All posts by Chris Cocoles

Hunters Should Be Wary Of Train Traffic

Photo by Kolmkolm/Wikimedia

Photo by Kolmkolm/Wikimedia

A really informative story from the Alaska Dispatch on hunter safety regarding railroads.  The author of the story, Doug Engebretson, is the chief operating officer for the Alaska Railroad. 

Here are some of Engebretson’s thoughts:

I grew up hunting with my own father, and ever since my sons were old enough to join me on moose hunts, I’ve continued that family tradition with them. Even now that my children are grown, we still head into the backcountry on moose hunts, and it is a time I cherish. We’re as eager as anyone to have a season that includes plenty of birds or a moose for the freezer, but none of that is worth risking our lives. The best hunt is always one where everyone comes home safely.

At the Alaska Railroad, many hunting enthusiasts like me are aware of the prime hunting grounds around our tracks, but all Alaskans must be sure to follow the law when it comes to track safety and Alaska Railroad right of way. You may think using the tracks as a path to access your favorite hunting spot seems harmless, but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, on average, 500 people in the United States die each year on the tracks. Even when the Alaska Railroad’s summer service subsides, we run dozens of trains along the Railbelt every single day. Having people on the tracks not only endangers their lives, but it puts the safety of Alaska Railroad employees and passengers in jeopardy.



Caribou 1


Editor’s note: The following story appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal 

