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From Our Listeners

Southeast Alaska News

Judge rejects 5 witnesses in Kodiak murder trial

Tue, 2014-04-22 00:04

ANCHORAGE — A federal judge on Monday rejected five witnesses in the Coast Guard double homicide case on Kodiak Island, ruling that defense attorneys had not established that their testimony was relevant.

One witness appeared in handcuffs after authorities say he tried to carry a handgun past the security checkpoint at the Anchorage federal building.

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Stalemate on education reform continues

Tue, 2014-04-22 00:04

Republicans in the House and Senate did little Monday to resolve their impasse on the governor’s omnibus education bill, causing the session to push on into today.

There are a number of issues the sides disagree on, but one stands well above the rest in importance — the Base Student Allocation.

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Dog ticks a growing concern in Alaska

Tue, 2014-04-22 00:03

FAIRBANKS — Many people think ticks can’t live in Alaska, but a state veterinarian says that’s not the case.

Some ticks, such as hare ticks, have always survived in the state, but nonnative dog ticks also have been found in Alaska, raising concerns for dogs, wildlife and the risk of spreading diseases to people.

Kimberlee Beckmen of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1gNmNF8 ) ticks on small mammals like snowshoe hares, squirrels and birds are endemic to the state.

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Photo: Boxes, boxes, boxes

Tue, 2014-04-22 00:00

Mitch Backes, of the Legislative Affairs Agency, stacks empty boxes outside of Sen. Cathy Giessel's office on Monday as the legislature prepares for the end of the session and the move of legislator's office material to their home districts.

JKT: “I’m all of 25, but I’ve never seen anything like it”

Mon, 2014-04-21 20:50

Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (third from left) joined HB 216 supporters  as senators debated the fate of the bill. The legislation, which passed moments later, makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

This story follows KTOO’s Alaska becomes second state to officially recognize indigenous languages. 

When the Alaska Senate passed House Bill 216 just after 3 a.m. Monday (3-21-14), nobody was more thrilled than its primary sponsor: Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.

“I’m all of 25 years old, but I have never seen anything like it,” he said.

Kreiss-Tomkins introduced HB 216, which makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages. On Easter Sunday, when it appeared the Senate might shelve the bill, supporters staged a 15-hour sit-in at the Capitol to demand it get a vote.

It was just one of four separate points during this legislative session, he said, when he thought the bill was dead. But each time, it was revived.

“They say not to fall in love with or get married with your legislation,” he said. “But I was hopelessly in love and star-crossed with House Bill 216. And I think if anything it was a good thing, because we never gave up.”

Asked if he had expected the kind of attention the bill has received, Kreiss-Tomkins said yes. The revival of Native languages, he said, is one of the most important issues in Alaska.

“This is recognition of Alaska Native languages as Alaska’s languages,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “These Native languages mean the world, I mean, they are who people are. If you talk with Selena Everson, who’s a Tlingit elder here in Juneau, who speaks Tlingit, she grew up having her mouth washed out with soap for speaking Tlingit at BIA schools. The Tlingit language is, as much as anything else, who she is.”

The bill passed the Senate, 18-2. It now goes to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.

Blue Lake loan authorization in limbo

Mon, 2014-04-21 20:24

As state lawmakers extended their session past its Sunday (4-20-14) deadline, one issue of particular importance to Sitka remained in limbo: a loan to complete the Blue Lake dam expansion.

The city is seeking legislative approval for a low-cost loan from the Alaska Energy Authority, to fund the final stage of the Blue Lake project. The loan would be a cheaper way to fund the project than issuing a municipal bond, which is the city’s other option — and could potentially avert another electric rate hike down the road.

Sitka needs about $18.5 million to finish the Blue Lake project. The Energy Authority requires approval from both the House and Senate before the city can enter into negotiations for a loan.

Sitka Senator Bert Stedman added language authorizing the loan to House Bill 297, which passed the Senate on Thursday night. But the language was dropped over the weekend, in wrangling between the two houses.

For now, the loan authorization is not attached to a bill in either house, and the legislative session could end at any time.

The 90-day session was supposed to end on Sunday, but was extended when lawmakers could not reach agreement on several major issues, including education funding.

‘Niche’ budgets on the way for USFS recreation

Mon, 2014-04-21 15:19

Ward Lake Recreation Area is unique, and will continue to be funded through the Tongass National Forest’s new “niche” funding formula.

Congress has cut the U.S. Forest Service budget for recreation nearly in half over the past five years. In response, Tongass National Forest officials have come up with a new way to allocate funds: Niches. If it’s in the niche, it’s funded. If it’s not in the niche? Well…

21RecMoney

The Forest Service’s recreation program has gotten pretty bare-bones over the past few years. Seasonal crews are smaller, and the regular staff has shrunk through attrition –not replacing people when they leave a position.

