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 alaskapublic.org 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

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

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 15:53
Gov. Bill Walker signs a proclamation for a special session focused on the budget and long-term spending plan, after lawmakers failed to compromise. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

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

On Thursday, notices were mailed to thousands of state employees warning of potential layoffs if a budget is not finalized by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Legislative leaders have said they do not want a government shutdown, but they also remain entrenched in positions staked out months ago for how best to address the deficit.

While there’s general agreement that earnings from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund should be used to help fund government, the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-led House majority coalitions disagree over what else is needed for a fiscal plan.

Today, Governor Bill Walker weighed-in on the legislative special session that has yet failed to resolve next year’s budget, and address more than a three billion-dollar gap between state revenues and expenses.

Governor Walker, in an emailed press release, said he talked to members of the House and Senate caucuses and determined their negotiations have reached a stalemate.

Walker called a possible government shutdown “unacceptable” and pledged to work on a compromise package to present to both bodies next week.

Categories: Alaska News

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

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 15:50
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (File photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

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

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters she’s “agnostic” on the Paris accord itself. But, she said she hopes the U.S. won’t “fall back” in its efforts to address climate change, adding that Alaskans are already seeing impacts.

Governor Bill Walker released a statement highlighting the effects of climate change across the state. But he stopped short of criticizing President Trump’s decision.

In his statement, Walker said shrinking sea ice and coastal erosion are causing “social and economic upheaval,” adding that the communities of Shishmaref, Kivalina and Newtok are “literally washing into the ocean.” And he noted that erosion and thawing permafrost will affect military installations across the state.

Alaska hasn’t seen any official statewide policy initiatives on climate change since an effort under former Governor Sarah Palin, nearly a decade ago.

The state was exempted from the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s hallmark climate policy under the Paris agreement.

But the Walker administration has indicated it hopes to advance some kind of state climate policy this year.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz also released a statement following the news, saying the city will continue adapting and mitigating climate change. The mayor went on to write that the municipality “stands with business leaders and other mayors from across the country.”

Alaska Public Media’s Zachariah Hughes and KTOO’s Jacob Resneck contributed to this story. 

Categories: Alaska News

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

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 15:42
Exploration well Tolsona No. 1, located about 11 miles West of Glennallen, Alaska (Photo by 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.

The Native corporation started drilling the exploration well last September, hoping to find natural gas to use as cheaper fuel for interior Alaska communities.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission stated the violations posed a “serious and significant risk to public health and the environment.”

In an order sent May 24, the commission charged that an oil and gas exploration company owned by Ahtna, Tolsona Oil and Gas Exploration, didn’t install proper safety equipment.

The commission also said the company “stonewalled” the agency’s attempts to address the issues.

Ahtna is challenging the fine. In a statement released yesterday, the corporation disputed parts of the commission’s account. The company said it took “immediate action” to comply with the state’s order, installing the required equipment this week.

Ahtna added the project has an “outstanding safety record,” but also stated that it lacks the “decades of experience that Alaska’s major oil and gas producers do.”

Categories: Alaska News

Igiugig staves off opening new landfill by recycling

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 15:39
Igiuig’s recycling center. Stacy Hill / KMXT

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.

Stacy Hill is Indian General Assistance Program (IGAP) coordinator and environmental director for the village.

“Currently we recycle aluminum cans and plastics,” Hill said. “We crush our glass, and we put it in our roads as a foundation. Any household waste as far as moist stuff, food, we compost it for the greenhouse. We have chickens that eat scraps.”

The funding that animates Igiugig’s recycling program comes from a variety of sources. The village has been flying out cans with funding from Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling since the non-profit started in the 1982. It helped the organization pilot a program for flying out plastics in 2010. Now Igiugig is ALPAR’s most recent recipient of the Outstanding Recycling Community award.

Last year the Lake and Peninsula Borough provided the village $45,000 in matched funds to back haul 55,000 pounds of scrap metal. Hill estimates that the village still has 15,000 pounds of scrap metal remaining. When area lodges bring guests in this summer, the village hopes to send out more of that metal on empty backhaul flights.

IGAP is another major source of funding for the village’s recycling program.

“That funds our landfill. That funds our interns. We have about five or six high school kids that work for IGAP during the year. After school they help with the recycling and separating all this material,” Hill said.

For this village of roughly 70 people, recycling is about more than being environmentally conscious. It is also integral to keeping city costs down.

