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Southeast Alaska News
The Ketchikan City Council meets in special session Monday to continue its ongoing discussion of next year’s budget, and to appoint a new Council member.
Elected Council Member Sam Bergeron resigned his position recently because of a work conflict. When a Council member resigns in the middle of a term, those remaining on the Council appoint a temporary replacement who fills the seat until the next regular election.
The city advertised for applicants interested in filling the seat for the next year, and five people filed for the job. They are former Council Member Dick Coose, who lost his bid for re-election in October; Ty Rettke, who works for the city and would have to resign his job if selected; Dale “Mickey” Robbins, who operates a bed-and-breakfast and a fishing charter business; Jacquie Meck, a local business owner who is involved in numerous organizations; and Russell Wodehouse, who grew up here and recently moved back to Ketchikan.
The Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
A decade ago, when Les and Evy Kinnear proposed creating a bear rescue center from the remains of Sitka’s decommissioned pulp mill, the plan raised some local hackles. Ten years later, the Fortress of the Bear is home to five brown bears and two new black bear cubs — and it’s about to embark on a major expansion, building a black bear enclosure this winter. Along the way, it has converted some skeptics, including local biologist Phil Mooney. But it still has a ways to go to fulfill the Kinnears’ ambitious vision.
Les Kinnear may sound like he’s talking to a toddler…
KINNEAR Put your foot here. Foot! Balloo, foot! Foot! You’re not paying attention.
But Balloo is an 800 pound brown bear.
KINNEAR No? OK. [Laughs]
Kinnear runs Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear with his wife, Evy. He’s standing nose to snout with Balloo, a four-year-old, seven-foot-tall brown bear, separated by only a couple inches and a metal grate door.
Kinnear was a hunting guide for years, hunting bears along with other big game. Now, he and his wife care for seven bears in the remains of Sitka’s old pulp mill. The bears were all orphaned as cubs, and would otherwise have been euthanized. Asked why he started the Fortress, Kinnear says, “Well, all you gotta do is have one of those little bears sit there and lick you on the hand, and you know the answer to that one. That’s simple.”
The two giant clarifying tanks from the old pulp mill have been converted into bear pens, with high concrete walls.
WALDHOLZ It has kind of a post-apocalyptic feel in here.
KINNEAR [Laughs] Yes, it does.
It’s not just the bear pens. All the facility’s buildings were salvaged from the pulp mill or hauled over second-hand. Everything is rusty. There are piles of tires, sacks of supplies. A flock of assorted poultry roams around. It’s a scrappy operation.
When the Fortress was first proposed, a lot of Sitkans weren’t thrilled. Phil Mooney is the area wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game.
“We have one of the highest known density of brown bears in the world. In the world!” Mooney said. “So people were saying, why would you put a zoo here? It’s a good question.”
Mooney was skeptical at first. And he wasn’t the only one.
“Letters went to the governor,” he said. “It was pretty divisive in the beginning. There was a big campaign to keep our bears wild, that people come here to see wild bears, not zoo bears. There was a lot of very strong emotional response.”
But Mooney has since changed his mind. He remembers a delegation visiting from the Bronx Zoo. One of the women kept saying how impressed she was with the facility.
“[And] I’m like, OK, I’m missing something,” Mooney said. “And she turned to me and said, you’re missing it because you’re thinking about this facility as a person. You have issues with the aesthetics of it. The bears don’t care about the aesthetics. They care that they have three quarters of an acre in there and they can dig, and do anything they want, like a real bear would.”
But what really made Mooney a believer was when the Kinnears invited Sitka’s third- through fifth-graders out to the Fortress. The Kinnears pitched two tents in the bear enclosure. Inside each was a sleeping bag with a hot dog in the bottom.
“And the bears ran straight over to the tents, slit them open, pulled the sleeping bags out, ripped the hotdog out, held the hotdog up and showed the kids,” Mooney said. “And the kids were like, I’m never taking food in my tent again!”
Mooney was impressed. He spends a lot of his time on bear education, trying to train people to avoid the kinds of interactions that lead to dead bears and orphaned cubs – in other words, the kind of situations that brought these bears to the Fortress in the first place.
KINNEAR This is Killisnoo. If you hold the mic up here you can probably hear him breathe. [breathing]
Killisnoo was the Fortress’s first bear. Mooney captured him as a cub in the summer of 2007, after his mother was shot trying to enter a lodge near Angoon.
“He was malnourished, dehydrated, terrified, traumatized,” Kinnear said. “He had all the hair burned off his front paws clear to the shoulders, a belly full of tapeworms, a mouth full of broken teeth.”
“We started working with him right here in this training room, and by the second day we could hand-feed him.”
Kinnear says he understands why some folks object to the idea of the Fortress – in an ideal world, brown bears shouldn’t live in old clarifying tanks. His grand vision for the Fortress is much more ambitious. He wants to expand the habitats and eventually start rehabilitating bear cubs to return to the wild. This has been done in British Columbia and the lower 48, but isn’t permitted in Alaska.
