GALENA LOCAL NEWS BRIEFS
December 20, 2016
At a sentencing hearing in Fairbanks on Monday, Galena’s Kyle Nickoli was given a suspended sentence of two years – but no additional jail time – for crimes related to a February 1st, 2015 break-in at the Galena Liquor Store.
Nickoli was convicted of stealing $35,000 cash from the Liquor Store that day, along with another $2000 worth of merchandise.
Nickoli pled guilty to various burglary and theft charges last year, and the court then held a circle sentencing event in Galena, at which time the state gave Nickoli a series of conditions to follow, with the promise of a reduced final sentence if he abided by them.
As the Fairbanks Daily News Miner reports, Nickoli violated the conditions set down by the circle sentencing hearing twice this year, including one incident involving furnishing alcohol to a minor.
District Attorney Greg Olson said that the attempt to use circle sentencing on Nickoli was a failure. But Nickoli’s defense attorney, Jennifer Hite, disagreed, and noted that Nickoli completed 20 weeks of community service, served 9 and a half months in jail while awaiting initial sentencing last year, and now has a felony on his record.
Recent charges to state sentencing limits brought about by Senate Bill 91 limited Nickoli’s suspended sentence to a total of 24 months.
The full terms of Nickoli’s conditions of release are not yet available.
December 15, 2016
Galena School Board President Kim Kopp served at what could be her last school board meeting last night, as the results of the recall election that directed her to give back her seat on the board are final but not yet certified.
Kopp participated in the meeting via videoconference from Anchorage, and her fellow board members passed a resolution recognizing Kopp for her service to the school district.
The Galena City Council is scheduled to meet next Tuesday, December 20. If and when the council accepts the election results at that meeting, Kim Kopp will officially be removed from the school board.
On a light agenda last night, the Galena school board also approved a new contract for the Washington DC lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates, worth 30 thousand dollars for 2017. The school district and city government of Galena employ Cassidy lobbyist Kaleb Froelich to pursue federal sources of revenue, including supplemental dollars from the Air Force to help pay for utility upgrades on the former Galena Air Force Base.
November 17, 2016
The Galena School Board grew by two members at its meeting yesterday.
Jaime Landrum and Fred Huntington Sr. were elected in October, but were unable to be sworn in at the October School Board meeting due to a mix-up on the ballot. City Clerk Shanda Huntington accidently flip-flopped the seats for which they filed to run - but the problem was corrected through a resolution last night, officially assigning Fred Huntington Sr. the 3-year seat that he intended to run for, and Jaime Landrum the one-year seat she signed up for.
Huntington and Landrum fill the seats vacated by the resignations of Karin Bodony and Jenny Bryant earlier this year.
With all five members in place, the board then selected its officers for the coming year. Kim Kopp will keep her position as president – though a recall election on December 6th aims to remove her from the school board. Susie Sam will serve as vice president of the board, Jamie Landrum as secretary, and Kim Wolf as treasurer.
The board also authorized the transfer of 300 thousand dollars from the District’s general fund to a certificate of deposit account with Denali State Bank, to satisfy the requirements of an agreement made with the City to put aside three year’s worth of payments on the loan that funded the new water system on base.
Away from action items, Reitan told the Board that the Galena City School District’s student count reached an all-time high this year, with just over 3900 students enrolled during last month’s count period. Enrollment in the district’s IDEA homeschool program makes up the vast majority of that figure, and has been on the rise. The Galena Interior Learning Academy had 225 students at the time of the count, and the Sidney C Huntington School counted 90 students in grades K through 12.
November 9, 2016
He may have won the presidential election nationally, and earned Alaska’s three electoral votes by getting around 52 percent statewide, but Donald Trump did not win Galena.
The Republican ticket of Trump and Mike Pence got 35 percent of the vote in Galena, compared to 50 percent for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.
It’s the first time in recent history that a majority of Galena voters have supported a Democratic candidate for president.
The Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld finished third in Galena voting, with 6 percent of the votes.
Galena voters supported the reelection of Lisa Murkowski and Don Young by wide margins.
They supported Ballot Measure 1 more enthusiastically than the statewide average, with 75 percent of Galena voters saying yes to the proposal to automatically register voters when they filed for the PFD. And Galena voters disagree with Alaska voters as a whole on Ballot Measure 2, with 54 percent of Galena voters saying yes on 2. Statewide, the measure was defeated, with 56 percent saying no to the issuance of bonds for postsecondary education loans, compared to 44 percent saying yes.
Voter turnout was very high. 193 ballots were counted, and over a dozen more were cast as questioned or absentee ballots. That puts the voter turnout in Galena close to 72 percent.
October 6, 2016
In unofficial vote tallies from the October 4 municipal election in Galena, all candidates who filed to be on the ballot cruised to easy victories.
Ken Essex was reelected to City Council Seat B-1 with 60 votes. Fred Huntington Senior joins the school board with 72 votes, and Jaime Landrum earned 70 votes to win the other open school board seat.
None of those candidates faced opposition in the election.
There was a write-in only contest for City Council Seat B-2, and GILA residence hall manager Ben Blasco gathered the highest number of votes at 14. A wide variety of other names were also suggested but failed to earn more than 3 or 4 votes each.
The election results must be reviewed by the canvass committee on Friday, and then certified by the city council at its next meeting, before they are official.
95 absentee and in-person votes were cast in the election. Voter turnout was around 38 percent.
May 17, 2016
The Galena City Council went on a spreading spree at its May meeting.
Some of the largest payouts were annual expenditures, such as approving contracts to buy diesel fuel and oil for the power plant. Ruby Marine won the contract to supply diesel to the City, locking in a price of one dollar and 89 cents per gallon for 450 thousand gallons.
Crowley won a contract worth close to 19 thousand dollars to deliver oil, glycol, and other fluids.
The lobbyist is Kaleb Froehlich with the firm Cassidy and Associates. Froehlich formerly served as the top legal advisor to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and worked closely with the Chairperson of that committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski. The City will pay Froehlich 30 thousand dollars per year to seek out new sources of revenue to compensate for declining state funds, including money to pay for the renovation of aging Air Force infrastructure.
In addition, the City Council agreed to the terms of a contract with the contractor Ashwater-Burns to provide a construction manager to oversee the utilidor replacement and biomass boiler work planned for this summer on the former Galena Air Force Base. Ashwater-Burns will be in charge of keeping the project on schedule and making sure the various construction contractors are working together. The City will pay an estimated cost of between 65 and 75 thousand dollars for the service. It’s the latest in a string of contracts for Ashwater-Burns in Galena, which managed the renovation of city and school property damaged by the 2013 flood.
March 31, 2016
At a special meeting on March 30, the Galena City Council gave the go-ahead to major construction work at the former Air Force Base, which now serves as the campus of the Galena Interior Learning Academy boarding school.
The Council awarded a 2-point-5 million dollar contract to Stanton Construction to install a new piped water and heat system around the base to service 13 buildings, replacing the existing steam heat system with a system using hot water. The switch is projected to save about 60 thousand gallons of diesel fuel each year compared to the steam heat system.
However, the savings will soon be calculated in terms of wood, as the base heat system switches from burning fossil fuels to woody biomass - mainly cottonwood and birch from nearby plots leased by Gana-A'Yoo Limited.
The Council also awarded a 2 million dollar contract to Mantech Mechanical for the purchase and installation of a wood-burning boiler and the conversion of the existing steam boilers to function with the new hot water system.
While some money for the projects will come from the remainder of a grant from the Alaska Energy Authority, the City will need to secure over 4 million dollars in loans to pay for the changes. Concerns about the risk involved with taking on so much debt caused the City Council to defer its decision on the contract awards until after a special joint work session with the School Board earlier this week. As the sole user of the central heat system on base, the school district gave assurances that it would pay more for heat to help pay back the loans.
City attorney Charles Cacciola encouraged the City and School District to enter into a so-called “take or pay” agreement, locking the school district into purchasing a certain amount of heat over a specified time period. Such agreements are commonly used to secure financing for energy projects, Cacciola told the council in a written statement.
Without such an agreement firmly in place, City Council member Brad Scotton was the lone vote in opposition to the contract awards, which both passed 4 to 1.
The majority of the construction work is expected to take place this summer, beginning with the installation of new water and heat lines.
The City must spend all of the remaining Alaska Energy Authority grant funds by the end of 2017 or risk forfeiting the money back to the state.
The first was a statement of support for a grant application, seeking to fund a range of improvements to the city electrical grid.
The first part of the project would install smart meters, which communicate automatically with the power plant about how much electricity a building is using, and do not require a worker to read them every month. Based on the data generated by the smart meters, the City is hoping to pinpoint ways it can further reduce line loss – in which electricity generated by the power house never makes it to the end users.
The USDA grant would also pay for a bank of solar panels.
Tanana Chiefs Conference is submitting the grant, but if awarded it would be managed by the City.
The other resolution that passed the council last night gives City Manager Shanda Huntington the authority to borrow up to 1-point-5 million dollars from the state-controlled Alaska Housing Finance Corporation for the purpose of upgrading the utilidor on base.
The utilidor is the underground series of pipes that deliver water, sewer and heat to most of the buildings on base. The current utilidor is inefficient and in need of repairs to optimize the performance of the new wood boiler, slated for installation next year.
Kim Wolf will keep her seat on the Galena school board, according to unofficial results from yesterday’s municipal election. In the election’s only contested race, Kim Wolf got 54 votes compared to 43 votes for challenger Nicole Gregory.
There are five absentee ballots yet to be counted, which is not enough to sway the results of any of the contests.
Susie Sam ran unopposed to retain her seat on the school board and garnered 86 votes.
Patrick Lumba stays on the city council with 78 votes, and Josh Pittsenbarger joins the council with 62 votes. Both Lumba and Pittsenbarger ran unopposed.
Turnout was relatively low, with a total of 103 votes cast – around one-third of Galena’s registered voters.
The election results will not be official until the canvass board reviews the results this Friday, and the results are certified by the city council at its next meeting.
The Galena City Council took no action last night on a performance guarantee demanded by Gana A Yoo Limited, as part of a proposed timber sale agreement to supply Galena’s biomass energy project.
Gana A Yoo wants both the City of Galena and Galena City School District to guarantee that if the timber harvester, Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska, is unable to perform its duties under the timber sale agreement that Gana A Yoo won’t be liable for any extra costs. This might include paying for multi-million dollar lawsuits that would not be fully covered under SEGA’s insurance.
The Galena School Board agreed to the guarantee at its meeting last month. But the City Council balked at the demands put forth by Gana A Yoo, after hearing from the city’s lawyer Charles Cacciola, who attended Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Cacciola informed the council that Gana A Yoo’s performance guarantee language seems to go against a state law that forbids a city government from lending its credit to a corporation, which in this case would be SEGA.
Cacciola said that Gana A Yoo’s lawyer is aware of the conflict with state law, but views the law itself as unconstitutional and invalid. There are no strong legal precedents that might suggest how a court would rule on the conflict, according to Cacciola.
Mayor Jon Korta proposed a plan that would sidestep the problem by having the City, not SEGA, enter into a timber sale contract with Gana A Yoo, and then subcontract the timber harvest work to SEGA.
The council agreed to explore this option for another week, and then reconvene to vote on the performance guarantee at a special meeting next week.
Also in connection with biomass energy, the City Council voted to transfer ownership of 4 pieces of heavy equipment to SEGA, including a chipper, log processor, loader and log truck. The City purchased the timber harvest equipment with a state grant.
Under the terms of the transfer, SEGA takes over all maintenance duties for the equipment and agrees to transfer the equipment back to the city if SEGA dissolves. SEGA also agrees to direct any profits derived from using the equipment to lowering the city’s energy costs.
A twin engine plane carrying moose hunters and supplies made a hard landing at the Galena Airport yesterday.
A Piper Seneca operated by Acme Cub Training of Anchorage was on approach to Galena when the front landing gear doors failed to open. The pilot stopped both engines just before touching down and skidded to a stop.
No one was injured and the only damage to the plane was to the nose and front landing gear doors.
No fuel was released.
The incident caused the Galena Airport to be temporarily closed while the Seneca was on the runway. It was able to be moved off the runway and parked in the general aviation area with assistance from a pickup truck.
Acme Cub Training is based out of Lake Hood and offers pilot training and certification in a variety of aircraft.
According to its website, the Piper Seneca is its only multi-engine plane.
The City of Galena got word this week that its appeal to receive funds from the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program was successful.
The City was denied funds initially due to the harsh critique of city finances found in the 2013 audit. The City appealed the ruling, and state commissioner of commerce and economic development Chris Hladick sent a letter informing that city that concerns about the audit are still valid, but that the payment of nearly 240 thousand dollars would be allowed to go through in order to prevent a possible energy shortage in Galena.
The City intends to use the PILT funds to pay Ruby Marine for diesel fund for the power plant.
The Galena City Council added Patrick Lumba to its ranks yesterday. Lumba and Josh Pittsenbarger each submitted letters of interest for the seat vacated by March Runner, and the council chose Lumba by unanimous vote.
Lumba’s assignment to the council only lasts until October. Both Lumba and Pittsenbarger intend on putting their names on the ballot for the seat in the October 6th municipal election.
When the school district budget first came before the council in July, the council rejected it because the dollar figures for in-kind contributions such as waste heat and snowplowing were higher than the amounts discussed earlier.
After further negotiations, the city and school settled on an in-kind package totaling 783 thousand dollars-worth of services.
School district operations have not been impacted due to the lack of a budget.
The City Council also approved a lease agreement for the former UAF Yukon-Koyukuk Center building. The university terminated its lease on the building due to budget cuts. The YK-Center will be subdivided between Fish and Wildlife Service, Louden Tribal Council and Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska.
Galena City Manager Shanda Huntington told the council that the city’s request for funds under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program was denied.
The PILT program sends federal money to local governments who cannot institute a property tax within their boundaries. PILT funds in Alaska are managed and distributed by the State, who denied Galena’s request for over 300 thousand dollars due to the city’s scathing 2013 audit, which shows multiple cases of financial mismanagement and lack of adequate oversight.
The City blames the shortcomings on the chaotic situation caused by the flood and on staff turnover, and insists that all problems have been resolved.
The City will be appealing the ruling.
The Galena City Council heard any update on the rebuilding of the base water treatment plant, which was damaged and made unusable by fire on April 23rd.
The original plan to replace only the parts of the facility damaged by fire has been scrapped due to concerns about combining the existing system with new components. So contractor Ashwater-Burns got approval from the insurance company to build an all-new water treatment system.
But changing the plans means more paperwork and delays, meaning that the water treatment plant is unlikely to be operational when students and staff return to the Galena Interior Learning Academy in August.
Ashwater-Burns expects to get the new equipment in the middle of August, and then spend 2 or 3 weeks installing it.
State environmental regulators also raised concerns about the release of volatile organic compounds caused by the cleanup of soil around the water plant. Tests on the drinking water produced by the base water plant have not detected any significant levels of VOCs, but the state regulators required the water plant to add a step to the water filtration process to remove VOCs just in case, which has also prolonged the renovation process.
City Manager Shanda Huntington told the council that the plant probably won’t be up and running again until September.
A new plan from the City of Galena would sublease the Yukon-Koyukuk Center building to three local organizations. The city-owned building was recently vacated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Interior Aleutians Campus due to state budget cuts.
An ordinance up for consideration by the City Council would authorize the City to give office space to Louden Tribal Council, US Fish and Wildlife Service and Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska.
The Galena City Council will hear a first reading of the ordinance tonight, making it eligible for a vote at its next meeting.
The text of the ordinance states that Sustainable Energy for Galena, Alaska is getting a monthly lease rate below appraised value, in an effort to support SEGA's mission of developing a local biomass energy industry.
The City Council will also hear the latest proposals from a committee tasked with figuring out what to do with the leftover money donated in 2013 to help Galena recover from the flood. The top suggestions of the committee included more improvements to the baseball field and purchases for the Yukon-Koyukuk Elder Assisted Living Facility.
The City Council will also look at requests for bids on adding an independent heating system in the airport fire station, water heaters for Iditarod Inn on base, and fuel for city vehicles.
The City Council meets at 6 pm Tuesday at City Hall.
The Galena City Council passed its Fiscal Year 2016 budget last night.
The budget expects a surplus of about 270 thousand dollars, and is over a million dollars smaller than the current fiscal year’s budget. Much of that difference is the result of flood recovery projects wrapping up.
The City also expects to pay less for diesel fuel this year. This summer’s fuel contract with Ruby Marine locks in a price of 2 dollars and 72 cents per gallon – nearly a dollar per gallon less than what the City paid for diesel last summer.
The City Council also heard an update last night on the effort to bring an additional police officer to Galena. Galena does not have a police officer on duty now, though Officer Antonio Silva is still under contract, which grants him a summer break to work in the commercial fishing industry.
The City has been recruiting for a second police officer for months, and City Manager Shanda Huntington says she has made a selection, but the candidate has not submitted required background information. She has given him a deadline of Friday June 12 to hand over the information, or the job offer will be rescinded.
The City asked the Galena City School District to split the cost of the second police officer’s salary, which the school board rejected last week on a 3-to-2 vote. The City now plans to approach Louden Tribal Council with the same offer.
The deal to grant a long term lease of the community hall to Louden was supposed to be decided at last night’s council meeting as well, but was tabled. Lawyers for both sides are still working on the terms of the deal.
Galena skiers place well at Fairbanks ski marathon
March 27, 2017
Galena skiers posted some strong performances at the Denali State Bank Sonot Kkaazoot Ski Marathon in Fairbanks over the weekend.
Completing a distance of 20 kilometers, or 12 and a half miles, Shelby Williams won the girls under 14 division with a time of 1 hour 22 minutes. Sable Scotton was 20 minutes behind for third.
Carlee Merriner got second in the girls under 16 division with a time of 1 hour 11 minutes, and Annika Merriner won the under 20 division by default as only skier in that age group, with a time of 1 hour 22 minutes.
On the boys side, Galena’s Finn Hornfischer dominated the under 12 division, beating 11 other skiers over 20 kilometers with a time of 1 hour and 9 minutes.
Joe Riddle also topped a crowded division of 15 skiers in the under 14 age group, winning with a time of 1 hour and 1 minute. Cash Bergman, Caedon Merriner, Paytyn Cleaver, Lucas Echinique, Ian Esmailka and Charles Carlo also finished in that division.
Virgil Sam the Second finished 8th in a very competitive under 16 boys race, with the 7 skiers ahead of him all breaking the one hour barrier.
Galena high schoolers Walter Lord and Howie Naneng squared off in the Under 20 boys race, with Lord finished ahead in a time of one hour and 6 minutes.
A total of 17 Galena skiers were in the field of 176 total competitors who tackled the trails of the Birch Hill Recreation Area and Chena River.
Galena ski coaches also endured the 20 kilometer course, with Jon Korta finishing second in his division and Sandy Scotton fifth.
Galena elder Franklin Pitka dies in house fire
March 3, 2017
Galena elder Franklin Pitka died yesterday in a fire.
Better known as “Iron Man,” Pitka lived alone in a single-story log cabin at the north end of Galena. He was well known for walking long distances to go shopping, go to church, or run errands in the village.
Neighbors reported the fire at around 5:20 a.m. Thursday, and first responders were not able to gain entry to the building due to heat and flames.
When firefighters arrived at around 5:30 a.m., the cabin was fully engulfed in flames.
Fire crews struggled with 30 below temperatures and a lack of nearby fire hydrants, but extinguished the blaze by around 7:45.
Later in the day, with permission from the State Fire Marshal’s office, Pitka’s remains were located in the cabin, and transferred to the custody of the Galena Police Department.
A fire investigator is due to arrive in Galena today (Friday). As of now, the cause of the fire is unknown.
Pitka was 82 years old.
Galena will not be the same without him.
Board of Game rejects proposal to make moose hunting later in fall in Unit 21-D
February 23, 2017
A proposal to change the dates for the subsistence moose hunt in much of Unit 21-D near Galena failed at the Board of Game meeting yesterday.
The proposal would have moved the opening day for the resident subsistence hunt in the portion of Unit 21-D that lies outside of the Koyukuk Controlled Use Area from August 21 to September 1st, and pushed the closing date back to September 30th. A warming climate and subsequent concerns for increased risk of meat spoilage and access to moose were cited as the motivations behind the proposal.
Galena Area Biologist Glenn Stout with the Department of Fish and Game received a climate analysis for daily high and low temperatures from Galena, dating back to the 1960s, which showed no significant increasing or decreasing trends for temperature during the current moose season as a whole.
However, when the data are broken down into one-week periods, there does seem to be a warming trend for the first week of September in the Galena area. As Stout told the Board, the first week of September is getting warmer by an average of 0.086 degrees.
“Although that doesn’t seem like much, if you multiply it by ten, it is a 0.86 degree change per decade, or an 8.6 degree change per century. I think that is a meaningful change to consider. And although the trends were not significant in the second and third weeks, they are trending up,” Stout said.
However, the Board was ultimately not convinced that climate change was having any major effect on moose hunting in the Galena area. Stout also noted that temperature shifts have no impact on the timing of moose breeding, which is determined by day length. The proposal would have enabled hunting to occur on the verge of, or during, the narrow window in which cow moose can be impregnated, which Stout estimates at between September 26th and October 2nd.
For that and other biological reasons, the Board unanimously rejected the proposal. Member Larry Van Daele agreed with Fish and Game’s prediction that the overall harvest of moose would go up, because hunting in late September would have a greater rate of success than hunting in late August.
“I think that the Department has made a very compelling argument, that the population is not to objectives and is declining. This would anticipate that another 74 moose would be harvested, which the population could not sustain,” Van Daele told the Board.
Van Daele also noted that only one advisory committee that reviewed the proposal was in favor of it, and even then it was a split vote.
The advisory committees from the area including Unit 21-D - the Middle Yukon and Koyukuk River – were on record against the proposal as well.
In other action, the Board of Game unanimously supported a proposal to switch a series of drawing permit hunts to registration hunts in portions of Units 21-C, 24-C and 24-D. That will allow any hunter seeking to hunt on the upper Dulbi River, Hogatza River, and a stretch of the Koyukuk River above Hughes to get a registration permit, rather than taking a chance on winning a drawing permit.
The new registration hunts do not carry an antler destruction requirement with them, and Fish and Game anticipates that participation will be low due to the remoteness of the areas in question.
“It’s rare, but not unheard of, to go from a drawing permit hunt to a registration permit hunt," said Board Chairman Ted Straker. "But where it is appropriate, I think it is a good idea, because it provides more opportunity. So long as Fish and Game does not think that it will present a conservation concern, I think we should do it.”
The new registration permit hunts will not go into effect until 2018, because draw permits for the existing hunts were already issued for the fall of 2017.
The Board also rejected proposals to lengthen the wolf hunting season in Unit 24, and to require nonresident hunters to hire hunting guides in certain drawing permit hunts in Units 21-B and 21-D and 24. That proposal also would have required the state to issue a higher percentage of draw permits to resident hunters compared to nonresidents, but the Board consensus was the existing allocation system, which splits the permits 50-50, was working well to balance the demands of different users.
Galena Interior Learning Academy ranks highest in state in percentage of graduates needing remedial work at UA college campuses
February 9, 2017
ANSEP transcript study
The Galena Interior Learning Academy was recently singled out in a University of Alaska report as having the highest percentage of graduates who required at least one remedial course in math or English during their freshman year at the university.
In research done by UAA’s Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, using transcript data from the University of Alaska system, 77.6% of GILA graduates who enrolled at a UA campus between 2006 and 2015 had to take a high school level course in college in order to catch up to freshman-level standards at UA. The state-wide average was just under 61%.
