Alaska News

Study looks at climate change’s effects on Kodiak berries, wildlife

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 12:32
It’s been a great season for salmonberries in Southeast Alaska. (Photo by Aaron Bolton/KSTK News)

A scientist predicts climate change could have far-reaching effects on the growth of certain berries on Kodiak Island.

Bill Pyle,  supervisory wildlife biologist with Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, just wrapped up a two-year pilot study on the island. The study helps cement the monitoring methods they’ll use to study berry growth in the future.

In this case, that includes using time-lapse cameras.

In the short term, berries may have success one year and be less fruitful the next, he explained. He also talked about climate change’s unintended consequences: for instance, how warmer winters could affect the deer population, and in turn, their consumption of certain berries.

Salmonberries may be limited or nonexistent this year.

Winter conditions play a part, Pyle said. This year was unusually dry, and there was little snow pack to insulate the plants.

The temperature from November through March for the last two years was 6 degrees above normal. This year, Kodiak was 1.5 degrees below normal.

“We really don’t know when the problem started and whether it was a long-term situation this winter, but the bottom line is that it appears that salmonberry and blueberry were affected by the amount of cold and the depth of cold that we had that killed the winter buds and killed the above-ground stems of those plants,” Pyle said.

Elderberries fared better. Cold temperatures didn’t hack away at them, Pyle said. It was the Sitka black-tailed deer.


Danny Hernandez and Danielle Butts, who are working on the study, stand in a bush of elderberries. (Photo courtesy of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge)

“You have the deer stripping the bark, which that girdling action kills the above ground growth,” he said. “Fortunately, for the species that we’re looking at, they all are very vigorous resprouters. They regrow from the base of the plant, and so it’s not like the plants were outright killed.”

This year saw a deer die-off later in winter, January through March, Pyle said.

He said while the spruce forests offer some protection for the introduced species, Kodiak’s more exposed terrain could have contributed to the deaths. And he says throughout that time, the deer were surviving off elderberries.

“It really has a lot to do with the fat that they bring into the winter, and (that) determines how long they can last in conjunction with how cold it gets,” Pyle said. “They probably had a good year last year with fat supplies, but it was enough to really knock them out. I mean, the elderberry just wasn’t enough to do it for ‘em and to facilitate the survival of most of those deer.”

Pyle said the deer could kill off the entire plant species if they continue to munch on the berries year after year.

He said normally every three to eight years a harsh Kodiak winter would sweep through the deer population and keep it at bay.

Without that, they’re free to continue eating the elderberries and other species that bears also survive on, such as blueberries.  He says because this winter was so dry and lacked significant snow pack, deer had easier access to the areas where those berries grow.

In the short term, it looks like the shortage of berries over the summer may not bode well for brown bears. A mixture of food sources like berries and meat help maintain the bears’ nutritional balance, Pyle said.

Throwing off that balance means that more bears may look to human activity for a food source.

“If they encounter a person with, say, they’ve got a deer down, there’s gonna be more circumstances where the bears pursue that shot animal, and once the bear has access to human food, say it’s in a town situation, then usually that’s what they will continue to seek and usually end up in trouble because of that.”

Bears that develop a reliance on scavenging human trash have a tendency to return to town again and again.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, June 5, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 10:47

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

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Governor floats idea of head tax to end legislative stalemate

Andrew Kitchenman, Alaska Public Media & KTOO – Juneau

After an entire regular session and more than half a special session gone with no deal on a state budget, Governor Bill Walker met with legislative leaders today to roll out a compromise package.

Wildfire near Dillingham grows to 1,000 acres

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham & Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reports 11 blazes were started by lightning strikes over the weekend.

Caelus postpones appraisal well for big North Slope oil discovery

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

The company behind what could be Alaska’s biggest oil discovery since the 1960s will not be drilling a well to confirm the find this winter, as originally planned.

Fairbanks mayor attempts to address police shortage with incentives

Robert Hannon, KUAC – Fairbanks

City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly is trying to address a local police officer shortage with an incentive bonus program.

GCI suffers crime-related statewide outages for second time in 2 months

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

For the second time in as many months, Alaska’s largest communications company suffered statewide outages due to alleged criminal activity. This time, however, a man is behind bars for causing damage to GCI equipment at the Denali Tower building in Midtown Anchorage.