“We aren’t going to save a lot of bears,” Kinnear said. “We’ve only done a dozen in the last ten years. Some of the other places around the country where they process and release, they’re into the hundreds!”
Mooney says releasing bears isn’t likely any time soon. But he says the Fortress has a role even without that: He thinks these bears in captivity might turn out to be some of his best tools for keeping the rest of Sitka’s bears wild.
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Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear: 10 years later. SE halibut fishermen could see small increase in 2014 quota. Petersburg to use Sitka as model for city/hospital relationships.
Author C.B. Bernard will be at the Ketchikan Public Library Wednesday at 6:00 pm to present his book, “Chasing Alaska: A portrait of The Last Frontier then and now.” He speaks about his book on Morning Edition. (note that there are conflicting times posted around town. Show up by 6:00 to be safe). Bernard
Southeast Alaska commercial salmon trollers, hatchery organizations, businesses and municipalities have their last shot this winter at millions of federal dollars meant to make up for a lower king salmon limit in the region. The Southeast Alaska Chinook Salmon Fishery Mitigation program is expected to have paid out over 13 million dollars by the time it’s finished in 2015. The money has been doled out in direct payments to the commercial troll fleet and has also funded improvements to hatchery programs and sport fishing projects.
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The 2009 Pacific Salmon Treaty agreement with Canada resulted in a 15 percent cut to the king salmon catch in Southeast. Along with that reduction came federal appropriations of over 14 and a half million dollars. The state of Alaska created a Chinook salmon fishery mitigation program to spend that money.
“It was recognized that the primary impact of these reductions was going to be onto the hook and line fisheries in Southeast and to the industries and the communities that are affected by those fisheries,” said Gordy Williams, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s program coordinator. “And that’s where these funds have been targeted.”
The state formed a stakeholder advisory group to makes recommendations on spending the money in three different areas. Williams said one use of the money has been direct payments to commercial permit holders. “The commercial trollers have the most one to one direct impact of this reduction in their summer fishery is where the largest amount of this 15 percent reduction is felt. So providing some compensation to those trollers for the reduced amount of fish that they harvested in that summer season was recommended and approved by the state and its gone forward.”
Payments to fishermen will total about $6 million by the time the program wraps up next year. Amounts vary depending on whether a permit holder has fished in recent years and the pounds caught during those years. The latest application period for direct payments closed in early December.
Williams said another use of the money has been hatchery enhancement projects, primarily for king and coho salmon rearing and releases. “To provide some extra opportunity it’s included some hatchery upgrades and infrastructure, some additional production, development of some remote release sites, especially to aid the sport fishery to put some opportunity into different areas. So it’s been a suite of projects.”
Once it finishes up, that part of the program will total around $3 million in enhancement projects. In the Petersburg area, the money has helped fund a heat exchanger for the king and coho hatchery at Crystal Lake on southern Mitkof Island. It’s also financing a new remote release of Crystal Lake kings near City Creek that’s scheduled to start in 2014. Elsewhere, its paid for rearing capacity expansion, heaters, filters and water supply upgrades for hatchery programs around Southeast.
Another round of grants for enhancement is planned in 2014 and the application period for that program is open until early January. That’s also the case for another grant program funded by the mitigation money. About five million dollars is going to infrastructure projects proposed by municipalities, companies and fishing businesses.
“There’s been work done on providing additional ice for sport and commercial boats in the region, been some infrastructure for helping with unloading and handling fish,” said Williams. “There’s been some efforts put into fuel availability and there’s been a fair amount put into recognizing issues with the fish waste in the sport fisheries in the harbors. I know Petersburg and Sitka have used some of the funds to look at those issues.”
In Petersburg, one grant will pay for a new fish cleaning float that the borough plans to install in South Harbor. Petersburg’s borough assembly voted to spend some of the 225-thousand dollar grant for design work on that new float this month. Another grant of 45-thousand dollars goes to the Petersburg borough for a troller work float in the harbor.
And the Petersburg seafood processing company Tonka Seafoods also plans to offer a fish cleaning station for the sport fishing fleet next year at Tonka’s new location, about a mile south of Petersburg. The company won a grant of nearly 300-thousand dollars for the work.
“The plan is to remodel an existing float system we have here on the south side of the building,” said Tonka’s Seth Scrimsher. ‘And we’re going to turn that into a fish cleaning station complete with a grinder to disburse the waste out into the Narrows there.”
Scrimsher hopes that grinding up and discarding the fish waste away from Petersburg’s harbors could help with problem sea lions plaguing harbor users. The local sport fishing fleet will also have a new spot to get ice for their catch at Tonka’s planned float. Scrimsher said Tonka plans to start work on that float in the spring. Tonka also won a grant to expand its troll buying.
Around the region, infrastructure grants have paid for ice machines, freezing and processing equipment for fishing boats and processing companies. Other examples are a fuel line extension in Yakutat along with fuel tanks and a hoist for the fish buying station at the wooden wheel trading post in Port Protection on northern Prince of Wales.
