Category Archives: Featured Content

New Fellows Program Aims To Help Fishermen Communicate

 

Great story in the Kenai’s Peninsula Clarion yestersday hopes to bring salmon fishers together via a new program, the Alaska Salmon Fellows. 

Here’s the Clarion with some details:

The Alaska Humanities Forum is trying to cool some of the heated tension between salmon fishermen in the state.

The nonprofit, which operates a number of arts and cultural programs throughout the state, launched the Alaska Salmon Fellows program in 2016. The inaugural group of 16 Alaskans includes people from a variety of regions and backgrounds, with the hopes of starting a constructive conversation about salmon management and culture in the state.

Salmon politics in Alaska, particularly in Southcentral Alaska, are notoriously rife with conflict. Through gatherings around the state, online meetings, presentations and projects, the group of fellows is meant to help find solutions to some of that conflict, said Jennifer Gibbins, the leadership program director for the Alaska Humanities Forum.

“As we all know, salmon is really the keystone to much of our culture,” Gibbins said at the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District’s Industry Outlook Forum on Wednesday. “It has to do with cultures, economies, the environment. It also can be a topic that is a great source of conflict.” …

Bringing people together from across the state allows people to share information about their own fisheries with others around the state, who may not know much about other regions’ fisheries. The slate of fellows includes people from communities like Tok and Hooper Bay as well as Juneau and Fairbanks, and with experience in processing, angling, commercial fishing and subsistence fishing.

“My experience with fish meetings is usually I’m so angry or so upset that it’s very hard for me to listen and learn,” Peltola said. “With the salmon fellows, it’s a very different dynamic. We’re not in a room where there’s intensity or aggression or people being on any part of the stages of grief over salmon.”

You can find more about the Alaska Humanities Forum here.

 

 

Body Of Missing Hunter Found

 

Jairus Nelson from Facebook

 

A 24-year-old man who was hunting out of the village of Koliganek (northeast of Dillingham) was found dead. 

More from Alaska Native News:

Troopers in Dillingham were notified of an overdue hunter at 7:53 pm on Wednesday. The village reported that 24-year-old Jairus Nelson had departed the village to go hunting earlier in the day and had not returned as expected.

A hasty team was assembled and set out to search for Nelson, and at 9:29 pm, it was reported that Nelson had been located by searchers, deceased, approximately two miles from the village.

While AST reports that no foul play was suspected in Nelson’s death, no details as to the cause of death were divulged to the public.

Here’s the Alaska State Troopers dispatch:

On 1/10/18 at about 1953 hours, AST in Dillingham received a report of an overdue hunter in the village of Koliganek.  Investigation revealed, 24 year old Jairus Nelson, departed the village on foot to go hunting earlier in the day and has not returned.  A hasty team was sent to look for Jairus.  Jairus was located at approximately 2129 hours about two miles from village deceased.  The investigation continues.  No foul play is suspected.  The SME requested Jairus’ body be transported to Anchorage for autopsy.  Next of Kin have been notified.

Finally! Western Arctic Caribou Herd Numbers On The Rise

ADFG photo

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

After more than a decade of decline, Alaska’s largest caribou herd is showing signs of growth. Counts of the Western Arctic caribou herd completed recently from aerial photographs taken during last summer’s photocensus tallied 239,055 animals, raising the total herd estimate to 259,000. That’s up from 201,000 caribou a year ago.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists who track the Western Arctic caribou herd are encouraged by the uptick, but not surprised.

“We’ve seen positive indicators for the past few years and have been anticipating the rebound,” said Kotzebue-based wildlife biologist Alex Hansen.

“During the declining years, adult cow mortality was high and calf recruitment was low, but since 2015 we’ve observed a positive shift in survival and recruitment rates. With fewer productive cows exiting the population and an increased number of calves joining the herd things were bound to improve.”

Alaska’s caribou herds frequently experience cyclic highs and lows influenced by natural factors including range condition, weather, disease, and predation. The Western Arctic caribou herd’s most recent peak of 490,000 animals in 2003 was followed by years of steady decline. Numbers reached a low of 201,000 in 2016, leading state and federal subsistence managers to initiate hunting restrictions.

