Alaska News

Copper river king salmon return higher than expected

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-07 15:59
“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” (Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

The Copper River king salmon return is coming in better than forecast. Predicted to be the weakest on record, at about 29,000 kings, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Upper Copper River management biologist Mark Somerville says the forecast is being questioned –given recent week’s king harvest by commercial fishers on the river’s delta.

“Even under a restricted area and time the commercial fishery has caught over eight thousand king salmon, which is unexpected and indicates that the return may be higher than we anticipated,” Somerville said.

According to Somerville, the better than expected commercial king harvest is supported by data from a mark and recapture project. The information has resulted in the state beginning to peel back sport and subsistence king harvest restrictions.

“We have rescinded the limits in the subsistence fisheries so that there is currently no limit on king salmon for fish wheels, and we are back to the five fish limit for dip-netting in the subsistence fishery,” Somerville said. “We have also re-opened the sport fishery to an annual limit of two king salmon with only one allowed from each tributary. And we’ve allowed the use of bait in selected waters, say the Klutina, Tonsina and portions of the Gulkana River.”

Somerville said the state has delayed easing a king harvest ban in the personal use dip net fishery at Chitina because of remaining uncertainly about the strength of the run and the fisheries popularity.

“We’re holding off about a week or so because that fishery is a very powerful fishery and can harvest upwards of a thousand king salmon in a week.”

Somerville said if it continues to appear the king run is better than forecast, and that escapement can be met, the state will open the personal use dip net fishery at Chitina to limited king catch. The personal use fishery opened this morning for sockeye harvest. The Copper River sockeye return is forecast to come in at about 1 point 8 million fish, a slightly below average return.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks North Star Borough works to improve trash drop off location

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-07 15:58

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is beginning a three week experiment aimed at improving conditions of a heavily used trash drop off location. The borough is cutting hours at the Farmers Loop East transfer site in Fairbanks from 24 to 12 hours per day during the trial period, which starts Thursday, June 8. Borough solid waste manager Bob Jordan said the facility will also be staffed.

“We’re planning on greeting customers as they come in and asking them some simple questions about what they’re there for and directing them where they need to go,” Jordan said. “And then having someone just sort of roving around assisting, helping, answering questions, just trying to make the experience a little bit more pleasant and safer, and a little bit more orderly.”

Jordan said it’s an attempt to halt unauthorized commercial use, stop dumping of wrecked cars and to address vehicle and pedestrian safety, and general lawlessness at the transfer site.

“We often find trash strewn all over the ground that’s been pulled out of the bins,” Jordan said. “And the bins are constantly getting spray-painted and the contractors just simply can’t keep up with that. As well as we’re finding a lot of needles and other things, and observing some drug activity.”

Last summer the borough made major upgrades to both the Farmers Loop east and west transfer sites, adding new lights, re-use shelters, hazardous waste collection bins, and access roads.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak to host Israeli missile test

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-07 15:51
An Arrow anti-ballistic missile launches from California in 2004 test. Photo: U.S. Navy.

Israel is working on a better missile to counter the threat of an Iranian launch. But Israel lives in a crowded neighborhood, so the plan is to test the interceptor in Kodiak.

That’s the word from Adm. James Syring, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. Syring told a congressional committee Wednesday the U.S. is Israel’s partner in developing that country’s missile defense system, particularly Israel’s Arrow 3 missile.

“It has significant range constraints within the Mediterranean. And one of the better places to test is in Alaska, from Kodiak,” Syring told the U.S. House panel. “And we intend to do that next year.”

Craig Campbell, CEO of the state-owned Alaska Aerospace Corp., says the deal isn’t final yet.

“The Missile Defense Agency, MDA, has approached us about doing the Israeli program out of Kodiak, and we are in the process of negotiating that contract today,” Campbell said in a phone interview.

The work would be a component of the $80 million contract MDA and the Alaska Aerospace Corporation announced a year ago.
Also under that umbrella contract, Campbell says MDA plans to launch missiles from the Kodiak Island facility sometime in the next few weeks or months.

“The test we have for THAAD – that’s the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense program – that’s going to be a series of tests coming up this summer,” Campbell said. “The dates are classified, but prior to the launches there’ll be public notice given as to when the launch is going to occur. But there will be two launches this summer.”

