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Southeast Alaska News
Nearly every seat in the lecture hall of Egan Library was filled Friday night for a book talk by former state Sen. Victor Fischer, one of Alaska’s “founding fathers.”
Fischer, who helped write the Alaska Constitution, is in Juneau to talk about his autobiography, “To Russia With Love: An Alaskan’s Journey.” His appearance at the University of Alaska Southeast was part of the university’s “Sound and Motion” spring event series.
Genetically-modified salmon is nearing federal approval for human consumption and Alaska’s sate and federal lawmakers have taken up torches against what they refer to as “Frankenfish.”
In the novel Frankenstein; or, “The Modern Prometheus,” author Mary Shelley’s subjects played out the uneasy relationship between man and his science and technology, and examined questions about the morality of man as a creator.
This tension is on more and more minds in the Lower 48 and Alaska as AquaBounty's genetically modified AquAdvantage nears approval for the dinner plate.
Like everything else at the Hames Center, the new climbing was one part inspiration, and ninety-nine parts dedication. The grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, March 9. Listen to a KCAW Morning Interview about the project.
Last Friday afternoon (2/15/2013), a sea lion washed up onto the rocks in Sitka Sound. Soon after, a group of Alaska scientists set out to investigate what happened.
Kaili Jackson is at the University of Alaska dock in Sitka with a small team of scientists and helpers dissecting a female Steller’s sea lion. It was found dead just a few days earlier near the airport in Sitka by a Dept. of Transportation contractor, whose job it is to keep birds away from the runway so it’s safe for planes to land.
Jackson takes a small, serrated knife that looks like a one you’d cut a tomato with, and makes a couple of short incisions — about three inches long — into the mammal’s blubber. After samples are collected, she and her team slice a little deeper and peel back the thick flesh from its abdomen.
“So, Kaili just found out that she’s lactating…so that means she was either pregnant or had just given birth…”
And there it is.
“Awwww look at the little baby flippers…it already has claws. That is amazing. whiskers and everything. it was so close.”
Based on the time of year and how big the baby was, Jackson guesses the sea lion was a couple of weeks from giving birth. She says February is when she starts getting calls about baby sea lions that don’t survive after they’re born.
Jackson works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. She’s with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. She says her job is to respond to dead animals reported in Alaska, and then try to figure out how they died by doing a necropsy.
“So far I haven’t seen any signs of trauma or anything like that,” said Jackson. “Carrying a baby is a pretty taxing process, so it could have just been too much for her, I’m not sure.”
Because there aren’t any obvious clues as to what killed the sea lion, the team will collect samples of all the tissue and send them to a pathologist in Anchorage. They’ll also freeze the fetus and send it to the pathologist for its own necropsy.
“It’s a good way to collect data that is otherwise unavailable to us,” said Jackson. “It’s also a good way to find out if there’s something going on in the environment to be aware of that’s making animals sick, a good indicator that something is wrong.”
When Jackson examined contents in the esophogus, she found a thin, pointed claw-like object that could be the cause of death.
“…What is that? Is that shrimp? No, it’s a, I would say a crab claw. Was that stuck in there? Get a picture of it. Where was it? It was in the esophagus. That could explain thoracic flu. It’s worth collecting that sucker. I just pulled it out of the esophagus. Is it a stingray… spine? It could have caused it to get fluid in its lungs…pneumonia.”
It isn’t clear yet what killed the sea lion, but by bringing in more experts to examine the clues, researchers hope to learn this animal’s story, and how it contributes to our own.
The Bush Caucus is back.
Rural legislators in Alaska are pushing back against the concentrated political power of the state’s urban areas. Twelve members of Alaska’s House of Representatives, in both parties, have organized under the chairmanship of Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat who represents Dillingham.
Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins has joined up. In the first month of the session, the Republican agenda on issues like oil tax reform, cruise ship wastewater standards, and school vouchers has been moving at lightning speed.
Kreiss-Tomkins says sitting down with other legislators outside the railbelt proved to be a refreshing change.
“That was probably one of the more enjoyable and exciting meetings I’ve had in the capitol meeting thus far. To have that group of legislators from common backgrounds, both parties, finding a lot of common issues to work on.”
Kreiss-Tomkins says the Bush Caucus has been working on priorities. Since coastal communities are prevalent in the group, restoring Alaska’s Coastal Zone Management Program is high on the list. Other issues include concerns over school vouchers, local control of charter schools, trawl bycatch, and the federal fisheries observer program that now includes the small-boat fleet.
