presidential scholar was a medallion. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

“So she went online and googled them, and realized the list for that year had been released. So she sent me a picture of it and was excited and said, ‘Makayla! You made it. This happened,'” Maisey said. “And so that was how I found out, from a text from my mom before I heard from them later that day.”

Maisey and Lea Bouton, one of her teachers, went down to Washington D.C. to receive the award. Though it doesn’t come with any sort of monetary award, she received a medallion and took a photo with First Lady Melania Trump in the White House.

As she was touring the Capital, Maisey also met another public figure — though this time it was by accident. Maisey said she may have been the only scholar to have bumped into Vice President Mike Pence.

“And he was really friendly. He congratulated me and… I don’t know, I feel like even though he only spoke to me for a minute or so, it was a very personal interaction,” Maisey said. “He didn’t separate himself from the situation, and he was genuinely interested in it. So I felt really really special and kinda in shock after he left.”

Maisey will be attending Bringham Young University in Provo, UT this fall where she hopes to pursue a career as an orthodontist, although she said nothing is set in stone.

Categories: Alaska News

Diving for answers: Will blue king crab come back in the Pribilofs?

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-08-16 16:20
Jared Weems dives near St. Paul Island. His two-year research project is focused on the overfished blue king crab population around the Pribilof Islands. (Photo courtesy Jared Weems).

In the Pribilof Islands, no one’s gotten an accurate count of blue king crab since the population crashed hard in the 1980s. This summer, a marine biologist is trying to change that, with the species’ first in-depth study in more than 30 years. His ultimate goal: determine if blue crab can make a comeback — or if it’s gone for good.

It’s a foggy day on St. Paul Island and Jared Weems is itching for the weather to clear up. He wanted to get out on the water and back to work.

“There’s so much life up here in the North Pacific,” Weems said. “Just amazing, spectacular diving.”

Weems is a scientific diver and fisheries Ph.D. student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. But this summer, whenever the weather’s good, he’s something like a diving detective.

Weems’ research has him combing the sea floor around St. Paul, searching for the elusive blue king crab. By diving in nearshore waters, deploying drop cameras and setting collector traps, he’s hoping to find the crab that sweeping trawl surveys tend to miss.

A juvenile blue king crab in Weems’ lab in Juneau. This summer, he’s tracking them in the wild by diving in St. Paul’s nearshore waters. (Photo courtesy Jared Weems)

At this point Weems said it’s important to count as many as possible, because the species’ outlook seems pretty bleak.

“Blue crab has pretty much flat-lined right now in the Pribilof region,” Weems said.

But the population around St. Matthew Island, a few hundred miles north, had a similar collapse before rebounding enough to support a handful of commercial openings in recent years.

Is that a sign the Pribilof stock could also recover? Weems isn’t sure yet. He’ll have a better idea after he completes his population estimate — when he knows how many crab are in the water, how many are surviving to adulthood, and how much habitat they have to work with.

With that data, Weems said he’ll gauge if the blue crab population can rebuild naturally, if it needs some help from scientists or if there’s just not enough stock to rebuild.

Whatever the final answer may be, Weems said now is the time to take advantage of each clear day.

“This might be one of the last opportunities to really understand this stock before we have to move on or before it’s gone completely,” Weems said. “This should serve as a foundational study as to where blue king crab goes in the future.”

The preliminary results will be out in January with final data released in 2019.

Weems’ project is supported by The North Pacific Research Board, the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation, and Biology Program.

Categories: Alaska News

Electronic monitoring available for smaller fishing boats

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-08-16 14:46
Fishing boats in Petersburg’s South Harbor (KFSK file photo)

The National Marine Fisheries has published a final rule allowing use of electronic monitoring instead of an on-board human observer for smaller longline and pot gear fishing vessels. The final rule published Tuesday, August 8 allows vessels under 60 feet fishing for halibut and groundfish to volunteer for video camera monitoring for next year’s season.

Chris Rilling is the director of the fisheries monitoring and analysis division at the agency’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

“Many of these vessels have had limitations in terms of space or life raft capacity for carrying an observer and so we’ve been working with these vessels to develop electronic monitoring alternatives to collect the data we need for management purposes,” Rilling explained this week.

A series of cameras is used to document fish species that are caught, kept or tossed back overboard. That information is used to manage fisheries. One camera also monitors compliance rules on discarding fish overboard along with seabird avoidance measures used on each boat.

The rule applies to part of the fleet that’s under partial coverage; not every boat is required to carry an observer. Instead observers have been placed on randomly selected boats. 90 vessels volunteered to be in the program this year, what’s called a “pre-implementation phase.” This final rule makes the voluntary video monitoring permanent and it takes effect September 7th. The deadline to apply to take part in electronic monitoring for next year is November 1st. All boats, even those already entered in this year’s phase have to re-apply by that date in order to take part next year.

Dan Falvey of the industry group Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association thinks electronic monitoring (EM) in its first phase has been working well.

“We’ve been in pre-implementation for two years now and every year more boats indicate an interest in signing up,” Falvey said. “Mostly it’s just because they’re learning about EM systems and making a decision whether taking a camera and turning it on when selected is more compatible with their vessel operations than trying to take a human observer out.”

Falvey said the final rule is a long time coming. He credited Senator Lisa Murkowski for persuading the agency to consider the alternative type of monitoring and thanks the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for grant funding to industry associations for the program.

Groundfish boats already pay a one and a quarter percent landing fee for the observer program. The federal agency this year and next is covering the cost of video monitoring. Starting in 2019, that money will pay for both human observers and electronic monitoring.

The agency expects coverage on around 30 percent of trips next year. That’s higher than the coverage rate for observers on those boats this year. Other fleets in Alaska are already using electronic monitoring mainly for compliance with fishing regulation and limits.

Boats eligible to apply for the electronic monitoring will be getting a letter from the federal agency. The online application system is not expected to be up and running until later this summer. Once it is functioning fishermen can apply here or contact a call center at 1-855-747-6377.