The application period is still open for both salmon enhancement and infrastructure grants but closes in early January. That will be the final round of grants under the program.
For more information on the mitigation program and the projects funded, click here:
Here are links to the open grant application periods with the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development for infrastructure grants or hatchery enhancement grants.
KFSK has an open airwaves policy. We encourage the public to express opinions, ideas and creative works. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of KFSK. The following was submitted for broadcast by Jim Demko:
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FAIRBANKS — Dressed in a pair of black Carhartt bibs and sporting long, white hair past his shoulders with a bushy white beard and tattoo-covered arms, Thomas McGee doesn’t fit the mold of your prototypical driving instructor.
But sit in the back seat of his Chevy Cobalt and listen to McGee teach a young driver the rules of the road and there’s no mistaking he’s good at his job.
ANCHORAGE — A disease has killed hundreds of seabirds on an island in the Bering Sea — the first documented outbreak in the state.
Avian cholera is to blame for the birds found dead on the beaches of St. Lawrence Island, 200 miles from the mainland, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The disease is common elsewhere, including in California, Nevada and Texas, The Anchorage Daily News reported.
FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks residents are preparing for a bout of freezing rain.
A National Weather Service special statement says rain was expected to hit the Interior city by about 7 p.m. Friday.
Meteorologist Cary Freeman tells the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that the precipitation is not expected to be as damaging as a storm last month but could cause problems such as icy roads.
KODIAK — A 46-year-old Kodiak man convicted of two counts of sexually abusing girls has been sentenced to 22 years in prison.
The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports Ah Limchantha was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 26 years suspended in one case and 30 years in prison with 22 years suspended in the second case.
Limchantha will serve the terms consecutively.
JUNEAU — The state has denied a recall effort against state Rep. Lindsey Holmes, with the attorney general’s office finding her decision to switch party affiliations doesn’t amount to a “lack of fitness” for the job.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell is scheduled to unveil his budget proposal at a chamber event in Anchorage on Thursday.
Parnell is slated to discuss his 2015 budget plan at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce event at the Dena’ina Convention Center.
Parnell has already said he wants to see spending well below current levels with revenues expected to be sharply lower compared to last year.
FAIRBANKS — Col. Sidney Zemp has taken over as commander at Fort Wainwright, Interior Alaska’s largest military installation.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that Zemp is new to Alaska and this will be his first time serving as a garrison commander. His duties include overseeing the services and training space used by 14,000 soldiers, civilians and military families.
ANCHORAGE — Alaska state flags are set to be lowered next week in memory of former Fairbanks state Rep. Niilo Koponen, who died Tuesday at the Fairbanks Pioneers Home.
Koponen was 85 years old.
Gov. Sean Parnell issued the order for state flags to be lowered Wednesday in Koponen’s memory.
FAIRBANKS — Several state and federal grants that pay for 10 percent of Fairbanks police force are set to expire in 2014.
The News-Miner reports that for three of the jobs — two traffic officers and a drug investigator — there’s a “very high chance” that funding will be renewed next year.
FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ ice climbing tower opened for its second winter this week and the ice-making operation has gone smoother this year than it did last, both in terms of quality of ice and the production process.
“The ice has formed up to resemble more what a real waterfall would be; it’s more vertical this year,” Sam Braband, outdoor facilities manager for UAF’s Department of Recreation, Adventure and Wellness, said earlier this week.
Climbers got their first whack at this year’s ice when part of the wall opened on Wednesday.
FAIRBANKS — An autopsy of an 18-month-old North Pole boy concludes that he suffered burns to his body but not frostbite, as his mother claimed.
Amber Lynn Aubrey Swanson, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her son, Julian Swanson-Byrd. She told staff at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital that the toddler had fallen from a car window into snow the day before he died, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
Swanson was arraigned Thursday. She remains jailed at Fairbanks Correctional Center.
FAIRBANKS — The Perry kids have gone from the Last Frontier to the Final Frontier in the past week.
The North Pole residents — Daniel Perry, 10, Derik Perry, 9, Riley Perry, 9, and Kailey Perry, 5 — have their names orbiting more than 400 miles above the Earth today, aboard a tiny “micro satellite” as it drifts through space.
ANCHORAGE — With school board approval, a new charter school devoted to using Southcentral Alaska as a laboratory to teach middle-schoolers through outdoor expeditions is one step closer to opening its doors.
But the fledgling STREAM Academy — the name stands for science, technology, research, engineering, art and math — has some major hurdles to clear before it becomes the Anchorage School District’s first dedicated charter middle school.
The first and biggest challenge may be finding a place to call home.
JUNEAU — A Bethel state representative has been fined $5,000 for violating ethics rules.
An ethics panel announced Friday that it found Democratic Rep. Bob Herron failed to disclose a state contract with the Lower Kuskokwim School District for three years, failed to disclose board memberships for entities in which he was a part owner, and failed to provide sufficient detail on joint business ventures with another legislator. Ethics committee administrator Joyce Anderson said Herron could face additional fines if he doesn’t submit detailed disclosures by Dec. 20.