The Missile Defense Agency conducted a successful test over the Pacific two weeks ago.  was set up to replicate the scenario of a North Korean launch at the U.S., Adm. Syring told committee members, but for the test, everything was moved a few thousand miles south, so the interceptor was launched from California instead of Alaska’s Fort Greely.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska to test missile interceptors for Israel

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-07 15:48

Israel is working on a better missile to counter the threat of an Iranian launch. But Israel lives in a crowded neighborhood, so the plan is to test the interceptor in Kodiak.

A launchpad at the Kodiak Island launch facility (photo courtesy: Alaska Aerospace Corp.)

That’s the word from Admiral James Syring, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. Syring told a U.S. House Committee today (WEDS) that the U.S. is Israel’s partner in developing that country’s missile defense system, particularly Israel’s Arrow-3 missile.

“It has significant range constraints within the Mediterranean,” Syring said. “And one of the better places to test is in Alaska, from Kodiak and we intend to do that next year.”

Craig Campbell, CEO of the state-owned Alaska Aerospace Corporation, says the deal isn’t final yet.

“The Missile Defense Agency, MDA, has approached us about doing the Israeli program out of Kodiak, and we are in the process of negotiating that contract today,” Campbell said.

The work would be a component of the $80 million contract MDA and the Alaska Aerospace Corporation announced a year ago.

Also under that umbrella contract, Campbell says MDA plans to launch missiles from the Kodiak Island facility sometime in the next few weeks or months.

“The test we have for THAAD – that’s the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense program – that’s going to be a series of tests coming up this summer,” Campbell said. “The dates are classified. But prior to the launches there’ll be public notice given as to when the launch is going to occur. But there will be two launches this summer.”

The Missile Defense Agency conducted a successful test over the Pacific two weeks ago. Admiral Syring said it was set up to replicate the scenario of a North Korean launch at the U.S., but for the test, everything was moved a few thousand miles south, so the interceptor was launched from California instead of Alaska’s Fort Greely.

Categories: Alaska News

Indian Health director to visit Interior villages

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-07 14:32

The director of the Indian Health Service is scheduled to visit interior villages tomorrow (Thurs, June 9.)  IHS Director, Rear Admiral Chris Buchanan plans to tour Rampart and Allakaket with a group of state and regional Native leaders. Charlotte Mayo is a tribal workforce development specialist at with the Allakaket village council. Mayo says the Koyukuk River community will highlight essential infrastructure.

Alakaket Village (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

“We really need running water,” Mayo said. “We are one of the last villages to get running water. We have a lot of elders that can’t leave their houses and, we really need running water.”

Mayo says the village currently gets its water from a “washateria”, but it only has three showers and two washing machines.  Mayo says the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is targeting a pilot project that will bring water and sewer to a limited number of homes in Allakaket. She says it could range from three to 21 homes, depending on funding. About 180 people live in Allakaket, and across the river in the village of Alatna (a-LOT-na), and Mayo says residents are getting ready to welcome the IHS director and accompanying officials.

“We are cleaning up all over the place so it will look nice and getting all the Native foods ready: moose soup and fish,” Mayo said.

Secretary Buchanan’s group is scheduled to visit the Yukon River village of Rampart to see water and clinic facilities, and meet with local leaders.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Audacious, adventurous or just nutty? Racing to Alaska on stand-up paddleboards

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-07 11:09
Erdogan Kirac, left, and Luke Burritt of Bellingham are planning to compete in the Race to Alaska on twin boards including this one. (Tom Banse / NW News Network)

You probably have seen standup paddleboarders along your local shoreline. But can you imagine paddling one of those boards for 750 miles up the Inside Passage to Alaska?

Three experienced paddleboarders who are in the field of sail or human-powered vessels signed up to compete in this year’s Race to Alaska. The starting gun for the third edition of the zany adventure race fires at dawn’s early light on June 8. Sailors, rowers and paddlers will cast off from Port Townsend, Washington on a maritime marathon along the historic gold rush route to Ketchikan, Alaska.

