Category Archives: Featured Content

A Closeup Look At Alaska Wildfire

A spruce grouse navigates through the charred remnants of the Funny River Fire on the Kenai Peninsula. (PHOTO BY GARTH BILDERBACK)

A spruce grouse navigates through the charred remnants of the Funny River Fire on the Kenai Peninsula. (PHOTO BY GARTH BILDERBACK)

 

The  Funny River fire has burned 156,000 acres of Kenai Peninsula land, prompting 600 firefighters into action to help slow down the blaze that, per the Anchorage Daily News, jumped the Kenai River over the holiday weekend. Our frequent contributors, Steve Meyer and Christine Cunningham, live in the area and have been assisting their friends coping with the dangers of a spreading wildfire. Steve was kind enough to send us an update:

The fire to this point has been as close to the “perfect storm” as one could hope for. For the past 15 years the central and northern sections of the Kenai Peninsula have been a tinderbox. That there would be a fire was of no question, it was only a matter of when. Originally the powers that be stated it was started from a campfire that was not properly doused but then stated perhaps not and, it was still under investigation.  The Kenai does occasionally have lightening, which has started fires in years gone by but there were no lightening incidents at the time this one started so it is almost assuredly caused by human interaction. For this fire to go on for eight days without injury and at this point, no verified structure damage is nothing short of astonishing. The fire-fighting effort by Central Emergency Services, State Division of Forestry, the Canadian water bomber plains, National Guard helicopters and all of the volunteer assistance from local residents has been remarkable.

Social media has been the most up to date source of information for people and Brad Nelson, the communications fella with Central Emergency Services has done an amazing job of tireless reporting on their site keeping people informed. Numerous posts enlisting help of one sort or another have been posted and instantly there is more help available than needed. Even people from the Palmer/Wasilla area have volunteered their support. Local businesses have donated rooms for people evacuated from homes, pet care has been provided. The fire crews have had some shortages of personal things like socks and toothpaste and people are instantly providing these items.  It has been a real heartwarming display of what can be done by people who care about their fellows.

At present, Monday evening (5 pm), the western flank (Kasilof area) seems to be secure. The northeastern flank is having some issues primarily due to a south wind that built up yesterday and blew cinders across the Kenai River. At the fire briefing this morning there were unconfirmed losses of several recreational cabins north of the Kenai River near the Killey River junction to the Kenai. On Monday the wind died down some, but it has picked back up again and this evening will likely produce expansion of the fire to the north.

People are concerned about wildlife loss in the fire. Most do not understand that even when moving rapidly a fire does not travel more than about ¾ mph. Wildlife easily remove themselves from the path, but of course there will be some loss of bird nests and any small animal young that are still in the nesting stages.

The eastern flank of the fire, which is towards the Kenai Mountains where there is no human habitation, has been largely ignored. It will burn out when it runs out of fuel on the mountain slopes.

The upside is the fire has not harmed anyone and frankly was long overdue. Wildlife in the area will benefit as they do in the aftermath of virtually all wildfires. New growth will sprout and the area will once again be the magnificent habitat it has been in years’ past. This fire could return the Kenai to the most prolific moose habitat in the world, as it once was.

The future is uncertain for the northern Kenai Peninsula. It too is a tinderbox waiting for a spark; depending on wind conditions when it happens, it could also spark a blaze, and the odds say it will be catastrophic. The current fire may promote some aggressive fire management from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, but that seems unlikely. They take a “natural diversity” stance and have been remiss in doing any real fire control work in the area. Rain is predicted for Tuesday afternoon and possibly Wednesday, but the peninsula is so dry at this point, it will take much more than a shower to have a significant effect on the current fire or the potential for future fire incidents. Alaska is unique in its ability to dry itself practically immediately after a good rain.

Here is the web address for CES, probably the most up-to-date and accurate information available on the fire: https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/groups/219062911462753/

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Much thanks to Steve and Christine, and here’s hoping everyone stays safe.

 

 

Salmon Landing At SeaTac

Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines

An Alaska Airlines flight that landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had quite a distinguished passenger list: the first haul of Copper River king salmon.

As part of an annual event sponsored by Alaska Air Cargo, the plane was full of Copper salmon ready to be distributed to area restaurants, grocery stores, etc. was delivered at SeaTac.

