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Southeast Alaska News
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in the Morris Communications series “The case for conserving the Kenai king salmon.”
For a young state, Alaska has a long history with fisheries management.
Alaska’s desire to manage fisheries, and salmon in particular, was a driving force during the push for statehood, and more than a century before that, the commercial fishing industry was a major component of the United States purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1857.
FAIRBANKS — After mushing dogs on the Tanana River for 20 years, both for trapping and recreational purposes, Knut Kielland decided to figure out why the river freezes — or doesn’t freeze — the way it does.
Over the course of four winters, Kielland, a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Institute of Arctic Biology, solicited the help of other scientists, oral historians, and locals who live in villages along the river, to study changing ice conditions on the Tanana River.
FAIRBANKS — Ounce for ounce, methane has an effect on global warming more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and it’s leaking from the Arctic Ocean at an alarming rate, according to new research by scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Their article, which appeared Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience, states that the Arctic Ocean is releasing methane at a rate more than twice what scientific models had previously anticipated.
North Pacific Fishery Management Council: A 16-member board comprised of 11 voting members and five nonvoting members from the fishing industry and government agencies that sets policy and creates regulations for federal fisheries three to 200 miles offshore from Alaska. The council has delegated management of salmon fisheries in federal waters of Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula to the state. Southeast king salmon troll fisheries are managed by the U.S. and Canadian federal governments under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
ANCHORAGE — Visitors to Denali National Park and Reserve are seeing fewer wolves as the predators’ numbers continue to decline, according to the National Park Service.
Park researchers randomly sampled 80 bus trips this summer and found that bus riders only spotted wolves on three occasions, or about 4 percent of the trips, park officials said Wednesday.
That continues a downward trend documented in recent years. Wolves were seen during 44 percent of bus trips in 2010, 21 percent in 2011 and 12 percent in 2012, the Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday.
KENAI — Escalating erosion is eating away at river beaches around Ninilchik, wiping out shoreline campsites.
The Ninilchik State Recreation Area has been eroding for about 20 years, but a 2010 storm took out enough beachfront to force closure of the campground.
State parks officials and the Southern Kenai Peninsula State Parks Citizens Advisory Board toured the Ninilchik area and Deep Creek State Recreation Area last week, the Peninsula Clarion reported.
Michael Satre’s phone started ringing early on Sunday morning last week because co-workers feared it would not be long before there were reports of someone trapped or hurt in one of Juneau’s hundreds of abandoned mines.
The calls and text messages corresponded to a Juneau Empire story about a local explorer who spends his days off work trekking Juneau’s forests searching for and venturing into abandoned mine shafts around the capital city.
Safety and justice systems in rural Alaska are the worst in the United States, according to a recently released report by the Indian Law and Order Commission. Alaska is the only state in the report to be singled out with its own section detailing inadequate justice systems and law enforcement in rural areas.
The commission harshly criticizes the State of Alaska in the report for failing to provide law enforcement resources in villages across the state. The commission also calls on the state to make quick and meaningful changes in how it deals with crime in rural communities.
FAIRBANKS — It took a while but now that winter finally looks like it’s here to stay — that might be an understatement after the past week, eh? — it’s time to unveil my annual winter list of outdoor things to do.
In Sitka, a project in its second year is studying the seasonal movement of juncoes and some other sparrows. It started as a way to involve kids in science, and to answer some basic questions about a species so common that we haven’t taken the trouble to study it.
KCAW’s Robert Woolsey spent some time last week with a bird bander, learning something we never knew about juncoes.
Report a sighting of color-banded bird here.
Rob – I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed somebody at a whisper.
Gwen – Sorry, I hope it comes out.
I find Gwen Baluss a couple of blocks up the street from where I live. She’s sitting just inside a downstairs window in the home of Scott Harris, who works for the Sitka Conservation Society.
“Yeah. It’s not looking good out there.”
Juncoes tend to arrive at backyard feeders in waves, and the latest flock took flight after a cat stopped by.
Harris’s 7-year old son, Tomy, has been kneeling by the window all morning. He understands the hall trap, and what it’s like to be a few inches away from a creature that most of us only ever see at a distance.
“And when it’s in the middle, you let go of this. You let go of the string, and then the trap comes down on the bird, and then you just go out and get them. It doesn’t hurt them.”
The cat’s visit has pretty much ended trapping this morning. This is a setback, but only a small one. Baluss’s project has a very limited scope.
“I’m not color-banding any other birds in Southeast Alaska, so Sitka’s actually getting a lot of colors. If you see a color-banded bird in Southeast chances are that it came from Sitka, if it’s a junco, chickadee, or song sparrow. Those are the three species that I have the color bands for.”
Baluss is attaching tiny, colored bands to the legs of juncoes — only in Sitka. Anywhere from 1 to 4 bands per bird — like color-coding. Various combinations of white, green, red, blue, and light blue. It’s an inspired strategy.