“Yeah, I definitely feel it can be done safely,” paddleboarder Erdogan Kirac of Bellingham, Washington said when asked about the big water along the way and the minimal protection from the elements provided by his chosen craft.

Kirac entered the Race to Alaska on the urging of his friend Luke Burritt. They plan to paddle together the whole way as a team on separate 17.5-foot boards.

“We don’t want to die,” Burritt said in all seriousness. “Of course, what we are doing is a little nutty. But no, we’re not looking at dying.”

Burritt said he was inspired to try something no one has achieved before on a paddleboard.

“My life kind of is adventure,” Burritt explained. “I have immersed myself in it — climbing guide and paddleboard instructor who lives in a van. That is what I do. I kind of live for being outdoors and the adventure.”

The Race to Alaska has two basic rules: no motors and no support crews. A race co-founder once compared the event to the Iditarod sled dog race, “but with a chance of drowning or being eaten by a bear or run over by a freighter.”

The custom built paddleboards that Burritt and Kirac will stand aboard have 28 tie downs for gear along their long and narrow lengths.

The competitors’ ultra-light gear include drysuits, water filter, mosquito proof hammocks to sleep in, pepper spray in case of bears and three to four days of food at a time.

“We’re also planning on doing as much foraging and scavenging as we can,” Kirac said for seaweed or shellfish to eat.

One of the places they trained was in the heavy swells on the Columbia River in the gorge near Hood River, Oregon.

“You’re paddling 50 feet from your buddy and all of sudden, ‘Where’d he go?’ Because one of the swells didn’t swallow him up but it’s too tall. You just can’t see over it,” Kirac recalled. “It’s super fun to go do something like that. You have the right equipment on so you do feel safe.”

Kirac declined to estimate a race finish time other than to say the team aims to average about 35 miles per day. That means they’re not in it for the $10,000 top prize or the second place award of a set of steak knives.

Instead, they are relying in part on crowdfunding to cover expenses via a GoFundMe webpage. So is the third paddleboarder entered in the race. Karl Kruger of Orcas Island, Washington is making his second, solo attempt at the Race to Alaska.

He dropped out after 100 miles last year due to stress fractures in his board. Kruger now has a new custom racing/expedition board. He plans to sustain himself mainly on high calorie food pellets along with some protein shakes and energy bars and gels.

“It absolutely crushed me to have to pull out so early last year,” Kruger said in an interview Wednesday. “Stamina wise I was feeling happy. (But) it was like paddling a wet mattress.”

“I knew right then that I’ll be back. It was immediately back to the drawing boards.”

Kruger said he is psyched about his new, tougher paddleboard, which he has been training on since the beginning of this year.

Paddleboard competitor Karl Kruger.
(Credit Kruger Escapes)

“She has a real powerful manner to her with a glide like I’ve never experienced before,” he enthused. The 44-year-old, who runs a charter excursion company with his wife for a living, said he is optimistically aiming to paddle for two eight-hour shifts per day. He said it would be reasonable to expect him to finish the race in around three weeks.

Race to Alaska co-founder Jake Beattie says the organizers carefully vetted the stand-up paddleboarders and other even smaller craft in the race.

“Generally, we have a high degree of skepticism around paddleboarders,” Beattie said. “In fact when we were starting this race three years ago, (race boss Daniel Evans) and I were remembering that we looked at each other and said, ‘Well, one thing is for sure. We’re never going to let a paddleboard into this race.’ This year, of course, we let three in,” he said with a chuckle.

Paddleboarding is a fast growing sport here in the Pacific Northwest and worldwide — and long distance races are multiplying too. Eleven paddleboarders entered last summer’s Yukon River Quest race from Whitehorse to Dawson. Nine of those finished the 444 mile (715 km) downriver journey.

The annual Molokai 2 Oahu paddleboard race crosses 32 miles of rough, open water in Hawaii. Demand for race entries exceeds supply requiring a lottery to get in.

Beattie employs a razor sharp wit when composing biographical capsules of the competitors for the Race to Alaska website. The race co-founder said on Kruger’s bio page that the paddleboard entries naturally provoke disbelief, followed by many questions.