You may not have noticed the belt-tightening yet, because local districts can apply for special-project funding through federal programs such as Secure Rural Schools and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Those programs are not an assured source of funding, though, and the Forest Service is looking for ways to live within its means.

What does that mean to the public? To start, cabins and trails won’t be maintained the way they used to be.

Clark Simpson is a Ketchikan-Misty Fiords recreation program manager.

“As this money’s been dwindling over the last 5 years, the Tongass Leadership Team has been discussing what we need to do to be sustainable as a recreation program,” he said. “We need to be able to function on the money that’s allocated to us, and we can’t. I’ve supported us through getting money from other sources. And we can’t function like that. And this isn’t unique to Ketchikan. This is across the whole region.”

The solution they came up with is niches. Each ranger district has some service it provides that’s unique. The districts were able to choose three niches each, and that’s where the money will go. Period.

For Ketchikan, Simpson said the three niches are “Ward Lake, which is kinda unique. In essence, it’s like a city park but it’s run by the Forest Service, and it’s very popular. We have flightseeing out in Misty Fiords, and we have Misty Fiords in general. When the tourists come to Ketchikan, a lot of them are like, ‘I want to go flightseeing in Misty Fiords.’ And the other thing that was chosen is, we have a bear viewing area in Hyder. They’re probably getting 15,000-25,000 people a year.”

That leaves a whole bunch of recreation resources in the district unfunded. Like cabins. If they’re in Misty Fiords, then they’re in the niche, but there’s a bunch that aren’t. Such as Helm Bay, Helm Creek, Fish Creek and Naha.

In the short term, people using the cabins first will notice the lack of firewood, because Forest Service crews won’t be going out there to restock the wood pile. Soon after, depending on use, visitors will notice overflowing outhouses, because nobody is going out to pump them.

“Then beyond that, you start to develop deferred maintenance,” Simpson said. “The roof leaks, but we haven’t gotten around to fixing the roof leaking and that leads to bigger problems over time. Then we’ll start to talk about what we can and can’t keep. So, these cabins that aren’t part of a niche are definitely… yeah. That’s what the meeting is about.”

A tree has fallen across the gravel path on Connell Lake Trail.

That meeting Simpson mentioned is an open house that’s coming up soon,. Simpson and other Forest Service officials will present information about the budget cuts, and what it means to the district, in hopes of hearing ideas and suggestions from people who use the forest for recreation, such as hikers.

Hiking trails within the Ward Lake niche – Ward Lake, Ward Creek, Perseverance, Salvage and probably Connell — will be maintained. But there are popular trails outside of that niche, such as Deer Mountain and Lunch Creek.

“The essence of what we do is log out and brush the trails,” Simpson said. “So if trees blow down, we cut the tree off the trail. And they do brush in really quick in the rainforest, so we try and get out and brush them fairly frequently. The brushing and the logout will probably be the first thing that people notice. So, you go to hike your local trail, and there will be a bunch of trees down that you have to crawl over or around.”

So what can members of the public do? Simpson says first, they can let Congress know how important recreation is to them. They also can volunteer, but in a way that doesn’t further tax the agency’s dwindling resources.

“What we’d really like is for somebody to be a lead for a group, and then we just have one point of contact and they do all the coordinating,” Simpson said. “It would be great if we had a volunteer group that had a lot of focus, and had somebody who was a really motivated coordinator, and came to us and said, ‘Hey we’ve got five people that want to work on a trail for a few days. What’s a good trail that we can access and do good work on?’”

Those are the kinds of ideas and suggestions Simpson hopes to hear at the upcoming meeting. He expects he’ll also hear some negative comments from people who didn’t realize this was coming.

“I think it is going to be a shock to the public when we just come out and say, ‘Hey! We don’t have the money to keep all this stuff that you’ve been using for a long time open, so we’re looking for ideas,’” he said.

And for those who are angry about this situation? Simpson says he’s right there with them. Over the past 14 years, he says he’s invested a lot of time and energy maintaining those cabins and tails. He doesn’t want to let them go, either, but “there’s not much we can do about not receiving money from Congress. If Congress chooses not to support recreation, I don’t really know what to say. Write your congressman.”

In the short term, though, Simpson said people can tell the Forest Service which facilities matter the most to them and what they’re willing to do to help.

The public meeting about recreation program funding is set for 5:30 p.m. May 8 at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center.

Mon Apr 21, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-21 13:14

 

Listen to iFriendly audio.

Coast Guard confirms F/V Mirage grounded on Low Island, with no reported injuries or fuel leaks. The “bird blaster” of Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez airport. Delta Airlines performs test flights in preparation for adding Juneau -Seattle route.