Galena City School District Superintendent Chris Reitan is not alarmed by the findings. In order to qualify for the ANSEP analysis, a high school had to produce more than 10 college-bound graduates in 2015 – and that alone, Reitan says, is worth celebrating.
“I think you have to careful when you look at the data," Reitan cautions. "Two of the schools that were up there with other schools were the state’s two largest native boarding schools, which draw their students from very rural areas across the state. Of course we can do a better job; to indicate that we don’t want to do a better job or see that as one of our missions would be erroneous and irresponsible. But I also think you have to be cognizant enough to recognize that if they did not come to us, many of these kids would not even be attempting a university class – and that’s worth celebrating.”
GILA is also part of a subgroup pulled out in the study to highlight that many of the students that require remedial course work at UA come to college with relatively high grade point averages. The average GPA for GILA graduates attending a UA campus during the study period was 3.44.
One of the researchers behind the report, ANSEP founder and vice provost Dr. Herb Schroeder, told the Alaska Dispatch News that the correlation between high GPAs at the high school level and high rates of academic backsliding at the college level indicates that many Alaska high schools are giving students and parents a false sense of readiness. In Galena’s case, Superintendent Reitan argues that a high average GPA is largely a factor of what types of courses Galena high schoolers take, and not grade inflation.
“When I look at a lot of our students grades across the board at GILA, they are nailing it in the CTE [career and technical education] courses, and then they are struggling in one or more of their academic courses. So we you are taking eight classes and it balances out in a GPA, that factors into it,” Reitan explains.
A positive that is emerging from the ANSEP report, Reitan says, is new attention given to alleged misalignment between state and high school academic standards and sequencing in Alaska, which makes it difficult for high schools to prepare students for what they will encounter in their first years of college if college course content is not standardized.
“When you get at the university level, there is academic freedom. So you when you get into English 111, you could have ten different instructors with ten different objectives. It’s tough to align our instruction with the university’s if there are no set standards that everybody is following. So we are having a dialogue along those lines.”
Though the ANSEP report and subsequent media coverage has generated what appears to be negative publicity statewide for Galena’s boarding school, Reitan says that it is nothing that the District hasn’t seen before.
“When we were still under “No Child Left Behind” and adequate yearly progress requirements, GILA always got hammered in regards to our graduation rate, because if a student did not graduate in four years they were considered a drop-out. In my work with the legislature, I said ‘you know what, I don’t even pay attention to that. If you look at our five-year graduation rate, that’s more representative of kids who didn’t have a shot at graduating when they came to us, stuck it out, and now have a high school diploma, when they might have had one before.’”
Reitan stresses that even if the numbers can be reinterpreted in different contexts, the District is still committed to reducing the number of graduates who need remedial course work in college. And GILA administrators report that the number of GILA students holding a failing grade in one or more courses has dropped significantly this year compared to last year.
BLM revising its Central Yukon Resource Management Plan
January 27, 2017
The Bureau of Land Management is revising its long term resource management plan for the Central Yukon region.
The current plan dates back to the late 1980s, and applies to almost 13 million acres of BLM-managed land. The Central Yukon region encompasses the Yukon River valley from Rampart to Kaltag, the entire Koyukuk River, and the Dalton Highway corridor up to Prudhoe Bay.
The resource management plan is about halfway to competition, and at this stage proposes four different management strategies for mining and resource extraction, permission for roads and trails and environmental protections across the region. One strategy would continue with the status quo, another would stress economic development, another would impose more environmental restrictions, and a fourth would serve as a compromise between development and conservation.
A management feature unique to BLM is the Area of Critical Environmental Concern, or A-C-E-C. Though the name suggests that an ACEC might be off-limits to mining, hunting, or other conspicuous uses, BLM Central Yukon Field Manager Tim LaMarr says that is not the case.
“The ACECs are not de facto wilderness areas," LaMarr noted. "Some people think that they are, just by virtue of the designation. The significance of the designation is tied back to the specific special management that you identify in the resource management plan associated with that specific ACEC.”
That means that ACECs might be set aside for a variety of purposes, and not just to protect the environment in its natural state. A good example of that, LaMarr says, is the Hogatza River, which enters the Koyukuk River between Huslia and Hughes. An ACEC has existed along the lower Hog River for some time, with gold mining permitted in an area that has since been transferred to the State of Alaska.
“While they were BLM lands and while it was an ACEC, mining continued and was promoted and expanded – with special management related to paying special attention to water quality, reclamation activities concurrent with expansion activities and things of that nature,” LaMarr said.
The ACEC at Hog River would either expand from its current size of 5 thousand acres to include more of its drainage, receive less stringent management, or go away altogether, under the various alternatives proposed in the draft of the resource management plan.
The same holds true for the Galena Mountain area, where the current management plan has marked off two pockets of land as areas of critical environmental concern for the Galena Mountain Caribou Herd. La Marr says that wildlife managers now believe that those protected areas are not in the right places, so the new plan proposes a larger ACEC east of Galena Mountain and extending almost to the Melozi River. And more use restrictions to protect the small herd are also possible.
“We’ve looked at some things like seasonal uses of some disturbing activities, requiring certain altitude minimums for aviation in the area so as not to disturb animals in the area, and minimizing surface disturbance in the area," explained LaMarr.
A total of about 1-point-8 million acres of BLM land in the Central Yukon region are currently designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. That number would more than double if the BLM follows the pro-conservation alternatives outlined in the plan, or shrink to just 85 thousand acres under the pro-development alternative.
Other ACECs under review in the plan include the Indian River area near Hughes, and the Tozitna drainage north of Tanana, which encompasses a large area of BLM land up to the southern boundary of the Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge.
Much of the Nulato Hills west of Kaltag and Nulato is managed by BLM, but is included in the agency’s Bering Sea / Western Interior region, which is producing a separate resource management plan.
Public comments on the draft of the Central Yukon Resource Management Plan are open until March 17th.
For more information on the Plan, including charts describing the various alternatives being considered and maps of the affected areas, visit this website.
State of Alaska sues Interior Department to toss out new predator hunting restrictions
January 18, 2017
The State of Alaska has sued several federal land management agencies and top officials over a series of new predator hunting restrictions that went into effect over the past two years.
The suit, filed Friday, January 13 in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, claims that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service violated provisions of four federal laws when the agencies banned certain hunting practices on refuge and national preserve land, including the taking of brown bears over bait, the same-day airborne hunting of bears, and the hunting of bear cubs in certain circumstances.
At the heart of the dispute are differing interpretations of key terms such as “natural diversity,” which the federal agencies claim to be protecting via the predator hunting restrictions. But Alaska Assistant Attorney General Cheryl Brooking argues that federal wildlife managers are willing to take those protections too far. She cites a recent example involving caribou on Unimak Island, in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
“The wolves had moved in on the birthing grounds and the State wanted permission to go in and take out some of the wolves to preserve the caribou, because that is a very important subsistence resource for the people in that area," Brooking explained. "And the response from the federal government was, ‘well, we are just going to let the natural processes occur and it’s OK to let the caribou blink out.’ That was the term used – “blink out.” The State doesn’t manage that way. We manage for sustained yield of predators and prey, and we recognize the importance of hunting.”
Brookings also notes that the State plans to take the federal agencies to task for failing to demonstrate a biological need for the increased predator hunting restrictions – which she argues violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
“ANILCA allows the federal government to institute closures for ‘periods when or areas where’ a closure is necessary for conservation of the resource, or for protection of subsistence," Brookings said. "Without any scientific or biological reason for these closures, then that is a clear violation of ANILCA. “
The suit asks the court to vacate both the Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service versions of the rule, to repay the state’s legal costs, and to instruct the federal agencies to improve their consultations with the State of Alaska regarding wildlife management in the future.
Representatives from the Fish and Wildlife Service regional office in Anchorage declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the need for more time to review the suit and coordinate with agency lawyers. But after a public meeting in Galena last March, when the Fish and Wildlife version of the rule was in draft form, Chief of Alaska Refuges Mitch Ellis said that the rule was more about formalizing the agency’s guiding principles rather than rejecting all forms of predator control outright.
“I do want to make it clear: our agency is not against predator control. Our agency uses predator control for a number of things: restoring species, when it helps meet the purpose of the refuge, etc. What are doing here is clarifying when it is appropriate and when it is not,” said Ellis.
The rule classifies the hunting practices in question as “highly efficient methods and means” of harvesting animals, and finds them out of line with federal wildlife management mandates.
Federal officials named in the suit include Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe, and Acting Director of the National Park Service Michael Reynolds. These officials are likely to be leaving their posts soon as the new Trump Administration takes over, but the presidential transition had nothing to do with the decision to file the lawsuit last week, according to Assistant Attorney General Brooking.
The federal government has 60 days to file a response to the suit.
Aside from the lawsuit, Alaska’s congressional delegation has been trying to overturn or defund the new rules using legislation, but without success. Congressman Don Young’s office says that those legislative efforts will resume when the Trump Administration takes office.
The predator hunting restrictions can also be overruled and replaced by the Federal Subsistence Board for federally-qualified subsistence users on federal land.
Federal Subsistence Board weighs in on upper Yukon king salmon and Huslia pike proposals
January 12, 2017
In the first full day of its fisheries meeting in Anchorage yesterday (Wednesday), the Federal Subsistence Board gave its approval to one proposal aimed at providing more king salmon fishing opportunities in upper Yukon Subdistrict 5-D, but rejected another.
The Board adopted Proposal 1, which will open king salmon fishing in 5-D – which runs from Stevens Village to the Canadian border – as soon as the mid-point of the Canadian border passage goal for kings is projected to be achieved. That works out to a projected border passage number of 48,750 kings.
Andrew Firmin from the Eastern Interior Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council, which submitted the proposal, told the Board that the proposal intends to prevent a repeat of the 2015 season, when subsistence fishing remained closed in 5-D even when the border passage estimate climbed over 84 thousand kings.
"It’s more of a trigger for us," Firmin said. "Why are we sitting home, waiting to fish, when we are 30,000 salmon above the escapement goals – as was the case in that one year? We are not trying to tie anybody’s hands, we’re not trying to take anything away from managers. It’s more of a reminder.”
The proposal passed with seven votes in favor and one against. The lone vote in opposition came from Fish and Wildlife Service representative Karen Clark, who argued that guarantying a late-run harvest of kings in 5-D could bind the hands of fisheries managers, and would create a preferential harvest opportunity for subsistence users in subdistrict 5-D.
Similar arguments cropped up in the Federal Subsistence Board’s debate over Proposal 2, which would guarantee fishing opportunities for early run king salmon in Subdistrict 5-D, before fishing closes to protect the first pulse of kings.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Yukon River fishery manager Fred Bue told the Board that the proposal, if passed, would have ripple effects downriver.
“In marginal runs, the question will be: ‘how much opportunity to other fishermen do we give, because this is giving a priority to the Subdistrict 5-D over other users. And so that becomes an element in my decision – how much do I restrict other users?”
New Board member Rhonda Pitka from Beaver resides in Subdistrict 5-D, and supported the proposal, as a means of meeting the subsistence needs of her village and those like it along the upper Yukon.
“Those are very small communities, and it is really not that many fish. And it helps people in the area that depend primarily on those resources.”
Ultimately the Board rejected the proposal by a vote of three in favor to five opposed.
In the Koyukuk River drainage, the Board unanimously supported the federal version of a proposal that first went through the state Board of Fish last year, allowing for increased use of gillnets to target pike before June 15th each year. The proposal applies to Racetrack Slough near Huslia and the sloughs of the Huslia River drainage, and state regulations approved last year required that pike fishermen leave at least 20 feet of any waterway open for boat navigation and some fish passage.
For the federal version of the proposal, the Western Interior Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council carved out a new stipulation, allowing nets in sloughs less than 40 feet wide to stretch across three-quarters of the slough.
Fish and Game opposed the amendment, citing potential enforcement issues and confusion stemming from having two different regulations on the books.
All eight voting members of the Board supported the proposal as amended to create the exemption for small sloughs.
“I believe that the modified regulations not being in precise alignment with the state’s can nevertheless be reasonably accommodated in the field," said BLM representative Bud Cribley. "And there will be opportunities for the state to correct this misalignment in the future.”
The Federal Subsistence Board meeting is scheduled to continue through Thursday. The Board is also planning to consider a special action request from the State of Alaska to reopen the federal lands of Unit 23 to caribou hunting by nonlocal residents. Last April, the Board voted to limit caribou hunting in the area to federally qualified subsistence users only, as a means of reducing pressure on the Western Arctic Caribou Herd.
25 year timber plan for state land near Galena open for public comment
January 11, 2017
A rare timber sale for the middle Yukon area is proposed for a series of islands and adjacent land just downriver from Galena. The sale is intended, in large part, to generate biomass for Galena’s new wood-fired heat system on the former Galena Air Force Base.
The proposed harvest areas add up to around 6600 acres of state land, including Serpentine, Jimmy, Lark, Cook, and Hen Islands, a slab of land on either side of the mouth of Bear Creek, and a block of land south the Yukon near 4-Mile Point.
Under the proposal, timber sales of various kinds could take place over a 25 year period. But as Doug Hanson with the state Division of Forestry explains, that doesn’t mean that timber harvesters will be able to lock in a 25 year contract.
“There can be multiple contracts within that period, and there would be," Hanson said. "There could be biomass for the chip operation, there could be house log sales, there could be firewood sales. And all of those would be separate contracts. The timber will be available for a 25 year period.”
(Galena area timber operations, November 2015. KIYU photo)
The 25-year timber sale proposal will double as a state forestry management plan for the Galena area, which does not exist yet.
Hanson says that, in a management plan, state regulators normally try to strike a balance between allowing timber extraction and preserving or enhancing wildlife habitat. But in the Galena area there would be an added emphasis on wildlife habitat.
“This area downriver from Galena is managed as an intensive moose harvest area. Fish and Game is managing this for a higher level of moose concentration. They are really in favor of it, because they want to see some habitat enhancement and by timber harvest, you could some new sprouting. A lot of the habitat there is pretty old,” said Hanson.
The last time that large-scale timber harvests occurred in the middle Yukon area was during the steamship era, when many of the slopes and flats alongside the Yukon were clear cut to provide fuel for the ships.
Hanson says that many different restrictions are in place to prevent that from happening again, pertaining to both state and private lands. For example, the Alaska Forest Resources and Practices Act prohibits timber harvests within 100 feet of a waterway used by salmon, in addition to many other requirements aimed at protecting fish and animal populations.
“There is a whole section on road building and standards on how to build roads so that you don’t get erosion or sediment into a neighboring water body. Portions of the Act pertain to reforestation and how you are going to get the stand [of trees] to grow back after harvest.”
The plan calls for pockets of mature trees to be left in areas that are otherwise clear cut. Seeds generated by those trees are then expected to germinate in soil exposed by harvest equipment, leading to a natural process of reforestation.
The state timber sales are also designed to coincide, when possible, with harvest areas on native corporation land, owned by Gana-A’Yoo Limited and leased to harvesting operation Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska. Hanson says that will reduce the amount of access road that SEGA crews will have to build.
The preliminary version of the Galena area timber sale and harvest plan is open for public comments until next Wednesday (January 18). When timber sales for specific areas are announced in the years ahead, public comments will also be accepted then.
Biomass heat system fires up in Galena
Audio of expanded news story heard on December 28.
|The outdoor chip storage barn, where birch and cottonwood trees are broken down into chips.|
|The day bin, where a loader deposits the next load of chips for the boiler. The chips are picked up by an auger system that slides along the floor, moving chips from left to right in this picture.|
|The augers deposit the chips onto this conveyer belt, which brings them up to the metering bin (box with the "M" on the side with a window). Sticks and oversized chips are designed to be screened out before dropping into the metering bin, and sent to the floor via the slide on top of the metering bin.|
|Another conveyer brings chips through the plywood wall and into the Messersmith biomass heat system, which ultimately produces water at around 182 degrees for delivery to buildings around the former Galena Air Force, including the Galena Interior Learning Academy.|
|Thanks to various efficiencies and particulate filtering technology, this chimney is supposed to emit mostly steam.|
Galena recall election results certified by City Council
December 21, 2016
The Galena City Council certified the results of the December 6th recall election at its meeting last night.
The election called for the removal of Galena School Board President Kim Kopp from office, with roughly 60 percent of the 189 voters who cast ballots in the election saying yes to the recall.
Now that the election results are certified, Kopp’s recall becomes official and she is no longer on the school board.
Kopp and fellow board member Susie Sam appeared at the city council meeting and encouraged the council to refuse to certify the election results. As she had in the lead-up to the election, Kopp argued that the recall was based on insufficient and inaccurate evidence against her, and that the standards for particularity set out in law and in previous recalls were not met in the recall statement from the recall’s primary sponsor, Jenny Bryant.
Susie Sam alleged that electioneering violations occurred on the day of the election, though did not vocally express any specifics to the council. State law concerning electioneering prohibits persuasion or coercion of a voter to cast a vote for a certain candidate or ballot measure within the polling place or 200 feet surrounding the entrance of the polling place.
Ultimately the council voted unanimously to accept and certify the results of the election, finding no serious faults with the way the election was conducted.
Galena Mayor Jon Korta says that the council stayed within its legal obligations and did its duty.
“Albeit with distaste taste in their mouths at times,” Korta said in his comments at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. “Because we felt we were stuck dealing with a process that we find has holes in it. Now those holes are exposed and we want to clean it up.”
Korta and City Manager Shanda Huntington agreed that the Council should take some of the lessons learned by the recall process and revise or expand upon existing city ordinances where appropriate.
City law allows Kopp or ten qualified Galena voters to contest the election in state Superior Court within 10 days of when the results are certified.
The remaining four member of the Galena school board get to appoint a replacement to serve out the final 10 months on Kopp’s term of office.
Attempts to defeat new federal predator hunting rules fall short in Congress
December 14, 2016
The 114th Congress will soon wrap up, without passing any legislation aimed at undoing or defunding the new predator hunting restrictions for some kinds of federal land in Alaska.
All three members of the Alaska delegation in Washington D.C. spoke out strongly against the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for adopting the rules, which prohibit certain types of hunting on wildlife refuges and national preserves, including the hunting of brown bears over bait, the same-day airborne hunting of bears, and the trapping or snaring of bears.
Several pieces of legislation with language to cancel the new rules, or to deny the Interior Department any money to enforce them, made it into the comprehensive energy policy legislation that Senator Lisa Murkowski tried to get through Congress during the lame-duck session. But the effort to finalize the bill in conference committee failed.
Representative Don Young tried several different routes for beating back the new federal rules. Young’s spokesperson Matt Shuckerow says they are not giving up yet.
"I think the Congressman will be really making a push in the first 100 days to reintroduce a lot of his existing legislation," Shuckerow says.
One tactic that lawmakers could pursue to defeat the Fish and Wildlife Service rule in particular is to invoke the little-used Congressional Review Act, which allows a two-thirds majority of both the House and the Senate to throw out rules made by federal agencies during the prior 60 legislative days.
After the new Congress and new President start their jobs next month, a Congressional Review Act withdrawal of the predator hunting rules for national wildlife refuges could be possible.
“That isn’t necessarily a viable option under the Obama Administration, because he could veto this," Shuckerow exlained. "Meanwhile, a new Congress is given the authority or the option to review regulations that have occurred in the prior 60 days. Because the Fish and Wildlife rule came out in August, it would fall under that review period for a new Congress and a new administration – a Donald Trump administration. It could be something that the next Congress reviews under the Congressional Review Act.”
The State of Alaska is also planning an assault on the federal predator hunting restrictions, using the courts. Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills tells KIYU that the state plans to file a lawsuit against the federal government concerning the new predator hunting restrictions within the next month.
Both the state and the congressional delegation in Washington accuse the Fish and Wildlife Service and Park Service of violating provisions in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, which intended to preserve the state’s ability to manage animal populations within the boundaries of the state.
The predator hunting restrictions can also be overruled by the Federal Subsistence Board for federally-qualified subsistence users on federal land.
GCSD Board President Kim Kopp recalled
UPDATE (December 12)
The Galena Canvas Board met on Friday, December 9th. Twenty absentee ballots were counted, with 11 voting yes and 9 voting no. All six questioned ballots cast on December 6th were rejected due to failures to meet the required 30-day residency rule.
The final vote tally for the December 6th election to recall GCSD School Board President Kim Kopp now stands at 113 "yes" votes (59.7%) and 76 "no" votes (40.3%).
ORIGINAL VERSION (December 7)
A majority of Galena voters want to remove Kim Kopp from office.
102 voters, or roughly 60 percent, answered "yes" to the question on Tuesday's ballot, while 67 voters, about 40 percent, said "no."
26 absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted by the canvass board this Friday, and results are unofficial until the canvass board reviews the election and the city council certifies the election at its December 20th meeting. But it appears that the uncounted ballots will not be enough to sway the result as it stands now.
According to city ordinances, the recall takes effect as soon as the election results are certified. At that time, Kopp would lose her seat on the board, and the remaining four members of the school board will be able to choose a replacement to serve until the next municipal election in October 2017. State law stipulates that the board cannot appoint the same person who was just recalled.
With the City Council not meeting until December 20th, Kopp will still be an active member of the school board at its December 14th monthly meeting and work session.
Voter turnout in the recall election was around 73 percent – slightly higher than the turnout for the general election in November.
Recall Election for Galena School Board President Kim Kopp happening December 6th
NOTE: There is a special page containing information related to the December 6 recall election in Galena at this link. There you will find the original recall statement, Kim Kopp's rebuttal, and transcriptions of the KIYU interviews with Jenny Bryant and Kim Kopp.
City of Galena certification of recall petition document and related correspondence
Galena City School District Board President Kim Kopp will have to stand for a recall election.
The recall process began in September when former school board member Jenny Bryant, who resigned her seat on the school board over the summer, submitted an application to recall Kopp, accompanied by 10 signatures. The application was accepted by Galena City Clerk and City Manager Shanda Huntington, and Bryant went on to obtain 25 signatures on a recall petition, as required by city law.
The City Council at its October meeting took the next steps in the recall process by setting December 6th as the date for the election. If a majority of voters choose to recall Kopp, she will lose her seat on the school board.
The notion of whether the city council could alter or reject the recall petition was on the minds of many of the audience members in the packed council chambers at the October meeting. In particular, many in attendance objected to a lack of specifics in the recall statement submitted by Bryant, and the accusation that Kopp’s simultaneous leadership on both the School Board and efforts affiliated with the Galena Bible Church create a “very divisive wedge.” But several council members and Mayor Jon Korta invoked local and state law that limits the city council’s involvement with a recall process to the sole task of selecting a date for the election.
City Attorney Charles Cacciola told the council over the phone that the intent of the recall laws is much the same as those for referendums or ballot initiatives, “which is to provide voters an opportunity to directly participate in the democratic process. For that reason, all of these ordinances and statutes very liberally to give the voters an opportunity to have their voices heard.”
That means that the city council does not have the authority or responsibility to delve into the text of the recall statement and verify facts or allegations it contains. As Mayor Jon Korta explained: “We are not in a position to verify. The clerk has certain responsibilities, and they are stated what her responsibilities are. We have to remember that, agree or disagree, an individual in the community has a right to this process, to initiate a recall petition. And it is up to the clerk to verify that all of the documentation is in order. Our clerk has verified that it has been in order.”
Kopp will have a 200-word rebuttal statement on the December 6th ballot, alongside the original argument for recall submitted by Jenny Bryant.
Trial of Kavairlook murder suspects postponed until January
November 10, 2016
A hearing on Tuesday in Fairbanks Superior Court postponed the trial date for the four men connected with the killing of John Kavairlook Jr.