“It would really fill up our landfill if we were to bury all that material,” Hill said. “It’s about $3 million to $5 million to produce another landfill of our size, and nobody has $3 million to $5 million to replace what we’ve got now. So we might as well cherish what we have.”

Next on the agenda, Igiugig is turning its attention to the oil-based paints that they have stored in their hangar. This year they are applying for a hazardous waste grant that will allow them to dispose of the paint safely.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: McPherson Music leaves behind a legacy of Ketchikan performers

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 15:08
Roy McPherson looks at the David Rubin mural on the back wall of McPherson Music. (Photo by Leila Khiery, KRBD – Ketchikan)

McPherson Music has been the cornerstone of Ketchikan’s music scene since the 1980s. The shop has been much more than just a music store. The McPhersons have offered music lessons and led jazz and concert bands to help entertain the whole community through cold, rainy winters.

Now, though, McPherson Music is for sale.

Listen now

McPherson Music survived the population decline after Ketchikan’s pulp mill closed, multiple recessions and competition from direct-mail catalog companies.

But the internet, with its promise of low prices and free shipping, was the final blow.

Roy McPherson leads the way through the bare, echoey shop. Walls that once held hundreds of guitars on display are empty. The pianos, amps, speakers and drum sets are gone.

Roy McPherson points out signatures of some of his former students on a pole at McPherson Music. (Photo by Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan)

“Of course, it was all covered with photographs and things all down the hall. This room was full of pictures,” McPherson said. “But, we have to get it ready in case it goes because there’s so much to move.”

The store hasn’t sold yet, but Roy and Tina McPherson are prepared to vacate. They even have a spot ready in their home for a colorful mural by Ketchikan artist and musician David Rubin. The mural on the back wall depicts longtime members of various McPherson-led bands, along with Roy himself.

The bands are a huge part of McPherson Music. They started in the late 1990s, when Roy – a former high school band teacher — and Tina – who plays trombone — decided to form a youth jazz band.

McPherson said forming the Windjammers was Tina’s idea, but the band members picked the name.

“And we had about 32 kids sign up, something like that,” McPherson said. And more kids wanted to join so they started a second one. That became the Soundwaves. Soon, both bands were full.

“And then, we decided well, let’s start a class,” McPherson said. “We’ll call it Discovering Jazz Fundamentals. We thought we’ll have a dozen kids, maybe. We’ll get them ready for the Soundwaves. 33 signed up.”

The Windjammers perform at McPherson Music. (Photo by Keila Khiery, KRBD – Ketchikan)

Youth band enrollment later declined as the population of school kids dropped. So McPherson scaled back to just the Windjammers. They recruited adults to fill some holes in the band, and the kids grew up.

“And now the Windjammers are all adults,” McPherson said. “And it’s a red-hot band. There is not a weakness in that band. They can play anything.”

A few days later, the Windjammers gather for a free concert at the store. Drummer Kim Kleinschmidt warms up before the performance, drumming out a rapid beat on a table top. He worked at McPherson Music for decades, and said the store gave him a second chance at a career in the music business,

“Because I didn’t complete my college degree in performance,” Kleinschmidt began. “To come back and work with Roy – the finest educator I ever worked with, even including all the college career I had in Washington State.”

Windjammers tenor sax and flute player Jamie Karlson is the music teacher at Schoenbar Middle School. She was a toddler when she first walked into McPherson Music.

“I grew up in this store,” Karlson said. “I think my Mom had us coming in when I was two. And so, coming in and growing up with them has been awesome. I started playing flute in their Discovery Jazz Band, their youngest ensemble, when I was in seventh grade.”

Karlson said she’s not sure she would have had the same career if McPherson Music hadn’t been there for her. And, she said it will be a sad day when the store sells. Karlson points to some of the metal support poles in the shop, covered with signatures.

“You see all these names of these kids that have been here years and had these experiences. Some of them have gone on to do incredible things and some of them have passed away and we honor their memory,” Karlson said. “It’s just — this place has a lot of history.”

One of the kids who passed away was Sam Pitcher, who died in 2003 at age 16. A music scholarship was founded in his name, and there’s a display of photos on the back wall showing scholarship winners.

Roy McPherson leads the Windjammers during a free jazz concert at McPherson Music. (Photo by Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan)

Karlson’s photo is there, along with many others. Earlier, when the store was empty, Roy McPherson gave a rundown of what instrument each of those kids played, where they ended up and what they’re doing now.