Accuracy of the 2017 Western Arctic caribou herd photocensus was improved through implementation of a newly acquired digital photography system. The system supports higher flight altitudes and larger photo footprints that allow photography of large caribou groups that in the past might not have been photographable using the previous system. Its improved photo quality also allows for more precise counting.

“We believe the superior photo quality has led us to identify and count more calves than we did in the past; however, there is no doubt the herd increased between 2016 and 2017,” said wildlife biologist Lincoln Parrett.

The Western Arctic herd roams an area of about 157,000 square miles that includes many landowners and management entities. Caribou availability and abundance has largely shaped the heritage and traditions of Native Alaskans living in some 40 subsistence-based communities region-wide.

Dallas Seavey Has Questions After Failed Drug Tests On Dogs

Photo by Frank Kovalchek/Wikimedia

During a turbulent offseason for the Iditarod as the 2018 race looms about two months away, the biggest storyline was that four-time champion and former ASJ cover subject Dallas Seavey raced with some dogs that failed mandatory drug tests in what’s turned to a scandal for the famed dog sled race.

But Seavey has repeatedly denied that he used the banned painkiller tramadol on four of his 2017 Iditarod dogs. But as doubt has been cast, Seavey is seeking answers from the race committee and released a statement yesterday calling out the Iditarod Trail Committee and demanding answers or for some to step down if they can’t prove his guilt.  Here’s a portion of that statement:

Renowned musher Dallas Seavey today challenged the governing body of the Iditarod race to prove its allegation of doping or else the responsible individuals for the misrepresentation tender their resignations at a public hearing this month.
“As the race’s governing body, the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) is responsible for overseeing the integrity of the Iditarod,” Seavey said. “The ITC’s failure to conduct proper analysis and due
diligence prior to making an accusation against me is not only wrong, but unfair to the sport, the mushers, the dogs, and the Alaskan community. I have dedicated my life to this sport. The ITC must either publicly prove its allegation or the responsible individuals should resign.”
The ITC asserted Seavey was involved in administering a banned substance to his dogs during the 2017 Iditarod. Yet, in the past 10 months, the ITC has failed to provide any evidence to demonstrate its claim. In November 2017, the four-time Iditarod champion, Seavey made a formal demand for details on the ITC protocol, collection process, and toxicology specifics after race organizers alleged four of his dogs tested positive for Tramadol, a banned substance, in the 2017 competition.
He publicly made the request after the ITC’s failure to provide substantiating evidence at the time of its accusation.

The Anchorage Daily News has more on the controversy:

Seavey, the 30-year-old who comes from a well-known Alaska mushing family, has repeatedly denied giving tramadol to his dogs. He has speculated that, perhaps, someone sabotaged him. Now he says he doesn’t even have information from the Iditarod that proves the drug test results came from his team.

“They have sent us barcodes from the lab, but there’s nothing that correlates those barcodes to me or my team,” he said in an interview. “So we’re not looking for minutiae in chain of custody, we’re looking for anything that positively identifies me or our team.”

The Iditarod says that it does not blame Seavey for the positive drug tests and that it has cooperated with the musher’s requests.

But Seavey said that the information he wants is proving difficult to obtain. While he has received some information from the Iditarod, he said it’s incomplete.

“We assumed the information had been collected and reviewed by the Iditarod and led to whatever determination they made,” he said. Instead, he said, he has been told his requests were “sent to the lab and they’re going to pull it together.”

In response to Seavey’s statement, the Iditarod Trail Committee — the nonprofit that stages the annual 1,000-mile race — sent a two-paragraph statement through its public relations firm. The Iditarod Trail Committee said “it has been and continues to” respond to Seavey’s requests and has provided information “as quickly as possible.”

Seavey and his dad Mitch have combined to win seven Iditarod titles, including the last six, so this story has sent shockwaves through the sport.

 

 

 

Pebble Mine Application Accepted

Bristol Bay’s resistance regarding the Pebble Mine will only get more desperate given the news coming out this week that Pebble Partnership’s formal application to proceed has been accepted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Here’s KTUU:

As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially accepts a permit application from the Pebble Partnership – the group which intends to develop a precious metals and minerals mine near a major salmon fishery in Alaska – it has now also committed to a full environmental review of the proposed mine.