One area where the Bush Caucus is not aligned is on the governor’s proposed oil tax reform. Kreiss-Tomkins will say only that he believes most members of the Caucus are skeptical of the idea.
“Every member of the Democratic minority, I can say with some certainty, is going to vote against an oil tax giveaway: A significant tax cut with nothing in return from the oil companies. There are going to be a number of Republicans in both the House and Senate who feel the same way. The question is how many? And what kind of modifications are made to the bill through the committee process. There’s bi-partisan concern with the fact that too much is being given away, with too little coming back in return.”
Kreiss-Tomkins says the Bush Caucus will release a full outline of its priorities in the near future.
Some bills have already passed despite the objections of Kreiss-Tomkins and others concerned with coastal issues. HB 80, which relaxes wastewater standards for cruise ships, is already on the governor’s desk.
Kreiss-Tomkins says this pace is too fast, even for a 90-day session.
“Tlingit and Haida Central Council wasn’t able to get out there resolution on cruise ship wastewater until the morning it came to the House floor. So I was barely able to speak to it, and certainly Tlingit and Haida didn’t have the opportunity to raise issues when it was in committee. UFA – United Fishermen of Alaska – didn’t have the opportunity to raise that group’s concerns on the cruise ship bill until it had left the House. I think the process is a little too fast. There are groups and constituencies that are incredibly affected by these pieces of legislation who simply don’t have the time to organize and react, and be able to speak their peace.”
Three Petersburg High School students were selected to help represent Alaska at the All Northwest Choir and Music Festival in Portland last weekend. Bud Bergen, Stephanie Pfundt and Fran Abbott rehearsed and performed with hundreds of other top, young vocalists from Alaska, Washington, Oregon , Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Bergen was in the Mixed Choir while Pfundt and Abbott were in the Treble Choir.
Matt Lichtenstein spoke with the local students and their teacher Matt Lenhard, who brought back some audio from their rehearsals and performances.
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
Petersburg’s Lutheran Church is celebrating its 100th anniversary. There are events planned throughout the year to commemorate the centennial, starting off with a Birthday Dinner this weekend (2/24).
Petersburg’s first Lutheran congregation gathered to worship in 1913. Like many religious institutions, the church serves the needy and the broader community of Petersburg as well as its own congregation. The Church’s theme for this year is “Celebrate and Serve”
Matt Lichtenstein sat down at Mountin View Manor with Pastor Mike Schwarte and several longtime congregation members to talk about their church:
For Mobile-friendly audio, click here.
Every year but one since 1994, Ketchikan Indian Community has lost money on the KIC Tribal Hatchery in City Park. Now, with budgets tightening everywhere and federal dollars drying up, the tribe wants to shut down operations.
The hope is that the closure will be temporary, and the facility will reopen later, still producing salmon, but with a different mission.
Before KIC can apply for state and federal grants to do that, though, it needs the City of Ketchikan to remove a clause from the property’s quit-claim deed. The site used to belong to the city, and the deed states that if KIC stops operating the facility as a hatchery, it reverts back to city ownership.
At Thursday’s Ketchikan City Council meeting, KIC officials gave a presentation about their hopes for the facility, and why it’s no longer feasible for them to operate the current program.
KIC Workforce Development Director Chaz Edwardson said, “What we were planning and what we are planning is to close the hatchery under economic development. It’s a dead weight around our neck. So we want to close it as economic development and reopen it under our department over in workforce development and education. It’s two totally different management structures. It’s two totally different financial structures.”
Camille Booth, KIC education director, said that tribal representatives were exploring partnerships with the university and other entities. She said they want the facility to remain a hatchery, if possible.
City Council members also want the hatchery to continue providing fish for Ketchikan Creek. That was the main concern over KIC’s request. Council Member Marty West said she understands KIC’s quandary, but, “the quandary that we’re in is giving quite a valuable hunk of land away without knowing what’s going to happen to it.”
The assessed value of the property is about $800,000. It officially belongs to KIC, albeit with the reversionary clause.
Edwardson agreed it’s a tough decision for the city, and said KIC will go along with whatever the Council decides. He said it would almost be easier for tribal staff if the Council decided to take the facility back.
“We’re ready to walk away, simple as that. But we’re also ready to try to help save it,” he said.
Edwardson noted that there is a natural salmon run at the creek, and that the hatchery only enhanced the existing stocks.