Categories: Alaska News

Catching food security in a dipnet

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-08-16 13:08
Bradley Fredrickson cleans his salmon on the shores of the Kasilof River. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

Throughout July, dense streams of vehicles head down to the Kenai Peninsula with large, awkward dipnets strapped to the roof or hanging out the back. One weekend, Dawn McAlpin’s aging RV was one of them. It broke down on the three-hour long journey from Anchorage to the Kasilof River, but eventually, she made it to the gull-filled beach where I met her.

“Cost-wise, does it make sense for you guys to supplement your diet with fish?” I asked her as she cleaned fish, sharing her equipment with others she met on the beach.

“No. Not cost-wise,” she said. “It’s cheaper to go to the store.”

McAlpin expressed a common opinion – fishing isn’t a solution for food insecurity in Alaska because it costs too much to do it. But is she right?

A few hours after McAlpin packed up her fish, Bradley Frederickson from Trapper Creek pushed his 5-foot-wide metal dipnet into the river at the same spot. He stood chest-deep in the icy cold water, holding the end of the long metal pole.

After a few seconds I asked, “So now you just wait?”

“Nope,” he replied as a fish struck his neck. He splashed back to shore, ready to bonk the salmon on its head.

Twenty-year-old Fredrickson, his parents, grandma, and siblings all know what it’s like to be hungry.

“There were winters where I had nothing but fish and potatoes and rice,” he recalled. “That was it. That’s literally what we ate all winter long, every meal.”

Many summers he has helped his family fill the freezer by sport fishing. He’d drive 20 to 30 miles round trip to local rivers, but he was limited to three fish per day. It took Fredrickson weeks to fill the freezer, and he said the fish were in bad shape.

“The fish start to deteriorate because of the time they’re in the water,” he explained. The salmon swim about 75 miles upstream before they reach him.

Dipnetters fish the Kasilof as the sunsets in July. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

The other adults in the house can’t fish either because of disabilities or being busy looking after small children.

So this year, Fredrickson decided to take a day off work from his construction job and join his friend for dipnetting on the Kasilof.

He said his boss fully supports him. “He’s like, ‘Good, do it all. Go fill your freezer like I just did.’ And I’m like ‘Awesome! I’m so excited now!”

But does it pay off to miss work and drive more than 550 miles round trip, just to get fish? His friend joined him on the beach and they start doing the math.

They thought they would spend about $150 in gas total, they were camping on the beach for free, already owned or borrowed the gear, and were not spending a lot on food. Given current prices of whole red salmon — about $6.50 per pound — they figured they’d only need to catch five salmon to make it worthwhile.

Only a few hours in, Fredrickson already had eight. His limit for his 6-person family was 75.

They aren’t the only ones doing the math. So are researchers at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, like Marylynne Kostick with the subsistence division.

“It economically makes sense and nutritionally makes sense for residents of the state to engage in subsistence activities,” she said. “And that also makes sense for urban residents as well.”

She said you can’t put a monetary value on the communal and cultural aspects of subsistence harvesting, but researchers do know that fishing pays off. In some rural communities, people can use their food stamps to buy subsistence gear, like fishing nets, which makes it even more affordable. However, few people use the benefit to buy gear.

In 2014, the most recently available data, Alaskans harvested nearly 46 million pounds of wild foods, including fish, game, and plants. In rural areas, that averaged out to about 275 pounds per person. In urban areas, it was only about 19. If all of that food was replaced by store-bought items at $6 per pound, it would cost more than $275 million.

So is dipnetting on the already crowded shores of local rivers the solution for statewide food insecurity in Alaska?

Kostick said even though it can easily pay for itself, it’s not for everyone.

“You know, a lot of folks, they don’t have time,” she said. “They don’t have the interest to go out and harvest their own fish, to go down and use the personal use fishery. But those fish are still being caught out there.”

Alaska’s commercial fisheries are pulling in nearly 99 percent of the state’s wild caught fish and game.

Tapping into that and “making it readily available and easily accessible to residents. That really has the potential to bolster food security in the state,” she said.

But even if that happens, some residents, like Fredrickson will still be hitting the shores, harvesting their freshly caught fish.

“If you couldn’t hunt and fish, would you have enough food in your household?” I asked him as he gutted his salmon.

“No. No,” he said emphatically. “Not even close. It would be bad.”

So he kept fishing.

Categories: Alaska News

Peter Pan Seafoods Port Moller plant devastated in overnight fire

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-08-16 12:21
The Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant in Port Moller, which suffered heavy damage during a fire that continued to burn into Wednesday, Aug. 16.
(Peter Pan Seafoods)

The Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant in Port Moller has been devastated by a massive fire that burned through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.

So far no one has been reported injured, but power, running water and most phone and internet connections are down in remote community.

Bob Murphy is the ADF&G area management biologist based in Port Moller.

“The fire started kind of in the production end of things, kind of the freezing warehouse at Peter Pan Seafoods last night. And consumed most of the production facilities that we can tell,” Murphy said.

Murphy was reached a little before 8 a.m. Wednesday.

“Nobody’s been able to get down there because the fire’s still going. There’s obviously very, very extensive damage to the main production facility and office for Peter Pan, [it] is definitely consumed in fire,” Murphy said. “We can’t see some of the facilities on the other dock because the smoke is so heavy, so we don’t know what the status of those are, but uh, obviously still there’s a fire going on at this time. The main warehouses and all the living quarters are ok, and everybody’s safe, is the main thing.”

Murphy had just gone into work to try and restore the state services.

“I’m literally on my knees in the office right now trying to plug stuff in,” Murphy said. “We’ve got emergency generators here so we can get a functioning office right now, because all the power is out in Port Moller.”

A fisherman who watched the fire from his vessel reported that he saw flames shooting 150 feet high, and that the long dock was eventually cut away to contain the fire.

“The dock was cut to prevent the fire from basically coming towards more buildings,” Murphy confirmed, saying it was burning past the point of being able to contain it.

The cause of the fire has not been given. Port Moller is “Peter Pan’s most remote facility,” according to the company website. The PPSF corporate office in Seattle had not offered comment by 9 a.m.

Murphy offered his best perspective on the firefighting efforts that were still ongoing.