“How did one come to hate their feet enough to keep them wet and cold for 750 miles? Why would you choose something that sounds so miserable? Think of standing for a 750 mile bus trip– sounds horrible and you’re not even making the thing move,” Beattie wrote in good humor.

“After the questions comes the special kind of awe that is unencumbered by envy, (Really, you are going to eat food pellets every hour for a week?)”

This year’s Race to Alaska has 41 entries for the full race, about the same as last year. A colorful assortment of additional sail and human-powered craft join the flotilla for the initial qualifying segment from Port Townsend to Victoria, now dubbed the “Proving Ground.”

A 32-foot racing catamaran set the course record last year by covering the distance from Victoria to southeast Alaska in three days, twenty hours and 13 minutes. Smaller craft entered in the race this year include a 16-foot Hobie Cat beach catamaran, a 14-foot rowboat and a two-person open rowing scull.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tues., June 6, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 17:55

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

Download Audio

Governor asks lawmakers to come up with their own compromise to state budget woes, if they don’t like his plan.

Governor Bill Walker told lawmakers opposed to his compromise proposal to resolve the state’s budget crisis that they should produce their own compromise ideas.

Andrew Kitchenman/Alaska Public Media – Juneau

President Trumps wants to privatize Air Traffic Controllers

President Trump announced this week he wants to privatize the FAA’s air traffic control operations, in part to speed up modernization. Trump focused on airline service. Alaska Public Media Washington correspondent Liz Ruskin asks what privatizing might mean for general aviation.

Liz Ruskin/AKPM – Washington, D.C.

Denali climber rescued from crevasse after 14 hours

A Denali climber was rescued yesterday [Mon., June 1] after spending 14 hours deeply wedged inside a crevasse.  National Park Service spokeswoman Maureen Gaultieri reports that 38 year old Martin Takak, of Slovakia, fell, un-roped, into the crevasse while descending the peak before 1:30 AM Monday.

Dan Bross/KUAC – Fairbanks

AHTNA land deal

The state and an Alaska Native regional corporation hope to finalize a settlement later this summer in a long-running land access dispute.

AP – Juneau

NTSB Says pilot shut down engine moments before crash near Haines

The surviving passenger of a fatal plane crash near Haines in May, told investigators that the pilot purposely stopped one engine to demonstrate how to re-start it in flight. That is one detail in a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board this week. KHNS’s Emily Files has more on the crash that killed two people and injured another.

Emily Files/KHNS – Haines

Fish and Game wants to know how you feel about wildlife

Colorado State University is conducting a survey of Alaska residents to measure their attitudes towards wildlife. It is part of a nationwide study that began in 2005.

Mark Burch is a Wildlife Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He says Alaska residents’ views differ –from those of people who live in other states.

Allison Mollenkamp/KDLG – Dillingham

Two Anchorage Teachers share a classroom, but one may not be back after getting pink slip from school district

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. Alaska Public Media’s Josh Edge caught up with a pair of teachers who work in the same classroom…one of whom received a pink slip, and one who did not.

Josh Edge/AKPM – Anchorage

Climate change affecting berry production on Kodiak

A scientist predicts climate change could have far-reaching effects on berry production on Kodiak Island. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge wildlife biologist Bill Pyle just wrapped up a two-year pilot study on the Island. The study helps cement the monitoring methods scientists will use to study berry growth, including time-lapse cameras.
KMXT’s Kayla Desroches has more.

Kayla Desroches/KMXT – Kodiak

Ask-a-Climatologist: In Alaska, fire conditions can change in an instant

Wildfire season is off to a slow start in Alaska. But that could change very quickly because predicting how severe a wildfire season will be in the state is tricky. Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with climatologist Brian Brettschneider each week as part of the segment, Ask a Climatologist. He told editor Annie Feidt that over the entire season, which runs through the end of July, no wildfire forecast is useful for Alaska.

Annie Feidt/Alaska’s Energy Desk/AKPM – Anchorage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Why general aviation isn’t cheering Trump’s air traffic control plan

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 17:20
President Trump at the White House Monday. (Image from Whitehouse.gov video)

President Trump announced this week he wants to privatize the FAA’s air traffic control operations, in part to speed up modernization.

“After billions and billions of tax dollars spent and the many years of delays,” he said, “we are still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work.”