Story and photos by Steve Meyer
The apparitions ghosting out of the brushline in the early morning haze that blanketed the mountain valley slowly became two caribou bulls some 700 yards away.
Surveying the options for cover to make a stalk didn’t take long: There wasn’t any. The stunted blueberry bushes and lichen that comprise most of the vegetation on the northern slopes of the eastern Brooks Range might lend concealment to a snake, but not much else.
A prayer to the hunting gods – “Please let them come this way” – may not have helped, but when the pair of bulls turned and started our direction, it seemed worth the small effort. The capricious and unpredictable mountain wind was generally quartering across our right shoulders and would eventually intersect the path of the two handsome animals.
As they came closer, the binoculars confirmed both bulls to be mature, respectable representatives, all we were looking for. Around 400 yards out, the mountain landscape concealed a draw that took them out of sight, allowing us to move rapidly closer, and when the antlers rose out of the draw, the caribou were at 175 yards, nicely confirmed by Christine Cunningham’s 10×42 Swarovski rangefinding binoculars.
The bull on the right appeared slightly larger than his buddy, and Christine settled into a solid sitting position for the shot. On they came on a dead course to intercept our wind. At 125 yards, the larger bull’s head went up and he turned, ran a few paces and stopped broadside to Christine’s position.
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CHRISTINE CAME TO the hunting arena in 2006, crawling through tidal duck muck with a borrowed shotgun. A hunter wasn’t born that day; she had been a hunter all of her life, but she had never had the opportunity to unleash the passion for nature’s most honest relationship until the moment in time that allowed her two clean misses on a pair of fast flying wigeon.
Bird hunting became her immediate passion, and with an extended family of three chocolate Labrador retrievers, two English setters and an Irish setter, hunting time was booked solidly in the bird department.
Big game hunting was always in the back of her mind, but time just seemed to pass too quickly to engage in yet another outdoor endeavor. When Christine met Emily Thoft through the rapidly growing community of female hunters, things began to change.
Emily and Matt Thoft own and operate Silvertip Aviation, L.L.C. (, an air taxi/ transporter service, and Orvis Outfitters, a big game outfitting and guiding service. The Thofts are registered Alaska big game guides and pilots, and during the late July to August big game season, operate out of their lodge on the Ivishak River, on the northern slopes of the eastern Brooks Range.
When asked about hunting big game, Christine had explained the difficulty of giving up time from the bird dogs once upland season began Aug. 10. Emily solved the problem by advising Christine that caribou hunting in their area of operation opened July 1, and that they would be up there around the end of July. A hunt scheduled for 2014 was derailed when a litter of English setter pups entered this world, but there was no problem changing to 2015, and so we scheduled a July 30 fly-out.
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LOGISTICALLY, HUNTING IN the Brooks Range – particularly the northern slopes – requires a bit more of a commitment than the typical Alaska resident fly-out with a transporter or guided nonresident hunt. For our hunt we would drive the Dalton Highway, otherwise known as the “haul road,” from Livengood to Happy Valley. It was a trip of some 335 miles of broken pavement, potholed gravel, narrow bridges and lots of semitruck traffic. Traveling the Dalton is a story in itself, and our two-day adventure on it was a great experience.
We arrived in Happy Valley, an abandoned pipeline camp with an airstrip that services several air taxi operations. There we were met by Matt in his Cessna 185 wheel plane. Unlike many parts of Alaska, wheel planes are prolific in the far north; the terrain lends itself to these marvelous machines. The aircraft was limited to 60 pounds of gear per person, so loading the 185 was quick and the view that materialized as we gained elevation was in itself worth the trip.
After we landed on the Ivishak River, which serves as an airstrip for the Orvis Outfitter Lodge, we unloaded gear for the next stage of the trip, a Super Cub flight into hunting country.
Our destination would take us into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 19 million acres of one of the last truly wild places on the North American continent. Sadly enough, ANWR is in constant political and corporate turmoil over the desire to develop it. Words and photographs cannot adequately describe the wildness exuded by this magnificent chunk of real estate; being on the ground in it is a life-changing experience for anyone who embraces wilderness.
As I made the first flight in with Matt in his highly modified PA 12 Cub, caribou and grizzly bears dotted the landscape below. The “airstrip” where we elected to begin the hunt was a shale-strewn ridge surrounded by mountains and guarded by a gorgeous blonde grizzly bear in a creekbottom some three-quarters of a mile from where camp would be.
I set up camp with a backdrop of roaming caribou in the high ridges around the site. They were seeking the high ground where wind keeps insects and heat at bay. When Christine arrived on the second flight, the caribou had started to move down the shale slopes into the surrounding valley.
Since we had flown in, hunting could not start until after 3 a.m. the following morning. That was OK, as it allowed us time to soak in the silence and beauty of our playground.
The area was flanked on the north by rugged blue-gray shale slopes and jagged rocks. It was more of the same to the south, where the valleys below were blanketed in lichen – a mainstay of caribou diet – blueberry scrubs and salmon berries.
Scattered throughout the valley were shed caribou antlers, bleached white by weather and sun, revealing that herds spent time here in the winter. These antlers are considered artifacts and are not to be taken or even moved from their natural resting place.
As we sat in front of our tent a young cow caribou came prancing up the slope to the west, displaying the innate curiosity that has a way of ending badly for caribou. Christine waved at her and she ran back and forth, coming to around 50 yards from us before she caught a whiff of our scent and trotted down the valley to the east.
Later in the evening we scouted the area to the south and spotted a very respectable bull caribou feeding along, oblivious to our presence. We weren’t looking for a record-book bull; a mature representative animal that would provide winter meat was Christine’s goal.
This bull filled the bill just fine and Christine was excited and insisted we just go back to camp and find him in the morning. That was OK, except that with caribou, the odds of them being in the same area the next day are not great. Caribou don’t know where they will be tomorrow; they move constantly, and often it is a matter of cutting off their direction of travel to get a shot.
 Still, the odds were in our favor. The caribou had come to the valley off the surrounding ridges, it was fairly late in the day, and it seemed likely they would bed down in the vicinity.
There were numerous calves amongst the cows and young bulls in the valley, and the grizzly that we had seen flying in was only a quarter-mile away from some of the cows and calves. He could be a game changer.
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SLEEP WAS FITFUL. This time of year and this far north it does not get dark – more like dusk – and we tossed and turned, all the while listening to the periodic “click” sound caribou hooves made as they trotted by the tent. We could legally hunt at 3 a.m. but elected to wait until 4:30 for the sake of not getting overanxious.
We sought a vantage point overlooking the valley that bottomed out at a brush-choked creek. Dotted around the valley were caribou, most still bedded down, and only their heads and small antlers visible. But there were no bulls. We climbed over a knoll to overlook the area where the bull had been the night before. The valley floor was such that any caribou bedded down there would be visible; there were none.
From that spot we could see caribou cows and calves starting to move southwest towards a pass that would take them up onto a steep shale ridge. We theorized that if the bulls were still in the area, they were probably bedded down along the brush line of the creek and would eventually follow the cows and calves. We moved to another viewing area where we saw the aforementioned bulls.
Anxiety, buck fever or whatever one chooses to call it is a very real dilemma, especially for the first-time big game hunter. Many are the stories of disastrous first shots and they are hardly gender specific. But Christine is an accomplished wingshooter and had been practicing shooting from field positions all summer with her .300 Weatherby, reliably hitting vital zone targets out to 300 yards.
The sound of her shot blended with the “whack” of a solid hit; heart-shot, the bull staggered and started the typical run. When Christine hit him again, it dropped the animal.
We walked up to the gorgeous bull and found the light gone from his eyes. Christine knelt beside him, stroking the soft velvet of his antlers, unable to speak. After several minutes she looked at me, her face breaking out into a familiar smile. It left no doubt that this was the beginning of many more hunting adventures for big game.
It is rare to have a first time for anything and have it go perfect; this was one of those times.
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Basketball Icon Rick Barry’s Passion For Alaska