From Market Watch:

At least five more Alaska Airlines flights today will transport salmon from Cordova, Alaska, to Anchorage, Seattle and throughout the United States. The flights will have fresh fish from three Alaska seafood processors: Copper River Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Trident Seafoods.

Alaska Airlines plays a significant role in supporting the Alaska seafood industry, which is recognized worldwide for its sustainable fishing practices. Last year, the carrier flew more than 24.5 million pounds of fresh Alaska seafood to the Lower 48 states and beyond, including 1 million pounds of Copper River salmon.

“No other airline delivers more Copper River salmon to the Lower 48 than Alaska Airlines, and making that happen within 24 hours after the fish is pulled from the water is no small feat,” said Betsy Bacon, managing director of Alaska Air Cargo. “Hundreds of employees from across the state of Alaska, Seattle and beyond spend months getting ready for the busy summer fish season.”

The annual tradition is part of the Copper Chef Cook-Off that involves local restaurants showing off their best salmon dishes.

60 Minutes Takes On Salmon Farms vs. Wild Salmon

We’re working on a profile on the upcoming salmon documentary, A Fishy Tale, that will run in our June issue. The argument that producer Sara Pozonsky is trying to convey in her film is the surplus of salmon fish farms in British Columbia and the alleged threat they might pose for wild salmon swimming in the adjacent waters. Pozonsky is hoping her film will be released fall, and 60 Minutes weighed in on the controversy with a report on Sunday night.

Here’s a link to last night’s episode, and if you missed it, it’s a very informative segment by Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Record Bear? Depends On Who You Talk To

Record? Or Not? Photo courtesy of Larry Fitzgerald

The debate about records amuses me. Baseball’s true home run king? Barry Bonds’ detractors say he wasn’t clean through rampant rumors of his alleged steroid abuse, and he didn’t endure the ignorant racist hate thrown at Henry Aaron – imagine if he Twitter was around in Hank’s era? (I’m anything but a Barry Bonds fan – in fact I detested his surly attitude –  and love Hank Aaron’s courage, but baseball allowed years of drug abuse by its players, so there’s no debating that Bonds hit more home runs than Aaron, so end of argument in that context).

In the outdoor sports world, George Perry’s largemouth bass record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces is still official over 80 years later, but several reports have surfaced, like here, and here, and here, that have created plenty of controversy over the most famous fishing record in these parts.

So it’s not surprising that another apparent record seems to be in dispute. On Wednesday, media outlets reported a giant grizzly bear harvested by hunter Larry Fitzgerald in 2013 was determined to be the largest bear ever taken by a hunter. 

Here’s a portion the Fox News report:

Although Fitzgerald shot the bear last September, Boone and Crockett, which certifies hunting records, has only now determined the grizzly, with a skull measuring 27 and 6/16ths inches, is the biggest ever taken down by a hunter, and the second largest grizzly ever documented. Only a grizzly skull found by an Alaska taxidermist in 1976 was bigger than that of the bear Fitzgerald bagged.

Bears are scored based on skull length and width measurements, and Missoula, Mont.-based Boone and Crockett trophy data is generally recognized as the standard. Conservationists use the data to monitor habitat, sustainable harvest objectives and adherence to fair-chase hunting rules.

But the Anchorage Daily News has a different take on the subject today, arguing that some of the news hasn’t been completely accurate, if technical:

Here’s the ADN’s Craig Medred on the confusion:

That a nine-foot grizzly is the largest bear killed by a hunter in Alaska is likely to come as a surprise to Alaskans, some number of whom — hunters or not — might have seen 10-foot grizzly bears. This small fact, however, seems not to have entered the consciousness of the mainstream media as of yet.

“Alaska bear largest to be killed by hunters,” headlined The Spokesman-Review in Washington state.

“An Alaska hunter bagged a massive grizzly bear that has been certified by the Boone and Crockett Club as the biggest bruin ever taken down by a hunter,” reported the New York Daily News.

Well, not exactly. There is no doubt that 35-year-old auto body repairman Larry Fitzgerald killed a nice trophy, but lost in all of the hullabaloo over his bear is the fine print that defines Alaska’s record bruins.

Fitzgerald’s kill is a record bear only because it was shot north of the Alaska Range. South of those mountains slicing through Denali National Park and Preserve, his bear would be just another big bear. That’s because the record-keeping Boone and Crockett Club arbitrarily splits Alaska brown/grizzly bears into two separate categories — grizzly bears and brown bears. The world-record Alaska brown bear, taken in Kodiak in 1952, is much larger.