KIC Interim General Manager John Brown said another possible option for the site is a longhouse that would be used to educate tourists about local Native culture. He said it might be possible to combine a longhouse with hatchery operations.
The Council deferred its decision until a later meeting. Members asked city management to bring back more information.
Also Thursday, the Council agreed to help pay for two historic preservation efforts. The city will provide matching funds for the first phase of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s effort to rehabilitate Hopkins Alley, and for initial planning for the Yates Building restoration project.
Seventeen University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan campus students made the UAS Dean’s List for the fall 2012 semester.
To make the list, students must be admitted to a program, earn at least a 3.5 grade point average, and complete at least 12 credit hours during the semester.
The UAS-Ketchikan fall 2012 Dean’s List students are Starla Agoney, Tuffina Arnold, Meghan Evans, Sarah Hollimon, Jennifer Jones, Alexis McColley-Edwardson, Tara Miller, Amanda Newell, Larissa Otness, Tyler Renojo, Katelynn Ross, Chris Terry, Jeremiah Tucker, Teresa Varnell, Melissa Williams, Carena Wood and Nichole Yoder.
House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, introduced a bill Friday to add “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression” to the list of traits upon which businesses, unions and landlords cannot discriminate against people under Alaska state law.
The added language is needed to cover people who currently are not protected by anti-discrimination ordinances, Kerttula indicated Friday, shortly after her House Bill 139 was introduced on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives.
The Alaska Board of Education and Early Development will meet on March 7 and March 8 in the state board room on the ground floor of 801 West 10th Street in Juneau.
The meeting is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. on Thursday, March 7, and 8:30 a.m. on Friday, March 8. The public is invited to attend.
Photographs of frolicking sea otters projected onto a screen greeted students, staff and members of the public coming into Egan Library Thursday night for the “Sea Otter Symposium” hosted by the University of Alaska Southeast.
Meanwhile, posters at the back of the room described studies done and conclusions reached by University of Alaska Fairbanks and United States Fish and Wildlife Service researchers, many of them on the impact of surging northern sea otter populations in Southeast Alaska.
Petersburg’s Borough Assembly last Tuesday (2/19) passed a borough-wide extension of the transient room tax in its second reading. The four-percent tax has long been levied on hotel rooms and other traveler accommodations within the former city limits. The ordinance applies it to the broader borough-area. Matt Lichtenstein filed this report:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
Petersburg’s municipal water system is tested daily, weekly and more. That’s according to Borough Public Works Director Karl Hagerman. Hagerman briefed the Assembly on the safety of the water supply last Tuesday night (2/19) in the wake of the previous week’s boil-water notice. Hagerman explained that the water undergoes frequent testing by Petersburg Medical Center, as well as staff at the water treatment plant. Matt Lichtenstein filed this report:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Hames climbing wall coordinator Blain Anderson, and climbing enthusiasts Tommy Harris and his mom, Patsy, discuss the scheduled grand opening of the new, improved wall on Saturday, March 9. The wall will have areas and routes for climbers of all ages and abilities. For more information visit the Hames Center online.
Mayor Lew Williams III joined us on Morning Edition to discuss last night’s City Council meeting.
He outlined the 2013 capital improvements likely to be made at the Yates Building, Hopkins Alley and elsewhere. The mayor also talked about the latest developments with the soon-to-be-built Ketchikan Skate Park, as well as the Ketchikan Indian Community’s plan to win clear title to the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery.
JUNEAU — Federal spending and resource development drive much of Alaska’s economy but both are threatened as perhaps never before, Alaska’s senior U.S. senator said Thursday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in an annual address to the Alaska Legislature, said years of deficit spending have generated unprecedented debt that jeopardizes the federal government’s ability to meet its obligations. At the same time, she said years of government overreach have limited access to resource development in the state, which could help reduce Alaska’s reliance on federal funds.
JUNEAU — Alaska has moved one step closer to striking “mental retardation” from state laws.
The Alaska Senate on Thursday unanimously passed HB88, which would replace “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” with terms such as “intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
JUNEAU — Lawmakers have begun deliberations on a bill that would require voters to present photo identification when casting their ballots, but one critic said the geography and ethnic makeup of the state would likely make the law unconstitutional if passed.
The House State Affairs Committee began discussing HB3, by Reps. Bob Lynn and Wes Keller, on Thursday. Lynn and Keller serve as the chair and vice-chair of the committee, respectively.