Performance raises awareness / benefits WISH

Mon, 2014-04-21 12:50

Rebekka Esbjornson, Lindsey Klees and Diane Gubatayao speak about this weekend’s production of “The Vagina Monologues.”  The show features empowering, funny and sometimes difficult stories.  Proceeds benefit Women in Safe Homes. VaginaMonologues

How to haze an eagle

Mon, 2014-04-21 12:09

Wildlife specialist Heather Bauscher, uses a shotgun loaded with pyrotechnic shells to chase eagles off of Sitka’s runway.(KCAW photo/by Emily Forman)

At most major airports someone is paid to chase birds off the runway. But at Sitka’s airport that job is especially challenging.

That’s because 3/4 of Sitka’s runway is surrounded by water. Fish spawn along its banks, attracting hungry birds. That problem was highlighted four years ago when two Alaska Airline jets collided with eagles on takeoff. Dave Tresham is the expert who came in afterwards to make sure the runway is safe.

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Snarge. That’s the technical term Dave Tresham uses to describe unidentifiable bird debris. Avoiding snarge is the goal. It’s also the reason he’s speeding up and down Sitka’s runway 30 minutes before the noon flight departs for Ketchikan. He spots some loafing eagles at the end of the runway and stops the truck.

“So now we have two eagles,” Tresham said. “So, the more you leave the birds alone the more they will show up.”

Tresham chooses a small hand pistol loaded with pyrotechnic shells aptly called screamers. Screamers tend to work best on eagles – who don’t fear much at the top of the food chain. Because when triggered, the screamers spiral wildly and shoot sparks. That’s what it takes to rattle an eagle.

Dave Tresham is in charge clearing Sitka’s runway of wildlife that might interfere with flight departures and arrivals. (KCAW photo/by Emily Forman)

Tresham is a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife specialist stationed at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport. He notices patterns in bird activity at a very micro level. He has his eyes on every tuft of grass, puddle, and critter.

Tresham: Many times I’ll spend an hour, two hours picking up bugs and worms up off of the runway.
Forman: Really you’ll go to that level of detail?
Tresham: I have pictures of night crawlers. There’s an isopod it’s called a rock loas. That is supposed to stay within a few feet of the shore line. And I’ve picked up literally hundreds of them out towards the center of the runway.

Tresham has been modifying Sitka’s causeway since 2010. In August that year, an Alaska Airlines flight was forced to abort takeoff when a bald eagle was sucked into its left engine. That same week the replacement plane also hit an eagle on takeoff. No people were injured, only fowls, but after that, Tresham was hired to come up with a long term plan for deterring wildlife from making the Sitka runway home. That includes things like filling in still water with gravel or trimming down tall patches of grass.

Forman: So, is there basically a Dave Tresham at every airport?
Tresham: There’s many. Yes. We probably have close to 30 USDA wildlife specialists working the state of Alaska alone.

Tresham’s career path started with the Aleutian cackling goose. His first wildlife management job was removing an invasive species of fox that was preying on the cackling goose to the point of endangerment. He’s devoted a lot of time to kicking animals out of places where they shouldn’t be, but he loves wildlife. It’s tough love.

“I just show up for work even when I’m not working because it’s nice to see the birds the populations,” Tresham said. “Just look at the scenery you have whales and sea lions. Where else can you do it?”

Eagles on Sitka’s runway. (photo courtesy of Dave Tresham)

Tresham says the job has turned him into an avid bird watcher. Makes sense, that’s what the job requires. But he’s also become a really tense airplane passenger. His seasonal assistant Heather Bauscher agrees.

“You’re like where is the wildlife person! I see birds!” Bauscher said. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about that!? Hahaha!”

They are both much more comfortable on the ground – a stone’s throw away from a 737 as it’s taking off. Because that’s where they have the most control.

“We have to the south three to four maybe five eagles flying through those trees. From this distance those birds have felt that bangers going off.”

A banger is used with a 24 gauge shot gun. It’s a longer range shell than the screamer. Loud and resonant.

“…and if anything starts coming in this route I’ll be talking to the pilot to let them know where the birds are at.”

Tresham can literally change the course of a speeding plane minutes before it lands.

“So we have eagles above him eagles below him eagles in front of him,” Tresham said. “So we’ll be talking to the pilot 5-7 miles from the airport if we can see them saying, ‘Hey you’ve got eagles.’”

And the very last resort is what Tresham calls a lethal take. He says he probably chases away close to 80 thousand birds a year in Sitka. And he relies on the lethal take method a lot. It’s usually a glaucous winged gull that just doesn’t get the picture. But, endangered species are off limits.

The noon flight to Ketchikan is almost ready to depart.

Tresham sees a few eagles flying overhead, and takes one more precautionary shot at clearing the runway.

Tresham: And there’s a safe departure.

