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Southeast Alaska News

Baranof goat study unlocks clues to island’s paleo past

Mon, 2014-01-27 09:25

Phil Mooney tracks mountain goats’ movements using orange GPS collars. (photo courtesy of Phil Mooney)

It doesn’t take much to trigger an emergency mountain goat closure on Baranof island. Because of recent population declines, if a hunter shoots one nanny, a large swath of the island may become off-limits. Years of detailed research has shaped today’s goat hunting guidelines — which might seem like a lot of effort considering that only a handful of Sitkans have the stamina to hunt goats. But the process has revealed much more than how to manage the goat population. We now have clues to what Baranof looked like before there were hunters.

Listen to iFriendly audio.

On a cloudless September day on Baranof Island Kevin White, a goat researcher from Juneau, and Phil Mooney, Sitka’s wildlife management biologist are looking for mountain goats.

When the helicopter hovers within 30 feet of the goat, White leans out of the open door, with one foot on the skid, and aims at a dirty spot on the goat’s coat the size of a saucer – a natural bullseye of dirt on the otherwise brilliant white coat.

Phil Mooney says, “he’s only missed about two out of 400. So, he’s got it down.”

Mooney says hitting the goat with a dart is one thing, recovering the goat is another.

“I’m sitting on the opposite ridge as I see Kevin bail out of the helicopter going after the goat that’s headed for the cliff,” says Mooney.

White had darted the goat with a heavy tranquilizer that takes seven minutes to kick in. It would be a grizzly end for the goat if it were bounding over the cliff once it did.

“I’m thinking he’s still got his flight suit on and goat horns are sharp. He gets tangled up with that and the goat goes over the cliff he’s gonna go with it,” says Mooney. “And he ended up about 11 feet from the edge of the cliff.”

A helicopter flies from Juneau to assist with Baranof mountain goat tagging. (photo courtesy of Phil Mooney)

Almost a century before biologists were jumping out of helicopters to tackle 300 pound mountain goats, there were no reported goat sightings on Baranof island.

Mooney says, “this place was covered by miners in the late 1800s and 1900s searching for gold and silver. Nobody reported seeing goats.”

Back then, residents wanted more big game hunting options. So, in 1923 the state transplanted 18 goats to Baranof island from Tracy Arm. To protect the population, wildlife biologists have been studying the goats ever since – through aerial surveys, GPS tagging, and tissue samples.

“Which is nothing more than a piece of flesh the size of a pencil eraser,” says Mooney.

The DNA in those samples revealed something unexpected: evidence suggesting that an unknown goat population may have already been living on Baranof Island before the Tracy Arm transplant.

“They were only expecting to find the Tracy Arm DNA in there,” says Mooney. “And low and behold there was other DNA in there that comes from a relic.”

10,000 years ago Southeast Alaska was covered in hundreds of feet of glacial ice, except for a few isolated pockets called “refugia.” The samples Mooney and White found matched DNA from an ice-age goat population near Haines. That means the transplanted goats bred with goats that were already on Baranof Island, but were absolutely unknown. Mystery goats.

Mooney says, “What, a UFO came and dropped off a bunch of goats how could that be?”

Call it a case of wildlife management meets paleo-biology. Phil Mooney plans to tackle that question in time. But right now, it’s about keeping tabs on Baranof Island’s current goat population. Along with gathering tissue samples, Mooney tracks the animals’ movements with a bright, orange GPS collar. GPS stands for Global Positioning System.

“It’s just like a kitchen timer, when that day and time come up it sets up a small explosive charge in the collar that blows the springs on the plate and the collar falls to the ground,” says Mooney.

At $5,000 a piece, Mooney makes sure to retrieve the collars. If a goat dies in an avalanche and is carried down a valley, Mooney might end up in devil’s club up to his head, fishing for the device.

But Mooney says it’s worth it. The goats aren’t harmed. White reverses the tranquilizer with an injection, and within minutes the goat is up and running.

And they’ve learned a lot from the data. Mainly, the best way to protect nannies. It’s the reason why there are goat hunting zones, why shooting a single nanny will close a zone, and why we still have a goat hunting season at all.

Mooney says, “we’ve got a situation up by Yakutat where the population declined significantly. It’s been closed now for 15 years.”

Goat hunting is rigorous. Not many have the stamina to traverse high rocky cliffs, shoot a 250-pound animal, and then pack out a heavy load of meat and hide. But a wildlife management strategy based on science can produce fundamental discoveries important to all of us, and not just to the hunters.