“That’s the nice thing about color-banding. A bird-watcher, or anyone, who happens to see a color-tagged bird could report those, and we would know which bird that was with a fair level of confidence.”
Baluss is a wildlife technician for the Forest Service in Juneau. Her agency, the Sitka Conservation Society, and the University of Alaska Southeast co-sponsor her research.
[Sound: Rain drumming on shed roof.]
As I arrive, Baluss and Harris have just bagged a bird — literally. They’ve released the trap, and Baluss reaches in, grabs the junco, and stuffs it into a little cloth sack.
After she attaches the bands, she measures the length of its primary feathers, and checks its fat content. Earlier, she told me you can see right through the skin of small birds. She holds up the junco and starts to gently blow apart the downy feathers on its breast.
Gwen – So, looking at his fat, I’m kind of doing the see-through skin trick again. (Blows feathers.) The kind of yellowish stuff you see there is fat. (Blows feathers again.) Well, actually some of it is corn that he just ate. Stuff in his crop that you can see.
Rob – I’ve been interested in birds since I moved to Sitka but I never knew that they were see-through. That you could actually see their last meal heading down the pipe.
Gwen – Yeah, if they’ve eaten a lot.
And these few birds have already taught us something important. Except for a few slate-colored juncoes that move in each winter from Canada, our local juncoes were always thought to be year-round residents.
144 banded birds say otherwise.
Gwen – In that last year, of all the birds that we color-banded, none were seen in Sitka in the summertime at all. So they moved somewhere. Perhaps just out of town where people weren’t hiking. Perhaps much farther than that.
So does this mean an entire population of songbirds moves out of Sitka in winter, only to be replaced by an identical population moving in? That’s a pretty big conclusion, even for small science.
ANCHORAGE — Anchorage Police Department recruits in 2011 were warned on their first day of police academy training that inappropriate behavior on duty would not be tolerated, according to Chief Mark Mew.
A rookie officer from that class pleaded guilty this week to illegally looking up information about a woman he arrested and eventually engaged in a relationship
ANCHORAGE — The state agency working to build a bridge across Knik Arm will not immediately demolish two Anchorage businesses that a neighborhood says are important to residents.
The Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority board this month approved a resolution saying a Tesoro gas station and a Subway restaurant can continue operating on Government Hill until a firm schedule for the project is in place, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
ANCHORAGE — Communities near Glennallen could see reduced heating bills under a natural gas drilling plan being considered by a Glennallen-based Alaska Native regional corporation.
Ahtna Inc. hopes to develop wells and has licensed 44,000 acres of state land about 15 miles west of Glennallen, Alaska Public Radio Network reported.
The company is not looking for a product to export, said Ahtna land and resource manager Joe Bovee.
ANCHORAGE — A man suspected of crashing a sport utility vehicle while attempting to elude Alaska State Troopers in Fairbanks was the subject of a felony warrant in Anchorage.
Henry Lamont Covington Mason Jr., 24, was charged Sunday with assault, failure to stop at the direction of a police officer and other counts.
When he was arrested, Mason faced an outstanding felony warrant on a weapons charge that troopers said came about after two women were shot at outside an Anchorage home in July, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
Although the national economy is improving, one aspect of Sitka’s economy is still mired in recession: food prices. The steady climb in prices since 2008 has not reversed, and many families — though doing better — are still living close to the edge.
At Sitka’s Salvation Army post, on the eve of Thanksgiving, staff and volunteers are busier than ever sorting and bagging food.
Anyone who buys groceries in Sitka knows food here is expensive. So expensive that people might choose pre-cooked meals just to save the cost of electricity. So expensive that more people are coming to the Salvation Army for help.
Evadne: We are pastors first.
Evadne Wright is an ordained minister. She manages the Sitka post with her husband, who she refers to as Major Turnie Wright. The room the couple uses for Sunday worship, prayer meetings, and bible study is now covered with a blue tarp – and rows, and rows of Thanksgiving themed canned goods. The turkeys were on the way.
Evadne: So we can pick up the other stuff if need be. There’s no real rush but if it does help… I’ll make you cookies. Awesome! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Bye.
Evadne is from New Zealand, and moved to Sitka for the Salvation Army post in 2011.
Evadne: Love it! Don’t want to go! So, if the boss is hearing leave me here!
Wright confesses she doesn’t really understand the American custom of back-to-back holidays focused on excessive consumption – Thanksgiving followed by Christmas. But she recognizes that the people who come to her need help. That’s enough motivation to keep her in constant motion – to make sure that those whose fundamental needs aren’t adequately served have options, and access to the comforts of holiday tradition.