“She went through school at Brigham Young University and is now a teacher,” McPherson said, pointing to one girl, then the next. “She has a degree in music. She still plays French horn. She played in community groups in Portland. She’s now an engineer. No, yeah, she’s an engineer.”

Like Karlson, some of the kids pictured on the wall are in the Windjammers. There’s also a City Council member on saxophone; a boat captain on trombone; and a physician on guitar. It’s a true community band.

A good crowd shows up for the concert. McPherson leans against one of those poles covered with his students’ names as he introduces the band and the Count Basie song they’re about to play.

“We used to pull this piece out every once in a while, see if the band was maturing,” he told the audience. “It would beat us up and we’d put it away. Next year, we’d pull it out again and get a little closer. Now we just pull it out and play it, because this band can do it.”

And they did.

The store might be for sale, but the band isn’t going anywhere. McPherson plans to continue leading the Windjammers and his concert band, keeping that music magic alive.

Categories: Alaska News

Warmer Kodiak seasons mean more fruit

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 14:54
Lon White prepares to water a plant inside his nursery, Strawberry Fields. Kayla Desroches / KMXT

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.

On a sunny day this week, KMXT dropped by Strawberry Fields Nursery to check in with owner Lon White and see what the growing season had in store for the island.

Customers catch up while the cashier rings up their purchases. It’s hot and a little humid inside the nursery. The flowers have bloomed, the herbs are ready for fostering and the vegetable plants come in many different promising shades of green.

And just through the door back in the fresh air, a lady eyes a kiwi tree leaning against a wall.

“And they stay alive outside?” she asked.

Linda Suydam said she’s usually out fishing, but this year she’s sticking around for summer. So she’s looking into growing fruit — like cherries.

“Lonnie, I wanna get that kiwi tree too,” Suydam said.

Kodiak isn’t typically famed for its fruit, but trees line the walls outside the nursery. White points out the bees flying around, busy pollinating the trees.

“You can see all these flowering plants,” White said. “We have a lot cherries and plums here. I probably did more fruit trees this year than I have ever before.”

White said they’re also now selling pear trees, which locals have had luck with recently.

“We’ve had such good weather in the spring and through the summer that it’s provided the heat that’s allowed people to successfully grow a lot more fruit than what we’ve seen in the past, so it’s kind of a new phenomena actually,” White said.

White said good drainage, high quality soil, and lots of sun is vital to establishing fruit trees.

As far as vegetables go, White said the garden season has just begun and rhubarb is the first arrival. He said lettuce, kale and chard will follow.

But, White said with the aid of greenhouses, kale, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini and soon enough, tomato plants will be ready for harvest.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Frage Schaefer of Palmer

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 14:33
Frage Schaefer of Palmer (Photo by 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.

Listen now

SCHAEFER: I moved out of Point Hope cause it was getting a little bit too challenging. There was a lot of alcohol influence and drugs. And I was part of that too but I didn’t want my kids around it — my little kids — so we moved down to Palmer.

Right now, they’re probably whaling, seal hunting. Next month it’ll be walrus, and the next month, they’ll be gathering caribou. Moose come along. It’s always just a cycle, you just got to be ready for the next cycle.

I whaled with my uncle, so I’d help him repair the boat, patch up the boat, skin the boat, clean up the whaling equipment… things like that. Fix the snowmachines and get them ready.

Most of the elders are passing away. Like myself, I grew up with my grandparents but I can’t speak the language. I didn’t pay attention enough, so my kids won’t speak it. So it’s just a cycle that’s lost.

When I was a boy, there was a musk ox going wild — I don’t know if it had rabies or porcupine quills in it or something. It was chasing everyone and I was walking home from the store with groceries in my hand and I didn’t see it. It was coming up pretty fast behind me, and someone grabbed my shirt and yanked me into their house. Yeah, he just missed me. He was gonna ram me. I was oblivious to what was going on. But yeah, only in Alaska you get chased down by a musk ox with groceries in your hand (laughs).

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau researcher helps discover new species of flying squirrel

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 12:24
Humboldt’s flying squirrel in Mendocino County, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Nick Kerhoulas, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks)

Researchers say they’ve found a new species of flying squirrel, and a Juneau biologist’s data from almost two decades ago played a key role in the discovery.

Listen now

Allison Bidlack first studied the Prince of Wales Island flying squirrel population while working on her master’s degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Flying squirrels don’t really fly. They leap from trees and glide as much as 300 feet to escape from predators such as owls, marten and ermine.