The trial was scheduled to begin next week, but now is set to begin on January 23rd of next year.
Kavairlook was shot and killed outside of the Rock N Rodeo Bar on the Old Steese Highway in Fairbanks in May of 2015. Four suspects fled the scene, and then scattered across the country. While Fairbanks police have since identified all four of those suspects, only three are currently in custody.
That includes the man who allegedly pulled the trigger that night: Patrick Dale Burton-Hill. Fairbanks police assisted in the arrest of Burton-Hill in Cleveland, Ohio, but he remains in custody in there, where he is also a suspect in an unrelated incident.
Patrick’s brother Kelvin Dale Burton has been charged and indicted for his involvement in the incident, but is still at large.
Two other suspects are being held at the Fairbanks Correctional Facility.
(John Kavairlook with newborn daughter Kinley, 2015. Photo courtesy of the Kavairlook family)
Anchorage attorney Steve Wells is defending Joel Roland Joseph, who is accused of first and second degree murder for his involvement in the incident. Wells predicts that the trial won’t happen until all four suspects are together in Alaska – and that might take a while.
“There are specific provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow a trial to be moved while you are waiting for someone to be extradited," Wells explained. "And it makes little sense to do a trial right now, where you are going to have to turn around and do the same trial in six months or a year, when you get that other person brought up here.”
Charging documents include details from a witness who claims Joseph verbally encouraged the shooter to open fire at Kavairlook. Wells says that Joseph had no intent to cause the murder.
Kavairlook was originally from the Seward Peninsula village of Koyuk, and graduated from the Galena Interior Learning Academy boarding school in 2010. He was working as a plumber in Fairbanks at the time of his death. He was with his wife Shaelene at the Rock N Rodeo for a night out after the recent birth of their daughter Kinley.
Western Interior subsistence council fine tunes pike control proposal
October 14, 2016
At its meeting this week in McGrath, the Western Interior Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council revisited the proposal concerning targeted fishing of northern pike around Huslia.
Jack Wholecheese from Huslia submitted a proposal to the Alaska Board of Fisheries last year, which would have allowed nets to entirely cover Racetrack Slough near Huslia, and sloughs of the Huslia River on the opposite side of the Koyukuk River from Huslia.
The proposal was envisioned as a legalization of an old-fashioned form of predator control, in which fishermen catch large numbers of pike in the spring and in turn reduce pressure on pike’s prey species, such as juvenile salmon, muskrats, and waterfowl.
The Board of Fish, in its January 2016 meeting, approved an amended version of the proposal, which called for 20 feet of open water to be left in a slough to allow for some fish passage and boat navigation.
A matching proposal will be considered by the Federal Subsistence Board in 2017, and on Wednesday the Western Interior subsistence council recommended some modifications to it.
According to several council members, the 20 foot buffer zone required in the regulations is too big for many of the areas that fishermen want to set their nets, where the waterway might only be 10 or 20 feet wide.
Council member Darryl Vent from Huslia said that the recently-passed state regulations were well-intentioned, but do not accomplish what Huslia-area fishermen want them to.
“When we fish these creeks, these are not big, large places," Vent explained. "These are places where the fish come out of the lakes and into the main stem. And a lot of the areas are only 15 to 30 feet [wide]”.
To address the small slough problem, the council drafted an amendment to the original proposal, which adds a provision stating a net may not obstruct more than three quarters of the waterway that is narrower than 40 feet. The proposal, as amended, was approved unanimously.
The Council also recommended that the Federal Subsistence Board approve a proposal to allow subsistence fishermen in Subdistrict 5-D on the Yukon to catch salmon during the summer season once the mid-range of the Canadian border passage goal for kings is expected to be achieved. But the council did not give its approval to a proposal that would have allowed for fishing on early run king salmon in Subdistrict 5-D.
In addition, the western interior council approved of a proposal to align federal regulations with recently-passed state regulations for Subdistrict 4-A, giving subsistence users in the lower portion of Subdistrict 4-A the ability to use drift nets to target summer chum from June 10th through August 2nd.
The proposals will next be considered and voted on by the Federal Subsistence Board early next year.
After several years of competitive success, Ruby school archery program aims to rebuild
October 3, 2016
For the past three years, Ruby elementary and middle school students have won tournaments at the regional level and qualified for national competitions. Last year, four girls from Ruby competed in the National Archery in the Schools Program tournament in Kentucky.
But this year, three out of those four students have left Ruby for other schools, leading Ruby Archery Program founder and coach Scotty Starr to refocus the program on younger students.
Starr considers it an investment in the future of the program.
“We’re going to start working on it more as a P.E. program to develop character and other skills," Starr explained. "Because once these kids master the bows, they are starting to master their bodies and attention spans. This is what we want to get back to this year. If we go to the nationals, that’s great…but we are going operate more at the school district level to start developing our elementary kids.”
One of the noticeable changes in teaching archery to younger kids compared to older kids, Starr says, is that younger kids tend to be much safer around weapons. And unlike basketball, it is an athletic activity in which girls can routinely beat the boys.
“I have fewer problems with the younger kids than the older kids, because they get loosey-goosey as they get older – especially the boys. And I see gender difference. The girls shoot a lot better earlier, while the boys struggle more with developing muscle tone at a younger age, so this really gives the girls an opportunity to excel,” Starr said.
This year, the Ruby archers will be taking on other schools in competitions once per month - and the teams don’t even need to be in the same room. Starr says “virtual meets” are common in archery, in which teams participate in the same events at their own locations, and then submit scores online.
Such a competition took place on Friday when the Ruby archers went up against Minto. Each school had four archers in competition. Ruby had the only elementary level competitors, with Tyson Ingram turning in the top score of 144, followed by Emmy Whiel at 138 and Levi Williams at 135.
At the middle school level, Ruby fifth grader Ryan Greenway defeated Minto’s Isaiah Alexander 162 to 144.
The only high school archers in the competition were from Minto. Serenity Melendrez recorded the top score of the day with 238 points.
Coach Starr hopes that two other schools in the Yukon-Koyukuk School District will come on board with archery programs in the near future, giving the Ruby team some more competition.
Galena's Jacob Moos wins state XC championship, Galena girls finish 6th
October 3, 2016
Galena’s Jacob Moos is the state champion in cross country running for Division 1-2-3-A.
Moos posted a career-best time of 15 minutes 55 seconds over the 5 kilometer course at Bartlett High School to win the race by 2 seconds over Seward senior Hunter Kratz, who also finished as a runner-up to Galena’s Kaleb Korta last year at the state meet.
Moos’ victory makes it three years in a row that a Galena athlete has won the 1-2-3-A boys state championship in cross country. Kaleb Korta won it in 2014 and 2015.
The next-highest finishers for the Galena boys were freshmen John Riddle and Daniel Kopp, who finished a second apart around 19 and a half minutes for 92nd and 93rd place.
The Galena girls finished in sixth place as a team, with senior Sarah Brown turning in the top time for the group at 22 minutes and 8 seconds for 34th place. She was followed by Naomi Sam in 37th place, Kiana Korta in 48th, Celeste Kriska in 49th, Pearle Green in 63rd and Elizabeth Green in 69th place out of 143 runners.
The Galena boys were 11th as a team.
Former Galena standout athlete Riana Boonstra of Kenai finished in 6th place in the 4-A Girls competition.
Galena cross country runners headed to state championships
September 30, 2016
Original audio version here.
Galena boys and girls cross country teams travel to Anchorage today (Friday) to compete in tomorrow’s Cross Country State Championship.
After dominating the regular season meets this season, Galena’s Jacob Moos is aiming for a state title in the 1-2-3-A boys competition. He was third last year, behind Galena graduate and UAA runner Kaleb Korta and Seward’s Hunter Kratz.
Korta was the only runner in his division that cracked the 16 minute barrier over the 5 kilometer course in the state meet last year, and Moos says he like to match that accomplishment, but that is not the most important thing to do on Saturday.
"For me it doesn’t really matter if I get a good time, " Moos said. "Just as long as I get first, that is all that matters."
In his first two years on the team, Moos came to rely on Korta as a training partner and motivator. Now, with Kaleb off at college, Moos has largely been training alone. But Kaleb is still out there with him, sort of.
“Every time I do a hard workout, I imagine him in front of me and just try to catch him. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years," according to Moos.
The state championships are held at Bartlett High School in Anchorage each year. Moos says he’s familiar with the course, and knows from last year’s experience that it can be wet and punishing.
“It’s a challenging course with lots of hills. If the weather is bad, then it gets really sloppy. But it’s cross country running, so you gotta deal with it.”
Moos says there are a few other competitive runners out there in the 1-2-3-A division, but he’s not as concerned with them as he is himself.
“There’s a fast Seward kid and a fast ACS kid. But I have beaten them both before, so there should be no reason for me not to win. But you never know,” said Moos.
Joining Moos on the Galena boys team are freshman Daniel Kopp and John Riddle, along with Amos Charlie, Ronnie Coolidge, Harold Naneng and Kevin Bergman.
The 1-2-3-A boys race begins at 1:30 pm tomorrow at Bartlett High. The 1-2-3-A girls race starts the schedule at noon. The Galena girls placed 7 runners in the top 10 at the regional meet last weekend in Fairbanks. The team includes Sarah Brown, Kiana Korta, Carlee Merriner, Naomi Sam, Celeste Kriska, Elizabeth Green, and Pearle Green.
The Galena girls finished 8th as a team last year at the state championships, while the boys claimed 6th.
New predator hunt rules in effect on refuges, while legal and congressional challenges mount
September 8, 2016
Audio and text versions of this story provided via the Alaska Public Media website.
Another record high harvest of Yukon coho
September 6, 2016
For the third year in a row, a record high number of coho salmon have been caught in the lower Yukon commercial fishery.
As of September 1st, 141 thousand coho were caught and sold in Yukon River Districts 1 and 2. That tops the previous record of about 130 thousand, set last year. And all of those coho were essentially bycatch in the fall chum commercial fishery – which sent over 415 thousand fish to market this year.
Fish and Game’s preseason forecast for coho called for an average to below-average run in 2016. But as Fish and Game’s Yukon Fall Season Manager Jeff Estensen explains, the coho run appears to be coming back stronger than that.
“We really don’t have an idea of what the run size is right now," Estensen says. "But the passage we have past the Pilot Station sonar as of August 31st, when the sonar stops operating for the fall season, is sitting at 167,000 fish, which is certainly above the median passage for cohos.”
Based on indications of a stronger-than-expected run, Fish and Game is giving the green light to directed commercial openings for coho on the lower Yukon.
But the General Manager of Kwik’pak Fisheries, Jack Schultheis, does not anticipate that the September coho openings will add very much to the already record-breaking harvest total.
“I don’t expect a lot of fish – maybe 5 or 6 thousand, tops," Schultheis predicts. "And we don’t have the effort that we would have during August. A lot of people are getting ready for winter, hunting, and gathering wood,” he added.
Kwik’pak - the sole fish buying operation on the lower Yukon - paid fishermen a dollar per pound for coho this year – up from 75 cents last year. Fall chum prices also went up, from 60 cents to 75 cents per pound.
Schultheis says that the higher prices reflect increased demand, and that Yukon-caught coho are going entirely into retail grocery stores in the lower 48.
Relative to other salmon runs on the Yukon, the percentage of coho taken in the commercial fishery has been high in recent years, at close to 50 percent.
With more pressure on coho stocks, Estensen says it would be helpful to get more information about the Yukon coho stock, which he calls the “least understood” of all of the major salmon species that return to the Yukon.
“We are trying to get funding for a telemetry study, and a study like that would give us more of a handle on run timing and distribution throughout the drainage. And then we could take that information and certainly improve our monitoring of coho to get a better handle on things.”
There is only one escapement goal for coho salmon in the Yukon drainage, compared to six for king salmon. And much of the coho run escapes detection because a portion of the run typically comes into the river after test fisheries and counting operations are shut down for the year.
Gana-A'Yoo to allow non-shareholder land use by permit
August 24, 2016
Native village corporation Gana-A’Yoo Limited is changing some of its land use policies to permit more use by non-shareholders.
At a meeting this week in Galena, the Gana-A’Yoo Resource Committee gave final approval to a series of changes that were initially approved in June, allowing non-shareholders who live in each of the four Gana-A’Yoo member villages – Galena, Koyukuk, Nulato and Kaltag – to get permits for subsistence hunting, seasonal camp sites, and multi-year camp sites.
The Resource Committee approved a fee schedule for the permits that begins at 50 dollars for a subsistence hunting permit. A seasonal-use camp site will cost 200 dollars, and a 5-year lease on a camp site will cost $1000 for non-shareholders.
Short term camping of less than 5 days on Gana-A’Yoo land remains free, though hunting from a short term camp site is not allowed. Non-shareholders who have lived in one of the Gana-A’Yoo communities for at least 90 days, and can demonstrate intent to remain in the community for at least one year, will be allowed to apply for a permit.
Gana-A’Yoo Chief Executive Officer Betty Huntington says that the return of non-shareholder permits comes out of the Gana-A’Yoo Board’s desire to strengthen the member communities.
"The Board has talked about wanting to promote healthy living, healthy lifestyles, healthy families and healthy communities, and that was just a good part of it,” Huntington explained.
In addition, Huntington says, Gana-A’Yoo realized that too many people were being excluded from going on Gana-A’Yoo property, and pressure has been mounting to give non-shareholders more access.
“[The Board] realized that the people using the land were not necessarily shareholders. The demographics had changed a lot. The restriction was for shareholders and descendants, yet we had dependents, people who had married a shareholder – [the restrictions] excluded them. We realized that there were a lot of people, even native people, who had moved into the area that were not allowed to hunt.”
Huntington expects that the Gana-A’Yoo office in Anchorage will be ready to begin issuing non-shareholder use permits next week. She says the corporation will be learning as it goes when it comes to the permitting process, and is considering some new techniques to monitor both permitted land use and trespassing.
“I was talking to another Alaska Native Corporation that issues permits for land use, and they have someone not necessarily policing their land but kind of monitoring the use – we’re looking at ways we might possibly do that. It might involve hiring seasonal help to do that, we’re not sure at this point.”
In addition, Gana-A’Yoo and Doyon Limited have partnered up this year to make a series of maps showing land ownership, which will be posted in the 4 member villages and at frequently used hunting areas on Gana-A’Yoo land.
Study documents increased variability in Yukon River driftwood runs, predicts the trend to continue
August 8, 2016
(As heard on KIYU Expanded News on Monday, August 8.)
A recent article published in the journal “Ecology and Society” looks into the use of driftwood as a heat source along the Yukon River, and tries to predict what might happen to driftwood harvests along the river as the climate changes.
The author of the study is Dr. Chas Jones - a former graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and now a post-doctoral research fellow with the Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis, Oregon.
The study relies on a mix of hard data from the automated river gauge at the Yukon River Bridge and qualitative observations and personal records from residents of Tanana.
Jones began our conversation by describing how his involvement with the “Dangerous Ice” project connected him with people in Tanana, which ultimately sparked a study on Yukon River driftwood.
Full audio here.
Ruby Marine buys Inland Barge
May 24, 2016
(The M/V Ramona at work. Photo courtesy of Inland Barge Service.)
As another barge season in the Interior gets into full swing, there is one less Nenana-based company offering services.
Ruby Marine has purchased Inland Barge Service for an undisclosed amount, and incorporated the equipment and staff of Inland into its fleet.
Longtime Inland Barge owner and captain Charley Hnilicka calls the deal a win-win, which began with a phone call last winter from Ruby Marine President Matt Sweetsir, who foresaw a staffing problem at his company.
“His crew was aging and it was time to get a better pool, or more of a pool, of workers so that he can start filling spaces as people retire or move on," Hnilicka explains. "The kind of work we do is so singular that you just can’t find somebody with a license to fill those spots and there is a long apprenticeship program. Realizing that, [Sweetsir] approached me last spring about being bought by Ruby Marine.”
Inland Barge has already shut down its facility at the end of Front Street in Nenana, and merged its office operations and equipment with those of Ruby Marine at Mile 306 of the Parks Highway, on the north side of the Tanana River.
Hnilicka says that Ruby Marine will continue to offer the same services to customers that Inland Barge did, and while the companies have had a freight-sharing arrangement since Ruby Marine started in 2007, the financial implications of passing freight to someone else are now removed.
“There will be more flexibility now. I don’t have to worry about every ounce I am putting on my deck to pay my crew to satisfy my bills. Now everything is being pooled, so it will make it a lot easier to divvy up the freight. If Matt is going someplace before I am going there, he can take something, especially some of the bigger pieces that work better with his equipment.”
The sale of Inland Barge does not mark the retirement of Charley Hnilicka – at least not yet. Hnilicka insists that he’ll stay on as captain of the Ramona for 5 or 10 more years, but figuring out how and when to get out of the barge business is still on his mind.
“I’m not getting any younger, and I have to look at a reasonable dismount," said Hnilicka. "Although I will continue to work on the boats for as long as I can, this gives me the security to know that I don’t have a business that will be difficult to sell or realize any kind of a gain from down the line.”
Hnilicka acquired Inland Barge in 1994 from original owners Claude Demientieff and family.
Inland’s familiar tugboat, the Ramona, has been running the Yukon and other interior rivers since 1971.
Yukon salmon outlook predicts continued slump in king returns, and lower than average fall chum run
May 17, 2016
State and federal fishery managers have released the 2016 outlook for salmon runs in the Yukon River drainage.
The Yukon king run is again expected to come back weaker than average this year, with a similar array of fishing restrictions as years past. No commercial fishing opportunities are planned, and subsistence fishing will be significantly restricted, though possibly a bit more open than the past few years.
The predictions for summer chum on the Yukon call for an average to above average run, meaning directed commercial openings with selective gear types like dip nets, beach seines and live release fish wheels are likely to occur, targeting the abundant summer chum while allowing king salmon to escape to their spawning grounds. Beach seines will be officially regulated on the Yukon for the first time this year, after the Board of Fish in January set limits to a beach seine’s length, depth and mesh size.
Fishery managers expect a lower than average fall chum run up the Yukon this year, but not low enough to threaten escapement needs or subsistence harvests.
Fish and Game Yukon Fall Season Fishery Manager Jeff Estensen says that computer models predict a fall chum run size of around 660 thousand fish, based on escapement data from 2011 and 2012, when most of this year’s returning fall chum were born.
“That forecast is below average for an even year, " Estensen noted. "It is important to note that over time, even years tend to be lower in abundance than odd years. The average run size in even years is about 800,000 fish, so even if we hit the upper end of our forecast range, it would still be slightly below average.”
The Board of Fish passed a proposal in January that makes it slightly harder to open commercial fishing on Yukon fall chum, raising the commercial fishing trigger point from 500,000 to 550,000 fish.
“And what that means is that we cannot allow a commercial fishery drainage-wide on fall chum unless we are projecting that the run size will be greater than 550,000 fish,” explained Estensen.
In contrast to fall chum, the coho run on the Yukon is predicted to be average or above average, in keeping with strong coho returns over the past two years. Last year’s commercial harvest of Yukon coho was the largest on record.
But Estensen says that if the fall chum run is not strong enough to permit commercial openings, then fishermen seeking the higher-priced coho will be largely out of luck.
“Up through August 31st it’s a fall chum commercial fishery. Any kind of commercial openings are solely based on the assessment of the fall chum. So if you were ever able to run into a situation where we couldn’t fish for fall chum, we would not be able, under the current regulations we have in place, to have a directed coho fishery.”
Commercial openings to target coho salmon can happen from September 1st through the 10th, according to the Fish and Game Yukon River Coho Salmon Management Plan.
This year will also see the introduction of a pink salmon commercial fishery on the lower Yukon. Pinks have been caught and sold as bycatch in other fisheries for years, but the Board of Fish created a new set of regulations specifically applying to pinks, allowing the use of 4 and three-quarter inch mesh nets from June 15th to July 31st in the District 1, at the mouth of the Yukon.
Pink runs on the Yukon alternate between strong runs in even-numbered years, and weaker runs in odd-numbered years.
Fish and Game has never officially tried to count Yukon pink salmon, but during the last even-year run in 2014, almost a million pinks were estimated to have passed the Pilot Station sonar station.
Ruby archers take aim at national tournament
May 11, 2016
|A line of archers at a previous NASP National Tournament (photo by NASP)|
Four girls from Ruby will be in Louisville, Kentucky this week for a national archery competition.
Katrina Albert, Cheyenne Esmailka, Misty Frank and Tiffany Peters qualified for the National Archery in the Schools Program National Tournament –a huge event that draws thousands of archers from across the country.
Ruby teacher Scotty Starr is the founder and coach of the Ruby archery program, which is now in its fourth year. He learned how to shoot a bow and arrow as a kid growing up in Texas, and came to see archery as a healthy alternative to basketball for village kids.
The hope, Starr explains, is to "get these kids who are not so good at basketball or wrestling to excel at something in a personal competition sense, which is something else I saw lacking."
Starr says that the mental challenges of archery are compounded at the national tournament, due to the presence of many, many other competitors in the same, large room.
“There could be 500 kids down one side of the line, and 500 kids down the other - a thousand kids all shooting at one time, and they all have to go by the calls of the referee with the whistle.”
It’s not the first time for a student archer from Ruby to qualify for nationals. Trinity Sarten went to the nationals two years ago and last year, and Cheyenne Esmailka made her first trip to nationals last year as a 7th grader.
As the Ruby archery program has become successful and grown, Starr says that kids as young as kindergarten are starting to learn the basics of shooting an arrow, with guidance from the older kids. Beginning next year, Starr plans to work more with the younger students.
“More for discipline and training on procedures," he said. "Because when you are on the line, you got one whistle for fire, two whistles to get up to the line, three whistles to pull your arrows. So it’s a very repetitive routine, and it really trains the kids for an inner discipline.”
The NASP Nationals take place Thursday through Saturday in Louisville.
The tournament website appears to have a place for the posting of results once the competition in underway. Click on "Registration and Info" at the top of the page.
First Galena-area timber harvest complete, awaiting the chipper
May 6, 2016
Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska, or SEGA, wrapped up its first timber harvest season earlier this month.
SEGA is tasked with cutting trees and producing wood chips for a new wood-based heating system for the former Galena Air Force Base.
SEGA General Manager Tim Kalke says that the wood cutting operation met its goal for the season.
“We set out for a one-year fuel supply that we estimated to be approximately 90,000 feet of solid wood, and we did meet that performance standard," said Kalke.
The amount of cottonwood and birch that the SEGA crew has cut and stockpiled works out to around 1200 cords.
The harvest took place west of the base, beginning in the vicinity of Johnson Slough and Jungle Island in cottonwood-dominated forest, and then moved further east to target areas of birch.
In the birch harvest areas, SEGA is conducting a forest management experiment, aimed at figuring out how to encourage faster birch regrowth. In one area, crews cut trees all the way down to a grass lake. In another area, Kalke explains, crews did it differently, and left a buffer strip along the grass lake.
"It will be a good chance to see how cutting impacts regeneration," said Kalke.
The City of Galena has a lease with Gana A-Yoo Limited to cut timber in that area, and SEGA is the group in charge of performing the work. SEGA has a sales agreement with the Galena City School District, who will buy the fuel that will heat its facilities on base.
The wood boiler has been purchased and Mantech Mechnical recently won the contract to install it this summer. But Kalke says that the system won’t be ready to burn chips until late this year.
Before then, SEGA wants to incorporate more public opinion in its long range plans.
“People can share their values of the forest. We all look at the forest differently and enjoy certain things about it and uses it can provide for us. I think it’s important for that information to be gleaned and added to our harvest plan.”