The Pebble Limited Partnership filed the permit application with the corps in December.

“Our application was sufficient,” said Pebble Limited Partnership spokesperson Mike Heatwole, “which means we now officially get to begin the permitting and review process for the Pebble project.”

Project details released Jan. 5 would indicate that the Pebble Partnership group has already made substantial changes to its development plans, including alterations that would lessen the negative environmental impact: Notables include a development footprint “less than half the size that was previously published”; they will focus on one specific drainage instead of multiple, limiting it to the North Fork Koktuli; cyanide use has been cut out.

“We’ve taken a good hard look at the environmental concerns people have raised,” Heatwole said. “And the law is the law. There is the Clean Water Act, water standards – we have to meet all those requirements, or we will not get a permit to operate.

“All we have sought, and what’s great about this phase, is to get to the starting line, get our project out there, what we actually propose to do.”

 

 

The Road To Somewhere Causes Controversy

Izembek NWR photo by Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

 

As our past feature stories on the Discovery Channel series, Yukon Men  have shown, whenever there is talk about a road being built with isolated Alaskan communities involved, there is bound to be some tension.

For one Alaskan village that has hoped for a road to get better access to and from it, a controversial federal decision will allow a road to be constructed through a national wildlife refuge.

Here’s the Washington Post with more:

The Interior Department has approved a land swap deal that will allow a remote Alaskan village to construct a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, according to local officials. The action effectively overrules wilderness protections that have kept the area off limits to vehicles for decades.

The land exchange, which has been agreed to but not formally signed, sets in motion a process that would improve King Cove’s access to the closest regional airport. The village, with roughly 925 residents, has lobbied federal officials for decades to construct a 12-mile gravel road connecting it to the neighboring town of Cold Bay.

In an interview late Friday, City Administrator Gary Hennigh said residents “are encouraged that this administration has a different attitude about this road, and … that the needs of the people in King Cove can be met. At the same time, the special qualities of the Izembek refuge can continue.”

Environmentalists, along with two Democratic administrations, have blocked the road on the grounds that it would bisect a stretch of tundra and lagoons that provide a vital feeding ground for migrating birds as well as habitat for bears, caribou and other species. The refuge was established by President Dwight Eisenhower, and all but 15,000 of its 315,000 acres have been designated as wilderness since 1980. Motorized vehicle access is traditionally prohibited in such areas.

Interior officials did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but Hennigh said Secretary Ryan Zinke and the King Cove Corp. president will sign the agreement in Washington sometime in January. The department has declined to publicly discuss the land exchange negotiations, which The Washington Post first reported in October.

 

Potential Climate Change Effects On Hunting

You can see the complete reported compiled by the state here:. 

The Daily News’ Tegan Hanlon has a good synposis here, including some points about the effects climate change can have on Alaska’s critical subsistence lifestyle:

— Increasingly difficult hunting: Thinning sea ice is making hunting more dangerous. Increasing temperatures could also make storing and harvesting wild foods more difficult. Higher air temperatures could increase cases of foodborne botulism if foods are not properly prepared and stored in a way that prevents them from spoiling.

Rural Alaskans harvest about 34 million pounds of wild foods each year, James Fall, research director of the Division of Subsistence at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said in an interview.

Any threat to that food supply, he said, is a major problem. Climate change has already led to poor ice conditions, thawing permafrost and changing migration routes.

“One cannot understate the threat that these kind of rapid changes are having and could continue to have on especially rural communities in the state,” he said.

In Utqia?vik, the coastline is eroding, ice cellars are flooding and there’s less and less sea ice, said Rosemarie Habeich, director of the North Slope Borough Department of Health and Social Services.

“It’s overwhelming sometimes,” she said. “It’s scary when I think of it in terms of the enormity of it.”

She said she believes the town is already seeing elements of depression and anxiety. People can’t always do what they once did, she said, like hold bonfires and picnics on a nearby beach that has now disappeared, covered by the sea.