65 years after crash, recovery resumes on Colony Glacier

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The military is resuming an annual mission on the Colony Glacier, where an Air Force plane crashed 65 years ago killing the dozens of service members on board. The plane was found during the initial search, but body recovery was deemed to be too dangerous and the plane and its contents soon disappeared beneath the ice.

Anchorage activists hold march against gun violence

Henry Leasia, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

An Anchorage group wants to change the dialogue about guns. On Saturday, the Anchorage chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America held a march commemorating National Gun Violence Awareness day.

UA regents discuss budget uncertainty

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Board of regents wrapped up a 2 day meeting in Fairbanks Friday to address the ongoing Strategic Pathways initiative to cut costs and focus the university on core missions.

Fishermen are pulling up empty nets from Kuskokwim’s low water

Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – Bethel

Water on the Kuskokwim is low, and nets are coming up mostly empty. Subsistence fishermen along the entire river are reporting this situation. Other fishermen, facing tight restrictions and cultural tension, have decided to refuse to fish.

African-American soldiers who helped build Alaska Highway honored

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fort Greely and Delta Junction celebrated the Alaska Highway’s 75th anniversary Saturday – and one of the soldiers who helped build it. Gov. Bill Walker and other state and local leaders attended a tribute to 96-year-old Leonard Larkins, one of more than 3,000 African-American soldiers who helped build the highway.

Categories: Alaska News

Laid off teachers in limbo as legislature debates state budget

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 10:42
Shoshana Keegan (left) and Rosalind Worcester (right), both teachers in Bowman Elementary School’s 1st/2nd grade optional program, dress up for a school spirit day. (Courtesy Rosalind Worcester)

Two hundred twenty five teachers received layoff notices this year from the Anchorage School District, and until lawmakers in Juneau settle on education funding levels for the coming school year, those educators remain in limbo.

The Tuesday before school ended for the year was what’s called a “Field Day” at Bowman Elementary School in Anchorage.

Rosalind Worcester, a teacher for the school’s first and second grade optional program, said it’s packed with all sorts of outdoor activities, including – among many other things – a bounce house, giant jenga, and something called the sea sponge relay.

“And it was a beautiful day, of just fun, and dancing with our kids, and being out in the sunshine and eating popsicles, it was magical,” she said. “And then at the very end of the day, right after we took our kids out to the bus and just riding this amazing high at the end of the year, the principal let me know that we had received three pink slips at our school.”

Rosalind, who just wrapped up her second year with the district was one of three teachers at Bowman who received a pink slip that day.

She splits the responsibility of educating a class of 44 first and second graders with her teaching partner, Shoshana Keegan.

Shoshana just wrapped up her third year with ASD, and was spared a layoff notice.

When Rosalind broke the news to her, Shoshana said neither of them knew how to process what had just happened.

“We just sat there,” Shoshana said. “We’re like, one, we are both new teachers, so we’d never been a part of this, we didn’t really know exactly what pink slip meant, we didn’t know the process, we didn’t quite fully grasp everything that goes along with it. And then, two, it’s just like you’re kind of in this weird moment when you’re like, ‘Well, what happens next?’”

This was their first year teaching together, and according to Shoshana, they’ve spent a lot of time together over the past year.

First/second grade optional program teachers Shoshana Keegan (left) and Rosalind Worcester (right) pose in a school photo. (Courtesy Rosalind Worcester)

“Roz and I call each other ‘teacher bae’ because we spend more time with each other than our significant others most of the time,” Shoshana said.

The pair said they spent a lot of extra hours in the classroom during the first part of the school year – configuring their room, finalizing lesson plans, and everything in between.

It’s those extra hours, and the close relationship between teachers that helps cultivate an environment where students can excel.

Shoshana said when teachers leave the district or are laid off, it not only sets class planning back, but it also makes developing and maintaining relationships with students and their parents difficult.

“Most parents have more than one kid, and so they kind of filter through your class and you’ll have one family for like, seven years, potentially,” Shoshana said. “And so you really get to know those parents and they’re so supportive and so loving and it’s like, our little classroom we’ve built is a little family, but we’ve also got that extended family of their parents.”

For Rosalind, there’s more than her job at stake. She’s also working on her master’s degree. Her final project is creating interdisciplinary units to teach in multi-age classrooms – specifically for the one she worked in this past school year.