“They have fire suppression systems here, and they’ve got water lines and hoses and such, and those were all used early on trying to keep the fire at bay, but it’s a 100-plus-year-old building, buildings and lots of old timber and dry timber, and once it got going it was really hard, couldn’t stop it,” Murpy said. “It went on for several hours, probably at least two hours I think, maybe two and a half, before it just got so intense. And now you’re down to where there’s fuel and there’s ammonia tanks and lines, and gets to the point where it starts being very dangerous to be around, and there was no way to keep fighting it.”

Murphy said he will continue to publish catch and escapement numbers for the Area M North Peninsula fisheries, and will likely make management decisions today as well, but he’s not sure if the fleet will be able to fish without their buyer able to take the catch.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen, but they will not be processing fish at the Port Moller plant, that’s for sure,” Murphy said.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage partners with DHS on human trafficking

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 18:17

Officials in Anchorage are trying to get a better handle on human trafficking. And to do that, they’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Listen now

Nora Morse is with the Anchorage Police Department. She said the partnership means three separate trainings this month that fit within a national Homeland Security campaign to educate police and healthcare workers who may be on the front lines of identifying trafficking victims.

“We all know that human trafficking is kind of a crime that lurks in the dark. The more that people are educated about what it is and what the signs are, the better we can be as a community about identifying it,” Morse said. “So it’s helpful just for education for the public and for people who are working in this field — or people who don’t even know they’re working in a field where human trafficking could occur.”

The arrangement does not come with any additional federal resources. But Morse said just starting to track the problem is a meaningful step, especially when it comes to industries in Alaska that are susceptible to labor trafficking.

“There aren’t good data tracking mechanisms in place,” Morse said. “So we don’t actually have good numbers. But we can see here in Alaska, we have a lot of industries where this could be happening like fish processing, seasonal things, tourism work.”

The trainings in Anchorage are scheduled for later in August.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 18:09

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn

Listen now

100+ Sitkans attend candlelight vigil for Charlottesville

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

The events in Charlottesville continued to ripple across the country, with protests to condemn racism and to mourn the counter-protester who was killed on Saturday. About 50 people gathered over the weekend in Homer, and some 300 came out Sunday in downtown Anchorage.  On Monday, dozens of people joined a candlelight vigil in Sitka.

Anchorage partners with DHS on human trafficking

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Officials in Anchorage are trying to get a better handle on human trafficking. And to do that, they’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

With F-35 squads set for Eielson, thousands of people may come up with them

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

More than 5,000 people may come to the Fairbanks area over the next four years as part of the move to base two squadrons of F-35 fighters at Eielson Air Force Base. The latest estimate announced Monday is well above the previous estimate of 3,500. The bigger population increase is expected to place a greater burden on local services.

Can Alaska Native villagers in the YK Delta get a fair trial?

Teresa Cotsirilos, KYUK – Bethel

A new court case argues that the way in which state juries are selected in Alaska discriminates against rural, Native communities. The case could significantly impact the Delta’s court system if it’s successful.

High levels of wastewater bacteria found at Alaska beaches

Associated Press

Alaska officials have found high levels of a wastewater and sewage pathogen at Ketchikan beaches.

Walker signs SB 88, Mental Health Trust land exchange

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker was joined in Ketchikan on Thursday by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, state Sen. Bert Stedman and state Rep. Dan Ortiz to sign a bill accepting a land trade between the U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Mental Health Trust.

Prominent musher Joee Redington passes away at 74

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Alaska’s dog mushing community lost a prominent member today. Joee Redington passed away at a hospital in Fairbanks at age 74.

Dam protects Fairbanks from another ’67 flood

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Water from rain swollen Chena River flooded Fairbanks 50 years ago this week, displacing thousands and causing $80 million in damage. The epic flood also had broader implications. It inspired creation of the national flood insurance program, and prompted federal construction of the Chena Flood Control project.

Can sea stars make a comeback in Kachemak Bay?

Aaron Bolton, KBBI – Homer

Sea star wasting syndrome, or disease as it has become known, hit Kachemak Bay hard in 2016, killing about 90 percent of sunflower and true star populations.

Categories: Alaska News

Can Alaska Native villagers in the YK Delta get a fair trial?

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 17:24
The Alaska courthouse in Bethel (Anna Rose MacArthur / KYUK)

A new court case argues that the way in which state juries are selected in Alaska discriminates against rural, Native communities. The case could significantly impact the Delta’s court system if it’s successful.

Listen now

This story started about five years ago outside of Kiana, when Teddy Smith swore he saw an enukin – one of the legendary little people. Smith is Inupiat and a small-time TV actor. At the time, his mother had just died, which had affected him deeply. Smith spent the days following her death camped out in a remote cabin, hiking the tundra and surviving on berries and water. He said that he could hear the enukins’ voices, and they “followed him continually, day and night.” At one point, an enukin tried to enter the remote cabin where he was staying. When Smith saw the enukin, he screamed for it to get out of the cabin and then started shooting at it.

In reality, Smith didn’t shoot an enukin. He shot two hunters, one in the chest and one in the arm, and then fled on a raft down the river. Smith said that he was trying to get back to Kiana to “find out what was real and what isn’t.” The two hunters survived and the State Troopers arrested Smith, charging him with first-degree attempted murder.

At trial, Smith’s attorneys argued that if Smith was going to be judged by a jury of his peers, then some of the jurors in his case had to come from the region’s remote villages. People from hub communities like Kotzebue, they argued, might not understand the cultural significance of enukins. But prosecutors claimed that bringing jurors in from the rural villages would be too expensive. The judge ruled in their favor, and none of the members of Smith’s jury were people who had been raised in the villages. Smith was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Tara Rich is the Legal and Policy Director of the ACLU in Alaska. Citing a study from the 1990s, she said that rural Alaskans see the court system as remote, intimidating and as an unfathomable institution.

Jury selection has been a problem in Alaska for a long time. Smith’s attorney is appealing his case, and the ACLU and the Native American Rights Fund have jointly filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting that appeal. They argue that Alaska’s current jury selection system violates Smith and other defendants’ civil rights.