Rick Barry (left) fishes a lot with World Golf Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd.

Rick Barry (left) fishes a lot with World Golf Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd.


The following story appears is in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal




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By Chris Cocoles

Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry famously – and damn successfully – shot his free throws underhanded. He’s spoken out about the frequent misses of noted NBA stars but dreadful foul shooters such as now retired Shaquille O’Neal and current stars Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan. He’s wondered aloud why those who clank free throws so frequently don’t follow his unconventional form that connected on about 90 percent of his attempts, fourth best in league history.

Shooting free throws is nothing, Barry says; he would love to get those guys to try casting flies on an Alaskan river.

“It’s much more difficult,” Barry interrupts when asked to compare the two artforms. One was one of the trademarks in a brilliant basketball career that saw Barry named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players when the league celebrated its silver anniversary in 1996. The other has become a passion for the 71-year-old, who hosts fishing adventures to Alaska through his website,

“In basketball, shooting free throws is the same distance every time (15 feet from the foul line to the hoop). It’s the same-sized ball, the same-sized rim every time,” Barry says. “And I don’t have to deal with any freakin’ wind. Casting is much, much more (hard), having to cast in different wind conditions. But it’s fun.”

And it’s a pastime Barry has only recently discovered and became smitten with.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

DON’T LET THE age fool you: Rick Barry is active and fit, despite being on the north side of 70 years old. His playing career ended in 1980, but he stayed busy with various business ventures, found a successful niche broadcasting and as an opinionated sports talk radio host, and reveled in the role of proud papa watching his children play basketball at both the major college and professional levels.

Until eight years ago, he mostly spent his free time on the golf course and as a road and mountain bike rider. The latter passion is one he rarely partakes in these days after suffering a serious injury accident last year near his Colorado home.

“I’ll never go fast on a bicycle again,” he says of the crash that fractured his pelvis in five places.

But fly fishing keeps him busy enough anyway. A friend’s offer almost a decade ago was a game-changing moment.

“Scott Minnich is a good buddy of mine in Colorado Springs (where Barry and his wife, Lynn, now reside); his son and my son (Canyon, who is playing basketball at the College of Charleston) grew up together,” Barry says. “(Minnich’s) been a fly fisherman for 35 years, and one day he asked me if I wanted to go fishing.”

Barry’s previous fishing experiences were minimal and unremarkable, so it wasn’t like he was in a rush to get back out onto the water. Still, he accepted Minnich’s invitation. And something seemed to click; perhaps it was his competitive streak as a former jock still fueled by something actionable. Despite the degree of difficulty casting flies, Barry was hooked.

“I realized that there was so much more to it than you realize. It’s not like the fishing where you just sit there and hold the stupid rod in your hands and pray that something bites it; it’s an actual art form, and so I was very impressed with that,” Barry says. “If somebody had told me 10 years ago that my passion in life would be fly fishing, I would have said they were on drugs with my type A personality. But I really loved it.”

Minnich proved to be a fine mentor in terms of Barry getting the hang of a fly rod. Over the years, he’s picked the brains of guides who’ve hosted fishing trips. The basketball player in him sees the coaching side of the experts who have fished a lot longer than he has. So whenever he meets a new fisherman, he lets them know to not be bashful when they see him doing something wrong on the river. Pointers are always welcome.

“You have to always be welcome to criticism, and it’s all constructive criticism. It’s no coincidence that the better I’ve become with my casting, the more fish I’ve hooked,” he says. “I’m getting better at it, and I’m up to the point now where my casting is good enough I’ll be able to go and do some bonefishing (in the Atlantic), where you have to be really accurate with your casting – otherwise, you’ll never catch any.”