“I’m working on creating those to apply in our classroom and then gauge their impact and their efficacy, and if I end up switching schools and grade levels, I don’t know how I can finish my masters project without having to redo several, completely change the project,” Rosalind said.

Regardless of the outcome, Rosalind said she and Shoshana are committed to their students.

On the last day of school, the pair sent each student home with two stamped envelopes. One with Shoshana’s address the other with Rosalind’s, and a note asking the students to write them this summer.

“Send us a picture, send us a postcard, send us a drawing, send us a letter, send us a story, and we’ll write you back,” Rosalind said. “And, I mean, we stand by that, and we signed it ‘Forever your teachers, Rosalind and Shoshana.’”

Rosalind says the sooner a budget is passed, the sooner those who have been laid off can make decisions to move forward, both professionally, and personally.

Categories: Alaska News

GCI suffers crime-related statewide outages for second time in 2 months

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-05 17:43

For the second time in as many months, Alaska’s largest communications company suffered statewide outages due to alleged criminal activity.

This time, a man is behind bars for allegedly causing damage to GCI equipment at the Denali Tower building in Midtown Anchorage on Sunday.

Brodie Eguires-Lee, 24, faces felony charges of criminal mischief, burglary and assault.

According to GCI Director of External Affairs Megan Baldino, the company was able to minimize the impact to customers.

“The individual was able to break in and damage some equipment, which caused an interruption of services,” Baldino said. “GCI teams responded almost immediately, as soon as they could, and were able to restore services by late yesterday afternoon.”

According to the charges, Eguires-Lee broke into the communications room by damaging a security code key pad and jamming a piece of metal into a keyhole. The charges say he came at a GCI employee with a large screwdriver after causing what the company described to police as “millions of dollars” in damage.

Eguires-Lee allegedly told a GCI employee that he is Lucifer and that he was there “to fix the machines,” the charges say.

Eguires-Lee appeared in court Monday and seemed unaware of the seriousness of the charges, which, if he is convicted, carry minimum sentences of several years in prison.

When a judge set his bail at $25,000, Eguires-Lee shook his head in disbelief.

“So what’s going to happen next? Am I going to get out of here today or what?” Eguires-Lee asked.

The judge said, no, there are conditions Eguires-Lee must meet first. Eguires-Lee is set for another hearing and will have to post bail and find a third-party custodian if he is to be released.

Eguires-Lee told the judge that the whole story in the charging document is one-sided, from the police point of view. The judge advised him not to speak in court without a lawyer.

“There’s a lot of stuff in this case that’s missing,” Eguires-Lee said.

Eguires-Lee pleaded not guilty.

Meantime, despite acknowledging that Eguires-Lee was able to gain access to the GCI communications room in a simple, random break-in, the company’s spokeswoman, Megan Baldino, said GCI considers security to be of the utmost concern.

“We place the absolute, highest priority on the reliability of our network, and we had security measures in place at the time of this break-in. And of course with any event like this, we’re going to review and take the appropriate measures as a result.”

GCI has no update on the status of the investigation into another outage that happened in April — also due to alleged criminal activity.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor floats idea of head tax to end legislative stalemate

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-05 17:34

After an entire regular session and more than half a special session gone with no deal on a state budget, Governor Bill Walker met with legislative leaders today to roll out a compromise package.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker talks about the state’s budget on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 during a press conference in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney, KTOO – Juneau)

Under the Governor’s proposal people who work in Alaska would pay a set amount each year based on their income under a compromise Walker introduced today [Monday, June, 5].
The concept, known as a “head tax”, is based on a proposal by Fairbanks Republican Senator Click Bishop. But Walker wants to raise twice as much as Bishop proposed.

Under Bishop’s proposal, the tax would range from 50 dollars for people who earn less than 20,000 dollars to 500 dollars for those paid more than a half million in annual salary.
Governor Walker also called on lawmakers to pass the Senate version of an overhaul to the state’s oil tax credit system – with one change. It’s known as ring fencing — oil and gas companies would no longer be able reduce their taxes due on one field by their costs to develop another.
Walker also endorsed the Senate version of a bill to draw money from the Permanent Fund to pay for the state government — that would set dividend checks at $1,000.
But Walker supported the House version of the state budget.
The Governor’s compromise package would reduce the gap between what the state spends and what it raises by nearly 90 percent — from $2.5 billion to $300 million.
The state government will shut down on July 1st if lawmakers can’t reach a compromise.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage activists hold march against gun violence

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-05 16:57
Marchers take to the streets to commemorate National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Henry Leasia / KSKA

On Saturday, the Anchorage chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America held a march commemorating National Gun Violence Awareness day.