And in Sitka, there’s another successful takeoff – without a fragment of snarge in sight.

Legislature calls it a day without finishing

Mon, 2014-04-21 06:46

Republican leaders from the House and Senate were unable to work out their differences on the omnibus education bill Sunday and early Monday morning, so the session marches on.

Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene at 1 p.m. Monday. The decision to call it a day came just after 4 a.m. — more than three hours after it was initially announced they would finish their work without an overnight break.

Days of contentious debate between House and Senate Republicans after the Senate version of HB278 was unveiled Friday produced few compromises.

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Education a sticking point as session ends

Mon, 2014-04-21 00:04

JUNEAU — State lawmakers were trying to reach an agreement Sunday on a broad-reaching education bill, with the clock winding down on the 90-day session.

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Legislature passes bill honoring Native languages

Mon, 2014-04-21 00:03

Update:

About 40 members of the Alaska Native community and their supporters spent more than 15 hours at the capitol to show lawmakers their passion for a certain bill.

As legislators met behind closed doors much of Easter Sunday, the group waited. When the midnight deadline came and went, they continued to wait.

Their wait came to an end around 3 a.m. when the Senate took up HB216, which identifies 20 Alaska Native languages as official languages of the state.

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Village advances to national mascot finals

Mon, 2014-04-21 00:03

ANCHORAGE — The northwest Alaska village of Deering may be tiny — with just 130 residents — but its school mascot is in the running for a national championship of nicknames.

The Deering Northern Lights already got the top vote in a poll by USA Today over high schools from Alaska and five other Western states.

Online voting for the national championship opened up Friday and ends at 10 a.m. AKDT April 25, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

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Sitka Tribe awarded $250,000 Kellogg grant

Mon, 2014-04-21 00:02

SITKA — Sitka Tribe of Alaska is one of 30 recipients of the 2014 W.K. Kellogg Foundation grants for family engagement projects, the foundation announced Thursday.

The STA grant is for $250,000 over three years for a project called “Wooch.een Yei Jigaxtoonei: Working Together to Increase Family Engagement.” STA’s application was among 1,000 received by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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Mat-Su's 'dog publicist' uses Internet to save furry lives

Mon, 2014-04-21 00:02

ANCHORAGE — At the Mat-Su Borough Animal Care Facility on Sunday morning, Rachel Reese set up two portable lights, unzipped a canvas bag crammed with animal-sized cowboy hats, bow-ties and a cardboard sign that read “Free Hugs.” Then she readied herself for her rambunctious, leashed clients: the dogs of the animal shelter.

These are the dogs she hopes to put on the fast-track to adoption by posting their photographs on her Facebook page: Alaskan Shelter Dogs. You might call her a dog publicist.

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Legislature backs Tongass takeover plan

Sun, 2014-04-20 21:16

Lawmakers have voiced support for the Parnell Administration’s plan to take over Tongass National Forest acreage. (Courtesy USDA)

The Legislature has voted to support state plans to take over acreage in the Tongass National Forest.

Republican Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman proposed the resolution. It urges Congress to act on Gov. Sean Parnell’s request to take over federal acreage.

“Since the U.S. Forest Service is no longer able to provide enough timber in the Tongass National Forest to sustain a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska, it is time for the governor to intervene,” Stedman wrote in his sponsor statement.

The resolution passed the Senate in March and the House on Friday, April 20, with little opposition.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 supports acquiring acreage by negotiation or purchase. The U.S. Forest Service is unlikely to act on the request.

The resolution does not specify the location or amount of Tongass land.

Parnell’s Timber Task Force in 2012 called for the state to manage up to 2 million acres placed in a trust by the federal government.

Senate passes new approach to pension obligation

Sun, 2014-04-20 00:12

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate unanimously passed legislation setting out a new approach for addressing the state’s pension obligation Saturday, less than three hours after the plan emerged from the Senate Finance Committee.

It will be up to the House to decide whether to accept the Senate plan, which advanced on the 89th day of the scheduled 90-day session. If the House doesn’t, the bill could go to a conference committee.

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Analysis: In final day, major issues still unresolved

Sun, 2014-04-20 00:12

Legislators spent much of Friday and Saturday working to secure votes for various bills while tying up loose ends on others. With a midnight deadline looming to finish the state’s business, there’s much for lawmakers to accomplish concerning several pieces of key legislation.

The debate on two of the session’s biggest issues has been pushed to today. Those issues are education reform and funding and the capital budget.

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Education funding picture still murky

Sun, 2014-04-20 00:11

Democrats, teachers, parents and school officials aren’t happy with what appears to be the future of education funding in Alaska.

Their unhappiness comes as members of the powerful Senate Finance Committee recommended funneling $124.3 million toward education this year — that’s $24.3 million more than was proposed Friday.

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