Here’s what some of the state says about hunting effects:

3.1.4 Food, Nutrition, and Subsistence Activity
Alaska state law defines subsistence use as “the noncommercial, customary and traditional uses of wild, renewable resources by a resident domiciled in a rural area of the state for direct personal
or family consumption as food, shelter, fuel, clothing, tools, or transportation, for the making and selling of handicraft articles out of nonedible by-products of fish and wildlife resources taken for
personal or family consumption, and for the customary trade, barter, or sharing for personal or family consumption” (State of Alaska, 2016: AS 16.05.940 [34]). The Alaska Federation of
Natives (AFN) describes subsistence as “the hunting, fishing, and gathering activities which traditionally constituted the economic base of life for Alaska’s Native peoples and which continue
to flourish in many areas of the state today” (AFN, 2012).
Subsistence is part of a rural economic system, called a “mixed, subsistence-market” economy, wherein families invest money into small-scale, efficient technologies to harvest wild foods.
Fishing and hunting for subsistence resources provide a reliable economic base for many rural regions. Subsistence is focused toward meeting the self-limiting needs of families and small
communities (Wolfe and Walker, 1987; Fall, 2016). Subsistence fishing and hunting are important sources of employment and nutrition in almost all rural Alaska communities, regardless
of race. Traditional and cultural activities also support a healthy diet and contribute to residents’ overall wellbeing (ADF&G, 2016; Norton-Smith, 2016).
Rising food prices, challenges to food quality and quantity, and changing food distribution patterns are all factors that could be impacted by climate change (Luber et al,. 2014; Patz et al.,
2014). Due to the specialized dietary patterns in Alaska with a heavy reliance on subsistence resources, changes to key food sources could lead to food insecurity and associated health
consequences. Many Alaska communities have already reported various changes to subsistence harvest, such as salmon die-offs related to warmer ocean waters, shifting caribou migration,
decline and range change in sea mammals, and increased variability in berry harvest (berry  25 changes have been both positive and negative; Brubaker et al., 2014; Brubaker et al., 2012; Hupp
et al., 2015).
Notable potential impacts of climate change on food, nutrition, and subsistence activity in Alaska include a northward shift in seal, walrus, and fish species; thinning sea and river ice, which
can make harvesting wild foods more precarious; increasing ocean temperatures; and permafrost changes that could alter spring run-off patterns (Cochran et al., 2013). If these changes continue to
occur, the consumption of local food sources might decrease (though the consumption of some local food sources could increase if a species moves into a new area).
Effects of Thawing Permafrost In Alaska, permafrost changes could make travel and thus the harvesting of subsistence foods more
difficult. Areas once stabilized by permafrost have started to subside, damaging transportation infrastructure and posing challenges for local populations harvesting subsistence resources (NortonSmith et al., 2016). Subsistence harvesters in Kivalina report that thawing permafrost and related erosion have decreased stream water quality, resulting in a decrease in Arctic char populations.
Salmon populations have increased in the area, but the traditional preference is for char (Brubaker et al., 2010). These challenges have led to smaller reported food harvests. If changes such as these
continue to occur, the consumption of local food sources might decrease (though the consumption of some local food sources could increase if a species moves into a new area).
Thawing permafrost creates an additional challenge to the availability of traditional foods. Traditional ice cellars are failing in some Arctic communities (Brubaker et al., 2010b). Ice cellars,
formed by digging a storage area into the permafrost, are an important component of subsistence food storage for some residents in the communities of Nuiqsut, Kivalina, Point Hope, Point Lay, Utqia?vik, Wainwright, and Kaktovik. Alaska Native people have used ice cellars for thousands of years to store food and families have used the same ice cellars for generations (Brubaker et al., 2010). As soil temperatures increase and permafrost begins to thaw, ice cellars are more likely to fail and result in food spoilage. Cellar failure could lead to foodborne illnesses from consuming
spoiled food (see Section 3.1.5) and could also lead to a crucial shortage of food for a household. Such shortages could increase food insecurity in communities (Brubaker et al, 2009b).

 

 

 

 

Reaction To Reported New National Park Service Director

 

These days, anything that goes on in Washington D.C. creates a buzz, no matter what side of the aisle you prefer to view your political theater from. So the reported new director of the National Park Service, P. Daniel Smith, probably wasn’t going to be met with no comments, or in his case, significant resistance.