Rich said that Alaska’s state court systems do not select jurors from dozens of the state’s remote villages. The state claims that it would be too expensive to transport village residents to hub cities and house them there. These excluded villages are largely Alaska Native, and as a result, Rich said that 30 percent of Alaska Natives will never be called to serve on a jury, even though Alaska Natives are disproportionately represented in cases in the state’s criminal justice system.

According to Rich, the policy of excluding villagers from juries alienates village residents from a criminal justice system that’s supposed to serve them. And when residents are accused of a crime, the jury that judges them might not have any Native members at all.

“And that is such a critical part about the fairness of this process. That decisions are not made, particularly the decision of someone’s freedom, based on someone’s cultural compatibility and ability to relate,” Rich said.

She added that the Bethel Court System is, in some ways, worse than most. It includes more villages than some other courts do. Bethel’s court selects jurors who live within a 50-mile radius of the courthouse, and Aniak and Emmonak’s courthouses also only pull jurors from nearby villages. As a result, Rich said in the YK Delta, “40 percent of Alaska Native residents are never called to a jury. So that’s slightly more than the state average.”

Smith’s appeal, including the brief from the ACLU and NARF, is currently pending before the Alaska Court of Appeals.

Categories: Alaska News

Dam protects Fairbanks from another ’67 flood

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 17:03
Chena Flood Control project manager Tim Feavel stands inside the “gallery”, from where giant gates can be lowered to divert flow of the Chena River. (Dan Bross / KUAC)

Water from rain swollen Chena River flooded Fairbanks 50 years ago this week, displacing thousands and causing $80 million in damage. The epic flood also had broader implications. It inspired creation of the national flood insurance program, and prompted federal construction of the Chena Flood Control project. The dam and levy system in North Pole regulate flow of the Chena during high water, to prevent another catastrophic flood.

One thing is very clear driving along the top of the Chena Flood control project Moose Creek dam and looking out its 3,000-acre impoundment basin: a lot of work when into it.

“This floodway alone, they had to clear timber with big CATs and dozers out there moving that material,” Chena Flood Control Project manager Tim Faevel said.

Faevel has been working at the Army Corps of Engineers project for the past 26 years. Largely completed in 1980, the system employs an 8-mile long gravel dam connected to a levy system that, during very high water, can channel the Chena’s flow water another 20 miles to the Tanana River by passing the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole. Faevel said that happened in the spring of 1992, the first real test of the system.

“The ’92 flood event really, I think, sealed the deal for a lot of these engineers that were involved at this,” Faevel said. “It worked. Everything, all the components worked.”

Faevel said avoided flood damage from that event and others have easily paid for the $200 million project. Looking down on the Chena River today it’s hard to imagine so much water.

“Probably only two or three feet deep right now,” Faevel said. “Doesn’t look like a lot. Salmon migrating upstream.”

Atop the central component of the dam, the “flood works” is a concrete structure spanning the 140 foot width of the Chena. There are large gates below us that can be incrementally closed to regulate the river’s flow toward Fairbanks.

“30-ton flood gates, there’s four of them. 25 by eight feet in size and so those are hydraulically lowered down into the bed of the river if we do have a flood event,” Faevel said as he waked through heavily secured doors to show the system. “So this is the outlet works control structure. It’s down in the gallery — we call this the gallery. And these numbers on the walls are the stations for operating each one of those four gates.”


Faevel described a carefully engineered process, employing numerous river gauges up and down stream, monitored during high water to precisely adjust the flood gates to keep the flow toward Fairbanks at 8,000 cubic feet per second.

”We’re operating 24 hours a day. During a flood event we’re making gate settings hourly, and it might be only three of four inches at a time, or something like that. Just to try to keep right there at that 8,000 mark.”

Faevel underscored that Chena Flood Control Project, which costs about $3 million a year to maintain and operate is simple.

“It’s durable. It’s lasted the test of time,” Faevel said. “And we continue to make improvements, small improvements along the way and change operations slightly. But for the most prat, we’ve done this the same way since 1980.”

That’s assuring even today, with the Chena flowing quietly through the open flood gates at under a thousand cubic feet per second, given that 50 years ago this month, the Chena’s flow peaked at an estimated at 74,000 CFS, enough to put most of Fairbanks underwater.

Categories: Alaska News

With F-35 squads set for Eielson, thousands of people may come up with them

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 16:40
The economic benefits that will come with two squadrons of F-35s scheduled to be based at Eielson beginning in 2021 are now expected to draw more than 5,000 people to the area, a consultant said Monday. (DVIDS/U.S. Air Force)

More than 5,000 people may come to the Fairbanks area over the next four years as part of the move to base two squadrons of F-35 fighters at Eielson Air Force Base. The latest estimate announced Monday is well above the previous estimate of 3,500. The bigger population increase is expected to place a greater burden on local services.

The new population-growth projections were announced at a meeting Monday in Salcha by consultants hired by the Fairbanks North Star Borough to study how the area can accommodate Eielson’s expansion. Shelly Wade is a member of the Arcadis project team that’s conducting the study. She says the higher projections include 400 or so additional personnel the Air Force will likely bring to Eielson, along with their family members.

“It’s highly likely the additional positions that’ve been requested by the Air Force will be approved,” Wade said.

Wade said the higher projections also include the number of people who would be drawn to the Fairbanks area by the jobs and other economic opportunities that would be generated by all the new personnel coming to Eielson.

“So, those folks needs services,” Wade said. “They need food services, retail services, mechanics, child care – all of these things.”

Arcadis’ studies suggest the numbers of those who would move here for jobs related to the expansion range from about 1,700 to just over 2,000. Wade told about two dozen people at the meeting that those are preliminary numbers that’ll be revised. The meeting in Salcha was the first of seven the consultants will hold around Fairbanks this week to identify shortages of housing, schools and other resources that may occur with the influx of new residents drawn by the expansion.

Jeff Stepp is a special assistant to borough Mayor Karl Kassel. Stepp is working with the Arcadis community outreach that’s being conducted to get public input on gaps in services that need to be filled before the new personnel arrive.