Still, Alaska is where this fly fisherman feels most at peace.


BARRY’S FIRST TRIP to Alaska was not for fishing but golf. He played in a charity tournament in the Anchorage area. One day he went fishing and managed to catch a king salmon, but had to be told by the floatplane pilot it was landed out of season.

“What the hell did I know? I didn’t know anything,” he recalls. “I said, ‘(Shoot), you didn’t tell me the rules.’”

But fishing with his friend Minnich convinced Barry he wanted more and to experience fishing in Alaska more often. He looked around for a lodge that offered what he wanted. He ultimately began regularly visiting Rainbow River Lodge at Bristol Bay’s Lake Iliamna. Barry also set up a salt- and freshwater trip to Boardwalk Lodge on Prince of Wales Island.

“I go up there every year and try to put trips together for businesses or individual groups,” Barry says. “I had a guy who wants to go next year with about six people, and he asked me, ‘What kind of salmon should I go for?’ I said, ‘Do you really enjoy catching fish?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ And I told him he wants to get silvers. Of all the fish you’re going to get in the salmon family, the ones that are most fun for me are silvers. Those suckers will jump and fight.”

Barry knows he’s in heaven for an angler when he’ll head out with his group to fish and the only other fellow visitors that day is the wildlife sharing the river. He’s seen more bears than other people in all his years fishing Alaska’s rivers.

Once, Barry was filming an Alaskan outdoors TV show with his friend, former Major League Baseball pitcher Randy Jones. Between shoots they decided to join in the combat fishing chaos of the Kenai River during a salmon run. It was blatantly obvious which scene Barry preferred.

“Holy crap. I looked from one bend to the other on the river and there were 60 freaking (anglers). And another boat pulls up to us and was 10 feet away. This what not my idea of fun fishing,” he says. “Thank God I got to experience it once because I’m so happy I never did that on a trip to spend five, six, seven days doing that; I would have hated it.”

About the only negative he has to say about Alaska is he wishes the Wi-Fi were stronger so he could better enjoy another pastime: watching movies and his favorite TV shows on Netflix. But then Barry remembers he’s “in the middle of nowhere,” but also in a place where he can make cast after cast and bring in fish after fish.

Lynn hasn’t caught the bug, but she did accompany her husband on a three-night trip they bid successfully on during a charity auction. They had to hike for an hour on Alaska tundra before finally reaching a stream. They saw all of two other human beings the entire duration of the trip.

With so little fishing pressure, Barry managed to hook 35 rainbow trout and about 20 grayling on dry flies. Of the trout he caught and released, about 30 measured 20 or more inches. Even Lynn managed to catch almost two dozen grayling. This was paradise, about a million metaphorical miles away from the congestion on the Kenai – another reason why Barry keeps returning every chance he gets. Someday, he’ll catch a 30-inch rainbow.

“Maybe I’ll get lucky on my next trip,” he says. “We’ll see what happens.”

But he’ll enjoy all of the smaller and even too-small fish along the way.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

THE BARRY FAMILY is to basketball what the Barrymores are to acting, the Wallendas to high-wire acrobatics and the Kardashians/Jenners to reality TV stardom. Of Barry’s six kids, only daughter Shannon never got involved in playing basketball.

Rick was known for his unique but rarely copied foul shooting technique (son Canyon shoots his free throws underhanded for his current college team). The family patriarch’s fabulous career included more than 25,000 points scored, a Rookie of the Year award, an NBA Finals MVP award for the 1975 champion Golden State Warriors (see sidebar) and five first-team All-NBA seasons. Lynn, who is Canyon’s mom, was a star basketball player at the College of William and Mary and later remained in the game as a coach and administrator.

There are also four older Barry sons: Scooter won an NCAA title at the University of Kansas and spent many years playing abroad in pro leagues. Drew is his college alma mater’s (Georgia Tech) all-time leader in assists and played for four NBA teams. Jon (ESPN) and Brent (TNT) are successful TV analysts who also had lengthy pro careers (Brent Barry also won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1996).

“I’m hoping to get them up there (in Alaska), and I know Scooter told me he’d really like to go,” Rick says of his sons. “But they have young kids and they’re busy with what they’re doing. One of these summers I’m hoping to convince them to take their boys and go with me.”

And who knows? Rick Barry said events happen in threes; his sons all played basketball at a high level just as he did. At one time or another, Scooter and Brent also dabbled in broadcasting like their dad and brothers have on a full-time basis.