One possibility, Kalke noted, is to incorporate a fire break into the harvest plan, which would not only provide SEGA with timber but also create a buffer that would help defend Galena from approaching wildfires.
The first year’s wood supply will be drying out on base for the summer, and then will be transformed into chips about a month and a half before the new boiler comes online.
Galena's Romay Harris signs with UAF women's basketball
April 14, 2016
Download the original audio version of the story
(Backed by fellow Galena basketball players, Romay Harris signs with UAF Tuesday. Photo by Paul Apfelbeck)
Galena senior Romay Harris signed a national letter of intent to play college basketball at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Tuesday.
Harris was a four year varsity player for the Lady Hawks, leading the team in scoring, rebounds and steals this past season on the way to the state tournament.
After a signing ceremony at the Galena Bible Church yesterday, Harris said that she had been leaning towards going out of state for college, but in the end decided she’d like to stay close to home.
“I was thinking of signing with UAA [Alaska-Anchorage] right away," Harris said. "UAF had offered, but I wanted to make sure I knew my options before I signed anywhere. I applied to two private colleges out of state [Hope College and Whitworth University]. So I went through the season, and I decided that I wanted to stay in-state. That way, community members could watch me play and I can make sure the people know that you can play Division II basketball regardless of how close it is.”
Harris is also a highly competitive swimmer, and also considered trying out for the swim team at Hope College in Michigan, where her father Jason competed as a swimmer.
“I wish I could do both but it is physically harsh on you," she admitted. " Basketball is definitely the life in the village and it’s been a dream of mine to play college basketball since I was little.”
Harris joins a UAF women’s squad that finished 12 and 18 overall this year under coach Cody Bench, the latest in a series of losing seasons. But Harris is optimistic at the chances of the Lady Nanooks rebounding. This year’s conference leader in scoring, Jordan Wilson, will return as a senior next year. And Harris will join forces with former Aurora Conference rival Marian Wamsley from Valdez, who played in all but on game for the Lady Nanooks as a freshman this past season.
Romay takes to the court one more time this season, for an Alaska High School Senior All-Star Game this weekend in Anchorage.
(Photo by David Wightman)
Federal Subsistence Board agrees to hunting restrictions on Western Arctic caribou
New restrictions on the hunting of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd were approved today by the Federal Subsistence Board, which is meeting in Anchorage.
With recent population estimates showing the herd in decline, the Board agreed to shorter seasons for both bulls and cows, and bans on the taking of calves in certain areas. The federal hunt changes follow similar changes to state regulations by the Alaska Board of Game last year.
For the area north of the Yukon and west of the Koyukuk in Unit 21D, the hunting of caribou cows on federal land for subsistence users will be September 1st through March 31st, and the taking of cows with calves will be forbidden from September 1st through October 15th. Previously, the cow season in this area was only closed during calving from May 16th through June 30th.
The bull caribou season for Unit 21D also shuts down from October 15th through January 31st under the new rules. Bulls were open for hunting year round previously.
The bag limit remains 5 caribou per day.
Identical changes were made to federal hunting regulations for caribou in portions of Unit 24 along the Koyukuk River, including Unit 24C around Hughes and Unit 24D around Huslia.
The Board also approved a special action request for Unit 23, which includes the Kobuk River valley and northeastern Seward Peninsula, limiting the hunting of caribou to federally qualified subsistence users only. The action expires in one year.
In other actions, the Federal Subsistence Board approved a proposal to allow the use of artificial light when hunting bears at den sites in Unit 18, the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta area. An amendment would have limited artificial light sources to headlamps and handheld flashlights only, but the Board did not include that amendment in its final version of the bill.
The Board also received a letter from the heads of several subsistence regional advisory councils, calling on the Board to oppose the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rule concerning predator hunting restrictions, and to call on the Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw it.
The proposed rule would ban what it calls “highly efficient methods and means” of harvesting predators on refuge land across Alaska, including the baiting of brown bears. The rule would also ban the hunting of bears at dens in many areas of the state – except where there is a customary and traditional use history of denning. That exemption would allow denning to continue in the middle Yukon and lower Koyukuk area.
The public comment period on the proposed rule closed last Friday.
Jenna Buchanan and the UAA ladies go for a national title
April 1, 2016
Galena’s Jenna Buchanan and her teammates on the UAA women’s basketball team play for the NCAA Division II national championship on Monday.
Speaking from the Seattle Airport on the way to the championship game site in Indianapolis, Buchanan said that the team is anxious to get on the court and actually play the game, after an extended buildup that began after the semifinal victory over Grand Valley State last Wednesday. Unlike most years, the championship game this year is not a mere two days after the semifinal.
“It’s National Championship Week in Indianapolis, so they have a bunch of activities going on," Buchanan said. "So it’s gonna be really cool. The stage is going to be a little bit bigger…but you know, it would have been nice to play right away. I know the whole team is just itching to play.”
The Seawolves’ opponents in the championship game are the Lubbock Christian Chapparels, who enter the game with an unblemished 33 and 0 record. Buchanan says that the undefeated record is proof that Lubbock Christian can perform consistently at a high level.
“You’ve gotta be able to show up every single game and beat the teams you are supposed to beat. So that is the biggest strength for them. And they are a tall team – their bottom line is 6’4, 6’5, and 6’1.”
They might be tall, but Lubbock Christian does not regularly use as many of its non-starters as UAA does.
“Not a lot of teams play everyone on the bench like we do," Buchanan noted. "We know that’s our strength, and that every one of us needs to be prepared for this game. Nobody can just space out or take time off, because everyone needs to be ready and everyone is going to play.”
It’s a long way from Little Hawks basketball to an NCAA national championship game, and Jenna wanted to share this message of appreciation to all her friends, family and fans in Galena.
“I am very thankful for the opportunity to play for a national championship. It comes back to the community for sure. I would not have been able to go on the basketball trips I went on, and the camps, and the traveling teams in the summer if it were not for all the fundraising and support that I got from back home. Everyone there is my motivation on days that I don’t want to go to the gym, or a workout seems too hard. I have a lot to give back to the community of Galena.”
Monday’s championship game between UAA and Lubbock Christian tips off at 11 am Alaska time, and will be televised on the CBS Sports Channel, available on Dish Network TV on channel 158. It will be followed by the Division Three women’s championship Monday night, and the Division 1 final on Tuesday.
Proposed federal rule on predator hunting comes under fire at Galena hearing
March 4, 2016
Yesterday in Galena, the Fish and Wildlife Service held the last of its public hearings on proposed changes to hunting regulations for national wildlife refuge lands in Alaska.
The proposal would change federal regulations to ban the use of bait stations to kill brown bears, the use of traps or snares to kill bears, the killing of bears from airplanes (or on the same day that a hunter has flown in an airplane), and the killing of wolves or coyotes from May 1st through August 9th.
The public comments shared with the Fish and Wildlife officials present in Galena yesterday were overwhelmingly against to the proposed rule.
“Three diving forces have defined sound wildlife management programs of wildlife agencies: biology, politics and public opinion. This proposed rule completely eliminates biology and sound science from the decision making process and is based solely on public opinion and politics," said Galena resident Nolan Aloysius. "This proposed rule put forth by both the Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service would close lands to many hunting opportunities despite there being no conservation concerns.”
Fish and Game Area Biologist Glenn Stout agreed. Speaking on his own behalf, and not representing Fish and Game, Stout argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service is not following the spirit or letter of the law that set up national wildlife refuges in the state: the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA.
“ANILCA set up a methods and means process, that being the Federal Subsistence Board and the RACs [regional advisory councils] to address methods and means. And taking this to an administrative level really violates the heart of ANILCA,” said Stout.
Speaking before the meeting yesterday, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System in Alaska Mitch Ellis said that the main purpose of the proposed rule is to set limits on predator control.
“We are not against predator control," Ellis explained. "Our agency uses predator control for a number of things – restoring species, when it helps meet the purposes of the refuge, etc. What we are doing is clarifying when it is appropriate and when it is not, and the proposed rule is pretty clear on that.”
The banning of what the proposed rule calls “particularly efficient methods and means for non-subsistence take of predators” would not apply to federal land where the Federal Subsistence Board has made specific determinations about those methods and means. According to Ellis, it would be possible for the Federal Subsistence Board to reverse some of the changes brought about if the proposed rule moves forward unchanged to become law.
“Through the Federal Subsistence Program, through a RAC proposal to the Federal Subsistence Board, they could propose denning of bears or baiting of brown bears, and if that passed the Federal Subsistence Board, then that could in fact occur on a refuge," said Ellis. "Remember that would only apply to federally-qualified subsistence users,” he added.
The killing of bear cubs or sows with cubs would also be made illegal under the proposed rule, but the denning of black bears would still be allowed in certain areas, such as Game Management Units 21B and C on either side of the Ruby-Poorman Road, Unit 21D around Kaltag, Nulato and Galena, and all of Unit 24 along the Koyukuk River, including Huslia.
The public comment period on Fish and Wildlife’s proposed rule is open until April 7th. After that, Ellis estimates it will take a few months to go through all of the public comments and then the agency will release a final version of the rule this summer.
For more information, follow this link to a Fish and Wildlife Service website on the proposed rule.
Plan to ban certain kinds of predator hunting on national wildlife refuges gets its final hearing
March 3, 2016
Today in Galena, the Fish and Wildlife Service holds the last in a series of 10 public hearings across the state regarding a proposed rule change to federal regulations that would ban certain types of hunting on national wildlife refuges.
The proposal would prohibit what it calls “particularly efficient methods and means for non-subsistence take of predators,” including the hunting of brown bears over bait, the trapping of bears, same-day airborne hunting of bears, and the hunting of wolves from May 1st through August 9th.
In some refuges, the hunting of bear cubs or sows with cubs would also be made illegal. However, many areas, including the Galena area, would be partially exempt from that provision, because the denning of black bears would still be allowed as a customary and traditional hunting activity under current state regulations.
Even though the proposed rule uses the term “non-subsistence take of predators” to describe the types of hunting that it intends to eliminate, the proposal would still apply to federally-qualified subsistence users from rural Alaska.
"Often times, federally qualified users will use the general regulations [State of Alaska hunting regulations] to participate in subsistence activities, because they are identified in the federal regulations. That’s where some of the things get a little bit gray," explained Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge Complex Manager Kenton Moos in Galena. "That’s where it is very important for people to show up at this meeting and voice their opinions on how these regulations [could affect them].”
To clarify further, Moos explains that, in essence, the federal government no longer wants to accept state hunting regulations, otherwise referred to as the general hunting regulations, as the law of the land on national wildlife refuges when it comes to the what the Feds call “particularly efficient methods and means” of hunting bears and wolves.
“The federal government tends to assimilate state regulations in many of these cases," said Moos. "So unless the federal government, on federal lands, specifically authorizes or does not authorize something, typically we assimilate to the state regulations – the general hunting regulations. In the instance of taking a brown bear over bait, we assimilate the state regulations. The proposed rule would then, in federal regulations, not allow that. So that is where the assimilation of state regulations would cease."
The underlying reason for the proposed changes, Moos says, is that the state and the feds do not have the same goals for the management of fish or wildlife.
“The State mandate for how they manage wildlife is for maximum sustained yield, whereas the Fish and Wildlife Service [is] mandated to manage for conservation and biological diversity and biological integrity, and environmental health of refuges.”
Both senators Murkowski and Sullivan have come out strongly against the proposed rule, criticizing the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Park Service of trampling on the state’s right to manage wildlife in Alaska, and potentially harming subsistence harvests of food species like moose and caribou.
Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell defended the proposed rule at a hearing yesterday (Wednesday) in Washington DC, where Senator Murkowski called the proposal an arbitrary change to long-standing arrangements regarding wildlife management in Alaska.
“From Alaska’s perspective, we’ve got ANILCA, which says the state has the right to manage," Murkowski told Jewell. "And now you have the federal government – the Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service – saying ‘yeah, except for when we think what we are doing is more appropriate.’ It’s a violation, really, of what has been set out not only in ANILCA but also in our state’s constitution.”
The public comment period on the proposed rule remains open until April 7th.
Federal officials will be at the Larson Charlie Community Hall today from 1 to 2 pm for an open house, and then will collect public input on the proposed rule from 2:30 until 6:30 pm today.
TCC advancing on plans to open a Early Head Start Center in Galena
February 29, 2016
Full audio interview with TCC's Jill Ridenour
Prepared statement by TCC's Jill Ridenour
Tanana Chiefs Conference is still moving ahead with its plan to open an Early Head Start Center in Galena.
TCC has hired two caregivers and a cook, but continues to encourage families with day care needs to apply, because all spots in the program have yet to be filled.
TCC Deputy Director for Early Head Start Jill Ridenour explains that applications for the Early Head Start are scored based on a variety of factors.
“Each child is given a number of points, based on whether they come from a one parent family or a two parent family, whether one parent is working or two parents are working. And if the child has a suspected or identified disability, that would get them a higher number of points,” Ridenour said.
The center is planning to serve up to 8 kids between the ages of birth and 3 years old, and will be free of charge.
The number of kids in the program could increase in the future if the Early Head Start is able to move into the former Galena Early Learning Center, which Louden Tribal Council will soon vacate in favor of other office space. But Ridenour says that TCC wants to start the program before the ELC building might become available.
“There are negotiations in place at the moment, both with the clinic and [Louden Tribal Council] concerning where the center will actually be located," said Ridenour. "At the moment, it looks as though the center will be starting up, at the very least, in the clinic. And the [starting] date for that will be, realistically, the end of March.”
The portion of the Edgar Nollner Health Center that will house the facility is the hospice area, which already includes a kitchen, two bathrooms and exterior door. Ridenour says only a minimal amount of renovation will have to take place before the hospice area is ready to host kids, such as installing a kid-sized toilet.
In the past, Galena has not been eligible to have a Head Start Program funded through TCC because the community’s average household income was too high. But now, Ridenour explains, things have changed.
“As I understand, after the flood the mean income of Galena actually went down, based on the fact that a lot of people moved out and did not move back. But the other deciding factor is that we converted slots from the Early Head Start Program to the Head Start Program, and as a result of that, our ratio has changed. We are allowed to serve a certain ratio 'over income,' as long as we are serving as many children as we can, and at the moment we want to provide services to all who apply.”
Families with relatively high household incomes can still be accepted because economic data is combined across the TCC region, and high income families in one village might be balanced out by low income applicants in another.
The only other center-based Early Start Program operated by TCC is in Nenana. The other Early Head Starts in the region are based in homes.
Ridenour says that TCC wants to offer an 11-month program in Galena, with the center open 4 or 5 days per week for 6 hours per day.
For more information about the TCC Early Head Start Program in Galena, or to get enrollment materials, you can call TCC at 1-800-478-6822 extension 3469.
Senator Olson weighs in on budget issues, and his move to the majority
February 22, 2016
As discussions continue on how to fix Alaska’s budget problems, Democratic State Senator Donny Olson has rejoined the majority caucus in the Senate.
Olson serves District T, which includes the North Slope, the Northwest Arctic, and parts of the lower and middle Yukon.
Though he remains a Democrat in party affiliation, Olson will join with the majority Republicans in behind-the-scenes planning on how legislature will deal with the issues before them. Olson says that getting a spot in the Majority caucus is not about abandoning the Democratic Party, but rather a move to increase his chances of delivering critical services back to his district. Plus, Olson asserts that he already agrees with Republicans on a wide array of issues.
“Because of that," Olson said, "it is easy for me to go ahead and commiserate with those Republicans and say ‘hey, I’ve got needs in my district that are life and death situations, like VPSOs, public safety, education and health and social services that offer things like suicide prevention. It became evident to me, and to the people that were calling down, that they wanted me to go ahead and be more influential and join the majority.”
Contrary to many members of the Senate Majority, Olson wants to preserve funding levels for public education, including preschool and Head Start programs, which is a matter of personal importance to him and his family.
“I’ve got little kids, and my youngest is only 18 months old. So when I am watching those kinds of programs get whacked and withered away because there is no funding there, those are the ones I feel like I am personally involved with, and make sure that other people that don’t have the advantages that I have are still able to take their children to some kind of learning program so we don’t need remedial services when they get into grade school and then into high school and college.”
Regarding the various proposals to restructure the state government’s budget system, in light of low oil prices and declining North Slope production, Senator Olson wants to the legislature come to a broad-based solution, including some use of the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve to pay for state services. But he does not support proposals to clean out the earnings reserve so much that PFD checks will be severely reduced or eliminated.
“Because if you do that," he explained, "people that are on the lower end of the spectrum, people in my district in particular that are dependent on the Permanent Fund to pay for things that only cash can buy, and don’t have disposable income at all or income from a job - those are the people that I want to protect, because they will be hit the hardest if that is all they do is take money from the earnings reserve.”
A concern for low income rural Alaskans also makes Olson disinclined to support a statewide sales tax – unless it gives rural Alaska a break.
“There is a statewide sales tax that could be done where you exempt those communities that already have a sales tax. And most of the small villages have that already, " Olson said. "The big place that would be affected would be Anchorage, which has no sales tax. And so most of the revenue would be raised in the Anchorage area.”
Senator Olson has a coveted seat on the Senate Finance Committee, and he says his work on crafting the state budget might prevent him from a planned trip to Fairbanks in March for the Doyon and Tanana Chiefs Conference annual meetings.
Frankson and Cleaver ready to hit the Iron Dog trail
February 19, 2016
|Team 27's backup drivers and pit crew: Destiny Frankson (left) and Sophie Frankson (right) at the Safety Expo on Wednesday at Cabela's in Anchorage|
The 2016 Iron Dog Snowmachine Race gets underway this weekend, and Galena’s Joe Cleaver and Bobby Frankson are hoping for a better run than the last time they entered the race.
Frankson and Cleaver teamed up in 2009 – but scratched at Galena that year.
Speaking from the safety inspection in Anchorage on Wednesday, Frankson said that the week before the race is a relentless push to get ready.
“It’s a happy stress," " Frankson said. "You’re stressed out, but you are also feeling happy that it is almost done with. Countless hours of turning wrench and dialing in. I drove into Anchorage at 4 o’clock in the morning and got up at 7. And here I am at the Expo, and apparently I am not the only one.”
Frankson and Cleaver started training on their Polaris machines with runs up and down the Yukon, but as Frankson explains, more recently they’ve shifted their training camp to southcentral Alaska.
“We have spent the last three weeks here, building sleds and prepping. Running the Big Lake trail quite a bit. We've been fatigued with broken parts because our training sleds have too many miles on them. Other than that, we are feeling really confident in what we have built,” said Frankson.
A lack of snow on the north slopes of the Alaska Range and Farewell Burn presented a big challenge to racers last year, prompting many racers to add supplemental radiators or fans to their machines to prevent overheating. Even then, the racers were forced to reduce speed and travel in packs over more than 50 miles of bare ground. But Frankson reports from the Safety Expo that there don’t seem to be many fancy modifications in play this year.
“I’ve been looking around at everybody else’s sleds, and the biggest thing I see is just some ice scratchers, so that indicates that there are going to be some pretty confident people in their sleds not overheating this year.” (Ice scratchers held the snowmachine's track and slides stay lubricated when moving over hard packed snow or ice.)
Frankson and Cleaver are competing as Team 27. Cleaver also entered the 2007 Iron Dog with partner Stewart Pitka, but the team scratched at McGrath.
Other racers with ties to Galena include Todd Malemute, who is partnered with Palmer’s Mark Johnson on Ski-Doo machines. Todd finished 8th in 2007 with his brother Kyle.
And former Galena resident Shannon Jenkins is a last minute replacement in Team 19, along with 46 year old rookie Pat Daniels from Big Lake. Jenkins and Daniels will be riding Polaris.
41 teams are signed up in the competitive Pro Class , and 7 more are in the non-competitive Recreational Class.
Polaris is the most popular make of snowmachine in the race, with 19 teams signed up. Ski-Doo is second with 12 teams. Eight teams are riding Arctic Cats and only two have chosen Yamaha.
Polaris machines have crossed the finish line first two years in a row, and five out of the last seven years.
A first place prize of $65,000 is up for grabs as part of a $260,000 purse.
The winning team is expected to arrive at the finish line in downtown Fairbanks around noon on Saturday the 27th.
Brice ready to move rock for Galena Airport dike project
February 18, 2016
Brice Environmental has entered the next phase of a project to strengthen the Galena Airport dike.
Brice is the contractor on a 6-point-4 million dollar project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, which aims to reinforce the southwest corner of the dike surrounding the airport. That portion of the dike showed deficiencies during the 2013 Flood.
“We are repairing approximately 2,200 feet of the Galena levy with armor rock – also known as rip rap," explains Sarah Belway, Brice's project manager in Galena.
"Part of the project also involves the construction of a 9-mile ice road to a local rock quarry [Mueller Mountain] where we are mining and processing over 7000 yards of rip rap. We are just getting started with the hauling of the rip rap to the levy,” she said.
Building the ice road to Mueller Mountain, where Brice is getting the basalt rock for the project, has been especially challenging this winter.
“Anyone that has built ice roads knows that having cold weather and snow are crucial elements," said Belway. "In December and January, we had warm temperatures above freezing and we have also had one of the lowest snow years in decades. So it was quite a challenge, which required us to haul snow from off-site locations by truck to assist with the construction of the road.”
The hauled-out snow was used as the bed for the ice road, and then Brice crews pumped water out of streams along the route to spray on top of the snow to create a hard, icy surface. Brice plans to haul rock from Mueller Mountain to dike 24 hours a day until the project is finished.
Belway says that around-the-clock hauling is necessary to cram such a big job into one season.
“The scope of work for this, with the ice road construction, mining and the hauling, we have a limited time frame to complete that work, which requires us to do the haul and rock placement over a 24 hour period. The goal is to complete everything by mid-March.”
Belway estimates that Brice has hired about 15 local Galena residents to work as drivers and operators on the project.
Brice and the City of Galena have asked the state Department of Transportation to officially ban local traffic from the roads being used by dump trucks to deliver the rip rap. DOT granted the request on Thursday.
Road closure and detour signs are posted at both ends of the New Road, and at the intersection of New Campion Road and Louden Loop.
Air Force proposes cleanup plans for Indian Mountain
February 5, 2016
***Links to the proposed plans: Upper Camp (PCB and POL contaminated sites)
Lower Camp (munitions response for lead contaminated sites)
The Air Force is seeking public comment on plans to deal with environmental contamination at the Indian Mountain long range radar site.
The installation, about 15 miles east of Hughes, is still active and occupied year-round by contract personnel. But the pollution mostly dates back to when there was a White Alice radar facility on the site from 1951 to 1979. The Air Force has been investigating environmental hazards at the site since 1991, but prior attempts to implement long term solutions have not come to fruition.
According to Air Force Remedial Project Manager Robert Johnston, much of the pollution stems from, what at the time, was an acceptable technique to dispose of hazardous materials.
”Back then they had generators and everything up there, and they would just dump everything outside of the buildings," Johnston says.
Oil and lubricants found in electrical transformers and motors frequently contained PCBs, until PCBs were banned in 1979. The Air Force estimates that approximately 3300 cubic yards of soil on top of Indian Mountain is contaminated with PCBs, and residual petroleum products
(Photo by USAF Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson)
from at least 60 thousand gallons-worth of spills that have been documented at the site.
The Air Force funded a study in the late 1990s to determine if contaminants from Indian Mountain could be detected in fish downstream from the site, and therefore present a risk to human health. But Johnston says the study did not find any contaminated fish. PCBs can cause cancer and a variety of other health problems.