Listen now

Trump is endorsing a decades-old idea, spearheaded these days by House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster. The idea is to shift air traffic control away from the FAA into a non-profit corporation, supported by fees. Advocates say a corporation is more agile and better suited to complete the switch to modern technology. Most major airlines are on board.

But among small airplane owners and the general aviation industry, skepticism abounds.

“We need to do things different. There’s no argument there,” Adam White, government liaison for the Alaska Airmen Association, said in an interview. “I’m just a little concerned that general aviation is going to be boxed out of the decision-making process.”

White, who lives in Nenana and is a flying pastor, says the U.S. has a good air traffic system that is modernizing, but slowly. White says some of the delay may be good.

“It’s not something that you can implement and if it doesn’t work we can come back six months later and look at it,” he said. “It’s got to work, or people are going to die.”

Many non-airline aviators worry about the user fees the self-financed corporation is expected to impose. White wonders if fees might extend to pre-flight weather briefings and other services that enhance safety.

“Our concern is if folks have to pay to be able to do that, they’re not going to avail themselves of those services as freely as they do today,” he said.

General aviation now pays at the pump, through a tax of 19.4 cents per gallon on aviation gas.

Under several Republican plans, the board controlling air-traffic operations would have seats for various stakeholders, like the airlines, the pilots’ union and recreational pilots. Still, people in general aviation say their voices could be drowned out.

Mark Baker is the president of the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association, which has 300,000 members, 3,000 in Alaska.

“We don’t register any complaints about the current system,” he said.

Baker says the reports he sees show most airline delays are due to weather and problems other than traffic control.

Among the satisfied general aviators is Joe Brown, who runs an Ohio-based propeller company.

“When I fly, I find a modern system, a high-functioning system,” he said last month, testifying against privatization at a House hearing. He paints a far different picture from the antiquated control technology the president spoke of.

“I can file a flight plan from my smart phone and get my proposed route back before I get to the airport in a text. When I take off I have GPS navigation systems on board that allow me to fly point-to-point, all over this country.”

Brown says he’s happy that enhanced technology guides him on precision approaches at hundreds of airports. About 40 of them are in Alaska.

Alaska Congressman Don Young said at last month’s hearing the privatization initiative seems to be trying to reform the best part of the FAA, though he’s not necessarily opposed.

“As long as Alaska is taken care of, and the need for general aviation, and not being run by the larger airlines, I’ll be somewhat interested in what we’re doing.”

One of the arguments for privatization is it would allow a steady funding source, removed from the budget uncertainties of Congress.

President Trump signed a memo and letter outlining his privatization plans Monday, at a White House ceremony. It looked like a bill signing, but the documents have no legal impact. The plan still has substantial opposition in Congress.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Walker says he is waiting for lawmakers to compromise on budget

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 17:18

Governor Bill Walker told lawmakers opposed to his compromise proposal to resolve the state’s budget crisis that they should produce their own compromise ideas.

Governor Bill Walker (R-Ak) photo: Skip Gray/360 North

“It may not be a perfect compromise,” Gov. Walker said. “It’s the only compromise that’s on the table. I would welcome other compromises coming forth. I submitted a compromise because I didn’t see one.”

Listen now

Walker supports a Senate proposal to draw money from the Permanent Fund earnings to pay for state government. He also backs the Senate plan to cut Permanent Fund dividends to one thousand dollars. And he backs a Senate bill to overhaul oil and gas tax credits.

But Walker endorses the House plans for the budget. He also supports tax that would require workers in Alaska to pay one of five tax amounts based on their incomes.

House majority leaders criticized the package – especially a deficit that could lead to future cuts to school and other spending.

Senate President Pete Kelly says majority senators see the package as a positive step.

“Well, the governor’s proposal was well-received,” Kelly said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to agree with everything on it. He established some goalposts that we can begin to negotiate to.”

Kelly also says lawmakers should focus on the budget first. He adds that he would be comfortable spending from a state savings account known as the Constitutional Budget Reserve to close this year’s deficit.

A state government shutdown will begin on July 1st if lawmakers don’t reach a compromise.

Walker says the effect will be widespread.