The state of Alaska doesn’t recognize the distinction between a grizzly bear and an Alaska brown bear, nor do wildlife scientists. Both say the only real difference is diet.

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2014/05/07/3460036/giant-grizzly-is-one-for-some.html?sp=/99/474/#storylink=cpy

So there you have it. Another debate for two hunters to have while sharing a Happy Hour draft at pubs everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yukon River Chinook Fishing Closed

PHOTO COURTESY OF USFWS ALASKA

PHOTO COURTESY OF USFWS ALASKA

 

The Yukon River’s Chinook salmon fishery has been on the decline in recent years. In 2010, then Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke declared a “fishery failure” and a “disaster” in the Yukon for low fish returns.

On the heels of a 30-year-worst king salmon run in the Yukon, local fishermen pleaded to shut down the fishing with another dismal projection expected. From the Anchorage Daily News: 

Last year’s Chinook run was the worst on record dating back to 1982. Biologists estimate that only 76,000 kings returned to the Yukon River, which is only one-quarter of what the chinook run averaged 15 or 20 years ago. 

Subsistence fishing was drastically reduced as a result, much the way it has been for the last several years in what is the state’s largest king salmon subsistence fishery, which has prompted multiple disaster declarations by Gov. Sean Parnell.

Based on information laid out in Tuesday’s meeting, which was sponsored by the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, the situation doesn’t look any more promising this year. In fact, subsistence fishing may be reduced even more this year to try and get more fish to spawning grounds in Canada.

Biologists are projecting a king salmon run between 64,000 and 121,000 this summer. Given that runs the last several years have come in at the low end of the projection range, biologist Dr. Stephanie Schmidt said ADFG will manage for a run of only 64,000, which would mean a border passage of only about 32,000 kings. …

“These fish are not going to be here forever, not the way we’re catching them,” Huntington told dozens of fishermen sitting around tables in the Binkley Room at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge on Tuesday during a pre-season planning meeting with fisheries managers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “It wouldn’t hurt to take a few years off and say, ‘Let them go.’ There are other fish out there.”

You know things are bleak when even those who depend on the fish in the river are urging those who make the tough decisions to make a very tough decision.

Here’s a portion of today’s report from CBC expected to shut down the river as the season approaches in the summer:

Fishery manager Jeff Estensen says that includes subsistence harvesters.

“The fishermen on the Alaska side of things can really expect to see no opportunity to fish for Chinook salmon at all in 2014,” Estensen says.

In the 1990s, the Chinook run averaged more than 300,000 fish.

Since 2008, fewer than half that number have returned to the Yukon River.

 

 

 

 

 

Alaska State Troopers Lose Two In Line Of Duty

This isn’t hunting or fishing related, but our thoughts are with the two Alaska State Troopers killed in the line of duty in the village of Tanana on Thursday.

RIP Sgt. Patrick Johnson and Trooper Gabriel Rich. The two officers have appeared on the National Geographic Channel show Alaska State Troopers. 

Saddened by loss of 2 #AlaskaStateTroopers yesterday. Our deepest condolences to their families and the entire force. pic.twitter.com/iRkwoQyARl

Embedded image permalink

 

 

 

Preparing For 2014 Bristol Bay Sockeye Season

The sockeye salmon season in the Bristol Bay area will kick off in early summer, and here’s an audio report from Mike Mason of KDLG radio in Dillingham, posted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Among Mason’s report, when he spoke with ADFG area biologist Paul Salomone, who oversees the area that includes the Egekik River:

* In anticipation of an early run, ADFG plans to put together counting towers earlier than normal in the Egegik.

* ADFG anticipates the Egegik sockeye run at around 4.65 million, with an escapement goal of anywhere between 800,000 to 1.4 million fish.

Mason also provided an update on the Ugashik River District in an interview with Salomone.

 

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Washington fishing outfit pleads guilty to illegal fishing charges in Alaska

That’s a lot of lingcod: 11,000 pounds worth caught illegally in the Gulf of Alaska by a Washington-based group, Fisherman’s Finest LLC. The Alaska State Troopers Wildlife Division found that the company had retained 11,000 pounds of a total 56,000 pounds of fish caught in 2010 and 2011. But the intent was not deemed to be malicious, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Here are the nut graphs of the Daily News story:

In July 2010 and 2011, investigators said, the F/V US Intrepid harvested more than 56,000 pounds of lingcod in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, which is state water. At the time, the company was operating under federal regulations as a test rockfish fishery, said Sgt. Brent Johnson, the investigating officer on the case.