She says, “I don’t put a criteria. If they walk in the doors and ask for assistance they are assistance need. It takes a lot of courage to walk through those doors and admit that you’re not doing OK, that you need a hand.”
Since Wright took over the post, she says the numbers of families requesting a box of Thanksgiving staples has increased.
“Although not huge in numbers, last year we did 85. That’s still 6 more families at thanksgiving. This year we are 90. that’s five more families. It’s not huge huge spiking numbers per se, but out of the 90 families that sign up that is 305 people,” says Wright.
Wright started her post in 2011. That year 79 families requested Thanksgiving boxes – up from 35 in 2010. This year it’s 90.
But I was curious about the rest of the year – after the holidays, when we typically resume normal diets. Wright says the assistance need is still evident when looking at their food pantry numbers.
So some of the items are very generic, like beans and ramen noodles. Although sometimes not the healthiest it is sometimes the quickest way to sometimes fill a tummy.
Each month families or individuals can drop in and take home a bag of food. In the past three years the number of individuals visiting the food pantry increased by nearly 60%. That’s 500 more people this year, compared to 2010, visiting the Salvation Army for supplemental groceries. What’s really staggering? According to Salvation Army numbers 15 percent — or over 1,300 Sitkans — participated in the food pantry program 2013.
But here’s the thing, while the number of individuals seeking food assistance from the Salvation Army pantry has dramatically increased since 2010, the number of households has decreased.
Wright has an explanation for this. “We have had an increase in family sizes but not, meaning lots of children and stuff, but grandmas who are raising their grandchildren. Grandparents who are on a fixed income who now have custody, because there are families that leave town to work, but sometimes it is not an easy thing to take children along.”
On a larger scale, this story is consistent with the increased number of people signing up for food stamps in Sitka, since 2010. The State of Alaska Health and Social Services counted 820 people on food stamps in for the month of September 2013. That’s almost 1 in 10 Sitkans — a 17% increase since 2010.
Here’s your turkey and there’s your box. Hello!
Tuesday was distribution day – when families come to pick up their Thanksgiving boxes – Wright was her usual energetic and gregarious self. The recipients were more subdued.
Woman: I got laid off this year, because the restaurant I’m working at full time is remodeling. So it’s a bad time of year to be off. you can’t get help until so much time goes by and then the state will help you. These guys have been awesome, every year I’ve ever needed any help.
Me: Did you come last year?
Woman: Last year I was working so I didn’t need help. So that was nice. So it was really nice to be able to get help this year.
This woman’s need changes, depending on whether she’s working. A temporary loss in income, a slight increase in income that reduces a food stamp benefit, or an unexpected medical bill. It doesn’t take much to push someone through the doors of the Salvation Army. And Wright is there to meet them when they do.
Happy Thanksgiving guys! Bye! You too hun.
The Sitka assembly gave final approval Tuesday night for a sales tax holiday this Friday and Saturday, November 29 and 30 – the two days after Thanksgiving.
The assembly also passed on first reading a proposed ordinance that would require the city to make the decision about sales tax holidays earlier in the year.
“Our business community deserves more just a 3 day advance notice that they have the sales tax, as occurred this year,” said assembly member Mike Reif. “This will let them know well in advance, 30 days probably.”
In the past, the assembly has waited to hear from the city finance department about whether revenue from sales taxes are on track to meet or beat the previous year’s numbers, before approving the sales tax holiday. The decision has been made in mid-November to give the office time to crunch the numbers on 3rd quarter sales tax collections.
But assembly member Phyllis Hackett said that may not be necessary going forward.
“I don’t believe that every year we’ve been in good solid position, and we’ve still approved it,” Hackett said. “So it makes me wonder how important it is to have those figures, because we always seem to go for it anyway.”
According to the finance department, the city this year is on track to beat its target for sales tax revenue even with the two-day sales tax holiday.
Hackett added that she hopes Sitkans will shop locally whether or not the tax holidays continue in the future.
“I just can’t stress enough how important it is for our citizens to support our local businesses,” Hackett said. “This is a double-edged sword to me. I’m happy to do it, and it’s wonderful to give this kind of gift to the community. [But] the other side of the sword is it makes me feel like it’s becoming an entitlement again, that people feel like they’re going to shop here because they get this.”
“It’s critically important, we’re an isolated community, we have to support ourselves.”
The ordinance will have to pass on a second reading before it becomes law.
Colder and dryer than average. That’s Southeast Alaska’s winter climate outlook in a nutshell according to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report. To find out more, Matt Lichtenstein spoke with Tom Ainsworth, who is the Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Juneau.
Duncan Canal resident Bob Lynn is the newest member of the Petersburg Borough Assembly. Mayor Mark Jensen and all five assembly members in attendance voted unanimously to appoint Lynn to the seat formerly held by Sue Flint. Flint stepped down last month for health reasons after four years in the position.