The Air Force proposes digging up and shipping out the soil with the heaviest amounts of PCBs, and covering the rest with a 2-foot cap of gravel. The plan would cost almost 6 million dollars – a large portion of which would go to flying out the super contaminated soil in small batches, because, as Johnston explains, the Indian Mountain airstrip can’t handle large cargo planes.
“If we get planes in there, we might be able to get one or two bags on a plane. And that is one of the big cost drivers in this project," he says.
That means hundreds of round trip flights could be needed to remove the super-contaminated soil from the site. An earlier plan to deal with the PCBs called for almost 75 percent of PCB-laden soil to be flown out – which would cost more than three times as much as the current preferred alternative.
he plan for the petroleum-laden soil, in contrast, is to use a technique called landfarming, in which the soil is spread out to a depth of about 10 inches and tilled, to give the contamination a chance to vent into the air.
There is also a proposed plan to deal with lead pollution at a former shooting range and dump site near the lower camp at Indian Mountain. The plan calls for the most contaminated soil to be moved to an existing landfill nearby, and chemicals added to keep the lead in place.
Johnston estimates that the Indian Mountain cleanup work may not go to the contracting phase until 2018, with work happening in 2019.
Public comments on the proposals are being accepted through February 27th. Information on how to submit a comment is contained in the PDF files linked to above.
|A view from Indian Mountain's upper site (USAF file photo)||A test pit revealing debris at the upper site (USAF file photo)|
Board of Fisheries rejects purse seines, approves pink salmon commercial fishing on Yukon
January 16, 2016
Check this KIYU News Scorecard of Board of Fisheries actions at its January meeting in Fairbanks.
Jenna B breaks the record for 3's
January 11, 2016
Galena’s Jenna Buchanan made history on Saturday, breaking the UAA women’s basketball record for three point shots made in a career.
After draining five shots from beyond the arc in a UAA home-court win over Concordia on Saturday afternoon, Buchanan has now tallied 193 three-pointers in her 3 and a half seasons at UAA.
The previous record of 191 was set by Allegra Stoetzel, who played for UAA in the mid-1990s.
Buchanan said after the game that breaking the record was not a big deal to her.
Jenna: “I was not really aware of it until a couple of months ago. They have records for just about everything here. But I knew with the amount of games that we had left that I would eventually get it. I didn’t know when, and so it was kind of there in the back of my mind, and I knew it would come with time, really.”
Like most shooters, Buchanan tends to score three-pointers in bunches, and has converted on as many as 8 three-pointers in a single game this season. She says there is something magical that happens when the shots are going in.
Jenna: “I just remember that in a couple of games this year when I had quite a bit of threes, it was almost as if I didn’t know if there was a defense there or not. I just knew that when the ball came to me, I would shoot the ball, because they all were going in”
The Lady Seawolves are one of the top ranked teams in NCAA Division II this season, and have their eyes set on a national championship, especially after a first-round upset knocked them out of the tournament last year.
Buchanan says that, as the team gets into the core of their conference schedule, they are really starting to gel and find their identity as a team.
Jenna: “Regardless of how many players you have returning, your team is going to be different every single year. So I feel like we have really started to click these past few games, and we really know who we are now.”
The Lady Seawolves go on the road later this week for two tough conference games, first at Central Washington on Thursday, then at Northwest Nazarene on Saturday.
Download the original audio version of the story here.
Board of Fish to consider limits on Yukon River beach seines
January 8, 2016
Two proposals putting limits on beach seine gear will be considered by the Board of Fisheries next week when it votes on dozens of proposals from the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Norton Sound region.
Beach seining is a technique that has been gaining favor in the lower Yukon, as fishermen and regulators try to find the best ways to target abundant summer chum salmon, while minimizing impact on struggling king salmon stocks. A king caught in a beach seine can be released back into the water alive.
The Department of Fish and Game submitted the proposals – one for commercial fishing and the other for subsistence – which put the maximum allowable length of a beach seine at 150 fathoms, or 900 feet. The maximum depth would be 100 meshes, and the maximum mesh size would be 3 and a half inches.
(beach seine in southeast Alaska. Photo by USGS)
Fish and Game Yukon Summer Season Manager Stephanie Schmidt explains that, with beach seines possibly gaining in popularity, Fish and Game wanted to prevent the abuse of what is now basically an unregulated gear type.
Schmidt: “Currently there are no specifications on mesh size, length or depth for beach seines. So right now, someone could take a beach seines out that is much larger than any of those specifications that the Department is proposing. And so that was actually a concern for us – that people could be using these very very large beach seines that could be acting essentially as gillnet gear because they are so large.”
Most of the Fish and Game regional advisory committees have given their support to the beach seine proposals. One exception is the Koyukuk River Advisory Committee. Chairman Jack Reakoff from Wiseman argues that 150 fathoms of gear is too much, and has potential to increase king salmon bycatch and mortality.
Reakoff: “That’s 900 feet of gear. And the king salmon roll up in all that meshm and by the time you go through 900 feet of gear, that fish is going to be dead.”
Reakoff and the Koyukuk River Advisory Committee recommended to the Board of Fish that the maximum length of beach seines be set at 50 fathoms – or 300 feet.
Schmidt says that Fish and Game has been closely monitoring beach seine activity over the past two years, and finds that very few king salmon are caught unintentionally. The groups that are already using 150 fathom beach seines, she says, are not fishing in areas frequented by kings.
Schmidt: “[They are] operating in very shallow water. They are trying to target summer chum salmon; that is what they are able to sell. And so they are operating in an area that is dominated by summer chum salmon moving through there. It is a very good summer chum salmon fishing spot. The kings – they are moving out in deeper water, in the middle of the channel somewhere. There is the occasional king that they catch, but I have never seen them catch more than two kings in one haul.”
Schmidt does not predict that the proposal, if passed as written, would lead to widespread upgrades to 150 fathom beach seines, due to the high amount of manpower and machine power required to handle that much fishing gear.
Schmidt: “The people who are using the larger, longer beach seine gear – they’ve got a pretty big operation. They are using an ATV to help pull the net in from the water. They’ve got a lot of people, maybe a dozen people helping out. Everyone else with smaller operations – just a handful or less than size people - are using much smaller configurations, and they are not even coming close to that 150 fathoms. Because that is just way too large for people to try to pull in by hand.”
Another proposal related to beach seining on the Yukon would require that all kings caught in beach seines be released immediately, which is recommended by Fish and Game but not encoded in regulations.
And a fourth beach seine proposal, submitted by the Tanana, Rampart and Manley Fish and Game Advisory Committee, would ban the gear altogether.
All Yukon River salmon proposals are in this document.
The beach seine specification proposals are #118 (subsistence) and #123 (commercial).
The proposal seeking to ban all beach seining is #117
The proposal requiring all king salmon to be released from beach seines is #119.
Huslia-area pike control proposal to go before Board of Fisheries
January 6, 2016
A proposal aimed at reducing the number of pike around Huslia will be considered by the Board of Fisheries when it meets next week (January 12-16) at the Alpine Lodge in Fairbanks.
As written, the proposal would allow nets with 5 and a half inch mesh to be set completely across Racetrack Slough, just upriver from Huslia, as well as sloughs connected to the Huslia River.
The nets would have to be removed by June 15th before the arrival of salmon to the area.
The proposal sponsor Jack Wholecheese from Huslia explains that blocking off sloughs in the early summer is a traditional technique for catching large numbers of pike, but it has been illegal since the introduction of fishing regulations in the area during the 1950s.
Wholecheese: "Pike go up to the lakes in the winter time and stay there all winter. In the springtime they start coming out in swarms and they are big, really big. Long ago they used to put nets across the sloughs to target these pikes.”
Wholecheese says that pike are an important subsistence resource for Huslia, because relatively few salmon run up the Koyukuk River compared to the Yukon. But recently the pike population has grown, putting pressure on other valuable subsistence resources.
Wholecheese: “A long time ago, they used to have more control over the big pike that eat all of our younger fish, and whitefish and ducks and muskrats and everything. We see a lot of those younger whitefish or even sheefish and lush in the stomachs of these pikes. Actually they are the barracuda of the Koyukuk River.”
Fish and Game opposes the idea of entirely blocking sloughs to target pike.
According to Yukon River Fall Season Manager Jeff Estensen, the Department is concerned about the unintended harvest of fish other than pike.
Estensen: "When you are obstructing the whole, entire waterway, then you are in essence blocking the passage of other species such as grayling, whitefish, suckers or whatever. And even though you may be using a specific mesh size to target pike, which the proponent is suggesting in this [proposal], any kind of net is going to catch fish regardless if you want to or not.”
Current regulations for the Yukon area prevent nets from stretching more than halfway across a waterway.
Huslia is in the middle of the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge, and federal managers have ultimate authority over fishing regulations within the refuge. The federal Office of Subsistence Management submitted a comment in support of the proposal, though OSM recommends that a portion of a slough should be left open for navigation, and that fishermen get a permit and report their catches.
The Middle Yukon Fish and Game Advisory Committee also recommends that the Board of Fish adopt the proposal with certain amendments. The Fairbanks Advisory Committee opposes the plan.
The Koyukuk River Advisory Committee plans to meet today (Tuesday) at noon to discuss this proposal and others that will go before the Board of Fisheries next week.
The proposal is #144 in the “AYK Resident Species” section of the Board’s agenda.
Sidney Huntington passes away
December 9, 2015
Sidney C. Huntington passed away on Tuesday, December 8 in Galena. He was 100 years old.
The son of a Koyukon woman and a white gold miner, Huntington became an expert trapper, fisherman, boat builder and carpenter in the middle Yukon and Koyukuk valleys of the Interior. He went on to serve 17 years on the Board of Game from 1975 to 1992, and ran a successful fish processing business out of Galena for many years.
In his later years, Huntington became a strong advocate for public education in rural Alaska – helping to found an independent school district for Galena in the early 1970s. His daughter Agnes Sweetsir says that his promotion of education for the Bush should be his lasting legacy.
"On his death bed this past couple weeks, he said that he did the best he could with a third grade education. He wanted people to know that, that was important to him,” she said.
Huntington was also well known for ardently promoting a serious work ethic among rural residents, and denouncing government assistance programs.
Those beliefs rubbed off on many of Huntington’s family and friends, including daughter Betty Huntington.
“He taught us to work hard and I always talk about that. People always laugh that I get to work ten minutes early and leave late, and that was just the way he was," she said.
Sidney Huntington is survived by his wife of 72 years, Angela. He raised roughly 30 biological and adopted children.
His life is immortalized in the popular biography “Shadows on the Koyukuk,” a frequent entry on various top ten lists for the best Alaska literature.
Funeral services will occur in Galena on Friday at 10 am at the school that bears his name.
(Sidney on the trapline, 1958. Alaska State Library, Keller Family Photo Collection.)
Yukon lamprey squirm their way upriver
December 1 / December 15
(Arctic lamprey caught near Kaltag. Photo by Randy Brown, USFWS)
To catch a Yukon River lamprey, you need good, solid river ice, and perfect timing.
For almost 15 years, Kwik’pak Fisheries has tried to operate a commercial lamprey fishery on lower Yukon sometime around Thanksgiving, but General Manager Jack Schultheis says, more than other fisheries, this one is hit or miss.
Schultheis: “It’s not a run like salmon that goes on for days or weeks. The lamprey run goes on for hours, and then that’s it.”
Lamprey swim upriver to spawn. But unlike salmon, lamprey bunch together in one big horde as they move upriver, and run under the cover of ice.
Fishermen at Mountain Village started the commercial lamprey harvest on November 17th, when a few thousand pounds of lamprey were taken. That harvest was curtailed by a lack of adequate river ice to give fishermen access to the main channel, according to Schultheis.
A subsistence harvest also took place at Russian Mission over Thanksgiving weekend. The lamprey run was described as “thick,” with each fishermen going home with 3 or 4 buckets of lamprey. The lamprey are expected to reach Holy Cross today or tomorrow, and Grayling by December 7th. Kwik'pak hopes to buy a larger amount of lamprey at Grayling for export.
The unpredictable nature of the lamprey harvest makes it hard to commercialize, according to Schultheis, because buyers want a steady supply year after year. Nevertheless, Yukon River lamprey gets shipped far and wide for a variety of purposes.
Schultheis: “Some of them go to Europe, some of them go to Asia, and some of them go into the bait market in the lower 48. And that all hinges on how much volume we get. When we get a lot of lamprey, then it is feasible to ship overseas – that’s in 20,000 pound increments. It’s gotta be a really good year to get that kind of volume.”
By those standards, 2014 was a very good year, with just over 40 thousand pounds of lamprey sold commercially. The parasitic creatures are typically caught with long handled dip nets, or impaled on long poles fixed with spikes.
Lamprey also have a long history of subsistence use in certain villages, where they are commonly referred to as eels. Nearly half of their mass is fat, making them a good high-energy food for sled dogs. As human food, they are often smoked and jarred. And their skins can be used to make bags or even parkas.
**DECEMBER 15 UPDATE:
The commercial harvest of lamprey eels on the lower Yukon wrapped up over the weekend, with just under 37 thousand pounds harvested and sold. That’s 7 thousand pounds under the quota set by the Department of Fish and Game.
The commercial harvest of lamprey brings a welcome infusion of cash to some village fishermen during the Christmas season, but the overall health of the lamprey population is a mystery.
Fish and Game managers don’t have a good sense of how many arctic lamprey return to the Yukon each year, nor how many are reaching their spawning grounds. A previous attempt to estimate the size of a lamprey run using sonar was not successful, and other research methods are hindered by the fact that lamprey migrate under the cover of ice in the dead of winter.
Fish and Game’s Yukon River lamprey manager Sabrina Garcia says it is unlikely that more light will be shed on the Yukon lamprey population anytime soon, so the department will continue to rely heavily on information from fishermen along the Yukon.
Garcia: “As a manager it is really hard to manage a fishery when you don’t have an estimate of population abundance. And unfortunately with our impending state budget cuts, it is going to be even harder in the following years to come up with projects and fund projects to get these estimates. So talking to fishermen on the river and getting their knowledge – they live on the river, they know these runs – try to get them to give information on run timing and relative run abundance. That’s what really helps us to manage the fishery.”
At a dollar and 50 cents per pound, the lamprey fishery pays out a higher price than any of the commercial salmon fisheries remaining on the Yukon.
Kwik’pak Fisheries bought lamprey at three locations this year: first at Emmonak, then Mountain Village, and then the bulk of the commercial harvest occurred around Grayling from December 8th through the 10th.
The lamprey caught on the Yukon go into a wide variety of markets, ranging from gourmet restaurants to bait shops.
(Lamprey on ice at Grayling. Photo courtesy of Kwik'pak Fisheries)
Kaleb Korta to run for UAA
Although he still carries the nickname "Musher" from an earlier time when he was determined to become a competitive dog driver, Kaleb Korta has become one of the best runners in the state of Alaska. And at a ceremony last night in Galena, the high school senior signed a national letter of intent to join the University of Alaska Anchorage men’s cross-country and track teams.
Korta follows in the footsteps of 2012 Galena graduate Jenna Buchanan, currently a senior and starting guard on the UAA Women’s Basketball Team.
Korta says he had a tough choice between schools, and Buchanan helped him make his decision.
Korta: “I was going back and forth between Adams State and UAA, and I talked to her about how she made her decision. She was like I was in the beginning, when I wanted to go out of state. But then when I saw what was out there and realized what I want to do, UAA fit everything and they still have an incredible program. They offer a lot of majors and it was just a good opportunity.”
The UAA men’s cross country team will compete in the NCAA Division II national championships this weekend for the eighth straight year. The team from Adams State University in Colorado has been dominant in that event, winning the NCAA Division II title six out of the last seven years.
UAA is currently ranked third in the nation – the highest ranking ever for the program.
Korta says that level of achievement in the running program, combined with prospect of receiving free tuition, ultimately convinced him to stay in-state.
Korta: “Adams State has an incredible program, but I didn’t feel like I was really settling for anything when I went to UAA. They still have a really strong program. They have Kenyans on the team and a German on the team right now. They are a talented group of guys, and they are young this year.”
In addition to UAA and Adams State, Korta visited colleges in Washington State, Oregon and Colorado.
Wood bison herd heads into its first winter in the wild
The Innoko Flats wood bison herd is going into its first winter in the wild.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game transported 130 wood bison to Shageluk by air and barge earlier this year, in an effort to reintroduce the species to the wild in Alaska. Most of the wood bison were raised in captivity at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on the Kenai Peninsula, from breeding stock that originated in Canada. A few Canadian bison were folded into the herd just before the reintroduction as well to increase diversity.
Fish and Game Wood Bison Project Leader Tom Seaton reports that the vast majority of the herd is staying close to where they were originally released.
Seaton: " As of Friday, there was a group about 10 miles north of Shageluk and another group about 10 miles south of Shageluk. And then there are two more groups kind of spread out between Holy Cross and Shageluk, so kind of a north-south transect through that whole flats area. The area that we predicted before the release that would be good bison habitat is the area between the four villages – Anvik, Holy Cross, Shageluk and Grayling. And for the most part bison are staying in that area.”
Nevertheless, some brave bison have broken away from the herd to scout out new habitat. Seaton says that this behavior is mostly done by young or elderly bulls, but earlier this year biologists observed a lone cow venture out on her own.
Seaton: ”About two months after we released her, she went south all the way to the Kuskokwim River, down by Aniak – that’s about 90 miles away. She spent a couple weeks there and I was worried that she didn’t know where she was or how to get back. But during the rut she came back and joined up with the groups near Shageluk for awhile, and then after just a couple of weeks she went downriver again. She has spent the last few months around Russian Mission by herself. That is not very common in bison social structure.”
A young wood bison bull made an ever larger trip – from Shageluk to Pilot Mountain Slough just southwest of Galena – a one way trip of over 150 miles. The bull was observed there in September and Seaton is not sure if it returned to the herd, as most pioneer bison do.
One potential issue that has come up with the bison concerns the potential for accidents at airports and along roads. In the summer, wood bison seek out muddy or gravely areas to roll in as a way of protecting themselves from insects. This behavior has attracted groups of bison to congregate on the airstrips at Grayling and Shageluk, and hang around a gravel hauling operation in Shageluk.
Seaton says that his crew is working on a solution for that.
Seaton: "We have a program to train local people to haze bison away from town and runways. That’s working pretty well. Fish and Game personnel spent many days in Shageluk and Graying hazing bison too to try to teach them that human infrastructure is not a good place to be. As time goes on, the bison are becoming more and more scared of people."
Overall, Seaton feels like the bison reintroduction has gone very well, with a normal rate of mortality and animals adapting to their new surroundings rather well. But the real test of their survivability is coming up.
Seaton: “I reserve judgment on how their performance is going to be until we make it through the winter. Winter is going to be the true test. Especially late winter deep snows. If we could avoid late winter deep snows just with luck we are going to go through the winter pretty well. If we get really deep snows late this winter when the bison are still learning their habitat, I think we could have some difficulty.”
Deep snow would make it harder for the bison to get to the grasses and plants that they need to eat all winter long.
Based on experiences with reintroducing wood bison elsewhere, Seaton predicts that it will take predators such as wolves and bears a few more years to figure out how to take down a bison, and already he has seen bison and bears grazing in close proximity without incident.
Biologists estimate that the herd needs to reach 400 to 500 animals in size before it achieves long term genetic diversity. That may take another 15 years.
Fish talk at day two of the subsistence advisory council meeting in Galena
The Western Interior Regional Subsistence Advisory Council turned some of its attention to fishery issues on Wednesday, during the second day of its fall meeting in Galena.
Though there were no fisheries proposals up for consideration, the Council commented on potential fishery research projects and heard from managers about the 2015 summer and fall salmon runs on the Yukon.
The council agreed that more research is needed about Yukon River coho salmon. Recent attempts to set aside federal and state money for a radio tagging project to track where coho spawn in the Yukon River drainage have failed.
WIRAC Chairman Jack Reakoff also urged fishery managers to get a more accurate picture of how many salmon are dropping out of nets – an increasingly significant portion of the total run that is not currently being counted, and could help managers get a more precise picture of a salmon run.
In big fisheries like Bristol Bay, Reakoff recounted from personal experience, the number of salmon dropouts can be staggering.
Reakoff: “Hundreds of thousands of fish that fell out of nets – popped out of the gear and washed up on the beach. It’s windrows, two foot deep for miles along the district boundaries. That’s a mortality factor. That’s human-induced. And they need to know this number, We need to know that when we are managing critical numbers of king salmon on the Yukon River. Because the ‘guess-and-by-golly’ thing is not going to work out.”
Federal and state managers acknowledged that thanks to major sacrifices from subsistence users on the Yukon, all escapement goals for king salmon were met throughout the Yukon drainage this year.
Yukon River Federal In-Season Assistant Manager Gerald Mushman said the even though king salmon fishing has been severely restricted, federal managers are inclined to grant access to small numbers of kings for special occasions, such as potlatches. The village of Tanana received special permission to catch kings this summer to help feed the scores of wildland firefighters who descended on the village.
The Western Interior Regional Subsistence Advisory Council concludes its meeting today.
Public comments take aim at nonlocal hunters during first day of subsistence advisory council meeting
At the first day of the Western Interior Regional Subsistence Advisory Council meeting in Galena, the negative impacts of nonlocal moose hunters was the dominant theme during the public comment period.
Residents of Huslia, Nulato, Koyukuk and Galena all shared stories about nonlocal hunters taking large numbers of moose, often using aircraft, out of traditional hunting areas used by village residents.
Percy Lolnitz from Koyukuk recounted his moose hunting experience this year up the Koyukuk River, near the Kateel River, as an example.
Lolnitz: “I counted the boats that are going up and boats that are coming out. That boats that are coming out they are taking maybe four moose horns. Four moose horns in a big boat with other boats following it. I also saw another boat running up and down and I don’t know what the heck they are doing. But who I am to go over there and start asking questions? We need some enforcement to go over there and figure out what these people are doing.”
Responding to suggestions that nonlocal moose hunters with their own aircraft have an unfair advantage over local hunters, WIRAC Chairman Jack Reakoff noted that creating a new controlled use area for the middle Yukon would probably help, but has a low chance of actually happening.
Reakoff: “The Middle Yukon could extend the Koyukuk Controlled Use Area to the south to extend to the Yuki and Innoko Flats. You could request that, but the Board of Game is not prone to grant any more controlled use areas. But that is about the only way to get the aircraft use under control.”
In its consideration of proposals that will go before the Federal Subsistence Board, the Western Interior Council voted to endorse shorter seasons and more restrictions on caribou hunting in Unit 21D, and an increase in the area that will be open for a subsistence-only fall moose hunt in Unit 21B on the Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge.
The Council on Tuesday also advised the Federal Subsistence Board to turn down a proposal to remove a half-mile corridor prohibiting moose hunting along the Innoko and Yukon Rivers in Unit 21E.
The Council continues its discussion of various hunting and trapping proposals for caribou, moose, bears, and Dall sheep today.
Timber! The biomass energy harvest around Galena has begun
(The SEGA danglehead processor at work in timber harvest area #2, just west of Galena)
Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska hired three equipment operators last week, and the crew went right to work on the land permitted for timber harvest by Gana-A’Yoo Limited – the village corporation for Galena, Kaltag, Nulato and Koyukuk.
The final timber sale agreement with Gana-A’Yoo was only finished a few weeks ago, due to legal questions about liability.
SEGA General Manager Tim Kalke says it’s great to finally get into the woods, after so much work behind a desk to prepare for the timber harvest operations. But managers and crew alike are trying to proceed cautiously.
Kalke: “We’re on a crawl-walk-run mentality on this whole project. Safety is obviously our number one concern. And doing things properly and efficiently. And growing into it.”