Men and women holding posters and dressed in bright orange are gathered at the Delaney Park Strip. They passed flowers from hand to hand as local activist Janice Swiderski led a chant.

“Not one more,” Swiderski said. “From sea to shining sea. Make guns safe, for kids, for you, for me!”

Swiderski is the local lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national grass roots organization that advocates for stronger laws and policies to reduce gun violence. She said the mass shootings that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown and Pulse Night Club in Orlando inspired her to get involved.

“At some point you have to take a moral stand. And you have to think about public safety,” Swiderski said. “And right now I think that we’re having a gun violence epidemic in our country and in Anchorage.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, Alaska had a gun death rate of 23.4 per 100,000 citizens in 2015. That was the highest rate in the nation that year, although a vast majority of those deaths were suicides. In Anchorage alone, 30 homicides by firearm were carried out in 2016.

One of the marchers, Megan Byers, said she came out to march on behalf of her niece who was shot by an acquaintance almost two years ago. The niece survived, but issue of gun violence became much more real to Byers. She said she wishes that gun owners understood that when she advocates for gun safety, she isn’t trying to take away their second amendment rights.

“Even after my niece’s event, where my niece got shot, you know I went to my social media and asked for people to come out,” Byers said. “And I surprisingly got messages from people saying, ‘You’re trying to take away our guns. That’s definitely not it at all. I come from a family that has guns. I know how to shoot a gun. I know how to use it properly and safely. We store it safely. We just want some accountability from gun owners.”

After making their way through downtown Anchorage, the marchers arrived at Hostetler Park, a shady corner of grass where L Street becomes West 3rd avenue. Beneath a tree in the park is the Homicide Victims’ Memorial, a black stone wall that lists hundreds of Alaskans who died from violent crimes. Marchers laid flowers by the wall and listed the names of family members and friends who had been lost to gun violence.

While leaving the park, the marchers were quiet. But quickly they resumed their spirited chanting and waved their signs at passing cars.


Categories: Alaska News

Caelus postpones appraisal well for big North Slope oil discovery

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-05 16:10
Caelus Energy’s Smith Bay rig. Caelus says tax credits are needed to help develop the find. (Image courtesy Caelus Energy)

The company behind what could be Alaska’s biggest oil discovery since the 1960s will not be drilling a well to confirm the find this winter, as originally planned.

Last October — with great fanfare — Caelus Energy announced it found 6 to 10 billion barrels of oil beneath the North Slope’s Smith Bay, about 2 billion barrels of which is recoverable. If developed, the company said the field could increase the amount of oil going down the Trans-Alaska Pipeline by nearly 40 percent.

At the time, the company said it would release crucial final tests on the discovery in 2018 after drilling an appraisal well this winter. But today, Caelus spokesperson Casey Sullivan confirmed that those plans have changed.

“Our goal, really, is to get out there as soon as possible, but, there are certain external factors that play into making a large decision like that,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Caelus won’t be drilling the appraisal well this winter for financial reasons. First, oil prices have stayed lower than the company anticipated. Second, Sullivan said the ongoing oil tax policy debate in the legislature made drilling the appraisal well too risky.

“Without knowing quite what the rules are or the clarity around funding of past tax credit payments and things of that nature, it just creates a lot of uncertainty,” Sullivan said. “And for a program like Smith Bay, which really is a significant undertaking that takes a lot of front loading and logistics, we really need that sort of certainty to be able pull off a program like that.”

The state has delayed payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to Caelus and other oil companies. State lawmakers originally designed the credits to attract small, private companies like Caelus to the North Slope to increase oil production.

But due to the state’s fiscal crisis, the legislature is currently locked in a debate over reforms to Alaska’s oil tax system, and changes to oil tax credits seem likely.