Twenty-four people attended last night’s community outreach meeting at the Salcha Senior Citizens Center on Johnson Road. It was the first of seven such meetings the borough and its contractor consultants are conducting around the Fairbanks area this week. (Tim Ellis/KUAC)

“I think both Eielson Air Force Base and the Fairbanks North Star Borough have a shared interest in making sure the expansion accommodates the needs of the current residents and the future residents,”  Stepp said. “We got a lot of really good ideas, and good input, from these folks from Salcha who showed up to talk with us.”

Many of the comments concerned the sluggish economy and its effect on the local housing market. Others talked about a lack of medical facilities near Eielson and inadequate internet and cellphone service in and around the base. Shelly Curtis, an administrative aide at Salcha School, said enforcement of speed limits and improved intersections are badly needed along the Richardson Highway.

“Our suggestion is turn lanes,” Curtis said, “some turn lanes at some of the higher-traffic (areas), such as near the school, where we’re on a curve…”

Curtis said turn lanes would help buses and other school-related traffic get on and off highway more safely at the school, located about 35 miles south of Fairbanks. Salcha Fire Chief Ernie Misewicz said turn lanes also are needed for several busy intersections along the Richardson just south of Eielson.

“There’s an increase in commercial truck traffic – semi’s and what-not delivering goods back and forth,” Misewicz said. “We also have a tremendous amount of military traffic that comes through that are either going down to Greely for some maneuvers or they’re going to go up on the Johnson Road.”

The chief also said the ten local fire departments that have a mutual-aid agreement with Eielson’s will need to train more before the F-35s arrive, so they’ll all be better-prepared to respond to emergencies, including those involving aircraft, that occur off-base.

Categories: Alaska News

100+ Sitkans attend candlelight vigil for Charlottesville

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 16:27
Raised in Charlottesville, Elizabeth Herendeen talked about how the violent clash beween “Unite the Right” marchers and counter-protestors has affected her hometown. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

President Trump said again today the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia weren’t solely to blame for the violence there. As he did this weekend, Trump suggested the left-wing counter-demonstrators were also culpable.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said.

Trump also defended the protestors. He said some weren’t neo-Nazis – they just didn’t want to see a Confederate general’s statue come down, a position he sounded sympathetic to.

“This week it’s Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “I notice that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder: Is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”

Meanwhile, the events in Charlottesville continued to ripple across the country, with protests to condemn racism and to mourn for the counter-protester who was killed Saturday.

About 50 people gathered over the weekend in Homer, and some 300 came out Sunday in downtown Anchorage.

On Monday, dozens of people joined a candlelight vigil in Sitka.

A little girl watched her mother light a candle at Sitka’s peace vigil, which drew over 100 people around a large totem pole in the center of town. Some brought tea lights cupped in seashells, others housed candles wrapped in aluminum foil

The candles are for creating “a safe space for community, in solidarity with Charlottesville and beyond.” That’s how organizer Hannah Guggenheim described the event on Facebook.

Holding a microphone, Guggenheim began the vigil with a quote from anti-Apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela.

“’No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or religion. People must learn to hate and if they learn to hate, they can be taught to love.’” Guggenheim added,  “So that’s why I’m here. That’s why we’re all here, today.”

Many attended to talk about the nature of hate in 2017 America and how to move in a direction of love in Sitka. For a town where the majority of the population is white, the gathering was fairly diverse and candid about Sitka’s own history of colonial occupation on Tlingit land.

Over 100 people gathered at a vigil in Sitka for the counterprotestor who lost her life in Charlottesville (Photo by Emily Kwong)

Lakota Harden brought sage to burn. Dale Williams recalled how in 1965 someone mounted a burning cross on the Sheldon Jackson Campus, in response to a local Civil Rights march.

Dionne Brady-Howard hoped the events in Charlottesville would spur further dialogue on not only what happened this weekend, but just how deeply racism in America runs.

“If nothing else, it’s brought to light how much hatred there still is and things like institutional racism and generational trauma across our nation,” Brady-Howard said.

Martina Kurzer grew up in Germany. She said video footage of the street fighting in Virginia brought flashbacks to stories her grandparents told her, “stories of street fights between Communists and Nazis in the year 1925.”

For Elizabeth Herendeen, who moved to Sitka three months ago, this is all new. She grew up in Charlottesville and attended the University of Virginia, where the “Unite the Right” rally converged.

“Just talking to my mom this morning, people are afraid to go out and live their lives and just to run errands or go to work,” Herendeen said.

Alt-right leaders have vowed to return to her hometown.

Over 100 people gathered at a vigil in Sitka for the counterprotestor who lost her life in Charlottesville (Photo by Emily Kwong)

In April, the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove a statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Opponents sued and a district court judge postponed the decision for six months. The case is still in court, making the city a battleground for white supremacists to push for its protection. In June, the City Council renamed Lee Park — where the statue is erected — Emancipation Park.

David Kanosh shared how the possibility of racially-motivated violence was a reality for him in 2003. He was beaten in a bathroom in Sitka’s ANB Harbor.

“I was beaten and left for dead by some people who carved a swastika in my chest. Do I have fear of going out that door? Of course. I always have that fear in my heart now. But I always face that fear with love because I always feel the people of Sitka that came out when I was in the hospital,” Kanosh said. “Will this dialogue continue? It must always continue.”

Sometimes that dialogue takes shape with music.

Joining hands again, the vigil closed with the an anthem from the Civil Rights era — the gospel song, “We Shall Overcome.”

Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin contributed to this story. 

Categories: Alaska News

Prominent musher Joee Redington passes away at 74

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 16:12
Joe Redington, Brent Sass and Pam Redington (Photo courtesy of Brent Sass’ Wild and Free Mushing Facebook)

Alaska’s dog mushing community lost a prominent member today. Joee Redington passed away at a hospital in Fairbanks at age 74.

Redington was the son of Joe Redington Senior, often called the “father of the Iditarod.” And though the younger Joee Redington competed in some of the earliest Iditarod races, he and his wife Pam were better known as champion sprint mushers.