The harvest is beginning in cottonwood-dominated forest west of the Galena airport, but SEGA will also deal with spruce and birch when they can. Trees are cut down, limbed, bucked into large sections, and then stacked in small groups. Later this winter when the ground is completely frozen, a log truck will retrieve the wood and bring it to a processing area on base, where logs will be turned into chips.
Ten harvest areas have been mapped out, with a dozer trail leading to each one. These harvest areas might yield only about half of what SEGA originally estimated that they would, but Kalke says it’s a good first step.
Kalke: “Based off of this 27 acres, we estimate that that is approximately 60,000 cubic feet of solid wood. If we are able to get that all felled, bucked, and then yarded, that is certainly success for this initial push. If we can get that set up before the temperature gets too cold for us and the dark becomes a limiting factor, we would be very pleased with that performance standard.”
SEGA is harvesting trees between 2 and 14 inches in diameter, according to Kalke, because that is the range that the chipper will handle. Smaller materials like the tops and branches are likely to bind up the chipper or sneak through in large sections, causing problems with the chip handling system that will move chips from storage to the boiler.
That means that SEGA is not clear-cutting entire swathes of forest, but only cutting trees that suit their needs. As Kalke explained while standing in one of the harvest areas, that might mean leaving some big trees standing
Kalke: “There’s timber here that is far too large for us to use in the chipper. While we are bringing some of that home for potentially other purposes, we are leaving these ones here in a bit of a shelter belt, so that stand [of trees] can continue on.”
Other purposes for the wood that SEGA is harvesting might include commercial firewood sales, and value-added products like wood trim.
SEGA is hoping to have wood chips ready to go into a new wood-based heating system on base by this time next year.
Three suspects in the Kavairlook homicide arrested, several more still at large
Fairbanks Police and other law enforcement agencies have announced the arrests of three people in connection with the shooting death of John Kavairlook in Fairbanks on May 17th.
Police are not giving details on the suspected roles that each of the arrested individuals played in the homicide, which took place outside of the Rock ‘n Rodeo Bar in Fairbanks. But only one of the three men is charged with murder in the first degree.
He is Joel Roland Joseph – a 26 year old former resident of Anchorage, who was arrested on Tuesday by U.S. Marshalls and local police in Selma, Texas, just northeast of San Antonio. According to a press release from the Fairbanks Police Department, authorities believe that Joseph left Alaska and relocated to the nearby town of New Braunfels, Texas immediately after the death of Kavairlook.
Court records show that Joseph has a criminal record in Alaska, including a conviction for robbery when he was a teenager and various misdemeanors.
(John Kavairlook with daughter Kinley in the spring of 2015)
Two other men were arrested on charges of hindering prosecution, including Joel Joseph’s older brother David. David Joseph is a resident of Anchorage, and police clarified that he was not present at the time of the shooting.
Another former Anchorage resident, Demarius William Hinson, was arrested in Orlando, Florida yesterday (Wednesday) on charges of hindering prosecution. According to police, Hinson fled the country after the incident and only returned to the United States a month ago.
Fairbanks Police Detective Peyton Merideth says that even though more arrests are expected in conjunction with the Kavairlook shooting, the time is right to share some information on the search for the people involved with Kavairlook’s death – rather than waiting for all of the arrests to occur before releasing any details.
Merideth: “The fact that we made a couple of arrests was gonna be made public anyway, and there was no reason not to let the public know that ‘hey, we are still working on this, it’s been a long road to get to where we are.’ The case is still under investigation and we expect further arrests to be made.”
Merideth also notes that the ongoing search for suspects is focusing on Anchorage, where police expect they can at least learn more about the people involved with the shooting.
Early on in the investigation, Fairbanks Police released surveillance videos of four unidentified African-American males, indicating only that police wanted to contact the men in connection to the Kavairlook shooting, but needed the public’s assistance with identifying them.
Merideth: “We put those videos out specifically in Anchorage, because that is where the people involved in this homicide came from. They came from Anchorage to Fairbanks when this homicide was committed. So there are people in Anchorage who know who these individuals are, and they know what they are about and they know where to find them.”
Kavairlook was at the Rock N Rodeo Bar with his wife Shalene. He and another man were ejected from the bar for fighting, and the altercation continued in the parking lot, where one of the suspects shot Kavairlook multiple times.
Kavairlook was originally from Koyuk, and graduated from high school in Galena in 2010. He was working as a plumber in the Fairbanks area at the time of his death.
Timber harvest agreement in place, SEGA prepares to cut some trees
(A Waratah danglehead processor, similar to the one to be used by SEGA to harvest cottonwood around Galena)
Much of the Galena City Council meeting last night was spent discussing recent developments with the biomass energy project in Galena.
Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska, or SEGA, is the group that is set to harvest local trees for a wood-fired heating system on the base. There had been delays in securing a timber sale agreement with the landowner, village corporation Gana-A’Yoo Limited, and in getting contract engineers to finish the design plan for the wood boiler and the system to distribute its heat around the base.
But the City Council on Thursday heard about advances on both of those issues.
The Council had already agreed to sidestep legal hurdles with the timber sale agreement by entering the City of Galena into agreement with Gana-A’Yoo directly. SEGA General Manager Tim Kalke reported that the new terms of the agreement were acceptable to everyone, giving the project the green light to begin cutting trees.
Kalke: “After many, many months, and lots of going back and forth, the timber sale agreement is officially official. So that is very exciting. Now that that has happened, many dominoes have fallen that are getting us in place for our training session that will start on the 26th. We submitted a detailed plan of operations to the Division of Forestry and Gana-A’Yoo that outlined approx. 80 acres of balsam poplar [cottonwood] that we could harvest, and we were hoping that would be the entirety of our first year fuel supply. This is in the Johnson Slough area, near the EOD trails, west of the airport. And in fact, we found approx. 30 acres of quality stand. We measured the trees and crunched the numbers and the calculations came out that it would be about half of the first year fuel supply. So not as much in there as we were desiring, but a good start.”
SEGA recently took legal ownership of the timber harvest equipment that it will use to cut down trees and turn them into wood chips. The City of Galena originally purchased the equipment with a state grant.
Now SEGA is looking for a warm place to maintain and store the rigs. Kalke explained that the old state shop on base looks like a perfect candidate, but the likely presence of asbestos might complicate the transfer of the building from the state to local ownership.
Kalke: “Needless to say there are some risks involved with that, and some money involved with that. But I can’t stress enough how importantit is for SEGA to have a place to call home in terms of maintenance, and take care of this half a million dollars’ worth of equipment that we now have. It’s a paramount, because we are relying on that equipment to go get that fuel supply.”
The City Council also chose to switch engineering firms to Anchorage-based Coffman Engineering. Several council members have been critical of the current firm, Gray Stassel Engineering, for failing to deliver designs and documents on schedule.
Coffman Engineering estimates a total design cost of around 340 thousand dollars for the biomass project, including the design of the wood boiler, the heat distribution system, and a plan for keeping water and sewer lines from freezing.
The current system relies on waste heat from steam pipes to keep adjacent water and sewer lines from freezing, but the heat distribution network on the base is likely to switch to a hot water-based system, which offers greater efficiency.
Coffman Engineering suggests that the new wood-based heat system on base could be up and running by September 1, 2016.
Air Force environmental contractor presents a plan to remove contamination under old town Galena
(TCE plume (outlined in yellow) as presented in the Air Force Proposed Plan for Site SS015 at the former Galena Forward Operating Location)
On Tuesday night, Air Force contractors presented a plan to cleanup subsurface contamination that flows under part of old town Galena.
The pollution originated in a former Air Force maintenance building on the south side of the runway, and contains trichloroethylene, or TCE, a common solvent for removing grease from metal parts.
The underground plume of TCE extends south from the runway to go underneath Old Town in the vicinity of the late Buckets Burgett’s property, at a depth of more than 70 feet – lower than several private drinking water wells.
To date, no TCE has been found in the water produced by those wells, though as a precaution the Air Force has been paying for treatment systems or delivered water for homes that might be threatened.
Parsons Engineering Galena Project Manager Bruce Henry says that it is a risk that needs to be removed.
Henry: “Now that we know where the plume is and what the risks are, we have formulated a cleanup plan. So with the compliance of the regulatory agency and the community, we are prepared to go out and start the cleanup, which will probably start next year.”
TCE is a cancer-causing substance that can persist for a long time underground, but breaks down quickly if exposed to air. And that’s the basic premise that will allow the contractors to clean up the TCE plume, according to Henry:
Henry: “One of the techniques we use to remove TCE from soil is to actually put what we call vent wells in. And we pull air out of those, we put a vacuum on it, and pull the air out of the ground. If you pull air past it, [TCE] will volatize in the air and we can actually physically extract the TCE from the soil and remove it.”
Once it’s pulled out of the ground, the TCE does not turn into air pollution, but instead becomes harmless rather quickly. Nevertheless, Henry says, they keep track of what they are releasing into the air.
Henry: “When we pull the air out, we measure the actual contamination we are pulling out, and there are regulations that regulate how much we are allowed to vent to the air so it does not pose a risk. Once it gets into the air, it degrades naturally.”
Even after the soil vapor extraction process is complete, the Air Force will continue to monitor a few drinking water wells downstream of the TCE plume in old town Galena, or supply homes near the plume with delivered water from the City.
Land use controls will also go into effect to prevent digging in any areas near the plume, so that no one unexpectedly comes into contact with remaining pockets of TCE.
The Air Force does not think that TCE from this site has gotten into the Yukon River.
Parsons presented similar plans to use soil vapor extraction on the groundwater or soil beneath two other TCE-contaminated sites: the former Air Force weather station near the west end of the runway, and a former storage shed on base, in which TCE was probably poured down a drain and leaked out of a rudimentary septic system.
Public comment periods on the proposed plans are open until November 20. To get a copy of the proposed plans and learn more about how to submit a comment, follow this link.
New study on Alaska wild berries suggests harvests are becoming less reliable
(graphical representation of data from the study in the current edition of the International Journal of Circumpolar Health)
96 people from 73 Alaska communities responded to a survey, sent out in late 2013 and early 2014, which asked them to name the berries that are commonly harvested in their area, and indicate whether berry harvests seem to be getting larger, smaller, or more unpredictable.
Jerry Hupp is a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geologic Survey in Anchorage. He collaborated on the study with researchers from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the University of Alaska Anchorage. Hupp cautions that the study does not try to shed light on why berry populations might be rising or falling, but only to document the perceptions of experienced berry pickers.
Hupp: "Our goal was not so much to understand how climate may be influencing berries - How changes in snow cover or changes in precipitation may be changing berry abundance. It was more to simply ask people 'are you seeing changes? Are there things happening on the ground that might indicate that things are different now than they were in previous decades?'"
The study divides the state into three ecological zones: the polar area consists of northern and western Alaska, the boreal area includes the interior and the Kobuk River valley, and the maritime area includes lands bordering the Gulf of Alaska from the Aleutians to Southeast.
Respondents from each region did not overwhelmingly agree about any particular berry becoming more or less common over time. But in some cases, Hupp says, a majority of berry pickers are finding the productivity of their favorite berry patches to be more and more erratic.
Hupp: "For example, with low bush blueberry, almost 50 percent of the people that responded said it had become more variable – there were bigger swings from one year to the next. That’s a fairly strong response. The number of people that responded that berries had become more variable was almost twice as high as any other response. So it suggests that, yeah, something may be going on there."
The perceived decline of blueberries is most pronounced along the western and northern coasts of Alaska, where 76 percent of respondents experienced lower blueberry harvests or more variability in harvests from year to year. Around 40 percent of blueberry pickers in the interior felt the same way.
The most common assessment statewide for cloudberries, also known locally as salmonberries, was that numbers are more variable from year to year.
About 40 percent of respondents felt that low bush cranberries were stable and consistent, compared to about 25 percent perceiving that they are less abundant and 25 percent feeling they are more variable.
In general, berry pickers in northern and western Alaska noted that their favorite berries are becoming more variable, with a relatively greater percentage of respondents from the interior saying the berry harvests are more stable.
Hupp says that future researchers could expound upon his work to learn more about the science behind berry productivity.
Hupp: "Monitoring studies that would examine relationships between environmental variables and berry productions…experimental studies that might alter things like snow cover, precipitation, and measure the response of berry species to that."
The study is published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health.
New cookbook aims to get more local foods on school menus
(Chef Danielle Flaherty prepares some brussel sprouts at a recent cooking demonstration at the Galena Pool)
A new cookbook intended for Alaska schools and other institutional kitchens is coming out soon.
The cookbook is called “Make it Local: Recipes for Alaska’s Children.” It is a collaborative project involving the education and natural resource departments of the State of Alaska, along with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.
The project was funded by a USDA grant, with a goal of getting more locally-produced vegetables and proteins onto school menus.
Cooperative Extension Research and Development Chef Danielle Flaherty developed the recipes for the new cookbook. She acknowledges that most institutional chefs are limited in their time and resources, so the recipes try to make it as easy as possible to cook from scratch with healthy, local ingredients.
Flaherty: “There’s a fish stick recipe that really simplifies the process of breading fish. Instead of a very laborious process in which you have to touch every single piece of fish four or five times, this is more of a “dump” type recipe. Or there are some recipes that use kale, for example, which use a food processor. You just run it through with a slicing blade and it shreds it really fine. You don’t have to get it very well stemmed. So we have tried to think about the process of production cooking.”
Using local meat and seafood donations in Alaska schools is a popular idea, but Flaherty says there are some financial considerations that might serve as a disincentive.
Flaherty: “A lot of schools are being reimbursed for school lunches. Of course there are a lot of great things happening with that in feeding hungry kids in Alaska. But there are some technicalities that make it challenging to get reimbursed for meats caught with a game permit or a subsistence permit.”
Chef Flaherty also wants to see Alaska fruits and vegetables used in new ways, which might extend their usage into the winter. For example, locally-grown zucchini can be shredded and frozen, and then added to a variety of dishes throughout the year, ranging from tacos to muffins.
The “Make It Local” cookbook is being printed now, and is due to be distributed at the School Health and Wellness Institute in Anchorage at the end of the month.
All school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program will be getting a copy, in addition to Head Start agencies and child care centers participating in the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program.
Kaleb Korta defends his title in cross country, Galena runners finish strong
(Photo by Molissa Wightman)
Galena’s Kaleb Korta has repeated as state champion in cross country running in the 1-2-3A Division.
He turned in an unofficial time of 16 minutes even on the 5 kilometer course at Bartlett High School on Saturday to defend his title from last year. Kaleb predicted that his closest competitor might be Seward’s Hunter Kratz, and that’s the way it turned out, with Kaleb pulling away only in the last section of the course.
Kaleb: “It was a state meet, and I knew that no one was going to let me go. Hunter Kratz was with me all the way, until the final huge hill. I think I broke him on that hill and then just put a solid 10 second gap on him on the last kilometer of the race, and I was able to finish pretty strong.”
Finishing only 21 seconds after Korta was Galena sophomore Jacob Moos. At the rate Moos is improving, Korta thinks he has a good shot at winning the race next year.
Kaleb: “He has improved a lot this season. He ran a minute and a half faster at state this year compared to last year. And he is only a sophomore. I think he is the second fastest sophomore in the state, and I think he is in the top 7 in all divisions. That is just tremendous for him. I think he is going to put in work this spring for track as well as this summer. I will be sticking around to train with him as I get ready for college and whatnot, and I look forward to watching him race next year.”
Also finishing for the Galena boys were Joe Apfelbeck in 40th place, and Walter Lord in 97th.
Kiana Korta was the top finisher on the Galena girls cross country squad, shattering her personal best with a time of 22 minutes 55 seconds for 40th place. Galena’s Sarah Brown came in 4 spots below that.
Kiana says the runners had yet another weekend of challenging conditions. At regionals it was snow, and this time is was mud and giant puddles.
Kiana: “It was a mud fest. You stop trying to avoid puddles and just run right through them. I was really happy to have spikes. I borrowed some from Sarah Brown at the last minute. It makes a big difference getting up hills and with mud puddles. It really helps your footing.”
The Galena girls also got a 51st place finish from Julia Riddle, 84th place for Elizabeth Green, and 98th for Carolyn Sam. Team rankings are not yet provided by the Alaska School Activities Association.
The season is not over for Kaleb Korta. He heads down to a highly competitive invitational meet in Oregon this weekend.
Download the audio version of the story here, as heard in the October 5th KIYU news.
Invasive plant elodea eliminated in Lake Hood, Tanana River survey finds none
|Elodea filling a waterway (FWS photo)||Don't be this guy (photo from Alaska DNR)|
As heard in the September 30 edition of Alaska News Nightly.
A variety of agencies in the state are working to eradicate the invasive aquatic plant elodea.
This summer, elodea was detected and treated in Anchorage’s Lake Hood, and a survey to search for elodea along the Tanana River downstream of Fairbanks has just concluded.
Elodea is a plant commonly found in aquariums that, if released in the wild, will dominate certain lake or river habitats, choking out native vegetation and altering the food web at all levels.
National Park Service Aquatic Ecologist Amy Larsen describes a few of the changes that elodea can bring about:
Amy Larsen: “It increases sedimentation rate, allowing more sediment to settle out of the water. And it can decrease the dissolved oxygen concentration in the water because it is growing so rapidly and using up all of that oxygen. But it also just displaces our native aquatic plants, which are good forage for a variety of waterfowl species.”
In addition, elodea can ruin the clear-water habitat needed by grayling and spawning salmon, and give an advantage to ambush predators like northern pike.
In a place like Lake Hood, elodea was perceived more as a threat to human safety than the environment, because it clogs floatplane rudders or impedes a floatplane’s ability to move along the water.
But if pieces of elodea were to hitch a ride on some of the float planes that depart from Lake Hood, it could cause trouble in other ecosystems around the state.
So a variety of agencies quickly recognized the seriousness of the situation and the state Department of Natural Resources was granted an emergency exemption to apply a series of herbicides.
Invasive Plant and Agricultural Pest Coordinator Heather Stewart with DNR explains that after an initial knockdown with the chemical diquat in July, a more lethal attack with fluridone happened in Lake Hood earlier this month.
Heather Stewart: “Diquat is a contact herbicide so it basically reduces the top biomass in aquatic systems. Whereas fluridone is a systemic herbicide, so there has to be uptake by the plant, and it prohibits the production of chlorophyll in the plant, so it has the plant starve itself in the long term.”
The last application of fluridone comes in a slow-release pellet, which continues to work throughout the winter as elodea may be trying to reestablish itself. Stewart says that the herbicides appear to have worked, and there is no elodea visible in Lake Hood now. The herbicides killed most of the other plant life in Lake Hood as well.
In the Interior, a multi-agency search for elodea just wrapped up, looking along the Tanana River downstream of Fairbanks and up the Tolovana River to the village of Minto.
The survey did not turn up any new pockets of elodea.
It was motivated by the discovery of the plant in Totchakat Slough near Nenana about a month ago. That represents a big jump for elodea from its previously-known concentrations around Chena Slough and Chena Lakes.
Amy Larsen with the National Park Service says that having elodea in a major river system like the Tanana introduces many new ways for the plant to spread.
Amy Larsen: “The river itself can move that plant around, either when the Tanana floods and floods into adjacent wetlands or when streams back up and reverse flow during flooded periods. Then fragments of elodea can move up these streams and get trapped on woody debris and then it can root.”
Elodea can also be carried downriver by ice during spring breakup. While it is not a threat to take root in the main stem of deep, silty rivers like the Yukon, it can use these rivers to get to more conducive habitats.
It reproduces by fragmentation, when parts of the plant break off and move elsewhere. It can also send out seed, though Heather Stewart with DNR says she has only seen a few examples of flowering elodea in the state – one of which was Chena Slough.
DNR is attempting to get the necessary permits to apply herbicides there, in addition to waterways near Cordova. Funding is in place to eradicate elodea in Alexander Lake in the Mat-Su Borough as well, and Stewart reports elodea is nearly gone from various locations on the Kenai.
Elodea has reached a total of 22 lakes, streams and rivers in Alaska so far.
Visit the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources page on elodea for more information.
Galena teams prevail over snows and foes at regional cross country meet in Fairbanks
Both Galena teams were victorious at the Region 6 Cross Country meet in Fairbanks on Saturday. And both teams will advance to the state championships this weekend in Anchorage.
The Galena girls were led by Kiana Korta, who finished third with a time of 24 minutes and 4 seconds over the 5000 meter course. Sarah Brown finished right behind that in fourth, and Kameron Reitan, Julia Riddle and Elizabeth Green also finished in the top 10.
With Fairbanks receiving 6 inches of snow right before the meet, Kiana Korta says that conditions were challenging.
Kiana: "There was still lots of snow on the ground. Most of the trail was pretty icy by the time the girls raced, because all of the other people had raced on it. There were parts of the trail that had been shoveled off and were just grass. But it was super slippery and slushy and gross."
Kaleb Korta won his fourth consecutive regional title to lead the Galena boys’ team to a top finish. Kaleb finished in just over 17 minutes, the fastest time of any runner at the meet in either the 3A or 4A division. Jacob Moos finished second and Joe Apfelbeck took third.
With the exception of Saturday’s snow-influenced time, Kaleb Korta has turned in the fastest times for any runner across the state in 3A all year. But he knows that at the state meet, at least a few runners will be aiming to take him down.
Kaleb: "Hunter Kratz from Seward for one; he's run solid all year. Ross Enlow from Unalaska and then there is a handful of guys right around 16:30 like Jacob [Moos] and some others. I know Hunter is gunning to beat me. He hasn't beat me yet. I've been in his shoes before and know he is going to have a target on my back this weekend."
Six Galena boys and six Galena girls will travel to Anchorage this Thursday to compete in the state cross country meet. The meet happens on Saturday at Bartlett High School.
Kaleb Korta is the defending champion in 3A with a time of 16 minutes 34 seconds at the 2014 state cross-country meet.
Download the audio version of the story here.
Denali Commission figuring out its next move
The profile of the Denali Commission was elevated earlier this month, after President Obama announced during his visit to Alaska that the commission would coordinate the flow of resources to communities threatened by erosion, flooding and permafrost degradation.
The president also announced that the Denali Commission would receive 2 million dollars to begin planning and coordination efforts.
With the money in hand and needing to be allocated by September 30th, the Commission is trying to figure out its next steps.
At a public meeting and teleconference on Tuesday, Bob Glascott with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggested that updating existing databases would be helpful, since the most recent information about communities threatened by erosion comes from 2009, and flood maps on file are often more than 40 years old.
Glascott: “Go out and talk to these communities, find out historically where the impacts have been, look at high water marks in these communities and survey them in - some sort of scope that would allow us to prioritize and figure out, if you have to make a list, and say ‘this is the number one community today with this snapshot’, and kind of go from there.”
Commissioner Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said that the Denali Commission needs internal reforms before it can expand to fulfil its new role as the lead agency directing responses to climate change in Alaska. That includes reinstating a 5 percent cap on the administrative fee that the Denali Commission takes out of any incoming grant money.
Kitka: “Our number one thing that we could be doing better at the Denali Commission is keeping that cap and keeping accountability on that. When that exploded and increased on that, it really weakened our argument for having resources flow through the Denali Commission.”
Kitka also argued for a greater decision-making role for commissioners. Denali Commission Federal Co-Chair Joel Neimeyer was open to the suggestion, but admitted that having more meetings may not be enough to tackle the challenges ahead of the Commission.