Sullivan said Caelus still believes Smith Bay is a “world class” discovery, but he couldn’t say when the company will be able to return to the North Slope to confirm it.


Categories: Alaska News

African-American soldiers who helped build Alaska Highway honored

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-05 15:58
96-year-old Leonard Larkins, one of more than 3,000 African-American soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway is honored at Ft. Greely. Credit: Tim Ellis/KUAC

Fort Greely and Delta Junction celebrated the Alaska Highway’s 75th anniversary Saturday – and one of the soldiers who helped build it. Gov. Bill Walker and other state and local leaders attended a tribute to 96-year-old Leonard Larkins, one of more than 3,000 African-American soldiers who helped build the highway.

Leonard Larkins says he vowed to never return to Alaska 70-some years ago, after serving two grueling tours of duty up here.

“I can’t remember way back when, because I actually tried to put all this behind me at one time, after I left the service,” Larkins said. It was pretty rough here.”

Larkins and 11,000 other soldiers had to carve a 1,500-mile road out of wilderness in just over eight months to open an overland supply route to deter or repel a Japanese invasion. Larkins and about 3,500 African-American soldiers serving in segregated units had to build their sections of the road with little support and under hardships like enduring months of winter weather while living in tents.

“The cold – y’know, that was the biggest thing, the cold weather,” Larkins said.

But after a five-day whirlwind tour of Fairbanks and the Delta-Greely area over the past week, Larkins’ son, Bert, says his dad was feeling a lot better about coming back to Alaska.

“The people here in Alaska – I mean, it’s so nice, Bert Larkins said. “They have been so wonderful here.”

Among those offering tributes to Larkins at Saturday’s ceremony on Fort Greely was Gov. Bill Walker, who felt personal connections with him based on his parents having shared related wartime experiences.

“Meeting Mr. Larkins is like meeting a member of my family,” Governor Walker said. My mother came to Alaska to work with the (Army) Corps of Engineers on building the Alcan Highway. ”

Alcan is a contraction of “Alaska and Canada,” and it’s the name by which many refer to the Alaska Highway. Walker says his father also served in the Aleutian Islands during World War II, as did Larkins, who was sent there with his unit after they’d completed work on the highway in October 1942.

“Building the Alcan Highway was not enough for Mr. Larkins,” the Governor said. “He stayed in Alaska, went on to the Aleutians, in Attu and Kiska. And my father was in the Aleutian Islands at Attu and Kiska, as part of the Alaskan Scouts, part of Castner’s Cutthroats.”

The Alaskan Scouts, a.k.a Castner’s Cutthroats, were a small covert unit of Army intelligence soldiers whose reconnaissance and guerrilla tactics helped forced the Japanese to retreat from the Aleutians in 1943 — a year after they’d invaded and occupied three islands.

Walker said the Alaska Highway promoted development of Big Delta Army Airfield, later re-named Allen Army Airfield, and Fort Greely itself, where Walker went to grade school for several years while his family lived in the area.

The service rendered by Larkins and his fellow African-American soldiers not only helped win the war; it also helped end segregation in the U.S. military and promoted civil rights nationwide in the years that

“We don’t have African-American regiments, or Mexican-American units, or all-white battalions,” Greely garrison commander, Lt. Col. Michael Foote said. “We don’t have those anymore because men like Mr. Larkins served their country and demonstrated the value of every American fighting man.”

At the end of the ceremony, Foote and Delta Mayor Pete Hallgren presented Larkins with a key to the city and framed proclamation thanking him for his service.

Categories: Alaska News

Wildfire near Dillingham grows to 1,000 acres

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-05 14:09
A photo of the 1,000-acre Kenakuchuk Fire taken late Saturday evening. The fire is burning in a limited protection area about 40 miles northeast of Dillingham and is being monitored by the Alaska Division of Forestry. Credit: Jason Jordet/Alaska DNR/Div. of Forestry

A wildfire 40 near Okstukuk Lake, 40 miles northeast of Dilligham, had grown to 1000 acres by Sunday night. After a slow start to the state’s wildlfire season, thunderstorms sparked a dozen or more new blazes over the weekend around Western Alaska.

The Kenakuchuk Creek was first reported to authorities by several pilots Saturday, though the smoke was visible from Dillingham, too. McGrath-based fire crews responded Saturday afternoon, according to Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry.