The couple moved to the small Interior community of Manley Hot Springs in the early 70s, where they’ve lived since.

Condolences and remembrances poured in over social media after news of Redington’s passing spread, including from many of the most prominent mushers in Alaska. Eureka musher Brent Sass wrote he was at a loss for words after losing a mentor, best friend, “and one of the best dog men to walk this earth.”

Categories: Alaska News

Can sea stars make a comeback in Kachemak Bay?

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 15:56
A researcher examines an ochre star with whitened arms — a symptom of sea star wasting syndrome. So far, about 20 different species along the Pacific Coast appear to be vulnerable to the disease. (Photo courtesy Greg Davis)

Sea star wasting syndrome, or disease as it has become known, hit Kachemak Bay hard in 2016, killing about 90 percent of sunflower and true star populations.

Researchers eagerly waited for spring to roll around in hopes their numbers would rebound.

As the days got longer, it quickly became apparent that wasn’t going to happen this year, but there is some hope the disease is waning.

Sea star wasting disease has been demolishing sea star populations along the West Coast for the past few years.

It begins with lesions and quickly progresses to full-blown deterioration.

“Eventually the sea stars appear to be melting away and rotting away,” Katie Gavenus said.

Gavenus works with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and has been monitoring sea star populations at three sites in Kachemak Bay for about four years.

The disease was first documented in the area in 2014, but populations of true stars remained relatively steady until August of last year.

Gavenus then saw a significant increase in the number stars in the ladder stages of the disease, essentially melting away.

Since last year, adult true stars have shown little sign of their existence in Kachemak Bay.

“I just looked back at our data from late June and what we just collected last week, and we found two true stars in one of them, zero in another,” Gavenus said of the three beaches she monitors. “So, really a significant decrease in the number of true stars that we’re seeing.”

Gavenus notes prior to the disease, 50 to 75 true stars could be seen at these sites.

Other species have also been hit hard in the bay.

University of Alaska Fairbanks marine biology professor Brenda Konar has worked with Gulf Watch Alaska to monitor Kachemak Bay since 2002.

Konar trains scuba divers in Kasitsna Bay near Seldovia every spring and sends trainees to survey for sunflower stars.

“This year, not a single sunflower star was seen there, which is crazy, because normally they’re everywhere,” Konar said.

But, not all hope is lost. Konar’s Ph.D. student Ben Weitzman tracks sea star populations in Prince William Sound. Weitzman also works for the U.S. Geological Survey as a wildlife biologist. This year, he’s been seeing signs of a rebound.

“At some of the sites around Knight Island, we were seeing juvenile sunflower stars, the pycnopodias, about the size of your palm,” Weitzman said. “We weren’t seeing them everywhere, but it was nice to see them at least some places.”

However, Weitzman is cautiously optimistic.

Locations from northern California to the coast of British Columbia have seen increases in juvenile recruitment over the past year, but survival has been a mixed bag.

Weitzman has the same questions other researches have been asking.

“Our big question is are these guys going to survive? Will this recruitment pulse that’s come in actually start to repopulate the sunflower stars in the system?” Weitzman wondered. “Maybe they don’t survive. Maybe they survive in only some of the bays, we’ll see.”

Weitzman noted other sites Gulf Watch monitors in Katmai and Kenai Fjords national parks haven’t seen the same signs of life.

As to why researchers are seeing a pulse in Prince William Sound, Weitzman said that’s a complicated answer.

Starfish are satellite spawners, releasing eggs and sperm into the water column.

Where their larva lands is largely depends on ocean currents.

“There could be more local retention of larva there,” Weitzman said. “It could just be conditions are a little cooler or warmer, they vary in some way that allows the sunflower stars to be successful this year.”

Konar thinks conditions in Kachemak Bay could lead to a similar spike in juvenile stars in the next few years, and there are small signs that could happen.

Researchers have found juvenile true stars hiding under rocks and in non-surveyed locations, but only time will tell if those signs translate into a rebound.

Categories: Alaska News

Emperor goose hunt opens again after 30 years

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 15:41
Three emperor geese flying at the Yukon Delta Wildlife Refuge. The geese will be open for harvesting for the first time in 30 years. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters)

Alaska resident waterfowl hunters will have the opportunity to harvest emperor geese this fall for the first time in 30 years.

Federal regulations for the 2017–2018 waterfowl hunting season allow a statewide harvest of 1,000 emperor geese. Registration permits are available now for seven hunt areas; the bag limit will be one emperor goose per hunter per season.

A maritime species featuring distinctive white heads and necks and pale-gray wings and body plumage, the emperor goose is exclusive to Alaska and the Russian Far East. Conservation efforts over recent decades helped the geese recover from a low population size to a harvestable level.

In Western Alaska, hunt areas include Game Management Units 22, 23 and 18. Season dates for these units are September 1 to December 16, and the hunt quota is 125 birds. Each unit requires a unique registration permit.

Successful hunters must report their harvest of an emperor goose by phone or online within 72 hours in Western Alaska areas. All hunts will be subject to closure by emergency order to avoid exceeding area harvest quotas.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast summer Dungeness harvest the worst in decades

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-15 15:03
Dungeness crab. (Photo/Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

The commercial harvest for Dungeness crab in Southeast Alaska this summer was the lowest in several decades. But it might not be a complete bust. The harvest numbers only tell part of the story.

The summer season for Dungies closed three weeks early in Southeast.

The thing is Dungeness crab in Southeast are tricky because state managers don’t know a lot about them. The crab are on a four-to-five-year life cycle and the commercial fishery is expected to fluctuate accordingly. But there are no stock assessment surveys, so biologists rely on commercial harvests to track the population.

Most years the population seems healthy enough to hold a two-month fishery.

But this summer season closed early because the harvests weren’t meeting the threshold set in state regulations. The season brought in 1.3 million pounds, which is the lowest harvest in over 30 years. The historical summer average is 2.7 million.

Since the season was cut weeks short it’s not surprising the overall harvest was low.

The situation is kind of a catch-22. Managers like Kellie Wood, a Crab Biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, have to close the fishery because of low numbers. But now, they won’t get a picture of what a full harvest would have looked like.