3 things to watch in the Legislature

Mon, 2014-01-27 01:03

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature starts its first full week of work of the session Monday, with lawmakers set to dig into plans to advance a natural gas pipeline project and salary increases for top officials.

The fight over oil taxes also is expected to continue casting a shadow over discussion on issues such as state spending.

The scheduled 90-day session is set to end April 20, Easter Sunday. Senate President Charlie Huggins told reporters last week he’d like to be done before then — and Good Friday — if possible.

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Hydaburg visitors learn conflict resolution as peer mediators

Mon, 2014-01-27 01:02

KETCHIKAN — Six students from Hydaburg traveled via Inter-Island Ferry Authority ferry to spend two days with Houghtaling Elementary School counselor Debbie Langford, and learn how to be peer mediators.

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December unemployment rate stays at 6.4 percent

Mon, 2014-01-27 01:02

JUNEAU — Alaska’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.4 percent in December.

The state labor department says the seasonally adjusted rate is down from 6.6 percent in December 2012. The November 2013 rate was revised from 6.5 percent to 6.4 percent.

Alaska started 2013 with a 6.7 percent unemployment rate.

Nationally, unemployment stood at 6.7 percent last month.

Officials show how to release trapped pets

Mon, 2014-01-27 01:02

FAIRBANKS — Anyone who doesn’t believe a normal person with no knowledge of trapping can open a body-gripping Conibear trap should talk to Sarah DeGennaro.

A wildlife technician at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks at the time, DeGennaro, who is also an artist, was asked to draw some illustrations to accompany a brochure the department was putting together for pet owners about how to release their pets from traps and snares.

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Homer debates where to place Asaiah statue

Mon, 2014-01-27 01:02

HOMER — What would Brother Asaiah do?

That question is at the heart of a dilemma many small cities would love to face. Where’s the best place to put a donation of an $18,500 work of art by one of Homer’s finest sculptors?

The issue will be on the agenda of the Homer City Council on Monday night when the council considers a resolution to accept a sculpture of Brother Asaiah Bates to be done by Homer artist Leo Vait.

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Eagle River High hosts JROTC competition

Mon, 2014-01-27 01:01

EAGLE RIVER — “Forward, march. Half-step, march. Platoon, halt.”

Chugiak High Cadet LieutenantKim Julian’s voice echoed through the crowd-packed gym at the 2014 Eagle River High School JROTC Drill Competition on Saturday, Jan. 18.

Thirteen immaculately dressed teams performed in seven rounds of competitions during the daylong event.

Julian, unit leader for the Chugiak’s Regulation Armed division, led her rifle-carrying team through sharply executed turns and marches.

The team moved as if one body, one mind.

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Kodiak will use robots to enhance virtual learning

Mon, 2014-01-27 01:01

KODIAK — Soon, Kodiak teachers will be able to roll into classrooms on two wheels.

The Kodiak Island Borough School District has purchased 12 telepresence robots to expand the district’s virtual learning program. Instead of being tied to a webcam attached to a computer, teachers can use the robots to move around a classroom and communicate through an attached iPad.

“What’s amazing is how fast people move past it being a robot,” schools superintendent Stewart McDonald said. “It’s not a robot, it’s you. You get to be in more than one place.”

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Parnell wants school choices expanded

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:08

JUNEAU — Staff members at Aquarian Charter School in Anchorage are ecstatic that their school was spotlighted by Gov. Sean Parnell in his recent State of the State address.

The old green building hidden behind a strip mall at the corner of Anchorage’s Minnesota and Benson boulevards is busting at the seams with 378 students and fifteen teachers. Aquarian offers a program for students reaching their academic ability with emphasis on the arts. There are 800 names of potential students on a waiting list this year who had hoped to get into its K-6 program.

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Parnell introduces sweeping education bill

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:08

Gov. Sean Parnell submitted an education bill on Friday that would increase per-pupil funding by $201 over the next three years.

It’s the first increase to the base student allocation in four years, but the state’s largest teachers union says the added funding won’t be enough.

According to the bill, per-pupil funding would increase $85 the first year and $58 in the second and third for a total of $5,881.

National Education Association-Alaska President Ron Fuhrer said that while the organization supports an increase in per-pupil spending, Parnell’s proposal falls short.

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GovTrack releases report cards on Congress

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:07

A non-partisan government transparency site has released its 2013 report cards on members of Congress, and it shows Alaska’s lawmakers have exceptional ratings in some interesting areas.