“Hell, the third thing can be that they all become fly fishermen,” Rick says.

Still, there is no shortage of sports royalty for Rick Barry to head up to Alaska with. There is World Golf Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd, who fished with Barry in Alaska earlier this summer. One of Barry’s closest friends, former Warriors teammate Clifford Ray, is a regular fishing partner who went with Barry on a trip to Sitka and to Prince of Wales Island in August.

“Clifford’s like a brother to me,” Barry says.

Even legendary NBA/ABA star George Gervin, who was known as “The Iceman” during a Hall of Fame career, got in on the action. That spurred a joking twinge of disdain from Barry about these two hoops gunslingers meeting in Alaska.

“George is a spincaster. He didn’t have any waders or boots. But he came up with his son (and a couple others) and we did mostly saltwater fishing and we did some freshwater too. We had a good time,” Barry says, recalling that not many old basketball war stories were swapped. But The Iceman did get in a memorable photobomb.

“We have a great picture where I’m holding up a nice silver salmon, and George is in the background with his son and they’re both giving me the finger.”


SO PRODUCTIVE CAN the fishing in the Last Frontier be that Barry sometimes gets spoiled by the constant action.

“You catch so many fish and it’s so beautiful. It’s such a special time when you’re up there, get away from everything and get into nature and God’s beauty and be hooking into a lot of fish,” he says.

On one river float, the guide pointed out to Barry that a large trout was on the other side below some tree cover. The conundrum? There were roughly 12 inches between the water surface and the branches.

While the guide was skeptical there was enough room to get a cast in that space, Barry wanted to give it a shot. “Let me try,” he said.

Recalling the moment, Barry says, “I got out of the boat and into the water, got down low and just cast it sideways and level with the water. I tried to make sure that I got my length correct. I threw a couple casts that were a little too long. I shortened it up a little bit, and after a couple of casts I threw it in there. It hit the water and that fish came up and exploded – it just nailed that fly. It was a 23-inch rainbow and I thought, ‘If I don’t catch another fish the rest of the day, this is still awesome.’”

Still, catching fish is what the sport is all about. In basketball, the name of the game is ultimately getting the ball through the hoop. Some anglers go to Alaska hoping to catch that once-in-a-generation trophy salmon, trout or Arctic char. But Barry is more about quantity than quality. He’s perfectly fine with a catch-and-release day where he’s constantly landing fish, size be damned.

“For me it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 inches long or 40 inches long. It’s all about the strike and setting the hook. That’s why I can’t understand why some people get so enamored by going out trolling with the rods in the holder,” Barry says. “All of a sudden, they hand you the rod. That’s not fishing – that’s reeling. Even in the times when I do go out and saltwater fish, I want to hold the rod.”

And he’s done so through hours upon hours of casts during annual trips to Alaska (his bike wreck prevented going up in 2014). Barry loves to share stories of an endless cycle of casts, bites, and catch-and-release action.

A couple years ago, Barry was at his beloved Rainbow River Lodge on a solo trip with a group he wasn’t familiar with. Every day he’d go out and was asked upon the return how he did. He’d caught “about 100” on the first day.

“The guy said, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ So I go out the next day and the same guys ask, ‘How did it go?’ ‘Another great day. About 100 or more fish.’ So I go out on the third day and come back and tell them about another 100 and something fish. They said, ‘That’s insane.’ By the fourth day when they asked again I said, ‘You really don’t want to know.’ ‘Come on, tell us what you did.’ I said, ‘Two hundred and twenty-four fish.’”

All of the jump shots he’s made, all of the underhand free throws he’s swished in basketball have been replaced by other astonishing percentages. Barry recalls once landing fish on 24 consecutive casts of his fly rod. During his trip with Raymond Floyd in August he texted, “I hooked over 500 in four days!”

There are more awaiting him for years to come.

“This might be crazy,” he says, “but my goal in life is to be 100 years old and go fly fishing at Rainbow River Lodge.”

Don’t bet against him. By then, making a perfect fly cast will probably be as simple a task for Rick Barry as shooting an underhanded free throw was: almost a sure thing. ASJ

Editor’s note: More information on Rick Barry’s Alaska fishing trips can be found at Follow him on Twitter (@Rick24Barry).