“I think overall though, in general, things weren’t as good,” Wood said. “And a lot of that could be due to the fact that the crab were just not on the bite.”

“Not on the bite” refers to the crab’s molting when they lose their shell and are not hungry. Dungeness crab fishing is all about luring crab into baited pots when they are hungry. And crab without a hard shell or “soft crab” have no value anyway.

Wood said there has been some anecdotal evidence from fishermen reporting light-colored crab near the end of the fishery. That would indicate crab that recently molted. So this summer’s low harvest could be due to a late molt. It could mean that the crab are there, it’s just bad timing.

“You know after they molt they bury in the mud, and they don’t come out and they’re not hungry, they just sit there,” Wood said, “and if it was a later molt, they probably were just buried during this fishery.”

The crab stay buried for about four to six weeks.

Biologists believe that Dungeness crab molt one or two times a year but they don’t really know. Exactly how Dungeness crab function in regional waters is pretty speculative.

“There’s a lack of life history data in Southeast Alaska,” Wood said.

And they don’t know why the crab might have been molting late. Temperatures were a little colder this year than in recent years.

“It could have been due to colder water, later phytoplankton blooms, you know, there’s a lot that goes into these molts,” Wood said, “Temperature, salinity, nutrition, it’s really hard to say.”

It’s only the second time in over 15 years that the summer season closed early. In 2013, managers closed the season a week early when there was a high percentage of soft-shelled crab.

Managers are still evaluating how much of this summer’s harvest could have been soft-shelled. If there’s a lot, like in 2013, then this fall’s fishery could be normal or better than normal. Managers would, by regulation, open up the fall season for at least a 30-day fishery.

This summer the crab was harvested by 184 permits. Crab were purchased at an average price of $3.09 per pound.

The value of the summer season catch was $4 million, close to $2 million less than last summer.

District 8, which includes waters around Petersburg and Wrangell, saw the largest harvest of 394,000 pounds.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, Aug. 14, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-14 18:22

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn

Listen now

Sen. Sullivan calls out neo-Nazis; Critics abound

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.

Sen. Dan Sullivan issued a strongly worded statement that singled out the alt-right and their allies. On Facebook, some thanked Sullivan. But quite a few defended the White supremacists, or complained he should have allotted equal blame to the left.

Commuter flight makes emergency water landing outside Juneau, all occupants unharmed

Abbey Collins, KHNS – Haines

Four passengers and a pilot are unharmed after an Alaska Seaplanes aircraft made an emergency landing in the water near Juneau Monday morning.

ADN declares bankruptcy and new owners emerge

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The state’s largest newspaper is filing for bankruptcy protection — and may soon have new owners.

Recall election spotlights political division in Haines

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

On Tuesday, Haines voters will decide whether to recall half of their borough assembly. Three assembly members are accused of misconduct in office. But the discontent driving the recall is about much more than the official charges. And the recall leaders have repeatedly refused to defend their views on the record.

BlueCrest is latest company to stop work, citing state’s defunct cash-for-credits scheme

Rashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

BlueCrest is the latest to fall victim to the now-defunct cashable credit program. It announced on August 1 that it couldn’t afford to keep drilling on the Kenai Peninsula and that it would be laying off about 150 people.

St. George Island receives apology from USFWS… 75 years after WWII internment

Laura Kraegel, KUCB – Unalaska

75 years after supervising the Unangan internment during World War II, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has finally apologized to the people of St. George Island.

Newtok village holds ribbon cutting at Mertarvik

Christine Trudeau, KYUK – Bethel

Over the last month and a half, a decade-long project to move the village of Newtok, in the Yukon Delta, is finally beginning to take shape. Last Thursday a ribbon cutting was held in Mertarvik, which means “a place for water”. The new community is safely above the rising water, which threatens village of Newtok.

Tularemia reported around Fairbanks, Palmer; vets urge quick diagnosis, treatment for pets

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state Department of Fish and Game is warning pet owners in the Interior and Southcentral Alaska about a recent spike in reports of tularemia – sometimes called “rabbit fever.”

Longtime Juneau painter Herb Bonnett dies at 87

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Longtime Juneau resident and painter Herb Bonnett died this morning at the age of 87.

Categories: Alaska News

New owners may acquire financially crippled ADN

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-14 17:25

The state’s largest newspaper is filing for bankruptcy protection — and may soon have new owners. The Alaska Dispatch News announced a deal this weekend that could turn the paper over to a publishing group made up of lifelong Alaskans.

In an article on its front page Sunday, the Dispatch reported its owner, Alice Rogoff is stepping down, and new owners are taking control immediately. The new owners are a group of siblings led by Fairbanks businessman Ryan Binkley along with Jason Evans, originally of Nome. Evans currently owns three small Alaska papers: the Arctic Sounder, Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman and Homer Tribune.

In a statement, the new owners say they are committed to keeping up the paper’s robust coverage of Anchorage and the state.

The deal is not final. Evans wrote an email to staff at his papers Monday saying the new deal could fall apart “due to uncertainty of the the bankruptcy process.” Evans added that it’s the Binkley family that is seeking to “buy the paper out of bankruptcy,” and his main contribution is advice. That includes pushing the paper to hire Jerry Grilly, a former publisher of the Anchorage Daily News and Denver Post, whom Evans describes as a “newspaper turnaround expert.”

The ADN is facing multiple lawsuits over allegations of unpaid bills and breached contracts. On Friday, telecom firm GCI filed a complaint seeking to recoup nearly $3 million and evict ADN from the warehouse space that houses the paper’s printing press. In a statement published by the Dispatch, Rogoff said it’s a “bittersweet moment” to be “handing off stewardship of” the paper. Adding that financial realities can’t be wished away. Rogoff bought the paper for $34 million in 2014.

Neither Rogoff nor the new owners offered any information on the fate of the Dispatch’s current employees, or whether the company expects to downsize in the immediate future.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan calls out neo-Nazis; Critics abound

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-14 17:13
An impromptu memorial for Heather Heyer, Charlottesville. Photo: Bob Mical/CC 2.0

After violence broke out in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend, both of Alaska’s U.S. senators condemned the violent “Unite the Right” demonstrations.