“They sent a plane with smoke jumpers to check it out,” Mowry said Sunday. “When they first saw it, it was about 25 acres, and they went to fuel up in Dillingham and came back it had grown to 100 acres.”

The fire is in a limited protection zone, and the nearest cabin is several miles away. Mowry said the decision was made to just monitor the fire for now. The total cost of the response to this fire alone was over $16,000 by Sunday, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center website.

By Saturday night, the fire had grown to 800 acres, and by Sunday a flight over it estimated the size was past 1000 acres.

“It’s mostly burning in tundra, black spruce, and mixed hardwoods, but it’s not too active,” Mowry said.

In comparison to 2015 especially, which saw more than five million acres burned in Alaska, this year’s wildfire “season” is starting slow and mild.

“One of the slowest that a lot of people that have been here many years can remember,” Mowry said. “It was a cold April, and kind of a cold, wet May, but in this last week things have warmed up, we haven’t had any precipitation really around the Interior, and we’re just starting to pick up fire activity now.”

“When we get lightning, typically out in the Southwest area, we see a lot of fires,” Mowry said.

Monday brought cooler, cloudy weather and some drizzle. Mowry said the McGrath-based crews would likely fly the Kenakuchuk Creek within a few days to see if it had burned itself out, or gotten any worse.

Categories: Alaska News

Dillingham beekeeper abuzz over plan to help hive survive winter

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-05 13:16
Pamela Murphy checks her honey bee hive. Credit: Avery Lill/KDLG

Honey bees aren’t native to Alaska, but four beekeepers are making an experiment of keeping hives in Dillingham. That’s something that’s been done before, but infrequently. As KDLG’s Avery Lill reports, they are hoping to expand their operations beyond the summer, wintering their bees over. And that is something new.

Pamela Murphy’s bee box sits in a sunny clearing. Several bees meander toward a small opening in the wooden crate that is about the size of a microwave. The pollen baskets on their hind legs are swollen and bright yellow. Murphy opens the lid to reveal the nine trays that fill the box. She lifts one up. It is teaming with bees that are beginning to build a honeycomb.

“The bees are mostly working on creating the wax comb to have all the space to store honey,” Murphy said. “Ultimately, come late August, early September, we’ll take the frames out of the honey supers and try to extract what honey we have. Then the ultimate goal is to take these bees, insulate the hive and try to winter them over.”

That’s an unusual goal for beekeepers in Alaska, a state without native honey bees. The bees need temperatures above 50 degrees to fly, and they need to fly to defecate. If they do not, then they will become septic and die. When temperatures plunge, most Alaskan beekeepers kill their bees and start over with a new colony in the spring. Bristol Bay temperatures are mild enough relative to the rest of Alaska, however, that Dillingham’s beekeepers might be able to keep theirs alive with the right strategy.

“Bees do go into kind of a hibernation state,” Murphy said. She will insulate the brood box where the bees will spend the winter. Then she anticipates setting up a greenhouse over the brood box to allow the bees to fly a time or two during the cold months.

This project began with a February class at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay campus. Dawn Cogan, a beekeeper from Fairbanks, taught a weekend crash course in Dillingham. Afterward, four students, including Murphy, made a go of it and ordered their own bees.

They found that even getting bees to rural Alaska can be a chore. Some bees got loose in the cargo hold when the first vendor tried to ship Murphy’s bees. After that event, the airline declined to carry the vendor’s goods. The second supplier was more successful at keeping the critters contained. Murphy’s roughly 20,000 Carniolan bees arrived from California a couple weeks ago.

Her hive serves a dual purpose. It is both a hobby and a research experiment that she is conducting in partnership with UAF.

“I’m working with the Bristol Bay Campus and working with Dawn Cogan to basically do the research and find out, can we winter bees over? What does it take to winter bees over?” Murphy said.

Between the bees and the equipment, Murphy has about $600 invested in her hive. If the bees don’t survive the winter, it will be a little over $200 to order more next year. But if the experiment is a success, this will be the first time bees have been successfully wintered over in Dillingham.

The coming months will tell whether the town’s small club of beekeepers can make a hospitable home out of a harsh climate for Dillingham’s new, buzzy residents.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, June 6, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 17:24

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

With special session halfway over, Alaska legislators at a stalemate over budget

Sean Doogan, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

With a special legislative session halfway over, little progress has been made by Alaska legislators toward passing a state budget and addressing a multibillion-dollar state deficit.