“Registration of cars, selling houses, marriage certificates, death certificates – I mean, all sorts of things that we take for granted,” Gov. Walker said. “I mean, I don’t think we realize sometimes all we take for granted until suddenly we look at those services not going to be available. Commercial fishing would be significantly impacted – no question about that.”

Administration officials say details of a potential government shutdown will be available later this week.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Pilot shut off one engine before fatal plane crash near Haines

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 16:52

The surviving passenger of a fatal plane crash near Haines told investigators that the pilot purposely stopped one engine to demonstrate how to re-start it in flight. That is one detail in a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board this week. The crash killed two people and injured another.

David Kunat and Chan Valentine of Juneau and Stanley Quoc Nguyen of California were flying from Juneau to Haines on Saturday, May 27. NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson says the trio were taking pilot Kunat’s twin-engine Piper PA-30 to the Haines Beer Fest.

But at about 11 a.m., about 10 miles away from Haines, something went wrong.  The plane went down on a rocky beach near the Glacier Point airstrip. Kunat and Nguyen, who was also a pilot, were killed. Valentine was sitting in the back of the plane, and he survived, but sustained serious injuries.

Johnson says an NTSB investigator interviewed Valentine in the hospital. During that interview, they learned this important detail:

“Unfortunately it does sound like one engine, the right engine, was shut down intentionally,” Johnson said. “And they were unable to restart it, which ultimately led to the accident.”

The NTSB’s preliminary report summarized Valentine’s account: that about 20 minutes into the flight, Kunat intentionally shut down the right engine to demonstrate how to restart it in-flight. But it didn’t work.

“It’s my understanding that they tried to restart it using the battery power but they weren’t able to restart it using the battery,” Johnson said. “They then tried to air-start it, which means they climbed to an altitude and dove the airplane to try and get the air speed up to be able to windmill the prop. Unfortunately that did not work as well.”

The NTSB report said that after multiple failed attempts to restart the engine, Kunat decided to land at the Glacier Point gravel airstrip. Valentine told the NTSB that Kunat wanted to use a battery booster to start the right engine.

Before landing, Valentine said Kunat made a low-level pass to check the conditions at the airstrip. That was Valentine’s last memory of the flight.

A witness across the Lynn Canal was watching the plane through binoculars. The NTSB report said the witness saw the plane reach the end of the airstrip, descend, turn right, and then crash into the shoreline. The witness said the plane hit the shore at a right wing-down, nose-down angle. The NTSB recovered the wrecked plane, and said the damage is consistent with that angle of impact.

The Chilkat Valley News reported that the witness, Yakutat resident Steve Dice, and his friends, helped save Valentine’s life. After Dice saw the plane go down, he and Haines residents Tom, Patricia and Kirby Faverty took a boat from their cabin to the crash site. They saw Valentine was alive but trapped in the plane. They ultimately were able to keep the plane from going under the rising water by attaching it to a backhoe from a nearby tourism camp.

The NTSB report confirmed that Dice and the Favertys kept the plane in shallow water until emergency responders arrived. Valentine was eventually taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. A spokesperson there said the crash survivor is in ‘satisfactory’ condition.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions. Johnson, with the NTSB, said he does not know why Kunat would try to demonstrate an in-air engine restart. And there’s still the question of why the engine wouldn’t restart after it was turned off.

“Investigators are going to be working very closely with the airframe manufacturer (Piper), the engine manufacturer (Lycoming), looking at performance issues, trying to figure out more why they weren’t able to restart the engine,” Johnson said.

The NTSB will also conduct a more in-depth interview with Valentine once his health is better.

Johnson said it will take nine months to a year to compile the final report, which will include a probable cause.

Categories: Alaska News

Survey investigates Alaskans’ attitudes towards wildlife

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 16:51
Northern Pintail
(image from United States Fish and Wildlife Survey)

Colorado State University is conducting a survey of Alaska residents to measure their attitudes towards wildlife. It is part of a nationwide study that began in 2005.

Mark Burch is a Wildlife Biologist for Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He said Alaska residents’ views differ from those in other states.

“In Alaska as you might expect people do tend to be a little more utilitarian,” Burch said. “In other words they utilize wildlife for food and clothing, and that way a little more than people in say some of the more urban areas that may perceive wildlife differently.”