Sen. Dan Sullivan issued a strongly worded statement that singled out the alt-right and their allies. 

Hundreds of Facebook users added their own comments to his post. Some thanked Sullivan for specifically calling out far-right groups. But quite a few commentators defended the White supremacists, or complained Sullivan should have allotted equal blame to counter-protestors on the left.

Of over 100 comments that appeared on Sullivan’s post, just over half criticized the senator for condemning only the neo-Nazi side. Nearly all of the comments appear to have come from Alaskans.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski also weighed in on Facebook on Sunday.

Murkowski did not specifically name-check the alt-right or neo-Nazis. Comments on her post were more mixed.

Categories: Alaska News

St. George Island receives apology from USFWS… 75 years after WWII internment

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-14 16:51
Survivor Anthony Merculief of St. George Island (right) speaks with Wes Kuhns and Billy Pepper of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the apology ceremony at the St. George community center.
(Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

75 years after supervising the Unangan internment during World War II, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has finally apologized to the people of St. George Island.

Federal officials visited the island last month to make amends in person.

Before a small crowd at the St. George community center, Wes Kuhns, acting captain of a USFWS research vessel, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is ready to take responsibility for its actions.

“I’m here to deliver a long overdue apology for the tragedies that befell the Aleut people on our watch,” Kuhns said.

In 1942, the agency removed St. George Islanders from their homes and sent them to internment camps, following the Japanese attack on Dutch Harbor. Almost 50 of them died from sickness and starvation.

“To the Aleut people interned at Funter Bay and their descendants, who continue to carry this burden, I am sorry,” Kuhns said.

Here to receive the apology was Anthony Merculief, a 78-year-old survivor.

Merculief was sent to Funter Bay as a toddler, so he doesn’t remember details from the three-year internment. But the experience has stayed with him.

“It has an effect on you when you’re treated the way we were treated,” Merculief said. “It never wears off.”

Still, Merculief said he accepts the apology. To him, the most important thing is to continue healing and keep this history alive.

“The suffering we went through, how many people died because of the poor conditions … hopefully, it’ll never be repeated,” Merculief said.

That’s why Merculief is glad his grandniece is at the apology ceremony.

Leah Lekanof, 15, said the commemoration has motivated her to learn more about what her people endured.

“When I get home, I’m going to ask my grandma about it more and my uncle,” Lekanof said.

For now, though, Lekanof said she’s happy to watch her great-uncle Anthony as he received an official letter of apology.

“I saw him smile so hard, in a way I haven’t seen in a long time,” Lekanofsaid. “I was just so happy to him smile.”

Categories: Alaska News

Tularemia reported around Fairbanks, Palmer; vets urge quick diagnosis, treatment for pets

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-14 16:34
In this part of the subarctic, the snowshoe hare is the most common source of tularemia infections for dogs, cats and other predators. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

The state Department of Fish and Game is warning pet owners in the Interior and Southcentral Alaska about a recent spike in reports of tularemia – sometimes called “rabbit fever.” The disease is treatable, but it’s essential to get an animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible when they’re showing symptoms, like high fever.

State Wildlife Veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen said her office is getting the word out about tularemia after a recent rash of reports of animals sickened by the disease around Fairbanks and Palmer.

“Just in the last two weeks, there’s been a very significant increase in the number of reports,” Beckman said. “In fact I had five reports in just two days, earlier this week.”

Beckmen advises pet owners to keep a close eye on their animals for any signs of the disease, because it can kill quickly.

“Many people, if their dog is just acting lethargic, maybe has a little fever, they might wait a day or two to go in,” Beckman said. “But we wanted people to know this is really an urgent matter, to get on antibiotics, sooner rather than later.”

Beckman cited the example of two household cats in North Pole that died last week, soon after their owner noticed one of them was sick.

“The first one died and was diagnosed,” Beckman said. “And yet, in the same household, the second cat became ill, and wasn’t treated in time. So they lost their other cat.”

Bob Gerlach, the State Veterinarian, said pet owners should look for symptoms that may not be so easy to detect, especially in younger animals.

“Generally, pets can show mild infection and show no symptoms,” Gerlach said. “Or may show some fever, lack of appetite, lethargy and just not feeling good.”

Fish and Game experts say pet owners shouldn’t allow cats and dogs to eat hares, voles and other small mammals that could contract tularemia. Pets that show any symptoms of the disease should be examined and treated as soon as possible, the experts say. (KUAC file photo)

Beckmen said cats and dogs usually contract tularemia by eating the flesh of a sickened animal – usually, the snowshoe hare. She said humans, in turn, can come down with the disease through their household pets. She said it doesn’t happen often; the most recent reported case in the Interior was two years ago, when a North Pole man got sick after skinning an infected hare.

“It can be very, very serious,” Beckman said. “I know of one case where a person who got it from taking a hare out of their cat’s mouth had some serious, permanent heart damage.”

Beckmen said hares, rabbits and other small mammals come into contact with the bacteria that causes tularemia through ticks that latch on to them. She said the growing number of tick species in this part of the subarctic contributes to the increase in reports of animals contracting the disease.

In Alaska, hares and other mammals most often are exposed to the bacteria that causes tularemia through the bite of a hare tick. But, Beckmen says in recent years other ticks have been showing up in the Interior that also could transmit the bacteria.
(Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

“The hare ticks and vole ticks are normal and we’ve always had those,” Beckman said. “But what’s new is that we have dog ticks. And for about the past 10 years probably those were introduced and they’ve become established.”

Beckmen also said there are a lot more snowshoe hares this year because the species is nearing the peak of its population cycle.

“There’s a very high number of hares, which happens on a 7- to 10-year cycle,” Beckman said. “So we expect to see a lot more tularemia during a ‘hare high.’ ”

Gerlach, the state vet, said livestock usually aren’t susceptible to tularemia. But he said they can come into contact with the bacteria, especially in the wild, where it can live for long periods in the soil.

Categories: Alaska News