Bidlack said the nocturnal mammals differ from the typical daytime red squirrel in that they have a thin, furry membrane between their front and rear legs, and a flat tail that’s used as a rudder.

“It’s really neat to see. If you capture one live and then let it go, it’ll often scamper up a tree and then immediately glide as far away from you as possible to the next tree,” Bidlack said. “It might do that a couple times just to get away.”

Bidlack is now director of the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center in Juneau. She’s also a University of Alaska Southeast assistant professor in environmental science who specializes in wildlife ecology. Her genetic samples of a known species dating back 17 years were recently compared with samples of other flying squirrels collected across North America by another researcher. They discovered the presence of a genetically distinct species in the Pacific Northwest.

Virginia Northern flying squirrel on a tree. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

“The thing that cinched it is that there were squirrels that were collected basically in the same area, but they had very different genetics. It became quickly apparent that squirrels that were living basically on top of one another weren’t interbreeding,” Bidlack said. “That’s a really good indication then that you’ve got two species there when you see such consistent and deep genetic differences between them.”

Until now, there were only two known North American species of flying squirrel.

Northern flying squirrels can be found in boreal coniferous forests across Canada and the northern United States into Alaska, while southern flying squirrels can be found in deciduous hardwood forests from the Midwest and East Coast of the United States down to Mexico and Central America.

It’s believed that the advance and retreat of continental ice sheets two million years ago led to a third, genetically isolated “hidden species,” which ranges from southern British Columbia to California.

Now called Humboldt’s flying squirrel, that species is similar to the northern flying squirrel, but they appear slightly smaller and darker.

“Mostly, it’s just surprising. It’s surprising to suddenly find that there’s three species when we thought there were two,” Bidlack said. “It’s sort of a fun thing about the natural world. It’s always more complicated than you think it is.”

The research of Bidlack and six others on the discovery of Humboldt’s flying squirrel was published Tuesday in the Journal of Mammalogy.

You can also check out an illustrated National Geographic article about the research.

Categories: Alaska News

75th Anniversary of Aleut Evacuation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 10:47
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 the Unangan people were evacuated from villages in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands because of World War II. They were sent to internment camps in southeast Alaska. Others were taken prisoner and sent to Japan. Once the war was over, many were never allowed to return to their homes. Join us for Talk of Alaska as we commemorate the anniversary of these events, and discuss the history and the impacts of the evacuation.

HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Rachel Mason – National Park Service
  • Statewide callers 

Participate:

      • Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcast
      • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
      • Send email to talk@alaskapublic.org (comments may be read on air)

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by emailRSS or podcast.

Categories: Alaska News

Summers in Palmer home to Friday Fling market

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 00:23

Outdoor summer markets are ramping up with patrons and vendors abuzz over early season plant starts, delicious food, and crafts like homemade soap, jewelry, hats and mittens.

In Palmer, beneath a backdrop of snow laden mountains, you’ll find all of that and more at the Friday Fling, which runs each Friday through August, from midday to late afternoon.

Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove visited last week and has a little taste of what you can expect.

Listen now

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, June 1, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-02 00:17

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 alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

Listen now

Murkowski talks climate change, health care during Juneau visit

Jacob Resneck, KTOO – Juneau

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski reacted to news that the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. She was skeptical of President Donald Trump’s assertion that he’d try to renegotiate a better deal.

Senate passes opioid addiction prevention bill by wide margin

Henry Leasia and Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

On Thursday, the state Senate overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill which would limit opioid prescriptions from health providers in the state as well as require training on opioid abuse for medical practitioners. HB 159 passed by a margin of 17 to one.

As lawmakers mull budget, unprecedented state shutdown looms

Rashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

For the third straight year, state employees are being warned about a looming government shutdown and the potential for mass layoffs.

Anchorage advocacy group assembles to combat equal rights ordinance rollback

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

A coalition of Anchorage advocacy groups, unions, and faith organizations is mobilizing to oppose an ongoing effort to roll back parts of the city’s equal rights ordinance.

Putin calls the recent U.S. anti-ballistic missile exercises a threat to Russia

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Following a successful test of the United States’ anti-ballistic missile capabilities this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the missile defense system’s components in South Korea and Alaska a threat to Russia.

Fairbanks project looks to restore crippled Cripple Creek

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A project is underway to restore a Fairbanks area creek. The multi-year endeavor spearheaded by the Interior Alaska Land Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is aimed at bringing Cripple Creek on the west side of town back to life.