The survey hopes to measure not only attitudes but trends over time. Burch said the survey will help the ADF&G better meet public needs.

“And in Alaska we’re looking at some of the barriers people face as they pursue hunting as well,” Burch said “That’s one of the specific interests that, that we’re delving into a little bit deeper.”

The survey is being conducted primarily by mail, though it is also available online. Researchers hope for a sample size of at least a thousand Alaska residents.

Categories: Alaska News

Denali climber rescued after 14 hours in crevasse

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 13:53

A Denali climber was rescued yesterday (Mon, June 1) after spending 14 hours wedged deep in a crevasse. The National Park Service spokeswoman Maureen Gaultieri said 38-year-old Martin Takak, of Slovakia, fell un-roped into the crevasse while descending the peak before 1:30 AM Monday.

Mt. Denali

“Mr. Takak fell through the snow bridge and came to a rest about 40 feet below the glacier surface and was pretty tightly embedded in the ice,” Gaultieri said.

Gaultieri said other climbers saw Takak fall began trying to rescue him. The accident occurred at the mountain’s 7,800 foot level of the Kahiltna Glacier — along the West Buttress route.  Gaulteri said more than 2 dozen people participated in the rescue, some taking turns lowering themselves into the crevasse to chip away at the ice.

“After a lot of manual labor and a final hour of some mechanical advantage in the end with a pneumatic chisel, they were able to free him from the ice and get him, onward, into medical care,” Gaultieri said.

Gaultieri said Takak was severely hypothermic and suffering from critical injuries when he was flow to the hospital in Fairbanks.

“I would have to say that he has a tremendous will to survive, and he certainly was probably helped by the fact that he knew right away that there was a team of people working to get him out,” Gaultieri said.

Gaultieri said it was the second major crevasse rescue operation to retrieve an un-roped climber this spring on Denali.

“This year the lower glacier has had quite a bit of crevasse danger: weaker snow bridges than usual, not a lot of winter snow pack,” Gaultieri said.  

The NPS cautions climbers to always travel roped, and to wear skis or snowshoes to increase flotation while crossing soft or thin snow packs.

Categories: Alaska News

Ask a Climatologist: In Alaska, wildfire season can go from mild to severe in an instant

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-06 13:03

 

Graphic courtesy of Rick Thoman/NWS

Wildfire season is off to a slow start in Alaska. But that could change very quickly. That’s because predicting how severe a wildfire season will be in the state is so tricky.

Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with climatologist Brian Brettschneider each week as part of the segment, Ask a Climatologist.

Brettschneider says over the entire season, which runs through the end of July, no wildfire forecast is useful for Alaska.

Interview Transcript:

Brian: Conditions that promote fire are highly dependent on just a few days of meteorological conditions. So if temperatures are warm, that gives you low relative humidity. If there’s a breeze that literally can fan fires and then you need an ignition source, which can be human ignition or most commonly, lightening. Those are things that more than a few days out are really hard to forecast, which is different in the lower 48 where long term drought, the curing of grasses- those kinds of things you can see and you can forecast weeks and even months in advance. You can track them over long periods of time.

Here in Alaska, we don’t really have drought conditions, per se. So it really is the meteorological conditions over a relatively short period of time that drive the propensity for fires to start and spread.

Annie: So things can kind of switch in an instant?

Brian: They really can. You can have wet after wet, cloudy, cool and then just a week of warm and dry, and throw in some lightening strikes and the whole state could erupt, figuratively speaking.

Annie: And lightening is the key for most fires in Alaska?

Brian: It is. If you look at the stats in terms of acreage burned, it’s by far lightening caused. It pretty reliably kicks in the first half of June. And once it does, that’s when we’re going to see the fire acreage expand. So far the lightening season hasn’t really kicked in yet, but it will, it always does. And then the question is how many of those will ignite new fires.

Once we head into June in the high sun season, in interior Alaska you get near continuous daylight, you get solar heating for most of the day. So you end up with lower pressure, warm temperatures and that promotes what’s called a thermal trough, and that helps facilitate storm development and lightening strikes.

Categories: 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 alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

Download Audio

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

Pages