Season’s first major wildfire burns near Tok

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The season’s first major wildfire response is underway near Tok. The North Robertson Fire, about 30 miles northwest of Tok is being fought from the air and on the ground.

Alaska VA faces issues, but is making steady progress

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Alaska isn’t immune from national issues affecting the country’s VA system, however the state’s branch of the department has made progress. in the last few years.

State proposes fine for safety violations at Ahtna-owned gas exploration well

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

The state is proposing a $380,000 fine for Alaska Native corporation Ahtna, Inc., for safety violations at a gas well near Glennallen.

Survivors look back on the Japanese bombing of Unalaska 75 years ago

Laura Kraegel, KUCB – Unalaska

75 years ago, Japan bombed Unalaska, killing more than 40 Americans and triggering the evacuation of hundreds. In the aftermath, many Aleutian residents survived. But the number is dwindling as decades pass.

Alaska officials show no strong response to U.S. leaving the Paris accords

Rachel Waldholz, Alaska’s Energy Desk

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord drew muted reactions from Alaska officials on Thursday.

Demolition of Polaris building in Fairbanks on hold

Robert Hannon, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks City Council is back to square one on a plan to demolish the deteriorating Polaris Hotel. The long vacant downtown high rise is plagued by mold, asbestos and other issues, but a city plan to acquire the building and take it down has suffered a setback.

Igiugig staves off opening new landfill by recycling

Avery Lill, KDLG – Dillingham

Rural Alaskan villages are not typically known for their recycling prowess. For communities off the road system, it can be a hassle not only to ship products in, but also to deal with junk when it has served its purpose. For the village of Igiugig, however, recycling is a priority.

Warmer Kodiak seasons mean more fruit

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

Summer is fast approaching, which means Kodiak gardeners are looking forward to crops of kale and other hardy greens – and also fruit. The last few years of warm weather means that more apples and even pears have popped up around town.

AK: McPherson Music leaves behind a legacy of Ketchikan performers

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

McPherson Music has been the cornerstone of Ketchikan’s music scene since the 1980s. Now, though, McPherson Music is for sale.

49 Voices: Frage Schaefer of Palmer

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This week we’re hearing from, Frage Schaefer from Palmer. Schaefer is an electrician who grew up in Point Hope.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska VA faces issues, but is making steady progress

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 16:31
Department of Veterans Affairs flag

Earlier this week, the head of the nation’s Veterans Administration, Secretary David Shulkin gave a press conference at the White House on the status of the nation’s largest healthcare provider.

“What you’re gonna hear today is really a candid assessment of where our problems are in VA,” Shulkin said.

What followed was a detailed outline of major problems that the VA is still facing, even after hasty reforms were enacted through sweeping legislation by Congress following a scandal over wait-times in 2014.

The VA in Alaska isn’t immune from those issues. But at a press conference Friday in Anchorage, Dr. Timothy Ballard, the VA’s healthcare wing director, gave an update on where they’ve made progress and what work is left to do.

“We have a lot of issues about care coordination, we have questions about how our internal operations work in customer service, and we have a lot of questions about benefits,” Ballard said.

Ballard took his position eleven months ago. He highlighted where the state’s VA system has regained ground in connecting veterans with primary and mental health care since the implementation of the Choice Act threw the in-state system into disarray.

That includes reducing wait times for appointments to well below the national average, improving partnerships with private providers and military services, as well as working to improve staff morale.

But echoing the tone set by Secretary Shulkin, Ballard was forthright about major problems that remain for Alaska’s VA — many of them tied to actions and appropriations from Congress. And he cast doubt on whether the federal framework under the Choice Act can work at all within Alaska’s unique healthcare system.

“Because we are different in regards to healthcare availability, location and the like, when you’re trying to nationalize a program for Choice, we end up on the outside looking in,” Ballard said. “And so hopefully we can make an impact on that. So that’s something I’ve been pushing at our townhalls across the state, with overwhelmingly positive response. Providers, veterans, our staff would all like to go back to the old way.”

Ballard said that while his feedback has been well-received, there’s not yet any proposal for exempting Alaska’s VA care from the federal system.