Haines Assembly sees its second resignation since April

Abbey Collins, KHNS – Haines

For the second time in a little over a month, a Haines assembly member has resigned. The move follows a contentious meeting Tuesday night. The assembly had a few big decisions on its plate. But after a more than four hour meetings, only one had been resolved.

Once-flagging Alaska space business shows signs of liftoff

Associated Press

Once close to death, Alaska’s foray into the space business is showing signs of liftoff.

Scientists discover a third species of flying squrirrel hiding in plain sight

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Researchers say they’ve found a new species of flying squirrel, and a Juneau biologist’s data from almost two decades ago played a key role in the discovery.

Summers in Palmer home to Friday Fling market

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Outdoor summer markets are ramping up with patrons and vendors abuzz over early season plant starts, delicious food, and crafts like homemade soap, jewelry, hats and mittens.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski talks climate change, health care during Juneau visit

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-01 18:21
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with reporters following her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 22, 2017. Murkowski is skeptical President Donald Trump can negotiate a better climate deal after pulling the U.S. out of the Paris accord, she said during a visit to Juneau on Thursday. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she’s skeptical President Donald Trump will be able to negotiate a better deal after pulling the U.S. out of the 195-nation Paris climate agreement.

“That to me seems incredibly difficult,” Murkowski said Thursday from the sidelines of a luncheon hosted by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t know how we come in as the holdout. As I understand it, it’s Syria and Nicaragua and the United States now that are not in this, how we renegotiate it. I don’t think we have that kind of leverage, quite honestly.”

Murkowski is a strong proponent of expanding oil drilling. But she said she’s “agnostic” over the wisdom of whether to stay in the Paris agreement. She walks a fine line as climate change threatens the survival of Arctic villages and natural resources like fisheries.

“My hope is that with the president’s decision to go this route it does not mean that we fall back as a nation on our efforts to address and mitigate on the impact that we see from a warming climate,” Murkowski said. “Because we see it here in this state and it is real and I think we’ve got an obligation to help address it.”

Health care reform also is moving in Washington, D.C.

The Senate is poised to take up the Republican House bill that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would result in 23 million fewer Americans covered.

Some projections say Alaskans could be hit the hardest.

The Senate should move deliberately as it takes up the bill, Murkowski said.

“There are some who are very interested in moving it as quickly as possible to quote, ‘Kinda get it behind us,’” Murkowski said. “I don’t think that that’s the responsible path. I want to get it right rather than get it behind us.”

A bipartisan agreement will be necessary to get the best deal for Americans, she said.

“We can’t go from Obamacare, which was a Democrat-led only health care, to a Republican version of that where it’s just all Republicans that doesn’t work for the good of the country,” Murkowski said.

The U.S. Senate is in recess.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks project looks to restore crippled Cripple Creek

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-06-01 18:16
East Cripple Creek Pit (Alaska Department of Natural Resources photo)

A project is underway to restore a Fairbanks area creek. The multi-year endeavor spearheaded by the Interior Alaska Land Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is aimed at bringing Cripple Creek on the west side of town back to life. The Interior Alaska Land Trust owns a crucial portion of the project area, where the trust’s Martha Reynolds said the focus is addressing drainage problems resulting from 1930’s era placer mining operations.

”They were using these hydraulic cannons where they were shooting water at the frozen silt to remove the silt to try to get to the underlying, gold-bearing gravels,” Reynolds said. “And they needed water and they needed a way to remove that silt downstream.”

Reynolds said silt laden water clogged Cripple Creek’s winding channel, and a straight 6-mile drainage ditch was dug as an alternate path to carry water back to the Chena River.

”So what we’re trying to do is restore flow into the original channel of Cripple Creek,” Reynolds said.

Bob Henszey is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is providing $300,000 for the restoration project.

“The big project that’s really visible for most of the public is reconnecting the original of ripple Creek that was filled in when they built Chena Ridge Road,” Henszey said.

The agency and Land Trust are coordinating the effort with the Alaska Department of Transportation, which is contracting for up to $2.5 million in culvert work in the Cripple Creek area this summer. Henszey said yet to be funded channel upgrades and connections are aimed at completing the project in future years.

“The idea is to make that more passable year-round as well as create more habitat in the original channel,” Henszey said.

Henszey said this kind of habitat restoration work is uncommon in Alaska, but points to the success of a similar recent project that restored water flow along the Upper Chatanika River, north of Fairbanks, in another historic placer mining area.

Categories: Alaska News

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