Rick Barry (far left) fishes with fellow basketball legend George Gervin (second from right)

Rick Barry (far left) fishes with fellow basketball legend George Gervin (second from right)


Barry and former Golden State Warriors teammate Clifford Ray (left)

Barry and former Golden State Warriors teammate Clifford Ray (left)





Obama In Alaska: Is That Salmon Spawning Or Glad To See Him?

President Obama handles some salmon during his visit to Dillingham. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

President Obama handles some salmon during his visit to Dillingham. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The President Barack Obama 2015 Alaskan Tour got a little messy when the POTUS visited subsistence fishing Alaskan Natives in Bristol Bay’s rich salmon ecosystem. He also got a hand’s on look at the salmon industry.

From The  Alaska Dispatch:

The first stop was on Kanakanak Beach, named for the Yup’ik word for westerly. Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, and Mae Syvrud, a subsistence fisherwoman, stood in boots and waders by subsistence setnets. Obama, dressed in a black outdoors jacket with no easily visible logo, was given some orange gloves then picked up a silver salmon.

 “I didn’t catch it,” he told the press pool. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was telling fish tales.”

 He talked with both women a while, about fish and about fishing, about how to pick fish from nets, about what kind of salmon is caught, Hurley said later. It was impossible to hear most of what was said. She said she thanked him, for protecting Bristol Bay.

 Obama last year declared Bristol Bay off-limits to oil and gas leasing. The Environmental Protection Administration is fighting in court to use its powers under the Clean Water Act to prevent a mega-mine in the Bristol Bay watershed like the proposed Pebble project.

 In this small town of 2,300, almost everyone fishes or has family who does. Alaska Native, fishing and environmental organizations as well as the city council have taken a position against Pebble.

 The women picked a flopping silver and handed it to Obama. A stream squirted out of it. “Uh oh. What happened there?” he asked.

 It’s a spawning salmon, the women told the president.

It got on his shoe, the president said, and that generally is not what you want on your foot. One of the women said something to him. “She said he was happy to see me,” he said to laughter.

Obama also talked to reporters about wild salmon and the potential threat to Bristol Bay if the controversial Pebble Mine project is greenlit.

From the Associated Press:

The president’s visit to the fishing operation came with a serious goal of promoting the importance of environmental protection.

“If you’ve eaten wild salmon, it’s likely to have come from here,” Obama told reporters. “It’s part of the reason why it’s so critical that we make sure that we protect this incredible natural resource, not just for the people whose livelihood depends on it, but for the entire country.”

Obama also stopped at a grocery store, saying he wanted to call attention to how the difficulty of getting goods to Alaska causes high prices.

“You’re looking at prices that are double, in some cases, or even higher for basic necessities like milk,” he said. A half-gallon of milk at the N&N Market cost $8.99 and a large bag of Doritos went for $7.99. Obama said his administration is exploring ways to address the situation.

Dillingham, which sits on an inlet off the Bering Sea, is the fishing hub for Bristol Bay, a world-renowned salmon fishery. Obama’s visit to the town of fewer than 3,000 people briefly placed him at the center of a roiling conflict between fishermen and developers who want to build a gold-and-copper mine called Pebble Mine.

Obama In Alaska: Hiking A Glacier

President Obama gets a first-hand look at Resurrection Bay. (FACEBOOK/THE WHITE HOUSE)

President Obama gets a first-hand look at Resurrection Bay. (FACEBOOK/THE WHITE HOUSE)

President Obama is making an historic trip to Alaska this week. The POTUS is  discussing the effects of climate change with various Alaskan policticians and other prominent citizens of the state. On Tuesday, he toured Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula.  He also had a chance to hike on the threatened Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park.

From CNN:

The roaring, high speed three-hour tour across the pristine blue waters of Resurrection Bay near the town of Seward brought the President within 50 yards of endangered Steller sea lions, whose population is only beginning to recover after decades of decline.

A National Park Service ranger accompanying reporters on the journey said the melting glaciers, combined with other non-climate factors, have impacted the sea lions’ diet.

“All of the wildlife that depend on this ecosystem are impacted by fresh water being put back into the ocean,” Ranger Colleen Kelly said. …


Earlier in the day Obama hiked to the edge of the aptly named Exit Glacier inside Kenai Fjords National Park. The glacier has slowly melted away over the last two centuries. But its retreat has accelerated in recent years, losing 1,000 feet of ice in the last 10 years.