The site, GovTrack.us, uses information from federal government information websites, like THOMAS, to compile the yearly report card.

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Analysis: BSA increase would still mean bigger classes, fewer teachers

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:07

The grim economic forecast for the Juneau School District grew a touch lighter Friday when Gov. Sean Parnell introduced legislation that would send the beleaguered district about $400,000 in additional funding next year.

The bill, HB278 in the House and SB139 in the Senate, increases the state-funding per pupil by $85 next year and by $58 each of the following two years, which if passed by the Legislature would make it the first per-pupil funding increase in four years. The base student allocation currently is $5,680 per student.

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Motel seized for taxes; tenants' future uncertain

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:07

ANCHORAGE — Residents living at an Anchorage motel face an uncertain future after the city seized the structure for the owner’s failure to pay property taxes.

The Anchorage Daily News reports the municipality is taking over the Big Timber Motel across from Merrill Field.

City officials inspected the structure this week and found infestations of bedbugs and shrews.

The building was in violation of safety codes because it lacked heat and hot water. Tenants were keeping warm with space heaters and kitchen ovens.

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Bill would address warrantless eavesdropping

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:06

JUNEAU — Two senators plan to introduce legislation that would bar state officials and agencies from helping the National Security Agency secretly eavesdrop on Alaskans’ private communications without a warrant.

The bill, from Sens. Bill Wielechowski and John Coghill, would also apply to corporate contractors, according to a release.

The bill is expected to be introduced in the coming days.

Wielechowski, in the release, said widespread, indiscriminant information-gathering by government agencies violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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Ferry Matanuska in Ketchikan

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:06

KETCHIKAN — The state ferry Matanuska is at Ketchikan Shipyard for engine repairs.

The Ketchikan Daily News reports the Matanuska is scheduled to return to service March 2. Besides engine work, minor refurbishments will also be completed.

The ferry’s spring route will be from Bellingham, Wash., to northern Lynn Canal and communities in between. It’s summer route will be from Prince Rupert, B.C., to Lynn Canal.

Governor introduces gas line legislation

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:06

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell has introduced gas line legislation that would set a gross tax rate of 10.5 percent on gas.

The provision’s part of a larger bill meant to help advance a liquefied natural gas project.

The bill proposes moving from a net to gross tax.

Parnell, in his transmittal letter, said for gas produced after 2021, the tax levy would be 10.5 percent of annual gross value at the point of production. The bill also would allow certain leases to pay production taxes with gas.

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Treadwell camp reports raising $228K in 4Q

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:05

JUNEAU — Mead Treadwell’s U.S. Senate campaign reported raising more than $228,000 during the last quarter.

Treadwell is among the candidates seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mark Begich. Begich is seeking re-election.

Another Republican hopeful, Dan Sullivan, announced earlier this month that he had raised about $1.3 million between October and December but did not provide further details at that time.

The filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission is Jan. 31.

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Sun rises for first time in 68 days in Barrow

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:04

ANCHORAGE — Residents in the nation’s northernmost city are about ready for some sunglasses.

KTVA reports Barrow had its first sunrise this week in 68 days.

That happened Wednesday, when the sun came up at 1:28 p.m. and stayed out for 23 minutes. That was the first sunrise there since Nov. 18.

It’s all uphill from there. Barrow residents enjoyed 78 minutes of light on Thursday.

PFD applicants encountered filing problems

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:04

ANCHORAGE — Some 16,000 applicants had difficulty with the new electronic signature feature when filing their Permanent Fund Dividend application electronically.

The Anchorage Daily News reports there were no problems encountered filing the application itself and being issued a confirmation number. Some people’s computers froze.

When others exited the window, they didn’t continue to the “Pick. Click. Give.” Page to donate a portion of their return to one of about 500 nonprofits.

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Friends, family puzzled at Alaska man's homicide

Sun, 2014-01-26 01:04

ANCHORAGE — Family and friends searching for a missing Anchorage man grew concerned when they saw a tweet from police that said a body was found in Spenard.

Their hunch was correct. Police found the body of 31-year-old Aylett Hanson in his black Mazda 5.

Hanson would have turned 32 on Sunday. His death left his family looking for answers, The Anchorage Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/1gdairm ).

Hanson’s cousin, Brittany Hales, told the paper he was a capable handyman who worked construction jobs in the summer and did odd jobs in the winter.

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