State-wide, the VA is still about 200 positions below what the system needs to function optimally. The organization also continues to suffer from delayed reimbursements for travel and healthcare services, as well as ongoing confusion over billing and the referrals process.

Categories: Alaska News

Season’s first major wildfire burns near Tok

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 16:13
North Robertson Fire burning near Tok.
(Alaska Division of Forestry)

The season’s first major wildfire response is underway near Tok. The North Robertson Fire, about 30 miles northwest of Tok is being fought from the air and on the ground.

The North Robertson Fire has grew from just a few acres to 8 hundred in less than a day. Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry said the blaze started Thursday morning near a trail and is suspected to be human caused. Mowry said flames moved quickly through black spruce forest, a couple miles from the Alaska Highway, and the blaze was hit hard with air drops.

”Aggressive aerial assault right off the bat with a couple of air tankers and a couple water scoopers,” Mowry said. “They were able to get a retardant line around the whole fire.”

Mowry said that’s allowed smoke-jumpers, aided by six ground crews, to get in and start pinching the fire off, and checking structures in the area.

”Going out and trying to locate the structures and assess them — what needs our structure protection if it comes to that,” Mowry said.

Mowry said wind has been pushing the fire toward the Robertson River, away from the Alcan.

”Traffic has not been impacted on the highway, both from the fire or smoke,” Mowry said.

Mowry stressed that there is potential for more activity.

”Really dry down in Tok and in Delta. They’ve had burn suspensions almost daily for the last week, week and a half,” Mowry said. “There was 80 degree temperature down on the Kenai yesterday, and things are really drying out, so we’re thinking there’s going to be some more fire activity around the state.”

Mowry noted that this year’s fire season in Alaska is ramping up weeks later than normal, and that state and federal firefighting agencies are fully geared up to respond.

Categories: Alaska News

Survivors look back on the Japanese bombing of Unalaska 75 years ago

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 16:00
A memorial overlooking downtown Unalaska is dedicated to the Unangax who were forcibly evacuated during WWII and the Aleutian villages that were never resettled.
(Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

75 years ago, Japan bombed Unalaska, killing more than 40 Americans and triggering the evacuation of hundreds.

In the aftermath, many Aleutian residents survived. But the number is dwindling as decades pass.

43 veterans and evacuees are gathering in Unalaska this weekend to commemorate the events of World War II.

The attack on Dutch Harbor turned the Aleutian Islands into a war zone. While the military dug in and fought the Japanese, the region’s Native residents were forcibly evacuated by the U.S. government.

Now, organizers say they’ve planned a commemoration that honors both halves of that painful history. Janice Krukoff is on the planning committee. She said the two groups may have had different experiences of World War II, but marking the anniversary is really about one thing.

“Being able to see the veterans and the evacuees come together, it’s a long time in the making,” Krukoff said. “Continue moving forward in a positive way, our story never to be forgotten.”

For Krukoff, that story is personal and urgent. Her parents were among the 881 Unangan people taken from their homes and sent to internment camps in Southeast Alaska.

They survived, despite the crowded conditions and meager supplies. But not everyone was so fortunate.

Krukoff said she’s approaching this weekend as a chance to recognize the Unangax who died during the war — and to learn from those still living today.

“The majority of them are elderly now,” Krukoff said. “So this may be the last hosting of something of this magnitude.”

Time is also passing quickly for veterans of the Aleutian campaign. Only eight servicemen are making the trip to Unalaska. Historian Jeff Dickrell said that’s far fewer than the last major anniversary.

“For the 50th, there were probably 100 veterans,” Dickrell said.

This weekend, Dickrell will tell the story of the Japanese attack in detail, with help from visiting vets. Their talk is just one part of a packed agenda that includes storytelling sessions, memorial services, and historic flyovers.

Those won’t feature the Japanese fighter planes that flew over Unalaska during the 50th anniversary. Dickrell said that sight was too intense for many who lived through the real thing.

“Everybody just fell silent,” Dickrell said. “We all realized that it was kind of a dichotomy of cool history, but also you’re replicating the deaths of Americans and war.”

This time around, pilots are sticking with North American military aircraft — an amphibious Grumman Goose and a bright yellow T-6 Texan.

The commemoration started Friday and continues all weekend.

Categories: Alaska News