Obama took note of the National Park Service signposts that mark the glacier’s steady decline by year. A “2005” sign stands where tourists could once touch the edge of the ice a decade ago. Then glacier has shrunk considerably since then. The latest marker, “2010,” now looms a few hundred feet from Exit’s nose.

“This is as good of a signpost of what we’re dealing with when it comes to climate change as just about anything,” Obama said, reiterating scientists’ concerns that the vanishing glaciers are contributing to sea rise along the nation’s coasts.

“We want to make sure that our grandkids can see this,” he added.





Obama In Alaska: More Icebreakers Needed



President Obama is making a historic trip to the Last Frontier as the first POTUS to visit our 49th state (before he left, he commissioned Mount McKinley to be officially renamed Denali to honor the state’s native roots. While a highlight meet be his trek with survival poobah Bear Grylls, Obama’s primary focus on this three-day trip is on climate change, including the need for more icebreaking ships to combat retreating ice and opening up more waterways.

From the New York Times:

On the second day of a three-day trip to Alaska to highlight the challenge ofclimate change and call for a worldwide effort to address its root causes, Mr. Obama’s proposals will touch on one of its most profound effects. The retreat of Arctic sea ice has created opportunities for shipping, tourism, mineral exploration and fishing — and with it, a rush of marine traffic that is bringing new difficulties. “

Arctic ecosystems are among the most pristine and understudied in the world, meaning increased commercial activity comes with significant risks to the environment,” the White House said in a fact sheet issued in advance of an announcement by Mr. Obama in Seward, where he planned to hike toExit Glacier on Tuesday and tour Kenai Fjords National Park by boat.

“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the statement said.

The aging Coast Guard fleet is not keeping pace with the challenge, the administration acknowledged, noting that the service has the equivalent of just two “fully functional” heavy icebreakers at its disposal, down from seven during World War II. Russia, by contrast, has 41 of the vessels, with plans for 11 more. China unveiled a refurbished icebreaker in 2012 and is building another.



Introducing Newbies To Fishing

Photo by Scott Harris, Sitka Conservation Society

Photo by Scott Harris, Sitka Conservation Society

Here’s a neat story courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture  about the U.S. Forest Service and Sitka Conservation Society teaming up to host a “Fish Boot Camp” at Tongass National Forest.

Tamar Theurer, from Port Protection, Alaska, learns how to set up a fyke net for monitoring fish abundance on the Tongass National Forest. (Scott Harris, Sitka Conservation Society)

Tamar Theurer, from Port Protection, Alaska, learns how to set up a fyke net for monitoring fish abundance on the Tongass National Forest. (Scott Harris, Sitka Conservation Society)

Here are a few highlights from the project, courtesy of Nat Gillespie of USFS and the Sitka Conversation Society’s Andrew Thoms:

Tongass National Forest staff, local school districts, a local conservation organization, and the University of Alaska have undertaken a joint project to figure out how a forest can be managed to create jobs and other economic opportunities and guarantee the long-term sustainable yield of the Tongass’ fisheries resources.

For thousands of years, the Tongass has been occupied by humans, supported by the bounty of salmon and other marine and forest resources of the Pacific coast.  Today, salmon and fisheries continue to be the core of Southeast Alaska’s economy.  Staff at the Tongass National Forest estimate that the Tongass produces over 25 percent of all salmon harvested in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean and is responsible for over $1 billion of economic activity a year. Given the historic and current cultural and economic importance of salmon, it is only logical that entities within the region are thinking about a salmon future.

“The Forest Service, the University of Alaska Southeast Fisheries Technologies Program, school districts on Prince of Wales Island and the Sitka Conservation Society came together to host the ‘fisheries technician boot camp,’” said Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society.  “Our goals were two-fold: first, we wanted to give youth on-the-job experience by working as part of a team monitoring salmon returns and spawning in a recently restored river. Second, we wanted to give students an idea of the jobs and careers available to them as land managers, essentially serving as stewards of the amazing salmon resource that the Tongass National Forest produces.” 

In the program, students received hands-on training in fish capture, fish identification and tagging of juvenile salmon out-migrating to the ocean. Students received both college and high school credits for the experience.

Not only does the project collect valuable data for the Forest Service, but the students are also gaining a great deal.

Tamar Theurer, from Port Protection, Alaska, was one of the students selected for the program.