Neimeyer: “If that is what commissioners want, I will work with stakeholders and program partners so that we can get you the information so you can make these choices. But my challenge has been: how do I get you all together for a long period of time to truly appreciate what this issue is? And I can tell you, I have been looking at this issue now since June, and I’ve spent a lot of time on it, and I am at a loss at trying to figure out how to move forward with the 2 million [dollars]. I am at a loss at how we engage with our friends at DC.” ]
The Denali Commission’s new role as a coordinating agency for projects related to coastal erosion, flooding and permafrost degradation will be overseen by the White House’s Arctic Executive Steering Committee, which President Obama created in Jaunary.
The next scheduled meeting of the Denali Commission is in November.
For more on the backstory on the recent history of the Denali Commission, including reductions in funding and harsh criticism about its very existence, check out this article from the Washington Post.
Road to Tanana almost done
September 11, 2015
(Tanana Road at various stages of completion. Charred trees and earth surround the fire, resulting from summer 2015 wildfires. Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
Work crews are hurrying to complete the road to Tanana before winter arrives.
DOT Northern Region Spokesperson Meadow Bailey estimates that the project is about 80 percent complete, with about 6 miles left to go before the road reaches the south bank of the Yukon across from Tanana.
Cruz Construction is the primary contractor on the project, which has improved 14 miles of existing road north and west of Manley Hot Springs, and when completed will add 20 miles of new road onto that in order to reach the Tanana area. Bailey says that the work schedule was thrown off by this summer’s wildfires.
Bailey: “We lost about three week’s worth of work. We actually had to evacuate the project for a while because the fire was burning around the project and jumping back and forth across the road. So we expect the majority of the work to be done this year, but there may be some really minor things to be completed next year.”
Once the road reaches the south side of the Yukon, DOT has no further plans or funding for building any more of the long-debated “Road to Nome.” The proposed corridor for that road travels along the north side of the Yukon, necessitating a bridge or ferry to get vehicles across the river. But Bailey reports that nothing like that is in the works.
Bailey: “Right now, the plan is that people in Tanana – the majority of whom are really reliant on boats – will be able to launch boats and use boats to get back and forth. But there is no plan at this point for something like a bridge – that would just be a very hefty cost.”
The road to Tanana was paid for under the Roads to Resources program, which began under Governor Frank Murkowski as a means to improve access to rural communities and to areas with a possibility for oil, gas, and mineral development. No additional funds have been put into the Roads to Resources program recently.
Bailey says that DOT will watch how the road impacts the lifestyle and economy of Tanana before extending the road any further west along the Yukon River corridor.
Bailey: “We’ll see what the experience is for the residents of Tanana and if they feel like this is worthwhile, if it is decreasing their costs. These are things we will look at in the future.”
Similar to the New Campion Road recently completed in Galena, the road to Tanana is relatively narrow with pull-outs for parking or passing. Unlike the New Campion Road, no foam board was included in the road to Tanana as a means of reducing frost heave.
(Map courtesy of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
Commercial haul of Yukon cohos is the largest on record
September 8, 2015
This year’s commercial harvest of coho salmon on the Yukon River is the largest on record, with over 117 thousand fish caught. That’s almost twice as much as Fish and Game’s preseason projection.
The record-breaking harvest comes out of a run that managers do not know much about, including how many fish are returning to their spawning grounds.
The coho run is something of a mystery on the Yukon. It happens at the same time as the much larger fall chum run, and it is the least measured of the four major salmon runs on the Yukon. Managers only have one coho escapement goal for one tributary in the entire Yukon River drainage: the Delta Clearwater River. Fish and Game also conducts aerial surveys for coho in the Nenana River drainage and the upper Tanana River area, but relatively few coho are seen and the numbers vary widely from year to year.
Coho can also run quite late in the fall. Fish and Game estimates that about 20 percent of the run on average comes in after assessment tools like the Pilot Station sonar and the lower river test fisheries have stopped for the year.
So the big question is: how big actually is the Yukon coho run, out of which commercial fishermen took a big bite this year?
Jack Schultheis is the General Manager of the major fish buyer on the lower Yukon, Kwikpak Fisheries, based in Emmonak. He faults Fish and Game for underestimating the true size of the coho run this year, and says that a big commercial harvest is a reflection of a strong run.
Schultheis: “It’s really simple to me…it was just a good coho run. Norton Sound had a good coho run – a really good coho run. Both north and south of the Yukon had a lot of cohos. Why wouldn’t the Yukon have a good coho run? I mean, they are all out in the same ocean, they all came from the same parent year.”
Schultheis is also critical of Fish and Game for reducing commercial fishing near the mouth of the river in mid-August, when he says fish passage was strong.
The Pilot Station sonar - the main tool used by managers to calculate upriver escapement – was regularly showing that lower river fishermen were catching more fish than were allowed to pass upriver.
Jeff Estensen, Yukon River In-Season Manager for the Department of Fish and Game, confirms that he cancelled one commercial opener in mid-August out of concern that lower Yukon commercial fishermen were catching too many coho. And upon further review, concedes that the Pilot Station sonar has probably been undercounting coho.
Estensen: “After talking to the sonar staff, we came to the determination that the actual number was a little bit higher than that. For example, the 97,500 coho that we counted at Pilot Station through the end of the operation, we believe that is kind of a minimum count, and what we actually have going by is closer to 122,000, which is median or average for the sonar.” ]
Estensen says that Fish and Game wants to get more information about where coho salmon go in the Yukon River drainage, with an eye towards setting more detailed escapement targets for the run.
Estensen: “The Department is pursuing funding right now to do a radio telemetry project on the Yukon – radio tagging – where the coho would tagged in the lower river, and then we would use a series of towers and aerial flights to try to track where they are going, and get a sense of the timing of when they are moving into different areas.”
The escapement project at the Delta Clearwater doesn’t happen until October. Even then, Estensen says, the data it produces does not show a strong correlation with the Pilot Station sonar, leaving managers to guess on what the true coho escapement and run size might be.
The Yukon coho management plan allows Estensen to schedule directed commercial openings for coho in September, but he does not intend to do so, which would make Friday’s openings in Yukon Districts 1 and 2 the last ones for the season.
Biking and paddling around the world....twice
September 4, 2015
(Left: Angelo Wilkie-Page and his kayak on the Yukon River at Galena. Photo by Tim Bodony. Right: Map of a portion of the Expedition 720 Degrees route)
A visit by a kayaker or canoeist is not an unusual occurrence for a Yukon River community like Galena. But a visit by someone trying to go around the world in two different directions is a bit more rare.
Angelo Wilkie-Page is a 30 year old South African, taking a short break from the second leg of his five part journey that began last year in California, and will take him around the world from east to west, and from pole to pole, using only human-powered transportation.
He calls the journey Expedition 720 Degrees.
It began with a bike trip from Los Angeles to Fairbanks from November 2014 to March 2015. The current leg of the journey involves paddling the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, eventually getting to Nome, where Wilkie-Page will await clearance to enter Russia. He hopes to avoid the legal mishaps that have hampered other round-the-world expeditions when they have tried to cross from Alaska to eastern Russia.
Wilkie-Page: ”The bureaucracy involved with crossing from Alaska into Russia is quite tricky, because it is a militarized zone. They don’t want people there really. So it is not just about getting a visa, but about getting the right permits. So that it what I will be doing during the winter I spend in Nome, getting the right documentation, so that when I get across I wont have any of those issues.”
If all goes well, Wilkie-Page will be paddling his kayak across the Bering Strait into Russia next year, where he says the hardest portion of the journey awaits him before he can reach the city of Magadan and hook up with the notoriously challenging Road of Bones across Siberia.
Wilkie-Page: “Once I go up to Wales and Little Diomede, and then cross over, that will be the real challenge. Then I have another 200-odd miles portage across the Kamchatka Peninsula – very rarely been done, I’m not even sure it has been done before. Kayaking that straight is going to be extremely difficult, so I’ll actually be relieved to get to Magadan and to get back on a road. It is a very tricky road, but it is doable. And I will be doing
it in the winter when the road is compact. That is why I started the project in winter and cycled through Alaska to prepare myself for Siberia.”
Wilkie-Page originally planned to float the Yukon all the way to the mouth and then paddle along the coast of Norton Sound to Nome, but now he is considering the Kaltag to Unalakleet portage, forwarding his kayak onto Unalakleet by air and hiking from Kaltag to the headwaters of the Unalakleet River, where he would meet up with a pack raft and float down to the coast.
His planned route across Asia will take him by bicycle across Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Turkey, skirting around Syria and Iraq to get to Egypt,
and then down the eastern side of Africa to his home country of South Africa. Then Wilkie-Page will use a row boat to cross the south Atlantic to Brazil, where he will begin the process of a pole-to-pole circumnavigation, which has never been done by a human-powered expedition.
If Wilkie-Page completes the expedition as planned, he will break four Guinness world records for world travel.
You can learn more at Angelo’s website, www.expedition720degrees.com, or on his Expedition 720 Degrees Facebook page.
Belugas on the Yukon: Fish-eating whales follow the salmon upriver
August 31, 2015
Residents of the middle Yukon River from Kaltag to Ruby have seen several groups of beluga whales over the past few weeks.
Beluga sightings so far upriver are uncommon but not unheard of. A group of belugas made it past Hughes on the Koyukuk River in the fall of 2001 – more than 550 miles from the ocean. And a single juvenile beluga was found dead over a thousand miles from the sea on the banks of the Tanana River near Nenana in 2006.
Fish and Game Marine Mammal Biologist Lori Quakenbush in Fairbanks explains that going upriver is not a problem for belugas.
Quakenbush: "It depends on how shallow the water gets, how high the water levels are, how high they can go and whether there is anything interesting up there. If there are fish going up and they can catch the fish either along the banks or concentrated in certain area, that would certainly be a place of interest and belugas might go there. They are not obligated saltwater animals, fresh water is fine for them"
Quakenbush does not have a firm explanation for the apparent increase in beluga sightings on the Yukon this year. But elsewhere in the state, belugas have been known to escape into rivers to avoid one of their main predators.
Quakenbush: "One of the things that belugas have to worry about are killer whales, who are a major predator of the beluga. Killer whales are quite a bit bigger than belugas and need deeper water, so one of the main escape behaviors for belugas is to go into shallower water than the killer whales can get into. So if there were killer whales at the mouth of the river when the belugas were eating chums, it is a possibility that the belugas would go up the river to get away from the killer whales and stay up there."
Belugas use sonar to navigate and find food – which often includes copious amounts of fish. Quakenbush says that a dead beluga from Cook Inlet was found with 12 coho salmon weighing close to 100 pounds in its stomach – and that was just one of multiple feedings that a beluga could do in one day.
With about a month left before ice starts forming on interior rivers, Quakenbush doesn’t think that the belugas will have much trouble getting back to the ocean – as long as they don’t go too far upriver.
Quakenbush: "The problem for them could be if the water drops and they stuck above some sandbar or something like that and they can’t get past it and get down. That might be what happened to the beluga that was found near Nenana."
The hunting of beluga whales and other marine mammals is regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. As with the harvest of other marine mammals, beluga hunters must be at least one-quarter Alaska Native. But according to NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Officer Les Cockreham, a beluga that swims upriver is not subject to any additional hunting restrictions.
Quakenbush: "Basically there is no permit required, there is no season, and they can take as many as they want. However there is one law that we look at very heavily that is in play, and that is a “no waste” issue. In other words, if they kill an animal they have to utilize it."
Cockreham cautions against hunting belugas without prior experience, due to the high risk of losing the animal after striking it.
The Yukon River belugas are likely from the Eastern Bering Sea stock, which sustains a healthy population level despite subsistence hunting pressure. The Cook Inlet population of belugas, however, is listed as an endangered species and cannot be hunted.
Moose hunting preview: Nowitna, Kaiyuh, and Pilot Mountain Slough
August 21, 2015
Our look at moose populations in Unit 21 continues today with overviews of the Nowitna River corridor, along with the Kaiyuh Flats and Pilot Mountain area.
Like Three Day Slough, the Nowitna River moose population is substantially lower than it was 20 to 30 years ago. Fish and Game Area Biologist Glenn Stout explains that it is largely a habitat issue, and that the Big Creek wildfire this year will pay off in a long term recovery of the moose population there.
Stout: “The densities have been much lower in that area for some time. For a large part it is because of succession. They used to enjoy some pretty high densities there in the 1980s and 90s. There have been quite a few fires to the east of the Nowitna River going towards Ruby, but a lot of that country west of the Nowitna River had not burned for a long time. So succession has occurred to where willows were replaced by birch and birch were replaced by spruce. There were some pretty extensive areas of spruce in that country. That fire we had this year, though, in the Big Creek / Deep Creek area burned over 300 thousand acres. I would expect 10 to 15 years from now, we are going to start seeing some benefits in terms of moose.”
The burn left by the Big Creek Fire goes right up to the west bank of the Nowitna River over a wide area, but Stout does not think the fire has displayed too many moose because most riparian areas next to creeks and lakes were left unharmed.
A big fire in 2004 has resulted in beneficial moose habitat recently on the Kaiyuh Flats – south of the Yukon across from Koyukuk and Nulato. Stout says the numbers there are looking quite good.
Stout: “We are seeing increasing densities of moose on the Kaiyuh and based on the work that the Koyukuk Refuge has been doing down here shows moer consistently high twinning rates because of that fire. We are seeing twinning rates go up and the total population is starting to do better.”
At the edge of the Kaiyuh around Pilot Mountain Slough, Stout says that the moose population is stable despite perennially strong hunting pressure.
Stout: "Our bull-cow ratios have always been chronically low in the Pilot Mountain Slough area, and I think that is just because there is a lot of hunting pressure from people in Galena, Koyukuk and even Ruby. It is pretty accessible. So that’s pretty explainable. But our cow numbers look like they are holding up and they are probably benefiting from that burn, which is just to the south of that area. Even with low bull-cow ratios, they are not so low that they are a concern. We are maintaining 20 to 25 bulls per 100 cows in that area, and that is more than enough in terms of biology to get all of the cows bred. It is providing what we need. Typically in a low bull-cow ratio area, we are producing a lot of bulls that are taken at a younger age. So people may not be seeing a lot of large bulls taken out there, but we are kind of managing in this area more in terms of quantity rather than quality in terms of our bull harvest.”
Moose hunting preview: Three Day Slough and Dulbi area
The subsistence moose hunting season begins this Saturday for several areas in Unit 21 around the middle Yukon and lower Koyukuk, including sections of Unit 21B and 21D.
In the Koyukuk River corridor, state and federal biologists observed an increase in the number of cow moose with twins this past May – usually an indication that moose habitat was healthy over the prior year. But twinning rate typically fluctuates up and down from year to year, and overall the moose population has been declining in the historic moose hunting destinations of Three Day Slough and the Dulbi River. Fish and Game Area Biologist Glenn Stout explains why:
Stout: The habitat up around Three Day Slough we know is starting to decline, in several senses. Natural succession is occurring there where we are losing a lot of our willow communities. It is becoming birch and then spruce. We are seeing some drying up in that area where a lot of those meadows that used to be willow meadows are becoming grass lakes and then getting encroached by some spruce. And then the effect of those really high densities. For years and years we had really high densities, and as moose browse and have an effect on the willow communities up there then the willows have declined.
This summer, the Holtnakatna Fire burned nearly 212 thousand acres in the Dulbi and Koyukuk River drainages north of Galena and southeast of Huslia. Unlike most wildfires, which burn in a patchwork fashion leaving pockets of unburned vegetation for animals to retreat to, the Holtnakatna Fire burned even so-called riparian areas – the wetter areas bordering lakes and streams. Stout predicts that this fire behavior could have an impact on moose hunting this fall.
Stout: Just kind of looking at my crystal ball a little bit and cant say for sure, but that may have the effect of pushing a lot of moose down to the river in that particular area this year, just because the fire burned a lot of riparian [habitat]. I think people may perceive a lot of moose along the river when they are out hunting this year. That will be a very beneficial fire in the years to come because I think it will rejuvenate a lot of willow and birch communities – it will set them back to willows where in recent years there have been birch and spruce. So I think that will be a big benefit for moose in that area.
FCC rejects Dish Network/Doyon "very small business" claim
A joint venture between Doyon Limited and Dish Network to provide wireless communications will not be allowed to claim federal bidding credits.
According to a Federal Communications Commission document released on Tuesday, the FCC has rejected the application for $3.25 billion in credits, which the companies were trying to claim after agreeing to pay $7.8 billion to win a wireless spectrum auction earlier this year.
Dish Network and Doyon teamed up to form Northstar Wireless LLC, with Dish Network owning 85 percent of the joint venture. Based on Doyon’s participation, Northstar hoped to qualify for refunds offered to "very small" businesses, defined as those that bring in less than $15 million in gross revenues over the past three years. Dish Network reported a gross revenue of over $13 billion for that time period.
Several taxpayer advocacy groups and a congressional committee sharply criticized the joint venture as a blatant attempt by Dish Network to reduce its bill to the federal government for the wireless frequencies it wanted to secure.
Doyon denies those claims, and according to CEO Aaron Schutt, is considering an appeal to the FCC’s ruling.
GILA students to return to school amid construction
August 17, 2015
When Galena students go back to school later this week, two major renovation projects at the Galena Interior Learning Academy will be ongoing.
After last school year ended, the GILA Student Union Building was stripped down all the way to the metal frame. Contractors are installing a brand new roof, wall and floor to replace what the Galena school district inherited from the Air Force. The interior design will be much different the old student union building, and as Galena Superintendent Chris Reitan explains, everything in the new SUB should be an improvement on what they had before.
Reitan: The space utilization will be much more conducive to student programming, a much more open interior design so it will be much easier to supervise. We’ll have a real coffee shop with an outdoor window so people can walk up and get coffee, a movie theatre system, a stage for the musical programs and a game room. The best part about it from a district standpoint is that we are going to save a good chunk of money on heat and electricity, because it will be upgraded with state-of-the-art HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems and the like.
Reitan says the new SUB should be ready for students by the beginning of the second semester after Christmas break.
Reitan: It’s on schedule, looking for a January official start date. [This] week, the insulated panels are supposed to be here. Contractors say within a month they can have all the insulated panels in, so then they will work inside on concrete work and finish work. Their bid indicated a mid-December finish and they are on schedule now.
As construction continues during the fall, Reitan’s major concern is security and safety, and the contractor plans to put barricades up to prevent students from getting into the construction site.
Meanwhile, work continues on repairing the water plant on base, which was heavily damaged by a fire in late April. The water plant is functional but cannot yet pump water out of its own well, so water continues to be trucked to the base from the water plant in new town Galena. Tanker deliveries were barely able to keep up with demand at the end of the school year in the spring.
City and school officials expect the base water plant to be fully operational by the middle of September. In the meantime, Reitan says that the school will try to implement water conservations measures.
Reitan: I really don’t know what else we can do besides work with our students to try to minimize the loads of laundry they are doing and how long they taking showers. One of the main consumptions is the dining hall, and that wont be reduced because of the needs for hygiene and cleanliness. It will be something we will just have to muddle through and do the best we can.
School starts in Galena this Friday.
Bottom-dwelling hydropower system could beat Interior Alaska's driftwood problem
August 14, 2015
(The Ocean Renewable Power Company RivGen system, awaiting deployment to the bottom of the river. Photo by ORPC)
A prototype in-river hydropower system is currently in operation at Igiugig in southwest Alaska, on the west side of Lake Iliamna.
The design could be appropriate for western and interior Alaska river communities, where previous tests of in-river hydropower have not gone too well.
The prototype is called the RivGen, and it was designed by Ocean Renewable Power Company, which is based in Maine but has an office and several projects underway in Alaska. Unlike the small hydropower unit tested at Ruby a few years ago, which was suspended just under the surface of the water on a small pontoon platform, the prototype in use at Iguigig right now sits on the river bottom. It’s much wider than it is tall and looks like an old fashioned push lawn mower rather than a typical wind mill or table fan shape.
ORPC Director of Project Development Monty Worthington was involved with the Ruby project, and now works on the RivGen. He says its design gives it a major advantage for operating on a river like the Yukon:
Worthington: It gets us down below the floating debris in a river. That can be wood, that can be ice in some cases. Anything that is floating on the surface of the river we are no longer in the way of, and it also includes impeding navigation in certain areas, so we can be down a depth where boats are able to pass freely over the device.
If placed in a river like the Yukon, the RivGen or any in-river hydropower system would still have to contend with heavy amounts of silt, grinding into and ruining moving parts. Worthington says the company has been studying that problem for years.
Worthington: The areas that are moving that are susceptible to silt are the bearings that hold the turbine shaft in place and the seals that prevent water from getting into the generator. Those both have moving surfaces. So starting in 2009, we began working with the University of Alaska Anchorage under a DOE [Department of Energy]-funded project to examine the effects of silt on those moving parts, and that has been ongoing, off and on, for several years now. We’ve gathered a lot of really good data and come up with some good candidate components that seem to have very reasonable lifecycles and maintenance cycles in silty water.
The RivGen test site on the Kvichak River at Igiugig is clear and mostly free of debris – not an ideal place to test the turbine’s ability to deal with driftwood and silt. But the clear water does give researchers a better chance to watch how the blades impact fish, another important environmental consideration that hydropower designers must deal with.
The RivGen design is currently rated to produce 25 kilowatts, just a fraction of the electricity demand from a large village like Galena, but enough to handle the summer time load of a small community like Igiugig, according to Worthington. He says it is possible for ORPC to make a bigger version of the RivGen, similar to the ocean version they are using to harness tidal power. But making the RivGen too big would introduce other problems.
Worthington: The biggest driver for the design of our RivGen turbines is have something that can be easily installed and operated with locally-available equipment on these rivers. A place like Igiugig is a bit more limited than a place on the Yukon. We wanted to design somewhere that you could easily move around with typically available equipment in river communities.
Worthington says that more testing will be required to figure out if the RivGen can work throughout the winter under the ice. The unit is designed to function at a river current of around 5 mph, and wintertime currents under the ice may not be fast enough at a given location. In any case, Worthington expects that any in-river hydro system would need to be excavated from a river and pulled up on shore in the spring before breakup.
The company has yet to figure out how much a RivGen unit will cost.
To watch a video of the RivGen being deployed at Igiugig in July, follow this link. http://www.orpc.co/newsevents_mediacenter.aspx?id=giwkVW9%2bPhI%3d
Yukon fall chum run builds slowly and steadily
August 11, 2015
(from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Daily Update, August 10, 2015)
Yukon River fall chum salmon have been coming into the river at a slow but steady drip over the past two weeks, with no major pulses developing.
A total of 245 thousand fall chum had passed the Pilot Station sonar counter as of Sunday. Another group of fall chum and coho was detected at the lower river test fisheries yesterday, but its size will not be determined until it reaches Pilot Station.
Fish and Game still believes that the fall chum are on track for a run of between 700 thousand and 800 thousand fish – which is enough for escapement, an above-average subsistence harvest, and a commercial harvest.
Meanwhile, the number of king salmon reaching Canada has surpassed 82 thousand fish – the highest number ever counted since the Eagle Sonar project began in 1995.
GCI working to 'close the ring' on TerraNet
A plan to bring land-based high speed internet to the western Interior is moving forward this summer.
GCI’s TerraNet uses hilltop repeater sites to pass microwave signals along the ground, rather than sending the signals to satellites in space.
The system is already in operation in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, and around Bristol Bay. But GCI is eager to get TerraNet up and running in the western Interior because it’s the final phase in a process the company calls “closing the ring.”
GCI Spokesperson David Morris explains that, once all TerraNet sites are connected in a loop and linked up with GCI’s high speed fiber optic lines around Anchorage and Fairbanks, internet services gets faster and fixing problems becomes simpler.