The majority of the lingcod was released, but 11,000 pounds was retained and sold commercially, troopers said. Under federal guidelines, such activity was legal, but the state retains management control of that particular species, Johnson said.

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2014/04/22/3436482/company-pleads-guilty-to-illegal.html#storylink=cpy
Fisherman’s Finest pleaded guilty to the charges and will pay a fine of $12,500 ($2,500 suspended), plus be on probation for three years and pay a forfeiture of just over $10,000 for the value of the lingcod haul that was kept.

Hunters, Anglers Blast 5 US Senators Who Want To Strip EPA From Regulating Pebble Mine

By Andy Walgamott, on April 16th, 2014

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE SPORTSMAN’S ALLIANCE FOR ALASKA

Today, 14 leading sportsmen’s and conservation groups expressed their strong opposition to the Regulatory Fairness Act, which would halt the EPA’s efforts to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska from the proposed Pebble Mine. The groups sent a letter outlining their concerns to the co-sponsors of the legislation, which include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and Sens. David Vitter (LA), Joe Manchin (WV), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and James Risch (ID). These groups are some of over 1,000 sportsmen’s organizations and businesses that have written the EPA in support of its efforts to protect Bristol Bay.

From the letter: It was with great disappointment that we read your recent legislation to eliminate the EPA’s current work to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska for future generations of hunters and anglers. Stopping the Pebble Mine at Bristol Bay’s headwaters is one of the top priorities for the sportsmen community across the U.S.; a fact that we hope is not lost on Senators who represent not only many sportsmen, but some of the best hunting and fishing areas in the country. While we do not always agree with the EPA or its actions, in the case of Bristol Bay, the EPA is acting to protect productive fish and game habitat, thousands of jobs, and $1.5 billion in annual economic impact.”

“The development of a massive surface mine such as Pebble and its likely impacts on the waters and fish and wildlife resources of Bristol Bay, Alaska, have been thoroughly analyzed through the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment,” said Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The EPA’s undertaking of the 404(c) review process is the next logical step under the Clean Water Act which is needed and justified to ensure the conservation of the unique resources of Bristol Bay.”

The Regulatory Fairness Act would prohibit the EPA from using its Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authority to restrict permits at “any time” that a particular development will have an “unacceptable adverse effect” on America’s waterways or fisheries. In the case of the proposed Pebble Mine, the EPA’s exhaustive 3-year peer-reviewed scientific study found that even without a catastrophic accident it will destroy up to 94 miles of salmon spawning streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands, lakes, and ponds in the Bristol Bay region. In February, the EPA began the 404(c) process to determine the best way to protect Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine.

“The legislation these Senators are supporting runs directly counter to one of the top priorities for hunters and anglers from across the U.S.,” said Scott Hed, Director of Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska. “We’ve heard from thousands that Bristol Bay is worth protecting; now is not the time to halt the EPA’s thorough process in protecting this sportsman’s paradise.”

Groups signing the letter include:

American Fly Fishing Trade Association
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Berkley Conservation Institute
Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance
Campfire Club of America
Dallas Safari Club
Delta Waterfowl Foundation
International Federation of Fly Fishers
National Wildlife Federation
Orion – The Hunters Institute
Pope and Young Club
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Union Sportsmen’s Alliance
Wildlife Forever

House Bill 77 Thrown Out

Eli Huffman of Jake’s Nushagak Salmon Camp sent us this:

 

 

Greetings!

We have some big news to share today:

Yesterday, after months of dedicated phone calls, emails, testimony and frustration, HB77 died in committee. This bill threatened the water rights of individual Alaskans and would have removed the voice of the Alaskan public from important natural resource decisions. Because of the overwhelming response and testimony from you, HB77 will not make it to the floor for a vote.

 

Thank you for your help in stopping HB77!

 

The overwhelming public response to this legislation demonstrates Alaskans’ unwavering passion for our salmon, wildlife and natural resources. We will continue to stay involved and in contact with our representatives in Juneau. We predict similar legislation may be introduced again next year, but as we’ve so clearly demonstrated, we have the power to speak up and fight to protect our renewable resources. We will continue our work to ensure the protection of Alaska’s hunting and fishing resources. Please check our website for updates on this important news.