“I learned how to clip adipose fins and I learned how to identify different types of salmon and other fish,” Theurer said. “I learned more about the environment and habitats of fish and birds; and oh, I also learned my trees! Some of them at least. I want to go into fisheries, so not only will I have knowledge of how to do these things but I can also use this experience on my resume.”


State-Fish Art Contest Winners

From Wildlife Forever:

Brooklyn Center, MN – Winners of Wildlife Forever’s State-Fish Art Contest and their families assembled in Hot Springs, Arkansas on August 21 and 22 at the Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing. Hosted by Title Sponsor FLW, the Awards Ceremony was held in Horner Hall at the Hot Springs Convention Center.  States across the nation were represented by the attending students who were 1st place winners of their individual states. Adding to the overall excitement was the announcement of whose fish art won the coveted National Awards!



The Seth Thomas Spradlin Best of Show Award is the top honor, given to one piece selected by a panel of judges from all winning entries as the “best of the best”.  The 2015 recipient, a 6th grader, is the youngest to ever receive this top award.  McKenna Litynski, from Crownsville, Maryland, shows a unique perspective in her stunning, colored pencil drawing of American shad.



Christina Voss, a 12th grader from Marietta, Georgia, is the 2015 winner of the coveted Art of Conservation® Stamp Award with her energetic acrylic painting of two king salmon, “King of the River”.

“Wildlife Forever is pleased to honor the talented Georgia artist, Christina Voss with the 2015 Art of Conservation® Stamp Award,” said Douglas H. Grann, Wildlife Forever President and CEO.  “This honor is awarded to the student whose winning design becomes part of the State-Fish Art Stamp Collection. By recognizing the work of students today, we hope to inspire the conservationists of tomorrow.”

Christina’s painting is available as a collector’s stamp, both as a single stamp and a souvenir sheet. Proceeds from sales of the stamp help fund the State-Fish Art Contest.  Both versions of this year’s, and past years, stamps can be purchased



The Smile Award is given to a painting selected from all the contest entries that “makes you feel good inside when you see it. You just can’t help but smile!” said Karen Hollingsworth, manager of State-Fish Art.  Nathan Teplitz, an clever, talented 6th grader from Mount Prospect, Illinois, is the winner with his smile-worthy watercolor of a duck eye-balling a meal of bluegill titled, “Escape”.

The artist becoming this year’s Invader Crusader was selected from all the entries in the Silent Invader Category. The artist paints not only a state-fish species, but also an invasive species. Mishelle Smith, a talented 10th grader from Charleston, West Virginia, with her unique watercolor of fisherman holding a native muskie caught in water infested with leaping invasive bighead carp, highlights the problems we are facing.



Cynthia Li, a 5th grader from New York, received the People’s Choice Award for her watercolor of brook trout titled “A Leap of Faith”. Voting by the public took place both online, between June 9 – July 26 and at the FLW Cup on Friday, August 21st.  Over 7,550 votes and 57,000 views online PLUS the thousands of attendees at the FLW Cup responded for this national award!



Top honors in the “Mighty Minnows” K-3 grades division went to Moses Silchuk from Antelope, California with his watercolor of a channel catfish. Second Place was awarded to Zachary Schulmeister from Tennessee and Third Place to Evelyn Cui from Florida.



The 4-6 grade category winner is Arthur Zang from Harrison, New Jersey with his oil painting of a stealthy brook trout.  Second Place went to Ava Obert from Arkansas and Third Place to McKenna Litynski of Maryland.



Yugin Chung from Irvine, California took First Place in grades 7-9 with a watercolor of garibaldi.  The Second Place winner was Emme Zhou of Massachusetts and Third Place went to Mariah Allen from Utah.



The grades 10-12 top honor went to Allison Du from Fremont, California with her beautiful colored pencil drawing of garibaldi. Second Place was awarded to Yujie Fu of New York. Caroline Waggoner from Rhode Island received Third Place.

National Fish Make You Smarter Awards were also presented for the best page of writing that is required in addition to the art.  They can be enjoyed at

All 157 state and international winners from 48 states, Canada, India and China can be viewed at

The Wildlife Forever State-Fish Art Contest seeks to involve students in the outdoors through art. Students compete in four grade-level divisions: K-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12. Deadline for submitting entries is always March 31. Information on the contest is available at:

Wildlife Forever is America’s leading all species conservation organization, conserving America’s fish and wildlife through education, preservation of habitat and management. Learn more at the Wildlife Forever web site.