It’s not even 3 p.m. on a Monday, so expect more backlash, but Smith’s connection to controversial Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is trending.

 

Here’s more from the New York Daily News:

 

Smith retired from NPS in 2014, but a decade earlier he got into hot water as special assistant to the agency’s director.

He reportedly acted as middle man when Snyder wanted 130 trees removed at Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park so he could have a better view of the Potomac River from his Maryland mansion.

He told staff at the park “Snyder was not happy with the pace of negotiations with NPS concerning the scenic easement,” according to National Parks Traveler.

The inspector general for the Interior Department in 2006 found Smith “inappropriately used his position to apply pressure and circumvent NPS procedures” to get the trees cut down.

Snyder wasn’t accused of wrongdoing for removing 50,000 square feet of trees, which were replaced by saplings, in the 2006 inspector general’s report, according to the Washington Post.

Smith, however, was accused of forcing subordinates to give the clearing a greenlight without allowing environmental experts or the public to weigh in.

By that point, he’d been moved to Colonial National Historical Park. Smith told the Washington Post in 2006 he’d been reprimanded but committed “nothing tawdry.”

“It was a legitimate request by a landowner who had a legitimate issue with the Park Service,” he said.

Twitter had a field day with Smith’s reported appointment by the Trump administration:

ADFG Statewide Stocking Plan Comment Period This Month

 

ADFG photo

The following is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), Division of Sport Fish (Division), is accepting public comment from January 1-January 30, 2018, on its 2018 Statewide Stocking Plan for Sport Fisheries.

The Division, with assistance from private non-profit hatchery operators, plans to release approximately seven million fish annually into the waters of Alaska for the next five years to benefit sport fish anglers. The plan outlines the locations, numbers, and size or life stage for each species of fish that are planned for stocking.

Only fish reared from the Division’s hatchery facilities and from private non-profit hatcheries that work in cooperation with ADF&G to improve sport fisheries are included in this plan.

The stocking plan is available for review on the Division’s Hatcheries and Stocking webpage under the “Statewide Stocking Plan” tab. Hard copies are also available for review at local ADF&G offices.

Please submit public comments to Andrew Garry by email andrew.garry@alaska.gov or by mail:

William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery
c/o Andrew Garry
941 North Reeve Boulevard
Anchorage, Alaska, 99501

The public comment deadline is Tuesday, January 30, 2018.

Differing Views On Bear Hunting

Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS

Good report in the Juneau Empire over the weekend on the contrasting views on bear hunting regulations between the state of Alaska and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Here’s the newspaper’s Kevin Gullufsen with more:

The state of Alaska has a mandate to sustainably manage wildlife species for the benefit of hunters, which means they sometimes manage — even kill — certain species, like bears and wolves, to increase the numbers of others, like caribou.

But the National Parks Service — which oversees about 48 million acres of national parks and preserve land in Alaska — does not prioritize some animals over others. The different approaches of the two groups may come to a head in U.S. District Court case Alaska v. Zinke, Wildlife Wednesdays speaker Jim Adams explained at a lecture at the University of Alaska Southeast in front of a crowd of 75.

Adams is the director for the Alaska region of the National Parks and Conservancy Association. The National Park Service has a “dual mandate,” he said, which puts it in contrast with the state: They’re required to manage their lands for the benefit of users as well as future generations.

That means the NPS lets nature take its course. If an increase in bears leads to less deer, that’s not something the NPS will intervene with. Not so with the state of Alaska.

 “The service does not engage in activities to reduce the number of native species to reduce the numbers of harvested species, nor does the service permit others to do so on lands managed by the National Park Service,” Adams said. “The state has a different management philosophy around wildlife.”

That difference manifests itself in how the state of Alaska, through Fish and Game, regulates bear hunting: they allow it. It’s not allowed on National Parks land.

State- and federal-run agencies have disagreed about several regulations in the past, so this is not anything shocking. But bear hunting has become a very controversial subject in North America, particularly given that neighboring – at least in Southeast Alaska – British Columbia recently announced that it’s banning grizzly bear hunting.