Morris: Because once you have the ring, you have effectively doubled the capacity on the Terra network. Right now, because it is single thread, we have to have satellite backup for it. The amount of capacity that you can put on a hybrid microwave / fiber system is just significantly more than what you will find on satellites. Once you get the ring, that creates the ability to switch traffic in either direction in the event that there is a break, so that the traffic remains in service.”
The TerraNet repeater sites are located about 50 miles apart down the Yukon River corridor, including sites at Mission Hill and Grant Creek near Tanana, Gold Mountain near the mouth of the Nowitna River, the Melozi, and Galena.
6 sites are planned for construction in the next phase of the TerraNet build-out, including the last crucial backbone sites between Galena and Buckland, which will close the TerraNet ring.
In addition to the backbone sites, TerraNet has spur lines that would extend the network to outlying villages. A repeater on Totson Mountain south of Galena would allow GCI to eventually offer high speed internet service to Kaltag, Nulato and Koyukuk.
Morris says that extension of service beyond the main line of TerraNet, like many projects in remote parts of Alaska, is taking more time than anticipated.
Morris: We’ve [extended service to smaller villages] in the Y-K Delta, and that is simply because we have had more years to do that. To hit all the small villages along the Terra network is a pretty daunting task. That is why we say it is still several years out to get this completed because there are just a lot of things that are taking place
Transporting equipment, building materials and fuels to the repeater sites relies on helicopters. Even though wildland firefighting has placed a huge demand on helicopters statewide this summer, the helicopters that GCI had planned to use have not been called away for fire duty.
Several of the remote relay stations are relatively close to wildfires, including the site on Mission Hill, which also provides cellular phone service to Tanana. Morris says that GCI made arrangements to keep its cell tower there active, and despite the wildfire threat, it has stayed online providing service to Tanana.
Morris: “There was concern that power would have to be cut to the site so that firefighters would not have to work under live transmission lines. We were told there was a decent fire break, but it was still possible that smoke or heat may cause damage. So at that point, we shipped a standby generator to Tanana and made a plan to use satellites to maintain service.”
When a repeater site cannot connect to an electrical grid, GCI is using small diesel generators to power the sites. The generators are designed to run independently and feature an automatic oil cleaning system to reduce the need for routine maintenance. Each diesel power site will hold about 9000 gallons of fuel in storage, and will be refueled by helicopter each summer.
The seed money for TerraNet came through a stimulus program grant and loan package, including 44 million dollars in grants and 44 million dollars in loans. But Morris says that money has been spent long ago and the federal government is no longer funding the expansion of TerraNet.
Morris: “That was a one-and-done. That is what allowed the initial part of TerraNet to get distributed from Anchorage to the Bethel region. There has been a little bit of extra money from the federal government to extend it to Unalakleet, but everything beyond that is just at-risk capital – in other words, just money from the company. ”
Morris says that TerraNet has been so popular in western Alaska that GCI is already having to upgrade its equipment to handle the demand and improve service.
GCI is also upgrading many of its cellular data networks around rural Alaska, though Morris did not know when Galena might move up from its current “2-G” level of service.
Plans for St. Mary's wind farm advance thanks to state funding
The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative is moving ahead with its plans to build a wind farm for St. Mary's and Pitkas Point on the lower Yukon, after receiving the necessary funding through the fiscal year 2016 state capital budget.
A $4.3 million appropriation of state money remained in the trimmed-down capital budget even as other projects were cut.
Continue reading: http://www.alaskapublic.org/2015/07/21/state-funding-allows-progression-of-st-marys-wind-farm-plans/
Deliciousness over Washington DC: Sable Scotton's winning jarred salmon-based recipe earns her a trip to the White House
July 10, 2015
10 year old Sable Scotton of Galena represents Alaska today at the Kids’ State Dinner at the White House.
Sable and youth representatives from the other 49 states, the District of Columbia, and several territories are the winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a contest put on by First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Initiative to reduce childhood obesity in America and promote healthy food choices.
Over one thousand entries from kids ages 8 to 12 were submitted. Entrants were encouraged to create original recipes based on ingredients and styles specific to their regions.
Sable’s winning recipe is a jarred fish-based creation called “Deliciousness over Rice.” She describes the basics of how it’s made:
Sable: “You chop up vegetables and you roast them with olive oil, pepper and garlic. And then you saute the onions and the celery and then you add milk to that and you stir it until it thickens. Then you add the fish and the vegetables. Then you put it on rice and eat it.”
The kids don’t have to cook or compete against each other at the event , so Sable thinks it will be more fun than stressful.
Sable: "They will choose a couple of recipes and the cooks at the White House will make them. So while we're there we are basically on vacation. You dont have to do anything - except freak out when you see Michelle [Obama]."
Sable and the other contest winners got a chance to meet President Obama, who worked the room after his wife's speech. The kids were also treated to a live performance by the cast of the Broadway production of "Aladdin".
The audio version of the story as heard on KIYU is here.
You can get the recipe for "Deliciousness Over Rice" and learn more about the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge at this link.
Bison delivered by barge to Innoko valley
June 9, 2015
The first load of wood bison bulls has been successfully released into the wild in the Innoko River valley.
Late last month, 12 bulls traveled by barge in special air-conditioned containers from Nenana to the unloading site, several miles upriver from Shageluk, where a group of cows and calves has been roaming since April.
Wood Bison Restoration Project Manager Tom Seaton with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says that the most dramatic part of the process may have been the rush to transition the bulls from trucks to the barge at Nenana on a very hot day.
Seaton: “It was in the high eighties, so it was way too hot for the animals. We tried to transition them from the trucks to the barge as fast as possible. We used a fire hose from the Tanana River to spray into the containers to get the bison damp, and that was the way we were able to keep their temperature down. But that was the most difficult time that few minutes from the trucks to the barge."
After the bulls were loaded in their shipping containers, things proceeded rather uneventfully until the barge arrived at the unloading site, where Seaton had observed a group of bison cows a few days before. The crew cleared an alleyway through the riverside brush for the bison to move through, and then the bulls were free to disembark. What happened next, according to Seaton, was not at all similar to the first release of bison in April, when the cows and calves stampeded out of their holding pen.
Seaton: “It was a bit of a step down on carpet...I don’t know if they’ve ever walked on carpet before. The carpet was there for traction on that slick
metal surface of the barge. Then they made about a 90 degree turn and walked off of the barge onto the bank and up that alleyway. They just did it real nice and slow. They would stop and look back every now and then, all the way to the very last one. For whatever reason he decided that he didn’t really want to come out. We opened all the doors and he still didn’t want to come out. So then we all went away and made things as quiet as possible, then after about 20 minutes he eased out on his own.”
Aerial surveillance shortly after the release showed that a small group of bulls immediately honed in on the scent of the cows, while another chose to swim across the Innoko River in the opposite direction from the cows. Since then, satellite tracking collars show that at least a few bulls have reunited with the cows and calves, and there is nothing to suggest that any of the bulls have died in the transition to the wild.
Seaton is pleased.
Seaton: “It’s all going really, really well, and we’ve shown that you can haul big bull wood bison by barge in the summer, which is a bit of an experiment in itself.”
Another group of 18 bulls is scheduled to make a similar journey by barge beginning next week.
A small group of wood bison remains in captivity at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, where the now-wild wood bison were raised.
Until this spring, wood bison had not roamed the wilds of Alaska for more than 100 years.
Original audio version here.
Leann Sommer elected to Gana-A'Yoo Board of Directors
June 8, 2015
Three new members were elected to the Gana-A'Yoo Limited Board of Directors at its annual shareholder meeting in Kaltag on Saturday.
John Madros won the seat for Kaltag residents. Kimberly George Bower won an at-large seat.
Leann Sommer won the seat for Galena non-residents. Sommer is a 2007 graduate of the Sidney C Huntington School in Galena, and a 2011 graduate of Fort Lewis College in Colorado. She currently works as Corporate Sales Manager for The Lakefront Anchorage, formerly known as the Millennium Hotel.
At age 26, she is unofficially the youngest shareholder ever to serve on the Gana-A’Yoo Board. Sommer previously served as chair of the Gana A Yoo Shareholder Relations Committee.
She hopes that her election of the Board inspires others of her generation to do the same.
Sommer: “We have to fill these seats that are eventually going to come out and we have to take charge. Filling this spot is only going to give me the experience to carry on what I learned from [experienced leaders] and I think that main thing is the encouragement to others – being a young person and being able to fill this seat. Showing that it is doable.”
Leann Sommer is a one of only a relatively small number of shareholders under 35 years old for Gana-A’Yoo, which has never reopened the shareholder rolls to add new members since the corporation began in 1978. Younger people like Leann have been able to become shareholders by receiving shares as gifts or inheritance from relatives, as Leann did from her late grandfather Ed Pitka Sr.
Sommer says that the biggest issue that Gana-A’Yoo will have to tackle in the next few years is how to incorporate the next generations of shareholders.
Sommer: “Right now, our median age for a shareholder is about 50 years old. So we need to either gift more shares or open enrollment. And one of the challnges of doing that is informing everybody. And a challenge with informing everybody is getting the biased views, as one side says ‘we can get more shareholders,’ and the other says ‘I don’t want to dilute my shares, because then my votes becomes less valuable.’”
More shareholders would also likely mean lower dividends.
Sommer is strongly in favor of reopening enrollment.
Sommer: “Look where that has gotten me now. I am serving on the Board of Directors because my grandfather decided to divvy up all of his shares among all of his grandchildren. So I course I am in favor of open enrollment, so we can see people who go out and get an education be able to get on the Board and serve.”
Gana-A’Yoo currently has about 1600 people on the shareholder rolls, and Sommer estimates that another 1000 could be added if enrollment was opened again.
Gana-A'Yoo Limited is the merged for-profit village corporation for Galena, Kaltag, Nulato and Koyukuk. It specializes in contract services in areas such as food service and building maintenance for organizations as far away as Antarctica.
The original audio version of the story, as heard in the June 8 2015 KIYU newscast, is here.
Galena School Board approves FY16 budget and Gana-A'Yoo lease, but rejects chipping in to pay for second police officer
June 5, 2015
The Galena School Board passed its Fiscal Year 2016 budget Wednesday night, with only a few changes to the draft version of the budget.
The School Board added $176,000 to purchase new laptop computers to be issued to high schoolers.
The Board narrowly rejected an amendment to pay for half of the salary of a second police officer in Galena. The City of Galena requested funds from the School District to help pay for a second police officer, but the proposal failed on a 3 to 2 vote.
The Board also approved a lease with Gana A Yoo Limited for the 7-Plex Apartment Building in old town Galena, which will be offered as housing for incoming teachers.
The budget as approved now calls for close to $27 million in spending and about $25.5 in revenue – though the income amount could change depending on how the legislature chooses to fund public education for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1st.
Galena School Board set to tackle budget, change teacher housing arrangements
June 4, 2015
Amid uncertainty about state funding for education, the Galena City School District Board of Education has the job of passing a budget for the district tonight (Wednesday).
The proposed budget predicts that revenues will drop by almost $4 million from the current budget, to $25.49 million. Anticipated spending is close to $26.8 million – a deficit of about $1.3 million.
That shortfall could either be covered by dipping into savings, or as GCSD Superintendent Chris Reitan explains, the deficit could shrink considerably if the legislature ends up funding education at a level that has been proposed in its more-recent negotiations.
Reitan: “What we did in putting the budget forward was based on the last information we got from the Senate Finance Committee, a 4 percent cut to the BSA, which to us is an over 900 thousand dollar cut to our General Fund budget. I don’t believe it is going to be that. If you look at what has been going back and forth between the House and Senate so far, I think there will be a little bit of a reduction, but it is always easier to add money than to take it away.”
The proposed budget also assumes that enrollment in the IDEA correspondence school program will be 3700 students. A number higher than that would also cut away at the possible deficit.
Though the gridlock in the state legislature has been fiercer this year than any in recent history, Reitan predicts that it is just a taste of what’s to come.
Reitan: “Next year, when we look back, this year will be considered an easy legislative year. The easiest way to put it I think will be a ‘blood bath.’ I think the cuts that have been made at the legislature have been relatively easy so far. Next year will be going much deeper.”
In particular, Reitan expects the legislature to significantly decrease the base student allocation – the payment that the state makes to a district for each student in that district.
Reitan: “The dialogue has been to protect the BSA the best we can. But I don’t think that is going to stay there. Last year, the legislature through House Bill 278, increased the BSA for the next three years. I think that will be scaled back, and I think it is going to be very difficult for most districts who are already in a budget crisis to provide adequate services to the students they serve.”
Another action item on the school board’s agenda tonight would alter how the district could provide housing assistance to new teachers. The school board will vote on a lease agreement with Gana A’Yoo Limited for the 7-plex apartment building in old town Galena. In recent years, some teachers and dorm staff have received district-subsidized housing in the Iditarod Inn dormitory on base. But Reitan says that the district should take a new approach to housing if it wants to attract and retain quality teachers.
Reitan: “Pretty much the entire teaching staff we’ve had in the Iditarod [Inn] has turned over. We’re just looking for a way we could have some housing that is available for new people coming to Galena, so they can get their feet underneath them and we can staff the positions that we have. At the Job Fair in March, we had a number of good candidates who were very interested in us who walked away because we could not give them any information on available housing. So after that, I just started a conversation with Gana A’Yoo. They were interested because they don’t have anybody in there [the 7-plex] at this time and it looks like we are going to have a reasonable lease from them at a good price. And we are also doing them a favor because we will be taking care of the day-to-day maintenance of the building.”
The proposed lease of the 7-plex from Gana A’Yoo would cost the District 39 thousand 600 dollars per year. With the cost of fuel, maintenance and insurance added in, the annual cost of operating the 7-plex would come to 90 thousand dollars. About 66 thousand dollars in rent from tenants would offset part of that expense, leaving the district with a final bill of about 24 thousand dollars per year.
Muskrat population on the rise across Alaska
muskrat photo from Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game
The muskrat population across much of Alaska appears to be on the rise.
The fur-bearing rodent used to be extremely common in the first half of the 20th century, and harvesting muskrats for their meat and fur was a critical part of springtime subsistence activities.
Galena elder Paddy Nollner remembers a time when it seemed like there was a never-ending supply of muskrats, and muskrat furs were a valuable trade good.
Nollner: "People go out and get 40, 50, 60 muskrat, and every night they go out again and get the same amount, like if God was providing the hide to bring into the trading post to get groceries for the summer, fall, winter and then springtime again.”
Nollner places the beginning of the muskrat decline around Galena in the early 1950s. Elsewhere, muskrats may have remained abundant until the early 1970s.
Then muskrat populations dropped sharply, and stayed relatively low until the past few years.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist and pilot Brad Scotton says that the muskrat decline happened all across North America at roughly the same time, and scientists are still debating why it happened. No single explanation works continent-wide. But in certain areas, habitat loss, environmental contamination, changes in water depth, increased predation and overabundance help explain the decline.
It is clear that muskrats are prolific breeders, and Scotton thinks that helps cast aside the theory that too much hunting and trapping caused the population collapse.
Scotton: "Muskrats can have three litters in one season, of up to twelve each. So they can reproduce really rapidly and you can sustain very, very high harvest rates on muskrats. Even though there were local harvests that were high – probably certain lakes had a lot of harvest out of them – there’s probably adjacent lakes that had very little harvests, and those muskrats will move. People have been saying that they are seeing them around town right now – those are muskrats on the move in the spring, setting up shop in a new place and presumably they will have more litters.”
State Fish and Game biologist and pilot Tom Seaton has been studying muskrats for more than 20 years, mainly in the Tanana and upper Yukon drainages. In those areas too, the muskrats were virtually extinct for a while.
Seaton: “In the 80s and 90s, and even into the 2000s, it was hard to find a muskrat pushup anywhere in interior Alaska. Minto Flats, for example, was known by the fur industry for phenomenal rats and the huge numbers that would come out of there. I’ve flown it several times in the 1990s and early 2000s where you could literally fly for an hour and not find one single muskrat pushup. Such a drastic change.”
But then Seaton and other biologists began to see an upswing in muskrat populations around 2004. From the vantage point of his airplane, Seaton has witnessed a steadily growing population every year since then.
Seaton: ”We started to gain from being none or one muskrat house per lake, to 20 and 30 and sometimes even a hundred muskrat houses on a lake. And now, as of this year, there’s even more, both Yukon Flats and Tanana Flats. There’s lakes were there are hundreds of muskrat houses on a lake.”
Seaton says he’s excited to how the abundance of muskrats affects the ecosystems in which they live. Muskrats are largely vegetarian, and are eaten by hawks, owls, mink, and otters.
Trappers might also welcome the return of the muskrat, as muskrat furs have bought in as much as 19 dollars apiece in a fur auction earlier this year. The average price was closer to 5 dollars each, but demand was strong from both Chinese and Canadian buyers. Muskrat fur goes into winter hats for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian military.
As for how long muskrat numbers will remain high…nobody knows.
The original audio version of this story, as heard in the May 26 KIYU Newscast, is here.
No track, no problem: Galena two-man track team dominates at Fairbanks regional meet
Kaleb Korta winning the 3200 meter race at the 2014 state championship track meet. (Photo from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
Galena may not have a track, but high school runners Kaleb Korta and Jacob Moos packed some spikes and flew into Fairbanks last week to compete in the regional track meet at Hutchison / West Valley High School.
Korta won the 3200 meters (2 miles), 1600 meters (1 mile) and 800 meters, earning him automatic berths in each event to the state track championships in Anchorage this weekend. Moos finished second to Korta in each of those events, and his times were fast enough to secure an at-large berth in all three events as well.
Hear more about the Galena track team's strong performance in Fairbanks in this KIYU news story, first heard on May 25.
SEGA gearing up, but still no contract with Gana-A'Yoo
Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska is moving ahead with plans to produce wood chips for use in a municipal wood heat system for the Galena base. But a timber harvest contract with the dominant landowner around Galena – Gana-A’Yoo Limited – has yet to be finalized.
Gana-A‘Yoo delivered a draft timber sale agreement over the winter, but as SEGA General Manager Tim Kalke explains, the two parties have not come to complete agreement yet, owing mainly to the fact that the Galena biomass energy project will be different in many respects from the others already in operation elsewhere in Alaska.
Kalke: "The SEGA Board of Directors were able to look that over, and we put together a pretty extensive list of items we would like to have molded and massaged into an agreement that works for our conditions. This is really an exciting venture because harvesting trees for biomass specifically is a rarity and having it happen here in the interior of Alaska on native land is also a new thing. So it’s not as if there are contracts that one could pull out and say ‘here is how they do it.’”
Gana-A’Yoo and SEGA have come to terms on how the harvested wood will be measured and sold, and Kalke says it will be different than what most other biomass heat systems in Alaska are doing.
Kalke: "Typically on the road system it is pretty easy, because you have a certified scale that weighs it all and then it’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s a just a matter of recording that information. But out here, to be able to do that, and have the weight scale continuously updated and checked out by everybody, it is much more time-consuming and expensive. So we’ve been able to work out an agreement where we will do forestry inventory and be able to measure everything by volume."
SEGA’s harvest plan targets areas of cottonwood-dominated forest immediately to the west of the Galena base. To satisfy the heat demands of the base, SEGA anticipates having to deliver between 16 and 18 hundred tons of chips per year. That works out to between 800 and 900 cords of wood.
Kalke says there are still several issues to work out regarding what happens after SEGA sells the finished wood chips to the City of Galena utility.
Kalke: "So SEGA is involved with harvesting the timber from the forest, transporting it close to the utility as possible and processing it into a chip. But then there’s that whole other end of what kind of storage container needs to be created or might already be here but we need to make it into something that will work for us? How’s it going to be delivered to the hopper, which is the main container that will feed the wood boiler? But we don’t know what that configuration is going to be yet."
More clarification on those design issues will come, according to Kalke, after SEGA and the contractors learn more about how much wood SEGA can deliver in a certain time period, and how long that wood needs to be stored before it can be burned.
Along with switching to wood as a heat source, contractors are also working on plans to transition the base heat system from steam to hot water. Engineering consultants predict that a hot water-based delivery system will cost less to maintain than the existing steam system.
SEGA performed a brief test of its harvesting equipment in April, and a larger test harvest is planned for this October and November. The new wood boiler could come online as early as October 2016.
The complete audio of the story, as heard on the May 22 KIYU newscasts, is here.
Bison by barge
(wood bison photo courtesy of Alaska Dpet. of Fish and Game)
Inland Barge will be hauling some unusual cargo in the near future.
28 wood bison bulls are scheduled to travel by barge from Nenana to the Innoko River near Shageluk, beginning some time in the next week. A larger group of cows and calves was delivered to the area by cargo plane earlier this year, and released into the wild on April 3rd.
Fish and Game biologist and pilot Tom Seaton is the Wood Bison Project Leader. He says that the males will be transported in the same shipping containers used to airlift the cows and calves, with some new modifications to make their four-day trip on the barge more comfortable.
"We increased ventilation by a significant amount. We now have air condition units and fans installed in there. We have a watering facility," Seaton explained.
"If they still get a little bit warm in there after all that, we have misting that we can go from river water so we can keep the containers and the animals damp and cool them down if we have really hot days. As you can see, we are having high 70s in May which is pretty amazingly warm."
The containers will also give each bull more space to move around compared to the set-up for the cows and calves. Bulls are considerably larger than cows, with some bulls measuring over 10 feet long and weighing over a ton.
Two handlers will travel with the bison on the barge to monitor their conditions around the clock. The barge will not be stopping to deliver additional freight. Instead, the Ramona will be moving downriver as quickly as possible to minimize the time that the bison have to spend in the containers.
Once the barge turns up the Innoko River, Seaton will take the skies to figure out the best unloading site and communicate that information to the barge.
"And right now the cows are mainly everywhere from 10 miles downstream of Shageluk on the Innoko to as much as 12 miles upstream from Shageluk. So we will find the best spot where it is safe for the bulls to unload, and it is also close enough to the cows that they can catch scent of the cows when they get off the barge and hopefully they will hook up over time.”
100 wood bison were released from Shageluk on April 3, and biologists have been monitoring them by radio tracking collars and by aerial surveillance since then. At least 14 cows and calves have died this spring, with most of those fatalities caused by failing through thin ice.
As of last week, 6 newborn calves had been observed, with more expected through the end of the bisons’ calving period in mid-June.
The adult and juvenile bison were raised at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. They have not appeared the wild in Alaska for more than 100 years until their reintroduction began last month.
Here is the audio version of the story, as heard on the May 20th KIYU news.
(photo of St. Mary's courtesy of wikimapia)
One of the few major projects to make it into the trimmed-down state capital budget this year would start up a wind farm at St. Mary’s. As it stands now, the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, or AVEC, would receive 4 point 3 million dollars to purchase and install four 100 kilowatt wind turbines, manufactured by Northern Power Systems. AVEC President and CEO Meera Kohler says that the rural utility nonprofit already operates 30 of the same type of windmill at several of its 56 member communities.
Learn more in this KIYU news story, as heard on May 14th.
Galena Interior Learning Academy Resident Advisor Natalie Olender and the Galena Musical Theatre debuted the brand new musical "Nothing To Do" last week in Galena. Olender wrote, directed and scored the production, after realizing that adapting an existing musical for Galena's unique situation was not the best way to go.
Click here for the whole story, as heard in the May 12 KIYU news.
Thanks to everyone who participated in Sidney Huntington's 100th Birthday celebration in Galena Saturday night. Hundreds of friends and family packed SHS gym to enjoy this historical night. There were speeches, presentations, letters from Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallot as well as President and First Lady Obama were read. Thanks also to those who gave to the Sidney Huntington scholarship and the YKEALF. Here is a copy of Sidney's speech. Tim will has more about the celebration in this story.