Lynn served on the city commission that developed the original borough charter but he was against Petersburg’s final proposal for incorporation. Last February, shortly after borough formation, Lynn applied for one of two vacant assembly seats but was not chosen. This time around, he was the only applicant.
In both his letters of interest, Lynn wrote that his participation in the process gave him, “a unique perspective that provides the insight and expertise needed to competently represent all residents of the Petersburg borough.”
Several of Lynn’s rural neighbors sent letters supporting his appointment this month.
Lynn is retired from the Forest Service. He once served as the Stikine Area Forest Supervisor for the Tongass. Lynn was out of town Monday but will be sworn in at the next regular meeting he attends. He’ll serve until the borough’s first regular election in October of next year.
Petersburg will add some lighting to its commercial drive-down dock project. The borough assembly Monday approved a harbor board recommendation to include that electrical work in the advertisement for construction bids instead of leaving it as optional. The addition will drive up the cost of the project by about a half million dollars but borough staff say the Harbor Department will have more than enough money to cover it. Matt Lichtenstein reports:
A turkey dinner is traditional for most on Thanksgiving. While many birds are a bit nervous this time of year, some lucky fowl in Ketchikan are living the good life.
With faces that look almost prehistoric, sage turkeys proudly strut in the barn at Mary Kauffman’s north Ketchikan home. I met with Kauffman to find out more about her menagerie of livestock, including peacocks, geese, ducks, rabbits, and, of course, turkeys.
Kauffman has lived in Ketchikan for 30 years and her property is a haven for rescue animals, especially abandoned or injured fowl. Having grown up on a farm, Kauffman is accustomed to the hard work necessary to care for a variety of animals.
“It’s always a job keeping them clean, because I clean them every day. Just keeping supplies is impossible because there just isn’t always a lot of food in stock, so I have to plan ahead. It’s the logistics. It’s like running an army you’ve got to have the food.”
She says when she first moved to Ketchikan, she rescued stray cats that gravitated towards her property. She made sure all were spayed and neutered, and found homes for many. Eventually, with her farm experience, she began rescuing ducks, geese and pea fowl that were abandoned or mistreated. Kauffman took in turkeys as well.
“This was one that wasn’t wanted. I was offered the bird and I took him. They said he was mean, but he’s never been mean. A turkey is very intelligent, just like a dog. If you mistreat a dog, you’re going to turn one into a biter…no doubt about it. If you mistreat a bird, they will slice you up with those spurs and things.”
Surprisingly all of the animals live harmoniously – pea fowl interacting with the turkeys, rabbits resting beside geese, and ducks tailing after the others. All follow Kauffman from time to time.
“Normally they don’t recommend that you put turkeys and peacocks and rabbits all together. But I’ve learned over the years that animals behave the way you expect them to. If you’re kind to them, they learn to get along with each other. And as it gets darker, they all come in on their own. I just call them and they all parade right in.
Several of Kauffman’s charges are special needs animals. Two of her turkeys, Charlotte and Mister Magoo have vision problems. She points out a duck that walks with a challenged gait from a broken leg. As we talk, two of the large male turkeys, Diogenes (die-AE-jeh-neez) and Atlas, present themselves. They strut, puff up, and display their tail feathers like a fan.
“It’s interesting. You can see a headdress sometimes. When they’re showing themselves off you can see a headdress. And I’ve always wondered how they figures out how to align their feathers. You can see it there with that turkey sometimes.”
Kauffman tells me this behavior indicates that they like me.
“They’re letting you know that they’re here and they like you. If they don’t like you, they’d be out of here. They don’t have the tail feathers like the peacocks to show off. They have their own way.”
She says she spends two to four hours each day tending to the animals’ needs. Nearly 70 years old and with some medical problems, Kauffman says the work helps keep her going. She retired 17 years ago and uses the proceeds from advertisement on her website, sitnews-dot-us, to help pay for her animals’ care.
All of the animals are clearly loved and well cared for. I ask her about the turkeys in particular and what their lives are like.
“Probably better than most of our lives. We have to get up and go to work and pay the bills. They just walk around and fluff and huff and puff.”
Kauffman says she used to give them more fresh vegetables, taking discards from local grocery stores, but she is no longer able to make the trip to town regularly. Despite, her turkeys are living well.
“So they get all kinds of goodies. Mostly they get a plant-based feed. They get a lot of sunflower seeds and a variety of corn-mix seeds every day. And every now and then, once a week or so, they’ll get some greens which they really like.”
She says she can no longer take in any more animals, but intends care for the ones that she has for the rest of their lives. She has made provisions in her will to see that they are cared for or, if necessary, humanely destroyed. Kauffman says none of her animals will be served on a dinner table.
“So he’s not going to be turkey dinner ever. I imagine he’d be pretty tasty if he were.” (turkey sounds)